Home from Greece

After a loooong travel day yesterday, Marcia and I tumbled into our (best) bed (ever) in Des Moines to try to get our body clocks readjusted for regular life again. Our 30th Anniversary Trip was truly amazing, with great stops in Santorini, Mykonos and Athens. Some quick thoughts and observations from a still-travel-addled brain:

  • Santorini was sublime, unique, and captivating, though with the caveat that it has become one of the main cruise ship stops in the region, so its hip destinations (most especially sunset at Oia) can be annoyingly swamped and commercialized, their magic tamped out by hyper-tourism. (We are not fans of cruise ships, as they tend to blight their ports of call, alas). We stayed on the quieter Eastern shore of the island, in Kamari, and I would recommend you do that as well if you visit. The sunrises on that side of the island are spectacular too, and you can get over to the crowded/sunset side of the island fairly easily if/when you want to. I would also most heartily recommend taking a sailboat cruise around the archipelago, with a stop at the volcano at the shattered island’s heart. And also eat lots of the local Santorini Fava, om nom nom!
  • Mykonos was probably our least favorite (barely) of the three destinations, as it really favors the sort of tacky money/party/beach/rave scene in ways that aren’t quite aligned with our lives at this point, and that tend to attract a bit more drunk/criminal element than is optimal. That said, we stayed at an isolated resort called Kirini My Mykonos Retreat that may well have been the most spectacular destination we have ever over-nighted, and the boat trip to Ancient Delos was well worth the stop at Mykonos in its own right. I guess I would have raved about Mykonos if we just went there and nowhere else . . . but seeing another Aegean Isle and spending time in the Capital just made this stop seem a little bit crass, comparatively speaking. Plus, we had the experience of getting into a cab one afternoon, only to have our vehicle pulled over by armed police officers a few blocks later, one of the gendarmes using a power drill to remove its license plates while we sat inside, caught in the middle of a local power/shakedown play. That put us off our feed a bit.
  • I loved Athens. Which, honestly, was a little bit of a surprise because so many people have complained (crowded, noisy, smelly, hot, etc.) or said “one day was enough” to me about their own visits there. It’s a big city, sure, but I guess having lived in one of those for most of the past five years, my tolerance for the urban experience may be a bit higher than that of a casual suburban tourist type. We had great food, great walks, a great hotel, our visit to the Acropolis was no more harried or frenzied than what one experiences in any major global destination, and I found the parts of the city we explored to be lovely and engaging. I hope to return with more time at some point, and will gently chide anybody who makes sniffy noises to me about it in the future. Philistines.
  • We booked this trip using the independent travel option with our long-time favorite U.S. Travel Agency, Gate1 Travel, and I have to say they absolutely hit it out of the park in terms of the quality of the package, and the support available in-country from their local teams. Just superb. You could book it yourselves here. When you get to the lodging options, I’d recommend you upgrade to the premium level . . . it was totally worth it, every penny, in terms of the quality of the experience.

Okay, that’s about as much as the brain can handle this morning, so let’s send you to the photos, if you care to see more. Click the image of Marcia and I doing our best jobs to find the selfie lens below, and see what it looked like for us while were there:

Space Madness

Marcia had a work conference last week, and I had work in Charlotte Monday and Tuesday this week, so I decided to head down to Florida for a few days of warmth with her before returning to the dreary Midwestern weather last night. Rather than staying at her conference hotel when her meetings were done, we decided to head over for a couple of nights in Cocoa Beach, on the Atlantic Coast. For folks our age, if we know anything about that seaside community, it’s likely the fact that it was the fictional home of Major Anthony Nelson (an astronaut) and Jeannie, from the deliciously cheesy television program, I Dream of Jeannie.

As we were headed up to our room on Friday night, we noticed a schedule of events in the elevator, and there was a paper sticker on the very date of our arrival showing a cartoon rocket. I pulled out my phone and, hurrah, was pleased to discover that SpaceX was, in fact, launching a mission that very night, at 245am. When we arrived in our room on the seventh floor, I happily noted that our private balcony was aligned in such a way that we had almost a straight-shot view of the pad where the Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station would be launching. Double hurrah!

We set alarms and went out on the balcony at the appointed hour, and like clockwork, got to watch (and hear) my first orbital launch ever:

If you know me well, you know I’m a hardcore space nerd, so this was a real treat, and a great appetizer to our already planned Saturday adventure to visit Kennedy Space Center, where I got to snap a selfie at the business end of the mighty Saturn V Rocket.

Marcia also snapped me with my second favorite of all possible rockets, the Titan-Gemini stack.

D5u2Fc_X4AAVqhi.jpg large

Back-tracking a bit, Marcia had work meetings during the days in Orlando while I was there, and I also had a night alone there as she flew out on Sunday, and I didn’t head to Charlotte until Monday morning. So I spent the time making friends, as one does:

I also got to embrace my inner redneck with a visit to my favorite greasy spoon destination in the world, for some delicious carbs and fats.

The business part of my trip to Charlotte was great, too. A board meeting and a research workshop at the Bartlett Research Labs, a glorious location near the area where my Dad was born and raised. We had wonderful fellowship and got a ton of work done with good people in an amazing setting. Win, win, win, win and win, with thanks to Bartlett for hosting us.

In closing, if you don’t know the source of the title of this post, you need to watch the following video, perhaps the finest fifteen minutes of animation ever created for television. It was life-altering the first time I saw it, early one Sunday morning sitting in a hotel room with an infant Katelin, trying to find something amusing to do while Marcia was trying to sleep in. I do not think all of my tearful laughter helped the situation on that front, but Katelin and I did have a new favorite cartoon series for many years afterward, so a reasonable trade-off, I think.

St. Kitts

Updated February 16, 2019: We got home last night at around 1 AM after a long day on planes and in airports. I completed our photo album from the trip this morning. You can click on the beach horse (Marcia’s photo) below to be taken to the full gallery:

Marcia and I are in the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis this week for the Tree Care Industry Association’s¬†annual Winter Management Conference. It’s a great gathering of business leaders in the tree care and related industries, and I am always grateful that they afford me the opportunity to be a part of the event, providing an annual TREE Fund report, and being able to spend quality time with the folks who make our work possible, year after year after year.

I’m also always grateful to the event planners for keeping the schedule open enough that folks have the opportunity to explore the beautiful locations where the conference is held. Marcia and I arrived a couple of days early, and got a fantastic island tour from Barry Wyatt, who met us at the airport and then spent four hours a couple of days later showing us his home nation, with knowledge, perspective, wisdom and pride.

We have also had two brilliant dinners at Tiranga, an excellent Indian restaurant right across the street from the Marriott Resort where the conference is being held. If you are reading this while you are still at Winter Management Conference, I heartily recommend you give Tiranga a shot for one of your remaining meals, and then call Barry for a great tour, too. You will not be disappointed!

As always, I’m constantly snapping photos, and will do my usual Flickr album when I get home, but here are a sampling of the sights we’ve seen so far (obviously if I’m them, then those are Marcia’s snaps), with a few days yet to go before we return to the frozen north. Enjoying it while we can, life is good!

Tour des Trees 2019: Rider Registration is Open

TREE Fund Headquarters has been closed for the past two days due to the Polar Vortex, but we all still worked remotely behind the scenes so that we could flip the big switch this morning and open rider registration for the 2019 Tour des Trees, hooray!

It’s lunchtime, and I see that 10 riders have already signed up this morning, some regulars, some new folks to the team. I’ve waxed effusive at length here about the experience of riding the Tour over the past four years, so I won’t do that again . . . but I will simply ask you to consider joining us this year, for five amazing days of fully-supported riding through the beautiful back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee.

It’s a good time with good people for a good cause, and you’ll get good and fit training for the event, so what’s not to love? Click this year’s Tour medallion below to be taken to the main page for all things Tour des Trees, and then consider making the commitment, as I’d love to ride alongside you this year! Or if that’s not in the cards, then I would gratefully appreciate your support for my own campaign, which is now underway here.

2019 Tour des Trees Route Announcement: Let’s Ride!

Last August, I put a Save the Date announcement up here about the 2019 Tour des Trees, the amazing annual community engagement event that benefits my organization, TREE Fund. Earlier this week, we made the formal route announcement for this year’s Tour, which will roll September 16 to 20 in a 448-mile loop route through Kentucky and Tennessee, beginning and ending in Nashville. You can click on the high-level map view at left to get to the detailed cue sheets for the Tour. It’s gonna be a good one, through some beautiful country, and with some great overnight stops. We begin with an orientation dinner Sunday night, ride hard for five days (including two centuries), and then have a closing celebration Friday, so you can pack your bike and be home the next Saturday. One clean week of adventure, with all funds raised benefiting tree research. What’s not to love?

Next step: On February 1, we will open registration for riders and volunteers. All the details about the Tour are available at the TREE Fund website, here, and that’s also where you would sign up, if the spirit so moves you. Those of you who know me best are aware that I’m not generally a fuzzy-wuzzy-touchie-feelie type of person prone to making statements like “Oh my God, this is a life changing event” . . . but in this case: Oh my God, this is a life changing event!!! This will be my fifth Tour, and some of our riders have been on the road with us for over 20 years. The support team is awesome, the sense of community and spirit of camaraderie are exquisite, and the cause is truly a just one: our urban forests do so much good for so many people at such a relatively small cost, but the science to keep them vibrant and viable is under-funded and growing ever more so, as government programs dwindle even as environmental threats (e.g. climate change, invasive species, etc.) continue to mount in an exponential fashion. TREE Fund fills an important niche as one of the only private grant-making organizations specifically funding research on the trees we live with, and the Tour des Trees truly makes our work possible.

Here’s the report of my experiences on the 2018 Tour, and if my words and pictures don’t move you a little, then take just two short minutes to watch the following video, which I think beautifully captures the spirit of the thing. I’d love to have you on the road with me and my colleagues, and I am happy to answer any questions you might have as you consider whether or not you might like to join us. Holla!

London (2018) and Paris (2019)

Marcia and I are home from a great trip to London and Paris, with a quick zip via EuroStar train under the English Channel between those two epic destinations. We were fortunate to have unseasonably nice weather in both cities — dry and (relatively) warm — so we spent a lot of time outside walking about, logging a lot of distance. (My FitBit tells me I walked about 160,000 steps and covered about 80 miles on foot in the past week).

We’d been in London last summer, so this time we visited some less obvious tourist sites (e.g. Dickens Museum, National Gallery, British Library, Soane House, Battersea Power Station, Westway Flyover/Portobello Road, Tate Modern, King’s Cross/St. Pancras), having hit the more obligatory highlights in June. On the flip side, this was my first time in Paris, and Marcia hadn’t been there since college, so we did a mix of the expected and unexpected there (e.g. The Louvre, Notre Dame, Catacombes, Eiffel Tower, Montparnasse Cemetery, Bois de Boulogne, Stade Roland Garros, Shakespeare and Company, Bon Marche).

We had an extraordinary seven-course dinner at Le 39V just off the Avenue des Champes-Elysees on New Year’s Eve, and then joined a mass of people stretching from the Arc de Triomphe back towards the Seine as fall as my eyes could see. The countdown to 2019 was made magical by lasers and lights and fireworks turning the Arc into the grandest, largest projection screen imaginable. It was not quite as insane as New Years Eve in Reykjavik two years ago, but it was a close second in my own life experience.

I took a lot of pictures, as I always do, and if you’d like to see the full gallery, you can click on the picture below of me and mine beloved sharing our last meal of 2018, and getting photo-bombed by the Eiffel Tower. Next up on the international travel register for 2019, we’ll be visiting St. Kitts and Nevis for a work trip in February, then celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in June with a trip to Greece. Watch this space for the photos and reports!

32678308868_ac3c21553f_h

Happy after delightful dinner at Le 39V. Click the pic to see the entire gallery.