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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 1 - Bucket List Trip - San Juan Islands

We landed in Friday Harbor on Sunday morning.  Immediately, we left the ferry and made our way to the first of many interviews my friend would be conducting while on the island.  Instead of sitting at the table quietly, she lets me flex my skills and ask questions.  When she plans these trips, she fills our time with stuff I love (and she loves too), so these interviews are great ways to learn more from experts first-hand.  This trip, the interview queue was filled with goodies – the historical society, the Whale Museum, a local town councilman, a kayak guide and a whale watching tour captain. 

After some breakfast and the first interview, we headed to the “American Camp” side of the island.  American Camp is actually what it sounds like – a place where troops  stayed and trained.  American camp was on the southern tip of the island – some of the most inhospitable land on the rock.  Meanwhile, the English camp set up a community on the north western side of the island.  Why?  They were waiting out a conflict (almost war) over a pig! Yep – you read that correctly too.  When the maps were drawn during westward expansion, the San Juan archipelago was never taken into consideration.  England considered it part of Canada since Vancouver Island is right there and the official border line dipped around its southern point, but the growing United States viewed it as their territory… so residents from both sides lived there.  A whole whopping 35 of them.  And then came a fight about a pig eating in someone’s garden.  An American shot an English pig.  We almost went to war!   A compromise was reached where the fighting would wait, troops would occupy the island for both sides until a resolution could occur.  So 200 troops from each side came to the island.  The British claimed a protected inlet that afforded them easy access to calm waters, wood, and deep soil.  They built a community so rich that people did not want to leave; their traditions, such as the holiday balls continue today.  Conversely, the American side was exposed, pest ridden and the conditions were miserable.  Obviously, the United States ended up with the islands, but the British won over the local’s hearts.  Today, you can see Canada wave that British flag from someone’s front door (not really, but it’s a short ferry ride to Victoria).
Back to the National Park visit (really the National Historical Park)….

South Beach
Cattle Point
I was still seriously sick.  Miserable was more like it.  I had all the symptoms Nyquil was famous for… sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching… but I was not resting.  I wanted to see stuff.  Lesley had been working on this trip for months.  I wanted to rally.  So we started slowly, with walks along gorgeous Cattle Point and  South Beach, and holy moly, even in this protected area are there so many logs of driftwood.  We walked some of the beach looking at some awesome forts people made from the wood before we headed over to the lagoon area.  I had a bright idea that I could do some walking.

The plan was to walk the trail to Jakles Lagoon - it was a mile in and a mile out.  Being that I felt awful, I thought that was a good way to get my feet moving and not completely pass out.  So off we went, and we walked... and walked some more.  We laughed as a bald eagle soared over our heads, and I hacked by part of my lungs every time we walked up the slightest hill.   And we walked much more than a mile.  When we finally saw a trail marker sign for Third lagoon, we knew we missed a turn somewhere.  But that misstep turned into a glorious hike (if not for my incessant hacking).  We walked through temperate rainforest, and then out to the burnt exposed fields of the southern edges, and back into the forest to see lagoons filled with logs.   What was supposed to be a 2 mile easy walk turned into a 4 mile hike.  I was sweaty and thirsty and in desperate need of a shower... but before we could head to  our tiny (miniscule) hotel room, we had to hit up the National Park visitor's center, so I could get postcards, magnets, and check out the park museum (it was there we watched the informative park video about the war over a pig).
After getting cleaned up (and making sure we were presentable again), we went back to the docks for an amazing evening with Maya's Legacy.  We were going Whale Watching on a small tour - there were only 14 of us, and this boat was the best thing I had ever ridden for whale watching.  Small, fast, smooth and LOTS OF WINDOWS and SPACE.  If you have ever been shoveled out of the way on a tour so someone can get to the bow of the boat to see, you know what I am talking about.  Well, Maya's took care of all that.  Space on the bow and stern, and the cabin's windows all raise up.  You have a 360 degree view all the time.  Anyway, this boat was built for speed, and good thing too because the crew got word that the orcas were in Canadian waters about 45 minutes away. 
Off we went through some of the most beautiful scenery you can dream up for the Pacific NW.  And then, there they were... 5 orcas... a family... hunting!  We saw a mom, a few of her children ranging in age and a visiting male, and he was massive.  We watched for almost a half an hour.  Our guides we fantastic!  They were full of information - talking about natural behaviors we witnessed, talking about the familial bonds, their relationship within the great community.  We learned about the resident pod of orcas versus the transient pod (that we were witnessing).  We talked of food and the greater ecosystem.  Our captain, who serves as President of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, spoke to us about the deeply declining salmon stocks, and how undamming Pacific NW dams could help the resident pod.  Heck - I even learned a few things I didn't know about these majestic animals.  The crew has so much respect for them, and this was evidenced by them never calling them killer whales (so much wrong with that term - they are not whales, they are related to dolphins... but I digress)
After several hours of eco-bliss, we were back on land and starved.  Luckily one lone sports bar was open to feed us because we had not eaten since breakfast when we docked, otherwise it was going to be a granola night.  We chowed down on BLTs and nachos, lots of water and looked over our pictures.  It was an amazing first day.  We headed back to our tinny tiny room and crashed hard.  We had another big day ahead of us. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Beginning of An Epic Adventure in the Pacific NW

My annual trip out the Pacific Northwest was a bit early this year.  If you plan on visiting the San Juan Islands with your best friend, you have to make the summer venture.  Who wants to visit an island in the northern most corner of the Pacific Northwest when the temperatures start to drop – not I!
We started talking about this venture on the way home from last year’s girls trip to Victoria… and, again, I left the planning to her.  Lesley runs an amazing website for information on NW events, locales, and general fun.  WhatsupNW.com has really exploded and places we go are excited for her to visit and to be featured on the site.  That means, she has all in the “ins”.  I am just along for the ride – I get to help her interview amazing people in various fields, and we have a blast together.  Honestly, her moving sucked, but we make our visits count.  She travels like I do on solo trips – packing in much in as possible… so together, we power-tour and document for her site, take tons of pictures and soak in as much as humanly possible.
For once the weather was going to be perfect.  There was minimal rain in the forecast.  I was itching for a vacation.  And then I got sick.  I am not talking a little summer cold either.  By the time I landed at SeaTac, I felt like I wanted to crawl into a ball and sleep for a week.  I had no energy, I spike a fever 2 nights before, my nose would not stop leaking, and I was a sneezing mess.  I looked and felt great to see my gorgeous best friend (Jersey sarcasm).    She picked me up; I took some Nyquil and had to apologize to her doggies that are used to me rolling around to play with them on visits.  She let me sleep the first day before she and her husband took me to the small town of Leavenworth.  This place is in the south-central Cascades and completely Bavarian themed.  We walked the streets, and I stopped at a few adorable shops looking at things that caught my eye.  Outside town we stopped at the river dam to walk the salmon ladder and watch some fish jump their way through the waters (and a kayaker navigate the falls) and then headed to a state park to take in a gorgeous lake and mountain views.
The next day, we had a girl’s day with some of her friends (and mine) in Seattle.  Lesley was invited to the VIP rooftop lounge at the Hard Rock.  I rallied and we headed towards Pike’s Market.  The lounge over looked the market!  Incredible space!  We had a blast, eating lunch, grooving to music and playing with beach balls… and it’s all fun before someone gets hurt.  And our story ended not with someone getting hurt, but someone’s expensive bag getting doused in beer.  She was fantastically nice about the whole thing and the staff moved quickly to clean everything up.  We took our own ball away and went back to couch dancing.
After a few hours at the Hard Rock, we walked through Pike’s Market.  I love the market – the colors, the venders, the hassle and the flying fish.  So much to see… more so after the latest expansion.  From the market we played the largest game of Pac-Man ever… it was seriously wall-sized.  And wandered into Gum Wall alley.  Ewwww is the right word here.  It is colorful and uniquely Seattle, and as long as you don’t overthink it, it can be amazingly neat to look at.  Some people just stick some gum on the wall, others make something with it… me?  Andrea and I pooled our gum and made a peace sign… we can all use more of that sentiment today with the situation in North Korea looming out there.
We had an early evening because the real trip was kicking in (and man was I still sick).  We hit the road by 5:30am to make the drive to the port.  This was Lesley’s first trip on an auto-ferry and she was not messing around.  So, we made it to port by 7:30 and were on the water by 9am.  The ride over was seriously cold (this is the northern Pacific NW) and stunningly gorgeous.  The waters were calm, since they are protected by Vancouver Island.  Smooth sailing, clear skies and fantastic scenery meant we were docking in Friday Harbor in no time.   Bucket List trip… here I come.

These Last Weeks of Summer

Travel was sporadic this summer.  Some of that was attributable to heavy travel this spring, some to conflicting schedules with friends, some to an awesome lineup of summer concert and some because of plain financing. I still have not found that money tree.  Honestly, I needed a break after the hectic spring and big trips to Mexico, Nevada and California. 
Things are about to change...

Path of Totality
A year ago, we started talking about the upcoming solar eclipse.  And a year ago I started looking at options.  This was no time to dilly-dally.  Rooms a year in advance in Wyoming were sold out in the path of totality.  After trying everything in Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, we decided to head to Music City - Nashville.  I have not been in over 10 years and John has never visited.  We jumped on a great room rate at the Sheraton 4 Points and decided to make it a mini-trip.

Well, the eclipse is less than 2 weeks away.  We have a huge road trip planned.  My trip schedule is packed with things I missed my first time to the city, and can't miss things for John.  We booked a ghost pub tour, a dinner cruise on the river, and plan to visit the area national park site, Stone River,  for the big event.  We will hop on and off the trolley to hit big city sites, and drive around to see The Hermitage, Belle Meade and the zoo.  I am super excited to visit the Parthenon again - I swear one day I will see the original in Greece. A few tours of caught my eye at historic homes, museums and historic music halls; I am hoping to catch the screen printing tour at the Ryman.  After the eclipse at the park, if we can hit the road quickly, I think we can squeeze in a tour at Jim Beam after the eclipse in Lynchburg since Stone River National Battlefield is already a half hour south of the city.  It will be a busy three days... and then I have to rush back because I have tickets to another concert the evening after the event.... no, I never do things simply.

Before I get too ahead of myself, we have to make it through this upcoming weekend.  We have some fun planned in Hershey Pennsylvania.  We are going bang our heads to Guns & Roses (hopefully Axel shows up).  Of course the weather is predicted to be nasty - sever storms!   That always makes an outdoor concert fun!  We are playing the amusement park by ear.  I haven't been inside the park since I was in junior high; I have fond memories of riding rollercoasters and the Rotor (a great spinning machine that suck you to the walls).  I hope we can get some quality time in the park and reclaim some of our youth.

I have several more trips in the works ... this is just August after all.  I have plenty of time to talk about my trip plans for the fall and winter! I don't want to get ahead of myself and not enjoy the moment.



Friday, July 14, 2017

Mid-Year - Time to Catch Up

We have hit the mid-year mark, and while my Instagram accurately reflects my travel and adventures, I have failed to write about a few of the most notable ones.  I need to review a few of them.

1) I took my first trip to Mexico and saw another Wonder of the World.  Back in April, my boyfriend and I took a chance on Groupon Travel, and booked a quick 4 night stay in Cancun Mexico.  The hotel was less than fantastic, but the trip itself was fantastic.  We visited two ancient ruins of the Mayans, and that alone made the trip incredible. 

2) I roadtripped from Vegas to Anaheim and back again with a friend.  We partied with Mickey Mouse, New Kids on the Block and friends from all over the country (and one from Canada).

3) My birthday trip was a surprise from my partner, we spent some time on the Chesapeake Bay in the adorable small town of St Michaels, Maryland. 

4) My best friend planned an epic adventure in the Pacific Northwest and in it, we explored the San Juan Islands.  Islands rich is interesting history, geology, geography and biology - our trip was rich in information.  From whale watching to hiking, farms to art, history to food, I am still recuperating.

I will be posting about these trips and some key trips I have coming up... my summer schedule is always packed, and this year is no different.  I have a schedule full of concerts, events and fun travel. 

Can't complain... life is rich, full of experiences and learning opportunities.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

12 days at Sea, 5 Islands and Some Big Apple Fun

This was it, my last trip of the year and it was a HUGE one... it was going to be my longest cruise ever and it was taking me to a bunch of new places.  To say I was excited would be putting it mildly.  Things seemed to be lining up nicely; I planned a great evening out with my city friend to see the limited run of Sweet Charity, I was coming in early to squeeze in another show that day, I had a great room not too far from the train station, my train was on time and the weather was holding out... I was all set for my cruise out of New York... ummmm, cruise out of Brooklyn.  (Note to Cunard:  you should differentiate these boroughs... they are not the same place and it can take an hour to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, just saying).

After I rolled my bags through the streets of New York for a few blocks, I quickly checked into the Element, grateful I didn't stay deeper into midtown... I was weighed down in luggage (I was going away for 2 weeks on a fancy boat and need everything), so my arms and back were relieved to find the hotel. I looked worse than Millie moving into the city, just ready for a room and the Element checked me right hours early!  Woohoo for SPG status!  After resting up and re-bundling up, I headed for TKTS not really worrying about scoring tickets to my intended show target, Holiday Inn... I had no idea the city would be this packed on a weekday ... but there I was at the booth, getting the last ticket to the show.  Phew!  I was lucky.  So, off to Studio 54 I went, to the most uncomfortable seats in all of the theatre district for anyone over 5'2".  The theater itself is gorgeous, and even had a tree in the lobby, but those seats leave no space for longer legs... I am sure the people in front of me don't appreciate my knee in their back anymore than I appreciate the tension either.  I ended up shifting and squirming through act one, hoping for intermission to stretch.  The seats even made it difficult for me to toe-tap my way through the climatic dance numbers (the whole reason I went)... if you saw the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you know I was waiting for the jump rope garland routine... it just is not as much fun watching people dance their hearts out when your knees are killing you.  But I might just have to rewatch that routine a few dozen times to see all the tricks on each rope - there was a LOT going on! 
I had no such issues in the small Pershing Square Signature Theatre, off Broadway to see the 50th Anniversary production of Sweet Charity!  These tickets were hard to come by, and you understood why when you stepped into the tiny theatre.  We were 3rd row - you could see spit flying from the casts' mouths, you could step on the stage and dance with them... (temptation was killing me).  I make no secret that I love Sutton Foster... I think she is the greatest thing to come off Broadway in my generation.  A triple threat and she doesn't just dance, but she owns the stage. 
This production allowed us to see her charisma, mannerisms, charm, wit and flash up close. 
This small production stripped down and laid bare the hurt and humiliation Charity faces and you watched it all play across Sutton's face... you just wanted to give her a hug.  You wanted to tell her it would be okay, but you knew it wouldn't because even though "If My Friend's Could See Me Now" is funny and playful, even silliest number in the show, it showed just how desperate and sad, lonely and vulnerable Charity is.. this production just plain broke my heart in a million pieces (and ignited feminist ire as her last suitor talked about how she wasn't pure enough for him.) 
What a treat to share this intimate theater experience with a good friend and that amazing cast.    We headed off to dinner and raved to Oovina's staff about our amazing evening.  we were the only ones eating out that late on a Wednesday - we had the place to ourselves. The place was lit up to create an almost theatrical setting, with silver grape vines above our heads, purple floor lights and sleek settings.  And the food was scrumptious - we tried a little of a lot! Amazing food, amazing company, amazing last day on land! 

Cruise Day!  I scrambled to pull myself together and headed off to Brooklyn.  I was meeting friends at the terminal, so I was on my own for a while... I worked my way through the endless lines, waiting rooms and finally into the boat... when you have 2 weeks worth of clothes and 4 formal gowns (told you it was a fancy boat), you have a lot to unpack.  I wanted to settle in and get things up and out of the way before my friend and their "almost" 2 year old made it into the room.  It's a good thing I got things somewhat organized because it went crazy almost immediately.

I will say it, this was a cursed cruise.  I truly felt for the captain and crew... for the families... for my friends.  Before I get to my good stuff - let me just say that a cruise that starts with a likely death (woman overboard on night 1), a couple's so savage breakup that they defy customs and leave the ship at port never to return on 2 different islands, a fire, racist and ignorant comments, and a gang of unruly teens stealing stuff and playing pranks just might be cursed... I don't think that this is what anyway wanted on the Queen Mary 2's holiday voyage (if ever).  It was truly a horror story at times. Me, I let my Jersey Girl flag wave boldly, I was not having any of this craziness... I called out horrible people that made comments about kids, ethnicities, and classist behavior.  I was not going to tolerate being told to move because someone thought I was loud, the kid was loud or whatever else bothered their sensibilities.  It was nauseating how nasty some people could be... so I kept myself busy.  On days that we spent at sea, my friends and I played trivia, lots of trivia. We visited the planetarium (yeah, they had one on the boat).  Attended lectures from the college professors brought aboard (Caribbean history, pirates and Broadway).  I tried my hand at Bingo 3 times!  Went to almost every entertainment performance - seeing the boat performers, and special guests (including London stage star Ruthie Henshall).  We hung out on deck/at the pools where the little munchkin liked getting into the water.  (I am not mentioning the food because it was horrible).  It was a lot of relaxing time... And I was ready for the islands. 

Five Islands.  Lots to see.  And I had plans for each of them.  The first day I hit the ground running - St Maarten!  I was off on a hike, up the highest peak to see some views and a hike down.  And it rained... oh yes, it rained.  They warned us the trail was muddy and slippery... and it was.  The walking sticks provided (that I wanted to turn down),
were, in fact, handy.  I made my way to the back of the pack so I could hang back and snap some pictures... our guide could not identify many of the features we were seeing and my eyes needed time to scan.  Otherwise, I would have missed sights like the snail, the spiders and the incredible trees!  I was so busy taking pictures I did not notice that my lens cap fell off my camera's attachment, so by the time I made it down the island, I was capless and had no idea where to look.  Good thing the tour dropped me off in Phillipsburg where I was able to replace it in one of the camera shops in town. Turns out that Philipsburg was the largest Caribbean city we were visiting (until St Thomas, and even then I think its bigger than Charlotte Amalie).  There were endless stores peddling diamonds; in fact almost every island we visited peddled diamonds (it was horrible).  In  Philipsburg there was at least some diversity of shops filled with textiles, local crafts, boutiques, and liquor.  I was able to find some Larimer, my lens cap, get some food, take some pics of colorful island bungalows and the beach - a great way to cap off a wonderful hike.  This was a great start.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

End of Year 2016 - Lots of Wins and 1 Mission Failure

Let's start off immediately by saying that I did not make it to my final state this year.  It was a goal.  I had a plan... and plans change.  Needless to say, I am miffed about this, but that does not mean I did not do and see amazing things this year.
Year End Summary

States/Territories Visited: NJ, NY, PA, DE, VA, MD, AZ,  NC, SC, FL, LA, CO, KY, AR, WA & US Virgin Islands
Countries: USA, Canada, Dominican Republic, St Kitts, Dominica, British Virgin Islands (Tortola)
Key Cities: NYC, Philadelphia, Tucson, Phoenix, Scranton, Little Rock, Bowling Green, New Orleans, Denver, Victoria, Ottawa, Miami, Charleston
Art Towns – Cooperstown, Charleston, Hot Springs, Coral Gables, Charlotte Amalie

Parks: Mammoth Cave NP, Hot Springs NP, Wright Brothers Nat Memorial, Fort Raleigh NHS, Tumacacori NHP, Paterson Great Falls NHP, Saguaro NP, Coronado Nat Mem, Valley Forge NHP, Hopewell Furnace NHS, Steamtown NHS, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP,  Lincoln Boyhood Home Nat Mem, Fort Sumter NM, Little Rock Central High School NHS, Wolf Trap NP for the Performing Arts, Great Falls Park, Shenandoah NP, Montezuma Castle NM and Canadian National Park 1000 Isles, Dominican Republic National Parks Sanoa Island and the Caves; The Baths, British Virgin Islands; Morne Trois Pitons NP, Dominica

Concerts:  Hall & Oats, Trombone Shorty, Santana, William Shatner, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson (THE Beach Boy), Elle King, Bryan Adams, Chic, Duran Duran, Ricky Martin,  Kristin Chenoweth,  NSO and New Kids on the Block plus a lots of amazing Broadway shows (Allegiance, Finding Neverland, Waitress, She Loves Me, Beautiful, American in Paris, Fully Committed, Disaster, Bright Star, On Your Feet, The Illusionists, Sweet Charity [off Bway] and Holiday Inn ), tours Bridges Of Madison County, Maks & Val Dance, Grinch Stole Christmas and regional shows Freaky Friday. (I love live music and theatre)

Aquariums: Virginia Marine Science Center, South Carolina

Ghost Tours: Ottawa, New Orleans

Iconic or Plain Ole’ Amazing Sites: Central Park in the snow storm, Philly Flower Show, Canadian Capital, Little Rock HS, Bathhouse Row,  Parliament in Victoria, Pineapple Fountain of Charleston, Grand Ave in Mammoth Caves, Coors Tour in Golden,  Baseball Hall of Fame, Columbus Museum in Santo Domingo, The Baths in Virgin Gorda, the Caribbean Reef
2016 was a full year.  It was a year filled with beauty, wonder and adventure, beginning with a crazy snowbound trip in NYC in the epic snowstorm and ending in the Caribbean visiting a few new islands. 

This year marked the 100th birthday of the national park service, and everyone knows how passionate I am about visiting (and protecting) these amazing places.  I made a point of getting to some new national parks, as well as revisiting a few favorites along the way.  And with them, I made it to lots of other types of park units – monuments, historic sites, memorials and more.  With all my visits to national park elements, you would think I would be almost done, but I am not even close.  There is a lot to see out there, and visiting these places helps me connect to our environment just a tiny bit more.  I went out to cave country this year to visit Mammoth Caves in Kentucky  - we hiked by lamp light, we saw cave critters evolved to live in a lightless environment, and imagined rooms filled with gypsum flowers.  I revisited Saguaro National Park in Tucson Arizona to catch a sunset over these iconic cactus before I took off to hike to the Mexican border at Coronado National Memorial, visited a mission at Tumacacori and walked around an ancient Native American dwelling carved into the mountainside in Montezuma Castle.  John and I traveled to Arkansas to honor civil rights history at Little Rock Central High School and partake in a bit of history by taking a traditional bath at historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park (I also got in an amazing hike to see the beautiful folded mountains).  I took many weekend trips, some solo some not, to explore area park sites – we rode an historic steam engine in Scranton, PA, at the Steamtown National Historic Site, we learned about theories for Croatian at Fort Raleigh and listened in awe to the stories of first flight at Wright Brothers, both in North Carolina; I learned about colonial iron forging at Hopewell Furnace; visited Hamilton’s designer city at Paterson Falls; and more…

This year finally marked the year I made it to things that have been on my list for what seems like ages– Charleston, SC & its pineapple fountain!  Cooperstown & the Baseball Hall of Fame.  John and I made these trips to celebrate our birthdays… on one, we hit the beach and burned our feet before a monstrous storm rolled in, we toured via foot, bike, boat and horse and buggy to see a Southern gem and soak in the history, and on the other, we wandered an amazing museum on baseball and another on cars, and took time to enjoy a beautiful lake before an amazing storm rolled in practically each day.  YEP, my weather luck is still rolling!