Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My DC Veterans Trip - AMAZING

Experience of a Lifetime

The American Warriors Day of Honor

This Memorial Day weekend I had the honor of assisting a WWII Veteran around Washington DC to see the National WWII memorial and four other memorials.  It was a truly humbling experience. 

The American Warriors are a group of volunteers who raise money to get WWII Vets to the memorial in DC as well as raising awareness for veterans programs.  Check them out.  American Warriors.   They organize a flight for about one hundred vets (twice a year), with four busses, team leaders, guardians and helpers.  Over the five years that AW has been doing this, the number of needed wheel chairs per flight has gone from 30 to 60%, meaning more and more helpers are needed on each flight.  That is where I came in.

I was given the opportunity to travel to DC to meet the flight when it arrived, connect with a veteran and spend the day wheeling him around and keeping him company.  I took the train from CT to DC, stayed in a hotel and joined about 150 other folks in welcoming these vets (between the ages of 86-99) as they got off the plane.  A brass band, kids with signs, active service members, airport staff, and folks just waiting for other flights were there to cheer as these guys landed.  Once it was “wheels down” it was a busy day of getting them situated on a bus, taking head counts, spreading the sun block, passing out water and getting to know each other while we trekked to five amazing memorials.

This is Stan at the wall honoring those
who were lost in WWII.
Let me tell you a bit about Stan.  He was a Marine who served from 1942-43.  He served in the Pacific at Guadalcanal (here’s a little something about this Guadlcanal Campaign.)  He was so excited to be a part of this trip to see a memorial that he said was long overdue.  When we got off the bus and began to weave our way through the huge National memorial he was overwhelmed by the size of it all.  Four sections of the circle have pillars that hold a wreath for every US state and province that participated.  Water features highlight different battles and a wall of 4,000 stars represents the 400,000 men and women that never came home from that war. 

Here is our group of Vets inside the WWII Memorial.
From there we got back on and off the bus for the Navy Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Iwo Jima/Marine Corps Memorial and the Air Force Memorial.  All of which were amazing to see (2 I had been to before, 3 I had not). 

We were there on Saturday of the holiday weekend.  On Sunday there was to be the Rolling Thunder motorcycle event.  A ride of over half a million bikers, to bring awareness to the needs of Veterans.  So, when we were going from place to place, it was mobbed with bikers as well as families and it was absolutely amazing to see how folks reacted to these WWII vets.  People of all ages were coming up to Stan and the other vets to thank them for their service, shake their hands, give hugs and even take their pictures with them.  Marines that approached Stan seem to have a special bond with him that was beyond my understanding.  It was so special to see.  A mother walked up and shook Stan’s hand and then had her two children walk up shake his hand and thank him.  It was great to see parents teaching their children to respect these men.

So after a very long, HOT and emotionally draining day we brought theses Heroes back to the Airport.  This is where I left Stan with a hug and a kiss and a promise to send pictures from the day. But for Stan the day was not over.  He still had thank you letters to read on the way home written by school children then to be greeted by family, friends and patriots when he landed at Bradley International.  I have had the privilege of being at the airport when they land last fall, talk about amazing.

There will not be too many more of these honor flights as our WWII are passing away quickly.  When I got home from this great trip, I had the honor of spending an afternoon with my two favorite veterans... my Father and my Brother.

2 of the 17 statues at the Koran War Memorial

Our Vets at the Iwo Jima Memorial

Friday, May 25, 2012

How many magnets does one girl need?


A new idea for bringing home memories

I have a refrigerator full of magnets that I hardly look at anymore.  The cover the front of my freezer door and trail along the side panel.  I still have and wear the t-shirt that I got on my first big vacation… that first trip Heather and I took to England.  It is blue with a large white gargoyle face on it and it is from the city of Bath.  I also have about two dozen other t-shirts from places I have been that I have worn once or twice and I have never worn again, but they sit in a drawer, I hate to throw them away.   What is the point of having souviniers that I really doen't appreciate anymore. 

I think the change started in Paris, where I bought an umbrella with a Monet painting on it; I use it all the time.  Then out of necessity in Quebec City I bought another umbrella – yup, caught in a rain storm – this one with the city’s 175th anniversary logo on it.

9 & 4 - my Birthday.
So many people ask me why I have
earrings that say $4 ???

But my trip to New Mexico is where my shift in souvenir buying really happened.  I picked up this pair of earrings in a museum shop.  There are recycled typewriter keys, you could go through the basket and “make your own pair”.  I have worn them at least a hundred of times.  They are unique, conversation starter and a nice reminder of a great vacation.

So now when I travel I glance over the t-shirts, magnets and knickknacks.  I go looking for things I will wear more often, for me it is jewelry (like the black pearl pendant I got in Hawaii) or a great tote bag.  Something I can wear or use on a day to day basis that is more understated but long lasting.  Also, when I am on the hunt for jewelry, I try to buy from local artist, to get things I can’t get anywhere else.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mohonk Mountain House

A Favorite Place
Step into the past
New Paltz, NY

This 19 Century treasure is a most amazing resort in upstate NY, about two hours from my place in Hartford.  A stunning drive up a winding mountain road, past the 18 hole golf course and pristine forest that goes on for thousands of acres.   You arrive at the “mountain view” side of the hotel which is only the tip of the iceberg of this stately hotel like you have never seen before.

The main house of Mohonk, with the rocking chairs facing
the lake, I love the buildings that were added on.
Many rooms have balconies with their own rockers.

There are two ways to visit Mohonk, you can go as a day guest, or stay overnight.  I have to say, I have never stayed overnight, but it is on my list of places to spend a night or ten!  I have been twice though as a day guest, which means you get access to the huge property for hiking, views and boat rentals as well as a grommet meal, afternoon tea and rocking chairs overlooking the lake.  If you stay at the hotel your meals and activities are included, thus making this a resort and not just a hotel.

This particular property started out as a small getaway in the woods, but was purchased by a set of twin brothers who grew it into something bigger and breathtaking.  As you look over the hotel you can see that it has grown in sections through the gilded age of America and continues to change with the times, but it in classy way.

Me on the lower porch overlooking the lake.
I love this picture of me.

It was many years before the hotel had electricity and remnants of the gas fixtures can still be found in the common spaces.  Until 1980’s, AC in the guest rooms was not an option, folks coming for a weeks’ vacation might bring their own fan to cool their rooms.  And as for TV’s, if you want to catch the game, you have to go down to the common rooms unless you have a tower suite. 

For day visitors Mohonk offers a great buffet lunch in the rich-wood dining hall or some days you can sit outside for a BBQ spread that is out of this world.  I have done them both!  Once you have paid for your meal you can wander through the opulent house, rest is the sitting rooms, walk through the well manicured gardens, stroll through the gift shop, chat with employees who know the history of the property, go for a hike up to the top of the mountain where a stone tower over looks the worlds.  You can sit by to dock on the lake, enjoy afternoon tea with cookies or my personal favorite way to spend time; you can sit in a rocking chair overlooking the lake.  This peaceful view from the enormous covered porch can be enjoyed for hours on end and as they have dozens of rockers on two levels you never feel like you have to give up your seat.

My mom is enjoying teh view on the mountain side
of the hotel.

You can also pay extra for canoes that you can take around the lake, enjoy their beach for a swim, go rock climbing or enjoy a horse drawn wagon ride.

If you are looking for a great place to experience nature, a beautiful hotel to stay at for a romantic weekend, an award winning spa and a way to step back in time then Mohonk Mountain House is the place for you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Talkin' bout cruisin'

My Thoughts

I have never been much the salt water girl, not a beach lover by any means and didn't know how I felt about the great expanse of the ocean.  But that didn't stop me from hoping a plane to Florida and getting on my first Carnival cruise.  I started with a Caribbean cruise on a moderate size ship, a window room on the back of the ship.

Relaxation, the whole point of a cruise.  This is the "new" 
Serenity Adult Retreat area - a quiet place, no kids aloud.
 I tried the lunch buffet, explored the ship and found a quiet section of deck to watch the world go slipping by and the ocean grew bigger.  I was HOOKED to say the least.  So, two cruise lines and 8 cruises later - I have to say, it is the best way for me to spend my vacation dollar.  So today's blog is about telling you the amazing parts of cruising so that I can get you as sucked in as I am.

The food, it's all about the food.  There is great food all day, in dinning rooms, room service, buffet lines, grills - you want it, they have something 24 hours a day.  Want to cruise without gaining too much weight - stick to the dining rooms (very well portion controlled and has a spa menu).  If you are worried about dress codes, don't be.  Carnival and NCL let you skip the suite and tie for khaki's and a polo (but you can dress to the 9's if you'd like.)

Entertainment is varied and impressive.  Most nights have a "big show" in the main theatre, but you can also find comedy shows, karaoke, trivia, classes, movies under the stars, music and dancing.  If you want to find a bit of quiet on a busy ship, find your way to the front of the ship on a clear night and watch the stars fill the sky while you listen to the water rush by.

You have to love the towel animals that are left in your
 room every day.  Cute!!
 Picking a room.  You want to pick a room that fits your needs and budget.  Don't plan on spending a lot of time there - an inside room will be economical and sufficient.  Want to watch the world go by with out other people, a balcony is for you.  Want to really spoil yourself - try an suite (not that I have ever been so cool.)  My favorite rooms are the balcony's off the back of the ship.  Yes, it is a hike from the elevators but it has it's perks.  Your balcony is never windy, you get to see where you have been and they are always deeper then regular decks.  I have had a corner wrap around on a Carnival ship once, now that was THE BEST!

Destinations... I will save those for another Thought.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth


Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus
The XL Center

It seems to be becoming tradition that when that circus train rolls into Hartford, my good friend Sue packs up her boys, picks me up and we head to the XL Center for an evening of big animals, high flying acrobats, cotton candy and this year… fire breathing dragons!
For the first time, we all got their early and headed down to the lower level to see the animals up close before the show started.  Lions rolling on their backs in hay, horsed saddled for show, elephants only seven feet away – it is a great part of the experience.  Then it is back up to find our seats then down to the floor of the arena to watch an elephant paint a picture and dance with the performers, there was even a huge bouncy house.  As I am not much the fan of crowds so I watched from above as hundreds of families watched horses perform and visit with clowns.  The birds-eye view is a great place to be.

The show unfolds with our National Anthem sung while a stunning woman waves a US flag riding an elephant.  Then it’s full steam ahead with clowns, motorcycles, dancers, aerialists and a booming Ring Master (a CT native to boot!)  While the trainer was showcasing the awesome personalities of the lions and tigers, one had a bit of sass and attitude and threatened him.  He assured the audience it was part of the act, I was not so convinced of that.  Motorcycles on a highwire, and ladies suspended from the ceiling in plastic orbs filled the upper tiers while men with swords bend steel.  What circus would be complete without someone diving through fire (blindfold… and lined with swords!)  All of that before intermission.

Attendants bring around cotton candy, programs, snow cones and lemonade – all over priced but in some kind of cool souvenir container.   Lots of loud music designed to get you up and moving starts the second act that leads to high flying aerials, men flipping through the air while wearing stilts and a huge crowd favorite, motorcycles in a small cage driving fast and upside down.  This year they had 8 cyclists.  (Sue’s son informed me that it was one more than they had last year!)

The theme of this year’s circus was “The year of the Dragon” and the dragons did not disappoint.  From smaller wheeled ones brought through the hall, to lighting effects (gobos for your techie types), a reminder that with Wisdom, Courage, Strength and Heart – the real dragon would show itself, and that it did, a huge green fire breathing dragon ended the show.  One of my favorite aspects of this show is the live music that is played, right there in the area for each and every act.  A full package deal.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fly out? Drive Back? Who does that?

A Travel Tip

I think that all those trips back and forth from home to VT for 15 years killed it for me.  I have to say, I HATE driving back and forth on the same route.  That is way Heather and I love this Fly-out, Drive-back concept. (Lets call it FO/DB) We figure out how far we are willing to drive BACK to CT from, maybe we only have 7 days, or want to spend more time in one place than others.  How far are we willing to drive without going crazy?  Then, we book a ticket to that farthest destination, pack light and go.

Yes, it can more expensive this way.  I will not lie to you.  But first, let me tell you the advantages of doing it this way.  Let's face it, airport security is not getting any friendlier.  If you FO/DB, you only have to go through that once.  If you like getting body scanned and patted down by strangers, then FO/DB might not be for you.  They are charging you to have any and all luggage now a days too, this way you can pack really light and pick up a few things on the way back if you think you need them.  You can buy some really cool, fragile, large things along the way home (always wanted a saddle from TX, a rocker from Amish country or Fenton carnival glass from WV), it is yours to enjoy without the worry of transport.

Okay, so let’s look at the cost of car rental – yes it is pricey because there is, what is called, a drop off fee.  A crazy cost that you cannot avoid.  But you can work to lower the cost of the overall rental.

First, shop around.  Get the vehicle that best fits your needs and budget.  Try on-line sites like Kayak or Priceline.  Book early but keep looking for deals.  (Cancel one for another if you can)  Also, be willing to think outside the box. CALL rental companies - talk to a real live person, and see if there are looking to move vehicles from one part of the country to another.  I did this from FL to CT.  The rental agency wanted SUV's brought from the South to the North; we were doing them a favor.  My daily rental cost was $9 instead of $54.  For this trip from TX, I got a great rate through BJ's Wholesale.  Not a member?  The $35 yearly fee is worth the money you will save all over. 

And for someone like me, who doesn't love to fly, it is a great way to travel.  I only have to get on the plane once, only one security check. 

It may not work for everyone, but it really does work well for me.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stunning, Breathtaking, Majestic

September 2005
Jackson Hole WY & Yellowstone National Park

When Edith invited me to join her for a trip to Jackson Hole WY, I was, of course, game to go but I had no idea what we would see there as I didn’t know anything about the area.  But, as Edith was a travel agent with a history of great ideas, I knew we were going to have a wonderful time.

These mountains were formed by
glacier a REALLY LONG time ago.
We actually started in Salt Lake City, Utah and then drove the beautiful six hours north through Utah and Idaho then finally along the Teton Pass into Jackson Hole, WY.  I had never driven over a mountain before, it was quite the adventure.  Safely arriving, Edith has booked us into a quaint hotel that was actually little two room log cabins. 

Edith and I hitch a ride from town up to the
Bar T-5 Dude Ranch for dinner and a show.

Jackson Hole is the gateway for many people to see the Grand Teton Mountain range and Yellowstone National Park.  Famous for its Elk-antler Arches found in the center of town as well its public art displays, this is a great community to walk around, shop, dine and explore.  While we were there we had dinner at the “Bar T 5”, dude ranch that included a wagon ride to the dinner hall, amazing BBQ and a great show.  We explored the artsy side of town, wandered the amazing shops and took a guided rafting ride down the Snake River, we even watched a Mama bear and her cub lazing on the side of the road!

On one beautiful fall day we took a guided tour through a sliver of 2 million+ acres of National Park!  Our guide picked us and 8 other sight-seers up and started our well narrated drive to the one site we all wanted to see… Old Faithful – the geyser that sets the bar for all other North American Geysers!  When we arrived at the visitor center we learned that Old Faithful was not as faithful as we thought.  It doesn’t go off every hour on the hour, but apparently it goes off in such a way that they can accurately predict the next eruption.  Bleachers line one side of this show and you wait with cameras poised for 5,000 gallons of boiling water to shoot 150 feet in the air. The noise, the spray and even the smell – it is like nothing else you will ever experience.  We wandered along wooden sidewalks from small geysers to mud pools seeing nature just doing its thing.

I have been too many places in the US and around the world, before and after this trip.  When people ask me about the most beautiful place I have ever been, I always think back to Jackson Hole.  From the grassy fields filled with buffalo and elk, to the seven peaks of the Grand Teton Mountains, along the Snake river that winds through the town and the well preserved National Park of Yellowstone, I feel blessed to have been able to visit such a majestic place.