The Front or The Back

I’ve been slowly working on editing my myriad of concert pictures that I put on my Flickr site. Some of my favorites are Green Day. It was a concert back in 2005 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. (I still need to clean up my old concert review pages – sorry for the bad formatting if you go there).

Two of my favorite pictures from that concert are of Billy Joe Armstrong.

One is his front:

Billy Joe Armstrong - Green Day

The other is his back:

Billy Joe Armstrong - Green Day

Leave me a comment of which you like better.

Drippy Goo – Heliconia bihai cv. Lobster Claw One

Looking through some of my Hawaii pictures on my Flickr pages recently, mostly because I’m freezing my behind off here in Chicago and would rather be there, I’m still fascinated by the goo cascading off this plant. It kind of looks like icicles, but definitely is not as the picture is from the Hawaii Botanic Tropical Gardens. I believe it might be a Heliconia bihai cv. Lobster Claw One, but don’t quote me on that.

Drippy Goo

Lights and Ice

Lights and Ice

Barnard Griffin WineryWhile we were out in Washington state for a wedding, me, my wife, and her family had some time to kill. Sure, we were hoping for better weather, but coming from Chicago we weren’t going to let a little ol’ ice storm keep us down.

We were off to a winery!

My wife found a place, Barnard Griffin Winery, and they had a place to eat.

Pouring Samples at Barnard GriffinVenturing out into the icy wilderness, or at least the Tri-Cities, we made our way from Pasco to Richland.

Things might have been slippery, but the wine was great, our man did a wonderful job of explaining the various tastings on the history of the winery, and a good time was had by all.

Don’t forget to stop by the little restaurant. The food is worth the trip, even if they didn’t actually use linguini for their linguini in white clam sauce.

Wine Tasting TimeIf you ever find yourself in Richland, Washington, I suggest you visit. Hopefully you’ll have less ice, and more light. You will definitely have great wine.

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.

Watching the Sun Rise Together

Watching the Sun Rise Together

I caught a pair of doves the other morning, just sitting on the wires, watching the sun rise. Sure, they probably weren’t watching the sun rise, and just doing whatever it is that doves do together, but it was nice to think of them as a couple of lovebirds, enjoying the beauty of the start of a new day.

Sunrise at Danada Forest Preserve – Wheaton, IL – August 2017

Sunrise at the Danada Forest Preserve Wheaton, ILI saw the sun rising on the way to work one morning. I said to myself, “Self, that’s a pretty sunrise.” Then I asked myself, “Self, would I rather see a sunrise while driving my car, or while christening nature?” The next day I grabbed my camera and headed to the Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton, IL. I arrived at an opening from the woods just as the sun was coming up over the horizon.

These are my photos of the morning sun, from my Flickr site. Enjoy!

Danada Forest Preserve - 2017

Cantigny Park – Wheaton IL – 2017

The other day my wife and I had some spare time on a Sunday so we went to visit Cantigny Park. I’ve never been there, my wife had, but the place is beautiful. It’s photo time!

Cantigny - 2017

We kind of went for their French Connection Day, but also used that as a good excuse to go. The photos in the Flickr album have nothing to do with the day, but the day wouldn’t be complete without some France.

I'm a model in my dreams. At the Cantigny Park French Connection Day.

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?

Origami in Metal, Bees in Flowers, Sumi-E in Sun, Surprise in Leaves

The Morton Arboretum always has an endless supply of stunning views of nature, but their Origami in the Garden exhibit this summer brings beautiful metal. Stopping by during the Destination Asia Festival also led to live Sumi-E painting, and a surprise rustling in the leaves. It’s picture album time!

The Morton Arboretum - 8/5/2017

Let me know if you can spot the surprise in the picture of the leaves as you go through the album, and I’ve also got more pictures from The Morton Arboretum here!