Friday, June 11, 2021

Important Blog Update

 As much as I love writing, especially about my adventures and history while finding a new cup of coffee, it seems this Blogger/Blogspot page is creating challenges for its users and followers.  Readers of my blog, will no longer receive email updates when I post a new blog.  If you follow my three social media pages (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest) you will have a link to click on to my posts, but if you are a subscribed follower without social media, as of July, you will no longer receive any notices from my blog.  I've contemplated changing blogging sites or giving up the blog altogether as this site continues to make changes or do away with important features that make blogging easy and enjoyable.  I'm open to suggestions if you have any.  Just use the email to let me know what you think, or comment below; so long as they don't take comments away next.  

The month of May was incredibly difficult for me.  I am still writing but have been focused more on my art as that allows a more laid back and freeing/free flowing mind.  I will still be exploring new places and coffees.  Those passions will not change but sharing my stories might.  You, my readers, friends, and family, make me feel extraordinary when you read and share your related stories and opinions.  I had such engaging feedback following the Dog Blog recently and knowing I brought attention to those shelters and animals in need was absolutely one of the many positive results of running this blog.  Thank you all for your support and encouragement.  I hope to stay in touch, continue connecting, learning, experiencing, and sharing all that this astonishing world has to offer. 

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Dog Blog

 I've always been a cat person.  Growing up, the first family pet I remember was an orange tabby and since then my family has always had cats around.  They’re compact, soft, and do things on their own terms.  A self reflection pet, I suppose.  Even now, cats run the house of many of my friends and family.  Only after adopting my own cats as an adult from a local city rescue shelter, I noticed I became a big animal lover in general when prior, dogs were just slobbery, high maintenance noise makers and other animals never even made it onto my radar.  Around the time I brought home my own first cat, my friend adopted her puppy from a coworker.  I fell in love with her, snuggled her, and played with her like she was my own little kitten.  The puppy’s littermates were adopted out to other employees at our job but one active pup was taken home by my friend's boyfriend at the time.  Fast forward a few years and brother and sister pup are reunited in the happy home of my friend and her now husband.  Being smitten with their pups, naturally they want to support all things dog, including coffee.

No matter how I prepare for it, every time I arrive at my friend’s house, Kong, the bigger of the 2 dogs, plows me down with love and excitement when I walk through the front door.  After the initial few tackles, he has to show me his ball and wait for me to throw it, but if I wait, he will spit it in the direction of anyone who will catch it, whether they’re expecting it or not. That usually results with a BONK to someone's forehead which he will catch on the rebound.  Lily, the smaller, calmer, and quieter of the two, gives kisses when I see her and if Kong gets out of hand, she’s there to tell him to chill out with a little growl.  Those endearing personalities got me ready to dive into this dog themed review of Grounds and Hounds Coffee Co..

The Grounds and Hounds Coffee Co. is an online only shop with a strong mission:  “AT GROUNDS & HOUNDS COFFEE CO.®, WE BELIEVE THAT GREAT COFFEE CAN FUEL A GREATER PURPOSE. THROUGH THE SALE OF OUR ORGANIC AND ECO-FRIENDLY SPECIALTY COFFEES, WE SUPPORT RESCUE INITIATIVES AND ORGANIZATIONS PROVIDING A SECOND CHANCE FOR PUPS IN NEED OF A HELPING HAND. 20% OF ALL GROUNDS & HOUNDS PROFITS ARE DEPLOYED TO OUR RESCUE ORGANIZATIONS WORKING TO MAKE THE SECOND-CHANCE MISSION A REALITY.”  This small company started in Santa Monica in 2012 with a man, an unexpected Dalmatian adoption, and a plan to use the coffee you drink in the mornings alongside your pets to help other dogs in need, working to end unnecessary ethuniasia, and assist with other homeless dog struggles.  100% Arabica beans are grown in the top regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, then roasted in small batches.  A nice cycling of seasonal flavors means there is always something new to try.

Speaking of seasonal flavors, that was probably the second draw to my friends decision to buy coffee from this site.  It was around the end of the year holiday time when buying a few bags of coffee, so she chose the autumn Perfect with Pie medium blend and the winter Snow Day dark blend, both are no longer available, and the popular Paper and Slippers medium blend.  She happily brewed a single cup of each coffee for me to try.  After sipping, I gave her the dark roast and proceeded to drink enough coffee to fuel myself up for a week.  We offered to share with her husband but he was drinking Bullet Coffee, which the idea intrigues me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to try such a blasphemously altered cup of Joe.  To cut the caffeine, my friend picked up some fresh pastries from Emil’s Bake House in Agoura Hills, just a couple of doors down from the shelter I adopted both of my cats from.  Oh, her husband was all about sharing the pastries with us.  

What I enjoyed most about the tasting was how each bag of coffee gave tasting notes right on the front label under the name so I was able to easily dissect them with this guide.  I can usually taste ingredients or cooking methods right away but sometimes putting a name to what’s going on can be a challenge.  

First up in the dog collar mug was Paper and Slippers.  The light nutty, brownie flavor hits first with a fruity aftertaste.  By far it was my favorite of the three and the sweetness is enough to be able to drink black.  A side note here; This is my first dive into alternative milk with my coffee.  The dairy free coconut cream and almond milk was a delightful addition to the brews when I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The price is comparable to my usual, half and half, but the ingredient list isn’t as simple so I doubt I’ll be making a change to nut milk.  Second, in the red mug, was Perfect with Pie, the first coffee my friend ordered from the website, and probably her favorite.  It starts with a vanilla cream flavor followed by brown sugar, reminiscent of crème brûlée.  With the name, “With Pie”, I found the flavors are more "Pie Like" rather than wanting to pair it with a pie.  Finally, Snow Day (certified organic) in the adorable animation puppy mug carried a dark ginger and vanilla-y graham cracker taste.  I love ginger but this blend was just too rich and dark for me.   As for the pastries, they were all lovely.  Each was flakey, cakey, and sweet.  The cranberry apple scone was the table favorite.  The chocolate bear claw and apricot almond swiss tart were great but something about the glaze topping really made the scone top dog.  

In addition to their wide variety of coffee, G&H offers a subscription box service, clothes, home goods, stickers, dog toys, and dog accessories.  Prices are on par with other specialty coffee and gift shops I’ve seen online but they also still give that 20% portion to it’s charities making these excellent prices.  My friend told me she had found the website through targeted ads on Facebook.  Usually those ads have zero to do with your actual interests but in this case it was spot on.

As much as I enjoy going out to discover new places and all the fun I have interacting with people, this is my preferred way to review coffee.  If my friend and I hadn’t already planned a walk, I would have arrived in my pajama bottoms for a slow morning review and quiet chat between friends, fireplace on in the background with dogs at our feet. 

Had to swap out a mug after tasting.

Kong and Lily.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Ugh, With This Again.

Hold onto your butts, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and get ready for the most cliched and redundant read of the year, but this at least includes a coffee review.  I’ve repeatedly seen “Happy Anniversary of this should just take two weeks” and “It’s been one year since normal” tweets on my feed since the start of this month.  All the bread that was made, the lack of toilet paper, people getting into plants, mask fights, zoom meetings, do not seem like a year old memory because we are still living it.  There’s more toilet paper now but where I live, there are still limits on it and other household supplies.  The biggest topic running around this month is, “What was the last normal thing you did before the country shut down?”

For me, the day before lockdown was announced, I had gotten my new Nintendo Switch in the mail (waiting for a limited edition design was beneficial as later models in most game consoles have bugs fixed such as the infamous roaming controller or hard crashing for no reason) and had a coffee date with my friend from junior high.  I headed that afternoon to Saugus, Ca to meet up with my friend, see her new kitten, and check out a place for coffee she had seen not far from her house over in Santa Clarita.  We stopped at a grocery store in the same parking lot to pick up a couple things for something she was doing later that night but the atmosphere was already eerie.  The shop was out of canned goods and bottled water and crowd control lines were confusing.  With hands empty, we left and went to get coffee.

Well, I got coffee, she doesn't drink it but it was a chance to hang out that wouldn’t end in me stealing her new baby kitty.  Underground Coffeehouse had no line to order but most of the plush indoor chairs were taken up by single diners using the upscale styled café as their own personal Starbucks.  It was overcast and a tad cold outside so no one else was around when we opted to dine outdoors.  Little did we know that would be the only option to most of America for public eating for the next 365+ days.  The staff were young and nice, prices decent, they are eco conscience, all while advocating to bring attention to and help to the fight against human trafficking.  My order was a repeat of my favorite can’t-make-at-home drink, a lavender latte (this could change as of this week when I learned of a friend’s new rental house having a lush lavender bush, citrus, and herbs that I can help myself to).  Outside, we chatted about the curious flu in the news, my excitement to play with my Switch, family life, and looking forward to our next coffee discovery, which still hasn’t happened and it’s been a year since seeing her now.  The coffee was smooth, airy, lightly roasted, with the lavender flavor on top and gone by the time I got to the bottom of the cup.  I wasn’t disappointed or surprised as I’ve said in previous blogs that Barclay’s (in Northridge) lavender latte keeps the flavor consistent and thorough unlike any other I’ve tried.  A small drizzle came and went during our time sitting out there but we didn’t move, we enjoyed it.  It would be appreciated in a new light over the next few weeks, turned to months, turned to over a year and still going.

That day, I went home and got my game console set up.  In a few days, a game I had been anticipating for over a year and a half since it’s announcement would be released and I’d requested the weekend off work so I’d have ample time to play.  Come the weekend, I was told that I’d get my PTO but to hang by the phone because the store would be closing and we would have to await further instruction as to when we could open again.  It wasn’t until July when our store did their new Covid training for a couple of days in preparation for a July 4th opening but as Covid numbers fluctuated, our actual limited capacity opening date became September/October.  Not only did I have plenty of downtime to play, but so did the world, leading to the Switch and Switch Lite systems selling out globally, but the game I wanted to play, became the highest selling game of 2020 and placing it at number 15 in the list of highest selling games of all time.  For perspective, the game hit the number 15 slot before being on the market for a year, with games above it being classics like Pac-Man, Tetris, and Minecraft which have each been out for decades.  On the bright side, I now had tons of people to play the game with as we all sat at home.  Politics, current events, and my own family’s health issues caused me great panic.  Half of my immediate family spent time in hospitals for various non-Covid reasons, but it was difficult to hear them having to be all alone while going through their crisis/surgeries.  The helpless feeling got me to connect with my therapist who was so integral in keeping my head up as well as connecting with my friends online, some old and some new, to discuss the challenges the United States was facing.  Another help was switching to half caff coffee.

Out of the horribleness of 2020, there were some positives.  I read a couple statistics that stated that only one child had died due to the flu last year versus in previous years the number of children dying was upwards of 200 annually.  Pet adoptions reached shelter clearing levels as people looked for companionship while staying home.  Personally, along with all the different ways I’ve connected to old friends and made a lot of new friends, I’ve gotten myself on to the most regulated schedule in ages, including having coffee phone dates with my dad and weekly zoom or phone meetings with friends.  The new normal, as everyone totes, has given me an appreciation for one’s ability to adapt.  Some just want to go back to exactly what they were doing in 2019.  I haven’t had a cold or flu in over a year and I had all of Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend off.  I could learn to love the new normal for it’s positives and I’m thinking I may not go back to the old boilerplate.  

[Note: Undergrounds has since moved location to across the street from when I visited in March 2020]

The outdoor dining area was huge and had a firepit.

There is additional seating to the left of this area shown.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Daycation Destination: Sun, Fun, and History

 “May happiness follow you wherever you go! May joy and health be with you always!”  That’s the cute little quote on my Daiso ‘Happiness’ journal.  Out of the 20 or so notebooks and journals in my possession, my Happiness journal, is my most valuable book.  Within its pages I keep running lists of the things that bring me joy, trinkets from my travels, notes or stickers with deep meaning from my loved ones, and not one, but two bucket lists.  The first is a regular bucket list with life long stretch goals like seeing the Great Wall of China and the second I titled ‘Destinations’.  On that list I am constantly adding and checking off locations “I’ve always wanted to go”.  Most places would qualify as a daycation destination and at most a weekend get-a-way.  It may seem silly to some to keep such a trivial sounding list but I read about so many interesting places that I’d never remember to go otherwise.  So far, I’ve been able to check of several historic places such as the one-time Hollywood star resort town that is now the dilapidated and smelly (an understated way to express rotting fish carcasses AS sand on a beach in 110 degree weather) abandoned town surrounding the Salton Sea and the original McDonald’s location which is now a privately owned museum and nostalgia mecca.

More now than ever, people are embracing the idea of the daycation; a day taken for oneself in lieu of a more extended vacation, usually somewhere local, where tuning out day to day stress and larger issues for the purpose of recentering the self to be a better, more grounded person going forward.  For optimal daycation refueling, place phones in airplane mode, bring a little spending cash, and be flexible. Big sis makes a point of letting people know roughly what you’re up to to prevent friends from worrying and to try to go no more than six months between daycations.  Once back, share your adventures with friends, teach them about a new place, and encourage them to take a little ‘me time’ outside of their daily bubble.

With 330 days of sunshine on average in Los Angeles, California, outdoor activities are in no short order.  Currently still on hold are the many parades and festivals as well as a majority of museums that draw crowds and sticky children daily.  The beginning of my 2020 agenda book was boldly highlighted with events to attend in the spring/summer like the Lotus Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival (which I miss every year and was determined to get to), concerts, live performances, and coffee dates.  As the weeks went on and the colors faded in the book, the crossed out plans and future blank pages were a new kind of depressing trapped feeling that I knew I wasn't alone in experiencing.  All that beautiful weather was wasted and casual walks were not delivering the same feel of discovery and filling the cultural void.  Some of my aforementioned plans could have been daycations.  Instead, places shutdown for going on a year, limited occupancy, or rescheduled altogether.  While my new routine has become sedentary and filled with far too much screen time, I scrolled upon a post featuring a place called Hojas Tea House.  With the help of Google Maps, I found there is a Hojas not far from one of my Destination list locations, the historic Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro.  HOT DOG! A Daycation!

The last Saturday in August, the Husband and I drove the 35 miles south to San Pedro; the Port of Los Angeles home and harbor with a small town feel and lots to do.  Of course most things are still closed including, the Battleship, the Maritime Museum with about 15 other museums, and the Cabrillo Fishing Pier.  That’s to say maybe San Pedro has lots to do when things are no longer “2020”.  Outdoor dining was still allowed at the time but the plan was to order drinks and a snack, then head to the bell for an optimally social distanced picnic.

Not much info is published about Hojas (translates to leaf in Spanish).  No backstory on their website, close to no acknowledgement of their two sister locations, and just a bit of user plugged info that suggests Hojas is women run and hosts live acts but not being able to interview the busy (and slightly rude) baristas on location just leaves this as speculation.  The place was empty but with a steady flow of customers picking up to-go orders.  Giant glass barrels filled with loose leaf tea made my eyes wide with those cartoon sparkle hearts but I ended up not even trying the tea and going with a default favorite once I fully ran down the menu.  

The brief drive through the hilly neighborhood to the Angels Gate Park was a blink and you miss ride but once in the park grounds, it’s actually a huge park.  Grassy knolls, a basketball court, playground, defunct military bunker, small free parking lot, ice cream truck; the usual public park tenor.  Towards the entrance of the park are all the clues that this home for the bell is an old army station with the addition of a cultural center.  This Los Angeles location was chosen for its connection to the largest Korean population at the time of installation as well as historic parallels with the base.  The massive bell was cast in Korea then shipped to the US while the detailed wooden structure was built stateside.  Pavilion and bell take center stage with cliffside views of the California coast as a backdrop.  I was awestruck at the intricacies and meaning in every carefully crafted and thought out element of this gift to the United States from the Republic of Korea (South Korea).  It is a symbol of friendship and trust given to us in 1976, on our countries bicentennial.  Alongside the pavilion is a plaque with information and two hand carved wooden spirit totems that protect the area from evil.  The bell and totems are based on similar structures in the Republic of Korea.  Although the stunning bell has no clapper (middle dinger-donger) but instead uses a wooden log to strike from the outside.  A limited number of holidays offers a chance to see the bell rung and there are test rings on Saturday mornings.  When talking about size, the (mostly) copper and tin bell is a monster at 17 tons, 12 feet height, and 7 ½ feet around.  In comparison, the Liberty bell, composed of nearly the same materials, comes in with stats of 2080 pounds plus the 200 pound wooden yoke (bell holder), and is a mere 4 feet tall and similarly 7 ½ feet diameter at its wide bottom.  On that summer afternoon the crowd was light, most people wearing masks other than the trio doing a soccer photo shoot but they were very courteous to not hog the bell but snap photos between tourists.  To find out more about the breathtaking bell, here’s a link to a recently penned piece by a local photographer and check out the city of San Pedro page as well.  

What was also breathtaking was the sandwich I ordered from Hojas.  Back to the picnic, I ordered peanut butter and banana on toast but it was so thick and dry, I could barely eat through half of it while breaking it up with my hot lavender latte.  It was ridiculously messy.  Elvis might have unlocked the secret to preventing a choking hazard by frying his sandwiches.  The latte was light, pretty good, but in the back of my mind, coffee and lavender is hard to get wrong but since I have been getting that drink from Barclay’s in Northridge, no one else has come close to how good they make it, so Hojas fell flat like the rest.  The Husband ordered a nacho panini that wasn’t too spicy and Hojas own Matcha Palmer; an Arnold Palmer but subbed sweet tea for matcha tea.  That drink was pretty good but I wasn’t a fan of the bits of something floating in it.  From my review, you can gather that I wasn’t too impressed with Hojas, at least the San Pedro location, but I’m thinking I’m not going to Long Beach or Wilmington to give them a second shot either.  Looking back, I really should have gone with the tea.

Hojas aside, seeing the bell, a bucket list check off, on a gorgeous sunny Southern California day was worth the trip.  The day also included a trip to the Asian marketplace and bookstore, Mitsuwa, in Torrance and outdoor dining at Red Robin closer to home (had to get that free birthday burger).  I truly embraced the daycation, only sending a handful of pictures to one of my group chats and taking notes for this blog.  It’s hard to plan the next adventure until it can be said for certain what places will survive the seemingly unending current conditions but I feel like I should always be planning.  Time to add more destinations to my list!

Peanut butter and banana on pumpernickel.

Nacho panini on sourdough.


Covid closed cultural and information center.

View of the playground from atop the sealed off bunker entrance.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Moving Road Trip

Moving sucks.  Moving your friends double sucks.  It’s hot, things are heavy, they picked an apartment on the 3rd floor without an elevator, half this stuff is gonna go in the trash in the next move anyway.  In the time that I’ve known him, my friend of almost 20 years, has moved multiple times for varying reasons.  Way back, he would hit me up to help him but I think after about the 5th move, he quit asking me.  He might have hired a company or got other friends in to help him from then on.  I’m sure my complaining had nothing to do with his decision.  In recent years, his moves have gotten greater in distance, as in, to other countries.  I’m super proud of his accomplishments in teaching abroad and seeing the world.  In return, when he is spending time back in the states, I usually jump at the chance to see him.  Different teaching jobs require their own levels of paperwork in each county, which can be simple or super difficult and with our most current situation, every avenue becomes twice as challenging.  Over the past fall season, he was home for a few months, waiting for all the appropriate overseas boxes to get checked off for employment, and asked if I’d be interested in helping him move a few things.. from California to Wisconsin.  A tiny bit of furniture and some old photos needed a safe escort to another family member’s house.  I absolutely jumped at the chance to assist in a road trip move across the country.  (Extreme caution was observed to ensure our own safety, especially as the more east we traveled, the more relaxed the Covid rules seemed to get.)

 The ideal plan was for no more than 7 hours of actual driving per day, to avoid fatigue, with an outdoor point-of-interest rest stop that would count as “seeing the sites” along the way.  Of course, hopes were not set too high knowing travel restrictions would be in place, so the schedule was largely flexible.  As we left the lively cities of Southern California, we gassed up in Vegas, and arrived in the border city of St. George for a late lunch in Utah.  (Drive thru and park to eat, as indoor dining was still shut down in most of the country.)  The sun was setting fast so there was only a small detour to the entrance of Bryce Canyon.  There’s an adorable tourist town before you get to the actual canyons with resort properties, shopping, dining, and a severely rude old man standing next to a “do not use driveway to turn around” sign.  It’s like a cargo van making a U-turn in his driveway caused him physical pain.  “OK, President Pavement!”  Whoops, my finger slipped and we laughed away.  What little of the canyons I saw were stunning in the orange light.  Planning a weekend return trip is already on my to-do list, sans The Driveway Dictator.

To see all the hues and geographical detail, viewing in person is the only way.

Our second day on the road was supposed to end with a self-guided tour of Colorado’s Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre but of course, issues.  The rock formations give the acts that play within bone-chilling acoustics and striking painted skies.  When nothing is scheduled, visitors are free to roam the rocks and experience the sights and sounds for free until sundown.  The website listed all activities were canceled due to Covid, yet after passing way more people then there should have been, I got to the entrance and was told I couldn’t go in as there was a private event happening.  Now all those teens in fancy get ups walking the parking lot made sense.  Yet, not only was there nothing listed on the website, IT’S A PANDEMIC! I angrily soaked myself in sanitizer back in the car, grumbling about how I wouldn’t come back, even though The Rockies in Denver were autumn picturesque.  

Hard to find such great parking at other concert venues.

Day three was the trek through to Omaha, Nebraska.  Allow me to give the not surprisingly lackluster details; Corn, Trump sign, Corn, Trump sign, Corn, Corn, Corn, Trump sign.  After being immersed in such rich, maskless culture by the time we reached the hotel, my friend and I opted to stay in and order Chinese food.  We didn’t make it to the Lewis and Clark Expedition historical site marker, but that Chinese food was worth the cursed trip into this state.  The evening ended with Bob’s Burgers and a wild thunderstorm that blew in and out of town before we finished a couple of episodes.  

Yeah, that's it.  You have now seen the whole of Nebraska.

Rise ‘n shine on the fourth and finally day of the move.  The goal was to reach the lower Wisconsin area by the night's end but to do so would bring us straight across the state of Iowa.  The only slightly interesting outdoor destination for the state I could conjure up to plot for our potential stretch break was the real life birthplace of fictional character, James T. Kirk.  You heard that right, Iowa’s “on the map” moment comes from the captain of a spaceship from a show that's been in syndication for 50 years… or was it?  

The rule that’s pretty universal for a road trip is that the driver is in charge of the radio.  Since my friend didn’t put me on the insurance (my feet didn’t reach the pedals anyway), that made him the lone driver so I just rolled with whatever he picked.  He had several funny and interesting podcasts that I enjoyed but his running theme was to play music that correlated to each state we drove through.  I can’t remember all 30 hours of what we listened to but I think it was Elvis in Nevada and The Book of Mormon soundtrack in Utah, but what was curious to me was what the soundtrack for The Bridges of Madison County musical had to do with our drive through Iowa.  

The unread book on my shelf, that has a movie starring Clint Eastwood, that I’ve never seen, actually has a Broadway musical, that I’d never heard of.  This 1992 historical fiction romance novel sold so well that the movie was made in 1995 and then the musical’s first performance was in the summer of 2013.  The long of the short of it is a bored housewife meets a man visiting Madison County to photograph the historic bridges by asking her for directions, they fall in love and he asks her to leave with him but she won’t do that to her family.  No spoilers, this genre isn’t my go-to for entertainment so I’ve avoided it thus far, but my friend enjoys it so off we went to explore the bridges and the quaint town of Winterset, Iowa.  

With a large brick courthouse in the center, the town expanded out only 2 or 3 short streets including mom ‘n’ pop businesses on all sides.  The petite Welcome Center was a museum and gift shop for all things related to the novella.  All the bookcases that held the souvenirs were named after and carved with the same roofs as the covered bridges (round, pointed, or flat) which was a great way for our bubbly guide to help teach us about the history and which bridges were best to visit.  Of course, before going on our road trip within a road trip, we needed coffee.  Gifting us maps with maximized routes for time, gushing about her favorite songs in the musical, and ringing up our postcards was only some of what the delightful guide did for us.  She had a few recommendations for coffee and breakfast goodies and we went with the first one.

After passing The Cellar two times, we found it, and it was an actual cellar which explains why we missed it.  Inside was Café meets Country Cottage and as my friend placed his order, more people funneled down the stairs.  I was about to place my previously recommended order when an older blonde woman piped up behind me.  She was peppy, excited, and told me I would be her ‘good deed of the day’.  She offered to pay for my order.  I’ve never had that happen to me before.  Of course, I was all set on my order so I didn’t take advantage of her, and was grateful for her to have purchased my small House blend with half and half and a pumpkin scone.  This tiny town of farmers and commuters to the capital city, Des Moines is filled with super sweet people.  Our guide, who was a California native, gave me a perfect fall combo to take to the bridges.  The coffee was good, a medium roast, and the scone was soft, lightly spiced, and had just the right amount of icing.  The Cellar offered meals but dining inside was risky and we were pressed for time.

After two covered bridges, they started to look the same to me.  Sure they were architecturally beautiful and historically fascinating, but I can only remember so many lumber types and drive so many dusty roads.  One bridge had been fully moved to save it and some others had been taken by time.  People were encouraged to write on the wood on the inside of some of the bridges but it was disheartening to see “Obama waz here” and “Iowa Sucks” slapped onto the outside of the painted structures.  Lastly, the one bridge that was safe for cars to drive across, our cargo van was too tall to fit.  

Around the start of sunset, we drove on a long steel bridge, at the border of the state, over the Mississippi River and into Wisconsin.  The scenery changed immediately.  Corn turned into cedar and pine trees oozing in autumn colors.  Sprawling green farm properties with Biden flags lined the backroads we drove to our destination.  Over the next few days I saw the capital city, Madison, the kitschy Wisconsin Dells, the charming little town where my friend’s family lives, and all over Milwaukee before I boarded a flight back to the west.  In six days I got to see a decent amount of the United States that I otherwise would not have any reason to see.  It was a wonderful adventure with my friend and I enjoyed the time I spent with his family (and their cats), and all I had to do was bring in a couple of boxes, a lamp, an old desk, more boxes, some luggage, no wait, that was my luggage, a coffee maker, oh look, more boxes, picture frames, a toolbox, hey, isn’t that my old vacuum?..