Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, Asheville NC

Right about this time last week I had the pleasure and honor of heading out from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference at Ridgecrest with about a dozen fellow writers, all of whom are way cooler and more accomplished than I am, to the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company in North Asheville (hence the name).
I refrained from all alcoholic refreshment, though my photo skills that night do seem to say otherwise. I took only two photos because the conversation was so fascinating (sorta like Tolkein, Williams, Lewis, and the other Inklings) I couldn't tear myself away. I also never took a photo of our group, because, well, several of them would have sued me if anyone found out they were actually spending time with me.
Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company is a craft brewery, pizza joint, gameroom, and discount-and-dine-in movie theater with a unique vibe. Not that I'm any expert on vibes, unique or otherwise. Movies are $3 a person. We were having too much fun to even inquire into what was showing.

It was fun, and our server was patient, efficient, and charming. The pizza: meh. I shared a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" pizza with a friend who had already experienced the "Biltmore" pizza. We both wished we had gotten the Biltmore, which is meatier. Still, the pizza wasn't the point--the company was.

Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company has three Asheville locations; we dined at 675 Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville.

Americano Burger Bar, Cincinnati OH

Last Thursday, the lovely Robin and I tried a new restaurant less than two blocks from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater, where we were going to see a show: Americano Burger Bar.
We arrived at a few minutes past six o'clock and were seated immediately. Our personable server arrived within a couple minutes to take our order. We did something we almost never do: ordered the same thing, the "Queen City" burger and fries. They serve more than burgers and fries, but that's what we wanted.
The food was delicious, served piping hot. Robin noted that the fry cooks (the small kitchen was fully visible from our seats) wore hats but no nets or anything on their beards--and they were all amply bearded. She managed to shake it off, more or less.
The men's room was clean. Though I didn't need a whole beer keg to take care of business. 

Americano Burger Bar is located at 545 Race Street in downtown Cincinnati. 

Prova, Morgan Hill CA

Earlier this month, while visiting the California branch of our family, the lovely Robin and I accompanied Aaron and Nina to a restaurant called Prova, in lovely upscale Morgan Hill, for lunch.
It was a lovely day, the windows were wide open, and we were shown right to our table. We didn't know it was (at least partly) a tapas restaurant. But our server (though I think he was relatively new) was delightful and helpful, so we ordered.
For once, I wasn't real hungry so I ordered the fritatta, which was drier than I expected. Over-cooked, I thought.
The lovely Robin had a hamburger and fries, which was excellent, so she saved me a few bites. Altogether it was disappointing and overpriced but the company couldn't have better, and that redeemed the entire experience.

Morgan Hill is a charming community, but I doubt we'll return to Prova. It is located at 17340 Monterey Street in Morgan Hill, California.

How I Lost Weight on a 15-Day Cruise

Imagine my surprise, upon returning from my 15-day fortieth anniversary cruise with the lovely Robin, to discover that I had actually lost a couple pounds on the trip! Me. Who usually gains weight from thinking about food. It's true. But it wasn't by accident.

So how did it happen?

1. The lovely Robin and I ate like royalty but we intentionally stayed away from the 24-hour buffet on the ship. We started each day with room service breakfast (see here) but otherwise ordered from the menu in one of the ship's elegant dining rooms. That way, while we did have multiple courses, we also had set portions at nearly every meal (we did eat three meals in the buffet, I think, due to scheduling and availability). Overall, we ate well but never once felt stuffed while on board the Grand Princess.
2. I exercised every morning when the ship was at sea (except one day) in the ship's fitness center (above). That totaled nine exercise sessions, I think.

3. We snacked only on fruit, which was available (and free) in our room 24/7. Well, we also had an ice cream cone most evenings. But again, we stayed out of the buffet.

And that was about it. Not rocket science. And it didn't require a lot of effort. But it sure worked for me.

Other Shows on the Grand Princess

I've already mentioned (here and here) some of the fine entertainment the lovely Robin enjoyed on our recent cruise to Hawai'i on the Grand Princess. And the hits just kept on coming. Singer and humorist David Pengelly offered a whimsical blend of comedy and music that Robin and I thoroughly enjoyed.
The Perfect Gentlemen were not at all what we expected, based on the ship's newsletter blurb about their show. But their versatility and creativity were enjoyable.
Nashville songwriter, instrumentalist, and singer Ric Steele did a little bit of everything (my favorite was his rendition of the instrumental guitar piece, "Classical Gas"), including a touching personal story before performing an encore.
The ship's orchestra, singers, and dancers presented a dynamic "British Invasion" show (above and below) that delighted us both--though it was hard not to sing along. Okay, I did. But only sometimes. On every song.

Las Vegas entertainer Cheaza wowed everyone with a Whitney Houston tribute show. Absolutely wonderful. I loved it when she casually mentioned, "my aunt, Chaka Khan." Dang. And her finale ("I Will Always Love You," of course), brought the house down.
The ship's dancers presented a Stephen-Schwartz-produced show, "Born to Dance," that included video and narration about various choreographers introducing many of Broadway's most memorable dance numbers, from "Hello, Dolly" (above) to "A Chorus Line" (below).
We could hardly have been more pleased with the Grand Princess's entertainment options and presentations, both in the Princess Theater and smaller venues. Well done, Princess Cruise Lines! 

10 New Things I Learned on My 15-Day 40th-Anniversary Hawaii Cruise

1. Cruise ships registered outside the USA must include a foreign port in their itinerary; that may not have been the only reason to stop in Ensanada, Mexico (above), on our return from Hawai'i aboard the Grand Princess. But it was almost certainly the main reason. 

2. Booking through a travel agent may get you an upgrade. Good to know. 

3. A fifteen-day cruise is not too long. Not for us, anyway. We enjoyed every minute, and the length of the cruise gave us ample opportunity to get relaxed and stay relaxed for a good long while. 

4. Princess Cruise Lines is now our favorite cruise line. Not that we won't try others. But our first Princess cruise--and fifth overall--was easily the best. 

5. Ukulele chords are completely different from guitar chords. 

6. The events leading up to the annexation of Hawai'i to the U.S. were tragic and shameful. 

7. There are twelve Hawaiian islands. Eight inhabited.

8. The Hawaiian language has only twelve letters: a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w. And no sibilants. And no plurals. But once you know the basics, pronunciation is easy. 

9. Hawaii's state fish is the humuhumunukunukuapua`a. And it's not as unpronounceable as it looks.

10. Forty years of marriage to the ideal woman is not a walk in the park; it's paradise.

Movies Under the Stars

One of the fun experiences of my recent fortieth anniversary cruise to Hawaii with the lovely Robin was something we hadn't experienced on any of our four previous cruises (three with Carnival and one with Norwegian Cruise Lines): "Movies Under the Stars." Each evening at sea the gigantic screen overlooking the ship's Lido Deck featured an almost-first-run movie, such as La La Land (which we didn't take in, as we had already seen it) and Arrival and Passengers (which we did enjoy). Deck chairs were equipped with plush cushions and blankets, and we enjoyed both of our "Movies Under the Stars" (albeit Passengers a little more). 

Good Reads on Our Cruise to Hawaii

A vacation--even a fifteen-day fortieth anniversary cruise to Hawai'i--wouldn't be a vacation if I couldn't spend some time reading. Happily, I absorbed some outstanding books on our trip.

I usually try to read thematically when I travel, so I chose books related to Hawai'i. I'd already read the James Michener tome, Hawaii, so my list took a little more effort to compile.

I started the cruise with one historical novel borrowed from the library (East Wind, Rain by Caroline Paul) and one audiobook I had downloaded through the Hoopla app on my iPhone (Letters From Hawaii by Mark Twain). Both were excellent. I also read Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Venture (nonfiction) by Julia Flynn Siler and The House of Pride by Jack London (short stories). Those were also excellent, and all of them together were a perfect blend of fiction, nonfiction, history, and culture, by two of my favorite authors and two I'd never read before. I couldn't have imagined anything better.

We also bought a picture book (to read to the grandkids) on one of the islands: A Coconut Named Bob (pictured). Because, well, it's about a coconut named Bob.

Pe‘epe‘e Falls, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls

The final excursion of my recent fortieth anniversary Hawaii cruise with the lovely Robin was a tour of three of the waterfalls on the big island. The Pe‘epe‘e Falls (above) is on the eighteen-mile-long Wailuku River, the second longest river in HawaiĘ»i. The falls create an area of the river called "Boiling Pots," which was created by lava tubes, nearly vertical columns that formed as the lava cooled in the river bed. When the river rises, water in the terraced pools or “lava pots” becomes turbulent and appears to be boiling.
 Rainbow Falls (above), also on the Wailuku River, features  an eighty-foot drop over a deep lava cave, the mythological home to Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess. The falls are named for the rainbows that often form in the surrounding mist. We didn't get to see any rainbows, but it was a beautiful sight nonetheless.
The final stop on our expedition was Akaka Falls, eleven miles north of Hilo. It requires a winding walk along the shoulder of the gorge to get to the overlook view of the 442-foot-tall waterfall. "Akaka" is the Hawaiian word for "rent, split, chink, or separation." On our walk to and from the lookout we heard the chirping of coqui, tiny tree frogs that were recently (and unintentionally) imported from Puerto Rico.

The Big Island, Hilo, and Ice Pond

Our last port in the Hawaiian islands was Hilo, on the "big island" of Hawai'i (above). I stood on our balcony as our ship was pulling into port and spied an inviting beach that looked like it wasn't far. Then I noticed that Brian, our ukulele instructor, was on his balcony, just two decks above. Recalling that the big island was his home, I asked if that beach was within walking distance. He assured me that it was, gave me some directions, and told me there was a sweet little cove there that the locals like to swim in, which is fed by a stream coming down from the mountains.
So, since our scheduled excursion wasn't due to depart until after lunch, the lovely Robin and I set out for that idyllic beach and inviting cove. It took more than the fifteen minutes Brian had estimated (but, to be fair, they were fifteen "Hawaiian minutes") but we made it eventually, and found the cove he had talked about. We waded in.
It was, truly, beautiful. It is part of Reeds Bay Beach Park, located on Banyan Drive. Sailboats anchor in the waters and the little cove we chose offers a calm and shallow swimming area.
But cold. Only on our way out did we learn that the locals call it Ice Pond. The lovely Robin had no desire to go in much farther than up to her shins. But we took a selfie. So we did make it to a Hawaiian beach. Isn't that what really counts?

Kaua'i, Waimea Canyon, Spouting Horn

My recent (April 23-May 8) cruise to Hawaii with the lovely Robin, celebrating forty years of marriage (and forty-three years as a couple!) included a stop in the port of Nawiliwili, Kaua'i (above).
Our Kaua'i excursion was to Waimea Canyon, billed as "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Well, we've been to the Grand Canyon, and this couldn't be anything close. Right?
Wrong. It was spectacular. Even a panorama photo doesn't record the breathtaking beauty of the spot, with waterfalls, brilliant colors, and seemingly endless vistas. I could post a dozen photos and still not convey a fraction of the experience.
On our ride back to the ship from Waimea Canyon, we made another stop--at "Spouting Horn" (above), a natural waterspout created by lava tubes on the beach. Fun.
We returned to the ship after an all-too-short stay in Kaua'i. It was raining as the ship cast off, but the rain seemed to respectfully stop at the port's breakwater, which I tried to capture above. We were sorry to say goodbye to the striking emerald green beauty of Kaua'i.

King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani

After our visit to Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the lovely Robin and I made sure to locate the famous statue of King Kamehameha I across the street from the palace. There are many statues of Kamehameha I in Hawaii, but this one has gained added fame from the Hawaii 5-0 television series.
We also paid a visit to Queen Liliuokalani, the gentle and peace-loving last queen of the islands, above. Both statues flank Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu. 

Iolani Palace, Honolulu

One of the many highlights of our recent Hawaiian cruise was our visit (just the two of us, undertaken after we returned from an excursion to Pearl Harbor) to Iolani Palace in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu.
Iolani Palace was built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii. It was home to him and his wife, Queen Kapiolani, the granddaughter of King Kaumualii of Kauai. Upon his death it was also the royal residence of his sister, the last queen, Liliuokalani.
The lovely Robin and I were guided, using a small player and a pair of headphones, through the large rooms of the palace, which boasted electric lights before the White House and Windsor Castle.
The throne room, above, is the site of many grand occasions--and also, tragically and shamefully, the "trial" of Queen Liliuokalani by the "provisional government" that ousted her in 1893.
The palace has been meticulously restored, featuring original palace furnishings and artifacts that have been recovered, restored, and replicated. Open to the public for guided tours, the first floor consists of the public reception areas: the Grand Hall, State Dining Room, Blue Room, and Throne Room, while the second floor showcases the private suites, including the king's suite (above), the queen’s suites, and music room.
One of the more affecting rooms in the palace was the second floor bedroom that became Liliuokalani's prison after her "trial." While there, she created the crazy quilt, above, which is stitched with the dates of her accession, imprisonment, and abdication. Such a sad story.

The palace was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1962. It is the only official royal residence in the United States. It is located at the corner of King St. and Richard St. in downtown Honolulu. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pearl Harbor: USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma Memorial, USS Missouri

On April 29, the seventh day of my fortieth anniversary Hawaii cruise with the lovely Robin, we sailed into Honolulu aboard our cruise ship, the Grand Princess. I took the above photo from our balcony.
Soon after breakfast, we boarded a bus to our excursion in Pearl Harbor.
After watching an amazing film that included much actual footage (both American and Japanese) of the Pearl Harbor attack, we boarded a tender to the USS Arizona Memorial (above). Wow. So memorable and profound.

We also briefly visited the USS Oklahoma Memorial before moving on to the decks of the USS Missouri. 

Amazingly, in just a couple hours, we stood where the U.S. involvement in World War II both began (with the sinking of the Arizona, among many other ships damaged or sunk on December 7, 1941) and ended.  The USS Missouri is the ship on which the scene below took place, as General MacArthur and others signed the surrender of the Japanese forces on September 2, 1945. 

Today, a plate (below) marks the spot where the surrender was signed. Incredible. 
After our guide (Bob) took us around the deck and expertly answered our questions, the lovely Robin and I toured as much of the mighty battleship below decks as we could, learning loads along the way. We were so glad to have included this excursion in our plans, something we will never forget. 

Lahaina Browsing and Shopping

After our excursion to Haleakala Crater on Maui, the lovely Robin and I still had some time before we had to be back on the ship. So we took full advantage. The banyan tree above, close to the port in historical Lahaina (which was once the capital of Hawaii) is the oldest banyan tree in Hawaii and, according to our excursion guide, the second largest in the world! It was planted on April 24, 1873, by William Owen Smith, who was the sheriff of Lahaina at the time.
We had already purchased a beautiful ukulele on board the ship but wanted to find another on one of the islands. So we started looking around in Lahaina. While doing so, we came across the Maui Friends of the Library bookstore. A bookstore. We had to go in, of course, because I love local bookstores (I think I've mentioned it here and here and here and here). 

What a great find this was. Delightful little store, tucked away in the Wharf Cinema Center.  We browsed for awhile and then asked the young woman behind the counter about a music store where we could buy a quality ukulele. She said friends of hers ran one less than a mile away. So we took the main highway and headed away from the harbor, up one street, across several, to Honoapiilani Highway and kept walking, walking, walking. Finally, after several confusing minutes, we found it. In a very unassuming strip mall.
And we bought another ukulele, and high-tailed it back to the ship, catching one of the last few tenders! Mission accomplished. Mahalo.