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Monday, October 30, 2017

Beach Vacation Sand Art

One of my favorite souvenirs to bring back from vacation is the sand from our beach vacations.  I never realized how different sand is from each other until I started collecting and saw them side by side.  I collected a lot of sand over the years and was even given sand by my daughter, Lisa, when she went to California.  What I did when I finally decided to do something with the collected sand, was to put them in separate glass bottles.  I soon had too many bottles and nowhere to display them.  My second idea was to turn them into ornaments for our Christmas tree.  I bought small baby rattles at A.C. Moore that could be filled with candy for a baby shower.  I labeled them and then filled them with the sand.  The ornaments were too heavy for the branches of the tree and didn't look right.  My third try at displaying the sand is finally something I am happy with.  I like how the sand art turned out so much that I am starting to collect more sand to make another one.

I always have a bottle of water with me when I go to the beach.  I've found that the easiest way for me to bring sand home is in that water bottle.   After I drink the water I dry the bottle out as best as I can.   I try to put only clean sand in the bottle.    I  scoop up a handful of sand and just sift through it to get dried seaweed and anything else out that I don't want in the sand.   When I'm happy with how the sand looks,  I pour it into the bottle.  

If you want to remember where your sand came from make sure you label your bottle or container.  I keep a list of the beaches where the sand in my bottle came from.  Starting from the bottom:  Labadee, Haiti; 7 Mile Beach, Grand Cayman; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; Horseshoe Bay Beach, Bermuda; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Outer Banks, NC; Ochos Rio, Jamaica; Santa Monica, California; Cozumel, Mexico; La Jolla, San Diego; Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Before I started pouring the sand into the cute heart bottle someone gave me, I lined up my containers of sand to compare the color and texture.  The more contrast in the color or texture, when you are layering, the better your sand art will look.   I used a funnel to slowly direct the sand into the bottle.  

Be careful handling the bottle when it is not completely filled.  Unfortunately, my bottle was not filled by the time we had to move from New York to North Carolina.   I tried to hold onto it as best as I could but the sand shifted around towards the top and the sand from Mexico and San Diego blended together.  

I am excited about making my next bottle but I need a lot more sand and to find a cute bottle for it.  Guess I will have to go on more beach vacations!

Click here to find a bottle for creating your beach vacation sand art. 

This post was featured at:

Sundays Best Featured Blogger

Thursday Favorite Thing blog link party

Monday, October 23, 2017

Music And Vacation Memories

This is a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own.

I can't hear Rocket Man by Elton John without thinking about sitting on the plane with my mom, dad and sisters on our way to Japan.  The flight from New York to Japan took 13 hours.  The Contemporary Music playlist I chose to listen to from the airlines's music menu probably had about 9 other songs on the list.  By the time we got to Japan and back, I probably listened to Rocket Man at least 26 times!  The song gives me a warm and comfortable feeling and reminds me of how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to enjoy many wonderful family vacations.

There are other vacation memory joggers.  We take as many pictures as we can to refresh our memories of our vacations and photos are absolutely one of the best memory joggers.  So are the souvenirs we buy.   I remember the many small shops me and Soko ventured into searching for the perfect serving dish when we were in Mexico.  (Read about it here.)  Every time I use that dish, I remember how very patient Soko was with me, and really supportive actually, as I ran in and out of every store in the shopping center.  When I finally found the perfect shop with the perfect dish, I wound up not only buying a dish for us but found dishes for our kids, my mom and my sister.  Soko followed me around carrying the heavy load I was piling up on him without even the slightest complaint.  It's a great memory for me.  I'm not sure it is for Soko though!

But there is something about music and the power it has to not only conjure up memories but emotions and feelings associated with those memories.   When I hear Rocket Man, a wave of nostalgia sweeps over me.   When I hear the song Happy by Pharrell Williams I get an instant joyful memory of my son's wedding.  He surprised me by asking the DJ to play my favorite song even though he assured me it would not be played at his wedding.  Not only did it make me feel extremely happy but we had almost every wedding guest dancing in a conga line around the venue, including my mom being pushed in her wheelchair!

Some of my favorite music is from the CD's I bought in Japan.  We always stayed at my Obaachan's (grandma) house when we visited.   We traveled by mass transit when we needed to get anywhere.  The train station was a few blocks from Obaachan's house.  The block that led to Imazato Station was lined with little mom and pop shops, two grocery stores, small noodle shops that served the most delicious food and the record shop on the corner.  The record shop would play the current hits and play them so loudly that you could hear the music halfway down the block.  We would start to recognize the songs because we would be in this area almost every day.  With the help of family and friends we were able to buy the CD's of the music we were hearing all the time.  I am so happy to have these CD's because of the wonderful memories and the instant warmth that comes over me when I listen to them.

I will definitely be looking for music to bring back with me when me and Soko go to Italy next year.  Maybe the gondolier in Venice has a CD of the love songs he will be singing as we relax on his gondola.  I'm sure listening to that CD will conjure up some very romantic memories!

This post was inspired by composer and screenwriter John Ross Jesensky.  

Read about the John Jesensky Scholarship which is open to high school seniors or current college students.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hiking The Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Sometimes long weekends can make the best vacations.  Since me and Soko retired two years ago, our life has become one long weekend.   But if we want to go on vacation with our friends and family we have to wait until they have vacation days or a long holiday weekend off.   My sister, Sandie, had a four day weekend because the pre-school she works at was closed for Rosh Hashanah.   She wanted to make the most of it so she invited me and Soko to go hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains with her and her husband, Mini.   So they headed 12 hours southwest and we headed 7 hours west and we met in Gatlinburg, TN at the Holiday Inn Express Gatlinburg Downtown.

Me and Soko actually drove through the Great Smoky Moutains to get there, entering in Cherokee, NC and exiting in Gatlinburg.  On our way through, we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitors Center and picked up a hiking map and information about the mountains.  When we met up with Sandie and Mini we looked through the information to figure out which trails we wanted to do.  The trails were rated from easy to strenuous.   And they were categorized by the main description of the hike.   We could choose from loop hikes, hikes with views, waterfall walks, hikes to old-growth forests or pleasant strolls and riverside rambles.  We also looked over the potential hazards.  We read that we should avoid any snakes we see as two species of poisonous snakes live in the Smokies.  We did see a snake that Mini said was only a garter snake but we kept as far away from it as we could anyway.  And luckily we didn't see a bear, but we knew if we did see one we were not supposed to turn our backs to it.  We were supposed to act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear by talking loudly or shouting at it.  I'm pretty sure that my reaction would have been to turn my back to it and run which is totally the most unsafe thing to do according to the article.  I'm really glad we did not see a bear!

For our Day 1 hike, we decided to do a trail that was rated moderate and led to a waterfall.   We drove our car into the mountains until we found Trillium Gap Trail.  This would lead us to Grotto Falls.

There were lots of roots that we tried to maneuver around but there were so many roots, especially as we got nearer to the falls, that we had to walk on top of them, very carefully.  

There were also streams with lots of rocks to climb on that tested our balance.  The rocks were pretty dry though or they would have been slippery and harder to get across.

We took our time and took breaks when we needed to catch our breaths.

We were treated to a beautiful site at the end of the 3 mile trail.  We were able to walk under the falls and the mist from it was very refreshing.  We sat and enjoyed the view for awhile before we headed down the trail.  

What I learned from this hike was how much easier it was to get across the very rocky streams and root filled parts of the trail after I picked up a stick to use as a hiking pole.   It really helped me to keep my balance and not fall at those tricky areas.  We were passing people all day who were using some kind of stick or pole, either singularly or as a pair.  I will look into getting a trekking pole before my next hike.  I researched a bit and saw that they have ones that fold and can be carried in a backpack.  I ditched my stick when the path got clearer because I got tired of carrying it so the folding stick will work perfectly for me.  Besides for helping with balance, you can use your pole to help you on steep inclines and declines and they also take some weight off your knees.

Day 2

For our Day 2 hike, we chose a hike rated moderate with a view.  So off to Clingmans Dome Tower Trail we went.   This was a much shorter trail, 1 mile,  and it was also on a paved road so sounded easier than our Day 1 hike.  We were warned, though, that the trail was very steep.    

They were not kidding about the steepness of the trail.  Now we knew why the trail was rated moderate and not easy.  We (I should say "I") had to make lots of stops to catch our breath.   

It was disappointing that we when we finally made it up that mega steep trail we found out that the tower was closed.  It would have been fun to go up there to see the view, but it was really foggy that day so we probably wouldn't have been able to see much anyway.

We got over our disappointment quickly when we saw the Appalachian Trail sign.  Clingmans Dome is actually the highest point of the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet.  Now I get why the trail was so steep!  

We decided to hike the Appalacian Trail since it was right there but only went a few feet in and back out again.  We would have to be a little more prepared than we were to hike the longest hiking-only trail in the world.  I don't think the Appalacian Trail will ever make my "Must Hike" list.  Hiking 2,200 miles and through 14 states is a little too much hiking for me.  

What I learned from hiking the very steep Clingmans Dome Trail is that I was not wearing the right shoes at all.  My toes were killing me after smashing into the top of my sneakers as we made our way back down the trail.  This made the decline much harder for me than the incline.  Before my next hike I will get some hiking boots.  I have started to do some research into finding the best boot for the kind of hiking we will be doing.  What I definitely know is that I will make sure that I get boots that fit properly.  I read that I should be able to fit my finger between my heal and the back of the boot.  This assures that there will be plenty of room for your toes not to hit the front of the shoe.  Also, ankle support and sole rigidity is important.  There are many choices of materials used to make the boot that will give you more or less support but will also make the boot heavier or lighter.  The article I read suggested a combination of nylon mesh and leather.

We had a great time with Sandie and Mini enjoying the great outdoors together.   We made plans with them to see and hike as many National Parks as we can once they retire.   That gives me about 5 years to find the perfect trekking pole and pair of boots!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why These 5 Destinations Are On My Bucket List

This is a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own.

I'm sure you have your bucket list of places you would love to see.  I know I have mine.  It was longer but we have booked a cruise that includes docking in two ports that were very high on my bucket list, Rome and Venice, Italy.  We will be taking that cruise to celebrate our 40th anniversary. That won't happen until next October but that dream is finally going to come true.  We found a good excuse to get us to Italy, now we need to find a way to get to the rest of my list.  I am down to five destinations that I really need to see.  Three of them are here in the USA so there is a good chance that I will be able to check off my list at least three of the five.   I am hopeful that we will get to all five though.  Why are these destinations on my list?  Because...

1.  Moline, Illinois.  Ok.  Maybe you have never heard of Moline, Illinois.   Neither would I if my dad wasn't born and raised there!  I have been to the neighborhood in Osaka, Japan where my mom spent her childhood.  Me and my sisters were very fortunate to have had the amazing experience of spending entire summers living in the house she grew up in..  It gives you a sense of who you are to know where your roots are.  Lately I have been very curious to know about my dad's birthplace.  I realize it is not going to be the same town anymore.  I'm sure it has changed a lot in the last 70 years.  I feel a connection, though, and need to go there at least once.  And who knows it may turn out to be the best place ever and I will want to visit again.  It is slightly famous and known by some for housing the John Deere tractors.  I was surprised to find that out a few years ago when we passed a John Deere truck on the road and I saw Moline, Illinois on their logo.  I will definitely go to check out the John Deere headquarters.   Have you been to your parent's hometowns?  Maybe you are living there right now.  If not, you might want to put it on your bucket list if it's not there already.

2.  Redwood National Park.  After singing about the Redwood Forest as a TA in a preschool for 16 years, I really have to see these awesome trees for myself.  (The Gulf Stream waters are not on my list though!)   That is only one of the many parks I want to visit.  There are 59 National Parks in twenty seven states.  I have been to three National Parks.  We just recently went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that borders on Tennessee and North Carolina.  We met my sister and brother-in-law there and hiked a couple of trails on that trip.  (I will post about that trip very soon.)  We hiked Arcadia National Park in Maine on one of our group camping trips many years ago.  That was one of our most favorite camping trips and the one that is talked about the most.  And we toured the amazingly beautiful Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona when we were on vacation in Las Vegas with a group of over 20 people.  So many of our best vacation memories are from our adventures in these National Parks.  If you have some National Parks on your bucket list and you are a senior, find out about a great deal you can take advantage of here.

3.  Alaska.  I have been in Anchorage, Alaska but never ventured out of the airport.  I heard Alaska was gorgeous and I finally want to actually see it.   I would probably look into doing a cruise and look for one that includes these popular cruise destinations.   1.  Hubbard Glacier, at 76 miles is the largest tidewater glacier in North America and looks gorgeous from pictures I've seen.  It is probably one of those things you have to see in person to get the full effect.  2.  Glacier Bay National Park would give me a chance to visit a national park and go whale watching at the same time.  3.  The city of Skagway, established during the Klondike gold rush, for the experience of seeing an authentic Alaskan mining town.   4.  The Inside Passage is thought to be one of the most beautiful places in all the world.  I heard it is most gorgeous in the summer and fall.  5.  I would love to see the Northern Lights but the best time to see them is in winter and I don't think they make a jacket warm enough for me to go to Alaska in the middle of winter!

4.  Australia.  One day my dad announced that we were moving to Australia.  He had had enough of the stressful life he had as a ticket agent for Air Canada Airlines and he was ready to live the laid back, stress free life of an Australian.  He had never been to Australia but this was the vision he had of what life was like down under.  We actually got to the point where I thought "I better go say goodbye to my friends because this is really happening!"  Needless to say we never got there because it is still on my bucket list.  Besides for seeing if my dad was right about how wonderful it is to live in Australia, I would love to see a koala in the wild.  I would love to go to Raymond Island, Victoria for that experience.  There are so many koalas in that area and you can even see them in the front yards of peoples's homes!  You can also see kangaroos, echidnas and rainbow lorikeets there.  One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is in Australia.  I hear that the marine life you can see there is incredible and can be enjoyed on a glass bottom boat which is great news for a non-snorkeler like me.   I worked many years in NYC and loved it.  I would like to visit one of the large cities, like Melbourne, to see how it compares to the cities we have here.  And finally, I would love to check out a beach.  I think that Bondi Beach would probably be the one I would want to go to for not only the beach but also for the shops, cafes and restaurants that lie across the street.

5.  The Netherlands.  When my daughter, Lisa, was in 5th grade, the VanMastrigt family temporarily moved into our neighborhood from The Netherlands.  Lisa and Myrthe VanMastright became close friends and it was such a shame that it was only for a year.  But it was so nice to get to know all of them even if it was for just a short time.  Not only did we enjoy their company, we also enjoyed getting to learn some things about their country.  We didn't see much of Baus as it was because of his job that they were here so he was always working, but we saw a lot of Myrthe and her mom, Wilma.  They were so cool and made The Netherlands seem like a cool country to live in.  Myrthe and Wilma were two of the happiest, friendliest and easygoing people I have ever met.  I have a feeling that maybe there is a whole city of people just like the VanMastrights in The Netherlands.  They lived in the city of Amsterdam which has the reputation of being a party city.  I would love to see it.  It's a big city with many monumental buildings, lots of bridges and many museums.   The Anne Frank Museum is there.  I would like to see that.  I think it would be very interesting.  I heard that the coffee shops are unique in Amsterdam.  I would love to have a cup of coffee in one.  I would definitely have to see a windmill because when I've thought of Holland I've always imagined seeing windmills and wooden shoes everywhere.   The city of Leiden is where I would go to see the windmills along with tree-lined canals, wooden bridges and nice parks and gardens.  And finally, I would love to visit the city of Gouda to see lots of old buildings and eat my favorite the cheese!

Are any of these destinations on your bucket list?  What is on your list?  We would love to know!

This post was inspired by Australian Andrew Charlton.  Learn about him here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

In And Around Gatlinburg, TN

My sister, Sandie, had a couple of extra days off from her job at a preschool and wanted to know if me and Soko would like to meet her and her husband, we call him Mini, in Tennessee.   She thought it would be fun to hike the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.  (Read all about here it in an upcoming post.)  So Sandie and Mini drove 11 hours from NY and we drove 7 hours from NC and met in Gatlinburg, TN.  By the time we all arrived in Tennessee and checked into the Holiday Inn Express Gatlinburg Downtown, it was too late to go hiking.   We decided that going out to get a late lunch then checking out the downtown area would be the itinerary for Day 1.  

When we were together in Florida in August we sat down to make some plans for our Tennessee vacation.  While we were searching for the best places to eat in Gatlinburg, we came across reviews of a quaint little restaurant in the middle of nowhere and knew we had to eat there.  So off to The Wild Plum Tea Room we went.

We learned that the restaurant was inspired by the tea houses of Austria where the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxing and where you could gather to enjoy each others stories and  eat fresh food. The Wild Plum Tea House uses whatever is growing in their garden and seasonal and fresh foods. The menu changes daily depending on what foods are available.  

We had a couple of choices of where we wanted to sit.  We chose the porch but could have chosen the outdoor deck or inside dining room.  If you had your dog with you it would not be a problem as you could sit on the deck with your pet by your side.

Sandie ordered the Wild Caught Yellowfin Tuna that you could have sushi style, seared or cooked through.  She had it seared and paired it with a Kohlrabi and Kale Slaw.   Sandie thought the fish tasted like it had just been caught and loved the slaw.  Soko had the Salmon Burger.  He chose to have it on a bed of lettuce rather than on a bun.  He enjoyed the chunks of salmon as opposed to the usual shaved salmon (my recipe!) in his burger.  He also had the slaw as his side.  I had the Lobster Pie which had chunks of lobster in an artichoke cream sauce.  I thought the sauce was delicious and liked that it was not thick and heavy.  I had a Quinoa Salad with grapes and radishes.  I thought the grapes went perfectly with the quinoa.  Mini had the Bison Burger which was stuffed with smoked Gouda cheese. He had never had bison before and said it was much leaner than a beef burger which he said was what he enjoyed about it.  He had it with the soup of the day which was a Harvest Pumpkin Soup.  I had to taste his soup because he was making it sound like the most delicious soup he ever had in his life.  It was really good and that's coming from someone who is not a fan of anything pumpkin!  Me and Sandie ended the meal by sharing an amazing blueberry concoction that was topped perfectly with cinnamon ice cream.  (No picture...we ate it too quickly!)

On our way out, we were lucky enough to run into the Chef/Owner, Kacey Rothwell.  She asked how we enjoyed our meal and thanked us for coming.  We told her how we loved our meals and that we will definitely come back if we are ever in the area again!

We only had 2 1/2 days to explore Gatlingburg and really wanted to spend most of our time hiking the Great Smoky Mountains.  So after lunch, we decided to just drive through Pidgeon Forge, Gatlingburg's neighboring town to get a glimpse of Dollywood.   It is all about Dolly Parton for sure in this area.  She is probably the most famous person ever born here.  We drove by her two dinner theaters.  Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede is all about singing and dancing and a salute to the USA  and features 32 horses that skilled riders do all kinds of tricks with.   Dolly Parton's Great Smoky Adventures is a show that has more of a story line and gives you an idea of the what it was like in this area and how people lived here in the 1930's.  Besides for the Dolly Parton offerings, there were a ton of other attractions on Pidgeon Forge's main strip including Elvis & Hollywood Legends Museum and the Titanic Museum.

After our tour of Pidgeon Forge, we dropped off our car at the hotel.  We were very happy with the location of the hotel which was only a block away from the Downtown Gatlinburg main strip and right next door to Saint Mary Catholic Church.  Their 7:00 pm Saturday mass worked perfectly for us that weekend.  It was also right across the street from the Log Cabin Pancake House, The restaurant is on all the "top 10 places to eat in Gatlinburg" lists and they have great reviews on Yelp.  They had people waiting outside to get in every time we passed.  We never ate there as our Holiday Inn had a really good breakfast and it was included with our reservation.  (If you are trying to be a bit frugal on your vacation and trying to get the best deals, it's always good to check to see if the hotels you are considering have breakfast included.  If you choose a more expensive hotel that includes breakfast it might be a better deal than the cheaper hotel with no breakfast, especially if you have your kids or grandkids with you.   You can also grab some fruit for snacks to take with you when you go venturing out later on.)   We were also right up the block from the Gatlinburg Space Needle.  If you go over 400' to the top of the tower you will be able to enjoy the sights of the city of Gatlinburg and see the Smoky Mountains.  We didn't go in the tower but I did want to see it and take a picture of it so I was excited that it was just down the block.  There are so many things to do in this town.  Me and Soko did an over-nighter in Gatlinburg with our kids years ago and did Gatlinburg's Mysterious Mansion which is a self-guided tour of a haunted mansion,  The kids enjoyed it a lot because they didn't take it too seriously.  I was a little scared but that's just me.  We also did the Skylift Gatlinburg which was really fun.  You could get off at the top of the mountain to enjoy the sights then hop back on the sky lift for your ride back down.   I can recommend both of these attractions if you are looking for things to do here!

So what did the four of us do in downtown Gatlinburg?  Shopping and walking and enjoying each other's company pretty much.  We don't get to see enough of Sandie and Mini anymore since we moved to NC 2 years ago so we worried less about sightseeing and more about just spending time together.  We did have a fantastic time in the touristy downtown area.  I actually do love walking around with all the other tourists and shopping for souvenirs when we are on vacation.  I was thrilled to see one of those shops that will carve your names or whatever you want into wood pieces of all different shapes and sizes. You only see these guys in places like this.  I needed something for our place in Florida and got one at a very reasonable price and I love how it came out!

The downtown area was celebrating fall and everywhere you looked you would find beautiful fall displays and landscaping.  It added to the enjoyment of walking around the town.

Me and Sandie ventured into alleyways off the main road that led to loads of small, mostly crafty, stores that had the most unique things to buy.  We looked in the sock store where you could buy socks covered with soccer balls for your favorite soccer player.  You could buy socks for your cat lover, dog lover, fisherman and everyone else on your list.  We looked in a linen store that had the most gorgeous embroidered tablecloths but at $100 each they were a little to expensive for my budget.

Soko and Mini ventured into a shop that sold moonshine and both walked out with 3 mason jars full.  Mini paid to sample 15 different flavors of moonshine.  He was a very happy camper after that!
We found lots of things to buy and enjoyed walking through town   We stopped by Ripley's Believe It Or Not.  The huge robot made out of car parts was pretty amazing and I am sure there were lots of cool things to see inside but it was time to go back to the hotel to relax by their indoor pool.

We ended up relaxing by the pool for only a few minutes because when the last of the kids left the water slide area we had to get in there to try out the slides.  Those slides were so much fun and another perk included in the price of the room!   Needless to say, we were all snoring by the time our heads hit our pillows that night.

Stay tuned for our adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains and what I learned about hiking that I will use on our next hiking trip.