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THE Wedding

Fruita, Colorado – September 30, 2017

On Friday, September 22, at 16:00, the taxi picked up Leslie and me to take us to the Wellington International Airport.  After a one-hour flight to Auckland; waiting at the Auckland International Airport; and an 11-hour flight to Los Angles; we arrived on Friday, September 22, at 15:00.  That was thanks to Mr. International Dateline.  Who says time travel is not possible?!

The 11-hour flight on Air New Zealand was long, but enjoyable.  The crew on the plane took such great care of us.  Leslie and I both agree that Air New Zealand is our favorite airline on this planet.

Our next flight was from LAX to DEN.  We arrived at gate B20.  Our connection to Grand Junction departed from gate B86.  That was nearly a ¾ mile hike.  Luckily Leslie had a wheelchair.  It was all I could do to keep up.

We finally arrived in Grand Junction at about 23:30. We grabbed our luggage, found the vehicle in the parking lot, and drove to Fruita.  Our total travel time, door to door, was 26 hours.  If we had not been able to sleep on the 11-hour flight, I am not sure in what shape we would have been.

The remainder of the week, leading up to THE wedding, seemed to go quite slow.  That was just fine.  There seemed to be a lot of things to handle at the last minute.

Friday evening, we all met at the church for the rehearsal.  Father Mike Smith presided over the run-throughs of the wedding.  As a family, we met Father Mike about four years ago.  Leslie, Hillary, Tyler, and I attended mass at the old location of Sacred Heart Church in Fruita, Colorado.  This happened during one of our R&R trips from Georgetown, Guyana.  After mass, but before the dismissal, we were one of the visitors that introduced ourselves.  Once dismissed, Father Mike approached us and asked to take a photo with our family.  That photo stayed on the altar for months after we left.  We are all very pleased that Father Mike took such a liking to our family.  That is the reason Hillary wanted Father Mike to preside at her wedding with Shane.  Even though retired, Father Mike graciously agreed to Hillary’s wishes.

The groom’s parents, Shane and Patti, hosted the rehearsal dinner at Belli Fiori Lavender Farm in Grand Junction.  What an amazing venue.  The owners made several types of mixed drinks using vodka they distilled.  Leslie and I opted for the Hail Caesar.  It was essentially a Bloody Mary, but it was the best we ever had.  The next time we are in Grand Junction, I want to stop by the Farm during regular business hours.  It is a very unique business.

The dinner was outdoors.  It was a little cool that evening, but thanks to some fleece blankets and outdoor gas heaters, it was quite comfortable.

On the day of THE wedding, the heavens opened about two hours prior to the ceremony.  It was an absolute downpour.  Thankfully, shortly before THE wedding, the rain ceased.  That ultimately allowed a smiling bride and an emotional father to walk down the aisle.

Hillary was ready to walk down the aisle…dad…not so much…(I did not take this photo).

Hillary wore a princess gown with a fitted bodice, a full Tule skirt, longer in the back which created the train.  The dress had some bling at the waist and in the bodice.  Please understand that even though I periodically watch Say Yes to the Dress with Leslie, none of previous words came out of my mind.  Leslie tutored me on what to write because I know some readers will be interested in those details.

THE dress for THE wedding.

When it was time for the wedding vows, it was apparent just how much Hillary and Shane meant to each other.  In addition to the traditional vows, repeated after prompting by Father Mike, Hillary and Shane each recited their own vows.  Both sets of vows were inspiring.

Recording the personal vows of Hillary and Shane. (I did not take this photo).

Hillary and Shane departed the church in an old Ford hot rod.  Shane drove the beautiful machine to the reception at the Redlands Community Center.  Upon arrival, that full Tule skirt of Hillary’s seemed to explode from the hot rod when the car door opened.  When she stood up beside the car, the roofline was roughly even with her waist.

The hot rod arriving at the reception with the bride and groom.

Colorado Q catered the Mexican meal at the reception.  The owner, Steve Preuss, was the utmost professional.  The meal was extremely well done.

After several toasts to the bride and groom, and cutting the wedding cake; the bride and groom enjoyed their first dance as husband and wife.

The first dance of wife and husband.

Even though our normal bedtime is much closer to 20:00, Leslie and I were able to make it to nearly 23:30 before we collapsed at home.

The remainder of the week passed with birthday preparations for Hillary and Tyler.  That second week seemed to pass so much more quickly than the first.

On Friday, we departed the house in Fruita at about 07:00.  Little did we know we were facing a 32-hour journey to get back to our home in New Zealand.

Our first flight from Grand Junction to Denver was late due to a ground hold.  Fog at the Denver airport impacted all scheduled flights due to fog.  Luckily, we had plenty of time until our connecting flight departed, so the delay did not impact us.  We boarded and departed after waiting about 30 minutes.  The view of the aspens changing colors was superb.  Unfortunately, my cell phone did not capture the best photos.

Fall Color II

Once in Denver, we had a familiar walk of ¾ of a mile to get to the gate for our flight to Houston.  United Airlines was our carrier at this point.  We had flown United at the beginning of our trip from LAX to Denver.  On that flight, we had a light meal.  Based on that experience, I assumed receiving a light meal between Denver and Houston was a no-brainer.  I was wrong.  Our light meal was a bag of chips and a glass of wine.  That was in first class, not economy.

Arriving in Houston, the woman helping Leslie with the wheelchair had absolutely no idea where the United lounge was located.  After several other people trying to help us, we finally made it to the lounge.  As you read these next comments, please understand I am not trying to be snobbish.  I really do not fly business or first class very often at all.  The United lounge was an absolute shocker.  The buffet offered was cheese, crackers, and a bowl of soup.  Additionally, one had to pay for some beers and wines.  That is all completely contrary to Air New Zealand.  Did I mention Air New Zealand is our favorite airline on this planet?

Our next flight to Auckland was on Air New Zealand.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that we faced a 13+ hour flight.  That is a very long time to be on an airplane.  Luckily, we were both able to sleep a little on that flight.

In Auckland, we grabbed some coffee and waited for our final flight to Wellington.  For our Kiwi friends, I must mention Winston Peters boarded our flight.  He did smile and nod at me when I said hello as he passed.  I am sure he was on his way to Parliament to negotiate forming a new government after the recent New Zealand elections.

About an hour and one-half later, we were finally at home.

Fall Color I
Great times with great friends…even though I did not do so well with the selfie.
Brother and sister dancing.
And the winner is…
Tossing the bouquet toward the single women at the reception.
Eating the wedding cake.
Eating the wedding cake.
Shane and Hillary cutting the cake.
Speech I
Speech II
Speech III
Speech IV
Speech V
The wedding cupcakes and cake.
The departure hot rod.
Momma Bear and the C.S. at breakfast.
Dad and the bride at breakfast.
Momma Bear and the C.S.
The patch for the destroyer, U.S.S. Bulkeley.
The Culinary Specialist galley uniform.

Mana Island

Plimmerton, New Zealand – August 5, 2017

Earlier in the workweek, Leslie sent me a photograph of a crazy looking bug she found in our garage.  I had never seen anything like that bug.  I showed the photograph to several colleagues at work.  They instantly replied, “Weta.”

That crazy bug found in the garage.

The weta are an insect indigenous to New Zealand.  Think grasshopper with ferocious looking mandibles and spines.  My colleagues said they are a protected species.  Having not known that, had I been at home when the weta arrived in the garage, I probably would have dispatched the beast.  Leslie, on the other hand, was somehow able to coax the creature out of the garage and into the plants outside.  One of my colleagues told me there are large wetas, up to 10 cm (nearly four inches) long on Mana Island near Plimmerton.  I had no intention of setting foot on an island which is home to monsters, but I did want to see the island from a “safe” distance.

So, early in the morning, Leslie and I set out for Plimmerton, New Zealand.  We chose to drive Grays Road along the north side of Porirua Harbour to get to Plimmerton.  What a stunning day!  The water was smooth as glass.

We drove through the small business district of Plimmerton without stopping.  That is only because we had already had breakfast and coffee.  Just beyond the business district we made our first stop.  Much to our surprise, the Tasman Sea was every bit as calm as the harbor.

The rock formations lead the eye to Mana Island.

I think we were at the beach at low tide because the sea did not cover some very interesting rock formations.  The birds loved the rocks.  In the distance, we saw Mana Island.  Beyond Mana Island we saw the South Island.  It was such a beautiful day.

Back in the car, we drove along Moana Road.  It skirts alongside the beach.  We were ready to continue driving along the coast when we were met by a sign indicating only foot traffic was allowed beyond that point unless one was visiting someone or on business.  Since we were neither, we parked and walked along the beach, looking across the water to Mana Island.

The sign at the Hongoeka Marae.

We found the sign at the Hongoeka Marae.  A marae is a religious place primarily used by Maori Iwi (tribes).  They equate roughly to a church.  One of the signposts was carved into an interesting shape.

Our beachcombing is oddly relaxing for us.  You would think we find gold nuggets as excited as we get when we find that perfect shell.  As I have written before, it does not take a great deal to entertain us.

The hand-carved signpost.
A seabird on the rocks.
Gulls playing in the rocks.
Mana Island is directly behind the gull.
A rather panoramic view.
Mana Island is on the right in the distance. Farther away is the South Island.
View of a tidal pool.
Mana Island in the distance.
A shell visible in the tide pools.
A building at the beach.
The South Island is visible in the distance.
Enjoying the very calm Tasman Sea.
The Hongoeka Marae at the beach.
A bus in the Iwi area.
It actually looked more like a windbreak.
The chromed address numerals at the Hongoeka Marae.
Home of the “ferocious” weta.
An incoming ripple from the Tasman Sea.
A portion of Mana Island and the South Island in the distance.
Standing by the Tasman Sea.

Return to New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand – April 25, 2017

We took the hotel shuttle to LAX several hours ahead of our flight to Auckland, New Zealand.  After checking in at the airport, we went to the business class lounge.  It is one of the nicest I have ever seen.

The lounge was a great respite.  One could sit on a terrace overlooking the duty-free area of the terminal; inside at a table or bar; in the television media room; in a shower to refresh; or on the outdoor terrace overlooking the tarmac of LAX.  We spent most of our time at the outdoor terrace.

Our time in the lounge helped us relax before our nearly 13-hour flight to Auckland.  Our time on the plane was wonderful, as the following menu demonstrates.

Meal after departure:

  • Grilled prawns with ajo blanco sauce, gremolata oil and fried chorizo crumbs.
  • Cod with hazelnut romesco sauce and risoni pasta with tomatoes, peas and green beans.
  • Strawberry and rocky road ice creams with meringues and strawberry compote.

Breakfast prior to arrival:

  • Gourmet bagel with bacon, spinach and Dijon mustard.
  • Fresh fruit salad.
  • Poached eggs on toasted muffins with bacon, steamed spinach and hollandaise sauce.

It is little wonder we were well rested when we did arrive in Auckland.

In Auckland, we went to the business lounge.  While we were there, we saw Andrew Little, the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.  He acknowledged us as he passed by nodding his head.  That may be our brush with fame in New Zealand.

We made it home to Wellington without issue.  We departed the United States on April 22.  We arrived in New Zealand on April 25.  The International Date Line makes travel interesting.  After all of the travel, we were tired.  We were in bed by 19:00.

Some of the traffic trying to get to the terminals at LAX.
A Chinese airline flight on final approach to LAX.

Rest Stop

Los Angeles, CA – April 22, 2017

Los Angeles is the location we chose for a rest stop.  It is a long way from Grand Junction, Colorado to Wellington, New Zealand.

At the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard, we lounged around in the room until it was time for dinner.  About 20 steps from the hotel is a wonderful restaurant, Zpizza Tap Room.  They sell pizza either whole or by the slice.  Their hand-tossed pizza is delicious.  The crust is thin; not paper thin, but certainly not thick and doughy.  Also offered are craft beers.  We opted for wine instead of beer.  After dinner, it was back upstairs for some television and sleep.

The following morning, it was downstairs for the buffet breakfast.  While eating, breakfast we discussed things to do that day.  We had plenty of time to kill since our flight to Auckland did not depart until 22:30 that night.  Our decision was Santa Monica Pier.  Neither one of us had been there before.

People pose for photographs in front of the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign.

Google Maps easily guided us to the pier.  When we arrived, we stopped at the red light directly across from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier.  I knew I had to get a photograph of the iconic sign.  That would have to wait until we parked.

The traffic light turned green and we proceeded across the intersection and began our descent to the pier.  At the bottom of the drive, one had to turn left to the parking lot on the boardwalk.

The sign guides people to the entry to the Santa Monica Pier. The massive crosswalks are almost too much for the eyes.

Once we parked, I walked back up to the entry sign while Leslie waited on the boardwalk.  I was certainly not the only one who decided to take a photograph of the sign.  Group after group of people stopped to take a “souvenir” photo beneath the iconic Santa Monica Pier sign.  All the while, the locals went by, hardly noticing the tourists.  In the first photograph I posted, a blurred runner attests to that fact.

I was surprised at the crosswalk at the intersection.  Essentially the entire intersection was a crosswalk.  I had never seen one painted quite like that.  With all of the converging lines, it was almost too hard to look at and stay oriented.

The sidewalk leading down to the Santa Monica Pier.

The pier itself is not as large as I had imagined.  Much to my amazement, there was parking right on the pier.  There was additional parking in a paved lot at beach level.  As we began to stroll along the pier, it was obvious that the pier was not quite in full swing.  Since we are usually early when we go anywhere, we frequently miss the largest crowds, which is just fine with us.

One of the things we noticed on the beach was a field of crosses on display.  It seemed to be drawing attention to the many soldiers the United States has lost in the war on terror.  We could not discern why some crosses were white while others were red.  If one looks closely at the photograph, one can make out at least one Star of David and one Muslim crescent moon.  Those that installed the display did a very precise job.  No matter which way one looked, the crosses lined up perfectly.

A field of cross at the Santa Monica Beach. The intent was to highlight the number of American soldiers killed in the war on terror.

In addition to the larger buildings and restaurants on the pier, there were numerous kiosks.  The kiosks had all manner of tourist kitsch.  Of course, we had purchase some kitsch; specifically, our prerequisite refrigerator magnet.

The boardwalk at the Santa Monica Pier.

At the end of the pier, we sat on a bench near the Mariasol restaurant and watched all the sights.  There were a lot of people fishing from the pier.  While we were there, we did not see anyone catch anything.  Maybe on other days at other times, those fishing have much better luck.

We ended up sitting on the patio of Mariasol to have a coffee.  There were a few others there for lunch.  The Mexican food looked amazing.  Unfortunately, we were between a rock and a hard place.  We had eaten breakfast not all that long ago.  Also, we planned to drive to the In-N-Out Burger for lunch.  If we ever get back to that point on the planet, we will plan better so we can try some of the Mexican food.

Looking over the edge of the Santa Monica Pier.

I did not realize the Santa Monica Pier was the end of Route 66 until I saw the Route 66 Last Stop Shop at the end of the pier.  When we walked back along the pier, we saw the “End of the Line” sign.

A family posing for their photo at the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier.
The Santa Monica Pier is the end of Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois.

A little beyond the Route 66 sign is the old Hippodrome building.  I understand it is the oldest building on the pier, dating from the mid-1940’s.  Housed in the Hippodrome is a beautiful antique carousel.  The carousel dates from the 1920’s.  We did not ride it (apparently there is a weight limit), but we did sit and watch it for a long time.

The antique carousel on the boardwalk at the Santa Monica Pier.

We got back in our rental car and drove off the pier.  Sitting under the Santa Monica Pier sign, waiting for the traffic light, we noticed the drive down to the pier was no longer open.  We could only imagine the drive reopened periodically as people depart like we did.

Just like the last time I was there, the In-N-Out Burger by LAX was absolutely packed.  Somehow we were lucky enough to find a parking space.  Inside the restaurant, all the employees moved at a frenetic pace.  It is an amazing site to see all the employees working assembly-line-fashion to fulfill the dozens and dozens of hamburger orders.

While I waited for our order, Leslie went outside to find a table.  In my opinion, half the reason to eat at this particular In-N-Out Burger is to watch the endless stream of planes landing at the airport.  We got our fill of burgers, fries, and planes.

After lunch, we walked across the street to watch the planes approach the airport, flying directly overhead.  I filmed a Southwest Airlines jet and posted it on Facebook.  By clicking on “watch on Facebook” one can see the video.

The Santa Monica beach.
A dolphin sculpture on the Santa Monica Pier boardwalk.
A man coaxing and teaching a boy to fish off the Santa Monica Pier.
The Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier.


A panoramic view of Santa Monica from the pier.
The beach as seen from the Santa Monica Pier.
People on the Santa Monica Pier boardwalk heading toward Pacific Park.
Two men fishing from the Santa Monica Pier.