Monday, July 30, 2012

I Ate a Banana

I do not like bananas.  Never have.  Oh, I could enjoy banana bread slathered with cream cheese, or a banana cake drowning in a rich, creamy frosting,  But a banana in its pure form? Forget it.
Leaving Davenport, Iowa, I chose to have a banana for breakfast.  The banana was my attempt at healthier eating-a new beginning as I went back to my daily life. The end of this vacation meant a return to, as Mary Beth Chapman calls, "a new normal."  In January, my life had  changed drastically. The past six months have been months of healing, both physically and emotionally. The physical pains have gotten much better. The emotional pain of missing Greg is a part of me. It is not a bad pain, for it comes with memories filled with so much love that there is comfort in it.
Tasting the banana, I was surprised to find there were nuances in the flavor that I actually enjoyed--a slight tang that had a certain sweetness to it and although I would grab a chocolate bar over a banana any day, I could eat and enjoy a banana.
So where am I going with this banana story on our vacation blog?  As I spooned banana bites into my mouth, I saw this experience as an analogy for this trip, as well as for life.
From the beginning, I saw this "Ultimate Road Trip" as a gift from a loving Grandfather to his grandson, and to his daughter and their experiences should be the primary focus. I was flattered and very touched that they chose to include me, but I still thought of the vacation as their trip.  Although I did voice my opinions on occasion (and anyone who knows me also knows that I can't keep my mouth shut for long!), I wanted their choices to dictate our travels. Like the banana, I would not have chosen some of the things they picked. And also, like the banana, I found my self discovering new and different things and enjoying those things.
As for my life, I would NEVER have chosen the loss of my husband.  But since that time, I have tasted the love of my family and of Greg's family that has touched my soul.  I have tasted the depths of friendships that goes so far beyond lunch dates and casual get-togethers. I have tasted the compassion and grace of my church families in Chamberlain and at Greenmont that have blown away all expectations. Opening and pulling back the peel, I could truly "taste and see that the Lord is good!"
Now as I go back to my "new normal," I pray that with God's help I can pull back the peel in my life and be open to the new adventures that are before me in this wonderful world!
Thank you all for going on this journey with me!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Serendipitous Surprises

 Brainstorming interesting things in Nebraska, all we could come up with was "corn." So it was a very pleasant surprise when we discovered the town we spent the night in--Grand Island, Nebraska--was home to a living history pioneer village AND incidentally, the boyhood home of actor Henry Fonda!

The main building of the Stuhr Museum told the story of the pioneer west and was filled with fascinating artifacts.  This washing machine, for example, made me want to go home and kiss my humble Whirlpool!

Outside of the main museum building was a recreation of an 1892 prairie railroad town.

A very cool gift to this town was the 1905 home where Henry Fonda was born:

Peopled with costumed reinactors, we met townspeople such as the village blacksmith,

as well as the tinsmith, the veterinarian, the mercantile owner, the marshal and my favorite, the milliner. Why was the hat maker my favorite? Well, outside of being a very lovely person, she could make some truly bodacious hats.  I fell in love with one and decided that I need to hook up with an Ohio steam-punk group for an excuse to wear it...of course, there is the small issue of the need to make a dress to match (thank goodness for the creative minds at Simplicity patterns!).

Heading to Davenport, Iowa for the night, we decided to have supper in Omaha, Nebraska. The two things we knew about Omaha were: 1), Omaha Steaks and 2). Mutual of Omaha (does anybody remember "Wild Kingdom"?).  We were totally surprised to discover a kitchy, bohemian section of town called "Old Market."  We had an amazing dinner at Jack's Tavern and then checked out the shops, streetside cafes and streetcorner musicians. And of course we were able to top off the night at an Omaha institution-- Ted and Wally's Ice Cream. My evening ended with ice cream dreams in Orange Spice Chocolate and Double Dutch Chocolate.  Redundant?  I think not.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Long Road Home

Tuesday marked the beginning of the end.  After a visit to the Grand Canyon, we would be traveling from Arizona to Ohio in four days, driving time at least 8-9 hours a day.  To my brother the truck driver, this is nothing. To our little tushies, this was far too much bonding time with the seats of our van!
After tearful good-byes to our AZ family we left the Phoenix area hoping to enjoy the delights of the Canyon during sunset hours--which we heard added another level of beauty to this natural wonder. Wayne, Cameron and Kelly eagerly explored  the Canyon view, aptly named "Grand."  I admit this was a little tougher for me.  You see, seeing the Grand Canyon was one of the last things we did with Greg before he passed.  And the bottom line is, I miss him sooo much.  :'/

Love you always

We left the Canyon after sunset, headed to our hotel in Flagstaff and on Wednesday we began that long journey home. We drove and drove. The desert scenery was beautiful in its own way and although we appreciated it, during much of the drive we looked like this:

And like this:

Keeping with our goal of trying to see something interesting each day, we discovered Arches National Park in Utah--a really fascinating aray of rock formations, dominated by naturally formed arches.

Arch-friends (instead of arch-enemies) :)

"The Garden of Eden"
(looks a little on the dry side these days)

Balancing Rock

Close up of one of the arches

As we continued on the road, thinking we might make our hotel before too late, we noticed some smoke in the distance. Our first thought was one of those wildfires that have been on the news lately, but the smoke seemed very centralized and coming from the highway itself.

As we got closer, we realized a semi had caught fire and was burning!

An amazing site we hope never to see again, the trucker had hit a guard rail, blew a couple of tires, knocked out brake pads and somehow caught on fire.  We watched as the whole truck burned. Highway 70 was closed for over two hours.  We all thanked God that the trucker (or anyone else) was not hurt.

Of course it was late when we finally made it to our hotel in Glenwood Springs, Co.  When we woke up, we discovered we were in a charming ski town in the Aspen area. We had the best breakfast of the trip at a delightful place called "Our Daily Bread." Specializing in Eggs Benedict, mine consisted of  the English Muffin topped with artichoke hearts, avocado, soft poached eggs and diced tomatoes, topped with a homemade hollendaise sauce.  Total Yum!
We journeyed on to Denver and thought we would see the Molly Brown house there (anyone remember the movie with Debbie Reynolds?).  Molly was a Titanic survivor and a major Denver philanthropist.  Unfortunately for us, she is still pretty popular, especially since this year is the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic sinking, so we were only able to appreciate the house from the outside as all tour tickets had been sold out.  :(

Although we were disappointed, our day surprised us in other ways.  Stopping for gas later that afternoon, we were blessed by an "out of gas" band that set up near the Sinclair dinosaur and was playing for gas money.  They were trying to get to a music festival in West Virginia and they had a wonderful Appalachian sound.  Listening to them you felt their love of music and the natural joy in what they do.

After enjoying the impromptu concert, we headed off to Grand Island, Nebraska for the night.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Division of the Troops...

Leaving San Diego, our next stop was Arizona. Wayne, Kelly and Cameron were to be staying with Wayne's sister Cheryl and her husband Jim in Casa Grande, while I would be going 45 minutes farther to stay with my daughter Tiffany and my son-in-law Kostas and to play with my 18 month old granddaughter, Eleftheria. We arrived at the Capizzis' lovely southwest decor home at about 7 in the evening. After showing us around, Cheryl treated us to some of her fantastic chili that had been teasing our taste buds since we entered her home.  After supper, Cheryl and Jim got the rest of the crew settled, then loaded me up in their SUV and drove me to Tiffany's.
I know that Sunday was church time, pool time, and rock climbing time for those that stayed with the Capizzis. I know that the Capizzi crew explored the wonders of Sedona on Monday,  I, however, had the best two days of the whole vacation on this Sunday and Monday.  More awesome then Yellowstone. More awe-inspiring than the mountains, More fascinating then the Underground tour of Seattle.  I spent two amazing days discovering the wonder of Eleftheria and being with Tiff and Kostas!
So be warned; the pictures I have to share are of my granddaughter. I know every grandparent thinks their grandchild(ren) is the best.  Allow me to give you all some peace here--mine is!!!  :)

Blowing kisses..

Laughing with bubbles...

Cooking supper with Mommy...

Talking to Auntie Kristen and texting "I love you" to Uncle Greg
(already she is better than me with technology!)

Monday we went to Joe's Farm Grill for lunch.  Absolutely yummy. The "foodie" in me appreciated that this restaurant was featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." The food was farm-fresh and fantastic! Thank you to Tiff for choosing this one.

The other wonderful thing about stopping here was an opportunity to take more pictures of my granddaughter...

Contemplating the mysteries of the french fry...

Chillin' with the fam...

As this day draws to a close, I am so very thankful for the time I could spend with the Kalaitzidis family.

Good night, sweet princess...
till we meet again.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aloha Also Means "Good-bye"

Our final major Hawaiian excursion was to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Probably one of the better tourist attractions, the PCC is run by Brigham Young University with its main purpose being to provide college educational opportunities for the huge Polynesian community.  We could tour through seven different "villages," each with their own shows and family friendly activities.  The day culminated in an amazing dinner buffet filled with native and traditional delicacies, and a phenomenal, very professional production highlighting the music and dance of the different Polynesian tribes.
We all enjoyed discovering the different cultures.  Kelly especially appreciated her cultural studies:

Thursday we were to leave for the Airport at 1 p.m., so everyone had their own "last moments on the island" agenda.  I was up at 5:30 a.m., donning my bathing suit and headed for the beach. Waikiki is pretty deserted at that time, just some surfers off in the distance catching waves before their work day. The water was warm and salty and I loved simply rolling with the gentle waves as they came towards shore. Too soon, I came in and dried off and as I was walking back to the hotel, I was greeted by, not one, but two lovely little rainbows over the ocean.  I felt the island was saying good by with its traditional magic!

We got into San Diego after midnight, all of us too tired to do anything but sleep.  Well, not all of us--Wayne went to the hotel lobby and did his Bible Study until 4 in the morning.  That man is amazing!
The next day, Gary flew back to Cleveland, Kelly was looking forward to spending the day with a dear friend of hers who had moved to San Diego a dozen years ago, and Wayne, Cameron and I decided to hit the famous San Diego Zoo!

Cheesy photo booth picture!

The three hours spent there went quickly.  The settings for the animals were amazing.  I was impressed by the way the zoo was helping protect so many endangered species back home in their native habitats.  We saw all kinds of critters:

                                                Doin' time in the big house...

Giraffe-sic Park

I miss hangin' with my chicks!

A delightful San Diego native that I sat next to on the flight back to the mainland, suggested that we go to "Old Town" for dinner.  What a great suggestion! Old Town is a National Park with much of the flavor of
the early Mexican American settlement.  We went to a place called "Fiesta del Reyes" for dinner and shopping (all combined). While we waited for our outdoor table, we browsed shops and listened to a wonderful Mariachi band.

The meal was muy Fabuloso!!  The perfect end to a lovely San Diego day!!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Saturday, the 14th, we flew out with Gary, Kelly's husband, to Oahu. Long day, long flight--even though we gained 3 more hours. We arrived in Honolulu about 7p.m. and went to the Hilton Complex. Really lovely. We all were looking forward to this stay.

Checking in

Living Room

View from our balcony

After our strenuous vacation schedule (strenuous and vacation don't seem like they should go together), we decide Sunday should be casual and up to each individual. We walked the beach, explored local shops, went to church, napped and basically just enjoyed the location and the day itself.  In the evening we took a taxi to Uncle Bo's, a restaurant highly recommended by our concierge as having local cuisine at reasonable prices.  The meal fulfilled all expectations. Personally, I think the highlight of the night was when Wayne tried to hail a pizza delivery car for our taxi home. I thought that was a brilliant idea!
Monday was my bakery quest day.  Curious about the island specialties, I was told malasadas are THE Hawaiian pastry and the place to get them is Leonards. Malasadas are Portuguese in origin and are like a thick doughy donut covered in sugar. Leonards sells thousands of them each day. Leaonards was also an hour walk from our hotel--the grace in that being I should be able to walk off the calories of at least one if not two!
Wayne and I both agreed the malasadas are a great way to start the day!

Pearl Harbor was the next item on our agenda. Gary, Cameron, Wayne and I boarded our taxi for the trip.  I figured it would be a pretty safe ride when I saw the other passenger in the cab:

Wish she could  have been with us on that scary, nighttime coastal ride!

Our first stop at Pearl Harbor was the decommissioned battleship, the Missouri,  The first question I heard asked about her was from a young boy on the tour. And the answer was "Yes, this was the ship used in the film Battleship."  I just keep rubbing elbows with the stars.  :)

Huge, powerful and intimidating! And so historic.  I didn't realize this was the ship where the final surrender of WWII occurred.  I especially appreciated all the extra tidbits Gary shared about the ship and life at sea.  His Navy background added a lot to our tour.

Next stop, the Arizona Memorial.  At one time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was just part of our Nation's history that I  learned about in school. Having lived through 9/11, the horror of this event seemed so much more real to me. I went to honor my parents and all those who lived through this war and especially to honor those who didn't live--the soldiers, sailors and civilians who died that day.

In its own way, more powerful than anything else we have seen on this trip. 
 May God grant them and us peace.

Tuesday the 17th,  Gary rented us a candy-apple red jeep to check out the North Shore, home of great beaches, sweet waves and roadside shrimp stands. On our way we stopped at the Dole Plantation.  Here we learned how to choose the best tasting pineapples (no soft spots, eyes all the same size and a slight fruity smell), and all about Dole pineapples.

Our next stop was Romys Shrimp Stand, so popular, we waited an hour for our dinner!

Kelly was a bit put off by the beady little eyes of her shrimp...

I however celebrated my inner shrimp!

The North Shore was cloudy and misty for us this day, but because of the mist we were able to experience another gift of the islands.  A rainbow seemed to follow us all the way back to our hotel!

...just another day in paradise!  :)

Just Another Day in Paradise...

Why I Haven't Blogged for a Week Confession:  The Dell Netbook I am using has a super-sensitive cursor. If I leave it in a spot for too long it randomly highlights, erases and or sends me to websites that I never clicked. Which means as much as I am enjoying sharing the trip with you all, it is never an easy process.
Confession Part 2: I'm in freakin' Hawaii, for crying out loud! Did you really expect me to sit at a computer and write!!!!  :)
With your patience, I will play the "Catch Up" game again.
Leaving the wonders of Yosemite we headed off to San Francisco. Kelly loved the Sausalito area and we all were craving some good seafood so we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a fog so dense we were unable to see the water below us. Amazingly, the wall of fog ended just about as we entered the town.

Sausilito was adorable and the fish dinner we had in a restaurant that overlooked the bay was totally yummy.  I might have to get a small home here with my second million.  :)

We stayed that night in the Hotel Embassy in San Francisco.  Very aptly named, I don't believe I heard another person who spoke English as their primary language.

The night clerk was Russian  and I believe most of the guests were Czech or French. Even the breakfast buffet had a European flair having cheese and Nutella.
From the hotel, we were picked up by our tour bus to begin a city tour of the City on the Bay. A three hour tour, we went all over San Fran.  The bus driver was extremely knowledgeable, but we all wished we could have explored the sites that we drove by.  I was lucky enough to slip away before the tour officially began and see the sight that mattered most to me:

Ghirardelli Square, birthplace of my favorite baking chocolate.  Unfortunately, the factory is no longer there. But they tease us chocophiles with a small demo area.  I had Willy Wonka fantasies of swimming in that chocolate river when I saw this--


Leaving San Fran, we planned on a quick stop north to see the giant redwoods before heading south to San Diego via the coastal road,  When we shared this with our tour guide, he actually laughed at us, saying we should make San Diego by about 3 a.m !!!  He suggested a park to the south were we could see some redwoods and then continue to our destination. Although the trees weren't as huge at Pfieffer Park, the oldest, affectionately named "The Colonel," was about 1,000 years old!

NOT the Colonel, just some privates.  It was too dark for pictures by the time we discovered the Colonel
Highway 101 is really gorgeous--during the day. At night it is twisty and dark and a bit scary. When we left the park, it was getting dark. There were warning signs that the road would be closed up ahead after 9 pm. Thinking we might make it past the closed area by that time, we drove about another hour an a half down the UNscenic nighttime road.  We hit the area a bit after nine and were told, very nicely, that we needed to go back the way we came and that there wasn't a turn off or place to stay until we got back to Monteray, just south of San Francisco! Kelly, with her adrenaline up, drove all the way back on that twisty and dark road.
I believe that in bad situations, grace is always offered if you have the faith to look for it. I was planning on making that my priority on the next day, when Cameron, via Yelp, found the Mariposa Hotel for us to stay in that night. Polished wooden floors, lots of space, a bathroom that lights up as you enter with an anti-fog mirror--definitely the nicest hotel of the whole trip and the night manager gave it to us at half price. A lovely soothing balm for our tired spirits.
Friday, the 13th was a major travel day as we had to make up for the time we lost on the previous day. We stopped in Hollywood and did some of the tourist sites before heading down to San Diego for the night.

Walk of Stars

Chinese Theater

Hand prints in Cement (for you, Kristen)

Saturday--off to Hawaii!