Wonder of the World, Indeed

How do you react to one of the natural wonders of the world?

This is what my mom and I looked like:

Grand Canyon First Reactions Go Mama O.

Amazement mixed with fear, excitement and joy: Mama O. and her own Mom

Upon first glance of the Grand Canyon, my heart leaped right up in my throat.

The canyon is so immense.

We were up so high.

We were glad there were railings!  Look how far away from the railings we first stood.

Even my first pictures were taken farther away from the edge, or I can’t remember if my kids took these pictures.

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon – view from the South Rim. 

Can you see the river at the bottom of the canyon?  This is the oldest part of the canyon.

Grand Canyon View 2.jpg

No railings at this part of the South Rim! 

My eight year old daughter took this picture below.  I love the view of the tree’s shadow. It’s incredible seeing the Grand Canyon through another photographer’s points of view.

Shadow of the tree Grand Canyon

Shadow of the tree overlooking the Grand Canyon

It’s impossible to take a bad picture there!

Seeing the Grand Canyon is a powerful, moving, and spiritual experience. How blessed are we to have such wonders in our world!

More pictures and stories from our adventures to come.



The BEST Museum I’ve Ever Visited: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

We found a museum that we love so much that we’ve managed to go there twice now.  It’s in Tucson, Arizona, a few thousand miles away from Wisconsin.  When the months get colder here (and do they ever!!), we’ve found Arizona to be an ideal retreat from winter.

During such a cold day back home, I took some time to organize our pictures from our recent visit with kids to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.

Here it is so well described on their website:

The 98 acre Desert Museum is a fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium.

And it’s almost ALL outside, giving us “snowbirds” the chance to savor the sunshine.

We started off in the aquarium area, where we learned about the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. Surprisingly, this body of water is considered part of the Sonaran Desert Region. We enjoyed talking with docents around the touch pool, seeing and touching some echinoderms (sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins) hermit crabs, and other creatures found in the tide pool. My kids especially like the one that “pooped out” its stomach as a defense mechanism.

After that we were outside, greeted by this view:

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum view

View near the entrance of the Desert Museum

We moved along to the Earth Science exhibits, including walking through caves and learning about the history of the region. There were also great activities for the kids: they could pick their own rocks and “sweep” the sand away to reveal fossils.

geology hands on fun for kids

Beautiful rocks and “digging” for dinosaur bones.

Next we meandered along the paths to see all of the exhibit areas that are grouped by habitat types you find in the Sonoran Desert. Here are a few of our favorite animals that we saw:

Rattlesnake, roadrunner, javelina snoozing, bobcats

Rattlesnake, roadrunner, javelina snoozing, bobcats

After lunch in the food court (a better choice with kids instead of the sit down restaurant), we wound around the trails to see the Raptor Free Flight. We’ve seen raptor flights before, but it was so cool to see them fly directly overhead and watch how the Harris’s Hawks flew together in a team.

Raptor demonstration

Harris’s Hawks and Barn Owl show their stuff at the flight demonstration.

And we sure love the desert views.

As seen at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

So much to photograph! From top: cactus garden, red rocks, and kids running on the groomed paths. Bottom: love the colors of this panorama

Near the end of our visit, we ventured into the Hummingbird Aviary.  These birds are simply mesmerizing, zipping around so quickly and stopping to drink nectar. My point and shoot camera could barely capture the hummingbirds in flight! Luckily, I managed to get this shot:

Hummingbird in flight

My best picture in the hummingbird exhibit

Earlier in the morning at the Desert Museum, Daddy O. and I posed for this picture, and I think it just about sums up our reaction to spending almost the entire day here: big grins that spread ear to ear, so happy to be outside and sharing this awesome museum with family.

Visiting the Sonara Desert Museum

Daddy and Mama O in the Desert

I’d highly recommend a visit to Tucson to see the amazing Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum!

Everything I Love about Wisconsin in ONE Place!

I’ve noticed our cheese adventures have slowed down a bit this summer.  Why? Maybe we’ve been busy doing other fun summer things…maybe we’re more drawn to cheese during cold, winter months.  Anyway, I was thrilled nonetheless when we visited Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet this past weekend on our way back from camping. They are located right off the highway in DeForest, Wisconsin.  You can’t miss the mouse on top of the roof nor the massive bovine!

The GIANT cow welcomed us so nicely!  We all know that giant Wisconsin cows make the best cheese!

Giant cow outside of Ehlenbachs Cheese

The Cheese Chalet is all kitsch, but so much fun! Daddy O. posed in front of it, knowing the drill from our other cheese adventures!

Front of Ehlenbachs Cheese Chalet

The store is amazing – very spacious and full of everything I love about Wisconsin: cheese, local micro-brewery beer, wine, and even some chocolate! The selection of curds and cheese was vast and impressive!

Ehlenbachs Cheese Chalet

So much to love about this store!

We are currently devouring the Peppercorn Ranch Cheese Curds and have a 6 Year Old Cheddar waiting for us in the fridge. Other kinds of curd flavors were garlic & dill, horseradish, marbled, basic yellow, and I think some sort of cajun too.  YUM!  Some of the cheeses flavors we noticed were caraway swiss, hot pepper cheese, pizza cheese, horseradish cheese, garlic cheese, baked cheese, and the traditional flavors of colby, monterey jack, brick, swiss, gouda and MORE.

Outside of the building, they had this mural of Wisconsin, which I love! We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful state with so many state parks, lakes, Door County cherries, cheese factories everywhere, Milwaukee breweries (okay AND New Glarus, Madison, and Chippewa Falls microbrews), and the beloved Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and our favorite of all three the University of Wisconsin Badgers!

mural of Wisconsin

As I looked at the map, I was reminded of all the cool places I would like to visit with my sweet family.  We had just enjoyed camping in the Dells, but there’s so much more to explore in this great state!

Thanks for following along as I write about it all on Go Mama O.!  Enjoy the remnants of summertime!

Kid-free Fun in Phoenix

My hubs and I celebrated our 8th anniversary in the middle of the week with mac n cheese, hot dogs, green beans, and homemade peanut butter cups.  I left that lovely meal to go play in a volleyball game, making it one romantic evening!

Truthfully, we celebrated our anniversary a bit earlier with a nice steak dinner at home and several weeks ago with a kid-free trip to Phoenix, Arizona.  It was a DELIGHT to escape the polar vortex that has kept coming back to Wisconsin and simply be on our own, adult-directed schedule.

On the first day it hit 80 degrees, though as they say, it’s dry heat, so it’s not quite as warm as it is with humidity.  We were both comfortable in pants and enjoyed a stroll around the Desert Botanical Garden that had a special Chihuly Exhibit. His vibrant glass sculptures have an outer-space like quality and seemed at home in the desert surroundings.

Striking views of Chihuly exhibit and scenes of Phoenix, Arizona.

Striking views of Chihuly exhibit and scenes of Phoenix, Arizona.

As part of our trip planning, we read a 2007 Fodor’s Guide I picked up at the library’s book sale for $1 and received a copy of the Wall Street Journal Off Duty Guide to a Long Weekend in Phoenix from our travel agent, who easily planned our trip in about 24 hours! The article suggested a variety of attractions and restaurants.  Our advice – when the WSJ recommends it – go there!

Awesome Eats

Despite our actual anniversary kid-friendly meal, Daddy O. and I are somewhat adventurous eaters.  We indulged in Mexican, Asian fusion, and south-west BBQ during our visit.  Some highlights:

  • FnB – Food & Beverage in Scottsdale featured locally sourced food & drink. Our waiter had a definite laid-back vibe, calling one menu item a “sando,” which translates to sandwich.  Amazingly fresh, flavorful food!
  • The Clever Koi – I had pork ramen that reminded me of eating ramen in Tokyo.  Unlike the very cheap ramen from college days, REAL ramen is incredible.  We also shared some tasty Asian-fusion small plates and unique cocktails.
  • Carolina’s – This place boasts of the BEST tortillas in town.  The unassuming appearance of the building and odd mix of surrounding lots were a bit off-putting, but from the full parking lot and long line, we KNEW it would be good.  We stopped there for lunch and noticed the melting pot of customers (good food brings all kinds of people together).  We went back the next morning for breakfast burros.  So good, but a second to the breakfast tacos I had in Austin, Texas.
  • The Farm at South Mountain – on our last morning we ended up eating here. I had hoped to go here before we went hiking in South Mountain Park, but we were up WELL before sunrise and the restaurant’s opening time as a result of getting up at 4:00 a.m. the day before for our flight and the one hour time difference. It’s a beautiful setting, complete with outdoor dining under propane patio heaters (since it was in the 40’s we needed them!). It was good food, but difficult to eat fast before it got cold.

Outside of the Desert Botanical Gardens, we ventured to the Heard Museum of American Indian tribes, and enjoyed hiking in South Mountain Park, including a drive up to Dobbin’s Lookout for a fantastic view of Phoenix, Camelback Mountain, and Papago Peak (oh and an airplane, as the airport is located in the center of the city).

View of Phoenix from Dobbin's Lookout in South Mountain Park

View of Phoenix from Dobbin’s Lookout in South Mountain Park

We weren’t sure which trail included Fat Man’s Pass, as I watched in the Emmy winning video posted on the South Mountain Official Site.

It’s a beautiful park, and we would have liked to have tried some other trails if more time allowed.  My fear of heights sometimes limits what hikes we do! We laughed at our over-preparedness for our hike – carrying a lot of water, sunscreen, first aid supplies, bandages, multiple layers of clothes, all heavy stuff in a backpack – when we saw other hikers traveling MUCH much more lightly.  One woman wore flip flops on the trail – not my first choice for sandy, rocky slopes!!

After resting up from hiking, we went out in Tempe, where the Arizona State University college kids go (and felt kind of old).

Taste of the Old West

After our breakfast burros, we drove up to Wickenburg, an old west town and home to Rancho de los Caballeros.  Our family member who works at the ranch showed us around and has successfully enticed us to return someday – possibly with our kids! I would love to go horseback riding and explore the beautiful landscape or indulge in luxurious spa treatments, while Daddy O. would much prefer golfing.

Views from Rancho de los Caballeros - dude ranch, golf resort and spa

Views from Rancho de los Caballeros – dude ranch, golf resort and spa

After touring the resort, we headed to the historic downtown area for lunch at a place called the Hog Trough.  You KNOW it’s going to be good when the word “trough” is in the name!  We enjoyed smoked brisket BBQ sandwiches – so delicious that Daddy O. wanted to bring some back on the plane.  They just don’t make it that way in Wisconsin! Because we just can’t relax too much on vacation, we toured the Desert Caballeros Western Museum located in downtown Wickenburg before grabbing some ice cream and driving back to Phoenix.

Later that night we met another family member (Daddy O. has a big family!) for dinner in Chandler at local micro brew SanTan Brewing Company. I enjoyed a lighter, amber ale with a huge burger that was too big to finish.  We dined outside under a propane heater and enjoyed catching up, sharing stories about our trip (and home) and hearing about what’s new in his Arizona home.  Here’s a picture of me & Daddy O. from that night:

Mama and Daddy O posing together on vacation in Phoenix

Mama and Daddy O. very carefree & relaxed on vacation

It was a wonderful trip to an interesting city, jumbled together as it may be with strange mixed zoning (there’s often an industrial park, a school, some lower income homes, and a gated community all on the same street).  Phoenix was a perfect getaway to sunshine, a bit of hiking / nature, delicious dining, and interesting history.  I’m sure Daddy O. and I will be back, or continue to enjoy more of life’s adventures together on our family journey.  I certainly am blessed to have him by my side through whatever we encounter in life! Here’s to many more years babe!

What do you do to celebrate anniversaries? Have you been to Phoenix?  What are your favorite couple’s getaway destinations?

Memories of Japan: Part II

As I really enjoyed reading blogs about Japan and sharing my own stories in Memories of Japan,  I felt inspired to break out my very first scrapbook of my summer in Tokyo.  I ended up taking pictures of my favorite pages (kind of lazy, old school, right?) since I don’t have a scanner.  Overall, I think you’ll be able to get the effect of my scrapbook along with my riveting informative narrative.

As I mentioned in my first post on Japan, I met a lovely family through my best friend’s, cousin’s friend. Here I am when I met them for the first time, when they kindly met me in Yokohama and drove me to their home.  I love the expression on their oldest daughter’s face – like “WHO are you?”  I stayed with them overnight and the mom graciously escorted through the HUGE maze of Tokyo station with my massive suitcase.  I was so grateful for their friendship.  They made my three-month stay so much more enjoyable!

meeting new Japanese friends for the first time

meeting new friends

Here’s my scrapbook page of my apartment in Akasaka, an area of Tokyo that is home to many embassies (and is very safe and conveniently located).  It was a tiny apartment for sure and the street leading up to it looks like many typical streets in Tokyo (which is part of the reason why I got lost on my first day going home – especially since it was already dark).  My sister and I pose by the address, and I show off the supplied utensils that the apartment provided. She and her boyfriend – now husband – visited me and were also able to stay at my apartment in a separate room. It wasn’t much – a pot, a spoon, a mug.  My mom, who also visited me, teased me that it reminded her of the song Anatevka from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

small apartment in Tokyo

Here’s a picture of my bathroom – complete with slippers that are strictly reserved for that room.

bathroom slippers and other customs

My sister poses by the squat style toilets that she really liked.  I didn’t mind using them either, though it was a PAIN to pull down panty hose on a hot, humid day to use this type of toilet.  Other toilets were super high-tech with built in seat warmers, bidets, and even music you could play, so others in the public bathroom would not hear your personal business.  Great, right?!

I also learned from our rather strict, conservative Japanese translator that it is incredible rude to walk down the street and eat at the same time.  He wanted to stop, so I could either finish, throw away, or put away my Starbucks scone.  I guess it can be a bit sloppy and sort of rude, but geez, can’t a girl get a quick snack with coffee?!

karaoke fun I LOVED doing karaoke in Japan – especially because you do so in your own private karaoke room.  You simply call on the phone and order whatever drinks or food you would like (think small plates of bar food, sort of like tapas but Japanese style).  Various karaoke places even had musical instruments or props you could buy / rent.  I didn’t exactly do a lot of ordering of food or buying accessories, as I usually went with Japanese speaking colleagues or in this case with my Japanese friend.

my last day in Tokyo

This last page is from my final day in Tokyo.  As you can see in part of the picture, I wrote a detailed schedule for myself, so I had everything organized for my last day.  I’m pictured with members of the marketing departments with which I spent part of my internship.  We formally did “greetings” and gave presents to five sections of the company, which took about thirty minutes.  Notice how NO ONE is touching in all of the pictures.  I’m so used to putting arms around other people in pictures – even if it is work people – but this certainly wasn’t the norm in Japan with larger personal space bubbles around everyone. I truly missed shaking hands and giving hugs – and desperately wanted to do so on my last day! Oh well…

When I paid my final bills at my apartment, I realized that I had inadvertently packed one of the provided spoons, so I had to pay for it!  Not a big deal, as I wasn’t going to rifle through my huge suitcase, but funny nonetheless and indicative of the fine attention to detail that is commonplace.  I was unable to navigate my luggage on the short walk to catch the bus to the airport, so I hailed a cab to drive me there!  By 11:30 – almost two hours after going to work, saying goodbye & giving gifts, taking the subway back to Akasaka and picking up luggage – I was on a bus to the airport ready for the return flight to Atlanta and then Chicago.

My parting thoughts in my scrapbook are as follows:

As I finished this scrapbook, I often paged through it wondering if these pages really captured all of the emotions and experiences that I went through during my three months in Tokyo. This was truly an unforgettable “growing” experience for me.

I came head to head with a new culture – one that I found fascinating & endearing at the same time. Fortunately in this high tech, neon-lit city I found friendship. The compansion of Yukie, Tokie, Mr. Hara, and many others truly made me feel more at home in a very different place.

Frequent reminders of home – whether a visit, phone call, letter, or email – also helped me through the ups & downs. I was so happy that my mom, sister, and (future brother in law) could get a taste of Japan and join in my exploration.

Most importantly, I learned that I can feel “at home” and still feel close to loved ones no matter where I am in the world.

I’m really excited to see that Tokyo won the 2020 Olympic bid – since I was there during the 2002 World Cup. Hopefully a return trip with my husband will be in our future!  Check out the related article. It includes a picture of my favorite view of the Imperial Palace: Nijyubashi.