To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Headed to the Canadian Capital

And I am off to visit my friend and spend a few days touring Southern Ontario Canada.  I have been very vocal that my next travel mission would be our neighbor to the North.  I started early.  I know I have not finished the US and its territories (but I am soooo close)... but let's be honest, I don't want to head to Ontario in the winter.  Summer is calling and I am ready to see Ottawa, Perth and Kingston.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Shows, Shows - So Many Shows

Fourth of July Weekend - I had a date with New York City and the theatre.  It was such a strong season and I have fallen behind.  There have been so many shows I was interested in that I just missed; and, a new crop of shows announced their closing dates.  So, I headed into the City to play catch-up with theatre and 4 shows (3 of which had announced closing dates this summer).

First up, Finding Neverland.  Originally, I was supposed to see this with a friend in January - we had tickets for the weekend that HUGE snow storm hit the east coast.  I was supposed to see Original Cast members, but the mayor closed the theatres that Saturday; our tickets were cancelled (a first for me), and I have not been able to make another attempt until now.  Almost 6 months later, we rescheduled our theatre meet-up to see this show (based of the movie based on the book), a story of the creation of Peter Pan.  And it was just stunningly beautiful.  We laughed, we cried, we ahhed and wowed.  The music ripped your heart out and the visuals created the dream like sequences as imagination took over. The sequence during  "Circus of Your Mind" left my jaw on the floor, from the power of the sound wall, to the creation of the carousal with the dances and props.  Just a visually stunning, emotionally draining, heartfelt show about the power of love and life.   So glad we finally got to see this it. 

Luckily, we had something much more lighthearted lined up for the evening... She Loves Me.  This show has been on my radar since it was in casting... hello, with the likes of Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel, I was sold hook, line and sinker.  This classic show revival is a well known story of man and women make a bad first impression and despise each other in person while they correspond anonymously and are deeply in love - think She's Got Mail.  The sets were sugary sweet - colored like mounds of cotton candy, and situated like the largest doll house ever made.  I was in love.  And the songs... 2 weeks later I am still singing some of these ditties. I could listen all day to Gavin Creel sing, and Zachary Levi - he puts forth so much charisma, you completely "get" what his guy is feeling.  And when I went shopping, I had to buy some "Vanilla Ice Cream" in honor of Laura Benanti's souring soprano ode to love.  And ladies, if you need a song to remind you stop putting up with the "game", look no further than "I Resolve"!  I do wish we had better seats for this show, Studio 54 was not kind to the acoustics, but the cast album has filled in the holes we missed when sounds died on stage.  If we still hade records, I would have worn out my copy by now.

I switched things up a bit when I decided to commit to "Fully Committed."  I don't go to many plays.  It's not that I don't enjoy them; its just with my limited time, I prefer soaring music and amazing dancing.  But, I missed Jesse Tyler Ferguson when he was in Putnam County Spelling Bee... this was a new chance AND I had read amazing things about this show and his ability to manage so many characters at once.  What happens when you are manning a reservation desk in an NYC Hot restaurant and everything that can go wrong does... funny stuff!!!  I will admit, it took me a bit to get used to the presentation, where he answers the phone and becomes both sides of the conversation, but sometime during the play, that transition fell away and all I was left with was pure awe for this man's talent and comedic timing.  I swear, he was balancing 4 characters during one call, and in total I think he played over 40 different personalities.  It was pure awesomeness. 

The one show that I saw that weekend that was not closing was the Carole King story - Beautiful.  But, Sunday night?  I was so happy to have a few choices on Sunday evening (most shows have a matinee only on Sunday).  So, finally, I would get to see the story of this protolithic song writer.  I missed the show  when it first debuted on Broadway, and I missed it as the tour wound its way through DC last year... and honestly, I am still not sure that was the best decision.  There was a lot off in the first act; I swear we had stand-ins for understudies (or some variation of that) for much of the studio singers.  When Carole goes to the song writing factory, we are treated to a medley of classic 50's grooves, but so much was off key.  Without the leads (that were the current crop of leads in the show), I don't think I could have stuck it out.  It was unfortunate; I was relieved when the show clicked once Carole and Cynthia Weil's friendship was forged.  The show took off to tell the story and not just sing hits. 

Coming home from a Broadway binge is always tough.  But I eased the transition by planning to see a few stage shows.  First up, the dance tour Our Way!  I love the fact that the silly (but oh so enjoyable) Dancing With The Stars has made household names out of so many of its incredible dancers.  And I love that some of them have amassed such a following that they can tour on their names and abilities.  Its a freaking national dance tour.  The former dancer in me is eating this up.  I had to go... and I am so happy I did!  Its a mixture of ballroom and funk.  Like when we go to a restaurant and call 2 styles mixed up - fusion, this was a fusion dance tour.  A little traditional (we got a whole waltz sequences), a little Latin (there was an amazing samba number, a little throwback (Tootsie Roll!), and a whole lotta funk.  I love seeing jazz get its moment!  Those men can move, and they ham it up showing just how much they love to dance.  The troupe was amazing.  And it was a gorgeous night of dance.  Watching dancing like this always make me reminisce about that feeling on stage... seeing a show like this (which is like a professional recital) take off, makes my heart soar! 

And as I get ready for my trip to Canada, I am taking an evening to go the Kennedy Center and see the tour of Bridges of Madison County.  Kennedy Center put the tickets on discount... and I did not get to see this shows 4 week run in NYC.  I heard it was better than expected, it won a Tony for Best Score (as well as one for Kelly OHara).  I purchased the cast recording to see for myself... I am not expecting confetti and steamers to blast from that stage like Our Way, or for candy colored staging like She Loves Me, but I am hoping to be moved... fingers crossed.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Storm at Folly Beach

I am jumping trips again... I want to share this picture that circulated on ABC news because it was mine!  I was excited when I was contacted by ABC New York after posting this shot on Instagram... it was taken Friday, June 17 at Folly Beach as a microburst began to blanket the area.  Finally out from under the pier, it was finally cooling off to a decent temperature, little did I know, over my shoulder, this was forming... As you can see, over the water, the sky is clear, and that was what I was looking over as I read my Kindle.   The winds picked up and my date started screaming that we needed to leave; I turned around to see this.  It looks like something out of an apocalypse movie.     We packed up, and I snapped a few shots as we were hightailing it to Rita's before the storm opened up... and when it did, it rained so hard, it came through the ceiling of the outdoor bar area and knocked out the power for the entire area.  It was doozy!

Friday, June 10, 2016

That Caribbean Blue is Hypnotizing!

I thought I was prepared for my first trip to the Dominican Republic.  I did what you needed to do - I registered with the State Department and read all of the alerts, stocked up on mosquito spray and repellant bracelets, I got sun block and special SPF lip balm as well as aloe for the post-sun hydration.  I packed an umbrella since it was suppose to pour.  And I packed my camera equipment (though I forgot my waterproof bag for my phone so I could take it into the water with me for easy pictures). 

I was a good girl scout - medicine, proper clothing, hat, sprays... and yet, I am I certain I came home with Zika and I have spent a week with a peeling forehead.  I am certain that the sun at the equator laughs at sunscreen and singes even my Italian hued skin, and the mosquitoes on the island cackle at our mainland attempts of interference.  I was bit right next to my bracelets on areas covered in spray.    There was no winning. These little buggers got me right through my clothes.  They were relentless.  They hurt.  They left red swollen mounds all over us.

Oh well.

Didn't matter.

The scenery was beautiful anyway.

From the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac (yes, there were no gate ramps), we were greeted with butterflies and sun.  I could not believe the numbers of wings fluttering all around us.  I haven't seen that many butterflies outside of a butterfly exhibit in ... well... never.  Wings of all colors - it was beautiful.  The terminal was right off a postcard of an island building with its palm leaf roof and a Caribbean band playing, inside, while we waited for our luggage.  Already the sweet sounds of vacation were beckoning us to relax. 

We headed off to the Westin Punta Cana for 4 days/nights of Caribbean charm.  I honestly don't know if I was ready for how beautiful the spot was.  In fact, from the moment we stepped off our shuttle, we were showered in amazing hospitality and gorgeous scenery.  The sweeping views through the open air lobby, over the pool to the ocean were swoon worthy.  As a desk-jockey is DC, I was more than a little jealous that some get to have these kind of views while working (me, I stare at a concrete side of a building).   

Here, our plan was simple - sun, fun and exploration.  I had booked us 2 side trips and planned to stay local for the other 2 days in the resort area.   The Westin upped our ante by adding the most amazing suite into the mix.  They placed us in the top level corner suite, overlooking the ocean and the infinity pool from our 270 degree view balcony, that wrapped around a room larger than my condo!  The room was perfect for relaxing mornings, where you could walk up looking into that perfect turquoise water, waiting for your mind to wake up.  The room was perfect in the evening, with views of the large pool lit up and glowing.  That room... I could not thank the Westin enough for that experience.  And the staff took it a step further with a birthday cake for my brother and snacks to feed his bottomless pit of a stomach.

After our first day of taking in the sun and mosquito feeding (at Playa Blanca, where the insects ate more than we did), we were ready to tackle our first excursion to another island - Saona Island.  We hopped the tour bus (after waiting for a while in "island time") and were transported East National Park.  From here, we boarded a high speed boat and jettisoned off to into the perfect waters.  On our boat, a "pirate" and our tour guide whipped out the rum and started liquoring up our tour-mates quickly.  Me, not only do I not drink, but this is not my first rodeo - I know better... so while many of those crazy folks had a jolly good time drinking their rum and cokes while bouncing on the open water, we chose to stay hydrated... salt and sand do take a toll if you are not careful.  Our first stop, the natural pools off the coast of the park.  Here you were far enough away from the coast to be out of the mosquitoes'' span.  The pool area was filled with boats and party goers  - the scene looking like something out of a spring break movie.  Tour-guides diving and looking for star fish (these lucky creatures not infected with the pacific wasting disease annihilating the populations of sea stars), and hold impromptu photo sessions with every tour participant.  We were given some time to frolic in the water  before we boarded the boats again to head to Saona. 

The island is an ideallic setting of soft white sands, beautiful blue waters and swaying palm trees.  Throw in peddlers hawking hats, bags, jewelry, lobsters, coconuts and pineapples and you get the picture.  I had plans; I wanted to explore the park.  I read there were trails.  I learned that this was a preserved tropical forest and it was a good opportunity to observe local birds and see some native flora.  Yeah - that was the plan.  Plans change!  Plans change in the name of  mosquitoes.  After leaving my brother at the beach, I took off with my camera and made it about 15 minutes before I was sure I lost a pint of blood.  I got bit 4 times while taking one picture.  My arms looked like I was suffering from some strange bump disease.  And did I mention that they hurt?  Wow, these little suckers pack quite a punch.  After a few up-tree shots, and a failed attempt to catch a  killjoy in her nest, I gave up and headed back to the surf.  There, my itches were soothed, and we bobbed in the waters until it was time for the BBQ.  There was lots of good food offered up - good thing too since the bottomless pit was hungry.  After eating, what I think was 3 plates of port chops, chicken, rice and fruit, as well as slurping down a pineapple worth of  virgin pina colata, we went back to bobbing in the water.  I broke the seal on the peddlers, breaking down to buy some cute larimer trinkets... after that offering, every one came to us.  My mistake (but the necklace is cute!)

Time to leave.  And everyone had to board the speed boat to transfer to the catamaran boat (while bobbing in the water) - oh, the things that would never happen in the States.  But, everyone made it.  We sailed back to the main island, while people drank and danced (and some got sick).  I don't know what they remember, but me - its the sight of that beach.  What an amazing contrast to the sights we saw on the way to the park.  The national park/tourist protection really makes a difference.  The condition of the park was pristine.  The condition of the areas we drove through - sad, littered and abused.

Once back, we realized that hanging out in the water with our sun glasses on meant that aloe I packed was necessary... so we slathered up and headed to dinner by the water... where we dined on more BBQ. YUMMMMMMMMMMMMY!

(Day 3 & 4 to be continued)

Fallen Behind Again

WOW - time has flown.  I have started two trips to summarize some weekend trips and I never finished them.  I have to admit, with work picking up, my condo board taking up much of my time, coupled with my art history classes through the Smithsonian, I am BEHIND.

My goal is to get caught up in the next week.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
To do that, I am going to go backwards.  I returned from Memorial Day weekend with a fresh pool of beautiful pictures from the Dominican Republic.  There, my brother and I traveled to a few national parks, some historic sites, took a hike through the Ecological Park and enjoyed the gorgeous Caribbean blue waters.  Weeks before that international excursion, my boyfriend and I road-tripped from DC to Scranton, PA for a very atypical weekend getaway; there we visited more national park sites and historic sites, hiked to a cool waterfall and played a serious game of advanced miniature golf. 

And before that trip, I took a trip to Florida to see my mom and take in some elegant orchids at the botanical gardens and visit
Coral Castle in Homestead, FL
the infamous Coral Castle. 

Reaching all the way back in April, I have half written posts about trips into NYC to see a show, a trip to Richmond to escape DC's festival weekend, a trip to Winchester for the beginning of Apple Blossom Festival ....  Like I said, I have been negligent in my writing. 

I wish there was an easier way to do this.  Guess that is why blogging is a job for so many...

I do encourage you to visit my Instagram page - DCJerseyGirl since that is where I post many notable pictures from these trips.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stopping to the Smell the Roses in a Convention Center Filled With National Parks

The Philadelphia Flower Show is an institution in the City of Brotherly Love.  Unfortunately, I never made the time to go when I lived in that area and have missed it for various reasons over the years (as it has grown in popularity).  This year, when I learned that the theme would be based on the national parks, I knew I had to go.  And the fact that I had yet to do a Philly weekend with my boyfriend... well that was a perfect excuse.

The best way I could describe the scene in the convention center is master gardener/landscape architects interpreted some of the parks greatest hits and unknown gems through botany.  Half the convention hall floor was filled with large scale exhibits of scenes in the national parks.  Here you would gaze upon the famous of Yellowstone and Yosemite, walk along the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and NJ Coastal Heritage trails, Look upon the mountains in interpretations of the Rocky Mountain and Smokey Mountain, see some lesser known gems like Lincolns home, enjoy the water views of Acadia, the views in trees like at Redwood, and we got into the urban parks - Independence, Gateway, Golden Gate, the National Mall.  And if these installations were not enough, the rest of the flower show had more.

There were pressed flower designs done by students to represent park badges and postcards.  There was a miniatures exhibit to showcase tiny flowers and skills with scale, you had arrangements with colonial dishes and others to interpret national monuments.   The National Park Service was out in full force with scenes showcasing the nation's best idea in short film format in what was like a cabin in the woods (surrounded by a babbling brook, a Bison (the Department of Interior's official seal) and a bear).  Rangers gave lectures on park features and were all around to answer question about the parks displayed and depicted.  I was in park lover's heaven!  An added plus - all the parks of my youth got plenty of love - I was so excited to see Delaware Water Gap get some love.  And Sandy Hook made a special showing and didn't get overshadowed by the Statue of Liberty (the share a park designation)!

The flowers were overwhelming in their beauty even after a week of showcasing it was hard to know where to turn.  It was a rainbow of color.  There were so many cascades of color that my camera quickly ran out of battery.  And the crowds?  Wow, the place was packed.  But beyond waiting in lines to walk through some of the parks, traffic moved... no one exhibit hogged (though a few did skip the line to snap a picture here and there).  And if you needed to rest your feet - you had choices beyond park lectures... the Philly Zoo was there for animal demonstrations for the kid in all of us. An artist was on hand painting detailed flower watercolors. Food was everywhere (yummy Philly pretzels and Little Italy's cannoli)  You could go upstairs to the specialty booths - where we headed to visit the butterflies!  And then there was the market place... lots of venders.  You could rest you feet in any number of places selling patio gear.  You could buy plants and flowers galore.  You could buy art for your garden.  Gardening gear?  Check!  Tools?  Check!  Need a sauna?  Check!  Walking stone?  Yep, that too.  It was all there.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Break - Seeking Out Desert Heat

I escaped the sudden brutal cold in the mid-Atlantic and traveled to the dry heat of the desert.  I when I say heat, I mean it, as the thermostat read over 90 once of the days on my visit to Southern Arizona.  I love to take advantage of a good United sale and snatch up reasonable fares ... a this trip to Phoenix fit that bill perfectly.

My first stop (after the insanely long lines at the rental car center), Saguaro National Park in Tucson.  That's roughly an 1 1/2 hour drive from Phoenix.  And that meant I got there just in time to watch the sun set over the desert and mountains.  I love how accessible this park is - one of the 2 units is right outside the city limits.  There is no excuse to miss this park when in the area.  And while it has been a few years since I have looked upon this stretch of the southwest... it is majestic, it is magical.  Walk among the cacti and listen-there is life all around you.  As the sun sets, the sky lits up in beautiful strips of pink and purple.  The mountains glow and then dim into a black outline in the sky.  The towering saguaro freckle the landscape casting shadows to show how anthropomorphic their forms can look.  I love visiting this park, because even if you only have 2 hours there, you can still walk away feeling like you visited another world.  It was the perfect spot after spending all day in a plane and a car.

I needed a good sleep that night because I knew I wanted to stuff my next day with places further
south... as in right up to the border.  I left the next morning and headed to Coronado National Memorial.  The park unit honors the explored Coronado and his quest to find the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola but really explored and mapped the area north of central Mexico.  The terrain is rough, the elevation is high and it is dry.  Nothing say great hiking like those conditions, but he did it in armor, I could do it in my Merrells and my LLBean backpack.  So, off on the trail I went (after driving up the mountain, cuz we don't have donkeys at our disposal) and I hit the trail to the Mexican border.  The whole
way down into the canyon I cursed myself and my sense of adventure knowing I was going to have to climb back up.  And as I neared the border, I was certain I was losing my mind, I heard cows "moo'ing"!  This was not terrain that I would think to find cattle but eventually I was able to spot them down at the bottom of the canyon once I turned on a switch-back toward the border.  I took my border selfie (as the park ranger wanted proof for my park pin award), snapped too many pictures of the landscape and the starting line of the Arizona trail, rested and drank some water before I headed back up.  And then I rested again and again... I had forgotten how high up I was, that incline was hard.  I am not going to lie.  In fact, I had to talk myself into forging on but once I got through that last switchback I was golden.  And that was good, because I was keeping my eye on my watch - I still needed to get to Tumacacori. 

Once safely down the mountain, and awarded with my hiker's pin from the Park Service, I watered up
and headed out to the historic missions site.  It was only 50 miles away BUT being in the remote location I was in, this translated into a 2 hour drive.  I got there with an hour to spare and that was perfect, that was all I needed.  The park site is the historic missions and surrounding structures.  It preserves the local Native American and Spanish missionary interactions, the Mision structure, the orchard ... oh, who am I kidding, it preserves the site where missionaries destroyed a native culture by reeducating them.  Off with those pagan customers and onto the new enlightened ways of the catholic church.  I have such a hard time stomaching these stories.  It angered me in Italy to see how the "my religion is better than your beliefs" destroyed culture and scientific advancement, and I angers me to see it here too.  We never learn from history. And these poor people, whom survived with the land were forced change because newcomers thought they knew better.  Would the world not be a better place if we did not destroy, but instead understood?  I don't know.  I didn't live this.  But I do know that we all need to learn from each other.  Preserving these places is important to tell these stories and remind each other that we can learn/understand and not vilify each other belief systems.

Okay - off my soapbox.