Is it Wrong to Swear While Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica?

It began with wanting to see the fires from hell. It ended with God. It began Oct 14, 2017. It ended May 19, 2018. It began with feeling like a fat loser at age 50. It ended with swearing while visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, and feeling like, well, I swore while visiting the Vatican.

Italy or Hawaii? First up, Hawaii.

The beauty of Hawaii
The Beauty of Hawaii

Back in mid 2017 my wife and I wanted to take a vacation, and October seemed like a good time to work it into our schedule. Since we met there were two destinations on our immediate vacation list, Italy and Hawaii. She had been to Italy previously and knew October might not be the best of times to go, but it seemed like a great time for Hawaii. The flights were booked, Airbnbs were secured, and there were four months to get in better shape, especially for a vacation destination that exudes “cool things await those who hike, or at least walk a lot.”

Me, I had one goal, to see the lava flows of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island.

Kīlauea Volcano Crater
At Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Back then Kilauea Volcano was fairly quiet and lava flows were hit or miss. This is in contrast to the explosiveness of today, with the lava fissures in Leilani Estates and the action at Overlook crater at the Kīlauea summit. Thinking back, maybe things were too quiet at the volcano when we visited. In any case, as we arrived one thing was certain, I didn’t get in good enough shape to have any chance to make it to where lava might be flowing.

Warning signs if you want to see the lava flow at Volcano National Park in Hawaii.
“Andy, You will die if you pass!”

The signs that were posted, I joked, all read, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” It was about a 10 mile hike, you should take at least 3 quarts of water, and you should have food and even flashlights. It was also hot on the day we visited, about 85 degrees. As much as I wanted to get pictures of lava flowing I knew I wasn’t in shape to do it. I tried to make myself feel better as a ranger mentioned there didn’t appear to be any visible lava flow that day, but in my heart I knew I really couldn’t make that hike because, well, I was still a fat loser.

Hawaii was over, but the thought of that failure lived on in my head.

Then came Italy.

With Hawaii behind us, my wife was immediately in “Let’s go to Italy next year!” mode. I was in. I mean, Italian food and gelato everywhere. Sure, I’m Polish, but I love me some good pasta!

In the back of my head, though, was the Hawaii failure.

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

Initially it wasn’t that big a deal. I knew there would be a lot of walking in Italy, but nothing seemed completely out of reach for my fat self, that was until I learned of the cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica is, simply put, the outside of the top of the big dome. From the cupola you can get the greatest views of Rome, but to get to the cupola you have to climb stairs, a lot of stairs, 551 stairs from the bottom to the top. As taking pictures is one of the things I do, I wanted the best pictures, and to possibly get them I knew where I had to be, I needed to be at the cupo, St. Peter’s cupola, the hottest spot west of the Piazza.

Two choices to get to the cupola.

My wife is the one who mentioned the cupola to me, and the stairs. She also mentioned that there is an elevator to get to a terrace level that can give you a nice view, and a wonderful view inside the dome, but that elevator didn’t go all the way to the top. Sure, you can cut the stairs down to 320 by taking the elevator, but, if I was going to do this, I wanted the complete experience.

I now had a goal.

How, though, was I going to get this fat loser into any kind of shape to climb 551 stairs?

My “cupola climb” training tracker.

There was some preliminary weight loss as the year began, some extra time on a treadmill, but walking flat on a treadmill wouldn’t really be any preparation. Also, where was I going to find stairs to train on? Sure, I could join a gym with a stair-master, but I really don’t like going to the gym. It occurred to me, “We have stairs! Why don’t I train at home?”

At home we have two little flights of stairs, a total of 14 stairs. For shits and giggles I decided to see how many flights I could easily do, and there it was, four flights of stairs. “Crap, that’s only like 56 stairs.” I was curious, however, if it were possible to add one additional flight of stairs every day.

The most normal stairs on the trip to the cupola.

The plan was hatched. I even made a chart. I was going to use our stairs to train for the big day. I would start with four flights of stairs, and every day I would add one flight. By starting on March 14th, if I stuck with this plan of adding one flight of stairs a day, by the time we would leave for our trip I would be able to climb upwards of 896 stairs. I wanted to be over-trained, and I also didn’t know what the effect of walking up and down stairs did (I only counted the stairs going up), versus climbing stairs continually up as I would have to do at the cupola.

Every day I did my flights of stairs, at least for most of the days. I even decided, as my legs became stronger, to actually add two flights to the daily total, giving some extra training every day just in case there was a chance I couldn’t do the stairs for a day or two.

A clogged bathtub drain.

My training was going great, I was up to 602 stairs, and some bathroom cleaning was going on about 3 1/2 weeks before our trip. Our bathtub drain was getting a little slow, so hey, why not use one of those yellow “get the hair out” thingies. I’m leaning over the edge of the tub, pushing and pulling this “unclog your drain” gadget, when suddenly a sharp pain hit my right ribcage. The good news is I cleared the drain, but the bad news was that I was fairly certain I just gave myself a rib injury.

I didn’t think anything was broken, but my ribs were sore, sore enough to effect my ability to take full breaths, which in turn, I was certain, was going to effect my stamina to climb 551 stairs. I was not happy. Worse yet, I was worried that although I wouldn’t be as fat, I would be a loser again at another goal.

The line to pay to get to the cupola.

This was not good because I did not want to be a loser.

I took a few days off of my training, resting my ribs, but worried my legs would quickly lose their stamina. A training set was done a few days later, I made 47 flights at 658 stairs, but it was hard. There were a few more days off of training but, come the beginning of May, decided I needed to figure out a way to kick the training back in gear. I made it a couple of days, but my ribs were still sore. How the heck was I going to pull this off?

I tried a few days rest, a few days training, and yet my ribs still hurt, especially towards the end of my set when I was having to take larger breaths to supply my body with the oxygen it needed. This “adding one flight of stairs a day” seemed like a good idea early on, but with sore ribs it proved to be a chore.

One of the doorways on the stairway trip!

Then came a true test. It was one week before our visit to The Vatican, I was up to 854 stairs in my training at home, the up and down of the flights of stairs, and my ribs were still sore. Suddenly an opportunity came to climb to the eighth floor of a building, a total of about 300 stairs. Should be a piece of cake, right? Well, I made it, my ribs were killing me, I was totally out of breath because I couldn’t really breathe, and now I was simply thinking, “I can barely do 300 stairs with these ribs. How in the hell am I going to do 551?” I almost wanted to cry.

I decided my last course of training had to be lack of training. If I wanted to climb these stairs to the cupola I needed to be able to breathe, and even though my stair tracker had a few days left of training to go, I needed to rest my ribs. No more stairs, no more exertion, I decided I would try to limit things, get to Italy, and see what would happen.

Buongiorno!

I really didn’t need extra stairs while on the Vatican Museum tour.

The day arrived. It was a beautiful Saturday in Rome, and we made our way to The Vatican. I hadn’t really done any exercise for a week, my ribs were feeling pretty good, or at least not sore, but another test was first, our tour. Yes, before even attempting the stairs we booked a tour of The Vatican so we could beat the crowds. What was I thinking? I had 551 stairs to try to climb, and here I am on a three hour tour, walking around The Vatican Museum, standing in the Sistine Chapel, and walking, low and behold, up and down stairs.

I will say the tour was great, interesting, and informative, but with every step and every stair all I could think was how I was using up the energy I was going to need to climb to the cupola. Did I overtrain enough? Isn’t this tour over yet? Not another flight of stairs that aren’t part of my cupola stairs! Ugh!

This way to the 551 stairs!

Finally the tour was over. Holy crap, I had already walked about three miles according to my Apple Watch, but the time had come. My ribs felt fine, I made my way to the line to the cupola, and there was the sign, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” Okay, it was a warning that there were two ways up, all stairs or you can cheat with the elevator for part of the way. If you intended to try to get to the cupola there were still a lot of stairs, but another sign was a little more direct, “Warning! Individuals with serious heart or circulatory conditions or with major physical disabilities are not advised to walk up to the cupola (551 steps). The strain may have very dangerous consequences to your health.”

I had my ticket!

I have to admit there was part of me, with the decision between elevator or all stairs in front of me, to chicken out and take the elevator, but I said, “You can do this. This is what you trained for. Suck it up, save the two euros, and get walking!”

So I did. I paid my eight euros, got my ticket, and proceeded to begin the climb.

That’s Not So Bad

Normal stairs to the cupola.

The first batch of 231 stairs wasn’t that bad. While circular, they tended to be larger stairs, decent in width, with some ledge style stairs where you actually take a few steps between stairs at times. In fact this batch is kind of a tease. I’m all like, “La de da! This is a piece of cake!”

I emerge from the first batch at the terrace, some construction is going on, but there it is, the real entrance to the journey to the top of the dome. As you enter you are first treated to a view most never see because they either don’t want to pay for that first batch of stairs, or the elevator for that matter.

St. Peter’s dome selfie!

You get a view of the inside of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, from up high. It is a stunning perspective of the basilica, looking down on the vastness of the church, and looking around at the grandioseness of the dome itself. Beautiful mosaics adorn the walls, and for this the few euros is just about worth the expense, even if you don’t want the outside view that awaits up the rest of the stairs.

Welcome to the Funhouse

Me, though, I wanted that outside view, but you don’t get that view without what can almost be described as a funhouse of a climb to get you to the top.

Climbing is like a funhouse at times.
Wacky stairs at the cupola.

First off the stairs have now become narrow as you are essentially climbing in an area between the walls of the inside of the dome and the walls of the exterior of the dome. It’s also fun because the stairs will slope one direction while the walls are sloping in the opposite direction, giving you a walk that has you tilted in various angles.

More spiral stairs.

Then there are the spiral staircases. Spiral staircases seem to be here, there, and just when you think there aren’t any more, bam, more spiral staircases. I’m climbing, some young, punk kids, and I only call them “punk” because they are in shape and running up the stairs like it’s a jog in the park, catch up to me so I let them pass, I catch up to someone who looks in decent shape but is fairly winded, and we both stop for about 20-30 seconds in a little alcove out of the way of others who want to pass.

I have no concept of how many stairs are left because, well, I didn’t count them as I was climbing, but I hoped I was fairly close. You see, during my training, as I was getting to the end, whenever I had four flights of stairs left I said a mental “You were able to do four flights of stairs when you started this training. Finish this!”, and for most of the balance of the upper portion I kept telling myself, “There can’t be more than four flights left!”

You might like the rope on this spiral staircase.

Here’s the thing, as you are climbing the funhouse stairs in the actual dome, there is a spot towards the end where you suddenly get to some metal staircases. They are normal, you are happy, but ahead marks what you will think is the worst spiral staircase of them all. Climb, hold on to the rope, because there is one, and like me, you will emerge, and maybe you might say…

“Holy shit, I made it!”

Yes, I dropped the s-bomb at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I made it to the top, and I swore.

It was a feeling of complete elation! I did it! Should I see if Pope Francis would hear my confession? At least it wasn’t an f-bomb!

I was also overwhelmed, and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. Do I Snapchat my view, text my wife, take pictures, shoot video? So, at first, I just tried to soak it in, which was kind of tough because the cupola was packed. Sure, this 51 year old schlub made it, was ecstatic that he made it, but there were plenty of folks up at the top like,”What, that wasn’t so bad?” I didn’t care, though, because for me it was it was a little bit of redemption for not making it to the lava, or even trying, that day in Hawaii.

Here’s the thing, though, I enjoyed the view, took a selfie, took the proverbial pictures, I didn’t text my wife because I was saving money on our phone plan, but then it was time to go.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Going down the spiral stairs can be scary!

All of the stories I read, and videos I saw of climbing to the cupola mentioned the challenge of going up, but none of them talked about going down. I will say that as kind of freaky it was going up all of the spiral staircases, going down actually was worse. Why? Going up you can kind of see where you are placing your feet, but going down was more like lower foot, feel for the step, hope you are on enough of the step to hold you until the next step, and continue. Oh, and there are no handrails to hold, just a wall and the center post, both of which are there mostly to maintain your balance and lean against as opposed to grab.

You have to walk back down after the fabulous view.

After navigating the super-tight, spiral staircases, things get more weird as the trip down is also one of the best thigh workouts, or will put the most stress you have ever felt on your quads and knees ever, as most of the steps are pitched down. Picture walking down a giant hill, one step at a time if the hill were steps.

On the way down the stop on the terrace level is nice, and you can get a nice view of where you were at the top of the cupola. There is a gift shop, which sadly doesn’t have any t-shirts “I walked to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica!” There’s a little cafe and views of the backside of statues where, if you look closely enough, you will see how they keep the birds from landing on the statues.

The end of the cupola trip.

Finally, you are heading down the last batch of stairs, and there it is, the exit, depositing you into the basilica where you can head back to the altar, look up, and point, “I was way up there!”

I found my wife where she said she would meet me. I hugged her, and my eyes welled up with tears. I could tell she was proud of me because she hugged me back, even though I was a sweaty, stair climber.

I had done it. After tormenting myself since our vacation to Hawaii and feeling like a fat loser, there I was, a chubby winner at age 51. Now I just needed to find the Pope and confess my swearing, and plan a future trip for a new goal. I hear Australia has a big bridge you can climb!

When Is It Time to Stop with the Happy New Year?

I heard a cheerful “Happy New Year” said by someone, I’ll call them “Kate,” talking on the phone yesterday. As I’m typing this, “Yesterday” was January 9th, and I thought to myself “Isn’t it a little late to be wishing someone that their new year should be happy?”

It just seemed too late.

So many thoughts started running through my head. First there was, “I wonder how the person on the other side reacted?” Then I wondered, “Were they caught off-guard because we were almost ten days into the new year, and they no longer see happiness on the horizon?”  “Did they reply with the same giddiness as the person dispatching the happy wishes?”

Maybe I had it wrong and it wasn’t Kate sending the greeting, but it was the person on the other side of the line who perpetrated the good tidings for the new year. Maybe this actually perked up “Kate.”

I wondered how I might have responded. I think I would have been, “Oh, yea, Happy New Year.” Then I would have found it weird during the rest of our phone call that the person wished the new year be happy this late into the new year.

As my mind does, now I wondered how long “Kate” might continue her New Year’s greeting. Will it be a few more days, maybe a few weeks, maybe only to people she hasn’t talked to in the New Year yet, resulting in a “Happy New Year” sometime in February?

I also wondered how long into the year it was appropriate to say, “Happy New Year!”

I did what I always do when I need an answer, I headed to the internet. It was just as confusing, at least in the first few stories. Why? There was a lot of discussion that a few days into January is as long as you should say it, others gave you to the 14th, but the best was an article in Metro, some British internet magazine. It decided that a “party and wedding etiquette expert” was the supreme authority for the answer. This expert mentions that “Wishing someone Happy New Year after a week into January can be unwanted and insincere.” Damn, that seems harsh.

So there you have it. One week. That’s as long as you are allowed to say, “Happy New Year,” a party and wedding etiquette expert says so.

More Chances to Wish “Happy New Year!”

Here is the good news: If you just can’t help yourself from wishing people a year of glee, well, you do have few more chances where you can get away with confusing the crap out of people. You have “Happy Orthodox New Year!” coming up for you on January 14th. Be ready, though, to explain the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The big one, though, is “Happy Chinese New Year!”, coming February 16th, here in 2018. As an added bonus, instead of just a boring “Happy New Year!” you get to get all animal loving with a hardy, “Happy Year of the Dog!”

Hooray for dogs!

So You’re Going to Hawaii

Words or Pictures? Why not both!

The beauty of Hawaii

So you’re going to Hawaii? Ever since we met my wife and I wanted to visit the Paradise of the Pacific, and in October we were finally able to pull off the trip. We asked people for things to do, things to see, read the Hawaii guidebooks (these were awesomely helpful), and for this blog I wanted to share many of the things we experienced, hopefully giving you ideas if you ever make it to the Big Island or Kauai.

I’m a little torn, though. Why? There is the part of me that wants to do a full-blown blog post about our vacation to Hawaii. The dilemma? A full-blown post would be pages, and pages, and pages, long. Okay, really not pages, unless you printed it out, but you would just keep scrolling, and scrolling, and probably give up around Day 3. We were there for 12 days. You would miss a lot.

So, the question came to me, “How do I shorten this thing? Would people rather read things, or see things?” Duh, seeing is easier, isn’t it?

My solution? A mostly picture blog post. Pictures are easy. You can look and keep on scrolling. Intermixed with the pictures will be interludes and links to all things Hawaii, or at least all things our Hawaii trip.

Ready? Let’s go! (P.S. There are even more pictures on my Flickr site!)

Day 1 – Let’s Fly!

It was  a travel day. We took off in daylight, arrived in the dark, and settled into our Airbnb place. I found it weird that the rental just uses a normal, manual lock-box, and I also wondered, but doubted, if they ever changed the code. Part of me wants to fly back just to see if the code is the same.

Day 2 – Let’s Drive!

We had one goal while in Hawaii and that was not to be like a monk seal and lay on the beach all day. Don’t get me wrong, we had beach time planned, but we wanted to see things, visit things, and eat fun food. We jumped right into it on Day 2 by planning a trip down the west coast of the Big Island down to South Point.

Day 3 – The Beach is Hard

Having traveled the highway and byway of the west side of the Big Island we needed a day of rest. What better way to rest than at one of the best ranked beaches in the world, Hapuna Beach. The weather was perfect at the beach, but this was also the beginning of learning that the beach is hard. Well, laying on the beach is easy, but it was a long walk from the parking lot to the beach, and worse yet, uphill going back to the car. Sadly our sunset at a different beach, Anaeho’onalu Beach, wasn’t that great, but dinner at Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill was a great way to wrap up our west side of the island trip!

Day 4 – Rain?

Kona, HI doesn’t get a lot of rain, but as the fates would allow our departure day saw the west and north side of the island get just about their month’s worth of the wet stuff on our travel day to the east side of the island. The rain hampered our hope of hiking down the trail at the Pololu Valley Lookout, but our travel around the north of the island, over to Hilo, and down to our “treehouse” in Volcano was just as adventure-filled as our Day 2 adventure along the west coast.

Day 5 – I Don’t Want to Die Today

It was time to see desolation, rebirth, and wonder all in one. It was volcano day and a trip to Volcanoes National Park. The Kilauea crater is mammoth, the Chain of Craters road takes you from lushness to desolation to ocean, and it was while at the ocean that the decision was made not to die on this day.

What do you want to see if you visit a volcano? Lava! The problem? Every sign on this day was saying, “Andy, if you try to go to see the lava you will die.” The hike to the lava was about five miles in and five miles back, in upper 80 degree heat. It was recommended that you take 3 quarts of water per person, snacks, and it would take at least 5 hours. Sure, there is all of that, and plenty of people make the journey, but plenty of people aren’t out of shape, with questionable knees, and did I mention out of shape?

There was the part of me that really wanted to give it a shot, I mean, there are worse ways to die, right? Thankfully, when asked, the ranger said there wasn’t any surface lava flow on this day. So, basically, we would just be taking a long-ass hike that might kill us.

I decided I didn’t want to die, my wife decided she didn’t want to die, so we just enjoyed the scenery on the way back up the crater.

Day 6 – I’m Not Scared Anymore

With safe adventure on our mind it was another day of seeing as much as possible. We finally got to see turtles at a truly weird site, the black sand beach of Panalu’u Black Sand Beach,  we didn’t get to see a rainbow at Rainbow Falls in Hilo, but we did get some yummy chocolate at Big Island Candies (Be sure to try the Macadamia Nut Shortbread).

It was also the day that I got over the fear of our rented “treehouse” sliding down the mountain, and we wouldn’t be killed by the Chupacabra who I feared was on vacation from his home in Mexico.

Day 7 – Our Anniversary Sunset at Hertz

Ah, our 7th wedding anniversary and it was “Goodbye, Big Island! Hello, Kauai!”

After a giant pancake and a couple of plane rides we found ourselves in Lihue on the island of Kauai. We were excited for a romantic dinner, a lovely sunset, and getting to our Kauai pad at a reasonable hour.

Little did we know that our experience at Hertz would be just like a Seinfeld episode where they were able to take our reservation, they just weren’t able to hold the reservation. There was that, and the fact that maybe if the one employee would have gotten off of Snapchat and Facebook on her cell phone, and did some work, we would have gotten our car in time to see the sunset at someplace more romantic than the Hertz parking lot.

Day 8 – Sites From the Sky

We had two goals on Day 8. One was to enjoy our helicopter ride, and the second was to see our first sunset at a romantic place on Kauai. One out of two wasn’t bad.

The helicopter ride was awesome and seeing things from the perspective of a helicopter is phenomenal. I had to keep reminding myself at times to stop taking pictures, put down the camera, and just enjoy the beauty.

This was also the day I learned I really like poke thanks to Pono Market, and shave ice (there is no “d” even though you really want to called it “shaved ice”) thanks to Hee Fat.

The helicopter ride filled our morning, wandering Kapaa filled our afternoon, and trying to get reservations at Bar Acuda kept me on my phone as they never answered the phone to take a dinner reservation. With some time to kill before the sunset we drove to the restaurant, I made the reservation for the wrong night, now couldn’t get through on the phone to change the reservation, and their email response mentioned they would get back to me in 1 to 4 days.

We ate somewhere else. I guess business is too good. Good for them.

Now it was time for a romantic sunset near our condo, at the St. Regis in Princeville. Another night on Kauai, another night of a non-sunset as it turns out the view from the St. Regis isn’t that great from fall through spring, with the sun setting behind the mountains. 😕

We would have to try again for our sunset.

Day 9 – Finally a Sunset, and Great Pie.

We didn’t intend to spend the entire day on the south side of Kauai, but dammit, we wanted a sunset! Our initial goal was just to see Waimea Canyon, aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific, grab some more shave ice, and maybe drive through the Tree Tunnel.

We took the drive up the long road to Waimea Canyon, but the tricky part is the waiting because one minute it might be rainy and cloudy, but sit tight for five or ten minutes and suddenly everything is gorgeously lit by the the sun.

According to The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed (Ultimate Guidebooks), keep driving up Kokee Rd until it ain’t a road no more. You end up at Pu’u O Kila Lookout for the the best view outside of the canyon, which I admit was pretty awesome after the clouds cleared.

Back down the mountain it was time for Jo Jo’s shave ice, a tree tunnel, a blow hole, and the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center for their Farmer’s Market with a snack of pie, soup, enchilada, and margarita.

Finally it was time for our awesome, Kauai sunset, complete with monk seals and surfers.

Whew, what an awesome day!

Day 10 – The Beach is Hard, Part II

After the busy-ness of Waimea Canyon we needed a day of rest. It was time to find a spot on the beach. We started at Anina Beach. It stretches for a couple of miles, the water is wonderful, but we found a lot of the beach a little too rocky for our liking. Bummer.

Let’s head to Hanalei!

Sure, parking can be a bitch, but our Guardian Angel of Parking Spots, Aunt Geraldine, found us a good location and it was time to vegetate for the day. Hint: Don’t forget to put sun tan lotion on the tops of your feet! Ouch!

Yea, every now and then a rain cloud would show up, but any shower passed quickly allowing us to watch a completely enjoyable family enjoy the water all day.

We had one more shave ice stop, Wishing Well, which kind of disappointed us as we heard good things about it, but any shave ice is better than no shave ice! Then it was time for dinner and a final cocktail before our departure the next day. Luckily we were treated to a saxophone player, because nothing screams “Hawaiian music” like a saxophone player.

Day 11/12 – Take Me Home, Friendly Skies

Our trip was coming to a close, but we had some time to kill before getting to the airport. What to do? My friend Catherine, in her list of things that are cool on Kauai, mentioned the Himalayan Academy. We sneaked our way onto a tour which was cool as it allowed us to see the Iraivan Temple being constructed, a marvel of craftsmanship. A very peaceful place, and fascinating!

One flight was late, there was sprinting through Honolulu airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, sick people in front of us who brought their own smorgasbord of sub sandwiches, chips other snacks to eat, and then proceeding to fart them all out for the last two hours on our flight from Honolulu to Chicago, an Uber driver who left us standing on the curb,  another Uber driver who paid her tolls with actual cash instead of having an iPass, and one really, happy dog to greet us as we walked through the door back home! Phew and pee-yew!

Put the Camera Down

Hawaii is a phenomenal place. If you’re going there I have one recommendation: Get your ass off the resort and visit, hike, relax, and experience. Lastly, this was our experience. It includes most of the things my wife and I did while on the Big Island and Kauai. Oh yea, I have another recommendation, sometimes put the camera down, and just let your mind create memories for your lifetime. There are images a picture can never recreate.

It Might Be Bronchitis

What are four words you don’t want to hear from a person in front of you on an airplane? That’s right, “It might be bronchitis.” Those were the words that the companion of a man, in the row in front of me, said to the flight attendant.

A beautiful Hawaiian sunset courtesy of Kauai.A wonderful vacation to Hawaii had just taken place. Sure, there was a touch of sadness as my wife and I boarded the plane back to Chicago, but as we took our seats, one row behind the exit row, there were three, slightly elderly folks seated in the row in front of us. As one flight attendant questioned the trio if they would be capable of handling the exit door in an emergency, I had my doubts as none of them seemed they would rise to the occasion in well, an emergency. Happily I had my trust in the airplane transporting us safely back to the Windy City without the assistance of the fine folks being needed.

All was well, kind of. People were taking their seats, but then the man of the group in the row in front of us got up, grabbed a bag from the overhead bin, and took out a box of Kleenex. Seemed odd, however, one of the ladies in the group explained to a different flight attendant that the man had been sick, but it should be okay because he was on antibiotics. My ears opened quicker than a present on Christmas morning. “What?” And a look of horror came to my face.

“It might be bronchitis,” the woman continued, mentioning that she didn’t think it was contagious any longer because, well, he was on the antibiotics. I wanted to run to the internet and Google, “How long is bronchitis contagious?” but, by then, I figured if he still was, well, contagious, I, along with most of the plane, were screwed.

That look you get when you hear "It might be bronchitis."Why was everyone screwed? It turns out the folks in front of me liked to have their seating area fairly cold and breezy so by this time the little blower thingies above the seats were wide open and had probably blown enough of the bronchitis into my lungs. Now add the “airplane sickness” domino effect of the little blower things and the infected air flowed back, from row to row, to the rear of the plane. Living in my own shock and horror of my impending sickness, I believe the flight attendant was just as taken aback as she arrived with two masks, one for him, and one for one of the companions, to which I thought, “What about the other woman?” and “What about the rest of the passengers?”

As it turns out, Googling upon my return home, if the dude was still contagious, antibiotic or not, all he had to really do was breath to infect everyone, and breath, chow down, and I believe also fart he did.

So, now I, and all of my fellow passengers on the plane, wait for the sickness.

I hope that someday there will come a day when each airline passenger will have their own, hermetically sealed pod to travel in, but for now that dreaded “airplane sickness” lives on.

Maybe not the bronchitis, but I feel a cough and runny nose coming on. Hopefully it’s just a reaction to the crappy, Illinois air, but, please, future Mr. Bronchy Dudes and Dudettes, please put a mask on before you board the plane. And don’t eat a sub sandwich that will give you gas.

Watch Your Relations With Other People Carefully Are Reserved

What in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?

Our Chinese fortune from the fortune cookie.

I couldn’t sleep last night. Why? All I kept wondering was what our fortune meant. The little slip of paper read, “Watch your relations with other people carefully are reserved.” As no dreams came to me, and no visions of mindful illumination awakened my senses, I must turn to you, the folks of the Internet, for help. What in the h-e-double hockey sticks does this mean?

Yummy Soup. Tasty Egg Rolls. Fortune Cookie.

 

It began with a fine bowl of Lu’s Noodle Soup and some egg rolls. Yummy! With the meal complete there it was, the fortune cookie – staple of every meal at a Chinese restaurant. In its little, cellophane wrapper waited riches, knowledge, and of course, our fortune. Riches would come in the form of lucky numbers; Knowledge was coming in a new Chinese word for me to never learn; Most important, however, a wise saying that would lead to good fortune for me and my wife. We would have to share the fortune because the restaurant only gave us one cookie.

I let my wife do the honors, and she noisily opened the cookie, as there is no other way thanks to the wrapper. Her gentle hands proceeded to crack open the cookie, throw the cookie portion away as neither of us really care for the taste of a fortune cookie, and she carefully studied the tiny slip of paper. A look of confusion came upon her face.

Is Milo Going To Eat Us While We Sleep?

I was worried. Did it say something like, “Be careful the pet who wakes you up early as they will one day eat you in your sleep.”, or maybe “The person who loves another will never love himself.” I fearfully asked, “What did it say?” She began to read it to me, “Watch your relations with other people carefully are reserved.” I thought she was having a brain meltdown, that somehow she lost her ability to read or speak, so I snatched the paper of wonder from her hand. “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved.”

“In Bed” Didn’t Help

I even tried adding “in bed” to the saying, as that always makes the fortune even more wise. “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved in bed.” That didn’t help. What does this mean? Was the fact that “carefully” had a hyphen, writtne it as “care-fully” bring further insight?

Oh no! Wise fortune, I do not understand!

No Days for a Quest

I was considering taking my tiny slip of paper on a quest, maybe to the far reaches of China in search of a wise Buddhist Monk. Could he help me learn the true meaning of our fortune? Maybe I should go on one of those silent retreats to clear my mind and discover if the hyphen is the window to our soul.

Sadly, as I’m out of vacation days at work, there will be no quest so I must turn to you, oh wise Internet friends. Hopefully you can shed some light on the meaning of “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved.” While I wait patiently for your interpretation I suppose I’ll just use the lucky number for the next Powerball or Mega Millions drawing. I’m thinking $50 million bucks will help me really not care.

At least, in the end, I know “Hai-zi” means children in Chinese. I will probably never use this knowledge.

Oodles of Beauty and Joy – The Gardens at Ball

A Garden in an Industrial Park?

There are surprise discoveries in one’s life that can bring even more oodles of beauty and joy to one’s perfect, summer day than just, well, a perfect, summer day. Thanks to my cousin, Ron, and his wife, Vicky, I got to experience more oodles of beauty and joy, on a perfect, summer day.

The Gardens at Ball 2017

It was also a day of “Who knew?”

Where was this surprise discovery with the blue skies and wonderful summer breezes blowing on a Sunday afternoon? It was a place called The Gardens at Ball, located at the West Chicago, Illinois headquarters of Ball Horticultural Company, which for the sake of my typing I will simply refer to as “Ball” during this little writing episode.

Ball Horticultural CompanyYou may have never heard of Ball, but I can almost guarantee you have experienced some aspect of their work as they have, through the years, bred, sold, and distributed the seeds that become many of the beautiful plants you want in your flower garden, or planted around your house. The Gardens are a showcase of the plants they breed and develop so that the folks that grow and sell them in mass can see them, in all of their glory.

The surprise part? The Gardens at Ball are meant mostly for industry professionals. My cousin is in the business, and he visited a few years ago with his wife. They let me know about the place, about how beautiful and interesting it was, and I have been intrigued ever since. As The Gardens are for industry folks they generally aren’t open to the public., however, on a Sunday in July, thanks to Ball Horticultural Company and The Garden Conservancy, the public was allowed to walk around experience the latest Ball has to offer.

“Let’s Go See Some Plants!”

Reaching for the Sun!As my wife and I had some free time on the Sunday of the event, and the weather was beautiful, I said, “Wife, let’s go see some plants!” She found herself skeptical, but on that recommendation of my cousins we were off.

Nestled in an industrial park this is not really the place one would expect a garden, however, as you drive past the building and start to see the variety of plants, you know you are at the right location, pulling in and heading towards the gardens.

For this event there were tour guides, many from the University of Illinois Extension program for Master Gardeners, as well as Ball employees to answer questions, and upon being offered a guide we were paired with Logan who asked our interest in the gardens. We mentioned we had a clean slate of landscaping around our house to populate, were looking for inspiration, and also how not to kill Lantana, my specialty.

The Gardens at Ball

Wonderful color at The Gardens at Ball.Beginning our walk around the over 10 acres of plants, Logan did a wonderful job of explaining the various parts of The Gardens at Ball which are separated into different classes of plants. There are shady areas spotlighting plants that do a little better with less sunlight where begonias and coleus abound, areas dedicated to just PanAmerican Seed with Easy Wave petunia, millet, ornamental peppers and more. There are rose gardens, a giant, perennial area, hostas for everyone, and a long row of nearly every color geranium you can imagine, all interspersed among the paths that take you in a logical circle, eventually getting you back to the entrance.

Walking through The Gardens it occurred to me that the selection of plants I would see at my local big-box hardware store kind of sucked. The shear variety of color and variation of the standard “here are some petunias” you find at those stores pales in comparison to the beauties you will spot walking around the winding paths and trails around the grounds. I will say this, both my wife and I came up with a plethora of ideas for around our house, and I’m hoping that Canna Cannova, at least I believe that’s what it was, can be incorporated to naturally attract some hummingbirds. I just hope we can find them all to buy somewhere, but in a worst case I suppose I could make a call, “Hey, cuz, any chance you can order me some SunPatiens, the Tropical Orange variety? How about some Rex Jurassic Pink Shades Begonia?”

The Rex Jurassic Shades BegoniaThe Rex Jurassic was one of those “Who knew?” moments while walking around The Gardens, as Ball developed a begonia to similarly mirror the skin of a T-Rex. It kind of reminded me of my grandma who would take her different colored violets, say her dark blue and white ones, somehow mix them together, and get cool things like a blue violet with a white border. I believe, however, that the folks at Ball are a little more scientific than my grandma!

With our walking around the gardens finished, and I believe I heard it was the first time they did this, Ball allowed tours of their facility which brought many more “Who knew?” moments apart from the ton of “Who knew?” while just walking around the gardens.

Like a Brewery Tour, Only No Samples

Seed coating at Ball Horticultural CompanyThe tour we were given focused on a variety of aspects of their business, from seed coating (Who knew the folks who mass-planted the little suckers into those trays needed coated seeds?), to seed pellets (Have you ever seen those SimplyHerb gardens, with six or so herbs in one pot? No, they don’t plant six individual seeds, Ball combines them into one pellet, the planting people shove one in some dirt, and ‘Voila!”, six plants in one pot! Who knew?), to how they pre-germinate seeds. When you sell seeds you also prefer to count them so you know how many you are selling. Count them by hand? Nah, invent a seed counter so you can go crazy with up to 2000 pellets of seed in a second. Lastly came some quality control. Turns out that in the seed business you also need to tell your customers what kind of yield to expect, and to improve your own process to get better yield. Do you want some human to make this judgement call? Nope, we want lasers! So did Ball, and they developed a laser and photo system to analyze trays of just-germinated seeds.

Color at The Gardens at BallReally, who knew there was so much to seeds? I just remember taking a dried up marigold, trying to plant the seeds, and hoping a few of them would grow. I guess when you are selling millions you need a little bit better process.

I know this blog post has gotten long, and I apologize, but I was fascinated by the entire Gardens at Ball experience. Going there was kind of like being let into that secret room in the back of the bar that only the cool people get to get into, only instead of beautiful drinks and beautiful people you get garden heaven.

More Pictures Next Year? I Hope So!

Hopefully they will have this event again next year, and I’ll be setting a reminder to check The Garden Conservancy website next Spring. Now that the wife and I have all kinds of ideas for our yard, next year I’m hoping to be able to get even more pictures and share more oodles of beauty and joy of a summer day with you.

Beautiful gardens in the middle of an industrial area? Who knew?

Shooting a Beaver

Shooting a beaver. Dam!I am a man who finds farts funny. I will admit that I find it funny when I fart, and I find it funny, most of the time, when others fart. About the only time I don’t find farts funny is when I’m stuck on an airplane and the person next to me has rotten egg gas. Usually, if I can work myself upwind, fart away, and I will laugh!

I have my favorite slang for farting, and it’s usually centered on something about a duck. Sometimes, though, the best, most funny word is just fart.

The other day, however, someone I know commented, as I accidentally let a duck get in the room, “You just shot a beaver!” I looked at them with puzzlement. “What?” They repeated, “You just shot a beaver!”

This was a phrase I’ve never heard in this context before. I quickly demanded an explanation which related to something like “We used to say that all of the time when I was younger and someone farted.”

Again I was perplexed, but things got more complicated.

It appears for this person that the process of fart acknowledgement also included a visual component as, along with “You just shot a beaver,” the person who didn’t fart was supposed to lick their thumb and stick it on their forehead in some kind of “Someone in this group farted, and it wasn’t me!” ritual. Now I recall back in college the importance of claiming your fart with a “No slugs,” and if you didn’t claim the fart it was acceptable to slug the farter in the arm, but there was no thumb licking.

Now I’ve had a long life, spanning half a century, and in my past I can remember various ways to announce one’s passing gas, tendency for crop dusting, cutting the cheese, or the inevitable trouser trumpet, but nowhere in my memory banks did anything with beavers have to do with farting.

You see, for me, shooting a beaver relates to a few things, the obvious being physically shooting a beaver, and the other relating to a woman exposing her private area, a la Sharon Stone giving the “beaver shot” in “Basic Instinct.” Mostly, though, it conjures up the movie “The Naked Gun” where Jane (Priscilla Presley) climbs a ladder and Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) looks up and says “Nice beaver,” to which Jane replies, “Thanks, I just had it stuffed” as she hands Frank a stuffed beaver.

To each their own, I suppose, when it comes to announcing one’s flatulence, firing the butt bazooka, or recognizing another’s sphincter siren, it’s just that the beaver saying took me by surprise. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because, as I was doing research for this post I found that you can also say, “Beaver leaver” or “Shoot bunnies” when it comes to farting. There is one thing that is for certain, though, when it comes to breaking wind, and that is whoever smelt it, dealt it.

So please, whatever it takes, don’t deal it on a plane, and ladies, be careful not to shoot a beaver. Crossing your legs should help.

Starbucks and the Case of the Missing Cookie Butter Bar

Andy Note: It appears as of January 2018, the Cookie Butter Bar is back, but under a new moniker, The Cookie Crumble Bar. I’m not sure if it is exactly the same, but it sure tastes like it. Maybe they got rid of the “butter” part so it doesn’t sound so unhealthy? We’ll see if it goes away again come March.

On the coffee front, or should I say the “latte” front, I’ll admit I’m a Starbucks man. My drink of choice is the venti, iced, non-fat latte, even in the winter. I’ll also admit that I am wont to sometimes peruse the food case looking for maybe a brownie or chocolate chip cookie. I understand it’s not the best of food choices, but every now and then a sweet treat is in order, and one of those usually fits the bill.

It was my wife who told me about this bar of wonder. Me, I’m a creature of habit, and even though I pride myself on being observant when things are different, for whatever reason there are times, say if there were a lion sitting in the corner of the Starbucks, I wouldn’t notice it as my focus would be “Do they have any cookies or brownies? Yes!”, followed by order time. My wife, on the other hand, will look for new things. One day she told me she found the most glorious of treats, and that she was lucky enough to get one because the barista told her they sell out quickly.

Three Words. Cookie Butter Bar.

Three Words - Cookie Butter BarAs my wife and I share similar tastes I knew I had to try one so on my next trip I actually looked around the food case, and there it was, speaking to me as if “You have no idea the glorious tastes that will be crossing your palette in a few minutes!” I ordered my latte, asked for a Cookie Butter Bar in place of the brownie, and the barista looked at me with that look in her eye of “Your life will never be the same.”

I sat down, took a sip of my latte, and let the wonders of cookie butter, icing and “gingerbread-like Speculoos cookie,” whatever that is, cross my lips into a moment of sweet bliss, saying to the bar, “Where have you been all my life?”

No more brownie for me, nope, I have one love, and one love only in the bakery area of the food case at Starbucks, the Cookie Butter Bar.

My World is Crushed

The Cookie Butter Bar is DiscontinuedYes, the Cookie Butter Bar was incredibly popular, and on my next trip to Starbucks they were nowhere to be found. Okay, absence makes the heart grow fonder I figured. On the weekend morning my wife and I were in luck as we could share the “Wow, these are awesome!” together. A challenge to find, but worth the quest.

Then the work week started. My wife visited her Starbucks and texted me that she heard something disturbing from her barista, “they were being discontinued.” I told her they must have just been messing with her. Why would they get rid of the best thing they have ever sold? I felt secure that, at “my” Starbucks, I would have no difficulty in securing tasty goodness.

“We don’t carry them any longer.”

I Wanted to Cry

I inquired more, “Why?”

The girl barista simply explained that like a cranberry bar they used to have, the Cookie Butter Bar was destined to be a seasonal, Spring item, and once gone they were gone. The dude barista went on this explanation of there were only so many people in the world, each eating so many meals a day, and that there just wasn’t room for people to eat the Cookie Butter Bar because it took away from their brownie and normal cookie sales. I believe I was going along with the girl barista, but kudos to him for the most convoluted explanation of my sadness, ever.

The Cookie Butter Bar is Nowhere in SightStill with my doubts I pulled out my Starbucks app. “One of these stores has to still have them. I’ll stock up!” Everywhere it was they were sold out, or mostly “Not sold at this store.”

How? How could Starbucks only make like five of these scrumptious bakery items per store, I mean, it must be like five because no one has them?

I tried store after store on my travels. Explanations abounded like “They haven’t been shipping them to us.”, “They were a seasonal item.”, “We don’t carry them anymore.”, “I don’t know why we aren’t getting them.” “I thought they would make more.”

The Spring of Discontent

My dreams are now haunted with the memory of the Cookie Butter Bar. I mean, really, Starbucks, you have a “Spring” bakery item that doesn’t even last a month? What kind of Spring is that? Who planned this? This is the “Spring of Discontent!” Heck, they still have the other Spring items, which people obviously don’t like as much, but were brownie sales that important that you had to get rid of the Cookie Butter Bar?

It is said that it is better to have loved and lost then never have loved at all, or some crap like that, and maybe I should take some solace knowing I was one of the lucky ones, I was able to have not one, but two of the most delicious bakery items Starbucks has ever sold, but dammit, in this case, never having loved the Cookie Butter Bar at all might be better.

I’m the Grumpy Old Man Yelling at the TV

I'm a Grumpy Old ManI’m not exactly sure when it happened, but the shift is coming to my becoming the grumpy old man who yells at the TV. In the past it usually seemed to happen with the election cycle, but then the yelling would wane after the dust settled. This time, though, I can’t stop. When I brought it up my wife just shook her head and agreed that I have been doing it for a while, way before the last election.

The thing is that I only seem to be doing it when she is around, and rarely does she listen to me!

I wish I could blame politics, Donald Trump, bad sports teams, or general grumpiness with the world, but in general I’m a happy guy, a guy who can see the best in things, but just about anything on the TV lately can get a rise out of me, from the news to a sitcom.

Examples include:

  • “Why are we hearing about a story about a hospital in Sweden that is closing?”
  • “What, now a comedian can’t even perform with out being protested?”
  • “Why didn’t she just make her own speech instead of quoting someone else?”
  • “Who would steal his jersey?”
  • “How in the hell can Agent Ressler not die? And how in the hell did they get there so fast?” (You have to suspend a lot of disbelief while watching “The Blacklist,” I’ve decided.)
  • The proverbial “Don’t these people work?”
  • “You can’t complain that’s all they pay. That’s all they pay you.”
  • “I’ll bet it was a shiv.” Wife, “What’s a shiv?” (She was listening this time) Me, “You know, a prison knife.”
  • “What a horse’s ass. He gets pulled over because the police are doing their job, and gets all ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ on them,” and my wife goes “Talking to the TV again?”

The list goes on and on.

It’s funny, though, because I talk as if the people are actually listening to me, and sometimes I think they might reply. I’m also giving them tons of advice, little nuggets of wisdom, and yet they still don’t listen. I mean, what’s wrong with these people on TV? Don’t they realize how foolish they look?

I know it drives my wife crazy, especially as we are watching one of her shows, but what is a man to do? Sure, I could head to my office, but what fun would that be? At least with her around, even though I’m seemingly talking to myself most of the time, at I don’t think I’m the crazy one.

I used to make fun of my mom when she would be TV talking while any Cleveland sports team was playing, usually combining her analysis of the action with a “That’s it!”, meaning the game might as well be over now because Cleveland screwed up again. Now I wonder who might be making fun of me. Oh yea, it’s my wife!

Maybe it’s just something that we do as we get older and want to share our infinite knowledge of the world with others, especially when no one listens to us, but it’s getting bad for me, especially when I catch myself doing it, or now, find I’m also starting to talk to the radio. I suppose it’s okay until the day the TV or radio actually answers back, then I know I’m really in trouble.

While On a Conference Call

The Conference Call Doodle
Someone I know likes to doodle while on conference calls.

One of the many things I’m grateful for in most of my work is that I am rarely on a conference call. It’s also one of those things that while I understand their necessity at times, in hearing most people talk about them, they generally seem to be some of the least productive uses of people’s time, ever.

I recall one conference call I was a part of. It was five other people when I was doing some contracted, iPhone development. The client was very nice, and we set up a conference call to get things started and filter ideas between the other people in the company who needed to be involved. I wasn’t the one leading the call, which was my first mistake, and there wasn’t a set agenda, which was another mistake. The call quickly shifted from some thoughts about the design of the app, to other company business that I didn’t really need to be on the call for, back to some iPhone stuff, back to company stuff, and about an hour later I realized that conference calls are generally a waste of time.

I say this not only with my own experience on, well, that one conference call, but in listening to stories of, and being in an office of various people on, the conference call. Generally there is the “I have a conference call at 2PM,” followed by joining the conference call, followed by waiting for everyone to join the conference call, followed by deciding if the conference call can proceed without one of the people, I’ll call him Mike, who was also supposed to be on the conference call but didn’t seem to call in.

As the conference call continues, the leader of the call will talk about what is supposed to be discussed, and in general everyone on the call will now put their phone on speakerphone and mute so they can go about trying to do other things while listening if something they are involved in finally comes up. Out of the corner of their not paying attention they will hear something they are supposed to chime in on, take said phone off mute, ask “I didn’t catch what you just said. Can you repeat the question?”, the question gets repeated, said person answers their question with another question for a different person, that person chimes in “I didn’t catch what you just said. Can you repeat the question?”, to which that person is now doubly-perplexed because they weren’t paying attention to any of the conversation prior to the question directed at them because they were elbow deep in reviews of material, thickness, and the sweat absorption of warm socks they are thinking of buying on Amazon, liking a dog video on Facebook, helping Mario rescue Princess Toadstool, or simply doodling, as one person near and dear to me is known to do.

An answer is finally given, only now there is a signal “Mike has joined the call.”

“Hi Mike!”, “Hello Mike.”, “Glad you could make it, Mike!”, and Mike’s “Sorry I’m late. Can someone fill me in on what I missed?” The sound of muteness occurs as a synopsis is given to Mike which is somehow actually longer than the call has been so far, Mike asks a question, and a “Can you repeat the question?” reverberates on everyone’s speakerphones.

This cycle repeats until a conversation that should probably have taken ten minutes has now surpassed an hour and a half, but at least socks were purchased, Princess Toadstool is saved, and some awesome doodles were created.

We’re not done, though, as the follow-up conference call is set for one week to give updates no one will have because they weren’t really paying attention to what they were supposed to do on this conference call.

At least there will be more doodles, thankfully not by me.

That’s it for this one! L8R!!