Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Leftovers

We spent a lot more time in Iowa this summer than expected. Some planned, and some unfortunately not. Lots of time with Oma. Lots of time on the farm.

Plenty of space to roam, treasures to find, and adventures awaiting to be had. 

Good for the soul. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Firefly Catching on the Farm

Zero light pollution, a star filled sky and acres to run on. There's nowhere else we'd rather be in this moment.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Oma's Fairy Garden

Oma's fairy garden is the best. Made out of an old bathtub, decorated with pebbles, and houses, and of course fairies. G loves it here under the shade tree perched on a stool that's just  the right size for her. She creates story lines and decorates the garden however she likes. 

This post seemed a bit like deja vu and I as looked back I found an almost identical picture and post. One year older, the same garden, a lot has changed but happily this hasn't happily. 

It really doesn't take much. For all the toys and games, and electronics out there.....there will always be a fairy garden trump card. 

Monday, June 11, 2018


We often hear in our day-to-day lives how unfair, how cruel, or how imperfect the world is. We hear people complain about their jobs, about their weight, about politics, about anything frankly that is outside of whatever unrealistic expectations that we have either consciously or unconsciously set for ourselves or those around us.

Yet here is a woman who put up with so much but still managed to be thankful for all she had. A woman of a "The Greatest Generation" who truly embodied the hard work, dedication, innovation and perseverance of the generation. Anyone who met Faye would easily agree she did not have an easy life. World War, Great Depression, a POW veteran husband, a child with special needs and the list goes on. She lost her only son just shortly after he turned 60 and she lost her husband shortly thereafter leaving her as the sole caregiver for Julie in a life that looked very different than I suspect she imagined. This is a woman who spent her entire life caring for others. Selfishness was not an option...not that she would have chosen it if it were. She was not dealt an easy hand. In fact I'm not sure she was even dealt a decent card let alone a hand. Yet in the 24 years that I've known Faye I've never once heard her complain about the life she had. She loved her family fiercely and was truly thankful for all that she had. Family meant the world to her, everything else was just noise.

I met Faye when I was 12. She was the grandparent I met last in my life, and in a weird twist of fate she is the grandparent I truly knew the best as an adult.  Our relationship grew out of an unconditional and mutual love for my own children. For great-grandchildren that mind you were not born of blood, but by marriage. Though, you would have never known that by the way she adored them. We celebrated every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving together. We celebrated birthdays together, we watched Wheel of Fortune, and decorated for holidays, and all of these things I will miss. She filled a void that otherwise would have been left open as Troy and I between us have lost 4 parents and we’re running a bit low on the grandparent quota. She was elated to step into the role. And how lucky we were. I feel sorry for those who didn’t know her the way we did.

If you ask my children to describe this woman they have grown up knowing simply as "Grandma" you'll get a chorus of answers mostly having to do with chocolate and pies, and sometimes chocolate pies. Which in my mind is exactly what thoughts of Grandma should conjure up. If you ask me to do the same I would describe a smile that always seemed to have an undertone of orneriness. I would tell you how impossible she was to buy a gift for and more than once told me “socks”. Mostly I would describe someone who literally until the day she left this Earth made a point to ask me how I was, and take an interest in my life. I would tell of someone who was opinionated, but had the capacity to respect and appreciate people who had opinions different than her own. Something we could all strive to be better at.

She was a wonderful Mother, Aunt, Sister, Wife, Grandmother and Great Grandmother. I’m confident she will be dearly missed and I'm extremely thankful for the time we had together.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Last Stop: Paris

I can't even begin to describe how amazing these last ten days have been. A trip of a lifetime for sure and many times over the course of the time we've spent here I've stopped to make sure that I fully appreciate the opportunity for what it is.

Our last stop was Paris where the three of us would be able to explore the city with no agenda, and no schedule. We gave the alarm clocks, woke up when we felt like it, and picked a direction as we walked out the door in the morning.

One day we mapped our way to a small bakery that claims to have the best croissants in France. I have no reason to argue. Coffee, croissants and people watching while sitting outside a storefront make for a pretty wonderful way to start the day. The same evening we made reservations at a cabaret club for a fun night out followed by what turned into a way over the top restaurant that was inside of a museum. Turns out we're not such gracious guests after

Another day our girlfriend talked us into a bike tour and admittedly I was a bit reluctant, but ended up really enjoying it. It was a nice way to see parts of the city that we never would have covered while walking, and we learned some really interesting facts from our guide.

Three days with nothing to do but meander crooked streets,  sit outside at itty bitty tables sipping prossecco and coffee while we talk about life. I feel refreshed, recharged, and ready to head home. I miss my girls, I miss my best friend. I miss home, but this has been incredible adventure.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Israel: Tel Aviv

Our last adventure in Israel was a day spent in Tel Aviv. We kept hearing how amazing it was and how much different it seemed than the rest of Israel. Flanked by palm trees, beaches and a vibrant crowd of LGBT groups in Tel Aviv for an event it certainly had a youthful and liberal feel.

We parked, and paid way too much for parking (rookie tourists) where one of us had to crawl out the other side of the car because we had parked to close to open the door, and walked through the Tel Aviv flea market admiring all of the colors, the handmade jewelry, and honing in on our bargaining skills. Spoiler alert: we have none.

From there we walked to the Port of Jaffa. We had lunch at an outdoor café near the bell tower and stopped in a small artist studio in one of the narrow passages along the way. It was hot, but the breeze was wonderful and the view of the beach was beautiful.

Tired, and hot we made our way back to the overpriced parking lot and drove to the public pool on the coast of Tel Aviv. An Olympic size pool with multiple different areas sectioned off for whatever you'd want. Turns out though that the water was freezing. After sitting on the side I finally built up enough courage to swim the width of the pool straight to the ladder and climb back out. So. Cold.

From there, as the sun was starting to set we started our drive back to Benyamina. We had a couple more hours before we needed to worry about packing up for our night flight so we stopped for sushi then made a 30 minute detour to a small town nearby for what our girlfriend claimed had "the best falafel". And turns out a gelato place right next door.

Next stop: Paris

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Israel: Beach Days

Israel is one of those places that I'm not sure I'll make it back to. I knew going into this trip it was a once in a lifetime kind of trip. Life is too short and in this case, the travel is too far, to revisit the same place twice. Though we do have some pretty great friends there so never say never! But given this,  there were certain things that I wanted to make sure I crossed off the bucket list. Mainly: Masada, Dead Sea, Jerusalem.

But just as important, given this was in fact a vacation and one without kids was a bit of R&R. So we made sure to sprinkle in some beach days with no agenda along the way.

These were taken on a couple of different days in Israel in between travel and tourist destinations. For a trip that started with no agenda at all I don't think I'd change a thing looking back. It was the perfect. Wish we could take credit for planning.

First few photos were taken at Banana Beach, a 20 minute drive from where we were staying, and easy enough to find with Google maps on our own. We went once on a weekend day, and once more during the week where we had the beach practically to our selves.

Beautiful beaches here. Really glad we were able to take advantage of them.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Israel: Jerusalem

We added Jerusalem on to our Dead Sea and Masada road trip so we could minimize the overall drive time and balance out the tourist points with beach time. So once we had climbed Masada, we went back to the hotel, loaded up on a delicious breakfast and said good-bye to the Dead Sea.

We turned on our map and we were off to Jerusalem. The drive was along interstate roads through a desert landscape. So we were a bit surprised when in the middle of the road we ran into what appeared to be a checkpoint. We said hello to the guards dressed in full military garb and were on our way. What we would later find out, when about 45 minutes later we came to another point is that we had entered and were now exiting the West Bank territory. Damn you Google maps. We remained on the Israeli occupied side of the territory during the time, but definitely somewhere we should have avoided for a leisurely road trip. All is well that ends well so on we drove. A not so gentle reminder of how incredibly complex this country is.

We saw only a fraction of Jerusalem. We spent the day in the Old City winding our way through narrow alley ways made up of hundreds of Arabic shops and vendors all selling different variations of the same trinkets. We tried our best to haggle failing pretty miserably but still walking away with souvenirs for the family.

When we finally reached the Western Wall we sat for a moment to soak it all in. Although I have my own set of beliefs that are very different from those that the vast majority of people here are practicing I can certainly appreciate what this place represents. So many emotions and beliefs wrapped up into every piece of paper placed into this historical wall. There have been tears spilled, hopes shared and wars begun in this one place. A bit overwhelming when you stop to consider these things.

Israel: Dead Sea and Masada

I knew once we planned a trip to Israel that the Dead Sea and Masada had to be on the list for places to visit. We packed light and headed out in our rental for an overnight getaway like no other. A solid 80's play list courtesy of Spotify, and a somewhat (get to that later) reliable map we were on our way. Total drive time was about 2 1/2 hours but only an hour in the landscape had drastically changed. Palm trees and beaches seemed 1,000 miles away as we drove through tight turns in desert hills. We saw a few camels along the way, and very little greenery.

And just when we thought we were in the middle of nowhere we cleared the top of the hill to reveal an enormous body of the middle of a desert: The Dead Sea. How incredible.

We checked into the hotel, booked some spa treatments, and then set off for the Sea. It was pretty surreal, and looking back, the highlight of the trip for me. We went in the evening, with the sun setting behind us. There were very few people there along with us which meant calm peaceful water. The water was warm, and felt oily and the high salt levels mean that rather than swimming, you just float. I certainly tried to take it all in during that moment. Floating, with the sunset reflecting off the coasts of Jordan at the lowest point on Earth. Surreal.

After being completely pampered by spa treatments we took a short walk to a nearby Arabic restraunt named (oddly) Taj Mahal. It was beyond amazing. By far the best meal of our vacation.

After a later night than we had anticipated we woke a few hours later at 3:45 to hop in our rental and drive about 15 minutes under a pitch black sky to the base of Masada.

We paid the park dues, and then waited, along with a few other brave folks for the gates to open so we could begin our hike. It was already warm at 4:30am as we passed through the gates.
The mood had a bit of a glow which helped, and even at 4:30 you could make out the beginning of the sunrise.

It took us about 40 minutes is total. We stopped a couple of times along the way and stoked our own egos as we observed much younger kids needing to do the same. Lots of water, hundreds of steps, and plenty of sweat later we made it.

I will say that seeing the sunrise over the Dead Sea atop this massive formation more than exceeded my expectations. It was absolutely beautiful, and made all the better that we had made the climb to earn it. Definitely something I'll remember!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Adventure Begins...Slow Start

Today marked the start of a ten day adventure that I'll share with a girlfriend of mine traveling to Israel and France. A friend, who up until now our interactions have been limited to the gym, a quick hello at school pickup, the occasional get-together and a couple of camping trips. But we're both only what could go wrong?

We left for the airport Thursday afternoon for a 4:00 flight. Our agenda had us flying to Madrid where we would have a 3 hour layover and then on to Tel Aviv where we would finally arrive Friday evening around 5:00. We both managed to fit 10 days worth of travel gear into one carry on and a backpack so travel would be a breeze...or so we thought.

The flight to Madrid was smooth. I slept for a good portion of it, occasionally opened up my book or watched a movie, but mostly slept. When we arrived we thought it best to find our gate, and then we'd go grab a quick bit to eat until it was time to board. So off we went. When w got to the gate, the gentleman there suggested we go ahead and go through security so that we wouldn't have to wait in line closer to boarding time. We followed his advice to find that security began as twenty minutes of thorough questioning, followed by 2 hours of digging through every item in our suitcases, backpacks, purses in a basement room of the Madrid airport with no windows, no phone reception, and very little English. Neither of us are clear on what exactly happened, but we were both happy to get out of there and board our next flight. Good start.

5 hours later we landed safely in Tel Aviv where our host for the next six days, another friend of ours, met us. I was exhausted, but excited and thrilled to finally be here.

My travel buddy crashed early that evening, so the rest of us stayed up and planned the next few days....after all, planning ahead of time takes away the spontaneity!

Israel Adventures begin tomorrow!

Below is the Madrid airport....the pretty part, not the basement holding area.