Sara Godwin

Archive for the ‘Parent’ Category

The Insider’s San Francisco …

In Antiques, Baby Boomers, Grandparent, hummingbirds, Kids, Luxury, Parent, San Francisco, Travel, Women's Travel on April 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Take an extra day or two before and after your business trip and explore San Francisco, referred to by locals as ‘The City’ as though there were no other. And there isn’t, at least, not another city like San Francisco.  Here’s a collection of (mostly) free stuff to do that you really shouldn’t miss.

 

Wave Organ • The Wave Organ, a natural acoustic experience listening to the sound of San Francisco Bay, is located at the east end of the Marina jetty at San Francisco Marina behind the St.Francis Yacht Club. Built like a hobbit house with benches, the Wave Organ has quirky little nooks and crannies for listening to the sound of the water swirling in and out of   variously shaped pipes, pianissimo or allegro, echoed or amplified. Rhythmic, soothing, it’s a lovely place to just sit in the sun and let the seagulls provide the counter-point. It’s best at high tide, but barring that, try for sunset and watch the sun disappear into the Pacific Ocean behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

South Park • South Park is a little piece of Paris tucked between Second and Third Streets, not far from AT&T Park. The entire park is currently undergoing a major renovation that includes new trees, new turf, shiny new architecturally innovative play equipment , as well as new benches and picnic tables.  Word on the street is that the beautifully redesigned space will open to the public at the end of February, 2017.

Once the chain link fencing comes down, you can channel Cate Blanchett in ’Blue Jasmine’ by sitting on the bench where Jasmine quietly divorced reality at the end of the film. You’ll find that bench  at the end of the park closest to Second Street, across from the Mexican restaurant.

A small urban island of spreading trees, bright flowers, green grass, and sunny benches, filled with children playing and people walking dogs of every shape and size, it is reminiscent of the jewel-like parks that contribute so much of the charm of  Parisian neighborhoods.

The seriously Parisian part is at the hyper-trendy The Butler and The Chef bistro at the opposite end of the park, open only for breakfast and lunch. The French toast is made with brioche and the ham quiche has huge chunks of Parisian ham. Try not to swoon.

• Budget time for great budget shopping at San Francisco’s best insider shopping destinations: The best consignment shop ever is Goodbyes (actually two shops across the street from each other) at 3464 Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights. Goodbyes carries popular brands (Gap, J.Jill, Chico), American designers (Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Michael Kors), and the serious stuff: Chanel, Dior, and Armani as well as a wild variety of boots and shoes.  The vintage selections include designer purses, capes, coats,  and furs.  Meander down Sacramento Street wherever you will.   The shops are uniformly wonderful, offering everything from custom bathing suits  to hand-embroidered baby clothes to raincoats and warm sweaters for dogs.

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• Want more shopping?   Designer shops featuring everything from clothes to home furnishings, from antiques to boutiques, from sidewalk cafes to busy restaurants are found on Fillmore Street. Walk either direction from Sacramento and Fillmore. Union Street between Gough and Divisidero Streets is chock-full of art galleries, interior design shops, luxury day spas, and great local hangouts like Perry’s (1944 Union Street; 415/922-9022) or the Balboa Café (3199 Fillmore at Greenwich; 415/921-3944). Do a bit of time travel at  the 1861 Octagon House at  2645 Gough Street at Union Street  (415/441-7512). It’s only open on second Sundays, and second and third Thursdays of the month, from 12:noon to 3:pm, and the house is furnished in period antiques.  Don’t miss the charming park-like garden just behind the Octagon House;  It’s a great place to spot hummingbirds when the fuchsias are in bloom.

 

 

 

 

Xanadu• So far, you  haven’t hit a single chain or department store. For those, try Union Square, on Post and Geary Streets between Powell and Mason. Make it an authentically San Francisco experience by wandering down Maiden Lane on the east side of Union Square. Check out  the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in San Francisco at 140 Maiden Lane for a uniquely dramatic take on how commercial space should be designed.

• Just a couple of blocks off Union Square is a treasure house of rare books: Antiquarian book dealer Richard Haines’ bookshop, Argonaut (876 Sutter Street between Bush and Jones). Argonaut houses a superb collection rare books, maps, and ephemera of San Francisco and early California. Neat note: Argonaut was the inspiration for the bookstore in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’; as Hitchcock himself put it, “This is what a bookshop should be.” Give yourself ample time to browse; once you’re there, it’s hard to tear yourself away.

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• The hottest spot in town  is Valencia Street in the Mission District. It’s a wild and wonderful mix of hot new eateries, pop-up stores, funky second-hand shops (one of which shares space with a bike rental shop called Public), traditional Hispanic markets with outdoor produce displays featuring tropical fruits and vegetables , and the best hot chocolate place on the planet. Go to Dandelion (740 Valencia;415/349-0942), on Valencia between 18th and 19th Streets, and order the European hot chocolate.   

It’s a mouthful of ecstasy. Serious chocolate occurs in other forms as well, but the European hot chocolate qualifies as an epicurean epiphany. (Photo credit:  M. DeCoudreaux)

Scallop Chairs

 

• At the opposite end of Valencia is STUFF (up toward Market Street, at 150 Valencia Street; 415/864-2988), a huge antiques collective with three stories of, well, stuff, from mid-century furniture to name designer costume jewelry to Japanese fishing net floats to stainless steel plated custom office furniture to architectural artifacts, and this description barely scratches the surface. They always have coffee, and often have cookies or cake free for the nibbling. STUFF Jewelry

• Speaking of eating, San Francisco has some of this country’s best food, bar none. The James Beard Foundation recently named Chef Charles Phan’s Slanted Door Restaurant at the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street the best restaurant in America.

Use OpenTable.com (http://www.OpenTable.com) to book your table well in advance of arrival; reservations are notoriously hard to score.

For a local neighborhood feel, hit the 102-year-old landmark Swan Oyster Depot at 1517 Polk Street (Open 8:am – 5:30pm; 415/673 – 2757) on Russian Hill. Swan’s offers every type of oyster known to man as well as San Francisco’s native Dungeness crab, shrimp, and a superb clam chowder. Go early: There are only 20 stools at the bar. Lunchtime almost always has a line out the door, but it moves quickly.

• After decades at the corner of Valencia and Market Street, the immense art supplies shop called Flax (415/552-2355) has moved into space at Fort Mason. If you love paper, notebooks, journals, diaries, Filofax, Moleskine, sketch books, water colors, fountain pens, great pencils, and all the other tools and accoutrements of putting your heart on paper, you will fall hopelessly, helplessly in love at Flax. Click on the link for  their website at www.flaxart.com to see the scale of their offerings. If you’re smart,  you’ll take along two friends:  One  to hold your wallet, and the other to carry a crow bar to pry you out of there at closing time.

The visitors bonus they never even mention? The Fort Mason location offers glorious views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, Angel Island, and a very good chance to spot sea lions and harbor seals, not to mention seagulls and pelicans.  Just steps away from Flax, dine at Greens, the nationally recognized vegetarian restaurant. With a seat by the window, you can watch  yachts maneuver in and out of the San Francisco Marina, and container ships putting out to sea.

You are going to love discovering San Francisco!

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Half-a-Million Reasons To Go To Nebraska — Now!

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Grandparent, Kids, Nebraska, Parent, Sandhill cranes, Travel, Wildlife, Women's Travel on March 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm

IMG_9828It’s dark, it’s cold, and just a few feet away are hundreds upon hundreds of sandhill cranes, all of which  have flown thousands of miles,  to land at what amounts to a pinpoint, geographically speaking.  Sandhill cranes gather in huge numbers, the largest bird migration in the Americas, riding the winds of the Central Flyway from Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico.  Their destination? A 75-mile chunk of the Platte River  between Kearny and Grand Island, a tiny landing strip given its context smack in the middle of   the North American continent. The Platte is a braided river, with slim strands of shimmering shallow water crossing and weaving  around an ever-shifting pattern of narrow sandbars. Gathered on these sandbars to roost at night, the cranes are protected from predators. Standing in densely-packed flocks, their collective body heat helps mitigate the icy cold of both air and water.  This is their staging area, where the cranes spend about three weeks resting and replenishing their stores of fat in order to fly north to the nesting grounds in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.

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No one I know would hesitate for a moment to sign up  to watch the wildlife migration across the Serengeti Plains of Africa, and most would regard it as the trip of a lifetime . People from all over the world do it every year. Yet a migration of magnificent birds — sandhill cranes stand four feet tall, not counting their two-foot long bill,  and have a  7.5 foot  wingspan that’s wider than most people are tall —  is practically a national secret.  Even knowledgeable birders, the kind of folks who routinely book trips to go see birds they can’t see at home, often don’t know about the sandhill cranes and Nebraska.  Jane Goodall  has called it ‘one of the top ten animal migrations in the world’, and she’s spent enough time working with National Geographic to know.  Here’s your chance to be one of the cognoscenti, and by comparison with traipsing off to Africa or South America, it’s a bargain, too.

The cranes begin arriving at the end of February, and leave in April, so March is the moment.  Book now. The migration peaks in mid-to-late March, and there are a several crane festivals that are  richly informative and well worth attending.  These organizations offer guides, tours, blinds, information centers, and the opportunity to see sandhill cranes by the thousands:   The Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center , (402) 797-2301; e-mail Audubon Nebraska)  ,  the Rowe Sanctuary (308) 468-5282), and Crane Trust (402/797-2301) .  Make an appointment, so you’re sure to have a place on a tour and in the blinds.

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Sandhill cranes roost in the Platte River during the night, and their ‘lift-off’ early in the morning is one of the wonders of nature.  For the full drama, get to the blind before daybreak.  Being Nebraska, the Great Plains sunrise is spectacular all by itself; add in the magnificence of hundreds of birds taking flight simultaneously, and it’s a memory you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

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This is a perfect ‘take the kids or grandkids’ trip.  Bundle them up warmly, bring a big thermos of hot chocolate and plenty of trail mix or energy bars, and make sure they know how to use binoculars.  Let them use their cell phone cameras to tweet their friends.   What child wouldn’t be fascinated by a bird taller than they are that can fly  170 to 450  miles per day — and as much as 500 miles a day with a steady tail wind?   And do it at 38 miles per hour? Or a bird that dances until it finds just the right partner, a mate it will stay with for the rest of its life?  A bird that can live to be 40 years old, that every year flies north thousands of miles to nest, and then turns around and flies thousands of miles south to spend the winter where it’s warm.  Here are some intriguing math puzzles: How many wingbeats does it take to cross a continent?  How many days would it take to drive — or walk– that distance?  Tall, slim, elegant, and able to fly across entire continents, cranes have the power to fascinate anyone who gets near them.

The first time I went on a  ‘Crane Watch, ‘ as they call it in Nebraska,  my husband and I took his mother, then in her late 70s and recovering from a broken hip, and his 12-year-old niece.  Mom had her walker, and the niece had a video camera.  We got the kid out of school by promising her teacher that she would produce a video that her whole class could watch when she returned.  That led to a crash course in camera angles, keeping the camera steady, approaching wildlife slowly and silently, and narrating raw footage so everyone knew what they were seeing on film. It all came together in that glorious moment when the credits rolled, and it said, ‘By Sarah Hudson’.  Mom hated her walker, and flatly refused to use it, so she tromped along the farm roads beside the corn fields, with the two of us anxiously trotting alongside, trying to keep up with her.  She had the eyes of a hawk, and I suspect she spotted more cranes than the rest of us put together.

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We spent quite a bit of time just trying to find cranes at first: None of us knew that the cranes use their bills to smear mud all over their feathers, so they blended in perfectly with the brown stubble fields.  We had been driving past the fields for an hour before we twigged to what we were seeing.  If several had not flown, we  might never have seen them.  Why cranes cover themselves in mud is one of the great ornithological mysteries.  Speculation has suggested everything from camouflage to killing feather parasites, but the answer remains as yet unknown. A doctoral dissertation anyone?

Just as the sun sets — and prairie sunsets are famous for their color and cloudscapes — the cranes return to the river to roost on the sandbars, safe from coyotes and foxes. Both of the centers offer evening viewing from their blinds. The last time I saw the cranes was a year ago, and we watched the cranes return by the light of a full moon.  If you can schedule that, do it.

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One last footnote.  The year that I first saw the cranes in Nebraska,  twenty years ago and more, I flew out on June 25th at ice-out  to visit a lodge in Bathurst Inlet, Northwest Territories, which is about as far north as you can go in the NWT without falling off the edge of the earth. We knew the sandhill cranes came through on the last leg of their northbound journey, so we looked for them every day.  Our stated mission was to follow the caribou migration, research for a documentary film on North American migrations.

We never found the caribou, and we never spotted any sandhill cranes. As research went, it was a bust.  We were loading our gear into the Otter that would take us back to Yellowknife when one of the other guests came running up, pelting as fast as she could go.  “Your crane,” she panted.  “It just landed behind the lodge.”   We dropped our packs, and dashed off behind her.  And there it was: A solitary sandhill crane.  The timing was just about right for a bird that had been in Nebraska when we were there.  As we watched, it lifted off the ground, made a sharp left turn and began winging its way to Siberia.  It still makes my neck prickle.

There’s nothing else like this, and you’ll never forget it.  Go!

Crane Festivals this year are from March 20 to April 6, 2014.  These websites list all the activities they’re offering:

http://nebraskacranefestival.org/

http://visitkearney.org/sandhill-cranes/

http://rowe.audubon.org/calendar-events-7

http://www.cranetrust.org/sandhill-cranes/

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Little Luxuries and Simple Pleasures: Happy Winter Solstice

In Baby Boomers, Grandparent, Health, Kids, Luxury, Parent, Weather on December 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Little Luxuries and Simple Pleasures: Happy Winter Solstice.

Grandparent Alert: Make This Christmas Unforgettable

In Baby Boomers, Grandparent, Kids, New York, Parent, San Francisco, Travel, Women's Travel on November 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm
Ethereal stalagmites and stalagtites

Ethereal stalagmites and stalagtites

Magnificent limestone  formations at Blanchard's Springs Caverns

Magnificent limestone formations at Blanchard’s Springs Caverns

There’s a delightful way to make this year’s holidays a lot more fun. It does, however, require finding children to play with you. Grandchildren are ideal, but lacking those, your own kids, nieces, nephews, young cousins, or even the kids next door will do very nicely.

There are no shops to forage for gadgetry you’ve never heard of before, no online sites that swear they’ll deliver on time so you can stay up half the night wrapping things that arrived at the last possible moment, and no wrapping gifts in birthday paper because the Christmas wrap ran out. No, this year you’re going to give experiences the children will remember for the rest of their lives.

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Say you live within easy reach of San Francisco — and please note that even Los Angeles is only an hour away by plane.  Now would be a good time to schedule a shopping date with the parent of the chosen child.  Not for the parent, mind you; for you and the child.

One of the leading events of the San Francisco social season is the Nutcracker Ballet, and the stars of the show are not Clara, the Prince or the Sugar Plum Fairy.  No, the stars are the little girls who arrive in their prettiest frocks and shiniest shoes. That’s what the shopping expedition is all about.  Velvet and satin, lace collars and cuffs, wide sashes and petticoats, long skirts and pretty tights, these are the stuff of ‘remember-it-always’ Nutcrackers.  The shopping should end with a special treat for just the two of you: For example,  afternoon tea at the Sheraton Palace Hotel.  It’s the closest thing to ‘Eloise in the Palm Court at The Plaza’  left in America.

There are a number of lovely places in San Francisco to take children for afternoon tea during the holiday season.  Click here for an excellent list:

http://www.sfkids.org/Content.aspx?id=11394

For children six and under, buy tickets for a matinee performance.  Seven to eleven will do fine at an evening ballet.   Should you happen to have a young gentleman in your party, the dress is less formal: A good-looking sweater and pants that aren’t jeans with a pair of recently polished loafers  will do the trick (no, he can’t wear his favorite sneakers/high-tops. Whining is not an option).

Nutcracker performances start December 11, 2013 and continue through December 29th; Here’s the link for tickets:

http://www.sfballet.org/tickets/production/overview/nutcracker

Balcony  seating makes it easy for children to see the whole stage, and be sure to ask about booster seats for the littlest ones when you book.

The Nutcracker itself is always a delight. The San Francisco production has a Christmas tree that always draws gasps as it ‘grows’ magically and majestically, and the little ones dancing in the ballet commanding the stage is a delicious reversal of most children’s routine reality.  On one memorable occasion I took a five-year-old dressed in pale pink backstage to watch the dancers warm up before the show.  The Sugar Plum Fairy walked up to her wearing a green costume.  “That color,” she announced, pointing at the young lady’s pink frock, ‘That’s the color my costume should be.”  So saying, she smiled, pirouetted en pointe, and danced away.  If we hadn’t taken the five-year-old by the hand to go to our seats for the performance, she would be standing there still.   It’s not every day that the Sugar Plum Fairy thinks your dress is prettier than hers.

Winter sleigh rides through the orchards in Door County, Wisconsin

Should it happen that you are closer to Chicago than San Francisco,  an unforgettable Christmas treat may be found there, too. If you’ve never been to Door County, Wisconsin, go.  It’s about a two-hour drive through picture-perfect American pastoral, filled with well-tended farms and orchards that make it feel like you’re coming home even if you’ve lived in cities and suburbs  all your life.   Dress the kids warmly and sign up for a horse-drawn sleigh ride through snow-covered apple and cherry orchards.  This might well be the proper occasion for new caps, mittens, and mufflers of the soft, toasty sort.  When the sleigh ride’s over, the adults can warm up with spiced mulled wine while the children can wrap little hands around a cup of  hot cider or hot chocolate. All parties will enjoy a slice of fresh-baked cherry pie. Pick up packets of chocolate-covered dried cherries to pop in the mouths of all small persons present; it’ll make both of you very happy.

Here are the basics:

Public Group Rides: 30 minutes long $8/person, kids under 2 years free

Private Rides (2-4 people): 30 minutes long $55

Click on http://www.orchardcountry.com/sleigh-rides/ and you’re half-way there. Check the website for dates and times.

Contact owner John Mayberry for reservations and additional information (920) 421-1152.
For dinner, have a fish boil.  Don’t ask;  just do it. The boil is spectacular, and the fish is remarkably good. It will make you grin, and the kids will never forget it.  Just for the record, it’s a reasonably healthy meal: The fish are fresh out of Lake Michigan, not breaded, not deep-fat fried, in fact, not fried at all.  The cooking  method is probably closer to poaching than anything else you’ve seen, but then, you’ve never seen anything else quite like this. Here are a couple of links that will make all things clear:

http://www.doorcountyfishboil.com

http://www.whitegullinn.com/dining/traditional-fish-boils.htm

You’ll want to spend at least one night, probably two, so take a look at these for cosy, comfortable, convenient accommodations:

http://www.thelandmarkresort.com

Landmark  Resort is located at 7643 Hillside Road, Egg Harbor, WI 54209; the phone number is 920/868-3205, toll-free is 800/273-7877.   Two-story two-bedroom suites with views of the lake are available;  It’s like having your own  Door County condo.   Tuck the children to sleep upstairs, and settle in for a very civilized glass of Door County wine before turning in yourself.

Also consider the Door County Lighthouse Inn Bed & Breakfast at 4639 Orchard Road, Egg Harbor, WI 54209; 920/868-9088 or 800/868-9088. Click here to see the website and book:

http://www.dclighthouseinn.com

Another option is the Eagle Harbor Inn at 9914 Water Street, Ephraim, WI 54211

920.854.2121    T. 800.324.5427

For reservations, click here: http://www.eagleharbor.com

The Cathedral Cavern has perfect acoustics. Filled with the soaring melodies of traditional Christmas carols, it's glorious.

The Cathedral Cavern has perfect acoustics.
Filled with the soaring melodies of traditional Christmas carols, it’s glorious.

America’s Heartland is a fine, big  place, and if Door County nudges up close to the northern limit of the Midwest, Blanchard’s Springs Caverns is more on the  southern side.  The Caverns are  120 miles northeast of Little Rock plus another 15 miles northwest of Mountain View.  It’s about two hours driving time from Little Rock to the Ozarks National Forest, and the Blanchard’s Springs Caverns are worth every scenic minute of it.

While the caverns had long been known to local people, the Cathedral Cavern was not discovered until 1963. At 1,150 feet long, 189 feet wide, and a ceiling  65 feet high,  the Cathedral Cavern is spectacular far beyond the ability of words to describe or photographs to portray.  Add to its stunning dimensions the  crystalline stalactites that hang down from the ceiling and the glistening stalagmites that stretch up heavenward from the floor of the cavern.  The Cathedral Cavern’s crowning glory is perfect acoustics, and that brings us to the annual “Caroling in the Caverns”.  All the joy and wonder of old-fashioned Christmas carols fill this ethereal space with the richness of song accompanied by string instruments.  Come in good voice: The best part of the concert is the sing-along.  Concerts commence on November 30th  at 4:30pm and December 1 at 4:30pm.  Shows are scheduled at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m on  Sunday, December 8th and 15th as well as  Saturday, December 21st and Sunday, December 22, 2013. Tickets are $20 per person, and all the concerts have sold out every year for the last ten years. Advance tickets are required so call the  Mountain View Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-679-2859 for availability and to order tickets.  The caverns maintain a stable temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, and while you may still want a sweater or  jacket,  it’s not uncomfortably cold by most standards for Midwestern winters.

Should it happen that you live on the Eastern Seaboard,  the most delightful holiday thing to do is Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll Weekend.  This year is the Stroll’s 40th anniversary, and the theme is ‘A Victorian Christmas’.  When  whaling ended in the late 1900s, Nantucket Island went into a deep sleep longer than Rip Van Winkle’s famous nap.  The result is that Nantucket retained its  19th century architecture to a greater extent than any other single place in America.  Despite the island’s reputation as the most desirable summer destination on the East Coast,  much of it’s ‘lost in time’ ambiance can only be properly savored during the Nantucket Noel. Festivities start off on Friday, November 29th, when a crowd gathers at the top of Main Street at Main and Centre.  More than 100 beautifully lighted trees line the centuries-old cobblestoned street, and at the signal, all the trees light up at once in one gloriously magical moment.  Old-fashioned carols fill the air, led by the ‘Accidentals & Naturals’ choral group from Nantucket High.  Should you wish to join in, there’s an app for that:  Download Nantucket Arts App to your Smartphone for the lyrics.

Officially, Christmas Stroll Weekend is December 6th through 8th, but  the annual Christmas House Tour, a self-guided walk through elegantly decorated homes and inns from 19th century seafarer’s cottages to magnificent mansions, is on Friday, December 5th. Most of the homes feature home-baked Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and eggnog as well as beautifully decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands galore.

Santa himself  arrives Saturday, December 6th,  delivered to the island by the Coast Guard whence he and Mrs. Claus are formally escorted up Long Wharf  by the Town Crier to his own very special conveyance (details are still very hush-hush, but already creating  much curiosity and considerable buzz).  Led by a bell-ringers and a brass quintet, Santa parades up Main Street, across Centre Street, and into the century-old  Jared Coffin House. There he bends an ear close to hear exactly what  eager children most hope to find under their very own Christmas tree.

Santa on Cutter

Throughout the Christmas Stroll Weekend singers in Victorian dress, children caroling, and teen choirs will fill the air with the familiar holiday melodies,  the Magical Talking Tree will hold forth at the top of Main Street,   and young performers from DanceWorks will dance in the streets.

Holiday craft markets, and a variety of exhibits  and performances  all enhance the feeling and flavor of Christmas.  To cap it all off (all puns intended) there’s a Victorian Costume Contest on Main Street at 1:45PM, with ribbons handed out by Nantucket’s famous Victorian Carolers.
The 20th Annual Festival of Trees runs throughout December at the Whaling Museum, and it’s a destination all by itself .
Upon arrival  on  island, go  to the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, located at Zero Main Street, second floor (above the Cape Cod Five Bank) to pick up a copy of the 2013 Official Stroll Program, available starting in late November.
Here’s the link:

For accommodations, check the Nantucket Visitors Bureau first; Here’s the link:

http://www.nantucket-ma.gov/Pages/NantucketMA_Visitor/StrollWeekend.pdf

Many hotels, inns, and bed & breakfasts are already booked, so if you can’t find anything there, try Vacation Rentals by Owner (http://VRBO.com), and search for Nantucket.  Look for houses listed as ‘Nantucket Town’ on the link below:

http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/massachusetts/nantucket-island

It’s easy to get to Nantucket by air from  Boston’s Logan Airport, and there are some New York connections, including Manhattan, as well.  Check the schedule for Cape Air here:

https://www.capeair.com/where_we_fly/new_england.html

The ferry is a fun ride all by itself. The regular ferry and the high-speed ferry both run from Hyannis to Nantucket.  It’s $69 round-trip for adults, $36 round-trip for children 5 to 12, and younger children ride free. The schedule for the Steamship Authority is here:

https://www1.steamshipauthority.com/writable/versioned_downloadable_schedules/path/2013_high-speed_sched_page.pdf

Make this Christmas unforgettable for the children you love — and you’ll find that you love it, too.  Love is never a one-way street, especially during the holidays.

Buccaneer Bay Water Park at Weeki Wachee

In Baby Boomers, Florida, Parent, Travel on June 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Buccaneer Bay Water Park at Weeki Wachee

White sand beaches and 72º pure spring water at Weeki Wachee’s Buccaneer Bay Water Park

Photos by Ed Caum

Time Warp at Weekie Wachee

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Parent, Travel, Wildlife on June 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Me, the kayak, and the river

A mermaid at Weeki Wachee

Mermaid-style water ballet

There were some pretty cool things about the Fifties: Peace and prosperity, for starters, and family car trips, and roadside attractions.  If you just happen to be nostalgic for backroads, picnics, and watching your kids transformed by a sense of wonder, you need to spend some time wending your way along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and spend a day at Weeki Waachee.

Suppose you could promise your kids birds six feet tall, a kayaking trip through the jungle, a waterslide with corkscrew turns, and, as a final lagniappe, mermaids, and know it was all true?   Once a roadside attraction based around a magnitude one freshwater spring — the kind that produces more 117 million gallons of pure water a day — Weeki Watchee is now a Florida state park, complete with uniformed park rangers whose duties include scheduling international tours for mermaids.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Start the day, as I did, with a five mile kayaking trip down the Weeki Wachee River. The kayaks are easy to manage, even for beginners: The current is slow, the water is smooth, and even if you managed to tip your kayak, the water is warm and shallow — you just climb back in.  It’s also exquisitely clear. That clarity lets you watch schools of fish slipping silently beneath the surface, or the spectacular wading birds that silently stalk the fish. Likely sightings include white ibis, snowy egrets, little blue herons, and great blue herons, the latter being the tall, long-necked ones that can stretch to six feet,   with a wingspan to match.  Kayaks are also quiet, so the wildlife is undisturbed. With lush forest canopy overarching the river, it’s like kayaking through a leafy green tunnel, silent, smooth, and serene. I overheard one kayaker say, “If I lived close enough, I’d do this every day,”  and I would too.  If you’re seeking peace of mind, serenity, or a sense of harmony with nature, this is the place to find it.

Buccaneer Bay is a water park with a huge swimming area, a huge water slide, and water that stays at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit. With white sand beaches for sunning, and a huge lagoon for swimming, you’ll have trouble prying the children out of the water for a picnic lunch.  Picnic pavilions with open-air tables are perfect for a packed-at-home picnic or for summer classics like all-American hamburgers and hot dogs.  Whatever you pick for your picnic, do not fail to get the chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert.  The person who doesn’t like chocolate-covered frozen bananas hasn’t been born yet.

Tummies full, make your way to the subterranean, underwater Mermaid Theatre.  The Navy SEAL who started the park in 1947 invented air tubes that allow the mermaids to perform underwater without SCUBA gear, and it’s as wonderful to watch today as it was then.  All of the mermaids are SCUBA-certified and go through rigorous training, and their underwater feats range from amusing to  delightfully graceful to seriously athletic: The mermaids free-dive more than 100 feet down to the karst cave from which the Weeki Wachee springs flow.  If  this doesn’t immediately strike you as impressive, it will when you try to hold your breath for the two minutes and more that the mermaid does. Most importantly, everyone walks out with a wraparound smile.  That’s never a bad way to end a day.

There are other attractions, too, including a glass-bottom boat river cruise, and Wildlife Shows starring Florida’s native animals, but whatever you choose to do, the kids will be happy, they’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home, and just for a while, it’ll feel like a time warp of the good parts of the Fifties, a nice, warm, nostalgic deja vu all over again. And the kids will never forget it.

Contact Information:

Weeki Wachee State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606

(352) 592-5656

http://weekiwachee.com/

Swimming with Manatees : Florida’s Gulf Coast Plus a Thousand Islands and a Fairy Tale Castle in France

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Health, Parent, Travel on May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Welcome to my very first ever blog post. I’ve been lucky enough to have wandered widely in this world, and I propose to take you with me from now on.

For me, there are three parts to a great trip: The anticipation, planning where we’ll go and what we hope to see. The trip itself, complete with all the sensory stimuli, from the tantalizing scent of bacon sizzling to the incessant itch of no-see-um bites, the sun hot on my back casting for fish, or the lights of the Bateaux Mouches flashing through the arched windows of a Paris apartment on the Seine. The third, of course, is the many memories, and all the tales to tell.

So here’s what’s on offer for anticipation: Winging our way to Florida’s Gulf Coast (look up Pasco County) to swim with manatees (OK, the manatees aren’t guaranteed — wildlife never is —  but they’re a real possibility); snorkeling in the Crystal River, fishing the Florida flats (fish aren’t guaranteed either, but if you don’t have your line in the water, you are guaranteed not to catch anything), plus golf on the Gulf.  There’ll be fun and photos, and some fine food, so come on along the week of May 20th.  I’m new at this, but my personal  technogeek (tall, slim, beautiful, and 12) tells me I can post from my phone, and I have every intention of finding out how.

(A moment of silence, please, for Steve Jobs, the guy who made it possible for me to share my world in real time. )

Next up:

How about Fourth of July in the Thousand Islands, those tiny dots in the St. Lawrence River that straddle the international border between upstate New York and the grand land of Canada? One of those dots is Grenell Island, not far from Clayton, New York.  Thousand Islands has long been a summer resort for those who seek to escape the East Coast’s  heat and humidity. The little clapboard church on Grenell  celebrates  one hundred years of service and services this year.  One of the cottages, of much the same vintage, needs its annual dose of repair, and we’ll be there.  New railings will go up on the second story veranda that looks across the river toward Canada.  A summer morning spent identifying the huge ships that ply their way up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway is time well spent.  Cheat sheets are available identifying the logos of the shipping lines, clearly emblazoned on the stacks of the vessels.  It’s the armchair traveler’s version of going to sea.  One can’t help but wonder where the ships are from, where they are bound, and how long from home they might be. Where I stay is a two-story cottage built by a friend’s grandfather on pre-Cambrian rocks that date from the last Ice Age. It’s still in the family, and every summer, family and friends alike show up to fix whatever needs fixing, and plant the garden (pockets, fissures, and small crevasses in the rock packed with soil)  with whatever needs planting from peas to peonies.

The coup de grace: Remember that apartment I mentioned on the Seine in Paris? A couple of days ago I received a phone call from the friend who lived there inviting me to come stay at  a big, old house in the French countryside belonging to a school chum from France’s highly regarded HEC (Haute Ecole Commerciale — think Harvard Business School or the London School of Economics, but way sexier. It is in Paris, after all.). Further conversation gave me to understand that the big, old house, aka the Chateau de Vermette,  is a 16th century  castle on France’s list of historic properties, a prized part of the French patrimony, once a portion of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s dowry, and now a privately owned castle complete with a moat, multiple turrets, and 30 beds.  Here are the pictures.  We’ll be there in mid-July if I can figure out a way to get there without swimming the Atlantic.  Follow the blog  to find out how things develop.

See you again soon!