# utah littles, part 3

Our last full day started with a kind invitation from our friends to let Lily meet their new endangered desert tortoise, Rose.


Rose likes to eat dandelions and strawberries.


I like to eat at Herm’s, so that’s where we took them next!


With pumpkin pancakes and sandwiches around the table, there were a lot of smiles, but I especially love these smiles.


We rested a bit at home with some books before our next excursion: hiking.


Insert all of the heart-eyed emojis here.

Since Wind Caves were a little out of Lily and Linc’s league, we opted for the pretty Bonneville Shoreline Trail.


We had the place to ourselves, which was great for Linc who wanted to run and run and run and run and run.


Always making sure his Mikey Joe was right with him.


Seriously, it was the cutest.


This sign is about where I decided we should head back. *ah, look at the time..*



And poor Linc ran until he couldn’t…so he ran into Mikey Joe’s arms.



Oh, my heart!


Before our last bed time together, I had one last surprise. If you have kids in your life or are a kid yourself, you might want to check out Bean Boozled. It’s a jelly bean game that Sean told us about where you have to eat a certain color at the same time as everyone else, not knowing if it’s a real flavor or a disgusting one.



It. Was. Hilarious. In the online album, there’s a video of us eating Skunk Spray v. Licorice. It’s worth a watch.


The next day we said some tearful goodbyes. Namely Linc when Joe left for work. (I get it. I, too, look like this when Joe leaves.)


Group hug!


Having them here was definitely one of the highlights of our entire year. It’s a rare treat to have them all to ourselves and we loved every single action-packed minute. Stay tuned tomorrow for a special Friday Five recap of the trip by Lily.


# utah littles, part 2

Before they got to Utah I had asked Lily if she wanted to bake with me while she was here. She said yes and we decided on Judy Doughnuts—a family favorite.


All. The. Sprinkles.


I love being in the kitchen with her. It reminds me of SO MANY wonderful times I spent with my Aunt Pam in the kitchen.


Especially when we get to lick the bowl or try the treats first. (If ever there was a time to have matching jammies, it’s now. I want them.)


Linc dubbed them a total success, and so did Bella, who kept a vigilant watch over him.



Our big Saturday adventure was a fall festival just south of town.


There were lots of attractions to check out, but Joe quickly solidified himself as the Cool Uncle by showing Lily how to throw a Tomahawk and shoot a gun. *shake my head*




The real reason I wanted to visit was to do their huge Corn Maze with the group.



Linc was lovin’ it. This is his best Nell impression. “Tweeees in the wind…”


Childress of the Corn.


Turns out, a corn maze with a stroller isn’t too fun, so Joe and I took Lily on our own.


Annnnd we used a map this time so we weren’t aimlessly wandering around the same section.


It didn’t take us too long to find the middle.


We did it!


Wouldn’t be a proper farm visit without saying hello to my other favorite littles…the goats!


Later that day we took them up to USU to see where Joe works. They were pretty excited! I especially love the Star Wars outfits.


Lincoln and Lincoln. So meta.


We explained the importance of the A…


…mainly so Linc could be a True Aggie with me.


That night was Lily’s slumber party, so we did nails…


…she did my hair…


…she and Mikey Joe read about Star Wars…


…and Joe got bumped so she could sleep in our room, where we stayed up and giggled about boys read.


The perfect ending to a perfect day!

# utah littles, part 1

I’m catching up this week by blogging about some of my very favorite visitors yet. Joe and I had some serious quality family time when my sister brought her family out to visit last month. We were busy while they were here, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

For the full album of our adventures, click here.

Upon their arrival, we celebrated my birthday with dinner at Olive Garden (where I had lettuce in my hair) and a homemade skillet cookie cake that Lily helped me make. Baking with her is all the thumbs up.


It turned out perfectly—chewy on the outside, and warm and gooey on the inside.


Lily and Linc helped me with gifts.


And “Mikey Joe” helped with homework before they called it a night. Quite a long day for them!


The next day was our Explore Salt Lake City day! First up: the aquarium.





This is where Linc’s infatuation with his Mikey Joe burst onto the scene. Lily’s always loved him and I was loving him even more watching him with these precious babes.



Booh surprised us all with tickets to the Penguin Encounter! We were pretty excited.


We got to put on heavy coats, crocs and gloves so we wouldn’t spend the rest of our day smelling of fish.



Lots of penguin pictures in the online album. Most were molting, so they weren’t very hungry, but they sure were cute.





They really gravitated to Tim.



Molting does not look like fun.


But being around those penguins was the most fun.

Other aquarium highlights included the shark tunnel…


…and watching the otters swim and play.


My highlight was when Linc wanted to hold my hand from the stroller. There was a lot of heart melting going on during this trip.


That night we stayed in Salt Lake City for the Young House Love—my favorite former bloggers—Book Signing.


Booh had the great idea to do our family’s “intentionally-closed-eye pic” and it snagged us a spot on their site and Facebook page. We’re basically famous.


The only thing that could make the day better was snuggling with Bella when we got home. Mission accomplished.


Parts 2 and 3 coming right up!

# tulsa trip: two littles and a wedding

Last weekend, while Joe was teaching in California, I spent a whirlwind few days in Tulsa for Ica’s wedding. It was fast and furious…and my purse camera and I are no longer on speaking terms…but here’s the run-down of happenings:

I got to spend a lot of time with my favorite littles.


Linc, who wouldn’t let go of me in April, decided we would just stick to our Facetime modus operandi: waving at a distance.


Lily had a great time trying out Nonna’s old flute.




Her momma showing off her Jenks fight song skills.


My dad’s Monkey Bread Muffins. Yummm-o!


A boy and his Poppa.


Just chillin’.


Lily was taking a song and crafts camp that week, so she made me a few treasures.


I got to visit her at camp for the final sing-a-long and artwork reveal. So cute.


She wanted to make a table runner, so she drew this smiley face, copied it herself, cut them out and glued them together. I’m amazed at her creativity until I remember who her momma is. #BoohStewart


She’s a laugh-a-minute kind of niece.


While Lily was at camp I got to have some sweet one-on-one time with Linc. #thoseeyes



And watch him play with toys we played with when we were his age.


A boy and his YaYa.




We also had a special girl’s morning with the “Bees” — which is what Lily calls Pop’s B’s. hahahahaha

We met for Aunt Pam’s famous waffles — which Lily supervised, but said she wouldn’t be eating since she ate breakfast earlier that morning. That didn’t stop her from cleaning out a practically-empty Cheez Whiz jar. She cracks me up. A girl after my own heart.



My favorite waffles.


The Queen Bee herself.


Afterwards we showed Lily the beauty of the Mani-Pedi.



The difference between being 7 and being 33.


So grown up!


All hands on deck!


When I wasn’t smothering these guys with love, I was celebrating Jessica and Alex! First with the most tame, laid-back bachelorette party of all time.


Helping with tablecloths at the reception venue.


Enjoying my last Sonic run with MISS Ica. 


Taking pictures at the rehearsal dinner.



Taking pictures at the reception, before everyone arrived.






And, of course, the actual wedding, which was beautiful. So beautiful that my camera couldn’t focus on anything. And now I want to throw it away.




They were picture perfect, though. Despite my camera’s lack of cooperation!

The lovely bride and groom with their favorite kazoo player and business-card distributor.




Lovely, lovely.


A girl and her cousins.


Old friends and new husbands.



I’m happy for you, Ica! What a lovely wedding weekend!

# hawaii: part 5

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Instead of a Friday Five, today you get Part Five of our Hawaii adventure—the final installment. Whew! No one is more relieved than I am for these posts to be wrapping up…although it has been a fun way to relive the adventure.

# Day 8

As with yesterday, we continued being as flexible as possible. This was our last day, but since we were taking the red-eye flight home and had no set check-out time, we could do whatever we wanted. And what we wanted was to watch the sun rise over Haleakala. But weather forecasts the night before called for clouds and storms. So we slept in instead. See? Pretty flexible!

We were not about to give up on some kind of snorkeling. We wanted to see SOMETHING before we left, so back we went to the beach with our gear. The water was…you guessed it…too strong from the winds, so we walked the shore until we found these rocks that formed little pools of sea life, completely protected from the crashing waves.

Maui: 1, Joe & Marci: 1


Photo caption award goes to Sean for “My preeeecccciiiouussss”.

There we saw tons of fish, crabs, sea urchins, sea anemone and several eels, including this guy who kept popping out to say hi to Joe.

See him on the bottom?


We were out there for quite a while, but it was the perfect way to experience some ocean life and–the best part–we didn’t even have to get that wet!


Our little secluded spot offered some more gorgeous views of where we had spent our beach time the last two days.



After cleaning and packing up as much as possible, we took off for the middle area of Maui—a section we hadn’t yet explored. First up was lunch at the Hali’imaile General Store, another recommendation from Nat and Nicoleen.


Among other things, we split these brie and grape quesadillas that came with a cilantro and macadamia nut pesto and sweet pea guacamole. So. freakin’. good.


I also tried to cram in as much local pineapple into my last day as possible. Cue: Pineapple lemonade.


It was drizzling by midday, but that didn’t deter us from driving up (over 4000 feet!) to see the Ali’I Kula Lavender Farm.


See that fog? You’re supposed to be able to see the ocean!


Joe wasn’t really up for walking around in the rain, but I was. This place was breathtaking and the smell! Let’s just say I felt like I had been hit by a lavender tranquilizer gun…in the best way possible.


The lavender was lovely, of course, and covering just about every square inch of the farm.


Funny little blooms.



But there were also sprawling gardens of so much more. Like the most colorful succulents…




These were stunning.


There were also trees with these white bulbs all over them.


I had no idea what they were until I saw this one blooming. Fascinating! What is this and how can I have them all over my yard?!


It was just a magical place. I could have spent a lot of time here. Not to mention…their shop sells lavender tea, hot lavender scones and lavender brownies.





Go here. Rain or shine. Take a guided tour or just walk alone in the gardens. It’s worth it.

Now that we’re nearing the end of these posts, I bet you could guess the last thing I wanted to do before leaving for the airport.

If you said anything other than shave ice, you should start over with Part 1 again.


For our last time, I had Li Hing (duh), Passion Fruit and Blue Hawaii. And they even had Li Hing powder to sprinkle over the top!


Joe had Cola, Lime, and Mango. And we totally learned our lesson and got the micro size. #muchbetter


Do you see how the ice is like butter? The power of Ululani’s!


The sweetest way to end the sweetest of trips.

That night, we stood outside our gate at the airport and watched the sun set. It wasn’t as amazing as our first Maui sunset, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up. This trip brought us so many smiles and laughs—something we needed after a handful of hard, emotionally-heavy months. It was a wonderful escape and the perfect way to celebrate our decade of togetherness. We didn’t want to leave. But, who ever does?



Mahalo, Hawaii.

And a big mahalo to you for reading the last five posts and for looking at a gazillion photos. Hawaii Trip 2015 is officially in the bag!

Hawaii_The End

# hawaii: part 4

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# Day 6

Everyone needs a recovery day on vacation. A break from the running around, the lines, the cameras around the neck… no one wants to come back after a trip more exhausted than when they left. So, today was our vacation sabbath and it was good.

Among getting some rest, leisurely exploring our part of the island (Kihei) and trying our best to fit in with the laid-back locals, here are the rest of the day’s highlights:

We drove up to Lahaina and Kaanapali, which are the uber-touristy parts of Maui. They are home to many resorts, one being the Kaanapali Beach Hotel where our friends Nat and Nicoleen stayed this time last year. They highly recommended we check out Leilani’s On the Beach, one of the many restaurants on its property.


It’s 5-o’clock somewhere, amiright?


I think Joe picked this strawberry ginger daiquiri for its name: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

“Hard to say, easy to drink.”

The highlight of this meal, Nat and Nicoleen warned us, was going to be the Hula Pie. Everywhere you go, menus would say this island favorite was the reason sailors would swim to shore.


It’s so simple, yet so unbelievably good.


Oreo crust + Macadamia Nut Ice Cream + Hot Fudge + Toasted Macadamia Nuts + Whipped Cream



To walk off all of that deliciousness, there’s a trail next to the restaurant with a front row seat to Kaanapali Beach, which is stunning.


Because only I would suggest a second dessert after Hula Pie, we found Maui’s famed Shave Ice establishment on our way back: Ululani’s.


While Matsumoto’s on Oahu is known for their traditional flavors, Ululani’s is known for its gourmet approach.



The line was looooong, but—as always—worth the wait.


We went with the regular size, thinking “micro size must be for the little kids, right?” Um, hellllo….


I had their Local Motion: Li Hing (!), Mango, and Pineapple. You remember Li Hing, right?


Sweet and salty syrup? Smiles all around.


Joe opted for a richer concoction of Root Beer, Cola, and Coffee with a “snowcap” of sweetened condensed milk.



The perfect bite:


It took us 15 minutes to finish, but we both agreed that Ululani’s shave ice is superior to Matsumoto’s. …That could have also been the sugar talking. This is also the sugar talking:


After we emerged from our food coma later that day, we took the beach gear from our condo and walked across the street to Kihei’s gorgeous stretch of sand.


We put down the camera and played in the ocean for a looooong time, boogy-boarding and swimming together. It was so much fun and, honestly, one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. I did manage to nab these two shots before we called it a day…the first one being another favorite image. I could look at it all day.



# Day 7

Today had us up bright and early (again) for our all-day snorkeling adventure. We had booked the day with Trilogy Excursions, rated #1 on Trip Advisor…for a reason.


It was windy when we boarded, but what else was new? It had been crazy windy since we got there.  We found a good spot near the back of the boat and settled in for the ride.{Don’t mind the sunscreen smears on my lens.}


Now I want a catamaran.


About an hour out, our captain started radioing other boats further out to check conditions. Everyone was in agreement: the wind, and therefore the swells, was just too strong. It would’ve been beyond dangerous to dump us in the water. Everyone was turning back for Maui, but our captain said he’d give us a tour of South Maui and take us out to see Molokini—the snorkeling hotspot—anyway.

Here’s our first look at Molokini.


We were disappointed for sure…


…but we got a free three-hour catamaran ride around Maui and it was awesome. Plus, Trilogy fully refunded or rebooked every single person on the boat. Impeccable customer service. We can’t recommend them enough!


Since we suddenly had a few hours in the day we weren’t planning on, we decided to try out other beaches to see if we could snorkel on our own, but the waves were still too dangerous, so we just played  and relaxed near the shore.


Not exactly the way the day was supposed to play out, but we made the most of it. Nothing a little bottle of pineapple wine couldn’t fix.


# hawaii: part 3

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The Road to Hana.

Infamous for its curves, tiny bridges and lack of visibility, this glorified one-point-five-lane highway takes you into the depths of paradise. Even though the road is well-worn, you feel as though you are venturing into unchartered territory.

You also feel crazy, because who in their right mind would crawl into a car and subject themselves to this, which is just a portion…a mere fraction…of what you endure?

hana map

Answer: Everyone who visits Maui.

There are hundreds of sites and blogs that will tell you everything (and then some) about the Road to Hana. If you want to see everything, make it a two-day trek and spend the night in Hana. If you’re attempting to do it in a day, pare down your stops to something manageable. We did 6-7 stops and it felt like the right amount for us, albeit pushing it. Our entire round-trip adventure took 11 hours—and that was during the slow season with less people and, more importantly, less traffic. Plan. Ahead.

I was on the fence about whether to even attempt this after hearing nothing but horror stories from our friends. Yes, it’s a slightly-dangerous, exhausting drive, but you will see things you cannot see anywhere else on the island. It’s totally worth it. Here are a few things that made it easier:

* Start early. We left at 7:30am to beat any midday traffic.

* Make the drive early in your trip. Don’t wait until you’re sunburned and exhausted from playing on the beach. We did it our first full day on Maui.

* Have a full tank of gas. There’s no place to get fuel until you get to Hana, so fill ‘er up completely before leaving Paia.

* If you have a tendency to get car-sick, eat a light carb-heavy breakfast (no acid, no dairy), pop a Dramamine and don these sexy Sea Bands. I didn’t have one issue the entire ride.


Annnd after wearing it for over 11 hours straight:


* Plan out your stops in advance so you aren’t twisting and turning your way back to town in the dark.

Here are the stops that made our short list:

# MM 10.5 – The Garden of Eden

At $15 a person, it’s hard to imagine that this is really a worthwhile stop when most of the other sights are free, but this is one of the best places we explored. The family-run botanical garden is home to over 500 of Hawaii’s stunning indigenous specimens. And it’s a great place to stretch your legs. They have several walking trails (or you can drive through) that reveal so many interesting flowers, plants, incredible ocean views, and even a secret waterfall.












A little perspective on how huge these bamboo stalks are…







# MM 17 – Keanae Peninsula

This is a good stop if you’re anxious to get off the main road, sit by the ocean and enjoy taro beds and lava rock. It’s gorgeous. Every sign and person will tell you not to swim here because it’s so dangerous, but we watched a guy and his two dogs go crazy jumping off the rocks.




# MM 18 – Halfway to Hana

Even though you’ll only be back on the road for another mile, this place is worth the stop if only to grab a mini loaf of their famous banana bread—a recipe they’ve been whipping up for tourists since 1983. I like my recipe better, but it was still delicious and hit the spot.




# MM 22.8 – Puaa Kaa Waterfalls

There are so many waterfalls along the way, but few that have off-road parking so take advantage of this stop. The 20-foot waterfall is gorgeous and also provides easy-access swimming holes….for those that like to be soaked on an all-day car ride. (Not me.)



On our way back to the car we also spotted a slew of adorable cats and I managed to catch one mongoose for a pic. These guys are all over the islands and this was the first (and only) opportunity I had to capture one before it scampered off.



# MM 32.2 – Waianapanapa State Park

If ever there was a place to stop on the Road to Hana, this is it. This family-run park offers mind-blowing views, blowholes, lava tubes and…the best part…black sand beaches.



The pebbles at the back of the beach are quite big and then they get finer and finer, until ultimately you have sand where the water has constantly ebbed and flowed over the rocks.



It was pretty awesome to see and plenty of people were swimming. Doesn’t it look like water on asphalt?





The entire park was gorgeous.



We even climbed through a narrow lava tube.


Once you’re on the beach, over to the left is a trailhead leading you across the shoreline. One of my guidebooks likened it to “Alice in Wonderland in Hawaii.” That pretty much sold it for me.


It offered a pretty amazing view back to the beach.



And you got a good look at what these volcanic rocks looked like before the ocean pummeled them for years and years and years.


# MM 36 – Hana!

We actually didn’t stop in Hana, but there are nice places to catch a meal and a bathroom break along the highway.

# MM 45 — Wailua Falls

This magnificent 113-foot waterfall is right next to the road. It was gorgeous, but becomes a bit of a traffic nightmare as people try to just pull over on the bridge to snap a picture instead of parking in the designated lot *after* the bridge.




# MM 42 – Oheo Gulch and Pipiwai Trail

The mile markers stop at 50 and start reversing afterwards, so this evens out to a little over 9 miles after you leave Hana’s limits. Honestly, I hated these nine miles more than the rest of the previous miles combined. It was very rough going, but soon you’ll come to Oheo Gulch also known as the Seven Sacred Pools. There is a $10 park fee, but as my aunt says…”Pay the man!” This is one of the best places you’ll see on the island.


Oh, how I wanted to slip into these cool waters!


They run straight out into the ocean!


North of the pools is the Pipiwai Trail, lauded as one of the best hikes in Maui. It’s four miles round trip and takes you through swarms of mango trees, a bamboo forest and ends at the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. We didn’t make it the entire way (exhaustion + bugs + wanting to see the pools), but it was definitely worth the 45 minutes we put into it.




The bamboo forest was epic. These shady stalks were so cold to the touch that I actually rested my head against one for a few minutes to cool down. (Cue Joe acting like he doesn’t know me.)




Although we didn’t make it to the top waterfall, we still had plenty to swoon over along the way.


One mile past the pools is a small church and the grave site of Charles Lindberg. We didn’t make it there due to said exhaustion, but overall this is a good place to turn around and head back. If you’re in a rental car, chances are your contract won’t let you finish the loop because there are several miles of unpaved (hideous) roads that require at least a Jeep if you’re wanting to have all of your teeth when you return to the States.

The pools/trail has a really nice park area to rest and clean bathrooms, so that’s all we needed before piling back into the car to make the 3.5 trip home.

If I could do it again: I’d spend less time stopping at the smaller, random waterfalls like these…


…and spend more time at the sacred pools and hiking to see the big one. I was sad we didn’t have more time there, or that I couldn’t just submerge my sweaty self in those chilly waters after the hike, but we had reached our max by that point and you have to save something for that ride back or you’ll go crazy.

That’s it! We did it; we survived the Road to Hana! (And now you did too!)

# hawaii: part 2

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# Day 3

Two of the best meals we had on the entire trip happened on this decadent day. Hitting up blogs, pinterest and Instagram to find culinary gems is how I roll and at some point in my research I kept seeing mentions of Koko Head Café.

Famous for their homemade dumplings and cornflake french toast, it’s lauded as Honolulu’s hottest brunch spot among locals and tourists alike. One look at its menu and you’ll see why.



Joe’s heart lies in horns, drum corps, me, Bella and…french toast, so he couldn’t really pass up their claim-to-fame, especially when it comes with billionaire’s bacon, creamy black pepper maple syrup, and frosted flake gelato.



I, lover of everything BUT french toast, went with their version of coffee and doughnuts: cinnamon-sesame cake doughnuts with Kona coffee creme anglaise.


Oh, and a scrambled egg…because….you know….balance.


The meal, not surprisingly, was out of this world. We were even planning on going back the next morning so we could try more things, but that didn’t end up happening. (You’ll see why in a minute.) For anyone hitting up Oahu, this place is a must. It’s small, so get there early (with quarters in hand for parking) and get ready for the brunch of your life.


With full stomachs we found heavy hearts at Pearl Harbor. Man, what a place.


Somber City.



Massive anchor raised from the sunken USS Arizona.


Sobering details about the ships whose names I call home, Oklahoma and Utah.


The museum is very well done, albeit packed with people constantly. These were some of my most-touching finds:

The night before the attack, there was a “Battle of Music” between each ship’s bands. The USS Arizona had previously won the November battle, but USS Pennsylvania won that night. The next day, every member of the USS Arizona band perished in the attack.


The first draft of FDR’s unforgettable speech following the attack, including his famous switch to the word “infamy.” (Crooked picture alert!)



A USS Arizona officer’s clock that stopped right at the moment of its bombing.


50 years after the bombing, this torpedo was recovered near where the USS Oklahoma was moored. It was almost fully intact, its warhead still armed. It was transported to sea for detonation and this section was recovered.



Spellcheck…it’s not just for your school papers.


When I was in Hawaii over 20 years ago, the waters were too choppy to see the USS Arizona memorial, so making the voyage to its final resting place was very moving. Especially since it was closed soon after our visit.

A little travel tip: Tickets to visit the USS Arizona are free on a first-come, first-served basis each morning starting at 7:00am. There are only 1,300 tickets each day and during peak season lines start to form around 5:00am. But! For a minimal price ($1.50 per ticket, I believe) you can book them online one day in advance (also starting at 7:00am) and choose a tour time that’s best for you. I highly recommend you go that route and save yourself some serious line time. Click here for more information.






Its wreckage is still leaking oil after all these years. I think this is one of my most favorite pictures from the trip. Hauntingly beautiful.  I can’t stop staring at it. It might have to go on a wall.


The USS Arizona is a national cemetery and any of its crew members that survived that day can choose to have their remains returned to the ship via one of its gun turrets. If this doesn’t give you chills, please check your pulse.





So many people, hardly a word spoken.


Right as we got back to land it started to drizzle, so we ate lunch in the car and waited for it to quickly breeze over so we could check out the Pali Lookout.


It would have been great to see this in all of Hawaii’s sunshiny glory, but the clouds were mystical in their own way.


And recent rains make pretty flower shots.


Hawaii is teeming with wild chickens. They are everywhere and love to strut their stuff. Like this guy…


…who showed me some of his yoga skills.


On our way home we were lamenting that the next day would be our last on Oahu, so to stifle the sadness we fed it more malasadas from Leonard’s. Can’t stop, won’t stop.


More Li Hing! More Li Hing!


Just call us Sugar Lips and Sweet Lips.


That afternoon the sun finally came out and it was the perfect time to make use of our condo’s proximity to one of Hawaii’s most famed landmarks.

I give you…a very empty….Waikiki Beach. (Off-season for the win!)


Couple’s Swim!


Another one of my favorite pics from the trip…a non-posed, totally serendipitous capture of our pure joy….laughing over the fact he called me Baby Moses before pushing me out to sea. I needed this joy so bad. #hardspring


We had a great time in these crystal clear waters, but I won’t subject you to the hundreds of photos I took of us in them.



An epic swim deserves an epic meal, and that’s exactly what we got that night when we celebrated our anniversary with an exquisite dinner at JJ’s restaurant, Bali Steak and Seafood.



Okay, here’s where the apologies start rolling in like crazy. This meal was one of the absolute best of my lifetime, so I of course wanted to document it. But the restaurant is very dark and I didn’t want to be that girl sitting in the nice steakhouse taking pictures of food with the camera’s flash. So…this is the best I could do, which doesn’t even come close to doing the food or the atmosphere justice. Just…work with me here. I’msorryI’msorryI’msorryI’msorry!

Woodcut menus…faaancy.


We started with specialty cocktails: Bali Mai Tai and Mango Ginger Beer Soda.


We ordered our entrees, but JJ wanted us to have a full experience of his menu, so he surprised us with a few dishes. This one, this bite, just about blew my mind.


It was a dollop of fresh burrata cheese, homegrown parsley and tomato, crisp and a sprinkling of the most decadent sea salt. Seriously I’ve never been more in love with salt than I was with this dish.

Next was his tomato and green papaya soup (vegan!) with macadamia nut relish. Amazingly robust for being vegan. His secret? Olive oil. He told me “if you’re making a sauce and something tastes off, you probably need to add olive oil.”


For dinner Joe ordered the 12 oz. filet mignon with smoked-salt gorgonzola butter…


…and I had seared tofu with sweet and spicy eggplant, big island honey, hamakua mushrooms, black beans, maui onions, and house pickled okra.


Guys…… Guys. If the staff at this place didn’t already know we were friends with the chef, I would have put my face down on this plate and unabashedly licked up every last bit. I was enamored with it. Best tofu dish. Ever.

JJ also bombarded us (in the best way possible) with a sampling (read: full plate) of these sides: yukon gold potato puree; grilled asparagus with béarnaise; brussels sprouts with macadamia nuts, raisins and apple cider vinaigrette; and, my absolute favorite thing, broiled local tomatoes with a 20-year balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Again, the salt.  I wish I had better photos for you guys…



I have had a lot of good meals in my life, but this one….this one…was beyond incredible. JJ joined us off and on throughout the meal , where he told us about how he makes his signature salts and how he comes up with his dishes. I was in heaven.

To finish, Joe had a tropical fruit cobbler…


…and I had a coconut cheesecake with blueberry and local honey compote.


And now you know why we didn’t go to Koko Head Café the next morning. JJ, you’re amazing. You make me want to go to culinary school and move to Hawaii. And eat salt. I can think of no higher compliment. You gave us the most perfect anniversary celebration that we’ll never forget.

# Day 4

Our actual anniversary!


If there was ever a time to take it easy, it was today after yesterday’s food-fest. We spent the morning walking Waikiki Beach and enjoying the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s saucy parrots.





We also spent time packing up our stuff and saying goodbye to our condo, which had this incredible view bee-tee-dubs.


37th floor, huge windows that opened up to Waikiki Beach. Hubba, hubba. (Forego the often-overpriced resorts and find awesome places like this on VRBO.com or HomeAway.com.)

Then we were off to Maui.  Once we got there, got our car and made it to our condo, we were nearing sunset time. Luckily our condo’s owners left us a binder of information including where to go for their favorite sunset views—just cross the street!


And it didn’t disappoint…





We were literally sitting on this cliff with front-row seats to the show.  The sun was hiding behind some low clouds, but we were patient and then out it finally came.





On that note…parts 3-5, coming as soon as possible! (Click here for Part 1.)

# hawaii: part 1

Blog Header - Part1

It’s time to recap our recent jaunt to paradise! Because I take (multiple) pictures of everything, I’m breaking it down into five easy-to-digest posts. Not only will I bombard you with photos, but also will share with you all the nitty gritty. Bloggers were a big part of our travel planning, so my hope is that someday one of you or someone new will come to these posts for inspiration. Plus, it’s a good way for me to cull through my travel journal and bring you the highlights. Here we go!

Fair Warning: Put up your feet; this is the longest of the five posts (I hope).

# Day 0.5

We left Utah in the afternoon, allowing us to sleep in and finish packing and kissing our dog before we had to leave for the airport. “It already looks like Maui; why are we even leaving?” Well, kinda.


Flights = smooth. Arrived in Hawaii around 6pm, picked up our car and headed to our place on Waikiki Beach.  All smiles from here on out.

# Day 1

Jet lag is a beast that can only be conquered by rolling with it. Cue us waking up at 5am, just in time to watch the sun rise. Our friend told us to use our time confusion to our advantage and hike Diamond Head Crater early before it’s hot and before we’re too tired to consider it later in the trip.

So that’s what we did.


Even though we started the hike around 7:30am, there were still plenty of people joining us.


The hike itself was not hard, but the path was rocky and the stairs plentiful.





There was also a dark tunnel portion that had me feeling a little trapped and short of breath. But…all terrors aside…it was totally and absolutely worth it when you get to the top.







The hike took us an hour round-trip—tops—but we were still looking for replenishment after. Judging by my Google Map, Hawaii’s famous stop for Malasadas was on our way back to our condo. It was an easy decision.

Welcome to Leonard’s Bakery.


Malasadas are Portuguese doughnuts made with a yeast dough and typically rolled in sugar. Leonard’s are the best on the island and we were totally smitten as soon as we walked in. The smell was heavenly. All doughnuts are made to order and served piping hot.

We ordered six: 2 regulars (sugar only), 1 cinnamon sugar, 1 Li Hing, 1 custard-filled, 1 coconut-filled.




We ate one each right away while they were warm. Unbelievably good, especially the ring of sugar left around your lips when you’ve finished. It’s a sure sign of a good meal.




Li Hing was labeled as the “local favorite,” so I went with that. It’s a sweet-and-salty powder made from plums that Hawaiians put on everything. I could not get enough of this stuff. I think I’ll order some online and make my own doughnuts.


After returning home for showers we headed back out for more fun and deliciousness. First stop: The Dole Plantation.


I joked on Instagram that this place was like Oz…the most vibrant color everywhere you looked. And I wasn’t lying.



Everything was lush and blooming and all over the place. I loved these pink pineapples the most.




Of course you can’t come to the Dole Plantation without getting a Dole Whip or Dole Float. You haven’t tasted pineapple until you’ve been to Hawaii.


Joe’s friend from his drum corps days, JJ, lives in Hawaii and is Chef de Cuisine at Oahu’s premier steak house. I’ll write more about JJ in the next post, but here’s a quick read on his incredible rise to culinary fame.

JJ joined us at Dole and then took us around his favorite spots on the North Shore.


The North Shore is gorgeous, filled with fantastic beaches with shallow waters for perfect snorkeling.




We even walked out to some of those pools.


He also took us up to North Shore’s famous resort, Turtle Bay, to walk out on their lava rocks.



We saw lots of crabs—both dead and alive—and JJ even found a shallow pool filled with sea salt. The real deal.



We said goodbye (for now) to JJ at the resort and stopped at Laniakea Beach, which is known for its turtles. Judging by the amount of cars on the side of the road and people clustered on the beach, I knew we were going to see something.  Sure enough, about 20 huge sea turtles were swimming in shallow waters.

Mostly you saw their backs when the waves died down…


…and if you were lucky you’d see a head pop up for the briefest of seconds…


…and if you were really lucky one would wash up near you and start eating the algae.




Insert all of the exclamation points!!!!!!

Though he quickly got back in the water, Joe and I agree that seeing him so closely was one of the highlights of the entire trip.


We drove through the old village of Haleiwa on our way back to Honolulu.


It’s the home of another Hawaiian favorite: Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.


Clearly we weren’t the only ones with this idea…


After being in the sun all day, there is no place you’d rather hand over your Benjamins than to a business that only sells ice and sugar. Okay, maybe not Benjamins, but Washingtons.


Oh the happiness of these campers.


Joe’s three flavors were Vanilla, Strawberry Cream and Coconut Cream, while I went for the traditional “Rainbow” of Strawberry, Lemon and Pineapple.


It was perfection. This was the first of many shave-ice stops.


# Day 2

We packed most of our adventures into our time on Oahu so that our time on Maui would be as relaxed as its locals. Day two was no exception.

We hit the ground running by heading north to Kualoa Ranch.



The ranch’s fame comes from the array of TV shows and films that have called its rolling hills home, like Jurassic Park, Lost, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, Windtalkers, Godzilla, Mighty Joe Young – the list goes on and on.

We made earlier reservations for a one-hour ATV ride. (Spots fill up!) We had never been on ATVs before, but it was SO. MUCH. FUN. I didn’t want to get off…so if you’re looking into this, get the two-hour tour.


The first stop was to a Jurassic Park site where part of the tree remains that acted as shelter during the first movie’s stampede. You can watch the scene here.


Our guide knew what was up and pulled this dinosaur out of her pocket to take our pic. Ha!


I can think of no other place quite as picturesque as this.


We also stopped at Hurley’s Golf Course from Lost.


Visiting a Lost location felt like coming full circle to us: we watched the show religiously while we were dating; watched the series finale on our honeymoon and here we are five years later! We love us some Lost.


From the course we could also see a few Godzilla footprints.


Overall, this was one of my favorite hours of the trip. Highly recommend the Ranch to anyone who loves movies, TV or places that are drop-dead gorgeous.


Near the ranch (like, very near) is the Byodo-In Temple.


It was incredible—so peaceful and serene.



With its ornate architecture and black swans, it’s a popular stop, but well worth it. Before entering the temple, ring the sacred bell.


It is believed that its unique tones clear the mind of negativity, imparts deep peace and brings happiness, blessings and a long life.


Then, slip off your shoes and step in to see this magnificent Buddha.


Another Lost connection: This was the site of Sun’s father’s house.


Definitely a worthwhile stop for any hurried traveler.


We spent the afternoon at Kailua Beach Park, famous for its clear waters. I’d say so!


The things we wear to protect our skin!


We spent that night walking around Waikiki Beach and tasting the “flavor of aloha” at Lappert’s Ice Cream.


I had Kauai Pie: Kona Coffee ice cream with coconut flakes, dark chocolate fudge, macadamia nuts and vanilla cake crunch. Joe got Heavenly Hana (Dark Chocolate ice cream with marshmallow swirl, chocolate covered roasted almonds, white chocolate macadamia nuts and sea salt) and NeNe Tracks (Vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered honey roasted almonds, cashews and peanuts, mini peanut butter cups, dark chocolate fudge and salted caramel).

Aloha indeed.

Stay tuned for Parts 2-5!

Travel Tip: Creating a Custom Google Map

Man, oh man, am I excited to tell you about Hawaii. We spent a blissful 10 days together in paradise and as soon as I get all of my photos and videos off of F-O-U-R different devices, I’ll start sharing all of the details. Until then, here’s a peek at what you missed if you aren’t on Instagram.


I feel like after moving and shaking for 10 years together, Joe and I have traveling down. We know what works best for us, how to expertly pack and, more importantly, how to plan. We count on each other’s strengths for sure. I can’t stand browsing a million sites looking for flights and places to stay, but Joe does. So he takes over that and I plan what we do and where we eat each day. It’s a win-win for us. I feel like I could write an entire series of posts with our travel tips, but this is the best place to start. It’s something we do for every big adventure we take.

We create a custom Google map.


I first made one for our out-of-town wedding guests (i.e. everyone) so they knew where everything was being held, where to spend their free time and our favorite places to eat. It was a hit. I’ve since done it for trips to California and D.C. I’ll walk you through how to make your own in a minute, but here’s why they are so invaluable to us:

  • Everything is at your fingertips. When we starting planning for Hawaii I reached out to every friend who had visited in the last five years for all of their recommendations and tips. Then I scoured Instagram hashtags, blogs and Pinterest to find even more information. By the time I was finished, there was a lot to sort through. This map allowed me to put everything in one, easy-to-access place. You’ll see in a minute, but you can include their notes for each place, as well as any pertinent information in the entry details which you can access via phone, tablet or laptop at any time. We don’t visit every place we pin, but it’s nice to know what’s close and available.
  • Seeing every place mapped out makes your day planning a lot easier. You can quickly see what’s close to what, so days are based on location to maximize your time.
  • It’s a great way to remember everything you did, ate and saw. I save my custom maps and add notes to the listings post-travel.
  • With one click you can share with any family or friends making the trip later. They’ll thank you and you’ll feel awesome.

Have I sold you yet?

Here’s how it’s done:


1. Create a map by clicking HERE. (You’ll need a google account to access.)

2. Click on “Untitled” in the top left corner and name your map. If you’re traveling to different locations on one trip, you can add layers just under that map name for each destination. It will all be saved under one map, but it will be easier to find your pinned entries. Our map is titled “Hawaii – May 2015” and our layers are “Oahu” and “Maui.”

Here’s our Oahu layer:


Here’s our Maui layer:


3. Using the standard search bar at the top, start typing in places you want to list on your map.


Chances are you’ll see it in the populated drop-down menu and can click on it. Once you do that, a pin will appear on the map where you can click “Add to Map.” Then click and drag to the appropriate layer.



4. For each entry you can click on the edit button to add comments or any other details. The great part is that it will already include the address, phone and website (most of the time).


In these fields I copied in every note or suggestion from a friend, or anything I found online. If restaurants are famous for a special dish or dessert, make sure you add that! If an attraction only takes cash, add that. It’s so comforting to know that everything is all together and you don’t have to remember a thing. This is especially helpful if you’re like me and get “vacation brain” as soon as you step on the plane. By that point I’m not interested in thinking too hard.

5. Once you add your locations (airports, hotels/condos, restaurants, attractions, etc.) you can adjust your pins to be different colors or different icons by hovering over each entry and clicking the icon to its right. You can see I customized the icons for the Oahu map, but left the Maui ones standard. Whatever floats your boat.


6. Other options we haven’t explored yet include adding photos to each entry and creating walking/driving routes (the third icon under the search bar). You could easily go crazy with this if you wanted to.

7. When finished, share the map by clicking on the “Share” button beneath the map name. You can share with family members while you’re away, people you’re traveling with, or use the link to send to others going to the same place down the line. Your maps will always be saved in your Google account under “Drive” / “My Maps.”

Joe and I had this map up on both of our phones, as well as our iPad, constantly throughout the trip. My favorite features are: navigating straight to a place from your current location with one click, and adding details for each place after we visit, like who recommended it and what we ate/did.


These maps have been a total lifesaver for us, and after staring at this non-stop for the last few weeks, I was eager to share it with you. What makes your travel easier? In other news: I miss Hawaii.