Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Balaji Palace

This awesome aerial view of the incredible Balaji Palace is courtesy of my amazing Uncle Woody and his kite camera! If you click on the picture and look really hard, you can see him on the top of the Palace. He is a fantastic aerial photographer! Thanks, Woody.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

O'Learyunion 2009: Dominican Republic June 13-20

We just got back from an incredible week in the Dominican Republic. For the past 33 years my family has had amazing reunions. I think we have had 13 gatherings so far and it seems to get even better every time; this year was no exception. We now have 35 in our family! We stayed in the Balaji Palace, named for an Indian doctor that practices in Rochester, NY, that had it built for his family. I took over 700 pictures during the week, but none of them do the Palace justice.

(You can go on to see better shots, or on my Facebook page to see more of my photos.)

It was quite a trek getting there, since we were using Frequent Flyer points for our tickets. We had to split up and had crazy routing with Dave and Andy going to New York on the way and me taking Alaina, Becca, and Ryan through Chicago, spending the night in the Montreal, Cananda airport, then arriving in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic about 25 hours later. But, well worth it! The Balaji Palace is located on the North Coast, near Rio San Juan, about 75 minutes from the Puerto Plata Airport and about 30 minutes from Cabarete. We spent the first few days wandering around the Palace and reconnecting with our far-flung family. Then about 20 of us went horseback riding on the beach and got to gallop along the ocean after riding through a lush, green jungle. It was so gorgeous and the kids loved it. The girls have been begging for a horse forever, which is not going to happen, so this was perfect. We didn't have to ride in line and really got to spread out. The lead cowboy, Alfonso, was the tallest Dominican I'd seen. All of the staff were so nice. The boys and Dave decided to stay back and hang out at the palace with some of the other people. I have to admit, it's a good thing Dave didn't go because of his neck...I am still sore one week later!

There were four beautiful but very loud peacocks on the property...kind of like a snooze alarm that keeps going off.

All 35 of us went on an awesome 7-hour snorkel and sail trip on the Freestyle Catamaran. On the sail out to the perfect snorkeling spot, the kids "surfed" by jumping the waves.


Alaina, Becca, and Ryan all braved the water with me and we saw the coolest marine life. I'd never seen live squid before...they were bizarre. The fish were beautiful and the water was perfect.

The crew were so much fun and played steel drums for us. They led the younger cousins and kids in wild dancing with fun wigs and great music. We had a blast. I would so highly recommend this outfit if you go to the Dominican Republic!

We spent one morning shopping for souvenirs in Cabarete. The girls found these darling chihuaha puppies with the parking lot attendant and fell in love.

At the reunions we always have Grandad call a square dance. He called at the Worlds Fair in Brussels (in the 1940's, I think) and is so great. It has been a fun thing for all of the grand kids and great grand kids to experience, except Ryan and Andy didn't get into it this year.
We also always have my cousin David play his guitar and lead us in old family songs. When we have exhausted that repertoire, we move on to more current music. It is fun to do old fashioned sing-alongs like I imagine Grandad doing as a young boy in the 1920's. We don't take the time to slow down and do stuff like that much anymore.It was nice to have a few days to just hang out at the beach and pool and relax. It was a real vacation for all because of the amazing chef, laundress, maids, bartenders (virgin daiquiris and pina coladas all day!), and drivers. Ryan loved playing pool and got in on the flag football game.

We celebrated Grandads 90th birthday and the chef made him a great cake. All week long we had been writing things that we love about Grandad until we came up with 90 things. During his birthday celebration, we read the list and people explained some of the things. He has always been an amazing joke and story teller and entertainer. Some of the newer members of the family hadn't heard some of his more famous jokes, so he told one that we all love. No one can tell a joke like Grandad. He has such an incredible memory!Right as dinner was ending, we had a fabulous display of lightening. The sky was lit up like I've never was so beautiful. We didn't even end up having rain on our end of the island.

On our last day at the Balaji Palace, the chef did a spit roasted pig and the staff carried 35 chairs and all of the tables down about 100 spiral steps to the beach. We ate right next to the water and had an incredible sunset. Every night we ate at a different location on the Palace grounds. The staff were so accomodating and we were able to visit with different family members each night because of the great settings.
After the beach dinner, we had a pyrotechnic specialist eat fire and light a huge bonfire. He did a real fireworks display like the the 4th of July. It was a great ending to a fantastic week.
What a fabulous family reunion. I am grateful that I can look forward to the next one in 2011 when we can all reconnect again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Old Navy = Customer Service

Last week all six of us went to Old Navy to get some summer clothes. After trying everything on and narrowing down the kids' choices, we finally got in line to check out. The cashier rang up 3 bags worth of clothes, but then the machine broke, so she couldn't print the receipt for me to sign. Two managers came over and helped her and upon noticing our tired family sitting on a bench, said they'd be happy to give us 10% off our total. Great! But that meant I couldn't use my $10 off coupon (which to be honest hadn't saved even 3%), so I could use my regular Visa instead of my Old Navy card (because I prefer one BIG bill, to lots of small ones). When the transaction was finished they told us to come back in 2 days for a price adjustment because all of the mens clothing would be half off and it would apply to this days' purchase.
SO, I went back with the receipt they gave me, which turned out to be the voided one since we'd had the problem with the machine. So, the cashier called for back up again and they figured out to how to do a receipt look up. I wanted to purchase 3 additional t-shirts that I found while I was waiting and she applied the 10% off from the previous problem to them also, just to be nice. Then my $10 off wouldn't work because they had scanned it before when I didn't actually use it. So, they gave me $15 off for my trouble and I ended up paying $9 for the 3 shirts! That's what I call customer service...and it was worth the hassle.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Life is Like a Puzzle

Today I was able to fit all of the afternoon activities in like puzzle pieces. I picked up Becca, Ryan and a friend from school and we went to Target to get a birthday present and airplane snacks for Saturday (I am trying to get as much done ahead of time since this week will get progressively crazier). We stopped by the post office, then dropped the friend off. I quickly made pasta for dinner, then I took Andy to his 5:15 piano lesson and tried to use the time wisely by getting gas while he was there. I dropped him off at a 6:00 appointment and stopped by an awesome friends house to give her some treats she'll be needing! Then I raced to pick up the girls and take them to their 6:30 gymnastics class (I gave Ryan a choice of riding in the car for an hour or staying home and playing with his Legos. I am sure you can figure out what he chose!) I went to Blockbuster to return a movie on the way to pick up Andy, who was done at 7:00. I took him home and made it to gymnastics just by 7:30 to pick up the girls. We came home and I finally made my FF dinner and then we had time for 2 pages of scriptures. I cleaned the kitchen and by the time I got upstairs, the kids were all in bed! I put some extra bubble gumballs in the jar for them. I love it when everything fits like a puzzle and no one has to be early or late to fit everything in, even though I was in the car from 5:00-7:45! Try as I might to organize our lives, it doesn't often actually work out this way...stay tuned for the rest of this week, as I already know I am triple-booked some days...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Second-Graders Take Over the Bedford Gallery

The Bedford Gallery is in the Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts and every year the Second-Graders go on a field trip to see an art exhibit. This year the exhibit was "WAX". It was amazing to see what artists can do with wax.

I love the piece about the American Dream. I don't know if you can see it, but there is a $5 bill coming out of the faucet. The creepy heads are the artists rendition of her children (all made of wax) in different poses; yawning, sleeping, was kind of eerie. The thing by my yawning Ryan that looks like a blooming onion is actually a pile of wax fingers. It was a little disturbing.

I love the colors in these two encaustic works. Aren't they are gorgeous?

Sadly, I don't think Ryan quite enjoyed the field trip as much as I did. He looks a little bored, doesn't he? Especially in the yawning and twirling pictures. Notice the other kids looking genuinely, if they were wax LEGOS, he'd be very engaged! Anyway, I highly recommend going to this exhibit at the Bedford Gallery, if only for a change of pace and to get your kids out of the house over the summer.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Frog Pond

Every June the 2nd graders at Indian Valley take a science hike to the frog pond in the open space behind the school. This is my fourth and final trip, unless I adopt a 2nd grader next year. I love going on the kids field trips and being available to help out. I feel so blessed to not miss out on this little stuff. Like frog goo. But aren't they cute!!
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