Wendy and I experienced an unprecedented amount of travel between November 2019 and February 2020. Ironically, one of the first trips on the calendar was a Florida and Caribbean cruise getaway with our friends Kevin and Becky. It was after this trip was booked that we decided to spend the holidays in the UK with our daughter, Taylor, along with son-in-law Clayton and grandson, Milo. Then, our daughter Madison’s wedding and Wendy’s sister, Suzanna’s wedding got added to the calendar. Add business travel to these family events and I spent 57 of 105 days living out of a suitcase between mid-November and late February.
Fortunately, the first trip we booked ended up at the end of the travel gauntlet. We were ready to escape the Midwest winter, the stress of travel, and decompress with friends.
We flew to Florida in late January and worked remotely from a lovely suite in Pompano Beach, FL, just across the street from the beach. Kev and Beck joined us mid-week. We then departed from the Port of Miami on Saturday, Feb 1 for a seven-day eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s Conquest. Super Bowl LII was in Miami that weekend, so it was a little crazy!
Our ports of call were Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. This was our first cruise on Carnival. Cruising will always be my favorite type of vacation. Being at sea fills something deep within me that this land-locked Midwestern boy can’t explain.
We loved our time with friends.
As for our ports of call, Grand Turk was okay. We shopped at the port and enjoyed drinks at Margaritaville. San Juan was, once again, a highlight for us. The old city is a favorite stop. We enjoyed lunch at the Choco Bar Cortes and Kev and I enjoyed a bevy and stogie at the Cigar House while the ladies shopped. St. Thomas was also an enjoyable port, and we really enjoyed a bevy at Taphus while shopping in the central business district. We chose not to get off the boat at Amber Cove, and enjoyed being on the mostly deserted ship.
The very best part of the cruise was, of course, our time with friends. We enjoyed the sun, fun, good food, good drink, laughter, love, and the making of so many memories. They are Kansas City Chief’s fans and it was a lot of fun getting to watch KC’s come-from-behind victory after dinner on Super Bowl Sunday.
We also enjoyed making new friends at the ship’s Alchemy Bar. The mixologists, Aleks, Brian, and Sonja became dear friends during the week. We learned from them and came to sincerely appreciate each one of them.
Below is a gallery of photos from our time in Florida and on the cruise. Enjoy.
Wendy and I knew that we were entering into a fall and winter 2019-2020 that was going to be jam packed with events and travel. We didn’t plan it that way. It just sort of evolved. So, we’re embracing it.
We considered last weekend the kick-off of the chaos. Long ago we’d planned a Twin Cities getaway. It just so happened that the Twins and Vikings had home games on the same weekend. Wendy and I got a hotel in between Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.
Friday night was unseasonably hot and humid as we trekked about a mile to Target Field. We had seats right behind home plate and found ourselves surrounded by professional baseball scouts with their stopwatches and clipboards. We had a fun evening watching the Twins beat the Royals.
Saturday was a day of simply being together. We walked about a mile to have a wonderful breakfast at Eggsy, then trekked back to the hotel where we hung out and watched the Iowa State football game. We dressed to the nines in the late afternoon and took an Uber to the Red Cow for dinner. There was a gorgeous, cool breeze and we walked back to the hotel, stopping at Finnegan’s Brewery for a pint.
Sunday morning we headed to the “mother ship,” U.S. Bank Stadium, and really enjoyed watching the Vikings beat the Raiders. It was a really fun getaway to launch a busy season.
Earlier this year we’d heard about an occasional event at one of Des Moines’ breweries, the Foundry, called “Hymns at the Hall.” We put it on our calendar to attend the next one, which was this past Thursday. We joined our friends, Kev and Beck, and ordered some food truck pizza for dinner as we waited for the festivities to begin. We didn’t realize that one of the organizers of the event is a good friend of Taylor and Clayton’s, and we ran into some of the kids’ peeps which was a lot of fun. A very festive evening of singing great hymns and enjoying some great craft brews.
Last night was our community theatre’s annual Awards Night. Last year Wendy was inducted to Union Street Players Walk of Fame. This year it was my turn. We were surrounded by our friends and I was given a wonderful, honoring introduction by Doug DeWolf. It was a really fun evening with our theatre community. Lots of laughter and reliving memories. I was both humbled and honored. We retired to the Vander Well Pub afterwards for some enjoyable conversation.
The first half of 2018 has flown by. For Wendy and me it has continued to be a year of transitions. We’re transitioning into some new paradigms with work. We’ve transitioned out of our involvement in Community Theatre. Most importantly, we’ve transitioned into be grandparents. We went on a cruise. We took a quick trip to California (part business, part pleasure). We’ve been finishing some long overdue tasks around Vander Well Manor that have been on the honey-do list since we moved in over three years ago.
After our cruise, Wendy and I were talking about vacations and rest. We spend a lot of time at our place on the lake in the summer months, but because we both home office and can work from anywhere, we typically work while we are the lake. This is a tremendous blessing and it’s the reason we can be there as much as we are. However, we asked ourselves when was the last time we went to the lake and didn’t work. I couldn’t come up with it.
So, this summer we’re trying to make sure we unplug at least a couple of times while we’re at the lake. Last week was one of those weeks. It was a lot of fun. We managed to get quite a bit of sun. We sat on the dock and read. We watched fireworks. We took the Waverunner to Bear Bottom a couple of times to sit in the pool and sip cold drinks. We watched the entire second season of Jessica Jones on Netflix. I finished a book. I putzed at some projects.
There were also some things that Wendy and I needed to feel, and to talk about. We didn’t know it when the week began. Our rest gave opportunity for emotions to surface which gave opportunity to contemplate, and process, and grieve. That’s what happens at the lake when you allow yourself to rest. It’s a good thing.
I’m looking forward to more unplugging this summer. And some rides on the wave runner!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of sharing a rare meal with my oldest friend. Scott and I grew up on the same block growing up and we shared some of our most formative years together. Let’s just say, we’ve got lots of stories. Scott lives in Georgia now and spends a lot of time working in Africa providing love and life’s basic necessities to some our world’s neediest people. We’re lucky if we get a conversation every 5-10 years, but when we do it’s as if no time has passed. We cannonball right into the deep end of the pool.
We were talking about our vocations and where we find ourselves in our careers at this stage of our journey. Scott asked me if I love my work. He asked if I’m passionate about it. The truth is that I do love my job and I do experience passion in my work. Having said that, it’s also work and in my experience every job is a slog sometimes. That’s why it’s called work. It’s also not the thing I’m most passionate about in this life.
In this morning’s chapter, King Asa of Judah is approached by a prophet named Azariah. King Asa and his army were flying high from a huge victory of the nation of Cush (modern-day Ethiopia). Asa had sought God and had been rewarded. Now the prophet brings a message telling Asa that while the thrill of victory and the spiritual high everyone is feeling from God’s blessing is awesome, the work is just beginning. Being passionate and clinging to God can be easy in the midst of a battle. Being passionate and clinging to God when nothing much is going on or I’m slogging through the mundane is a different story.
Scott’s question came to me yesterday morning at breakfast. It was my first day back in the office after a week’s vacation at the lake with Wendy. I knew what was waiting for me after the joy of breakfast with my oldest friend: a pile of calls and emails to return, the backlog of work that didn’t get done last week, and the pressure to catch up. I knew this week would be a slog and I’m wasn’t feeling passionate about it. I’ll feel more passionate next week when I’m working with our client, rewarding people for the great service they’re providing, and helping to make a measurable difference in that company.
Today? I have to listen to the words of the prophet: “Be strong and don’t give up.” The slog will give way to passion.
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)
Wendy and I came home from our cruise a week ago with a mixture of emotions. We’ve done some debriefing about it together this past week. As I admitted in my recap, our time aboard fell into a very simple (and some would say “boring”) routine. We read a lot. We watched movies in our room. We sat by the pool in the warm sun. We only went to one of the big stage shows they offer in the evenings. We only truly explored one of the four ports of call. The daily list of activities we could enjoy was mind-boggling, but we pretty much ignored it all. We didn’t want endless activity. We have that at home.
On one hand we truly enjoyed the rest, the warmth, and the break from routine. We enjoyed being together as we always do. It was quiet and peaceful. At the same time, we both came home feeling that our Spirit-tank was empty. Independent of one another, we had thoughts of some thing on which we wanted to ponder and dig into. We had plans for journaling, meditating, seeking, and conversation together. We thought the downtime would afford us the opportunity to dig deep from a spiritual perspective. In retrospect, we didn’t do that, nor did we really even talk about it before we left.
In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poetry is pointed at his own people. He offers a word picture that leapt off the page for me in the quiet this morning. They had access to God’s “spring of living water,” but chose to dig their own cisterns instead. Yeah. I get that. I kind of feel like that with our missed opportunity a few weeks ago.
That confessed, I’m not beating myself up about this. It is what it is. It was a restful week and an enjoyable getaway. Nevertheless, it has served as a reminder for me. The line between “surface” and “Spirit” is an important one. Drinking from the spring of Living Water is not the same as drinking from the well-dug cistern of personal satisfaction.
Chalk up another lesson for the journey. I’m going to do it differently the next time we getaway together for a time of rest.
Four years ago Wendy and I enjoyed a seven-day Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Line. It was wonderful, and we’ve been looking forward to repeating the experience ever since. Last week we headed out of Ft. Lauderdale Florida on Holland America’s MS Eurodam for long-awaited week-long adventure back to the Caribbean.
As Wendy and I looked back on the experience I found it fascinating what a difference four years can make. I think we were more tired going into this trip. We were less set for adventure and more interested in rest. That said, I think our expectations may have also been set higher by the amazing memories we shared from our previous cruise.
The truth is, we did very little by way of the commercial-worthy activities. We sat around in the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Most days sailed by with the two of us reading by the pool and sipping cold, fruity concoctions. We dressed up and ate good food in the evenings. We had fun being alone together. We met a few interesting people, but most of our interpersonal interaction was with the kind and warm-hearted staff who almost always went out of their way to take care of us.
For the record, here’s the summary with photos to follow:
2/24/18 Des Moines to Ft. Lauderdale. Wendy and I have some travel-hell stories from our past and we’re always waiting for some way we’re going to get screwed by weather or airlines whenever we travel. We came close this time as our flight from to DSM to O’hare was late taking off and we had zero time to run (we did the literal terminal sprint) to our connecting flight. Fortunately, the gate agents were waiting for us and they shut the door behind us. Nevertheless, the stress level was a little high as the plane made what felt like a 60 mile taxi from runway to Terminal C. We spent the evening at the Renaissance Cruise Port, took a little stroll to do some shopping and called it a night.
2/25/19 Leaving Fort Lauderdale
We took a transfer service from the hotel to the Cruise Port. The shuttle service was terribly unorganized and the whole thing felt chaotic, but we eventually made it to Port Everglades along with about 3 million other cruise passengers. Wendy and I boarded the ship and had a little lunch on board until it was announced that our stateroom was ready. We were in stateroom 7060 which was a suite with a private verandah. The Eurodam has recently been updated and the room was gorgeous and spacious with lots of features like USB ports for charging devices and a big screen television stationed directly across from the bed so you can lay in bed and watch one of the on-demand movies or television shows.
Our luggage arrived fairly quickly and we get settled in. We were really excited to finally be on board and heading out to sea. We also had complimentary champagne in the suite so we drank champagne and stood on the verandah watching as we left port. The warm Florida sun felt great on our cold, pasty-white midwest bodies.
We decided to dine the first night at one of the on-board restaurants, Canaletto’s, which was offering a discount for the first night. We enjoyed an Italian meal before heading to bed.
2/26/18 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Wendy and I had been to the private island, Half Moon Cay, on our last cruise. It’s a small island set up specifically for Cruise ships stop to let passengers sun themselves in relative seclusion as well as participate in any number of activities. We opted to stay on the ship this time and we settled into what became our repetitive routine for the trip:
Get up. Eat breakfast.
Go to the pool at the back of the Lido deck
Read. Maybe sit by the pool for a few minutes. Go back to reading.
Have a cold fruity drink.
More reading, and another cold, fruity concoction.
Watch a movie in our stateroom (nap, maybe). It was a “Marvel” week. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Dr. Strange, and Thor Ragnarok
Get showered and dressed.
Go do dinner.
Take in a little entertainment.
Go to bed.
2/27/18 At Sea
One of the things Wendy and I love about a cruise are the “dress up” nights. The reality is that most people don’t really take it too seriously, but we like getting dressed to the nines and making an evening of it. We stopped at the Pinnacle Lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail and ran into a group of fellow passengers from Scotland who were wearing their dress kilts. Awesome. I totally have to channel my Scotch/Irish genes one of these days and do the kilt thing.
2/28/18 Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We got off the ship for, maybe, 20 minutes. Our plan had been a quiet, leisurely stroll to do a little souvenir shopping and taking in the local sights. We were so inundated with aggressive locals getting in our face and trying to sell us everything from taxi cab rides to tours and other (unmentionable) things that we ended up feeling really uncomfortable. We turned around and getting right back on the ship. Sad, really.
3/1/18 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We stayed on the ship and followed our routine.
3/2 At Sea
Somewhere along the line Wendy and I decided it would be fun to do our own personal Pub Crawl on our day at sea. We counted nine bars on the ship and knew we’d need plenty of time and space between stops. We started with an early Margarita by the pool at 10:30 am and gave ourselves 12 hours to hit all nine venues, ending at 10:30 pm. We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and we met the challenge (but it’s probably not something we’ll repeat on our next cruise!).
3/3 Key West, FL
On our final day of the cruise we docked in Key West. It was the one port-of-call that we got off the ship and enjoyed. We walked down Duval Street, make a pilgrimage to Sloppy Joe’s (where Ernest Hemingway hung out back in the day), and stopped at Kermit’s for some authentic Key Lime pie (it was delicious).
Here are some of my photos from the week:
Had to stop at “Irish Kevin’s” in Key West for our friend Kevin McQuade.
Wendy was pretty happy to be on vacation!
I LOVE BEING AT SEA!
HAL does a nice job with the little added touches.
Dapper and ready for dinner.
This photo summarizes our week.
Our suite was very enjoyable. Lots of room, plenty of storage, and extremely comfortable.
Hanging on the verandah at Half Moon Cay.
“I’m hard of hearing. Do you have a quiet table in the back?” I should have specified “with lights”
Wendy crying over her book. I love her.
Eurodam docked in Ocho Rios.
Enjoying our muster moment.
View from our verandah in Key West
Our room stewards never failed to surprise us.
Gotta love complimentary bubbly for embarkation!
We’re headed to sea! Cheers!
Waiting at the hotel for our shuttle to take us to the Cruise Port.
Coffee, waves, and a good book. Perfect morning.
Sloppy Joe’s Key West.
Sunset at sea.
Love this woman.
Reading by the pool. We did this ALOT!
A pre-trip bevy at the Des Moines Airport prior to take-off.
Sunset over the ocean.
Even Rembrandt loved selfies.
The sun sets on another lovely cruise.
Wendy wouldn’t let me order it “shaken not stirred” but I still felt like 007.
We didn’t plan it this way. Earlier this year we planned to find a few days to spend together with our girls at the lake. It just so happened that the stars aligned in such a way that we would be driving to the lake during the sun’s total eclipse. The path of totality passed right across Columbia and Jefferson City, Missouri which are on our way to the lake.
So it was that we began our family vacation on Monday by pulling off the road just outside of Jefferson City to experience the eclipse. Taylor had scored some eclipse glasses for us. The process of the eclipse takes over an hour so we spent much of the early stages in our car staring through the sun roof. As totality neared we got out and experienced it together including watching the eery shadow bands on the ground and looking at the corona over the 2-3 minutes you can actually look at the eclipse without searing your eyeballs. It was a blast to experience the rare celestial event together.
Traffic was crazy after the eclipse as we made our way the rest of the way to the lake. It was a fun couple of days together as we haven’t had a family vacation like this for a long time. I kind of laughed as the four of us sat around the dining room in the mornings with our laptops working away. My, how times have changed.
Schools are already back in session, so the lake was blessedly quiet and the weather was picture perfect. We enjoyed grilling out, laying on the chill raft, hanging out at Bear Bottom (we were literally the only ones there), breakfast at Chances R, riding the wave runner, and (of course) watching movies together. You know we ate well. Wendy brought cheesecake!
Unfortunately, it was far too short. We headed back early Thursday and Madison is already on her way home to South Carolina. Nevertheless, we enjoyed making more memories together which will be added to all the special times we’ve been blessed to have at the lake together.
“…but abide the change of time, Quake in the present winter’s state, and wish That warmer days would come.”
– Shakespeare (Cymbeline 2.4)
Even casual readers of my blog will know that my posting has been, at best, haphazard of late. For almost 11 years I’ve managed to average close to one post a day, but I found myself in an unintended sabbatical of late. I’m at a loss to easily say why. Let’s chalk it up to a mixed winter’s tempest of draining musical production, nasty virus that won’t go away, longer than average holidays, seemingly endless activity, year-end responsibilities, new-year responsibilities, awful head cold, then topped off by what feels like endless business travel.
In the midst of it, however, Wendy and I sought to escape the depths of Iowa winter to visit our friends Kevin and Linda in Palm Springs. Our dear neighbors undertook their first adventure as “snowbirds.” We have greatly missed their good company. So, we snuck out for a relational “fix” while enjoying a week in the sun.
Neither Wendy nor I have spent any time in Palm Springs. I drove through on a business trip many years ago, but did not stay. Kevin and Linda have a lovely little condo with requisite swimming pool. They also had a cute little deck where the four of us could sit and quaff drinks while attempting to solve the world’s problems into the wee hours of multiple mornings. We didn’t solve the world’s problems, and we argued like the Founding Fathers over several issues which kept the neighbors awake. We also found things on which to agree – and in the end we toasted love in both our unity and our diversity (and then we joyfully did it all again the next day).
Our agenda for the week was very simple. We wanted to enjoy the good company of our good friends over good meals and good drink…and do a little reading for pleasure in the sun by the pool. Mission accomplished. We loved the Tropical where cocktails were accompanied with gorgonzola stuffed, bacon-wrapped plums. We also loved Melvyn’s which doesn’t seem to have changed since the days when Frank Sinatra regularly haunted the corner barstool. We had margaritas and chorizo queso on the patio of Maracas not once, but twice. So many great memories were made.
We also took the Palms Springs Tramway from the desert floor to the top of the mountains that loom like a giant wall on the town’s western border. A little shopping is always in order and we found two hat shops where we each found a new hat for the lake this summer (actually, I found two). There is a Thursday evening market along the main thoroughfare and we enjoyed an after dinner stroll through the endless rows of vendors and listened to the street musicians.
Wendy and I also took the opportunity for a day trip to Arizona where we visited our good friend Ann who has been teaching Theatre there for the past few years. It was a fascinating road trip through the desert for us, along the Salton Sea and through the Sahara-like dunes just west of Yuma. Definitely a departure from cornfields and cattle.
Kevin and I took in a baseball game one gloriously sunny afternoon. The Palm Springs Winter League is for college kids and minor league cast-offs who are are hoping for an invitation to MLB Spring Training. According to the league’s marketing, about half of them will earn one. I was excited to learn that the catcher for one of the teams played for my alma mater, Judson. It was also interesting to watch him catch for a young woman who came into the game to pitch in relief. I can’t wait for baseball season to start.
We returned home having made some great memories, and having enjoyed a nice break to the cold and snow. We are a little less apt to “quake in the present winter’s state.”
Enjoy a few of my photos of the trip.
A British pub is always a good idea.
Spartan street cellists. Who knew?
Drinks on the mountain top.
Lunch in the sun!
We fought the crowds at the Palm Springs Winter League.
Cheers to Mother England from Palm Springs!
You have to respect a town with TWO good hat shops!
Baseball, sculpture, sunshine, and a gorgeous mountain landscape.
Palm Springs Tram… taking us to a mountain top experience.
Mountains loom over Palm Springs like a giant wall.
This private skywalk is part of a nudist colony that spans both sides of the street. We don’t have one of these in Iowa.
We stopped here…twice.
Cocktails at the Tropicale!
Palm Springs Mayor, Sonny Bono. My brush with greatness.
Some people are less impressed with nature than others.
Drinks at Melvyn’s, where Frank hung out back in the day.
“My, what a big lens you have,” she said to me.
Here we go! Hangin’ in the United Club on our layover in Denver.
Even as I watch her standing and staring at some random street art, she makes my heart skip a beat.
Love. Love. Love.
Palm trees. Palm Springs.
Strolling the Thursday evening market.
The chorizo queso was so good at Maracas, that we had to go back for more.
Dinner on the patio. In FEBRUARY!
Thursday night market in the heart of Palm Springs.
Our last full day on Kauai started a bit later than usual. Wendy and I rose just after sunrise and enjoyed a cup of coffee together. We got ready early and headed out to explore the west side of the island. We stopped for a light pastry breakfast and drove around the southern side of the island. It’s a bit of a strange experience because one minute you are driving through tropical rain forest, then you cross into an arid plain that reminded us a lot of eastern Colorado.
We headed up the highway along Waimea Canyon which climbs in 18 miles from sea level to about 4,000 ft. Along the long and winding road (sorry, pun intended) we stopped for breathtaking views of Waimea Canyon which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The 800′ Waipo’o Falls and then up to the Kalalau lookout overlooking the Na Pali coast which was the end of the road.
Wendy displayed an unusual case of the heebie-jeebies as we climbed up the canyon road. The combination of having nothing but a sheer drop off outside her car window and not being in control of the car tested her nerve a good part of the ascent. Nevertheless, we loved the views, the exploration, and the adventure of it.
We descended back the canyon road and stopped for a stroll in the old downtown market area of Hanapepe which boasts a number of art galleries. We wandered in and out of the shops. There was some beautiful artwork and photography and it was a quaint little area. They have an “art stroll” every Friday evening. We wished we’d have known about it last week.
We made our way back to the room. Becky, Court and Lydia were off on an adventure of their own. Wendy and I made a light lunch and got cleaned up. We are all going out to eat this evening to celebrate our last night on the island.
We strolled down the ocean walk to Sam’s Ocean View for Happy Hour. We were welcomed back by our friends behind the bar and enjoyed some great conversation as we peered out at the surf and the motley cast of characters who walked past. We will truly miss Sam’s, and will always have fond memories of the place. It was sad to say good bye. We walked back to the resort where the rest of the crew were ready for dinner.
We drove to Lihue and dined at a nice Italian restaurant called Kauai Pasta. It was an enjoyable meal, though the room was amazingly loud (hard for me). It was a great way to end our time together with the Oakes clan. Tomorrow, it’s time to start the journey home.