Friday, October 31, 2008

Ghoulies and Ghosties and ... Warm Woolen Mittens?

I really enjoy Halloween.  I love handing out candy to the kids running down the block, seeing what they are dressed up as, hearing their parents encourage them to say "thank you!"  I like putting up a few fun decorations and carving pumpkins.  This year, it was a beautiful and warm day, and I spent a good part of it on the front step working on the pumpkins (when I wasn't chasing our cats back inside the house)!  But it did get pretty nippy outside when the sun went down, and there were a number of jackets over costumes and gloved hands.  The smartest "Wisconsin" costumes were the furry Tigers, Poohs, and a few monkeys that had hoods and mittens as part of the costume.  I think we had about 125-150 pieces of candy, and we ran out at about 7:15, so definitely a good showing!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sunny Fall Day

Yesterday was our neighborhood's yard waste pick-up day, and as we were on vacation, all of our leaves were still all over our yard and not in bags to be hauled away.  So this afternoon (a day late) we began readying the yard for winter.  Into the garage go all the goodies - hammock, swing, hoses, bird bath, etc.  Out comes the lawn mower to mulch the leaves and cut the grass.  That will probably happen one more time before the snow starts to fall - we still have an awful lot of leaves clutching on to their branches on our maples out front!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Massacre on Center Street (plus cookies...)

Our poor pumpkin man was helpless against the savage squirrel beast.

On a better note - I thought up these cookies as we were sailing away from Hawaii.  I picked up some chopped macadamia nuts while in Hilo and some pink sea salt while in Honolulu, then added in some chunks of white chocolate and milk chocolate wafers.  Result - crazy yummy cookies.  Justin thinks they need a little extra something to push the "Hawaiian" theme a bit further - maybe some toasted coconut will be thrown in the next batch...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome Home!

We drove home through snow flurries and ran over an already-smooshed skunk.  Welcome back to Wisconsin!

Really though, glad to be home! (If I say that enough, maybe it will be true! :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last day of vacation :(

Today was the last real day of vacation. We got off the ship without incident, and caught the shuttle to our hotel around 11:50.

We then stowed our bags at the front desk (it was too early to check in), and walked down to our new favorite bakery

We got some rolls for the morning, since there probably won't be much too eat at 3 AM, and then split a grilled cheese sandwich. This was no Wonder bread and Kraft singles grilled cheese sandwich, this was two giant slices of rosemary olive oil bread, with three cream French brie and gorgonzola cheese stuffed between them and then toasted until the cheese was perfectly melty. I haven't ever had a grilled cheese sandwich quite like it. I would have taken a picture of it, but it strangely disappeared much too quickly :)

This evening, we wandered out to Umi Sushi, which was less than a mile walk from our hotel. Julie and I split some teriyaki chicken, as well as 3 different types of sushi. We had tuna negiri (left), which is just strips of tuna on rice, a spicy tuna roll (middle), and the "Crunch Dragon Roll" (right). The dragon roll was definitely our favorite. It was crab, shrimp tempura, avocado, and diced cucumber in a roll, topped with spicy tuna and a dusting of Panko.

Also, due to popular demand, below is a picture of Julie, since there have been complaints about needing more Julie pics. It's kind of hard to tell, but she is standing on the edge of a 400 foot volcanic crater.

Now we are going to go to bed at 8:30, to be ready to catch a taxi at 4, for our 6:20 flight to Denver. Blech.

Back in San Diego

We are back in San Diego, waiting to disembark from the ship. The seas were incredibly calm on our return trip from Hawaii, which was apparently a large difference from the cruise that preceded ours, where they had 25 foot swells to deal with. These large ships have stabilizers that can be deployed like airplane wings from under the ship, and that helps, but there isn't much you can do with swells that big. Luckily, we didn't have to deal with that. The last couple of days have been filled with eating and sleeping and overall relaxation. We haven't eaten as much in the dining room this cruise as we have in others. We found that the main buffet area has similar food to the dining room most nights, without requiring us to get dressed up. They also have a Mongolian grill area where you pick the raw ingredients and cook it for you, and a pizza bar, both of which were nice. We did eat at the specialty restaurants on the ship a couple of times: Portofino and Chops Grille. They were both very good, and had top notch food.

Here is a night shot of Honolulu, as we depart for Kona:

On our way out from Kona, the dolphins gave us a show, jumping around and basically causing ruckus on the ship. At around 11 PM on Monday, the ship swung by the south end of the island and we were able to see the lava flowing from the top of a volcano down into the ocean. It was very cool, but hard to photograph.

Our golfing skills came into use a couple of days ago. One of the activities was a "long drive" challenge, using the simulator on the ship. Julie and I both won our respective gender divisions, and came away with some sweet white elephant "gifts". Luckily, Robert wasn't there to write my name down.

Here's a picture of a cake decorating demonstration, which was quite entertaining:

Today we are just waiting to disembark, and then we will spend time in San Diego, leaving for Minneapolis very early tomorrow morning. We should be back in Stevens Point around 7-7:30 tomorrow.

It's going to be hard to leave the ship. Here's a shot of the "Centrum", which is the 8 story lobby in the middle of the ship.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kona - Snuba

Another beautiful weather day, today anchored at Kona, on the Big Island. We had a chance to snuba - which is the combination of snorkeling and scuba diving. Great fun, and we saw all sorts of fish and coral.

Also, just a note - I didn't just feel like Spam yesterday - it is actually REALLY popular in Hawaii, so I just felt like I needed to have some!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More food!

Today was another day in Honolulu. We are leaving at 5:30 today for Kona. We are 5 hours behind Wisconsin, so it was kind of weird to wake up this morning and have football games on the TV already in the 2nd quarter. Glad the Packers did well today! Today we ate breakfast on board and took a bus to the Ala Moana Center where we shopped for souvenirs. Lunch was the highlight of the day again. The food court at the shopping center had just about every type of food you could want, but Julie wanted something with Spam in it. The first thing we found was at a Hawaiian fast food shop, called the "Beach Boy Special". It didn't start out so bad, Spam and rice, but then it was covered in something called "Stew Gravy". (Trav: I could only picture Gravy Robbers from Tim and Eric). Too scary for our taste, but we did manage to find Spam sushi that was much more palatable :)

I had some curry with fried chicken and Kalabi, which was really good, and then for desert we got some Shave Ice. It tasted like happiness mixed with sunshine and kitten kisses. Needless to say, we both enjoyed it quite a bit.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tour of (yummy) Food

Wow! What a day we've had. A very, very filling day! Our tour started at 10 am, and the next 3 1/2 hours we would drive for a few minutes, eat something tasty, drive for a few more minutes, eat some tasty, walk for a few minutes, eat something tasty - again and again and again. Our tour guides were incredibly knowledgeable, personable, and genuinely enjoyed sharing their love of food with our small group (only 9 of us). Our first stop was to try what is called a "manapua," which is baked hawaiian sweet bread with a choice of filling. We chose one stuffed with cha siu (sweet roasted pork) and one with kalua pig (smoked, pulled pork). They were both a treat, though our preference was the cha sui.
Our next stop was a bakery for wonderful cream puffs with a silky chocolate filling and a chantilly cream topping - mmmmm....
We then drove into Chinatown and began walking around a bit. We stopped at a rice noodle "factory," where they were making steamed rice noodles from scratch and by hand. It is an incredibly tedious process which is quickly dying, as young people are no longer carrying on the family's business. The noodles, which have bits of smoked pork or dried shimp in it, were probably the highlight of the tour, for both Justin and I - incredible!
Once outside the noodle storefront, our guides bought a number of different kinds of fruit for us to try - including this most interesting "rambutan" or "hairy fruit." The outside felt almost rubbery, like some crazy toy, and once you rip it open a bit, you can split the skin in half, and the inside looks just like a hard boiled egg! The flesh is very sweet and juicy, similar in texture to a... um... hmmm... kind of between a melon and plum. Very tasty though!
We continued our tour with a snack shop, which specialized in a type of dried snack, called "crack seed." It is hard to explain, but many types of fruits and such seasoned with a special li hing powder (see Justin's post below). I thought all the apothecary jars and their contents were absolutely eye-catching!
We had a short stop at a tiny shop or char siu with the most amazing roasted and glazed pork and duck - small morsels of wonderfulness. We also stopped at a lei stand, where a number of women were making hand-made flower leis. It was hard to resist some of the fragrant flowers!
After a stop for a sit-down lunch of a honey garlic chicken, beef and seasoned rice (thankfully not a large amount - we were already filling up quickly - but all terrific!), we made our final stop at another sweet bakery for a portuguese donut called a "malasada." Have you had these, Dan & Pam? The dough isn't necessarily very sweet, but yeasty and airy, fried and covered in sugar. Incredibly yummy, and a perfect end to the tour.

Mission Accomplished

Today I accomplished two things. We started the day on a "Taste of Chinatown" tour that was amazing. The food and tour itself were wonderful. I'm going to let Julie cover the tour, but it definitely comes highly recommended, if you like trying new foods. The first thing that was accomplished was that the weird "dirt" on the gummy bears I bought at Walmart has been identified, thanks to the tour. It's called "Li Hing", and it's made from dried plums. Now I am a little less afraid of the gummy bears. On the tour, they explained what it was and how it was made, and gave the Li Hing to us, in powder form, on pineapple, which was nice.

A side note: for all you "Lost" fans, as part of the tour we ate at the Liliha bakery, which was the diner where they filmed scenes with Kate's mom in an episode from the first or second season.

The actual mission for the day was to find a "Puka Dog".

We ended up getting directions to one in Waikiki, dropped off there after the tour, and then took a bus back to the cruise ship. They take a weird bun, put it in paper on a special heater that pokes a perfect hot-dog sized hole into it, pour tropical fruit relish and sauce from a row of spigots into the hole, and then pop the cooked hot dog into it.

We ordered one with a Polish sausage hot dog, jalapeno garlic lemon sauce, and mango relish. I was definitely afraid of the silly thing:

But it was actually pretty stinking good. Julie and I ended up finishing the entire thing. It wasn't cheap, at $6.25, but definitely worth it.

Day on Maui

Goodness gracious, it has been a beautiful day anchored in Maui's Lahaina Harbor. This morning I woke up EARLY - but only because I fell asleep EARLY and slept harder than a log. I jogged around the track on the top deck of the ship for a bit, and then watched the sunrise. Gorgeous. After waking up Justin and eating a quick breakfast we caught one of the tenders (like a shuttle-boat) ashore - and caught sight of this rainbow as well! We walked and did a bit of shopping around Lahaina for awhile, stopped at Hilo Hattie's, which is something of an icon, but we didn't have time to go when we were actually IN Hilo. After tendering back to the ship for a quick lunch and changed into swimsuits, we headed up the coast a bit to Ka'anapali Beach, which came highly recommended - by the Travel Channel, guide books, and our friends Clay & Laurie, who have stayed there in the past. The water was quite cool, relatively speaking - it was pretty close to empty, but that didn't stop us from swimming for a good 45 minutes! And finally, a great sunset to cap off the day!

Different from normal

Julie was noticing a theme with a lot of the pictures taken of me over the span of our vacation so far. Things seem to be similar to what normally happens at home. Why did we go on vacation to do the same stuff I could have done at home?

Here I am playing Wii. I totally beat all the old people and made them cry.

Here I am getting bothered by a cat while trying to use a computer:

And here I am at Walmart getting nasty gummy bears. They were some weird Japanese brand. I didn't notice until I opened the package, but they are covered in some weird stuff that looks like dirt. I think it's supposed to be spicy. Good thing I got some gummy coke bottles as a backup, just in case.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Aloha from Hilo!

Today was an incredible day! We docked in Hilo, on the Big Island at about 8 am, and were off the ship and ready to go on our Lava Viewing Hiking tour by 8:15! It turned out our tour was very small - 16 people total, split between two vans - so very personal, and not packed like sardines into a big tour bus! We stopped at numerous places around the island, including the Thurston Lava Tube, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut factory, and several lava viewing areas. Our highlights were walking to one of the active steam vents and craters on Kiluea, a black sand beach, and seeing some incredible lava flows. Tomorrow we are on to Maui - Lahaina. We're looking forward to another great day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the Ocean...

We are currently about 3/4 of the way to Hawaii. Our first day at sea was rather rough- 10-15 foot sweels. I had a bit of a headache, but that was about it. The last two days have been perfect, and our favorite place has definitely been the solarium pool, which is covered with a sunroof, so it is warm, a great place to swim and then pass the afternoon reading! Sorry, no pictures, but hopefully those will be coming soon! We have one more day at sea tomorrow, and then we have our first stop in Hawaii - Hilo, on Thursday! Here are some pics of the first couple of days:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

All Aboard!

Phew! After standing in line after line after line, we have finally made it onto the Radiance of the Seas. We found our room right away to drop off a few of our things, and then started exploring. Well, by exploring, I mean making our way to the Lido Deck for the lunch buffet! We passed several pools, art galleries, the fitness center and the lobby along the way to the food. We are always a bit amazed at just how big these ships are, and how much they can pack in! We still haven't seen the other dining rooms, the casino, the theaters, the shops, etc. Our first try at the buffet was a success, with the smoked bbq pork being our favorite of the meal! We set sail at 5 pm, with an obligatory muster drill at 4:30 (Justin's very favorite part of the whole cruise - ha!).

In San Diego

We got into San Diego last night, and everything went well. I really dislike flying, but the flights were actually pretty good. I am pretty particular when it comes to airlines, as we have had good and bad experiences in the past. So far, Frontier has been one of our favorites. They are pretty efficient and consistent, and the planes are reasonably comfortable and quiet, which is all I am really looking for. We got in after dark, so we were in for a treat this morning when we opened up the shades on the window. Our hotel is located here:

View Larger Map

We are on a peninsula between a marina and a bay. Our hotel room is right across the street from the bay.

It has been a really nice morning so far. We found a donut place to visit, which was awesome. It really makes me want a good donut place in Stevens Point. Copps and County Market just don't cut it. This place had excellent raised and glazed donuts, with good shredded coconut, as opposed to the blended stuff we normally get. The lady behind the counter was surprised I got a Coke instead of coffee, but you haven't lived until you have washed down a sugar glazed fried donut with a tall glass of Coke :)

After the donut run, we wandered around looking for a Walgreen's or convenience store, as Julie forgot a brush for her hair. We found a pharmacy at around 8:55, but it didn't open until 9, and we were standing outside when I noticed a bakery across the street. We wandered over to take a look and found a cool bakery with all sorts of different breads and rolls available. We got a demi-baguette and a Gorgonzola, red onion, and walnut focaccia. We are going to have those for lunch before we head to the ship. We can see our ship across the harbor!