Christmas in the City

From 1987-1991, the lovely Robin and I (and our children, Aubrey and Aaron) lived in northern New Jersey. Several times during that period we trekked into Manhattan for a day of the Big Apple's unique Christmas sights, sounds, and experiences--such as Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Macy's, and more. This photo is one of my "Favorite Travel Photos," not because it shows pretty scenery (you can barely tell that it was taken at Rockefeller Center) but because the lovely Robin took it...and because I miss those kids. And those glasses I'm wearing. And moments like these.

A Ride on the North Pole Express

Last Saturday the lovely Robin and I had the joy of taking three of our grandchildren (and their parents) on a ride on the North Pole Express, operated by the Lebanon Mason and Monroe Railroad.
These train rides travel a half hour to the "LM&M Junction" to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus! They sell out well in advance, so we booked our tickets back in October, I think.
A snack bar on the train sells hot dogs, chips, cookies, popcorn, and drinks, which was good since we were on the 12:15 train--right at lunch time!
At our destination, we enjoyed the hot (warm) cocoa and Christmas cookies, and Calleigh and Ryder colored pictures (above).
Calleigh was too shy to approach Santa and Mrs. Claus, but Ryder didn't hesitate. After about forty-five minutes there, we boarded the train for the ride back to the station.
Ryder's daddy snapped this photo of him looking out the window from the train.

It was a fun excursion, and a memory to treasure. I only wish our other grandchildren could have joined us, but we were informed that the train doesn't make any stops in California.

A Messiah to Remember

What a beautiful performance by Collegium Cincinnati and Cincinnati Boychoir of Handel's Messiah the lovely Robin and I enjoyed this afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati (the program forbade photos during the performance so I had to content myself with the above picture, taken about fifteen minutes before it started).

It was truly wonderful. The musicians and soloists were outstanding, and it was delightful watching the young men of the Collegium and Boychoir sing their parts enthusiastically and flawlessly. It was also entertaining to watch the boys stifle yawns and overcome restlessness while standing for the whole performance. And I must have forgotten how high fifth- and sixth-grade boys could sing!

Many thanks to those who planned, executed, and hosted this performance. It was a Messiah to remember.

Awaited 2014

For the third year in a row, the lovely Robin and I were blessed to attend "Awaited," the spectacular Christmas presentation of Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati (see my posts from previous years here and here). Crossroads distributed 100,000 tickets to this event within twenty-four hours of making them available. Cuh-razy!

In many ways, this year was my favorite, as the original songs and creative carol arrangements have become more familiar, and I anticipate some of my favorite moments.

If you missed out on ordering tickets, don't despair. They make room for walk-ins at every show, and encourage people who can't use their tickets to return them for re-distribution.

It's become a Christmas tradition for us to return, and to share the experience with those who haven't yet attended. Performances continue through December 23. Check the church website for information.

RedsFest 2014

 Thanks to an early Christmas present, I got to attend RedsFest at the Cincinnati Convention Center yesterday!
 It is a gathering of Reds players and fans unlike anything I've ever seen. What a blast!
 Rosie Red got to meet a celebrity soon after we arrived.
 And my almost-three-year-old grandson Ryder got there just in time for a team photo.
 Ryder proved that he can steal home faster than Billy Hamilton....
 And swing the bat better than a healthy Joey Votto.
Reds pitcher Mike Leake asked to take a photo with me, so I stopped for a moment to oblige him.

It was a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon and evening, and a fitting cap to a year in which I visited both the National Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time and the Reds Hall of Fame for the first time.

Castillo San Cristobal

I took the above photo on my trusty iPhone in January 2014 on a visit to Castillo San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Barn 'n' Bunk's Fall Festival

Sunday afternoon, in the company of the lovely Robin and Aubrey and Kevin and Calleigh and Ryder and Avery, I got to go to the Barn 'n' Bunk Fall Festival in Trenton, Ohio (salute!).
We ate and drank and walked and jumped all around; in fact, Calleigh took three or four turns on the jumpy thingy by the corn maze. I'm pretty sure that's the official name. Hope I'm not violating any trademarks. 
It was a beautiful day for a hayride, though Avery didn't deem it exciting enough to wake up. 
With Calleigh's expert leadership, we navigated the corn maze. We raced ducks. We ate popcorn and sugar candies and drank cider and root beer. We browsed the shops and stalls. We saw some old friends. 
We even got to measure how tall we are this year. And, of course, we bought a few pumpkins to bring home. It wore us all out. Well, the adults, that is. The kids just keep going and going and going. 

Barn 'n' Bunk is located at 3677 Wayne Madison Road in Trenton, Ohio.

The Grape Leaf Diner

It just looked like a nice diner. So the lovely Robin and I stepped into The Grape Leaf Diner in Holland, Ohio (near Toledo), last Friday evening for dinner.
Turns out it was fairly unique experience, featuring mostly Lebanese cuisine (which I'm not sure we'd ever had, though we have thoroughly enjoyed Greek and Armenian dishes numerous times).
Our server was very helpful, the food was ready quickly and served hot, and the servings were enormous. After sharing a salad and chicken noodle soup, I had the Mixed Grille Kabob (above) and Robin ordered the Chicken Ghalaba. The food was delicious, though far more than we could eat. 
I would have loved to have tried their baklava, but there was nowhere to put it.

The Grape Leaf Diner is located at 909 S. McCord Rd. in Holland, Ohio.

Courtyard Marriott, Holland, Ohio

I stayed in the company of the lovely Robin at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Holland, Ohio, near the Toledo airport, last Friday night.
Check-in was quick and easy, our room was comfortable (though the television was placed at an odd angle to the bed), and the staff were kind and polite. The spacious modern lobby (above) had a warm fire in the fireplace (I know, fires are almost always warm...leave me alone), multiple seating areas, and a nice food-and-coffee bar.
I wish I knew more about how hotels decide whether and when to offer a complimentary breakfast. My Saturday morning breakfast of a small coffee cake, yogurt-and-fruit parfait, and Starbucks coffee was quite good, but not complimentary. At $8, it wasn't outrageous, but...

Still, there was free Wi-Fi, and it was very convenient to the location where I was speaking on Saturday.

The hotel is located at 1345 East Mall Drive in Holland, just off I-475.

View from Castle Eltz

I took this photo in 2010 on my visit (in the company of the lovely Robin) to Castle Eltz in Germany. Castle Eltz is one of the few castles of central Europe that was never destroyed in one war or another--and which is still in the founding family's possession. The current owner, Dr. Karl Graf zu Eltz (whom we met briefly while there) is the thirty-third generation of his family (since at least 1157) to call the castle home (though he lives most of the time in Frankfurt).

I took this shot from a walkway outside the castle, I think. I like its romance. Wordsworth could have written a poem about this poor, neglected part of the castle grounds.

The Embassy Suites Cincinnati-Northeast (Blue Ash)

The lovely Robin and I were honored and blessed to conduct a short marriage retreat for sixteen ministry couples today at the Embassy Suites in Blue Ash, a northern suburb of Cincinnati (near where I grew up).

What a great time we had, and the accommodations provided by this Embassy Suites were excellent. While the hotel's exterior looks unpromising (especially close up), our suite, the meeting rooms, and the food they provided were fine quality. Robin seemed especially impressed by the chocolatey break bar provided for our final break as a group. In fact, there's every possibility that the group will remember that most fondly, and my contribution much less so (if at all). Still, it was a great time and a wonderful group.

Relish Modern Tapas

You learn something new every day, they say. If that is true, I'm roughly 47 years behind, and that's only a rough estimate. But I learned something new last evening by taking the lovely Robin on a date to Relish Modern Tapas in Mason, north of Cincinnati.
You probably knew this already, but tapas is a Spanish tradition, combining good company, artful surroundings, and little dishes of food grouped into three main categories: cosas de picar (“things to nibble,” basically finger food), pinchos (bites on decorated toothpicks), and cazuelas ("little dishes" that usually come in sauce).
So, armed with near total ignorance, we ordered a tasty little beef dish to start (above),
along with a trio of empanadas (two beef and two chicken).
Then, because we were new to the whole tapas thing, we each ordered an entree. Mine (above) was a delicious filet with asparagus spears and golden potato medallions, all perfectly cooked.

Robin's Catalan chicken with pasta tossed in basil pesto was likewise excellent.
And, to top it all off, we shared one of my favorite desserts, a crème brûlée with a couple complimentary "cookie" thingys on the side. These, like all the rest, were perfectly prepared and presented. And, while the experience was not cheap, there was not even the tiniest disappointment.

Relish Modern Tapas is located at 5947 Deerfield Blvd.​ in Mason, Ohio, north of Cincinnati. It's a little hard to find, however, located as it is behind the main part of the Deerfield shopping plaza.

Feeding the Ducks

I took this photo of my grandchildren Ryder and Calleigh feeding the ducks (and turtles and fish) at the pond behind my brother and sister-in-law's retirement home in Myrtle Beach, SC. We visited there late last June and early July, and had a wonderful time. 

King's Lake, Alaska

This photo of King's Lake looking toward The Salvation Army's King's Lake Camp near Wasilla, Alaska, was taken by me at 10:40 p.m. one evening during a July visit. A couple hours of daylight still remained, so it's not really a sunset. But it sure did turn out nice, don't you think? 

The Rock Garden at St. Meinrad

While at St. Meinrad Archabbey last weekend for a prayer retreat (in the company of the lovely Robin), I had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful and varied rock garden on the grounds.
 The garden is placed between the monastery and the church, and is replete with streams and fountains, rocks and plants.

And, of course, numerous angels and cherubs are found among the beauties of the place, which is one of many enjoyable features of the St. Meinrad grounds.

St. Meinrad Library Art Exhibit

While visiting St. Meinrad Archabbey in south-central Indiana last weekend, I stopped in the library on the grounds as soon as it opened (9 a.m.) Saturday morning.
I had learned from an informational brochure that there might be an art display in the library, and I was not disappointed.
On display were many paintings (see above) by Kazhia Kolb, who studied at the Sorbonne and the École des Beaux Arts. She has lived in the U.S. since 1978 and in St. Meinrad (the town) since 2006.
Also shown were the works of Keith Armstrong (above and below), a woodturning artist who focuses on exposing the beauty of the imperfect grain found in cast-off pieces of burl, tree forks, roots, and limbs.
His work is made only from trees that have already fallen or are dying and must be felled.
I was entranced by his pieces, and could have photographed every single one. But I didn't.

As it turned out, I was fortunate to see this show, as the artists arrived just as I finished to disassemble the display and pack up their pieces. I'm so glad I got to see the work of both of these artists. It added much to my Saturday morning of prayer and contemplation.