Saturday, March 29, 2014

Our Last Day in Kauai

Friday was our second day in Kauai and unfortunately we only had half a day to enjoy the island because we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 p.m.

We had booked a tubing trip with Kauai Back Country Adventures. We were supposed to be at their offices at 8:30 a.m. and we had to take a taxi to get there. As luck would have it, there was another couple from the cruise going to the same place and so we were able to share a cab which helped with the expense.

We arrived at Kauai Back Country Adventures and checked in for our 9:00 a.m. tubing trip. I think there were around 20 total people on our trip. The actual tubing lasted about hour for two miles through what was once a flume used on a sugar cane plantation. About 70% of the tubing was through tunnels so we had to wear helmets with headlamps on them.

It took about an hour to get to the “put-in” spot and then another hour on the water which was loads of fun. The only person to fall completely in the water on our trip was my dad. He was attempting to sit on the edge of his tube and it didn’t work out too well. Thankfully he didn’t lose his glasses or hurt himself.

Once the tubing was over, we were provided sandwiches, chips and cookies for lunch which took place by a swimming hole. I did not venture into the swimming hole because quite honestly it didn’t look too sanitary. When lunch was over, we packed up all our things and headed back to the offices. We called the same taxi from the morning and he picked us up and took us back to the ship.

After we returned to the ship, we cleaned ourselves up and then joined the captain at the front of the ship for a toast as we pulled out of port in Kauai. This was for Norwegian Cruise Lines Latitudes members of which my dad is one. So, we watched the ship leave port and stayed on the bow until we got kicked off.

The rest of the evening was spent watching movies, watching scenery along the coastline, and otherwise keeping ourselves occupied as we made our way to Honolulu. We will dock early Saturday morning and will have to be off the ship by 9:00 a.m. at which point we will be renting a car and spending the day on the North Shore of Oahu before returning to the airport and making our way back to the mainland. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Helicopter Ride in Kauai

Thursday morning around 8:00 a.m. we arrived on the island of Kauai. This was one of the days I was most looking forward to as I had a helicopter ride scheduled for the day. Justin and my dad had a trip to Waiemea Canyon planned and so we would be parting ways.

After breakfast the two men headed out to meet their tour and I was able to shower and take my sweet time getting ready because I didn’t have to be outside until 10:15 a.m. I could have done some shopping or something beforehand, but then I would have to bring everything back to the ship before leaving so I just decided to hang out in the room until time to go outside.

The van picked me and four others up right one time and took us to the helicopter offices. There we signed in and received a safety demonstration before being taken over to the helipad at the airport. I had opted for the helicopter with no doors so I was very excited! There were four people plus the pilot per ride and I rode with three people from England.

The ride began at 11:00 a.m. and lasted an hour which wasn’t nearly long enough. There was so much to see. We flew over numerous waterfalls and trough canyons and valleys. We also flew over the ocean and along the coastline and even saw whales in the water. All of the sights were gorgeous and it was so much fun. I couldn’t believe it when the hour was up. It went by so quickly!

We were taken back to the ship and I walked to some shops that were close by and then walked back to the pier and caught the shuttle to Kmart. I needed some Clariton D as I had taken my last one that morning. I bought a couple of things I needed, but Kmart did not have the Clariton since there was no pharmacy there. There was, however, a drug store nearby so I walked there and got what I needed and then caught the shuttle back to the boat.

My dad had text me while I was at Kmart and long story short, I ran into he and my brother as I was walking back in to the pier. He had been trying to get in touch with me to see if I wanted to join them for the second half of their tour (they had been brought back to the ship for their lunch before the second half of the tour. So, I decided to go since I didn’t have anything else going on. I ran inside the ship, up to the 11th floor, grabbed a sandwich off the buffet and ran back outside and off we went.

The second half of the tour was visiting a waterfall which I had seen from up above earlier in the day and then taking a boat ride to a fern grotto. It was a nice trip and we were entertained on the boat ride with some Hawaiian music and hula.

We made it back to the ship around 5:30 p.m. and soon after we went to dinner. We have been requesting the same waitress, Ritz, every night. She is a Filipino lady from Washington state and she is great. We have really enjoyed visiting with her each night.

After dinner, Justin went to the room, showered, and soon commenced to snoring while my dad and I went to see the show for the evening which was okay. We only have one more day on the ship and two more days in Hawaii! It’s hard to believe our time here is almost up, but it sure has been fun!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Sunny Day in Kona

Wednesday morning we arrived in Kona on the other side of the Big Island. The ship arrived in the early morning and because of the shallow waters, it anchored in the bay and we had to ride lifeboats to shore. This is called tendering for those of you who may not know because I certainly didn’t know until this trip.

We got up and got our showers and ate breakfast before getting our tender tickets and heading out to shore. Parasailing was on the agenda for the day and so after we arrived on land, we went and checked in for our noon parasailing trip. We had a little time to kill before we had to meet the boat to go parasailing, so Justin and Daddy went swimming in the ocean and I sat under a shade tree. Eventually I got up and wandered around town and bought a few gifts for people.

We all met back up around 11:00 a.m. and headed over to the parasailing boat. In addition to the three of us, there were three other people from the ship parasailing on our trip as well, a couple from Australia and a girl from Florida.

The Floridian was the first to go up in the air and next was Justin, then my dad and then me. We all went up on the 1200 foot line. The Australian couple went together and was the last ones up and went up on the 800 foot line. I think most everyone got dipped in the water at the end of their ride up. It was the first time any of the three of us had been parasailing and I think we all really enjoyed it.

After we made it back to shore, we parted ways again, Justin went off to find some food and walked into town and then did some more swimming, meeting loads of new friends along the way. My dad and I walked into town a little ways as well, stopping at one of the local jewelry stores.

I had seen that there was a local store where you could pick out an oyster, have it opened and have whatever pearl was inside turned into a piece of jewelry. I love pearls so this peaked my interest and I decided I wanted to give this a go. The lady at the counter let me pick a coupon out of a basket and my coupon was for 50% off my pearl. The pearls in the oyster were $14.95 and so my oyster/pearl was around $7.50.

I picked out an oyster and then the girl working the counter (Lorraine) and I tapped it three times and said “Aloha”. This was for good luck and the god of the pearls or something like that. She opened it up and there were two white pearls inside! I wanted to have the pearl from my oyster set in a ring, but since there were two inside, I decided on earrings and then decided to open another oyster. In the second oyster were two black pearls! The girl at the counter was super excited. Lorraine said the black ones were very rare and they almost never get them and she showed them to all the other girls working in the store and everyone was super excited. Since I had picked two oysters with two pearls inside, I asked if this often happened. She said no that usually there was just one inside.

So, I decided to have the black pearls set as stud earrings and then have one of the white pearls put into a ring. Lorraine then picked a third oyster for me so I could try and get a bigger white pearl for my ring. This third oyster only had one white pearl inside and it was whiter and shinier than the “twins” from my first oyster. However, I ended up using one of the “twins” for my ring. So, I came home with black pearl earrings, a nice pearl ring and two loose white pearls all for $185. The experience itself was a lot of fun and now I have great pieces to remind me of my trip to Hawaii.

My dad and I piddled around town a little more and stopped to get some sushi which I didn’t think was too good, but my dad loved – go figure. We perused a few more shops and then came back to the ship where we showered and dressed for dinner and did a whole lot of nothing else.

We leave Kona and the Big Island tonight (Wednesday) and will arrive in Kauai tomorrow morning. Tomorrow we will split up as I am taking a helicopter ride and Justin and my dad are visiting the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Until then, aloha!   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Richardson Beach, Rainbow Falls and Volcano National Park

Tuesday morning we arrived in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. We woke early and got our showers and breakfast and headed out for the day. I had booked today’s trip for us before we left home. It was a trip to Richardson Beach, Rainbow Falls and the Volcano National Park with some other stops along the way.

The boat doors opened around 9:00 a.m. and it was a mass exodus to get off the boat. We were to meet our tour at 9:15 a.m. for a 9:30 a.m. start. I found our meeting point right away and we were soon gathered up on a bus; however, we were only on the bus for about five minutes as we soon got dropped off at a van with a man named Phil who was to be our guide for the day.

The day started with just three of us and Phil. Our first stop was Richardson Beach which is a black sand beach. It was a really lovely spot and Phil explained to us the history of the area and what types of animals and fish and coral could be found there. It was a spot that is used for snorkeling, diving, surfing and swimming. Also, on occasion, seals and sea turtles will beach there for some sun. At these times, the area is quarantined off so that no one will bother the wildlife.

After we left Richardson Beach, we drove along a road that had Banton trees along the sides. The trees were planted by various celebrities such as Richard Nixon, Babe Ruth and Cecil B. DeMille. The road led up to a Japanese garden which was another stop for us. The garden is very large and is often used in movies, according to Phil. While we were at the garden, we had two other couples join us on the tour. They were also from the cruise ship, but had booked their trip after getting off the boat whereas we had booked in advance.

Our next stop was Rainbow Falls which was a large waterfall. I’m not really sure why it’s called rainbow falls and to be honest it wasn’t much more spectacular than any of the other waterfalls we have seen on our journeys, but it was still nice. I suppose I should have looked for a sign describing the area; but, alas, I did not.

We then made our way to a tasty spot called Big Island Candies. Here they had mostly cookies and a few candies which Phil told us not to purchase because they would be cheaper at a spot later on in the day. It was a nice stop, however, and we were able to sample lots of cookies and some Kona coffee. You could see the assembly line of workers through glass and they were all busy boxing up cookies.

An orchid flower garden was our next stop and I cannot remember the name of it, nor am I going to attempt to spell it out. I do know it started with an A.  Here we ladies got orchids to pin in our hair. Did you know if you are taken you are to pin the flower above your left ear and if you are looking for someone then you are to pin it above your right ear. I, obviously, pinned mine on the right.

The next stop of the day was Volcano National Park. We actually made four stops in the park. The first was at an overlook of the lava flow and it also provided a distant view of the active smoldering volcano. The second stop was of a lava tube. This was a 14-16 foot cave/tunnel made of solidified lava. It was nice and cool in the cave and it was very interesting to walk through.

We then stopped at a spot where there was steam coming out of the ground. These two spots which are side by side do not give off a sulfuric smell typical of volcanoes. The steam, however, is from the volcano and is 100-125 degrees Fahrenheit. We were able to stand beside it and feel the steam which was like being in a sauna. Oddly enough, when Phil revved the engine of the van, the steam rose up higher and thicker. It was rather bizarre and interesting.

Our final stop in the park was close to the active steaming volcano which we had seen from a distance. This time we were about a mile away from the steam rising up from the ground. There was also a museum there which showed different kinds of lava rock and how lava is studied, etc.

When we left the park, we went to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm where I had some Chocolate Macadamia Nut and Kona Coffee Ice Cream, both of which were good. I bought some chocolate covered Macadamia Nuts as well. This was our last stop of the day and Phil dropped us all off at the ship after this stop.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention one other thing. One of the gentlemen that was on the tour with us was not only a survivor of the Holocaust, but also an American WWII veteran. He escaped Nazi Germany and came to the US and became a soldier. His parents and only sibling, a sister, all died at Auschwitz. His father had made a menorah and hidden diamonds in the bottom of it. The menorah was shipped to a storage building in Belgium to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis. The storage building was bombed, but his aunts dug through the ash and rubble and found it and shipped it to him. Once he received it, he discovered the diamonds inside and this was how he got his start after his service in the military ended. He was an amazing man and we all feel lucky to have met Mr. Norbert Freidman, a member of the Greatest Generation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sunrise Atop Haleakala Crater

To say we had an early start on Monday is putting it mildly. Monday was our second and final day in Maui and our activity for the day was watching the sunrise atop Haleakala Crater which is a little below 10,000 feet high.

We were scheduled to meet our group at 3:15 a.m. so I made plans to shower the night before and just jump up the next morning, brush my teeth, put on some shoes and head out. When we told Justin what time we needed to meet the group, he determined he needed to get up at 1:15 a.m. in order to have enough time to get ready. Thankfully we convinced him that a shower and 10 varieties of cologne was not needed to watch the sunrise or bike down the volcano which was also part of our excursion.

I set my clock for 2:45 a.m. and ended up getting up a few minutes before it went off. I was ready to go soon after and waited on the menfolk to finish getting themselves ready. Sadly, I woke up feeling rather dreadful. Before I left home, I started feeling sick and went to the doctor and I’ve been on an antibiotic ever since. Apparently it’s not doing much good though because I now feel even worse and like my chest is full of congestion. It’s just as lovely as it sounds. I will power through, but man I am hoping for some better health soon.

We found our group and were picked up and taken to the headquarters of the outfit we were using for the ride up the mountain and the bike ride down. We signed our lives away and watched a safety video and were given a Danish and then up the volcano we went. We arrived at the top around 5:00 a.m. maybe. I honestly don’t know, but it was about an hour before the sun rose. It was freezing at the top. I don’t know what the official temperature was, but I was dressed in layers, with a stocking cap and thick gloves on and was still shivering. So, in case you were wondering, not all of Hawaii is warm and tropical. We all found spots along the guardrail and watched as the horizon changed colors from black to blue to pink to bright orange. Once the sun was above the clouds you could hardly even look that way because of the brightness. The official sunrise time was 6:17 a.m. but because of the cloud coverage, it was a few minutes after that before the large orange ball made an appearance.

We then loaded up the van and went down the volcano a ways before they put everyone on a bike. I, believe it or not, decided not to ride. For one, there were 29 hairpin turns and it was a road I was not familiar with (obviously), secondly, it was raining and since I was already feeling terrible and I’m not really interested in feeling worse, I thought I might be best to just stay as warm and dry as possible.

My dad and Justin geared up and got on bikes. I noticed that my dad seemed a little shaky/wobbly on his bike and at the first stop, two miles in, he abandoned and got in the van with me and another lady. Can’t say that I blame him; he probably hasn’t been on a bike in over 20 years. Justin, however, stuck it out the whole 27 miles. He rode through wind, rain, and sunshine and he had a great time. We made a couple of stops for pictures and educational information along the way. Twice along the roadside I had to have a natural break. I guess you could say I left my mark on Maui.

The ride ended at the beach where the temperature was much warmer and we were able to shed some of our layers. At this point I’m sure everyone was starving because I know I was. My blood sugar had actually gotten too low right before everyone got on the bikes and a nice lady from Australia gave me a granola bar she had in her bag. Y’all, the Canadians and Australians always come prepared. As it turns out, she is actually a diabetes nurse, so if I had to guess, she probably always has an extra something on hand for herself and perhaps others. Our next stop was a place that sold burritos. Justin got one and it looked and smelled great. Even as hungry as I was, I opted to not get one and hold out for the free food aboard the boat. I did peruse a local shop while folks were eating, and bought a hand painted Maui Christmas ornament. A while ago I decided to collect Christmas ornaments from all my journeys. The sad thing is I don’t often remember that this was my decision.

After everyone ate, we loaded back up in the van and were dropped back off at the pier. My dad and I went and got a bite to eat, and Justin went to the room. After we ate, it was most definitely nap time and I slept for a couple of hours.

It was a nice experience to watch the sunrise at Haleakala Crater – something I will most likely never forget. Tonight we pull out of Maui and tomorrow morning we port in Hilo and will be taking a tour of the Rainbow Falls and Volcano National Park. It’s sure to be another fun adventure.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Road to Hana

On Sunday morning, our boat was scheduled to dock in Maui and we had to be out by 8:00 a.m. to meet our excursion guide for the day. I got up at 5:30 a.m. and showered and got ready to go. The men finally rolled out of bed and got ready and we were eating breakfast by 7:15 a.m. We went to the buffet and there were lots and lots of people there. Long story short, Justin couldn’t find us and we couldn’t find him and I was doubtful he would even make it on our trip.

I left a note for Justin telling him that he needed to meet us outside and finally got in touch with him once he got to the room and got to his phone. Thankfully he made it in time to go on the trip with us; however when we got outside he decided to make a pit stop and then got lost finding us. Another long story short, the whole tour was waiting on Justin.

The excursion was the Road to Hana which has 617 turns and goes through the rainforest and past a lot of waterfalls and also runs along the ocean. The trip took the whole day. We departed about 8:15 a.m. and returned around 6:00 p.m.

The scenery was gorgeous and the road was, well, curvy. Originally, my dad had planned to rent a car and drive it himself. Thankfully, he decided against that and booked a tour for us. Our guide was Richard and he was very knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna in the area. He also showed us the properties and driveways of various celebrities, including Oprah and Woody Harrelson.

Midway through the trip, we stopped at a flower garden to eat lunch. We had barbecue chicken breasts, macaroni salad and tossed salad with Ranch dressing, all of which was very good. All the ladies received a flower from the garden owner. I don’t remember the name of the flower, but it had no scent until you squeezed it, and then it had a lovely citrus smell.

After lunch we continued our journey to various waterfalls and some swimming spots, but the water was high because of recent rains and therefore we could not swim. Soon after, we stopped at a winery that had pineapple wine. I tried it and it was very sweet and had a nice flavor.

The winery was our last stop and it took us about an hour after that to get back to port. It was another great and adventurous day in Hawaii.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

USS Arizona Memorial and Boarding the Ship

On Saturday morning, we checked out of our hotel and began our journey to Pearl Harbor. We were using Google Maps on my phone to guide us to our destination and well, it wasn’t the most reliable way to go. I had typed in Pearl Harbor before leaving and the GPS took us to the Naval Base. So, we turned around and then ended up at Hickam Air Force Base. We were U-turned around at the Air Force base and the nice airman told us how to get where we were going.

I had bought our tickets for the narrated tour and trip to the memorial way back in the fall some time. We were scheduled for the 9:30 a.m. tour and after being lost for an hour or so we just made it in time to pick up our tickets and get in line to start our tour with a movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the movie, we got on the ferry and headed over to the memorial.

We got to spend about 30 minutes or so at the memorial which was a very moving and humbling experience. We then caught the ferry back to the main park and completed the rest of the narrated tour. Not long after our tour to the memorial, they stopped taking people over because of high winds. So, we were very lucky to have been able to make it over before the Navy called off the tours.

The narrated tour was very interesting and seeing the replicas of boats and artifacts pulled from the water and the photos from the bombing was all so interesting. I love learning about the history of our country and so it was a really great trip for me.

We finished up at Pearl Harbor about 12:15 p.m. and then we made our way to a Wal-Mart because no trip is complete without visiting the local Wal-Mart. The one we went to was in a downtown like area and there was a parking garage and y’all, this Wal-Mart was absolutely packed. My dad needed some socks, Justin needed some water shoes and I needed some more contact solution because my eyes have been bothering me and I was concerned I might run out.

We made it out of the Wal-Mart in one piece, dropped off the rental car, and caught a cab to the cruise ship. We got checked in rather quickly and soon grabbed a bite to eat because both Justin and I were rather hungry. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent piddling around and keeping ourselves occupied. I went down to Guest Services to ask about internet minutes and the laundry. The wi-fi on the boat is unfortunately, not free and so I bought a package of 250 minutes for a whopping $100. Y’all, that’s the price for three months of internet at home. I had read before coming that there was a laundry onboard and was disappointed to discover it’s not a do it yourself laundry, but a Norwegian Cruise Line will do your laundry for a price laundry. Sadly, I’m stuck paying to have the laundry done because I brought very few clothes with me in anticipation of doing laundry at night.

At 7:00 p.m. we went to dinner in one of the dining rooms. I had grilled shrimp and a salad and cheesecake for dessert. It was all very good. After dinner my dad and I went to see the show in the main theater which was a magician and I’m here to tell you that he wasn’t that good. I almost got up and left a few different times but it finally ended and I was glad. We then went back to the room and called it a night.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Day at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Our first full day in Hawaii was a great educational and cultural experience and I think we all had a really enjoyable time. The morning started with breakfast at a spot called Eggs and Things. We each had eggs and some kind of meat, and either potatoes or pancakes. We sat outside and across the street was Waikiki Beach. We enjoyed the nice tropical air and watching the people pass by.

After eating breakfast, we got in the rental car and headed to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) which was a little over and hour away. On the way, we saw a sign for a Shrimp Shack and when we got to it, we stopped so that Justin could grab something to eat. The Shrimp Shack was a food truck and Justin had the coconut shrimp. He let me try one and it was very good. Once Justin finished his meal, we jumped back in the car and headed back towards the PCC.

My dad had booked our PCC tickets in advance so he picked them up at Will Call and we were soon beginning our journey. The PCC has “villages” of all the Polynesian islands on its 43 acre spread. The islands represented were Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand. Each island village had shows and demonstrations throughout the day and all of them were extremely interesting and informative.

The PCC opened at noon and the shows and demonstrations ended at 5:00. We got to see everything but the movie that my dad wanted to see. They also have a lagoon which runs through the middle of the place and we took a canoe ride on it. It was nice and relaxing.

After we saw our last show of the day, we headed to the Luau. The Luau we attended was put on by the Samoan village. There was entertainment including a 13-year old boy who twirled some sticks of fire. They gave some various groups of people headbands made from coconut leaves. My dad got one because he has a March birthday. The food at the Luau was good. It was buffet style and there was salad, rice, rolls, various meats and some dessert.

Once the Luau was over, we made our way over to the last event of the night which was an hour and a half show called Ha, The Breath of Life. All of the islands represented participated in the show and it was really good. There was all kinds of dancing and singing and chanting and twirling of fire. It was great.

The show wrapped up around 9:00 p.m. and then we headed back to the hotel. We arrived back at the hotel around 10:30 and called it a night. It was a really fun day!

Justin chowing down on some coconut shrimp

 At the Samoan Village

Fire at the Luau

I promise I have some better pictures than this. 
These were from my phone and the easiest access at the moment. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

22.5 Hours Later

We've arrived. It was a long, long day, but we made it safely without any problems and our luggage arrived too which is even better. You just never know sometimes.

Thursday morning started at my usual time of waking up at 5:00 a.m. I figured I would pack last minute supplies and try to clear one more show off the DVR before leaving. I was successful on both counts. I was also successful in placing my bag of garbage in the neighbor's bin because I didn't want it sitting in my bin for a week or two.

My dad and Justin arrived about 7:30 a.m. to pick me up. Justin was having some packing issues in that he had two rather small suitcases and an odd assortment of toiletry items. Bless his heart, the guy hasn't flown in a plane since before 9/11 so he didn't know he couldn't bring a 32 ounce shampoo and conditioner along with him, or two full size shaving creams, or three full sized colognes. Long story short, I gave him a large duffel bag to pack all of his things in and some Ziploc bags for the toiletry items he was taking with him and we convinced him to leave his jumbo shampoo and conditioner at home.

We finally hit the road to Nashville close to 8:00 a.m. and stopped to have one last Southern meal along the way, breakfast at Waffle House. We made it to the airport and got checked in and through security with an hour to spare. Our first flight was to Detroit and lasted a little over an hour. The layover in Detroit was only 50 minutes. So, by the time we made a pit stop and walked to the next terminal, it was time to board the plane.

The flight from Detroit to Seattle was about four and a half hours long. We had TVs on this flight, only mine didn't work; but, Justin and Daddy were able to watch the basketball tournament and CNN and I just listened to music and perused the latest issue of Southern Living. When we landed in Seattle we only had about 30 minutes to catch our flight to Honolulu. By the grace of God, or luck or something, our flight came in two gates over from where we needed to be to get on the next flight. So, again, we had time for a pit stop and Justin and Daddy grabbed themselves a cheeseburger as well.

The last flight of the day was six hours long. Thankfully Delta gave us our choice of free movies on this flight. I watched Frozen (yes, again) because it's really good and then watched Gravity which wasn't as great as all the critics made it out to be, at least in my opinion. I started watching Thor, but was dozing off so I stopped it and watched an hour long Michael Buble special instead and it was really good. My dad watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Book Thief which he said was great and I hope to watch on the flight home. I'm honestly not sure which movies Justin chose.

We arrived in Honolulu at 8:40 p.m. local time, which was 1:40 a.m. at home. We were exhausted and worn out. We retrieved our luggage, picked up our rental car and made our way to the hotel. We were all in bed by 10:30 p.m. local time which put me awake for 22.5 hours. It was a long day, y'all!

I slept okay but not great, but am very thankful for the rest I did receive. At the hotel we are at, we have three beds and mine is in a separate room so I can shut out all the snoring for a little while. We are all in the process of getting ready to start our day. Today, we are headed to the Polynesian Cultural Center where we will go to a Luau. I'm betting at some point today Justin will dance with a Hawaiian woman. You'll have to stop back in tomorrow to find out.

A scary selfie by Justin 

Flying over the Rockies

We saw about 17 hours of sunlight yesterday.
 Finally, it sets over the Pacific.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Here We Go Again

It's once again time for me and my dad to hit the road on vacation, only this year we're letting my brother come along too. We're headed to Hawaii and provided I'm not too exhausted at the end of each day, I hope to keep you posted on all of our activities, or at least mine as we are doing a few things separately.

I dropped The Pip off at the vet's office where she will be staying while we are gone. I'm paying a little extra for her to have one-on-one time with someone every other day. Admittedly, I got a little teary-eyed when I was thinking about dropping her off, but she was happy as a lark and didn't even look back. It's also been nice to have an evening without her so I can get some packing done and some things straightened up around the house.

As always, Jeff will be keeping an eye on things at the house and also my sweet friend Pat and her husband Dave will be checking in on things for me as well. I've got my fingers crossed that Dave will mow the grass for me before I get home but I'm doubtful that will happen. I am certain, however, that the grass will need mowing by the time I get home because it's already starting to grow and I can only imagine how dreadful it will be upon my return.

It's doubtful I will write tomorrow. We don't land in Honolulu until 9:00 p.m. local time which is, I think, midnight at home. We will spend 17 hours of our day traveling. Here's to hoping the travel time will be worth it.

In the meantime, I would ask that you remember us in your prayers for safe travel, good attitudes, and a fun time. Aloha!

A picture of The Pip, just because

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An Early Birthday Bash

This past Saturday, we threw an early birthday bash for my mom. Her actual birthday is March 26, but my dad, brother and I will all be in Hawaii. So, we decided to throw her a big party before we left. Mother will be 60 this year, but I have to say, she doesn't look that old. I guess she's had a good life.

My dad and I began the planning in January and tossed around various ideas about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to have the party. We finally decided on having the party at their house and Mother gave me a list of people to invite.

I finally got around to ordering and sending out invitations and I'm so thankful that some of Mother's favorite people were able to come to the party. I bought some decorations and on the day of picked up some fresh flowers. Jackie was a good friend and came over early to help me decorate. Since we had all been at Mrs. Irma's funeral earlier in the day, we were in a time crunch to get things done. The cake arrived around 2:00 p.m., we got the decorations up and I managed to change out of my funeral clothes and into something more comfortable before the guests arrived.

In addition to Jackie, some of Mother's closest high school friends came to the party as well as friends who we all used to go to church with and my grandparents. My favorite aunt, Linda, was there and brought her famous macaroni and cheese and my cousin Brittany and Syndey came as well. It was a really great group of people.

We had BBQ, potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, the aforementioned mac and cheese and BBQ bread to eat. It was all very good! The cake was made by my co-worker Meri and was white chocolate raspberry and was absolutely delicious. It was also very pretty. The cake got a lot of compliments, as did the other food.

Mother got some very nice gifts, but mostly she was blessed to be around family and friends she loves and who love her. I'm thankful we were able to have this celebration in honor of my mother! Happy Birthday, Mamma! I hope you have many, many more!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Remembering Irma

After all the death I experienced last year, my 2014 had been going along rather well until Wednesday. I've managed to make it two and a half months without a trip to the funeral home; but, I'm sad to say that streak is going to come to an end this Saturday.

Monday morning when I got into work, I read the email blast from the church I used to attend and saw that Jim and Irma Steelman had been in a car accident the day before. The accident took place as they were driving to church and Irma had sustained a broken jaw and some other injuries, and Jim had a few scrapes and scratches, but nothing serious. On Tuesday, Irma had surgery and all went well according to the folks I've talked to. Wednesday afternoon a special email came through saying that Irma's heart rate had dropped and she was moved to SICU. I don't know what it was about that email, but as soon as I read it, my heart sank and I knew that she wasn't going to pull through.

I left work, went to the chiropractor and headed home to eat some dinner and watch the news before heading out to church for the night. I was running late and I looked at my phone as I was walking out the door. I had a text from my friend Candy letting me know that Irma had died. I was immediately overcome with emotion and my heart was full of sadness. I called my dad to let him know and later called some others because I know I like to hear this kind of news from someone I love rather than read about it in a news blast.

Irma was no doubt, one of the top five most influential people in my life. I have known her since I came into this world. My mother has known her since she was in junior high school and Irma was her PE teacher. My dad has known Irma since he was in high school. To say she has been a big part of our lives is an understatement.

Today, I want to share with you, in no particular order, some of the things I will always remember and admire about Irma.

She had arthritic fingers which were bent and swollen but her hands were always working, always doing for others, never resting.

She went on countless mission trips ( here and in Mexico) and door knocking campaigns, always working to bring people to the Lord

She had a recipe for a one egg cake. This used to always make me laugh and she loved that it made me laugh as we have laughed over the one egg cake together too many times to count. It was her mother's recipe from the depression when eggs were scarce. The cake could be made in various flavors, but Irma always made it as a cherry cake with whipped cream icing and she always had it readily available at Christmastime.

Speaking of Christmas, I'm inclined to think it was Irma's favorite holiday. She began decorating the outside and inside of her house well before December 1. She always hosted the Ladies' Night Out Christmas Party for me and used to tell people that I told her she had to have everything decorated before the party. She gave me a hard time about this and it became a joke of ours. She loved Santa Claus and had numerous Santas displayed throughout her house. Upstairs she kept her Christmas Village with the felt snow. Christmas will not be the same without a trip to Irma's.

She made the absolute best strawberry cake anyone has ever put in their mouth. It's the same recipe I use, but she used strawberries that she had put up and the color of her cake was always such a deep pink. People used to fight over her cake and I've seen grown men grab a fork and scrape the crumbs from the cake plate. I used to request that she make it for me from time to time and she never turned me down.

Irma was a fantastic teacher. She was first my teacher when I was in third or fourth grade and she taught with Nancy Kelly. It was one of the best classes of my childhood at church. Later on she taught me again in junior high school and used to warn us girls about "boys in tight blue jeans" and warned us of the perils of pre-marital sex and teenage pregnancy. In my adult life, I never missed a Ladies Class that she taught. She was full of knowledge and wisdom and I loved the sound of her voice and her present day applications from the Bible. She is probably the number one reason I began teaching ladies' classes and am leading women's Bible study now.

When she wasn't teaching Ladies' Class, she was sitting on the front row and if I wasn't teaching, my seat was right beside hers and believe me, I got upset if someone stole my seat beside Irma.

Smell is probably my most keen sense and Irma's smell was a comfort to me. I must have asked her 1,000 times what the name of her perfume was and to this day I still couldn't tell you, but I can assure you that when I smell it again I will always be reminded of Irma and the love I had for her.

Irma has been my confidant more times than I can count. I have relied on her for advice, for a shoulder to cry on and for a hand to hold.

She gave out hugs freely and without prejudice.

Her mission was people and she cared for them with fervor and love, just like Jesus. She was always providing for those in need.

She was a school secretary and saw too many children neglected and abused and she went out of her way to make those children feel special and loved.

She was one of my biggest champions and supported me all the years I headed up Ladies' Night Out. She hosted, she dressed up at Halloween, she encouraged and prayed.

She was so good about sending people cards. I loved opening the mailbox and finding a card with her handwriting on it. I have no doubt she sent out thousands of cards over the years.

She started the Ladies' Breakfast at church and headed it up for 30 years or so. She wrote a poem each year for the breakfast and one of my proudest moments was when she asked me to lead a prayer at the breakfast a few years ago.

It always gave me a chuckle how when we had Ladies Night Out at her house and we were done eating, she would holler up the stairs at Jim so he would come down and gather up the chairs and tables.

She served on the board of Agape and took up a collection in class each week for the organization. Each year at Christmas she organized a drive to raise money so we could help some of the Agape children have a nice Christmas.

I've sat by her side as we've sang at funerals and she sang at my granddad's funeral last January. I will miss hearing her voice at times like these.

I could probably go on for days about how amazing of a person Irma was and how special she was to me. I am having a hard time grasping the fact that I will never see her again, smell her, or hear her voice. I think it goes without saying that she will be immeasurably missed. If ever there was a Proverbs 31 woman, it was Irma Steelman. Her price was indeed far above rubies. This earth lost a giant, and I lost a hero, but heaven gained an angel and Irma undoubtedly has gained her reward.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review Let There Be Light

Today I am reviewing for you a delightful children's book titled Let There Be Light, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and beautifully illustrated by Nancy Tillman.

To put it simply, the book tells the story of creation from Genesis, from day one when God said, "Let there be light," to day seven when God rested. A story that has been told for generations, this gorgeous book provides vibrant illustrations that are sure to capture the imagination of any child. Each page is beautifully illustrated as it tells the story of what God created on each day. 

The next time I teach creation to one of my classes, I will be certain to use this book because I know the kids will love it and your kids will too. It is reasonably priced and available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Let There Be Light combines the love and warmth of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the extraordinary talents of bestselling author and illustrator Nancy Tillman. This retelling of the biblical story of creation vividly portrays the wonder and beauty of God’s creation on each of the seven days. Using Archbishop Tutu’s lyrical text from the Children of God Storybook Bible and Tillman’s remarkable illustrations, Let There Be Light brings the story of creation to life for readers young and old.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Saturday, A Shower, and Shrek

Saturday was another busy day for me. I was supposed to start the day with a hike on Wade Mountain with co-workers as part of our health program for reduced insurance rates. The hike was slated for 9:00 a.m. and honestly, I had been looking forward to it. The weather was supposed to be nice and I was ready to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. However, because of how busy the rest of my day was going to be and the fact that I wanted to finish the laundry and have a clean house, I ended up skipping the hike and stayed home to do chores instead.

My cousin Brittany is pregnant with her second child (she is the mother of the infamous Sydney) and she was having a baby shower on Saturday afternoon. I was originally supposed to pick up my grandmother and take her to the shower, but my aunt Sandra was in town and so she drove my grandmother. The shower began with some baby shower games and ended with Brittany opening her gifts. She got a lot of nice things and her new baby is sure to be blessed with lots of cute outfits.

After the shower, I went home for about an hour or so to let Pip run around before heading out again. I stopped by Target to pick up Catching Fire which had just been released on Blu-Ray and then I met Jackie and the kids at Mellow Mushroom. After we ate, we went over to Grissom to see Shrek the Musical. I had bought two tickets the day they went on sale and then Jackie asked about going and so she bought two tickets as well. She and Ashlyn sat together and Troy and I sat together.

When Troy and I went to our seats, there was someone sitting in them. Long story short, I had ordered tickets for Saturday, but it seems I was mailed tickets for Friday and apparently they had the same problem on Friday night. Thankfully they had a couple of seats close to the front on the left-hand side and Troy and I sat there. It wasn't the middle like I had planned, but we were still able to see the stage very well and that is what was most important. We all really enjoyed the show and I really don't think I've ever seen Troy so fired up about something. He was whooping and hollering and clapping at the end of the show and it gave me a chuckle.

We got out of the show around 10:30 and I got home and in bed by 11:30 which was really 12:30 a.m. thanks to the time change. It was another fun day and night on what was a really great weekend. Shrek the Musical is going on next weekend as well. Check it out if you get a chance!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tailgating, Hockey, The First Pitch and The Chicken Dance

Y'all, this past Friday was one of the best days I've had in a long while and I'm super excited to tell you about it!

After work Friday, I headed home to let Pippa out for an hour or so before Jackie and the kids stopped by. We had made plans to go down to the VBC and join in the free festivities. It was the final home weekend for the UAH hockey team, and an outdoor tailgate had been organized which included the local food trucks, a band, and various other activities such as face paintings and games for the kids.

I had told my dad about all that was going on and he and my mom came down for the fun as well. We met up with them and ate dinner from the food trucks. Most of us ate from the food truck that served cheese steaks and hot dogs, and while the sandwiches were good, the service was extremely slow. They clearly "hadn't got the hang of it yet" according to my dad and I'm inclined to agree. Ashlyn got tacos from the Food Fighters bus and they looked really good and she said they were.

While we were waiting on our food, I was checking my Twitter account. Earlier in the day I had retweeted a tweet from the Huntsville Stars which was a tweet to win eight tickets, a cap and the fist pitch for the April 10 game. I honestly didn't think much about it but then, as I was sitting at the tailgate checking my Twitter, I discovered that I was the lucky winner. I cannot even tell you how excited I am about this. I have been telling all my friends and family because I want all the people I love to come to the game and cheer me on and/or heckle me. So, if you live in the Huntsville area, mark your calendar for Thursday, April 10 because I'm throwing out the first pitch and I'm so very excited about it!

After we ate, we made our way to the arena. The game was free admission courtesy of Huntsville International Airport and since my parents got there before us, they found out you had to have an actual ticket to get in and they picked up tickets for all of us. We found some seats upstairs and proceeded to have a large time. The kids and I did some dancing and we made it onto the jumbotron more than once.

Troy and I had some popcorn and at some point during the night, we convinced Troy to go toss some popcorn down onto my parents. It took a while to get their attention but they finally looked up and we all got a big laugh out of it. Then came time for the Chicken Dance which we all participated in and I'm pretty sure I even broke a sweat. We were on a row behind a group of college girls and they won the Chicken Dance prize which was a free chicken biscuit from Bojangles. One of the girls gave her coupon to Troy since he had been dancing all night long.He reminded me and Jackie of a younger Justin from hockey games long ago.

After the game was over, we parted ways and called it a night. It was seriously such a fun evening. I'm so grateful to live in a city that always has something fun going on and to have fun people to enjoy the good times with.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Downtown Huntsville Mardi Gras Parade

I'm alive!  It might be hard to believe, but it is true. I've had a busy week with work during the day and then Bible study or the gym in the evenings. Tonight I've got church, but I have managed to find a minute to do some writing before heading out.

This past weekend was full of fun and most importantly, laughter. Friday night I hosted my friends Paul and Leah and Jonathan and Caley for dinner. Jackie helped me host and brought a delicious salad. We played a hilarious game and spent the evening laughing and talking. It was such a fun night.

Most of Saturday was lazy as I caught up on the DVR and managed to get some laundry done. Jackie came over around 4:30 and we headed downtown for Huntsville's first ever Mardi Gras parade. Yall, it was so much fun! The streets were packed with people - a lot more people than show up for the Christmas parade. We ran into my co-worker Maria and hung out with her and her friends. After the parade passed us by, we walked up to Washington Street and watched it pass again. The floats and people in the parade were decked out in all manner of Mardi Gras costume. We managed to catch a few beads and Jackie even scored a t-shirt.

After the parade, we decided to grab some dinner. We figured the Po-Boy Factory would be packed but we drove by anyway and indeed it was. So, we turned around and went to Ted's instead. It was a big night for Ted's as they got all the Po-Boy Factory overflow or it least that's what we thought. Everyone had one beads and were dressed in purple, gold and green, It was almost like being in New Orleans except without all the drunkards.

The evening and weekend was so much fun and I really hope whoever organized the parade will keep up the tradition because everyone that went had a fantastic time!

 The Army band opened up the parade

 Mayor Battle waving to the crowd!

J.O. Johnson High Band - Always entertaining!

Jackie scored a t-shirt!

Me and my co-worker Maria