Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day of Travel

My cousin borrowed a fun idea from one of the blogs she reads and I really liked it. So now I'm borrowing from her blog :).

I'm skipping ahead a little in my travels as I'm currently in the middle of my Europe trip (well, one week left). It is Tuesday, my first day in Warsaw to explore. I'm going to share with you my day in an hourly "play-by-play". (Note that Europe uses military time, 24:00.)

Barely awake and I open the curtains to see what weather the day has in store. My first snow of the year....hmmm, might be a slow start this morning. 

I was back in bed on my iPad and iPhone catching up on social media and updating the blog. 

The hotel breakfast went until 10 and I made it down by 9:55 to grab some food before they promptly removed it. 

Then to the hotel shuttle to the airport (I'm nearby and can get on the bus or train from there) and on to downtown. 

After a 10 minute hustle from the bus stop, I was only five minutes late for the noon showing of a quick Warsaw history video. 

13:00 & 14:00
I got my ticket and spent over an hour exploring the castle (my phone remained in the cloak room, thus no extra pictures at 14:00). 

Trying to follow the self guided tour, backwards. 

Headed to my next activity at the science center. 

The pendulum swinging at the Copernicus Science Center. 

It's closing time and I'm retreiving my belongings from the locker. 

Chopin's last piano at the Chopin Museum. 

Dinner - I went a different route and did some maki rolls at a sushi place. It was ok, what you might expect of sushi in Poland. :)

Waiting for the 21:05 bus (#175) back to the hotel. 

In my room with my free snacks and some new episodes of Treme downloaded :). 

A long day, but productive. It did warm up and any snow melted. I managed over 18,000 steps and almost 8 miles. I'll share more about what I saw when I post on Warsaw but thought this might be interesting as well. 

All my good pictures are on the big camera, rather than my iPhone. So my daily postings will stop for a little bit until I can download and sift through those pictures from Geneva, Kraków, Warsaw and soon to be Berlin! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

End of the Road

I reached home on October 27th after leaving around September 17th. It was a great trip but nice to be home as well. I kept track of my trip mileage and racked up 6,921.3 miles and 147 hours and 14 minutes in the car. If you're doing the math, that's an average of 47 mph which seems about right. I got two oil changes, zero car washes (it rained a couple times :) ), one potentially damaging rod that was run over in the road (Everglades) and most thankfully no accidents.

Once home, I paused for a couple weeks before leaving for Europe on November 13th. Sitting still is definitely not my strong suit as I quickly reverted to plenty of TV time and other such non-productive activities. 

Some random pics:
By the end of the trip, gas prices were falling and I'd send pictures home to my dad to rub in the high prices in IL. 

I continued to target my 10,000 steps (~4.5 miles) per day on my Fitbit, and dog walking and playing sure helps with that. Thanks to Ellie (pictured, Team GU's dog) and Sadie (mom and dad's golden retriever) for helping me out! I usually hit that goal at least three days a week. 

Wedding pictures came out and I spent some time going through the 1,000+ pictures from the day :). There are definitely some great ones!! This is my cousin Hyedi and I out on the patio :)

I updated the family tree using the app. These are pictures of my great grandma's sister and my great grandpa's sister. 

I checked on my money accounts - need to make sure I know what I have and budget accordingly. :)

I did some rough planning of itineraries for my weekends in Kraków and Berlin with my friend Mary. Thanks to Rick Steves, Trip Advisor and general Google search results!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friends & Birthdays

I left Memphis and headed towards eastern Iowa to visit a friend, Stephanie, who was there for work. We met for dinner and watched the World Series. It was really good to catch up with her.

The next morning I headed east to Peoria for a weekend with Team GU and to celebrate Shaun's birthday! Friday night we had an Asian dinner to celebrate a friend becoming a new homeowner. Shaun made pineapple fried rice and potstickers and we got to use the chopsticks I brought them back from Singapore :). Saturday we did a girls night out for her birthday - Mexican, margaritas and a painting class! We signed up for a class at The Hive in downtown Peoria where they tell you step by step how to paint a picture. Since we scheduled it so far in advance, we were able to work with them on a particular picture to paint. We did a lighthouse on a lake, a close comparison to the ones Shaun and Bill have visited on their trips to Lake Michigan (Michigan side). The classes can be private but ours was open to the public and a couple other tables painted with us. They also put on special lighthouse trivia and door prizes. It was such a fun evening! In the end, our paintings turned out great but at the time all of us but Shaun got frustrated with our lack of talent :).

The instructor painted with us (see canvas in background) but first we sketched some the main pieces of the painting.

Shaun, really enjoying herself, with her sister Mandi (also enjoying herself) :)

They even brought her a birthday cookie!

My, Melinda's and the instructor's work in progress. The instructor definitely made it look easy. That grass was hard!

My lighthouse is finalized :)

Melinda & me

Our four masterpieces!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

St. Jude

From TX, I head to Memphis to visit my friend Julie.  I saw her back in July when we went to Graceland and BBQ, but that was a girls' weekend because her boys were out of town.  This time I got to see the boys....and they were pretty excited to see me :).  Some kids are shy, some are not.  The 'Meyer Monsters' were not, lol.  They are little gymnasts in the making I think.  I think Ryan is turning 3 soon, which means maybe Ian is turning 5 soon. (apologies, I'm not good with ages, but that's about right)  I'm heading back at the beginning of December for the St. Jude marathon - friends are running, not me! I'll be a cheerleader for the day. 

Julie's son Ryan has been receiving treatment at St. Jude and her family and friends have become very involved.  She now works there and helped arrange a tour of the facilities for me.  So I got into town Monday night, played with the boys and then had some great ribs and coleslaw that Julie's mom had prepared.  Tuesday I slept in a little and then met Julie for lunch and my tour started at 1.  It's a facility that does amazing things. They are focused on caring for children, especially those with cases that add new challenges.  A patient must be referred to St. Jude, such as if they have a cancer where there is no current protocol for treatment, but then St. Jude pretty much accepts all patients under an age limit (I think 18, but in special cases maybe 19 or 20).  The families don't see any bills.  It's all taken care of.  They have housing on or near campus for families to use as short term or, as in Ryan's case, longer term.  They do look at some diseases other than cancer as well.  I'm blanking on some of the facts now, but I know the operations were impressive.  They try to make the hospital a happy place, lots of bright colors and art work, fun activities to do while you wait.  They also have a team of doctors set up for you that see you through your treatment - so you're always meeting with the same physician who is familiar with your case. They have little red wagons, so the kids can be pulled around the hospital.  You see the patients in the waiting rooms and at lunch while you're on the tour. You see the artwork that tells the kids' stories. I don't know how all those parents do it.

After my tour, I walked the campus a little and read my book. When Julie was off work, we headed to Target House.  It just so happened that it was the birthday (15th) of Target House.  Target House is one of the long term residences available to patients and it is where Julie and Ryan stayed during the main portion of his treatment.  It is sponsored by Target and is a great complex.  They invite past and present residents, so we met the boys and grandma there.  They provided a meal and had some leaders of Target, St. Jude and the Target House speak. The male portion of Sugarland was there to perform a couple songs. There was a silly string war that was crazy. And of course cake for everyone.

Each night I read the boys a couple stories before bedtime. They were already ready for Christmas books before Halloween :). 

It was a great couple of days seeing them and I look forward to the visit in December :). If you'd like to donate to St. Jude in support of my friend who is running the marathon, here is the link. 

Some art on display from patients:

Danny Thomas was the founder of St. Jude in 1960.  I don't know if I'll get the story right, but there is supposedly a gold coin buried in/under this statue of St. Jude. When starting the hospital a little boy came forward with his gold coin and wanted to donate it towards the effort.

Danny Thomas prayed to St. Jude and the church for assistance during his life, when he was about to have his first child and before his career really took off.  St. Jude Hospital is essentially the result of those promises/prayers where Danny made good on his word.

Me and my elephants :)
Ethan is one of the 'mascots' of St. Jude.

 A sculpture of kids with reference to Peoria, IL and the run between Memphis and Peoria that occurs each year to raise funds.

Silly string war!

Ian loved it! Ryan did not :)

And of course, the birthday cake!!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The nicest people are from TX

I'm sure there are nice people from all over, but I think anyone I've ever met that's from Texas is just super nice.  When I posted on my Cumberland Island tour, I failed to mention there was a couple from Buda, TX (south of Austin) who gave me their contact info (address, phone, email) after hearing about my 'gap year' plans and welcomed me to stop by if I needed to shower, do laundry, whatever.  I did not end up in that area, but so appreciated the offer.

My friend Sara I met when I studied abroad in Granada, Spain during college.  We spent a semester together and traveled around Spain.  She's now a life long friend and was my travel buddy for a couple trips, my first trip to NYC and then a tour of Eastern Europe (Vienna, Budapest and Prague). We also met her now husband on his way to study in London for the semester and did some of the sights in London together.  Sara and Sean are now great friends and I love coming down to visit them and their extended family. Everyone is always so welcoming :).

This is Harper, one of their two dogs who are so sweet :)

Sara and Sean - Saturday we went out on a 'bar bike' for lack of a
better term.  It's essentially a bar on wheels that has pedals under
each seat and you pedal the bar while you drink.  The driver
showed us the sights of downtown Fort Worth for a couple hours.
Lots of fun!!

You can't see it well, but we stopped at the man
with a briefcase sculpture/artwork. Also,
someone in the group had made pretzel necklaces
for everyone.  It was a great idea for a handy snack!

Our driver of the pedi-bar

 Here's Liam taking some steps - such a cutie :)

Walking home with mom and dad :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Purtis Creek State Park, Texas

As I drive, I do pass some interesting things along the way.

In Pennsylvania (I think), I passed a mini book cabinet near a park. I had finished one of my books, I believe it was Ordinary People, and left it for someone to borrow. Neat idea :)

In Florida, I passed a giant pirate ship :).

In Louisiana, I passed the exit for Lena.  I took the exit, but I'm not really sure where the 'town' is at.  I found a Lena road but there were just a couple houses on it.  I gave up quickly and was back on the highway.

With the storms past now, the days were beautiful again.  I was headed to a state park in Texas, just outside of Dallas.  Again, being during the week, the park was pretty much empty.  For those from my home town, I think it was a lot like Shabbona State Park - man made lake, campsites, fishing, etc. The first day I hiked around on the trails and made some mac and cheese for dinner.  I did run into a snafu when my waterproof matches would not work to light my stove.  Always have three ways to make a fire - ideally, lighter, matches and flint.  I only had the matches and they would just not work. So I quick drove into town (well to an intersection with gas stations about 8 miles away) and grabbed a lighter.  All was good.

The next morning the wind died down and I rented a kayak to explore around the lake.  It should be called Turtle Lake - there were so many turtles!! You could tell it was a man made lake, filled in over a bunch of trees - there were branches everywhere, sticking out of the water and some just beneath the surface that I had to watch out for so as to not get my kayak caught.  As I got closer to the branches, I found the turtles were hanging out on all of them, sunning themselves.  Then when I got too close, plop! They slid back into the water.  It was fun to see how close I could get to them.  I saw some more big cranes and vultures as well.  After my couple hours, I packed up for the day and headed towards Dallas Forth Worth to see my friends, Sara and Sean.  They have a new little guy who's just about one and I haven't met yet.
The lake

You can't see them well, but there were deer at the playground :)

The reflection in the lake - the stillness of the morning

Also hard to see, but that's the outstretched neck of a turtle :)