Cruise Day 3- November 3rd

If you are just joining, catch up here to see what I am sharing about in the coming days & weeks!
-Day 1
-Day 2

 Cruise Day 3, Monday, November 3

 Thankfully our night last night was much smoother both in sleep & sea! We decided we wanted to go to MDR for breakfast (the other alternative is Windjammer which is buffet style, MDR, you are waited on). Our wonderful head waiter from our evening dinner made it a point to serve us this morning. He got the kids chocolate milk, made sure Sarah got whatever she wanted gluten free and again, he cut up Olivia’s meal when it came. When it came time to order, Olivia said she wanted pancakes & bacon. The gal taking the order said you want pancakes? Olivia said AND I want bacon please! HA I had a delicious made to order omelet.

Olivia's "buddy" Dario cutting her food again!

 After breakfast the 3 older girls took off for teen club. I headed up to our little private play area with Ava & Olivia to continue to journal our trip while they played. When we got to the play area, there was a gal there who apparently organizes activities for the little ones 3 & under. I asked her if there were others Ava & Olivia's ages, she said nope, they are the only ones I get to work with. Well, sheesh, I wish I had known she was there waiting for us as we would've came up sooner. So now on sea days, I will make it a point to get the girls up there with her for fun activities just for them!

Craft project the girls leader was doing with them. Painting a dinosaur!

Amazing how they set up all this stuff in the room despite my girls being the only 2 on board to qualify for this stuff! (The toys get set up every morning then cleaned and put away around 4pm). She stayed a little bit and played with them while Erik & Kevin went to play some ping pong (I have to stay with the girls and can't leave them like you can do in the older kids clubs).

Olivia looking down on the deck from the play area

We finally saw the sun out later morning!! At lunch time, it was a balmy 70 out!! The captain announced at lunch time that we had traveled 700 miles so far and were currently sitting at a depth of 17,000 feet of ocean!! Unfathomable! Since the girls were off on their own, the rest of us went and had lunch. I've heard of kimchi before but never tried it until today! It was really good! It’s supposed to have a lot of health benefits (it was also spicy which I loved!)

Olivia jumped into Ava's highchair for a hug after lunch

After lunch, Kevin & Erik took Olivia to the kiddie pool & waterslide and I packed up Ava in the stroller and went out to the walking deck in hopes of walking her to sleep. The sun felt amazing and after 3 laps, Ava fell asleep! I headed towards the back of the ship to watch Olivia going down the water slide and play in the kiddie pool. It’s kind of funny, most of our cruises, you would find all the pool chairs taken but I think since this is an older crowd, many of them can’t be in the heat or sun so I imagine we won't have trouble finding a sunny deck chair!

A peek of the water slide, kiddie pool and kiddie "hot tub" (that was the same temp as the pool but bubbled)

Olivia at the back of the ship with the wake in the background

When Ava woke up, we swapped out and Kevin took the girls to the playroom while I finally got a few minutes to myself. That of course is when some of ya’ll finally received my first email update, ha!! (don’t you feel special I used my alone time for you guys!) After emailing, I went outside and found a lounger to read on for a while. Being outside reading felt amazing!

Earlier today, we inquired if Erik can join the teen club and they made an exception which is rare to be honest. He was SO excited to finally have activities he can do! The girls have loved the teen club. There are about 8 kids who regularly participate and they have become good friends. In fact, unless we happen to run into the girls throughout the ship, we had not seen them all day until it was time to get ready for dinner! They play group games both in the teen lounge as well as outside on the activities deck. The leaders also organize fun activities like a ship wide scavenger hunt, hide & seek, etc. A couple of the other teens are also homeschooled. They made friends with someone who doesn't live far from us in West Chester. Some of the teens are from overseas like Denmark, yet my kids said everyone is polite and gets along really well. My kids are very impressed (& thankful!) that there are no cliques! 

The above 3 photos are pics of the teen club area

Since it was a sunny day today, we finally had the privilege of watching the sunset from our dining room table during dinner. Not only do we have a huge window beside us, but right behind us is also another window that opens to the whole deck 4 (so 2 sides of our table has windows). 

We noticed today that there are still fans on 2 decks drying out the carpet from that rogue wave that hit. I can't even imagine what that wave of water looked like when it came pouring in! There is still 1 elevator that is still down but the rest in the back of the ship are reopened. I guess it’s a good thing that it happened at night when not many people would've been out there.

After dinner, we headed back to the room and the kids headed out to see what the evening activities were for the teens. Ava & Olivia were about ready for bed until Olivia decided she was hungry so I took her up to the buffet and she decided to get some spaghetti (at almost 9pm!) I picked up a few pieces of sushi and we took our snacks back to our room. Hannah decided to stay back tonight so she and Olivia rented a movie using our free certificate we got (and yes she surprisingly ate all her spaghetti!) So Kevin & I also used our free movie to rent one while I ate my snack (though I admittedly fell asleep during the movie and am now finishing up this trip report at 4am since I am wide awake!)

As you can tell, sea days are quite relaxing. You can do as much or as little as you would like. Each evening, we receive a cruise compass that lists all the activities that are going on as well as the times & locations for the next day. There is literally something going on from as early as 6am all the way till 1am. In the past, we've participated in a lot of those activities (ice shows as there is an ice skating rink, theater productions, etc) but with the 2 little ones, it makes it tougher to do some of those activities so this trip is a bit more laid back in that aspect. It also is our 4th time on this ship and things like the ice show are the exact same shows we've seen before. I just wanted to preface why you might not hear me talking about shows, late night buffets, etc.
Just a glimpse of one cruise compass. It has several pages of info besides the daily schedule.

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Cruise Day 2- November 2nd

If you are just joining, catch up here to see what I am sharing about in the coming days & weeks!
-Day 1
Day 2, Sunday, November 2nd

                We weren't sure when we woke up if the ship was observing daylight savings time or not. After a call to guest services, we were told they weren’t so we are currently an hour ahead of those on EST. We had an 8:30am get together with others on our roll call and it was 8am when we got up (thinking it was 7am). So we quickly got ready to head down. One of the gals made everyone a door sign with their username and first names, which was a complete and lovely surprise! (many people decorate the doors of their staterooms). The cruise line then holds a raffle for some prizes for the people who are on the roll call. We won 2 free in room movies (that normally cost $13 each!) and after it was over, 2 other people gave us their in room movie prizes so we have a total of 6 free movies if we get a chance to use them.

A glimpse of the rough seas.

                During our get together, the captain shared over the pa system exactly what all had transpired overnight (remember I mentioned things flying around our room at 5 am with closets and drawers flying open?) He said we had had over 20 foot waves and around 5am, we experienced a rogue wave!  Do you know how HUGE & RARE that was?
  1. "Rogue waves (also known as freak waves, monster waves, killer waves, extreme waves, and abnormal waves) are relatively large and spontaneous ocean surface waves that occur far out at sea, and are a threat even to large ships and ocean liners."
                Just to put it in perspective, check out this photo I snapped in St. Lucia of our ship. You can see from a distance the damaged lifeboat. When you see it from this far, you realize just how huge that wave was that hit us!
Click on photo to enlarge

 This wave took out 2 lifeboats, almost knocking one into the ocean. Deck 4 has a deck to sit out on which meant when this wave hit, it shattered the glass doors. They had a stairwell closed down for 2 flights as well as the whole back end of elevators so they could dry out the elevator shaft and recertify that they were safe after at least 4 tons of water came on board.
The glass was shattered from these doors when tons of water came barreling in from the rogue wave.

               I heard some of the lounges experienced damage as well when the wave hit, knocking glassware off shelves. In addition to the rough seas, we were also experiencing 50-60 mph winds. The captain stated due to the rough seas & wind, that no one was able to go outside currently.

The view of the damaged lifeboat that came crashing down onto deck 4.

               After our get together, we ate breakfast then the girls headed to the teen club and we took Erik & Olivia up to register them for their club. Normally their ages would be separated but since there was only 1 other child there, they said they'd keep them together. Kevin took Ava for a walk in her stroller while I finished unpacking.

                In the afternoon, everyone met back in the room and we decided to head up to Dizzy’s lounge (this overlooks the pool deck and provides a great view of the ocean). The kids wanted to play card games that we brought along. When we got up there, we saw all the seats were taken, so we decided to check out the lounge next door and were amazed to find not only the place deserted but filled with a bunch of toys! I had heard that there was a special place for kids 3 & under to play but didn't know where it was. What a godsend this place was!!! There was a table for the older kids to play card games, a place for the littles to play and since it was next door to Dizzy’s, the view was the same!! I was able to finally start working on my journaling of the trip since this room was enclosed, the little ones couldn't run off. I know we will be spending a lot of time here!

The girls looking out at the rough water from their play area.

             I had just got done saying to the kids & Kevin that this is almost perfect when I looked outside and my jaw dropped. Right off to the side of the ship was the biggest, brightest rainbow I had ever seen!!!! It literally appeared out of nowhere. Tears just poured down my face as I KNEW it had to be a sign from Noah! This is our 4th cruise and I have never seen a rainbow over the ocean like that!! In fact, a double one started forming as well! This rainbow lasted a good 30 minutes, I was just in awe. Unlike its instant appearance, it ever so slowly started to fade away. If we had sat at Dizzy’s like we had planned, we never would've seen the rainbow but because this lounge was off to the left, it sat straight in front of our view. I am sure not many people saw the rainbow due to its location. There are just no words to describe how beautiful the sight was!!

This is an unfiltered, unedited photo. The rainbow truly was this bright!

              After letting the little ones burn off some energy for 2 hours, we headed back to our room to start getting ready for our first formal night. We love getting dressed up since we never get to wear formal gowns back home. I helped the girls do their hair, saving Olivia and Ava for last. As we walked to the MDR, the kids got lots of comments on how great they looked.

Notice Olivia's little purse on her shoulder, ha!

Our headwaiter Dario cutting Olivia's food for her!

During this meal, we finally met our head waiter (each table has a head waiter, waiter and assistant waiter). He is a very personable guy from Croatia and spent a lot of time talking to the kids. Usually the head waiter just makes a stop by the table to check in but he went out of his way to serve us personally!

Olivia giving her ketchup smiley face a thumbs up!

               In fact, he drew a smiley face with ketchup on a plate to go along with Olivia’s food that he also cut up for her! This time when it came time to hand out dessert menus, the waiter automatically gave Olivia one! Ha I had buttered, garlic scallops for my appetizer and a yummy salad topped with grilled salmon for my entrée.

              After dinner, Kevin, Olivia and I headed out to the promenade which is a 3 story, open area that spans a good length of the middle of the ship on deck 5. There are shops, lounges and a little café in this area. Tonight was the captain's welcome speech. For a brief time, they hand out free champagne and you have a chance to get your photo taken with the captain.

Olivia & I talking to the captain

            The older kids had taken Ava back to the room as they wanted to change to get ready to head to clubs. Olivia was such a hoot walking around, all dolled up carrying her little purse. In fact, we got stopped by an older British couple who asked to take her photo. She and I also had our photo taken with the captain.

             By this time it was around 8pm and we headed back to our room. The girls left for clubs and I went and got my nightly snack of sushi to bring back to the room, ha! Erik attempted to go to his club again tonight but there were only 2 younger girls there. Normally when there are a few more kids, the clubs are a lot of fun but it’s hard for the staff to do many activities with hardly any kids there. Tomorrow we will inquire to see if he can be bumped up to the teen club because of this.

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Do NOT Throw Out the Turkey Carcass! (how to make bone broth)

For the love of all that is good and healthy, PLEASE refrain from throwing out the turkey bones and junk on Thanksgiving!!!

WHY you are asking??

What if I shared with you how easy it is to save money in making your own broth. BUT not just ANY broth. A HEALTHY broth that will help boost your immune system and give you a whole bunch of other health benefits!

I've got your attention now! Who doesn't want to be healthier, especially using something that most people will just throw out this time of year?!

Have you ever heard of bone broth? No? Well let me just share a few benefits that come from consuming bone broth.

  • Bone broth is an excellent form of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, all in an easy to digest form for your body.
  • This broth produces a gelatin that is healing to the mucous lining of the digestive system, especially good for those with intestinal issues.
  • If you have inflammation due to autoimmune issues or inflamed joints, this broth contains chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine which helps reduce inflammation and calms the body.
  • There is also collagen in this broth which is good for your skin, hair & nails!

Ok, enough with me listing the health benefits (and if you don't believe me, just google "bone broth" and you'll find lots of articles and people recommending it!)

Bone Broth

After you picked off all your meat, grab your crockpot. Put the bones and skin in it. Chunk up the following into big pieces:

2 carrots
1-2 onions WITH the skin on
3-4 gloves of garlic (cut or smashed)
4 or so stalks of celery (with leaves is fine)
2 bay leaves
some parsley (if you have it, I've made it without)
2-4 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar, the higher amount if you have a large crockpot (this is the KEY to extracting the nutrients! I personally use this apple cider vinegar due to the great health benefits it provides)

Once you have everything in the crockpot, fill it with water and turn on low. Let this simmer for a good 24 hrs. I typically start this in the evening after our meal and cook it about a day & a half. I'll even ladle out a few cups to drink (with a few pinches of celtic sea salt added in). Just replace with some additional water if you do this. It is SO delicious to drink!

Let it cool then strain. I fill lots of small containers and freeze it (or pressure can it)  to use for soups and casseroles. This broth tastes much better than anything you'd buy in the store, plus it saves money AND is so good for you! A total win!

You can also do this with beef bones as well as chicken bones.

Cruise Day 1- November 1st

If you are just joining, catch up here to see what I will be sharing about in the coming days & weeks!
Day 1, Saturday, November 1st

                As typical, I didn't get much sleep Friday night as I had so much on my mind before we left for vacation. In addition, Ava didn't sleep well and was up 3 times, probably due to teething. I ended up being up for the day at 2:30am. The older 4 kids were awake before 6am and the littles were up by 6:30. We finished up some last minute things and loaded up our van. I was surprised that I was able to condense our luggage to 2 large suitcases, 3 small suitcases, 1 garment bag, 1 duffle bag of shoes and a small box of consumables like diapers, wipes, etc (that way I could throw the box away on the ship and have 1 less piece of luggage to drag home). Not bad for 8 of us for 15 days!

Missing from photo is the garment bag.

                Around 8am, our friends Dolly & her husband Shawn arrived at our house. They graciously gave us their time to ride with us to bring our van home. Typically we leave our van at the port in NJ but since this was a repositioning cruise (one that starts at one port and ends in another), we couldn't do that. We left our house a little after 8am. It was an overcast, rainy day. I was really hoping for a sunny day for sail away. We made great time getting to the port as we arrived by 10:30 am. We had a bit of a wait in the car line but once we parked, we unloaded our luggage and said goodbye to Dolly & Shawn. Our luggage was loaded into a huge bin and we headed to the terminal to start the boarding process.

                During our previous 3 cruises, we got through this process very quickly with little waiting so we were surprised at the amount of time we had to spend in line. Once we got checked in, we sat in the terminal waiting for our number to be called so we could hop on the bus for the short ride to the ship.

                Prior to our cruise, I participated in an online roll call where you can meet people online ahead of time that will be on the same cruise as you. Many of these people we've sailed with before and we've kept in touch over the years, even sailing together again on other cruises. We also got to know some new people in the months prior to today. So while we were waiting to board, several people from our roll call came up to say hi to us and finally meet in person after talking for months. (they knew to look for the family with all the kids haha!)

                We finally boarded around 12:30 and headed to the Windjammer, which is the buffet dining on the ship. After a little bit of a wait, we finally got a table and some food. We all just sat there saying wow, we are FINALLY here! We sat there eating with a cloudy view the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty can be seen slightly to the left of the center of the photo.

                Once our rooms opened up, we went there to leave the few things we carried on. We have 2 interior connecting rooms which is what we've done in the past so we knew exactly what they would look like. At 3pm we had our muster drill which is where each person reports to their emergency station to go over the life jacket process and what to do in case of emergency.

This is the view of our room looking in from the door. There are 2 bunks that fold down from the ceiling. Our room connected to this and looked identical except our beds were connected and we had a pack-n-play squeezed in.

View from the bed looking towards the door. Desk & closet on left, bathroom door on the right and a single chair just barely seen in the corner of the photo.

The tiny bathroom where you could practically shower, brush your teeth AND use the toilet all at once. HA!

                We were supposed to sail away at 4pm but we were delayed until 5:10. We had been on a semi-enclosed deck outside but after all that waiting, the little ones were getting cold and antsy. Both hadn't taken naps since the cat nap in the car so Susan & I stayed on deck and the others headed back inside. We tried waving a big towel so those watching us sail away on the webcam could see us. But according to the texts I was getting, we were too tiny to see. Ah well, I looked like a goof waving a towel for nothing then!

The teardrop memorial as seen from the ship. It's from Russia in honor of the 9/11 victims.

Sailing under the bridge.

Just as we are under the bridge.

Short video clip as we started to go under the bridge. There is about a 6 foot clearance from the highest point on the ship to the bridge.

                Once we had finally left and sailed under the Verrazano Bridge (with only about 6 feet of clearance!), we headed to dinner in the Main Dining Room (MDR). We had the perfect table, right by a huge window and in a corner which I was hoping for. I knew the little ones would be more content if we weren't in the center of the dining room.

The clouds were finally lifting by the time we sat down to eat so we were able to catch a glimpse of the sunset. And since we didn't observe daylight savings on the cruise, we got to experience sunsets many evenings during dinner!

 Dinner each night consists of an appetizer, main course and dessert as well as a choice of rolls from a basket that the waiter brings around. When it came time for dessert, the waiter passed out menus to everyone and skipped Olivia. She gave the waiter a funny look and he asked her if she wanted a menu and she said yes please and proceeded to take the menu and act like she was reading it!!! When he came around to take orders, she held the menu like she was contemplating what to order and said, “I will have ice cream, banilla (vanilla) please.” The waiter was almost in stitches!!!

                After dinner, we headed back to the room so I could start unpacking the few pieces of luggage that had been delivered. The girls had a meet & greet in the teen club at 8pm with a party following at 10pm. I had gone down to guest services earlier in the day and while there, I had inquired about the number of kids on board as I knew there weren't going to be many. They said there were 19 teens and only 8 children!!! Out of those 27 kids, 6 of them are mine, ha!! In fact, Ava & Olivia are the youngest on board with the total number of people being 3,031.

                While unpacking, we noticed the ship was starting to rock more than usual. The captain had said that we were heading into rough waters, so we weren't surprised. Typically when we sail out of the north east in November, we experience rough seas until we are past Cape Hatteras. About 8 pm, I ran up to the Windjammer for a snack of sushi that I took back to our room. I was up on deck 11 for that (our room is on deck 6) and boy did I really notice the ship rocking! Everyone was swaying as they walked

                Overnight, we had a rough night in more than one way. Ava was up for about 2 hours and just would not go back to sleep. Looking back I am wondering if she was feeling seasick as she has never done that before.  We heard the wind howling (and we don't even have a balcony!) and the few times I was out of bed with Ava, I had trouble walking. Eventually Ava fell asleep in bed with us around 3:30am. I happened to be awake around 5am when I felt the ship slam around in a way I never experienced in all our cruises. You could feel the whole side of the ship rise up and then crash back down (before this, the rocking was side to side). At the same time, all our drawers came flying open then slammed shut, which happened about twice. Anything that was on shelves and wasn't secured went flying off. It wasn't until the next morning that we heard about what all had happened during that time!

All photos can be clicked on to enlarge. The photos I am sharing are a combination of ones I took as well as my kids and husband on a variety of cameras and iPhones, hence the varying quality.

Vacation Overview

If you saw my post the other day, I eluded to a 2 week vacation that we just returned from a few days ago. We were gone November 1st-15th on a repositioning cruise on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. This was our 4th time on this ship. She was making her last trip from New Jersey and we were thankful for the deal we got that allowed us to sail on her one more time.

Our itinerary included the ports of:

  • St Maarten
  • Antigua
  • St Lucia
  • Barbados
  • Curacao
  • Bonaire
  • Aruba
4 of the ports were new ones for us. We also had a mix of days spent at sea which we enjoy as well. The 2 weeks honestly flew by and before we knew it, we found ourselves sadly back in the cold weather with half the month of November gone.

I journaled our adventures each day while on vacation and will share each day in it's own post along with photos here so stay tuned!

Love Letters from God: Review and Giveaway!

We love books in our house and are always on the look out for new ones to read. I was recently sent a copy of Love Letters from God to review. It is written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp.

What is it?

Love Letters from God is a beautifully written book that takes 18 well known Bible stories from both the Old and New Testament and shares them in a way that makes the stories relatable to children. Each story has a title with the scripture reference listed right underneath as to which Bible story is it about. The stories talk about the Bible character and what situation they are going through or facing and how it got resolved. There is even dialogue written out as to what they might've even said or prayed which helps bring the Bible stories to life for children.

At the end of each story is a box called "God's Wonderful Words to You" which shares a Bible verse that sums up the story you just read and give an assurance of God's love & promises that ties into the story.

In addition to the well written story, beautiful illustrations and Bible verses is also a "Love Letter from God" in the form of a flip up section at the end of each story. Before you open it, it looks like a letter received in the mail with a stamp & postmark on it. Once you open it, it starts out with saying Dear ________ which allows you to write the child's name on it to personalize the letter. Each letter sums up the story that was just read as if God was recapping it to the child. The letter also encourages and reminds them personally of His love while reminding the child that they too can strive for the same characteristics each Bible hero had (strength, wisdom, faith, etc).

At the end of the book there is a personal invitation that is written out just like an invitation would be. In it, it invites the child to become part of Jesus' team, assuring the child that they can always have Jesus with them. On the opposite page is a blank letter that allows the child to write their own love letter to God.

My thoughts:

This was such an enjoyable book to read with my youngest 2 children. The target ages for this book is 4-8 but I felt like children both younger & older than this would enjoy reading it. I found that the stories were scripturally sound (in that they didn't add or take away from the Biblical account). Sometimes reading the Bible stories straight from the Bible to younger children makes them difficult to understand or relate to for a child but this book bridges the gap and helps them relate and understand the story better. I did make sure my children knew that the love letters weren't truly written by God himself but rather what someone thinks God would be saying to them if he was sitting right by them talking to them in conversation.

This book is a hardback book with a cover jacket that looks just like the outside of the book. Each story spans 2 pages so it makes it easy to see everything all at once while you are reading. It would make a wonderful, personalized gift for your children or grandchildren!

Want to win your own autographed copy?? Enter below! Giveaway ends November 25th at 5pm EST.

I was given a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. No other compensation was given. All opinions expressed are my own.

Ahh Back to Reality!

Things have been a bit quiet around here at TLB and my Facebook Page for the last month or so. In addition to the busyness of daily life, I was preparing our family for a 2 week, international vacation. As you can imagine, there is a LOT to do to get ready for vacation for a family of our size. That alone could be a blog post all in itself, ha!

Missing from photo is a garment bag. Not bad for 8 of us for 15 days where we can't do laundry!

We are home now and working on getting back into the swing of life while trying to adjust to the frigid temps we came home to. As we were on vacation, I journaled our adventures. Over the coming days & weeks, I will be sharing here on the blog each of our 15 days we were away as well as photos from our trip!

So stop back and find out where all we traveled, what we did and the sights we saw!