We landed Tuesday evening at Kahului airport, took the shuttle to Avis, and drove our Ford Explorer to Mama’s Fish House for dinner before sleeping at its inn.  Our kids’ Christmas present was finally beginning.

I had the “traditional Hawaiian” meal for dinner, and the smoked wild boar was the best pork I’ve ever eaten (and I eat a LOT of smoked pig).  We learned of the restaurant and inn from the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book I consult before going anywhere new.

Because we don’t like to ease into vacations or get over jet-lag, the next morning, we loaded the car and drove the famous road to Hana.  We used the Shaka Guide app, which places you via GPS and describes where you are and where you should stop and see stuff along the way; it also provides history (and music!) relevant to each area. We chose the “loop” option, as we had planned to go to Hana and spend the night our first day, continuing on the less paved (and more frightening) part of the road on the second day, but it’s closed for construction until August, meaning we had to turn around and head back the way we’d come, so we effectively did the “classic” version.

The app tour was awesome.  We left shortly after sunrise, so we never found ourselves stuck in traffic the entire day.  Also, we started from Paia instead of from further west (or southwest) like most folks do. If you’re wanting to do this 40-something mile drive with > 600 curves for several hours, I’d recommend starting there (it’s a short drive east of the airport).

Some of the places we opted to stop included Ho’okipa Beach Park, Huelo Lookout fruit stand, Ke’anae Arboretum (with rainbow eucalyptus trees!), Keannae Peninsula, the hidden lava tube cave, Coconut Glen’s ice cream stand, Kahanu Garden (an impulse visit but very cool) and various short hikes to waterfalls along the way.

This ice cream was the bomb! Vegan and organic–it’s made from coconut milk!  Quite possibly my favorite anywhere.

That discreet hole opens up to a giant room and keeps going–very cool find!

In the afternoon, we toured the Hana Gold Cacao Plantation and learned all about chocolate, and then we ate lots of delicious dark chocolate, and since my 11yo doesn’t particularly care for chocolate, I also ate lots of her delicious dark chocolate, and then I grabbed the bits off anyone else’s plate from the tour that would have otherwise been discarded and emotionally scarred forever, because Hawaii turns me into a beacon of benevolence.

After that, we went to the Kipahulu Visitor Center at Haleakala National Park, so the children could get their junior ranger workbooks to start on that evening. We hiked the Pipiwai Trail and saw the 7 Sacred Pools and Makahiku Falls plus –and this is something I’ve wanted to do my entire life–the Red Sand Beach just before sunset, which was every bit as cool as I envisioned (but sort of a scary hike with 3 children).

That evening, we ate at The Preserve and stayed at Travaasa Hotel in Hana; both were excellent (and were also from the “1000 Places” book).  We watched the sun set from our lanai before putting on swimsuits.

After nightfall, we all 5 sat in the hot tub, and I enjoyed a Cuban cigar under the stars.  It was just about perfect.  Even after a week in Maui, I found the first day to be my favorite.

My 10th Mardi Gras trip began on Wednesday, just 3 days after I flew home from my 22nd trip to New Orleans while there for the Dad 2.0 Summit.  While staying for the days in between would have been fun, my law practice and my health demanded that I spend 2.5 days at home and in the office.  I landed in time to register for my trial lawyers’ conference and attend a happy hour plus dinner at Pigeon & Prince, which provided great food and great conversations with lawyers from Alabama who, like me, love the Tide and were at the national championship game a few weeks ago.  Afterward, I thought I was meeting up with some friends at Cat’s Meow, but instead I found that I was at Cat’s Meow with a bunch of strangers, so I was not enticed to sing karaoke on my first evening in New Orleans, and instead I decided to start walking back to the JW Marriott, but I saw a place I’d heard of called The Dungeon and went in there for long enough to figure out I didn’t necessarily wish to stay there, as my attire and sobriety did not fit in, so I headed back to the hotel, so that I could rise early and attend my conference, which was an odd thing to do in New Orleans, but I was glad I did on Thursday morning.

For lunch on Thursday, I went with my North Carolinian friend Sean (and a couple of his Tarheel friends) to Toups Meatery, which was meaty and awesome.  That afternoon, we went to the patio at Pat O’Brien’s, like we trial lawyers have done the previous 8 years I’ve attended this conference, and it was great to enjoy the nice weather, live brass band, and atmosphere once again (complete with fire fountain!).

That night, my friend from the Air Force, Lauren, got a bunch of us reservations at Emeril’s Delmonico for another excellent dinner on the parade route, so we got to experience the scenery, company, and the food while enjoying a piano player and lots of impromptu singalongs during dessert.  After dinner, we went to LOA for a couple hours, the Ritz club level lounge, Pat O’s again, and Cat’s Meow (where I sang my favorite Poison cover) before hitting the hay about 3:30am.

The next morning (Friday) after class, we had charbroiled oysters at Drago’s, which was so delicious I needed 2 dozen to myself.  Then I went by Jean Lafitte National Historic Park to get a cancellation for my national parks passport book, followed by Napoleon House (where it was imperative to have a Pimm’s Cup or 2), the Chart Room, Tropical Isle (so Sean could have his first hand grenade), and then our conference balcony party at Galatoire’s (followed by dinner at the restaurant below)–a great way to spend Friday night before Mardi Gras.

Later that evening, I went to the Gold Mine and Cat’s Meow with some new friends before turning in about 2am.

On Saturday, I decided I’d had all the trial classes I could stand and struck out by myself into the French Quarter, having lunch at Coop’s Place before watching the Iris and Tucks parades before riding to the airport for a 4pm flight home.  I did, of course, make time for meeting new friends on Bourbon Street and getting plenty of beads for the children to toss into our Mardi Gras tree before hitting the Delta Sky Club, however.

As so ended another trip to New Orleans, likely my last one for a while, as next year’s conference is going to be a week earlier than its usual weekend-before-Fat-Tuesday date, and I’ll be in San Antonio for the 2019 Dad 2.0, so I’m glad I went twice this year!  That said, I will certainly strive to find another occasion to revisit my favorite dining destination as soon as possible, whether that be at Mardi Gras or another weekend in ’19.

Next family trip – Maui !

My 7th Dad 2.0 Summit took just shy of an act of Congress to attend, as we had a mandatory drill weekend from Friday to Sunday, and I needed a 2-star general’s approval to miss it.  But I couldn’t miss my favorite conference in my favorite city (my 22nd trip!) with some of my favorite people, so I did a lot of pleading and praying, and on Thursday morning, I landed at 11:15am, just making the 11:45 show time for the Best Buy drone flying experience at the old abandoned Market Street Power Plant, which we toured after eating awesome local food truck grub that was spicy and creamy and now I really need to go for a run.

When not hanging from a large metal hook, I befriended a new Dad 2.0 attendee from Nashville named Aaron, whom I enjoyed talking to, and learning from, for a couple hours.

After a happy hour sazerac at its namesake bar in The Roosevelt, I went with the City Dads group to Brennan’s for a delicious “second dinner” at 10pm to follow the also delicious offerings we had at the Dad 2.0 Welcome Party, because eating and drinking is what one does in New Orleans if one is to do New Orleans well at all.  Then our group met others from the conference at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop before we walked to Dat Dog on Frenchmen Street where “third dinner” was had at 12:30am, and then it was live music at Spotted Cat and Apple Barrel until 2am or so, and then we walked back (just over a mile).

Somewhere in there, Jim and I got together so he could wear his new pants in public for the first time, and for a few seconds, as the camera phones flashed, all was certainly right with the world.

Friday morning began the programing, where we had NFL player keynote talks and then informative sessions on branding and monetizing and legal issues that can come up for bloggers, followed by roundtable workshops I liked on writing, photography, SEO, and even yoga.

Oh, and I flew the Millennium Falcon with Lego Star Wars characters.

That night, I had another Brennan family restaurant dinner; this time at Tableau. Hanes and its “Two B” PR firm were kind enough to invite a few of us to this event; both the food and the company were excellent. Later, several of us walked down Royal, stopped at Golden Lantern for a bit and then spent several hours at the Gold Mine Saloon we discovered last year at Mardi Gras, where a great time was had by all. Not content to go to bed when most everyone else did, Dave and I went back out (after walking to the hotel) until 4am.

On Saturday, I did not do a very good job of attending many of the sessions, but I did enjoy a test drive with Kevin and Lance in the new Kia Stinger, which was loads of fun despite the rain.  I had a more intimate dinner with Jessi, Amy, and her boyfriend Luke at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (because culinary triumvirates are cool!)  Then a whole bunch of us met up at the Sazerac Bar again (including the guys I never get to bring out during the conference, because they ensure it runs smoothly all weekend, but since now it was over, Doug and Whit were totally out with us!).  We revisited Lafitte’s and Apple Barrel and a few of us (okay, just Amy, Luke, and I) even had fried chicken at Willie’s Chicken Shack at 3am on Canal.

Getting packed and to the airport for my 10:30am flight was NOT my favorite part of the weekend, but I enjoyed time with Mitch and Mary (a fellow Act 3 Theater board member and PR extraordinaire) in the Sky Club before heading back to Atlanta, where I would spend the day with my children and then go to bed as soon as Justin Timberlake finished his halftime show at the Super Bowl, because maybe New Orleans never sleeps, but I occasionally must.

This morning, I was one of only 2 dads who volunteered to help chaperone a large group of 6th graders experiencing the Junior Achievement Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, where they learned about starting and running a business, managing finances, marketing, etc.  I needed 3 large cups of coffee before 8:30 (the children arrived at 10; adults had to assemble for training at 8), but seeing how happy it made my 11-year-old to run a miniature simulated Wal-Mart with her dad and 4 of her peers was wonderful, and her sincere gratitude expressed to me as I tucked her in tonight…well, it was perfect.  And I can’t help but think my regular attendance at the Dad 2.0 Summit and the friendships I’ve been able to maintain both online and in person as a result–with other men who genuinely care about fathering well and who make it a priority–have helped me to pivot in that healthy direction as well.