Catching Up with the Cousin

My cousin, Todd, and I ate lunch yesterday at Ayame Curry & Ramen, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant in a shopping center. He ordered the cold noodles and gyoza, while I took the beef curry.

Our families used to live five minutes away from one another, so our moms would take us out to the beach, to restaurants, and do other kid stuff. He was, and still is, my “older brother.”

But since he moved to Vegas in 2011, the only time we saw each other was when my family went up during Christmas and/or summer. In between those times, we hardly talked to each other, except the yearly “happy birthday” text.

We talked about him possibly moving back home, but he doesn’t want to since Hawaii’s “so small,” work, and relationships.

After we walked around the shopping center eating ice cream: cotton candy for him, cookies & cream for me. When I dropped him off at his moms’, he told me, “Text me anytime. Just because I’m on the mainland doesn’t mean I’m dead.”

He was always the funny cousin.

And that’s what I miss about him. But I’m happy that he now makes an effort to come out and visit. And that we had our first grown-up outing since being adults!

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Sunflowers at Waimanalo Country Farms

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Sunflowers…

They just scream “summer” right? That’s what I love about them, and ever since I heard that they were grown on Oahu (and Maui!), it’s been my mission to see sunflowers in person.

My first attempt was with a friend during winter. Word got out that the North Shore had sunflower fields so we drove up, only to end up in the middle of a large field of dirt. Needless to say, I was sad.

But that hasn’t stopped me.

As luck would have it, Matt sent me a link to a news article about sunflowers at Waimanalo Country Farms. I didn’t know that there was a farm out there, but I should’ve, since it was the country.

We went last Sunday morning, and I was excited! Waimanalo Country Farms is located in a residential area, high above the Pacific Ocean and the busy highway. The majestic Ko’olau Mountain Range is the farm’s backdrop, and it’s gorgeous. To make it even better, the farm faces the Pacific Ocean in all of its blue glory.

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View from the farm

The parking lot was fairly full when we arrived, and when we made our way to the ticket booth there was a short line. Next to it, there were stands selling sweet corn (if you’re on Oahu, you have to try Waimanalo sweet corn–sold at farmer’s markets or out of the bed of their corn truck–it’s the town’s specialty), and lemonade and sweet tea. Across the way people were lounging at picnic tables under a large white tent. I didn’t blame them, it was H-O-T that morning.

Admission was $2 and there was the option to take the tractor trailer up to the sunflowers or walk. We decided to do the latter, which was on a short dirt path lined with avocado and kiawe wood trees. And a goat, that was tied up near the entrance.

Unfortunately, since the news about the sunflowers came out after they were at their peak, they had started to wilt. However, there were still pretty ones standing tall (literally, some were towering over their slumped neighbors). People were taking photos galore with their iPhones and cameras, scoping out the best ones to show friends and family.

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Peek-a-boo!

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I look pretty happy, right?

We stayed for an hour, taking in the sunflowers and the stunning scenery. When we were heading back to the car the ticket line was longer: everyone wanted to see the sunflowers, apparently.

I’m glad that I was able to see the sunflowers, but I still want to see what the fields are like on the North Shore. Maybe I’ll go this year. However, if I miss them again, I now know that there’s a place showcasing these happy plants closer to home.

Iowa 2017

IMG_1213Midwest sunset on a farm

Two weeks ago I came home from a week-long vacation visiting my boyfriend’s family in Iowa. The main reason we went was for his cousin’s wedding.

We flew out of Honolulu and had a five-hour layover in Portland, then a three-hour night flight to Minneapolis. All of the flying culminated with a more than three-hour drive to Evansdale, IA. (We stopped in Wisconsin for, yep, cheese. And pickled Polish sausage).

Besides the wedding and reception, here are some highlights from the trip.

Cheese Curds

IMG_1114Case of a variety of cheese curds at the Amana Colonies meat shop

These small masses of cheddar cheese are the start of the cheesemaking process. Before cheese is made into blocks they start out as curds. You can have them fresh or fried. I tried both and have to say that fried is better. They taste like marinara sticks. They are also called cheese balls.

Lightning Show

The weather was unpredictable during the day–hot, cold and windy–but there were thunderstorms. And Midwest thunderstorms are not like ones in Hawaii. There were bolts of lightning, and it was neat to drive on the freeway and see that. One night there was a lightning show in the backyard.

Amana Colonies

IMG_1119Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse

Our first adventure in Iowa was to the Amana Colonies, a German Pietist settlement in Iowa County. We only spent a few hours here, going to the Meat Shop & Smokehouse, Amana General Store (with a year-round Christmas market located inside!), Lehm Books & Gifts and Chocolate Haus.

Hansen’s Dairy

IMG_1189Decor in Hansen’s Dairy Waterloo

Our plan was to take a hands on tour of Hansen’s Dairy Farm, but we had a semi-packed schedule. The next best thing was to go to one of their storefronts in Waterloo for ice cream. We went twice during our stay! We even bought three pints of ice cream to eat at the house, but only ate one. Very creamy. Very tasty.

Downtown Ames

We needed to kill time before Reiman Gardens opened at 9am, so we walked around downtown Ames. We had an excellent chai latte at Cafe Diem and were treated to yummy chocolate–and nice customer service–at Chocolaterie Stam.

Reiman Gardens

IMG_20170621_095443Me and Elwood

Located on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Reiman Gardens was such a pretty place! There was a lot to see on 17-acres, including the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, where we came face-to-face with colorful butterflies (there are 800 of them??) and Elwood, the World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome.

My first trip to the Midwest was an experience. The quintessential farm was seen (including a pig farm!), but my time was spent in small, urban towns. It was definitely different from living in Hawaii (rush hour traffic is nonexistent in Iowa, from what I remembered, and no mountains or ocean, of course).

In fact, the trip went by slowly because there was no rush, of any kind. It seemed to me that people took it easy and that didn’t bother me one bit. Yes, we did get bored but a small town is just that, small. Not much to do. Even Des Moines was small.

However, I still had fun. I saw fireflies glint in the backyard (everyone helped collect some when it was mentioned that I had never seen them), ate a lot, and experienced a different way of living.

It was awesome.

And I now want a small collection of mason jars; they were everywhere in the clothing stores we went into, and as centerpieces at the wedding reception. They are so cute!

Vegas 2017

I didn’t get around to blogging this sooner but here is my post about my Vegas trip!

My dad and I stayed at the New York New York Hotel & Casino, our first time staying on the Strip. It was a decent hotel and central to everything. The hotel lobby was outlined with restaurants and the further you walked past the casino, the decor changed to look like New York: there was a pizza parlor, painted brownstone apartments on the walls and cobblestone pathways. The hotel has a roller coaster which starts inside the hotel, so every few minutes there was the roar of the car taking off. Upstairs was Nathan’s Hot Dogs, an arcade, the second floor of Hershey’s World (first floor was by the casino), Coyote Ugly bar and entrance to the pedestrian bridge connecting New York to MGM Grand across the street.

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One of the walkways of New York New York

We arrived Friday afternoon and took the shuttle to our hotel. After freshening up it was 6pm, and we went to explore our surroundings. But first, dinner!

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Bacon Cheeseburger and buttermilk onion rings

We ate at Broadway Burger and split the bacon cheeseburger and buttermilk onion rings. I loved the mini fryer the fries came in!

After, we went to look for the T-Mobile Arena, where the John Mayer concert was, which was located in The Park. It was a nice dining complex right outside of the hotel, with Shake Shack (need to eat there next time), Bruxie and other restaurants.

Saturday we went exploring. We went to see the flower garden at The Bellagio, ate pizza at Caesars Palace, went to a few of the Las Vegas gift shops and meandered around Hershey’s World.

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Japanese Spring was Bellagio’s theme in the flower garden

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One of three cases of sweetness at Hershey’s World

That night was the concert, and it was alright. The arena was nice and in the foyers T-Mobiles signature pink was splashed everywhere. I’m still a hardcore John Mayer fan though.

Sunday morning we ate breakfast at Denny’s, checked out Wynn and Encore, took the tram to Mandalay Bay and Luxor and relived my childhood at Excalibur and Circus Circus.

Since it was our last night I wanted to eat dinner at Giada de Laurentiis’ restaurant, who is my favorite chef. I thought that since it was Sunday that it wouldn’t be crowded.

Boy was I wrong. The next open table was at 9:30pm, so we chose to eat at the bar lounge. Upon arriving, you walk up a set of stairs to a very clean, nicely lit and organized reception area. There are items for purchase on display, including her cookbooks and shirts. In the corner is a seating area with a photo booth.

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Entrance to Giada

The dining area was equally fancy, with a panoramic view of the Strip, including the Bellagio Fountains across the street.

My dad and I split the chicken marsala meatballs and spaghetti. Both were full of flavor, especially the spaghetti, which was very lemony. It wasn’t overpowering. The shrimp was cooked well and complemented the pasta. I could’ve eaten a full order!

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Half portion of spaghetti with shrimp

After dinner we watched the Bellagio fountain show. It was good ending to our trip.

But it wasn’t over.

When we arrived at our hotel we noticed a crowd of people were waiting in front of the elevator lobby doors to Century Tower (where we were staying). The fire alarm had gone off on the 22nd floor so the elevators were shut down.

Our room was on the 37th floor.

After 30 minutes we were allowed to return to our rooms through different elevators (which didn’t make sense because each tower had their own set of elevators). But my dad and I were given conflicting information to get back to our room. We walked up stairs and took two elevators, only to come back down to the lobby. Eventually we had to be escorted by the hotel manager to our floor.

It was 11:15pm when it was over, and we needed to wake up at 5:30am to catch the airport shuttle.

After rushing to shower, I hopped into bed and awoke groggy. I didn’t want to go home.

But I had to. I had to go back to work, and vacation doesn’t last forever.

Until next time…