Saturday, September 17, 2016

Alaska-Part 4

We had booked the trip excursions we wanted to take before we left from home.  Knowing zip lining was on Kevin's bucket list, I had signed us up for this fate tempting devilry in Skagway, and we had just now arrived.  My stomach was fluttery and all resolve to be brave and attempt this for Kevin's sake had vanished. I had hid my anxiety pretty well until he found out I hadn't slept very much the previous night.  I peered out the cabin window as the ship was docking.  The sky was overcast. It appeared to have rained recently and dense fog hung over the harbor.  Maybe the excursion will be canceled! Wanting to help relieve me of trepidation, Kevin was all for checking at the service desk for any cancellations. I timidly asked if the zip lining was still on schedule. The attendant informed us that yes, it was still a go and then added, "It should be a lot of fun.  The zip lines go even faster when it's rainy and wet."  Just the answer I wanted to hear!!

I managed to eat breakfast and then it was time to gather on the dock to board the bus which would take us out to the rain forest.  Our guide was a college student earning money for the summer by enabling people to do these crazy things. Once there we hiked up a rugged trail on the side of a summit, stopping at a station where more college kids joined us to fit us with waist and chest harnesses. We checked out the other travelers in our group and shared some friendly banter about our anxieties.  It was somewhat reassuring to discover only one person in the group of ten or so, had zip lined before.

Moving on, now suited up with the right gear, we again stopped at a higher elevation.  In front of us hung three suspension bridges that would have to be crossed before any zipping would take place. What?! I didn't know this was on the agenda! The bridges straddled a ravine below us and were hooked between tree tops.  I watched our first group member step onto the planks of the first bridge.  There were no sides to hold on to; just a strap connected from his chest to the cable above.  The guides had demonstrated how if someone were to 'fall' off the planks, you would hang there in mid air until balancing back on the bridge.  No chance of really falling down. Right! The group watching the first brave soul crossing slowly,  began to break the tenseness by shouting out words of encouragement and support.  After three or four had crossed, the guides helped them begin to cross the next bridge while the rest of the group continued across the first one.  That was our pattern for the rest of the adventure. We crossed the bridges and later zipped between tree stands, with five minute waits between zips to the next tree.
I made it across the first bridge, then the second, which had rope loops to step into, and finally the third, a 2x4 beam to foot across.  The last two did have a thin cable on either side to hold onto which made it a bit less intimidating. When we finally hung and glided across the zip lines, I began to relax and even enjoy the sensation.  The rides were only moderately fast and the guides were always on either end of the zip to send us off and then to apply the brakes as we approached the next stop.  Not near the scary, risky endangerment I had imagined. Whew!

Our group was quite fun and international- from Australia, Japan, Asians living in New Jersey, and Serbia. Would I do it again? Perhaps, but having done it once, I'm perfectly satisfied not to.  Kevin had a great time.  Cross that one off the list, my dear.
All geared  up!
The first bridge! That's our guide making it look easy.

Me crossing the 3rd bridge

 Me on the last zip

This shows some of the height we reached.
Our group after the last zip.

We had another excursion planned that day, but it was cancelled due to foggy weather.  So instead of the bike ride down a summit, we had some time to explore the town of Skagway.  The town was quite small and is kept alive by the tourists who visit.  Besides the Ruby docked there that day at least two other vessels about the same size as ours had also docked.  At 3-4,000 people on each one there are quite a number of visitors over the summer months.  Skagway's history tells of a stopping place for gold rushers with saloons and brothels aplenty.  As our guide pointed out the sites,  he said there are  three ways to get to Skagway- by boat, by air and by birth canal.  Another fact about the town; there are no resident doctors.  I was glad to visit, but it would not be a place I'd want to live in.

We boarded back on the ship Thursday evening.  Friday and Saturday would be  at sea with a stop in Vancouver, Canada Saturday evening and from there,  the Ruby would sail back to Seattle, arriving Sunday morning. We had only a few more days to enjoy this kind of relaxing schedule and the pleasant amenities onboard.

Daylight hours to view Vancouver were few as we didn't dock until 7 pm.  Our scheduled walk through the Butterfly Museum was in a greenhouse of beautiful plants and butterflies that landed easily on our shoulders or hair. Next was a stroll through the Butchart Gardens.  It was too dark to enjoy the full beauty of the flowers, even though the grounds featured special night lighting just for evening tours.  Besides nature's attractions we discovered the lines for popcorn and ice cream.  Cruise ships don't specialize in hard dipped ice creams or popcorn.  The evening ended with a fireworks show in the Gardens.  Crowds kept us from comfortably watching the show and exiting the gardens was a slow process as we weaved towards the exit among a river of people all bottlenecked together.  There were many lighted buildings and venues in the city to enjoy as we were bused back to the ship. Another city I'd like to return to some day.
Butterfly Garden

As we felt the boat bump into the shore of Seattle Sunday morning, we made one last visit to the 11th deck breakfast buffet and then began our debarkation. Another impressive system in place to get all of us back to land, through customs, and onto the right bus to take us to the right terminal at the airport. I had an unexpected feeling of nostalgia as we walked off the vessel.  Goodbye Ruby Princess!  Thank you for your wonderful hospitality.

And thank you, God, for your good gifts.  For 20 years of marriage to a man who is kind, compassionate and always faithful.  We have much to be thankful for. 

A few more pictures if you've lasted with me this far:

Formal night:

One of the two formal nights on the cruise

One of the rare warm-enough-to-eat-outside breakfasts

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alaska- Part 3

Life in the little city of Princess Ruby was busy and indulgent. Our cabins were on the 5th deck which was second from the bottom.  A perfect place, we decided, as our floor housed a dining room, an international cafe which was open 24 hrs., and the plaza at the bottom of the marble, grand staircase.  Entertainers performed in the plaza.  We were particularly fond of Gravity, a man and woman couple, who did amazing things with their body strength.  Mr. G could hang horizontally with one hand holding onto a vertical pole and do a handstand with one hand on the top on the pole. They used their bodies like pipe cleaners twisting together or flexing side by side.

At sea, the first day, we explored our surroundings.  Another perk to our location was being within two easy stair climbs to the 7th deck which was open for walking around the ship out-of-doors. We took advantage of the walks to talk together, watch the sea and coastal views, and fulfill Libby's Fitbit requirement steps.  Besides good food every night, there were shows to see and group games to try. The buffet on the 11th deck became our breakfast spot.  What a spread to start the day!

It was exciting to wake up Monday morning and see Ketchikan, our first stop, out of our cabin window.
It was a gray day,  60ish degrees, and we had time to explore the town and then take in a Lumberjack show we had signed up for.  Without boarding a bus, we missed the downtown area, but walking took us by the tourist shops and then to a city park and the totem pole museum.

The Lumberjack show was entertaining with men competing to saw logs, climb poles and balance on logs in the water. The day on the town ended when we had to be back on board at 5:30pm.

Knowing the ship was entering a narrow passageway early the next morning with promise of seeing a glacier, our ship city of 4,000 residents was awake at 5:30 am with coffee cups and cameras in hand. It truly was an awesome site.  Rugged mountains towered on either side of the water as we pointed to the icy, blue glacier ahead.  Our large vessel couldn't travel too close, but here are some of the views we were able to capture.

This was the coldest temperature we encountered, but still high 40s.  The ship turned around and sailed on to Juneau where we docked at 7 am.  The air was warmer, but rain greeted us as we descended from the ship. On tap for this day was a visit to a dog sled camp and an afternoon viewing of another glacier with a salmon bake following.

In spite of the rain, we gained fascinating knowledge about dog sleds, the dogs who pull them and the Iditorad race.  Our guide had raced 3 times with his best placing at 50th out of close to 90 mushers.  The dogs are trained to be athletes and thus, have sleek bodies that don't look like the stereotypical Husky. Each dog has booties for each foot when racing.  This keeps ice from packing between their toes and protects them on the rough trail.  Each driver carefully calculates his times of rest and how fast he can go given the weather conditions and stamina of the dogs. Supplies for himself and the dogs are sent ahead to villages along the trail. Success depends largely on the trust relationship between the musher and his dogs.  Although, dog teams start the race with an average of 16 dogs, not all will endure the 1,000 mile trip.

After grueling James with questions we went out to the acre of field where maybe a hundred dogs, each with their own house were howling to be harnessed for action.  James hooked his team to a cart and the dogs pulled us for a short ride.  Before we left the camp we got to hold puppies who would be groomed for future dog teams.

Later that evening the ship hosted Libby Riddles,
the first woman to win the Iditorad in 1985.
How fascinating to here her story, and
how harrowing her 18 day trip! 

We somehow missed the glacier excursion that afternoon, but got in on the salmon bake.  Yum! Fresh grilled salmon and a nice buffet to compliment the fish.  The meal took place in a camp setting with picnic tables under awnings and little heaters attached to the poles holding up the awnings.  The warmth felt nice.  After the meal we walked to a waterfall.

The following day would be Wednesday and a stop in Skagway.  I was feeling nervous that evening and didn't sleep very well, as anxious thoughts about our next planned excursion troubled me.  With dread, I heard the early morning sounds of the ship being tethered to the Skagway dock.  Would I live to see another pleasant evening on the Ruby?  

more to come...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Alaska- Part 2

It's finally time to leave!  To Chicago overnight and then to the airport in the morning to catch our first flight.
Kevin and I aren't huge fans of city driving, but traffic was fairly light, and GPS guided us around construction zones so we arrived at our hotel at the expected time. We'd take the shuttle to the airport in the morning and leave our car in the parking lot. (When I made the hotel reservations, Expedia did not indicate that we would have to pay an additional $8 per day to do that-what's an extra $80 at this no-turning-back-stage of the plans:)

We settled down for the night and had a shuttle scheduled for 7am in the morning.  Paul and Libby would be leaving Charlottesville, VA even earlier to meet us in O'Hare for the 9:30 flight to Edmonton.

My cell rang at 4:30am. Oh no, it was Paul, and I didn't think he was calling to just give us a cheery morning hello. They were delayed and most likely not going to make it to Chicago in time.  His second call informed me they had decided not to go to Canada, but instead schedule another flight from VA. to Seattle on Sat. morning. I understood their decision.  Sometimes the hazzle of rearranging flights with airlines outweighs the pleasure of actually being where you wanted to go!  As we were soon to discover for ourselves... But I was disappointed they would not be with us. Paul had reserved the rental car to take us from the Edmonton airport to the cousin's houses, about a 90 min. drive. We'd have to do that now ourselves when we arrived about 3pm. Feeling less confident about trusting airlines, I changed our flight to Seattle from Edmonton, from Sun. morning to Sat. afternoon.  Missing the ship would be the greatest deal buster.

At the airport we located our gate. We prefer to get to airports early;waiting is more relaxing then having something go amiss and rushing to get on board last minute. Our flight gate was changed 3 times.  Maybe a precursor of what was to come...We waited past the boarding time.  I approached the counter and was told a mechanical issue was delaying the plane.  Any delay was not good.  We had a 50 minute layover in Denver.  There would not be time to make the flight to Edmonton. As I explained the situation to the attendant, I expected we'd be routed to another, later flight. She quickly searched the computer and said she had nothing else. I've never been told that before.  Airlines usually get you on another plane even if they have to use a different airline. When I booked the flight I had seen other flights to Edmonton later that day.  I also knew those other flights wouldn't arrive in Edmonton  until after 9 or 10 pm. Maybe if I would have pushed harder, maybe if Paul and Libby hadn't backed out, maybe if our visit with the cousins was for a longer time, maybe it just felt too daunting to arrive there around midnight, which was 2 hours earlier than real time for us....all. those. factors ... I decided to cancel, also.  We received a full refund, and as I headed back to tell Kevin we were retracing our route home, he reminded me that we had checked in Big Red- with all our good clothes, with well-thought-out items we needed for a successful cruise.  I hurried back to the counter.  Yes, we would be refunded for that fee. We could go to baggage claim and talk to an agent there. Disappointment mixed with relief, anxiousness about Big Red, thoughts of more expenses, likely, to cancel the Seattle flight and rebook it to leave from Chicago, tempted to feel things were stacking up against us and what else would go wrong, dogged us as we hurried to Baggage Claim.

The attendant looked Big Red up in the system and in a done-deal-like manner said there was no way to get it back off the plane. But the plane is grounded and can't fly-why can't someone get our bag!
He said it would go to Edmonton and then be sent back to Chicago; we arranged to have it sent from there to the South Bend airport-it would have been COD to be brought to our house.  I'm not too impressed with United's service, but just wait...He made promises that I'd be updated by text every 6 hours and suggested the bag could be in South Bend later that evening. He circled a phone number on the claim sheet he had printed out for us, but advised us not to call the 800 number because we'd only get a foreigner somewhere in India and we wouldn't be able to understand them very well. Kevin asked about the TX number below that and were told that wasn't much better. OK, then!

We drove back home.  It was Thursday afternoon; we'd leave again Sat. morning.  We had that all- dressed-up-with-no-place-to-go feeling. Time off from work the next day, but no plans for how to spend it. It almost felt like we should stay indoors, hiding, since everyone expected us to be gone.

I decided it was best to jam a few more things into the carry-ons, just in case Big Red didn't make it back to us in time.  That involved a trip to Goodwill for a lightweight jacket for Kevin and snatching a few more dressy clothes still hanging in the closet.  Oh, yeah, and throw another tie in for Kevin.

Updates from United texted as promised, with zero new information. By Friday afternoon I decided to brave a phone call.  The bag was still in Edmonton but should be back in Chicago later that day. Maybe we could pick it up in Chicago before our flight left in the morning!

Alas, no bag awaited us Saturday am and the baggage attendant's computer search said it was still in Edmonton, BUT was coming to Chicago later that day. After we would leave, of course. Let's have Chicago route it to Seattle, was the only thing left to say.  One more chance, Big Red, to catch up with us!

How exciting to see Paul and Libby in the Seattle airport!  We were actually starting our vacation! My take-charge brother marched to baggage claim while I followed. He was convinced I wasn't aggressive enough with United personnel. We were told the bag was definitely on it's way to us.  My brother insisted it be brought free of charge to our hotel room, whatever time of the day. He made sure United had the address, and my cell phone number.  This was sounding more hopeful...

 Seattle is a wonderful place to explore. We had about 12 hours to see its sites. The concierge at the hotel armed us with suggestions and pamphlets. Pikes Place market was fascinating with all it's shops, inside and outside. Like flower shops selling  bouquets of gorgeous  varieties! And the first Starbucks establishment with its quarter mile long line to enter.  Other eateries tantalized our senses.

Dinner at the Wild Ginger Thai restaurant didn't disappoint.  Afterwards we rode the Monorail to the Space Needle.  Instead of riding the tram to the top, we opted to visit the glass museum near the base of the Needle. The displays were very impressive.  Take a look:
The Space Needle reflected in a glass ball
The first day together

One of the hanging displays
Accents of glass in a natural setting
Back in the hotel we checked on Big Red before crawling into bed.  United claimed we'd receive the bag by 8:30am.  Instructions were given to deliver it to our room anytime, day or night.  The sweet sound of a knock at the hotel door at 5:30am interrupted our sleep.  As I wheeled Big Red in, we fawned over her, patted her sides lovingly and checked the decoration of tags that were looped to her handle.
Other than a small zipper tear, she looked the same, inside and out. If only we could get flyer miles of her travels added to our account!

Big Red!
We had a few more hours in the morning to roam Seattle and find a breakfast place. Besides the shops and attractions we visited, the steep slopes of the streets exercised our legs and lungs. There will need to be future trips to this fascinating city.

It was time to board the Ruby Princess!  The hotel provided a shuttle to take us down to the dock.  It felt like one last nod to Goshen, IN. as the shuttle waited at a railroad crossing for a long slow train to pass.  

At the dock we captured a picture of our home for the next 7 days.
Embarking was surprisingly fast as we were herded through the lines of waiting passengers--security scans, health forms to sign, passport presentations--and finally received our official card that would serve as money for any on board purchases, our room key and our ID to get on and off the ship.

Our constant companion!

Bon Voyage!

 Where great adventures await us!

More to come...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Summer Continues-Alaska Part 1

After the Tulsa trip I relished the idea of two weeks and a few days to relax at home and get ready for our next excursion-- An Alaskan cruise to celebrate our 20th Anniversary---All the planning and packing and shopping had to fit into these precious days of house-and-schedule-to-myself.

My brother Paul and his wife, Libby, who are celebrating 35 years of marriage were vacationing with us, and I looked forward to the time together. On departure day, they would travel from VA and meet us in Chicago for a pre-cruise visit to see first cousins in Edmonton, Canada. It would be a short almost three day weekend with the cuz and then a flight over to meet the ship in Seattle Sunday morning.

I read blogs of Alaskan been there done that travel vets, poured over lists of what to take and how to simplify, all the while stuffing undies into shoes to go into the suitcases and folding in tops and coordinating bottoms as I decided what to wear for each day.  Three suitcases lined one wall of the bedroom floor like giant rectangular mouths, open to devour whatever trip essentials I would feed them next.  The large one would hold most of our dressy clothes, binoculars and toiletries not allowed on carry-ons.  The other two fly-with-you bags were stuffed with the regulation sized plastic ziplocked necessities, cruise excursion clothes, outer wear, and gifts for the cousins. The contents in the big red check-in bag wouldn't be needed until onboard the ship.

Crazy details of planning sent me to resale shops and had me interneting for just the right pair of shoes- you gotta love Amazon Prime and their two day free shipping!!  In between there were beans to pick and freeze and regular chores to attend to.  (And always time to make a quick stop at the Chief, if I was driving by!)

During the first week of Preparation for Departure, my Dad and Lena asked if they could visit us the last three days before we would leave. They were hesitant to intrude into our plans, but I was insistent that it would be a huge privilege to host them, and I'd work ahead so my time would be free for them. How many years had it been since I celebrated my birthday with my Dad!  I wasn't going to miss out on that opportunity!

They are still both in good health and lovingly caring for each other.  Daddy took me out for lunch and dinner on my birthday, and I showed them around Defries Gardens where a circular brick paved path takes you past plants for each season of the year.  Each brick is marked for a day of the year.  Here's the selfie taken close to my birthday brick.

Lena & Dad

The Love Train to the Basement

On the day of departure, Dad and Lena's ride picked them up at 11am and Kevin
and I loaded up the car and pulled out for Chicago at 6pm.
We were finally beginning the Vacation!  If only we had known it was a false start.  God had a change of plans in store that we would discover shortly.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ben-Hur; by Carol Wallace: A Book Review

What nostalgia and warm memories this title invokes!  As a young girl when a less complicated life afforded larger chunks of time for reading, Ben-Hur was an exciting story that brought biblical times to life and closer to home in a world that knew nothing of search engines that now make knowledge of distant places so common place.  Would this new revision written by Carol Wallace,the great-great grandaughter of the original author, Lew Wallace, hold the same enchantment for me now?

My specific memories of the original book are vague so it's hard to make an authentic comparison, but supposedly much of the cumbersome descriptive prose in the original has been reworked to hold greater appeal for current day readers. The story in this version flows well and the characters are engaging.  Judah Ben-Hur has a life of adventure, starting with an accident that condemns him to a galley slave. From there he is mercifully rescued, falls into fortune and carries hunger for revenge on those who separated him from his family earlier. He encounters Jesus along the way and gradually grasps Christ's mission of peace, which is counter intuitive to Ben-Hur's military mindset. The chariot race, perhaps what the book is best remembered for, still shines, and the rivalry between Ben-Hur and his former childhood friend, now enemy, Messala, keeps the reader rooting for justice on Judah's behalf.  The story has a satisfying ending.

There were times I felt the characters were shallow and the action mild compared to more modern day fiction.  For instance, Judah marries the sensible and right woman for him, but their romance is only hinted at and their declaration of desire for one another comes rather abruptly.

Encounters with Jesus Christ are in harmony with the Bible's account of his life and character. Ben-Hur's conversion is wholehearted. The crucifixion scene portrays the agony of Jesus and those who love him. I was disappointed that the author chooses not to develop any story of the resurrection. It is assumed, but if one is unfamiliar with Christ's work of redemption, God's powerful act of rising him from the dead is sadly missing. 

The book includes an afterword that is a brief, yet detailed biography of Lew Wallace.  I enjoyed reading of his background and the gradual reception of the book in the late 1800s.  The story had to endure tests such as whether it was blasphemous, whether it was morally valuable when fiction was suspect, and whether it's Christian message would be embraced.  By 1886 it was a major bestseller.

I also found it interesting to understand how Ben-Hur's story reflects the author's life experiences. Lew Wallace had his own journey of coming to faith and the story shows his conclusive belief.  In his lifetime there were many reports of readers whose lives were changed by the book.

I read most of this book while waiting on a plane delay while traveling this summer.  It was entertaining and carried me back to simpler days, not where there are less complicated personalities or problems of life, but where inner peace is obtainable and comes from a straightforward acceptance of truth and from valuing the journey to a faith that doesn't waver no matter how the world changes. How refreshing!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Travel Continues to Tulsa

The previous post highlighted the visit from my daughter Jodi and her three sons.  After the mad dash with her and the boys in Atlanta to the departure gate for Pensacola, and after our hasty goodbyes, I sank into a nearby seat, unharnessed myself from my heavy backpack and waited until their plane had taxied out to the runway.  I had at least two hours until my plane would leave for Tulsa. Frankly, I needed some down time. 

I found my gate area and perused the concourse for food options.  I decided on a taco bowl and then settled down for the wait.  Waiting is never dull; catching up on Facebook, making a phone call, playing a turn on Words With Friends, reading a book or maybe engaging in conversation with a stranger.  But the two hour wait turned into three hours as the plane was delayed.  Amazingly, no one seemed irritated or upset.  Tulsa bound folks must just be nice that way:)  I knew the three handsome family members picking me up would be there, even at the later arrival time.

What a nice reception by Josh, Jill and Elle! Hugs all around and then off to their house. I hadn't counted on how relaxing and rejuvenating this time would be.  Like waking up the next morning to a quiet house and a much later start-your-day time.  Both teens now, the girls enjoy sleeping in and Josh does his work from home on the main floor; I slept upstairs in Brayden's king-size bed-another pampering plus as I could sprawl myself and my stuff out in one big space. Brayden wasn't home until my last night there, so Thank You, Brayden, for sharing your awesome bed.

I'm a decaf coffee girl, and when Josh realized he had not planned for my coffee preference, he offered to go out to Starbucks in the mornings to bring me my cup of joe. How kind, Josh.  Thank you! So I woke up that first morning to coffee on the counter and a planning powwow to all decide what we would do in the few days I was there. Meals included the ladies making lasagna one day, with fresh basil and oregano from the garden in the backyard, grilled ribs per Josh's perfected recipe and out to eat to celebrate the girl's birthdays which happen in July. I felt wonderfully treated on all counts!  Of course, the ladies also made a shoofly pie, a family tradition when we get together.

Elle had played tennis on the school team so she and I headed to the courts mid-morning.  Our time was cut short as a mean Oklahoman storm churned up and chased us back home. (It might have ended abruptly otherwise, too, because I pulled a hamstring just before we quit.  Ugh!)  The tornado siren was sounding as we pulled into the garage and just as Josh and I were following the storm's path on the news channel and deciding the safest place to hideout in their basementless house, the warning was changed to a watch and the worst possibilities were no longer headed our way.  But the storm was brutal with high winds, thunder and lightening and some hail, and lasted quite long.

Again, I don't have a lot of pictures to show of our time together, but our outings included driving  golf balls in the Flying Tee facility and a wonderful day of shopping.  The girls had birthday money to spend and it was fun to tag along.  My buying was limited; not much room to add many new purchases to my traveling bags. The birthday celebration happened at The Cheesecake Factory-oh yeah, need I say more! Thanks for the scrumptious meal, Josh!
Happy Birthday, Elle and Jill!

There was lots of lazying around, too, watching Netflix (not cartoons- a change up from the 3 weeks previous :), playing card games like Hearts and Euchre, visiting with Josh, getting whipped in Scrabble by Josh ( I taught him well) and just doing my own thing at times, when social media captured the girls behind doors in their bedrooms.

I visited their church Sunday morning and then enjoyed time with Kira and Brayden, who returned home that afternoon.  I wish I could have had more time with them.

The time had come to pack my bags.  Again, the bittersweet feelings.  I looked forward to returning home to my wonderful husband and an only-Kevin-there-house,  but was sad to leave these dearly beloved family.

Goodbyes were said Monday morning, and I was on my way.  Thank you, Josh, Jill and Elle, for a very enjoyable visit.  I'm so proud to claim you all as family. I love you more than words can tell.

"The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Visits to Cherish

         "Family and friends are hidden treasures. Seek them and enjoy their riches."  Wanda Hope Carter

Precious, golden days of fun, sun and family visits.
So many moments to treasure and
Not enough cell phones to capture it all.

Jodi and I laid out the plans for her 3 week summer stay in Indiana .  I would meet her in Orlando where her family was hanging out on a work/vacation trip, hook up with them for a couple of days and then fly her and the grandson band of brothers back with me to Indiana for a hometown good time. My lowest fare flight landed me at Sanford Orlando airport, about an hour away from anywhere magic might be happening.  The rented vehicle they drove to Orlando could only be driven by Dad who was tied up in meetings all day, and taxi fares from Sanford to their hotel were about as much as my flight ticket. I thought I had found a ride with a shuttle company, but since I hadn't made reservations earlier, they had no room for me.  I stared at the Uber app on my phone. Was I brave enough to use it on my own? I fingered a few phone calls and texts to Josh and Kira who have used the service often; I was coached and coaxed to give it a try.  I entered my information. A driver immediately responded and I could follow his progress towards me on the app. Within minutes my phone rang and the Panamanian driver was letting me know he had arrived. I stepped outside to curbside. He talked me to his vehicle via the cell phone at my ear. Still nervous about entrusting myself to a complete stranger,  I briefly paled at the split-second decision I now needed to make--do I sit in the front or the back?? I reached for the back door handle, slid in and heard the driver greet me by name. Whoa! What a world of conveniences and connections! The ride was pleasant with  engaging conversation comparing families and interests. The price was nice with Kira's first-time-rider promotion code, and I was delivered to the hotel where family awaited me.

The hotel room was the size of a studio apartment;  amenities included two outside swimming pools, several hot tubs, a splash pad and playground. Ian, Dominic and Noah enjoyed the water, taking rest times poolside, as needed.
Gaming at rest time

Watching the water

Noah zonked out!

After a couple of days there we said goodby to Dad and headed for Indiana. Nana and Mom had hands full pulling luggage, a stroller and clasping on to little shoulders, elbows or whatever extremities were within our reach. We switched planes in Detroit, almost leaving Nana and Dominic at the top of the escalator, with Nana trying to figure out how to maneuver luggage and child, with no free hands to steady her step onto the moving stairs. We managed to board the plane  with our baggage and wits collected and arrived in South Bend where we were warmly received by Papa at the airport, and with his welcome sign and gifts on the kitchen counter when we walked into the house. Thank you, Papa, for candy treats and toys, and flowers and chocolates for the ladies!

Our normally quiet quarters were overrun with busy bodies and boisterous voices. Dominic developed some fast rapid slide down the stairs that sounded like an accident happening, while Noah learned to back down the stairs with knees and hands. With 3 stories in the house counting the basement this was a necessary skill to develop.

I should have kept a diary of our days events, because now the memories are like a tangled balloon bouquet, each ribbon leading to a date and time, but hard to separate for any retelling of an orderly account. I'd rely on the photos I took, but too many events went unrecorded as I find it hard to break the spell of living into and with the moment in order to step back and snap a picture. Funny expressions or unexpected cuteness are escape artists when trying to preserve them for the photo gallery!

 So here's what I got.  Our first outing was to the Ft. Wayne Zoo with the Indiana cousins. Dan and Kris went, too. The zoo has lots to offer.  I was impressed with its size and variety of animals. We packed lunches which we ate on the grounds before we left for home.  It was a fun day for all.

Dominic, Rebecca, Aubrey, Shawn, Jodi holding Noah, and Ian

Another morning Jodi, the boys and I, trekked through Middlebury Cheese Factory sampling all the way and then enjoyed the 3rd floor kid attractions in the Davis Mercantile in Shipshewana-a big carousel, an awesome toy store and the Candy Store.Of course, you can't not stop at Rise 'n Roll when it's along your way.  The apple fritter and strawberry-frosted donut we found there made a nice topper to the light lunch we packed and ate in the park in Middlebury.
Pooh and Tigger outside the toy store

The Candy Store
Parks are child care takers best friends. Swinging seems to never grow old and playground equipment is great for tiring out energetic bodies.  Shanklin Park was visited more than once and how convenient to have a small park just one house over in our subdivision.

The Carousel

Noah chills himself to sleep at the park

 After being introduced to Crouqet (who remembers that oldie?), Ian begged any adult to play with him, often. 

Other games of choice throughout  the visit were Uno, and Rummicub for the adults after the kids were in bed.

We structured the days with an outing in the morning and after lunch movies/naps for the boys so Mom and Nana could have some down time.

Jodi made some delicious meals for us. We also visited favorite eateries like Venturi, South Side and The Chief.  Trying The Chief's flavor of the week- now there's a habit you might want to take up!  

Another day we traveled to Michigan to see cousins,  Janet, Jack and Fin. I'm so glad we could get together.

Austin, Ashley and Rowan joined us for the July 4th weekend. There was lots of good visiting and hanging out together here.  Several outings to do were mentioned, but due to short attention spans and needs for naps, our plans stayed low-key and local.  We managed to breakfast at Lux, visit the farmer's market, and walk the path from the dam to Shanklin. Even taking in the town fireworks show seemed daunting with 1 year olds and daylight savings time pushing the dark-enough-to-view- them-time back to 10 pm. A few sparklers and pop-its would suffice for this year's patriotic commemoration.

Rowan and Noah weren't the only show-offs
Dominic playing peek-a-boo with Rowan

Bathing beauties
The antics of Noah and Rowan were non--stop

Swing lectures & silliness

The last Sat. of Jodi's visit, we headed to South Bend. It wasn't the Elkhart County Fair, but the St. Joe Fair would do for a couple of rides. Our days together were numbered and bitter sweet emotions began to invade my mood. It would be hard to have this brood far away and out of sight; it would be nice to have the house quiet and to ourselves again. If only our times together weren't so far between.

Jodi, the boys and I left together on the same flight to Atlanta; she flew on to Pensacola and I to Tulsa.  I had a long enough lay over that I could walk them to their gate and still have plenty of time to catch my next flight. Due to an initial delay in South Bend, we bounded out of the plane in Atlanta and sprinted to the Pensacola flight. Rushing a 5 year old, riding the tram and keeping upright and jostling a stroller with baby in arms should earn Jodi and I super mom and nana awards. What a whirlwind departure!

We loved your visit Jodi! You are a delight to be with and you did a good job being mommy without daddy.  Watching you reminds me of all the details I've forgotten of being a mom to young kids. What a privilege and how fast the years pass.  You do it well.

We love you Ian, Dominic and Noah! May you carry many fond memories of your vacation with us in Indiana.  We will make the most of technology for staying in touch while we're apart. And we pray you will keep growing into the men of God you are called to be. 

About that trip to Tulsa?  Find out in the next post coming very soon!

Another item to push!

First time rider

Who needs toys?
Facetiming Dad

Pancake chefs