Embarking on the Carnival Freedom!

The Carnival Freedom – January 2012

January 20, 2013
Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

We got on our shuttle – which we had to throw elbows for – to the port. The first glimpse of the ship is always the best, I remember that from my first cruise with Brittany. It is so much bigger and better than I could have imagined – even this time around. We were able to check our bags immediately and get in line to go through security and then to check in at the Carnival desk. All of the steps go so smoothly – even waiting in the long lines seemed to go quickly. It’s so fun to step aboard for the first time. We had to do one extra step once we got onboard and check-in at guest services since I was carrying on a POC (portable oxygen concentrator). At home I have to sleep with oxygen each night, but because we were at SEA LEVEL my doctors thought I’d be okay without it. I won’t lie – it was a nice break. Anyway, since I’ve cruised with Carnival before I got to go to the “VIFP” line (stands for Very Important Fun Person!) and it was a breeze to check-in with the O2! Carnival seems to make complicated things simple  (um, Delta and TSA should take note!!).


Leaving Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale – almost every home had a pool in the backyard. Locals came outside to wave to us as we left. =)

Once aboard, we started to figure out how to get to our cabin…which is a challenge at first, but once we found it we changed into our swim suits and started to explore. Our first mission was to find food. None of us were hungry, but we separated and came back to the table with a few plates from the expansive buffet (desserts, too) and the fish & chips restaurant (my favorite!! I ate there everyday, but one!)  Eventually, we made our way to the upper decks so we could watch as the ship left the port!

When we finally made it to the upper deck I really thought I might just have to camp out at that spot for the rest of the cruise! One detail that I completely overlooked (and didn’t even consider) was how huge the ship was and how much walking would be involved. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that much walking everyday. Inwardly, I was freaking out wondering how I’d tackle this challenge.  More on that later. =)

Up on one of the many decks to watch as the ship left the port. ti was so fun – and so cool how such a massive ship can maneuver (almost like a car that is parallel parked) to leave the port. Pretty amazing!

Fun Fact: The swim suit cover-up that my Mom is wearing she purchased in Hawaii in 1986 (I think!). She had NEVER worn it before THIS TRIP – not even once!!

100_1625 100_1619 100_1629 IMG_0817
After we were out to sea, we realized that we were on for our first dinner that night and our seating was the late seating (8:15pm). As we were getting ready to head to dinner we realized that we were seated in two different restaurants! We got that issue fixed and then went to dinner at Posh Restaurant, not Chic Restaurant. Caren referred to that one as “chick” the whole week – it still makes me laugh!

I don’t remember exactly what I ate that night, but I do remember that I didn’t hold back (not that I ever do!), but nothing was stopping me from enjoying every single bite! We got to meet our waitstaff that night (you sit at the same table every night and the same staff serves you). Through the week we got to know them a little bit and asked them a ton of questions…I think they were from Romania, Philippines, Mexico, and….I can’t remember! One of my favorite parts of cruising is the staff – they are from all over the world and have such interesting stories. They bend over backwards to provide the best service. I have so much respect and appreciation for them!

After dinner we went to the Victorian Lounge for the Opening Night show. We were all so tired – pretty sure Mom fell asleep during the show! I definitely had to fight to stay awake. We made it through the good stuff – singing & dancing – and headed to our cabin for the night when the comedian took stage.

Once we got back to our room, our beds had been turned down and chocolates awaited us on our pillows along with our first edition of “Carnival Times.” Each evening this routine happens. The Carnival Times is a schedule of the next days events around the ship and at the ports. So, we finished unpacking and got our stuff ready for the next day (Key West).

It seems there was more packed into this day, but some of the details blur together – time flies when you’re having fun and it seems that we packed a lot of fun into our week away!



On January 19th, my Mom and I boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On that day, there were SO many things that could have gone wrong…but didn’t. It was amazing how we all made every single flight – no delays. And Caren (who was flying standby) made it to Fort Lauderdale first – it was seriously amazing and a huge answer to prayer!  I got a text from her when she made her first flight (which looked impossibly overbooked): “I am on!!” I remember that surge of emotion (JOY) and thinking to myself, “this is it – we’re really doing this!!”  The day – seriously – couldn’t have been more perfect.

mom geo travel

Made it through security and relaxing before our first flight!  Like our coordinating outfits?! 😉

Doctor ordered mask (on the airplane and around large groups of people) and oxygen in flight. A beautiful sunset from the air as we neared our first stop: Minneapolis. (I couldn’t get that mask off fast enough – one way to get people to stay away – wear a mask!)

My two sisters were already there – waiting for us with the rental car – when our plane landed.  We left the airport at about midnight, ready to “embark” on a fun, tropical week, but little did my Mom know of the adventure that lay ahead.  From the time we left the airport to the time our heads hit the pillow that night at the hotel – each of us girls had accidentally let the words “cruise” or “ship” slip in front of our Mom.  This surprise was getting more and more difficult to keep secret!

holding hands

Our hotel room had one king bed and a pull-out sofa. We all climbed into the king bed to watch tv and chat before going to sleep. Well, my Mom woke up in the night and went to the pull-out bed, but us three girls slept this way til morning. =)

waking up

We woke up to the flash on Mom’s camera…well, and Caren yelling…haha!

Here’s the story:

On December 7, 2012, my Mom turned 60. My sisters and I knew for a long time that we wanted to do something extra fun and special.  We had lots of planning conference calls, emailing and texting in the months leading up to our big adventure.  One thing we knew for sure: we wanted the best part of the trip to be a surprise for our Mom.

On my Mom’s actual birthday, we planned a day of fun surprises/clues all leading up to her gift from us: a custom book FILLED with photos and memories from her friends and family.  On the last page of the book we included a poem:

Happy, Happy Birthday
60 years have flown by fast!
One more adventure to make
the celebration last,

The scavenger hunt
does not end here,
we have more planned
to start the new year.

Pack your bags
for unexpected fun,
we will laugh, play
and enjoy the sun!

January 19th
is the day we fly out,
we have everything ready,
even the route!

You are the best Mom,
you deserve all the credit.
You are deeply loved
please never forget it!

So for the six weeks between her birthday and our trip – she only knew that we were going to Florida.  We wouldn’t give her any more details.

It was so awesome waking up in Florida to a warm, sunny day!

Hotel in Fort Lauderdale

Hotel in Fort Lauderdale

We did some research the night before and found the highest rated diner in Fort Lauderdale.  We asked some locals and they said it was their favorite – and it was good.  We ordered waffles, an omelet and two orders of eggs Benedict and shared all of it (which is pretty much what we did at a lot of our upcoming meals, as well!).  They had a ton of baked goodies, so we loaded up on those, as well.  Then we were off to turn in our rental car and wait for the shuttle to the port.


Lester’s Diner – Fort Lauderdale, Florida – January 20, 2013


Lester’s Diner – Fort Lauderdale, Florida – January 20, 2013

At the car rental drop-off, there were shuttles to the port.  At this point, my Mom was very confused as to why we were dropping off the car and where we were going next.  We pretty much lied and said we had to turn in our rental car and then take a shuttle to our “resort.” Well, EVERYONE around us was waiting for a shuttle to the port to go on a cruise.  It seemed EVERYWHERE we went, people were talking about cruising.  We got asked several times if we were there to go on a cruise.  Finally, Mom had asked one too many questions and we decided (while still waiting for our shuttle to the port) that we had to tell her.  I dug out her passport – that I had smuggled from her files weeks before – and got my phone ready to record her reaction.  Caren handed Mom her passport and our Carnival luggage tags…


There is a video, but she swore in it and she won’t let me post it.  Lame. It is MY blog, after all. Oh wait…

We went on a 6 day cruise…to Key West, Grand Caymans, & Ocho Rios, Jamaica!

(and I did get her permission to post this)

I asked Mom months ago what her dream birthday would be and she said, “go on a cruise, just us four girls.”

Her dream came true. Stay Tuned!


One of our first views of the ship, Carnival Freedom!

Summer 2011 {Auctions, Homesteads and Family Time}

It is difficult to even know where to start.  The past two months have been amazing.

On May 26th, Caren, kids and I road tripped over to our hometown of Williston, North Dakota.  A place that will always remain near and dear to my heart, regardless of its ever changing landscape and dynamic.  If you were not born/raised in Williston – it may difficult to understand – but just imagine the place you call home and why you love it.  For me it is so many things….the memories, the people, childhood, the good times, the tough times, the consistencies, the small town, the food (ha, I know!!), and the familiarities.  Most every street and building holds some type of memory and I love that feeling.  Even though in recent years, Williston has changed drastically most of the things I love about my hometown have remained.  There is always something going on and someone to visit with.  Someone is always having “a coke (which can mean any type of “pop” or soda)” or coffee and treat.

Therefore, “going home to Williston” is always something I look forward to.  It’s a very safe, secure, encouraging and loving place for me.  Most everyone has known my story since an early age and watched the journey – the “get” me.  This chaotic, confused, sarcastic, goofy ME.

Back to the story…..we road tripped to Williston and stayed at the Waitman’s.  Natalie and kids were to arrive the next day and my Dad’s family auction was the next day – on the 28th of May.  For me, it was a mini-family reunion with my Dad’s family.  I got to meet little cousins that I had never met before.  The auction itself was a very bizarre feeling.  I had always known it would happen, but it was very bizarre that most of my grandparents earthly possessions held no memories/meaning for most of us kids.  They were avid auction-goers – so most of their belongings were from auctions around the area and kept in their original form – boxes full of random “stuff” aka antiques.

The auction itself was a fun and new experience.  It was crazy (and disheartening) that most of the items went for far beyond their value.  Going into the auction – most of the family members didn’t have anything particular that they were looking to bid on, but as the auction started numbers were snagged and my sisters (and Dad and Kim) – as well as other cousins, aunts, uncles – ended up snagging a fairly large pile of loot.  Surprisingly, we even snagged a few pieces the held memories for us!  I grabbed my grandparents dishes that they used at the farm and bowls that I vividly remembering eating Cheerios out of!

During the auction, Natalie’s diaper bag/purse was stolen.  Gone.  There was a scurry of activity as word spread.  That bag held her life while she was on vacation with her kids in ND.  Without the contents she would be in a world of hurt for the rest of her trip.  Police were called, a report was filed, but then the bag mysteriously appeared.  Everything was in the bag except for Holton’s toy bag – full of 50+ cars from Cars the movie.  One disappointed and sad three year old little guy – why would someone do that?  The whole incident made no sense.  It was a very rough start to our family time in North Dakota.

The last few days of May we spent visiting friends, hanging out at the Waitman’s, and  visiting the farms….

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The next big event while we were all in North Dakota happened to be on June 2.  My 30th birhday….

To be continued.



My last month as a twenty-something.  Soon I’ll be kissing 30 on the lips!

Excited to say that I will be rockin’ in my thirties with friends and family in my hometown – Williston, North Dakota!  Who needs Vegas when you’ve got ND?!

Looking forward to a fun {carefree} summer!

{guest post} Yes, I Sweat (2)

{My PW weekend partner in crime, Sarah, asked (or I may have bribed her) to write a guest blog. I think her perspective is probably a more accurate depiction of how things happened….cause you know…I WAS IN SHOCK! I really want to have Sarah’s perspective on the weekend to be able to go back and read months, years, decades from now. So, enjoy Sarah’s weekend recap…}

Click HERE for Part One of PW Weekend by Sarah

Part Two of PW Weekend
The long wait for Pioneer Woman weekend started right after we made our plans.  I kept saying that I wished it was the coming Friday.  Well good thing It wasn’t because North Dakota had one of the worst blizzards of the winter!  I was very thankful we had a whole week for the weather to get better.  I worried about the weather every day before our trip.  Obsessing with checking the weather reports and road reports. Our weekend was looking good and the Friday morning I left for our trip it was beautiful.

For the first time EVER in 5 years I was off by myself. I hugged my 2 kids and husband goodbye. Even shed a few tears, I couldn’t believe I was doing this!  I drove along HWY 2 for 5 hours, and HWY 87 for 2 more hours.  It actually went fast.  I had Oprah radio to keep me occupied when I couldn’t take the same old songs anymore.  I couldn’t wait to see Geoffrey!

We met up at our hotel after arriving minuets apart!  Good timing Jo!  We had a few hours before our PW signing so of course I wanted to go shopping!  Power shopping in Target was the second best thing about the trip.  I heart Target.  Then we booked it back to the hotel. I had to learn to be aggressive driving in Great Falls.  I had many people give me odd looks and I think even some fingers too! So our chant in the car was “BE AGGRESSIVE B E AGGRESSIVE!” I will never forget that!

So back at the hotel, a poof of hairspray and perfume and we were out! We were going to see Ree Drummond! Really!  We shoved our food down at Chili’s, literally shoveled it in.  Really.  Took off to our destination.  Driving aggressively through the highly populated city, and realize oops, wrong spot!  So turn around drive aggressively back to 1 block away from Chili’s and arrive at the hotel where Ree was speaking.  We are running into the hotel, 4 books in hand for myself, and I am talking on the phone to my kids telling them goodnight.  We made it though, 3rd row seats and all.  V.I.P.  Well either that or the guy felt bad for us and didn’t want us to stand for the next few hours.  Again we had to be aggressive and grab the seats he was putting out or we would have gotten knocked over!  The seats when as fast as he set them down.  We sat down, I was sweating, but we did it.  We were there, all the worrying, hard work, driving, anticipation paid off.  We were there!

Moments later Ree walked out on stage.  She was beautiful, witty, funny.  I loved it.  I love her story.  I love her.  Geoffrey was in complete shock the whole time.  I kept looking at her for a reaction, and I got nothing.  She had her poker face on.  I kept thinking Man she MUST be in shock!  She was.

Once Ree was done speaking we darted to the back of the line for the book signing.  We stood in one place for a long time, then suddenly the line started moving, and we were getting excited.  We met some really great people in line.  They were touched by Geoffrey’s story of her letter.  Who wouldn’t be!  Geoffrey’s story is so touching.  I really feel like this whole trip was meant to be in more ways than one.  If Geoffrey would have had her surgery, we wouldn’t have made our trip.  She wouldn’t have met Ree.

When it was finally our turn to get our books signed they asked if we were together or separate.  We said “together!”  Well, I watched as Geoffrey walked up to Ree with her letter in hand, I stood back.  She was nervous, but as soon as Ree looked up she instantly knew Geoffrey, and she was in shock as well I think!  I stood as a bystander and then they told me to go up there, I didn’t want to! I wanted to stand back and watch! But I did, and I stood behind listening to them in shock as well.  I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t want to say anything! I watched her sign our books, I think I said something about  planning our trip, but I don’t really remember…. and then it was over…we walked away with the biggest grins on our faces! I think we even jumped up and down.  Geoffrey was STILL in shock though!

Our nice friends in line that we met came up to us after and said how touched they all were watching Geoffrey meet Ree.   Everyone had tears in their eyes.  It was great.  It was perfect.  It was so surreal! It was the best weekend ever!

The next day we packed up, and hit the road again.  I was sad it was over, but so happy for the memories!  WE DID IT!

We did it!

P.S. (from Sarah) I have a few regrets:
1. wearing a belt with my skinny pants.
2. getting pulled over not once but TWICE in Montana.  Thank goodness for “I’m just going to give you a warning mam.”
3. Not saying something to Holla Dean when she stared down Geoffrey at breakfast. (Paula Dean look alike! So we changed her name).
4. Not having more time, I wish we could have had more time together! But the time we did have will never be forgotten… even Geoffrey talking in her sleep.  🙂

{guest post} Yes, I Sweat

{My PW weekend partner in crime, Sarah, asked (or I may have bribed her) to write a guest blog.  I think her perspective is probably a more accurate depiction of how things happened….cause you know…I WAS IN SHOCK!  I really want to have Sarah’s perspective on the weekend to be able to go back and read months, years, decades from now.  So, enjoy Sarah’s weekend recap…}

Part One of PW Weekend
Here I go, “guest blogging” in what I call “the next great bloggers” blog.  Who doesn’t LOVE seeing a new post pop up in the Brilliant Brunettes blog!? I do I do!  So I am feeling scattered as I write, even sweating a little.  I love my friend Geoffrey, and to spend a weekend with her meeting Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, was a weekend I won’t forget.

It was a Sunday night (I think) and I was searching www.thepioneerwoman.com for a recipe to make for dinner.  I L O V E making her recipes.  Shes my goto girl for a good meal.  So I am searching for a recipe, and for some random reason I decide to check out “appearances” on her blog, and to my shocking eyes I see shes doing a book signing in Great Falls, MT in 2 weeks.  GREAT FALLS, MT!  Really? Great Falls, MT!?  So as I start sweating, I google Great Falls, MT.  I see it’s very close to my good friend Geoffrey.  So I send her the link on Facebook saying she should go.

The next day is when the whole trip came together.  Within hours really.  I start doing more research on the city, how far of a drive it would be if I went too. 7 hours.  Would it really be possible that I could go?! I NEVER leave my family. I have NEVER left my family.   Again, I am sweating while the deal is being made, I am being indecisive if I should go or not. The whole time thinking I HAVE TO GO, but SHOULD I go?  I email my sister for advice.  I get an email back with the same questions and what ifs I asked her…. I said thanks, I just emailed myself!  Then she emails back and it says “DO IT!”  That’s what I needed to hear.  I needed a push, so I got all my ducks in a row and told Geoffrey “WE ARE DOING THIS! LETS DO IT!”  (I really was shouting too.)

The Great Adventure {part three}

Read The Great Adventure {part one} and {part two} first!

I walked the few steps and Ree looked up and said something like, “I know you.”  I’m pretty sure I started to babble about the letter and blah blah blah….

She remembers me!

I didn’t have to explain anything.  She recognized me before I could even explain anything.  She gave me a hug right away.  It’s all such a blur to me now, I only remember bits and pieces of our conversation.  I was trying to think/talk fast because of the long line of people waiting.  Ree said she got my email (thanking her for the personal letter and how much it meant to me) and she knew that my surgery was cancelled.  She said that she has the photo that Joci sent (of Joci and I) propped up against her computer monitor at home. (SAY WHAT?!?!)

Trying so hard not to burst into tears.

I told Ree that when Joci emailed me a scanned copy of the letter on my way home from Minnesota – I didn’t totally believe that it was from Ree – so I googled “Ree Drummond’s signature.”  She got a kick out of that.

She thanked us for coming to see her.  She wanted to know where we travelled from.

I hope I'm crackin a funny joke here.....?

I still cannot believe that all happened.  It was such a lifter.  Such JOY.  Ree was so warm and kind to us.

Ree signed her Pot Roast recipe...my fave.

After we walked out of the line – it was so fun to look back at the ladies we had been chatting with.  They all watched as Ree and I interacted – and I don’t think they was a dry eye.  In the moment, it was just Ree and I – it was such a special experience – the whole night.


Thank you Joci – for sending that letter!  It wouldn’t have been nearly the experience without you taking the time to write a letter and send a photo to Ree.  Thank you so very much!

Thank you Sarah for such a special “girls weekend.”  So thankful we got to experience all of this together.  I’ll remember this FOREVER.  So special.

I’m sure there’s a lot of details that forgot to mention – so I’ll add as I remember (or am reminded by Sarah)!

After it was all said and done....