Food and Drink

IT Consultants on the Road, Viva Roma! Edition

This post isn't about a single visit to Rome--it stretches from a visit in January through a visit just completed now in August.  And it won't be the last.  Several more visits are likely, as we work with this UN agency to implement Office 365.  Our (my) job: getting people to use some of the goodies that are in Office 365 besides email.

And I know it doesn't make things look any less romantic, but I'm not actually in Rome.  I'm in a business park about 10 miles outside the city.  So, it's not all cafe correcto and la vida dolce all the time.  That said, I've been to places much less desirable than this.  So read on for some quick hits across my trips so far...

January

This was a relatively last-minute trip.  I had convinced my boss that developing multiple, parallel relationships with a new customer, the World Food Programme, would be a good idea.  And when I volunteered to take a red-eye to Rome that sealed the deal.  So it has been a trip featuring one day of meetings and another Anthony Bourdain-style layover day in Rome.

Why is it, on boarding my British Airways flight, I want to stand up and apologize for America?

I’ve seen more nuns in a single day in Rome than I normally see in a year in the US.

Aah Europe; it’s all coming back to me.  I have to put my room key in the card slot to work the lights.  And it’s just as well I never figured out the TV.

I’m such a goof.  “I know, I’ll buy one item for Crystal for now, and another for her birthday!” Ya, except her birthday was LAST WEEK.

Walking to the Vatican, it strikes me that being ambassador to the Vatican has to be one of the cushiest jobs ever.

Second thought: it’s amazing to think how a religion started by a poor immigrant of Middle Eastern descent would grow to be such a wealthy power.  I don’t know if that’s amazing-good, or just amazing.

Seems like the route to salvation at one point was to sponsor the building of a church.

How often do you get to attend Mass in a church/basilica that dates (originally) from the 3rd Century?

Dinner cooked up by a friend’s son and his peers, here on a high-school exchange program.  Amazing to learn their perspective on the world.

The free smartphone at the hotel was such a cool thing.  Maps, restaurant reviews and all.

The new normal: armed police/national guard blocking off roads in front of tourist locations.

Tourist hawkers. Then—fake handbags. Now: selfie sticks and fidget spinners.

Who thought triangular buildings was a good idea? I’m constantly walking into corners.

You can go a long way with “please,” “thank you,” and “good day” in the local language.

Instructive to see how the Christians took over the Pantheon and made it into a church.  Turns out, if you want to preserve a building or architectural site, the trick is to turn it into a church.  Then the Church will look after it.  Your weekly collection dollars at work.

How deep is the River Tiber?

Why is the espresso here so damn good? And thanks, Mike, for your admonition that it’s only espresso after 9 AM.

Kind of fun to see Rome in the “low season.”  Seems more genuine, or maybe just less overrun with tourists.

Trump enacts his immigration ban while I’m out of the country. What a shit-show.  There’s a huge crowd to greet passengers arriving at SFO.  I’m a little embarrassed, thinking that I’m not part of the group this crowd is cheering for.  It does make me smile, though.

Jet lag is a cruel thing.

June

Here after a last-minute company decision to send me from Dublin (where I was vacationing with Crystal) to Rome.  Crystal is off to Holland for her company meetings, I go to Rome.  Mary kindly is watching Mona back home.  This whole co-traveling lifestyle is more disturbing than cool.

This hotel is very close to the customer, which is its saving grace.  There’s a painting of the hotel on the wall (kind of like an architect’s rendering) and the cars in the painting date the hotel to the 1960’s.  That and the 3-D picture of Marilyn Monroe.  I keep expecting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to show up at the bar.

Customer has decided they want me here all summer.  Um, I don’t think that’s going to work; looks like I'll be in Rome two weeks out of every month for the summer.  Expect a lot of Italian Christmas gifts this year.

July

One day after returning from vacation in Hawaii, I’m off to Rome.  This flight to DFW is the coldest I've ever experienced.  Maybe I just got used to Hawaiian weather.

Fun fact: they turn the temperature down because people tend to faint at high altitudes.  Now you know.

It’s interesting that in all these far-in-the-future Star Wars movies, the rebels are always dressed in clothes better suited for the 18th Century.

Landing at 9:15 AM and it’s straight to the customer for meetings all day.  I used to do this all the time in the 1990’s.  Now—not so exciting.

There’s a lounge singer in the hotel bar performing a rendition of Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way.  (Hear it here) Can’t say I expected to hear that.

Walking along local roads after work to get in my 10,000 steps (I’m a slave to FitBit’s social engineering).  There’s no shoulder and lots of traffic so it’s a more exciting experience than I had expected. 

After my previous faux pas flinging spaghetti sauce on my customer host, I’ve learned to stick with risotto when we go out to lunch.

More walking after work, along a new route.  The nature preserve along this route is appealing, but there also seem to be slums nearby.  It’s a little disturbing.

The vendors with their fresh fruits and vegetables at Campo dei Fiori make me miss my garden.

The Borghese Gardens are only green on the map, at least in the summer. 

26,000 steps?!  Even I was complaining about how much I was walking. 

If the chef asks you if you'd like a dish he makes for himself, always answer "yes!" Sicilian roasted sea bass at Da Claudia.  Spectacular.

Excursion to the Isole Pontine.  I was a little disturbed when the tour guide led us in prayer to ask for a safe journey. 

Swimming in the Mediterranean (technically, the Tyrrhenian) Sea feels good on a hot day.

Aperitivo of prosecco, cheese and olives under a fig tree along a trail.  Simple pleasures are the best; even the locals are jealous.

Find the hotel on Google maps and pull up the address to show the taxi driver.  I thought that was pretty clever.

Four straight nights of Ristorante Verde Smeraldo.  I like the food, but you can’t eat any place four nights in a row without it getting a little tiresome. 

That said, it’s been entertaining to see the visitors from China out with the local Huawei staff each Monday night.  And the Italian version of America’s Funniest Home Videos translates well in any language.

Here’s a picture of the revolving door on the way into the office.  Apparently, they’ve had to warn people not to attempt to play soccer while in the revolving door.

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I got a kick out of these corner meeting areas.  Still, I’m not sure they’ve got the concept right.

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The pace of the day revolves around coffee.  Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the afternoon.  Good thing each dose is just a sip or two.

A handy tip: first you pay, then take the receipt over to the espresso counter to get your cup.

One advantage of the time zone difference: I’m aware of Donald Trump’s tweets when they happen, instead of three hours afterwards. 

Sitting on the Piazza della Rotunda watching the crowds outside the Pantheon and listening to an opera singer in the distance.  You can’t ask for much more.

August

Seeing the "no smoking" sign on the plane makes me wonder: does anyone allow smoking on airlines anymore?

A380—very nice experience in "economy plus". First time I had to descend a jet ramp getting off of an airplane.

Yoga pants as travel attire: thumbs up or down?

The British version of Master Chef is quite different from the US version.  The Brits just can't bring themselves to be as loud and obnoxious as Gordon Ramsey.

Speaking of which:  your restaurant in Heathrow STILL isn't open.  I can't wait forever, Gordon!

UPDATE: Now open. Review forthcoming.

I have to wonder who actually shops at these high-end stores in airports.

Fresh buffalo mozzarella from Naples for a group snack.  La dolce vita.

Every day I check in with the receptionist at the hotel breakfast buffet; I give her my name and room number.  Every day she checks the list, finding neither my name nor my room number.  Every day she smiles and says, “OK, go ahead!”

While in the cab on my way to Rome’s city center, I’m reminded of Michael Callahan’s advice: never look out the front windshield.

There is a line three blocks long to get into the Pantheon.  Welcome tourists!

It was refreshing to visit some of the lesser-traveled parts of Rome today.  There were times I was all alone visiting the sites.

Rome is one place where a knowledge of Latin can come in handy.

I think I’ve climbed at least three of the seven hills this city was founded on.

The Baths of Diocletian are enormous.  Still, I’ll take flush toilets and running water in my house any day.

It’s clear to me that Rome has the same problem as Athens: where do we put all these antiquities?

This morning there is a trail of blood leading down the hotel stairs.  I feel like I’m walking through a crime scene.

I’ve learned enough Italian to know that the panhandler I turned down was not saying nice things about me.

Mass at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano.  Built by the Pope before there was a St. Peter’s.  Stealing the giant doors for the church was a nice touch.  Kind of weird knowing that the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul are in those gold sculptures over the Altar.

And that building across the street? Oh, that’s the Pope’s chapel.  Huh.  Well, it is small by comparison I suppose.  But Scala Santa, the 28 steps? The sign is very clear: you must ascend on your knees.  On marble stairs.  That’s more devotion than I can muster.  Plus the sign off to one side, reminding the devoted that 28 steps will get you an indulgence, but for the forgiveness of sins you still have to go to confession.  No shortcuts!

Take what I said about Dublin: you can't walk a block in Dublin without passing by a pub.  Now substitute “Rome” for “Dublin” and “church” for “pub” and it’s the same.  You don’t notice all the churches at first… until the top of each hour when all the bells ring.

Reggio di Calabria.  Reminds me of LA and the San Fernando Valley, except that the ocean is right there.  Very dry. Very hot.

Here’s a handy tip.  Be sure, when you purchase an airline ticket, that you enter your name EXACTLY as it appears on your passport.  Otherwise, you’ll have to change your ticket; that was an expensive mistake to make.

Banking, leveling off and lining up the runway when the plane is already so close to the ground and the mountains are right there.  You’d think we were on a small prop plane landing in Maui, not a passenger jet.  This pilot is good.

Handy hint: Italians leave for the beach (or the mountains) during the last half of August.  It starts with Ferragosto (August 15th) (also Latin for “hotter than hell in August").  So unless you’re headed to the beach or the mountains, don’t expect to find much that’s open.

So on that note: relying on Rick Steve’s, Yelp or Google to find a good local restaurant doesn’t work when all the locals are gone.  Santo Trastevere, we’ll have to meet some other time.

Here’s another random display of beauty in Trastevere.  And yes, that’s a man filling a water jug.

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Step inside the door, and this unassuming restaurant shows you this.

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When I travel my wife buys things.  The longer I’m gone, the more expensive the purchase.  Now I’m hearing something about property in Hawaii. Time to get home!

At Fiumicino airport, the parking spots reserved for dropping off passengers are labeled “Kiss and Go.” Because Italy.

Why is it that flying North and South seems to take forever?

Ciao, Roma. And thanks for all the rughetta.


Kauai in 25 Pictures

We went to Kauai this year, since Brian wanted to celebrate his 30th birthday there.  We attracted a big crowd of family and friends along the way, and had a wonderful time.  OK, the part about Crystal breaking her arm wasn't so great.  But if we overlook that one little incident... There was hula, a luau, sailing and snorkeling, surfing, stand-up paddle boards, golfing and lots of good food.  So go here to view the photo album. 


Sales Managers on the Road: Tweeting through Toronto

I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak.  I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here.  Why? First, because I'm lazy.  Second, because, you know... social media and all that.  Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on.  But mostly, I'm being lazy.  Or as they call it, "repurposing content."

This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks.  It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.  

This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO:  I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada.  Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal.  Grrr.

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Next stop:  the gate.  Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in.  Turns out, they are.

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On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.

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It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever.  That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends.  And they all made hotel reservations before I did.  So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events.  But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work.  And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...

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Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains.  Take notice, CalTrain!

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I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent.  I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone  system.  It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value.  I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.

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I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson).  Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on.  Now, that's completely different.  There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.

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On to the conference.  Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things."  I just liked this quote.

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The moose I expected.  A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me.  But... woodpeckers?

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How times change.  Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise.  Now...

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CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award.  We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win.  And they have a Tesla as a company car.   That's pretty cool.

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I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.

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More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365.  I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!

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Back to the convention hall.  On the way they're handing out...

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"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it.  Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.

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Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.

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Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.

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I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real.  Until I saw Bill Walton.  Trust me, I'm standing next to him.

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The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report.  I had TV on for the background noise.  Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...

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See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...

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A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.

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Last party, lots of food options.  I chose...

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I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.

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And I leave you with some Canadian humor.

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The Yin and Yang of 2015

2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that.  Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).

  Yin-Yang

  Yin-Yang

McCloud Thanksgiving

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Family Christmas togetherness

Norovirus

Booming business

Freeway gridlock

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Blown up workout schedule

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No-shave November

A grey beard

30 selfies

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Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl with Wendy, John, Holly and Kenny

Being lost in the town you grew up in

Watching Stanford football and texting with John Gless

Losing to… Northwestern??

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The passing of friends

Weddings, anniversaries and babies

 
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Acts of terrorism The kindness of strangers
So much to share Time's up/pencils down

 


The 2015 Garden in Review

The gardening season is a little like the PGA Tour.  You can "wrap around" by planting over-wintering crops such as garlic and green manures.  In this case, there really is no end of one season and beginning of another.  But for the sake of declaring the season "over," let's consider that this year's garden is done.

The pictures are here:  Now let's talk about what worked and didn't work.

Winners

Tomatoes

A big winner was tomatoes.  We have a good system down now.  My brother Patrick dries and saves seeds from the best tomato plants of the previous year.  My sister Cheryl and I baby the seedlings along with heat mats and grow lights.  Then, first weekend in May, it's into the garden.  While we cut back on production due to the drought in California, we still had a good variety of plants, with lots of production.  Patrick was nice enough to find and develop my favorite, Oaxacan Jewel.  We also had Sun Gold (a favorite), along with standards like San Marzano. But there were some new ones as well, such as a Roma that produced great dried tomatoes.

Potatoes

Potatoes also did well.  The biggest reason for improvement over last year's crop loss was moving them to a different bed.  Last year's bed had (and still has) a resident gopher, who eventually ate through the roots of every plant.  This year, we planted potatoes in a smaller, but taller, and gopher-free bed.  Lots of soil amendments and regular watering meant that the crop came in great!  As an added bonus, we were able to harvest a few "volunteer" Kennebec potatoes from a different bed.  FTW.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers were also a winner this year.  We grew them for pickling.  These were either Jackson Classic or Alibi; I can't remember.  Despite being planted in the aforementioned gopher-infiltrated bed, we were able to get a good crop without losing too many to the little varmint.  We tried enclosing the plants in tomato cages, in the hopes that the plants would grow up the cages and get the fruit off the ground.  But that didn't really work.  I think a trellis will be the way to go for that.  We did a better job of picking the cucumbers regularly, which prevented the eventual discovery of baseball-bat-sized fruit.

Mixed Results

Squash

Squash, specifically pumpkins, did pretty well.  We didn't plant summer squash, since we knew it would be likely that they would go un-picked for long periods, resulting in squash too big to want to eat.  But Cheryl likes to plant pumpkins for harvest and display around Halloween.  We planted these on the perimeter of a greens bed, and tried to trail them out onto the surrounding ground to give them room to grow.  We got enough for a small door display (Cinderella type), and a couple of sugar pumpkins suitable for eating.

As with corn, we're finding that it's hard to justify growing our own when the local farm stand has tons of pumpkins available.

Basil

Basil would have made it to the Winners category, except that we mostly let it go to seed.  It's hard to process a 4'x4' bed of basil, unless you want to make a lot of pesto.

Artichokes

We planted some artichokes last year in the half-barrels, and were happy to see second-year growth.  Unfortunately, the chokes haven't been as tasty as we would like.  Maybe we're not picking them at the right time.  This is another why-grow-it-when-you-can-buy-fresh-locally item.

Asparagus

We're thinking that our asparagus bed is not producing as much as we would like.  We're not sure if there aren't enough plants or if the bed needs more nourishment.  Asparagus is also one of those vegetables you want to check on every day, sometimes multiple times a day.  There's nothing worse than an overly tough asparagus stalk that was perfect for eating yesterday.

Beans

I really like growing beans.  And last year's attempt was a bust.  So I was happy when I was able to get beans growing this year.  I grew French Flageolet beans (thinking they were the main ingredient in a cassoulet I remember having in Paris), but I didn't get much production.  Plus, these are closer to haricots verts in that they need to be picked and eaten at an early age.  I had waited until they were plump, by which time they were past their prime.  I got more production from the Italian Tongue of Fire beans, but both varieties were planted in a bed that has a gopher.  As a result, the gopher managed to chomp through many of the beans' roots, limiting what I was able to grow to harvest stage.

Losers

Peppers

Peppers were a big loser this year.  The ones I planted in my home garden were quickly devoured by a grasshopper (more on that below).  The peppers we planted at the Hubner Farm were left without water for a few weeks, killing off most of them.  The replacement peppers never really had a chance to set fruit before the end of the growing season.  We also had a problem with a viral wilt, which damaged some of the peppers.  I did manage to get one batch of pepper sauce out of the peppers (see photo album) but not the Cayenne sauce I've produced in the last couple of years.

Garden Greens

Greens we planted at the Hubner Farm (arugula, mixed greens, lettuce) did pretty well.  Providing some sun shade helped them grow without bolting. 

Greens at my house, on the other hand, were a complete bust.  Apparently a grasshopper had taken up residence in the garden.  While it didn't touch the tomato plants, it did eat everything else I planted.  Anything green was eaten down to ground level in a matter of hours.  If you check out the picture of our round planter with greens, you'll notice that the grasshopper ate the green lettuces and left the red ones.

The best natural control for grasshoppers is a chicken, but with Mona's interest in chasing birds that wasn't going to work.  I would have considered renting one for a day.

We continue to learn and refine our garden approach.  Hopefully we can see more success than disappointment going forward!

 


Ten Days in Paradise

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Sometime back in the fall, the family is sitting around the table discussing options for our winter vacation. The default option is to use our timeshare week in South Lake Tahoe and go skiing.  But this year Sean, Danielle and Brian (who all live in places where it snows in the winter) want to go somewhere warm.  I can understand that.  We check out numerous February vacation options and the one that seems to pop successfully out of the linear optimizer is Hawaii; specifically, The Big Island.  The last time anyone was there was for our friend Kaui's funeral, so there are some emotions to navigate.  But eventually everyone is on board and we're ready to go.  Brian is heading out first (and in first class--what a brat!), Sean and Danielle next, and Crystal and I last.  

Here's our account of the trip, complete with pictures of course.  So sit back, grab a Mai Tai or bottle of Longboard Ale, and enjoy!

Friday

Crystal and I fly from San Jose to Maui, and then on to Hilo. We stop in at Café 100 for some Loco Moco. Not too early to get into Hawaiian style! I ask the car rental agent if I need four-wheel drive to go across Saddle Road, and she gives me a "you haven't been here in a while, have you?" look. Turns out Saddle Road was recently renovated (thank you, Senator Inouye!) and is one of the best roads on the island. Our rental car seems to be having transmission issues, so I take it back and get upgraded to a practically brand-new Dodge Durango. Off we go.

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This is my first time crossing the island this way, and it really gives you a good feel for all the different climate zones that exist on the island. We cross the summit and drop into Waikoloa, just in time for the weekend going-home traffic. Even in paradise…

We catch up with Brian, Sean and Danielle at the Sheraton, where we're staying for a night before our condo is ready the next day. Lots of excitement as we catch up and talk about what we want to do for the week.

First up, dinner in Waikoloa at Roy's. The food is great, service OK. It's a great way to start our vacation.

Saturday

Check-out day at the Sheraton Kona and check-in day at the Kona Coast Resort just up the road.  The place is a little dated, but there's plenty of room and we're near the pool, restaurant, bar and barbecues so we'll take it.  It's right on a golf course (yeah!) which is closed for renovation (dang!).  After check-out we head down to Keauhou Harbor, to Akule Supply Company, for breakfast. Sean, Brian and Danielle have already been frequenting this place and like the food and atmosphere. This means another chance to sample the Loco Moco, which is fantastic.

Next up, we head to a local farmer's market to pick up fruit and vegetables for the week. (We always start out thinking we'll cook most of our dinners, but it never seems to work out that way.) It's amazing to see how many varieties of avocado and papaya there are on the island. Then there's the jackfruit, which is like a punk-rocker version of a watermelon.

After the market, we check into our condo and then head down the road for lunch at Da Poke Shack. I'm not that big of a poke eater, but this stuff is outrageously good. They serve whatever kind of fish they get that day, which in our case is tuna. There are a variety of preparations, but it really doesn't matter what you choose, because they're all good. And the Primo beer (the big dog in local beer before the craft brew revolution) is a nice touch.

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We reach Steve Doyle and invite him down for dinner. About the time I head to KTA to pick up some fish for dinner, a windstorm hits the island and knocks the power out. Good thing I have cash… Steve and I pick up on our mutual joke-telling while I grill up dinner. Mai Tai consumption is trending upward.

Sunday

Steve sleeps over, and we convince him to join us for brunch at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. This is one of those memory-lane events we've all been anticipating, since this was a favorite activity on earlier trips. We remember all kinds of great food, from sushi to fruit to all kinds of breakfast choices… all served in an open-air lobby. But first, it's time for a papaya breakfast, supplemented with Ahi jerky. Hey, those farmer's market fruits won't eat themselves!

This year's version of brunch doesn't match up to our memories. The venue has moved to another area of the hotel, apparently because that part of the Mauna Kea was damaged in the 2006 earthquake. The food's still good—very good—but the atmosphere is a little lacking and the overall feeling is this meal isn't going to live up to our expectations.

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After brunch we head over to Hapuna Beach, one of the best beaches on the island. Normally this beach has a wide swath of white sand.  But with the waves up and stormy conditions, most of the beach is gone. We spend lots of time in the water, but it's tough to catch any waves with the water so churned up.

After time at the beach, we head up to Kawaihae Harbor so Sean can show Danielle where he used to work. We head to the bar above the former Harbor Grill and Sean immediately reconnects with the owner. We have pupu's and Mai Tai's, judging the Mai Tai's to be some of the best on the island.

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We return to Kona and head to Humpy's Alehouse for burgers and beers. Crystal and I get into a conversation with a couple from Washington state who have retired and bought property on the south end of the island. They're telling us about starting out with no running water and no electricity. Crystal and I are thinking "oh, hell no!"

Monday

Today is our Big Adventure, a snorkel cruise to Kealakekua Bay on board a catamaran. It reminds me of sailing with Pam and Malcolm through the Greek Isles. The ride down to Kealakekua Bay turns into an impromptu whale watching trip as we see all kinds of humpbacks breaching a few hundred yards away from the boat.

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Snorkeling is great (I even saw an octopus) although crowded. It's a great ride back to Keauhou Harbor, with lots more whales to see and the waves crashing up against the shore. After we get back we head down to the Kona Coffee district. We make a brief stop at the Painted Church, then drive down the hill to Pu'uhonua Honaunau, aka City of Refuge; one of my favorite places. If you broke one of the many kapu's and had a hoard of angry warriors trying to chase you down and kill you, your one shot at redemption was to get to this place.  Here the local religious people would perform the rituals that would get you a reprieve.  (Confession would be a lot more popular if the alternative was being eviscerated.)  A lot of the grounds are under restoration so it's not as fun as we remember from past trips.

After that it's back to Akule Supply Company for dinner; awesome short ribs and (of course) more Mai Tai's.

We hear about an earthquake in Japan, and are happy to hear that the tsunami warning is cancelled.

Tuesday

Today's surf lesson is postponed, since the instructors are fully booked. So, on to Hawi, at the north end of the island. We take Highway 190, which traverses the mid-altitude side of the saddle, into Waimea (aka Kamuela). There's an awful lot of ranch country up that way. Sean is pointing out many of the highlights to Danielle, who has heard the stories of Sean's horse training days up country.

Next stop is Parker Ranch store, where we stock up on Hawaiiana. I see an agricultural theme and pick up a number of t-shirts. We head to Hawaiian Style Café for breakfast/lunch. Hawaiian Style is known for its large portions, which should only be eaten by paniolos before they start their day. It's interesting to note that the menu lets you know you can't order a split dish,  but any leftovers are fed to a local hog farm… lucky hogs!

We go on to Hawi, for a short walk through the center of town. The Batman rides outside one of the local stores are long gone, but in other respects Hawi seems about the same. 

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I want to go to the heiau there because it definitely gives you "chicken skin" but everyone else is ready to get back to Kona. We stop at Kapa'a Beach but it's too rocky for swimming. On the other hand, there's lots to see with the whales offshore. At some point we imagine them saying, "oh yeah?! Watch this!"

As we make it past Waikoloa Village we hit a horrendous backup on the road (there's only one) into Kona. Mostly it's just the traffic from everyone who lives in Kona (or south of there) and works at one of the resorts along the Kohala Coast. But there's also a delay due to people setting up a fresh memorial for those that died the past weekend in a head-on collision on the highway. So sad.

Eventually we make it into Kona and head to the Kona Brewing Company (yes, that one) for some brews and dinner. They actually have a large variety of beers (one of which features Kona coffee) and the food is OK; bar food. After that, we stop in at the Kona Inn (another Malcolm Brown recommendation) for Mai Tai's. We're not sure they're the best on the island (we're voting for the Seafood Bar in Kawaihae) but they're still quite good.

Wednesday

Today we learn to surf. After check-in and a pretty funny on-land practice getting up on a surfboard, we head down the road to Kahalu'u Beach. We're learning on long boards, which are pretty forgiving. There's not much surf, but we eventually decide to give it a try anyway. The beach has a rock jetty that protects a cove and coral reef, but there's a break to the right where we can sit and wait for the waves. Everyone manages to get up on the board and catch a wave at one time or another; Danielle seems to be a natural at it. As for me… let's just say there were some spectacular face plants into the water, and that I was advised at one point to not use a skiing stance on the board. We were joined at one point by a local surfer and his retriever (who swam out in a doggie life vest). At least the dog was kind enough to not show me up by surfing back into shore.

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After surfing we head into Kona to Broke Da Mouth Grinds for some lunch. Danielle found this place, and it's a winner. It's small and non-descript, in a business park. So the only thing it can have going for it is awesome food—which it does. The menu is a combination of Hawaiian and Philippines and it's good.

After lunch we head back to Kahalu'u Beach, this time for some swimming/snorkeling. It's a bit crowded but the sea turtle that decides to haul out and sun himself near us makes up for it.

Dinner find us back at Akule Supply Company for dinner. Then we walk back to our condo, stopping long enough to enjoy another wonderful sunset. After that, it's a game of Hearts. Brian correctly points out that I'm hard to play with, as I have a "go big or go home" strategy, meaning I try to run the board almost every hand.

Thursday

Last day in paradise for Sean, Danielle and Brian. We're off to Kona for Acai Bowls (another Danielle find) and Three-Stone Blend from Java on the Rock (thank you for the suggestion, Malcolm Brown!). Everyone wants some beach time, so we head to La'aloa Beach, aka White Sands Beach aka Disappearing Sands Beach. The surf is too rough for swimming, but it's fun to watch the waves.  A local snorkeler bags an octopus and asks us, "did you see that shark?"  When we say "no" he says, "neither did I!"  Ummm, k.

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We head over to Keauhou Harbor since it's the only nearby beach with decent swimming conditions today. Apparently the sea turtles agree, and we're happy to share space with them.

And naturally, since we're here, we stop in at Akule Supply Company for poke and burgers (along with more Lava Man Red Ale).

After swimming and a break, we're on our way to Kawaihae for dinner with friends Steve and Diane, at Café Pesto. This was always a must-do item when visiting Steve and Kaui, for goat cheese pizza. Then we're off to the airport to drop off Sean, Danielle and Brian. Crystal and I head back to our condo, which feels much larger and quieter than we'd like. We find a local cooking show to watch while we finish off the last of the papaya.

Friday

It's a little strange to wake up with our kids having gone back to the mainland. We head into Kona, to Island Lava Java for some fantastic coffee and breakfast. Suddenly we have to make our own choices about where to eat and what to do.  Where are the tour guides?

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The weather is great today. The winds have turned around and the surf is down at Kahalu'u but it's coming up elsewhere.

When we were in Havi, I learned about a program to grow all of the area's vegetables and fruit locally; apparently they import a lot of it, which makes no sense.  I roll the thought around in my head that maybe I could help the North Kohala food security program via CGNET, or SITIA. It's an interesting thought.

Crystal and I decide to head south, to coffee country. We stop at Greenwell Farms and get a personal tour of the operation. It turns out the "we're accepting cherries" sign refers to coffee cherries; it's roasting time! From Greenwell Farms we head over to the Painted Church, which is beautiful inside despite showing its age. And the view of the ocean from the church entrance is enough to make you not look and trip on the steps leading to the parking lot.

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After the Painted Church, we head down to the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative.  Whereas Greenwell Farms buys coffee cherries from local farmers and processes them (as well as their own coffee), the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative is more of a hippie-style shared resource setup.  Here, farmers come and use the equipment to process their own coffee (as well as macadamia nuts).  These guys have been around since 1910 and the tour is decidedly un-touristy.  They do have a nice garden with examples of common trees and plants from the island. I'm fascinated with all the chickens roosting in the shade of the trees.

We head down to Napo'opo'o Beach to see about swimming. It turns out this is the beach we had come to with Sean and Brian the first time we visited nearby City of Refuge. I remember them boogie-boarding. Now, the beach is gone. Hurricane Iniki sideswiped the island here, and took all the beach sand with it. We're at the other end of Kealakekua Bay, and can see the monument to Captain Cook at the far end, where we were snorkeling earlier in the week.

Heading back to our condo, we stop in at Sam Choy's for a drink, and to check out the view. The restaurant has a killer view of sunset over the ocean, but we've come a bit early to avoid the crowds. The hostess asks us if we want to sit inside or outside (outside, please) but seems confused when we tell her we don't want to sit in the sun. Apparently "outside in the shade" is not a combination she recognizes.  It's happy hour, and there's an incredible whale show going on out in the ocean. I think the difference between locals and tourists here is that the locals don't turn around to check out the whales breaching offshore.

We head back to Keauhou Harbor to swim, as the surf's been too rough elsewhere on the island. Our decision not to scuba dive tonight with the manta rays is a good one, as the dive boats are fighting five to six foot swells as the snorkelers and divers get ready to head into the water. We take tons of pictures of the surf crashing on the lava outside the Sheraton.

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Saturday

Today we travel to Hilo, where we will depart tomorrow for California. After checking out of our condo, we head in to Kona for coffee at Java on the Rock . We tell the server to say hello to Malcolm's sister-in-law. After coffee we're on our wait to meet Steve in Waimea. Try as I might, I still miss the turn-off to Steve's house. Steve takes us to the coffee house in Waimea, where they have a picture of Kaui on display. Sigh.

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Steve's going to drive with us down to Hilo, and Crystal has several stops planned along the way. Right on schedule, the mist kicks in when we get about a half mile out of Waimea. But then the mist doesn't go away as I had thought it would. And what I then think is a brief shower shows itself to be a persistent, heavy downpour. At one point it's raining about one to two inches per hour. We stop at Tex's Drive-In in Honaka'a, but with the rain and the long line we decide one less plate lunch will be OK.

We drive on, and stop at Akaka Falls. It's still raining like crazy, but Crystal wants to see the falls. I kind of wish we could have reproduced the picture of Sean and Brian standing next to the sign at the falls, but that wasn't in the cards. I'm ready to get annoyed at Crystal for not following the suggested route to the falls, when—of course—her intuition or memory is correct and we've taken the short route to the falls. Despite saving so much time, we're still soaking wet by the time we get back to the parking lot. Steve, wisely, decides to wait for us and stay out of the rain.

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We drive on toward Hilo, and stop just outside of the city. We're at the cemetery where Kaui's ashes are interred. She's buried alongside her mom and grandmother. The spot overlooks the ocean, and (on any other day) would provide a great view of a large tree and the ocean beyond, very serene. Steve leaves the flowers he picked up in Honoka'a. The inscription on Kaui's headstone reads "Love One Another.  Rejoice Evermore.  Pray without Ceasing." The headstone is for both Kaui and her mom. Steve tells us the story about how Kaui was supposed to get a headstone for her mom, but never did. So it was up to Steve to rectify the situation, five years after her mom's passing. We all have a good laugh about that, such a typical Kaui story. Spending time at Kaui's grave was emotional, as expected. I sort of felt like we were holding our breath all week, waiting for this moment. But in the end, "turn the page" becomes the phrase that captures our feelings. Hawaii isn't the same without Kaui. Neither is Steve. Neither are we. But Hawaii would have changed regardless, and we have changed as well. It feels good, in an odd way, to feel like I can end this chapter and go on to the next one. I'll always miss Kaui, and I'll always remember so many good times we had with her. But I'm ready to live in the present.

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We drive on into Hilo, and check in to our hotel along Hilo Bay. We head over to Uncle Billy's for a Mai Tai, as Crystal's father had suggested. But the bar is closed, for good. Clearly, it's time to move on.

Back to our hotel to change out of our wet clothes. Steve and I are watching some comedian on Comedy Central, laughing our heads off. Seems like old times. We head out to Pineapples, a restaurant Steve recommends, for dinner and drinks. The restaurant is an open-air style, typical of Hawaii. So it's a bit cool, since the rain is still coming down hard. The overhang is keeping the rain out so we're OK. But there's something surreal about being in a restaurant in Hawaii in the pouring rain, while we watch an outdoor hockey game being played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

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Sunday

The rain from yesterday has diminished to a drizzle. It's hard not to miss Kona, on the sunny side of the island.

Breakfast with Steve and Crystal at Kuhio Grille, "home of the one-pound lau lau". Sounds like gut bomb to me! One of the local high school basketball teams is at the nearby table; interesting to see what the players choose for their pre-game meal… Breakfast of Champions as they say.

On to Longs Drugs for some gift shopping before we head to the airport. There's an interesting only-in-Hawaii episode involving Crystal, a CVS discount card (or not) and the cashier. In the end, she gives Crystal the kamaaina discount, saying, "this really is the best island."

On to Hilo Airport. Steve decides to hang out with us until we need to get to the gate. One more opportunity to have a Lava Man Red Ale.

Time to check in. Hilo is a tiny airport, and every passenger flying out of Hawaii has to go through agricultural inspection, so I'm a little nervous about the time. As it turns out, we're two of about twenty people all told that are flying at this time, and the whole ticketing/baggage inspection/security routine takes about five minutes.  After that we're off, quickly leaving Hawaii below the clouds.

It's been a great trip.  We love traveling with our adult children; it's fun to see what they find fascinating and how they choose to spend their time.  It's great to see that Steve is doing well.  We went to Hawaii to relax and recharge.  Mission accomplished.