Sara Godwin

Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

San Francisco Fall Antiques Show: An Exercise in the Unexpected

In Antiques, Baby Boomers, Luxury, San Francisco, Travel, Women's Travel on October 25, 2014 at 8:23 am
$350,000 worth of gold au natural

$350,000 worth of gold au natural

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Not all that glitters is gold, or silver, for that matter.  The proof is in this spectacular glass chaise brought from Paris by Steinitz (Steinitz@steinitz.fr)

Not all that glitters is gold, or silver, for that matter. The proof is in this spectacular glass chaise brought from Paris by Steinitz (Steinitz@steinitz.fr)

A cache of 19th century gold coins found buried in tin cans in the Sierras  by a couple out walking their dog.  The estimated value of the  stash: $10 million.

A cache of 19th century gold coins found buried in tin cans in the Sierras by a couple out walking their dog. The estimated value of the stash: $10 million.

San Francisco has three major social events in the Fall: Only one of them does not require a ball gown. That would be the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, going on right now, and you’re invited. Designed as a fundraiser for Enterprise high school students, it draws everyone in San Francisco who has money or wishes they did. The antiques dealers come from all over the United States and many from Europe to create a brilliantly curated collection of some of the world’s rarest and most precious objects — and those objects always encompass an element of surprise.

The biggest buzz this year was an object that showed no artist’s vision and no craftsman’s skills; basically, it’s a lump. A brilliant lump, to be sure, but nonetheless, it’s a lump: A huge, shiny gold nugget weighing more than six pounds (the dealer let me hold it!) found recently in California’s Gold Country and valued at $350,000. It’s in the first booth on the right as you enter the show, and displayed with it are the uncirculated mint-condition 19th century gold coins found last year in a cache in the Sierra Nevada, the cache valued at $10,000, 000. And that’s just the start!

The show runs today and tomorrow, the cost is $15 per person (the catalog alone is worth the price of admission), and the variety of things to see that people hold precious will intrigue and fascinate you. The people-watching and street scene fashion is also fabulous. Coco Chanel would be proud. Go now.

Photos to follow, so keep checking back. I’ll be posting throughout the day.

A mystery menorah, believed to have been made in Eastern Europe over a century ago, no one seems to know when it got here or how it got from there to here. (danielsteinantiques .com)

A mystery menorah, believed to have been made in Eastern Europe over a century ago, no one seems to know when it got here or how it got from there to here. (danielsteinantiques
.com)

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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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.

Fashion Forward Fall Fun: Donna Karan & Saks 5th Avenue

In Baby Boomers, New York, San Francisco, Travel, Uncategorized, Women's Travel on October 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm

The invitation offered a champagne lunch with a peek/pique preview of Donna Karan’s Fall Collection at Saks 5th Avenue in San Francisco.  We turned up right on time, taking seats in the front row, “we” being myself, my friend who lived in Paris for many years,  and her ’14 going on 20′ daughter,  tall, slim, beautiful, and bilingual.

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Flutes of champagne appeared on silver trays , as did bite-sized beef sliders,  remoulade  rounds,  vegetarian wraps, and similar dainties.  I attend a lot of events that provide what used to be called hors d’oeuvres ( a friend of mine translates that as ‘hours of work’) in lieu of the complications of a sit-down meal. I know there are many considerations that go into catering for an unknown quantity of people you don’t know whose tastes/food issues/allergies one cannot know, but I do wish that  the criteria for the selection of the menu included ‘easy to eat in public.’  The ladies who lunch — and go to fashion shows — bonded over wry grimaces while fishing bits and crumbs out of their fashionably-attired laps.

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The Fall Collection was notable for elegant dresses and a series of mix-and-match pieces in New York colors — black and a rich dark brown.  Karan doesn’t sketch; she drapes.  Her designs are realized as she wraps fabric around a fitting model to get the line she likes.  The goal is to make the client look taller and slimmer without heavy construction or foundations.  Many of the dresses were elaborately draped to minimize the midriff, waist,  and hips, with a long fluid line leading to a swaying asymmetrical hem.  Her ‘cold shoulder’ top is as well-bred and sexy as a woman who drops her eyes demurely on meeting  an interested glance; the moderator pointed out that shoulders do not generally gain weight in an unbecoming manner.  DK’s body pants are carefully seamed both for a slim line and for comfort.  Indeed,  comfortable would be a fair description of  most of the pieces despite the fact that fashion and comfort have a long tradition of not being seen in the same room at the same time.   Lambskin collars framed the face and  turtlenecks covered the neck in a manner that would have delighted Nora Ephron — her last book was titled ‘I Hate My Neck’.

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Favorite pieces included a lambskin three-quarter length coat with a fur-lined hood — the lamb treated to look like a gorgeous fur, leather from the shoulder through the torso, with a six-inch edging of the same fur-look at the hem.   The look is rich, luxurious fur; the reality is politically correct.

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The show lasted an hour and ended on a high note: a showing of vintage celebrity red carpet dresses.  The Paris contingent yearned for a magnificent burgundy-colored silk gown with a sweeping half-train while the teen longed for a cream-colored leather dress decorated with a silver floral pattern that on closer inspection turned out to be made of 3-inch safety pins.

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The photos here are all the work of the teen — Alessandra Rio, working her first assignment.  To see the 2013 Donna Karan Fall Collection,  please go the Donna Karan website at:

http://DonnaKaran.com

The Best-Kept Birding Secret in the United States

In Baby Boomers, Birding, hummingbirds, Texas, Travel, Weather, Wildlife, Women's Travel on October 1, 2013 at 9:27 pm

This migratory green jay shows off  brilliant plumage

This migratory green jay shows off brilliant plumage

Green jay from another  angle in McAllen, Texas

Green jay from another angle in McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

Chachalacas scurry along Birdwatching Center at Bentsen -Rio Grande McAllen, Texas

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

A Great Kiskadee , once known as the Kiskadee Flycatcher, snatches insects out of the air and small fish out of water.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Buff-bellied hummingbirds are found, nowhere else in the continental United States.

Southwest Texas is an edgy sort of place, located on the edges of Mexico and the U.S., along the edge of the Rio Grande, at the edge of land and water,  just 70 miles west of the Gulf Coast, at the southern edge of the continent.  Here,  Mexican, Tejano, and Anglo cultures, English and Spanish, swirl and blend into a melange best known as Tex-Mex. This cultural potpourri makes for great food — think chimichangas, carne asada, and horchata. Here, fertile river delta irrigated farmland bumps up against native thorn forest. And then there is the wild life, whether you’re talking ‘wild life’ as in trendy bistros and bars, or ‘wildlife’ as in javelinas, bobcats and birds.

Boarding a flight to an airport I’d never heard of — Harlingen, Texas — en route to a city I’d never heard of — McAllan, Texas — I’m on my way to see chachalacas, green jays,  and the buff-bellied hummingbird, all of which

I ‘ve heard of,  but none of which I’ve seen. This is the great lure of birding: There are always birds as yet unseen.

According to the American Birding Association (http://www.aba.org),   it is possible to see 976  different species of birds within the boundaries of the United States.  Of that number,  more than half — 521 species, or 53%  —  can be spotted in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  That  fact  may very well make McAllan, Texas the best-kept birding secret in the whole United States.  You could make an excellent case that a trip to McAllan qualifies as the best-spent  travel dollar in the country for birders, from beginners to life-listers. (Life-listers are the sporting category of birders, those who are sufficiently serious and organized to keep a list of every species of bird they’ve ever seen, where and when they saw it, and whether it was male or female, or in juvenile plumage or mature, resident or in migration.)

McAllan is also unusual in that it attracts a remarkable number of ‘marquee’ birds, those that are spectacularly colored, such as the green jay (emerald green back, purple and violet head), or of exceptional size and drama, such the crested caracara (with a four foot wing span), or of great rarity, such as the Northern jacana (best known for walking on lily pads). I have not yet even touched on heart-stopping  birds, like the roseate spoonbill, or the wood stork, or any of the 24 species of hawks and eagles, nor even the ones with weird names like the jabiru or the whimbrel, or the barred antshrike. Many of the birds are Neo-tropic, migratory birds that fly thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in South America, Central America, and Mexico. For a lot of these birds, McAllan is the northernmost point of their range, the place where they breed and nest,  and the only place in the United States where they can be seen.   Is this a good way to spend your travel dollar? Well, it’s a whole lot less expensive than a trip to South America.

Here are the sorts of notes that get posted about McAllan on the American Birding Association website:

“Added: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
Code: 5.
Placement: after Least Bittern.
Comments: One thought to be in second-basic plumage at Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park, Hidalgo County, Texas, from 21 December 2009 to 20 January 2010. Discovered and photographed by Rick Nirschl and Rick Snider, and observed by the hundreds during its month-long stay (Nirschl and Snider 2010).”

The World Birding Center (www.theworldbirdingcenter.com ) is headquartered at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park.  Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park is one of nine birding sites operated by the World Birding Center in the Rio Grande Valley, and it’s a birder’s delight.   More than 300 species of birds have been documented there, and at the peak of the spring hawk migration, it is possible to stand on the Hawk Observation Tower (ADA accessible) and see as many as 10,000 hawks a day. The migration starts in late March, and you can time your visit for the peak by checking the website and calling the park   (956/584-9156).  The rangers can give you a 7 to 10 day window that will make sure you’re in attendance for one of the greatest raptor shows on earth. Besides the raptors, spring migrants include the vividly colored green jay and chattering flocks of chachalacas. Feeding stations with viewing benches and well-maintained trails practically guarantee birding success.

Fall has only just begun, the Autumnal Equinox has barely passed, but now is the time to start planning your ‘I’m tired of winter’ escape.  By March you’ll be longing for a warm place to go, and McAllen, Texas is the place to do it.  The weather is comfortable, clear, and sunny, perfect for both snowbirds and migratory birds.  It’s the place to see species not found farther North, including a species none of us on my birding expedition ever expected to see:  One magnificent bobcat!

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

Sometimes the universe bestows a lagniappe. This is one.

For lots more birding sites in and near McAllen, click on this link:

Start the Year Right with the Perfect Travel Wardrobe

In Baby Boomers, New York, San Francisco, Travel on December 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Life is easier when the clothes you need for travel are already in your closet.  The after-Christmas sales are looming large on the horizon, so now is the time to put together your shopping list for the savvy   traveler ‘I can pack in less than an hour’  wardrobe.

Vermette panorama

The Core:

Women: A pair of stretch blue jeans;  a black T-shirt; a black turtleneck sweater;  a blazer; good-looking oxfords and/or riding boots.

Women can add two black skirts, one long, one not, and one pair of black, one pair of  gray tailored pants.  Next pick out a couple of tank tops, one white, one red.  Last are the shoes: one pair of black flats, one pair of black pumps, and one pair of  walking shoes.

Men should have a pair of fitted jeans; a black T-shirt; a black turtleneck sweater;  a tweed jacket (with or without leather elbow patches) and/or a navy blue blazer; black loafers and/or low-cut boots.

Men will want to add a white T-shirt, a red polo shirt, a black crew-neck sweater , one permanent-press oxford-cloth blue long-sleeved shirt, two pair of wool slacks, one gray, one black,  and a bomber jacket or black ski  jacket. For shoes, toss in a pair of loafers, a pair of low-cut boots, and a pair of clean running shoes.

The rest is all accessories. A black-and-white  muffler, a bright red scarf,  black gloves, and a great hat.  For jewelry, all men need is an easy-to-read watch. Women should have the easy-to-read watch plus a pair of pearl studs, a rope of pearls or a gold necklace.  Make it all costume jewelry, please — it looks great, and it will save you a world of worry.   The idea is to look terrific, not to set yourself up as a mark for a grab-and-run robbery.  For a purse, carry a lightweight tote, big enough for your laptop or tablet, your cell phone, wallet/passport, and cosmetics. For men, a good-looking courier’s bag or lap-top carrier will serve the same purpose. A small collapsible umbrella in solid black, bright red,  or a zebra-stripe pattern will ward off wind and rain, and look stylish while it’s doing it.

That’s a little more than a dozen  items plus accessories, and it will all fit easily into a carry-on.  You will probably want some underwear: lingerie and pantyhose or briefs and white T-shirts. Roll them up as small as you can, and tuck them in the toes of your shoes.

A pea-coat or bomber jacket finishes your look, and keeps you warm, too.

How many outfits can you get out of this collection?  It’s pretty amazing.  Here’s a quick list:

For women to travel in:

1. Jeans, black turtleneck sweater, red scarf,  bomber jacket, and boots.

2. Black slacks, black turtleneck sweater,  hounds-tooth scarf, pea coat, and black-and-white oxfords.

For men to travel in:

1. Jeans, red polo shirt, black crew-neck sweater, red muffler, black ski jacket, and black loafers.

2. Gray slacks, black turtleneck sweater, black-and-white muffler, tweed jacket, and low-cut boots.

For casual meetings, women can have a pulled-together look by combining a black mid-length skirt, white tank top,  a chunky gold chain, black-and-white muffler, blazer,  and black pumps.   For coffee with friends, try gray tailored pants, a black turtleneck sweater , the bomber jacket, and black flats.  Lunch with your parents? Black slacks, red tank top, red scarf, pea coat, and boots.  Just out for a walk?   Jeans, a black T-shirt, bomber jacket, and oxfords. Dinner with somebody special? Long black skirt,  black turtleneck,  pearl earrings and the rope of pearls, black-and-white muffler, blazer, and black  pumps.

It works just as well for men.   For a casual meeting: Black slacks, white T-shirt, black turtleneck, black-and-white houndstooth muffler, ski jacket, and low-cut boots.  For a more formal meeting: Gray slacks, blue oxford cloth shirt,  black crew-neck sweater, navy blue blazer,  and loafers.  Lunch with friends: Jeans; red polo shirt; black crew-neck sweater; red muffler; ski jacket; and boots. For a brisk walk on a cold day: Jeans, black T-shirt; black turtleneck sweater;  houndstooth muffler;  ski jacket; and  sneakers. Taking your parents to dinner: Gray slacks; white T-shirt; black turtleneck sweater; black-and-white houndstooth muffler; tweed jacket, and loafers.

That’s five outfits plus the one you traveled in, for six, all together.  These are clothes you can wear in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris or Rome, and fit right in. Best of all, these are all pieces that are as useful at home as on the road.

Pick out the best fabrics you can afford, make sure everything fits well, and don’t buy anything unless it’s comfortable.  Nothing is  a good  buy if you never wear it. Natural fabrics generally look and wear best: Cotton, silk, wool, and cashmere all qualify. Blends of these fabrics also look great. They can all be hand-washed with  mild soap in cold water, and hung or laid flat to dry. In a pinch, ask the hotel housekeeper to toss them in the dryer on the  ‘cool’ or ‘delicate’ setting.  The exception is jeans.  Buy jeans in a stretch blend fabric.  They’ll fit better, be more comfortable on a long flight, and are less likely to be baggy at the knees when you arrive.  Most important, you’ll  be ready to go anywhere anytime, just in case someone you love should happen to call from Paris and say, “Come at once!’

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It’s Winter: Sleep Well!

In Fitness, Health, Travel on December 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Winter’s long nights make it easier to sleep well because people sleep better when it’s dark. Lack of sleep has some really nasty downsides: Fatigue, irritability, lower productivity, and a greater likelihood of driving accidents.  Yet even when people feel tired, they often have trouble getting to sleep. Here are some techniques for getting a good night’s sleep.

1. Prepare for tomorrow tonight.  Lay out your clothes (and the children’s), make sure your car keys, your purse, your wallet,  and transit passes are set out in front of the door so you can’t walk out without them.  Make a list of what needs to be done the next day.  Put any dirty dishes in the dishwasher so the kitchen is ready for you to make breakfast when you wake up in the morning. Mute the ring on your cell phone, and charge it in any room but your bedroom.

2. Turn on the bed.  Electric bed warmers that go under the sheets are widely available on-line and at shops like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Just push the button to the setting you like best.  I generally set it on high, and turn it to low just as I crawl into my warm, toasty bed.  Flannel sheets are soft and warm, and the help you — and the bed — stay warm through the night.

3. Take a hot shower. It’s amazing how hot water relaxes your body and rinses away tension and stress.  A warm bath or a soak in the hot tub will accomplish the same thing.  Your muscles relax, and your head follows suit.  Besides, it’s especially pleasant to go to bed feeling fresh and clean.

4.  Put on your pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers.  They should all meet the criteria of clean, soft, and warm. Bribe your partner — chocolate usually works — to rub any or all of the above: Scalp and face; neck and shoulders; feet and calves.  In the absence of a bribable party, try one of those massage vibrators with round or concave discs.  (They are especially effective on the face and forehead when your head feels tight and stuffy.)

5. Make yourself a warm drink. Hot chocolate, a fragrant herbal tea, or simple hot water with a slice of lemon are all perfect for sipping quietly. While you’re sipping, breathe slowly and deeply.

6. Brush your teeth, brush your hair, set the alarm clock, turn the bed warmer to ‘low’, and snuggle into your warm, comfy bed.  Make sure you get to bed early enough to get eight  or nine hours of sleep. That means into  bed by  9:30 or 10:00 pm, up and out at 6:am or 7:am.  Adjust as needed.

7. Close your eyes and relax each part of your body individually: Head, face, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, and feet. Mutter a mantra as you do this. “I release, I relax, I let go”  works. Breathe slowly and deeply.

8. Think of five things that make you happy or five things for which you’re grateful.

9. Kiss somebody good-night.

10. Drift off.  Sleep well!

Having a bedtime ritual helps people fall asleep more easily.  Having a place that’s dark, warm, comfortable, and quiet helps, too.  If  there is  noise from neighbors or traffic, mask it with soft music or white noise recordings of rippling water or waves lapping.    Shut out really loud noise with earplugs.  If stress and worry are keeping you awake, remind yourself that whatever the issues are, worrying won’t resolve them. Comfort yourself that a good night’s sleep and a new day very well may. You will waken to a bright morning feeling refreshed. Have a great day!

San Francisco Fall Antiques Show: See-Worthy Antiques

In Antiques, Baby Boomers, San Francisco, Travel on October 25, 2012 at 10:43 pm

What do you do when the opening Gala party for the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show you’ve been working on for a year suddenly collides with the San Francisco Giants first game of  baseball’s World Series? Simple: Set up a huge flat-screen television tuned to the game in the Pavilion lecture hall  (CHECK),  tell the the caterer to show up with a mini-hot dog stand, complete with condiments  (CHECK), organize the roving waiters to offer a small-scale version of Playland’s iconic It’s-Its (CHECK), and somehow reconcile yourself to the fact that some of San Francisco’s most elegantly-attired antiques cognoscenti are going to be sporting black-and-orange baseball caps  (SIGH).  It worked.  It was a huge hit with the Gala-goers; and when the Giants won the game (Sandoval hit THREE home runs!), the roar of the crowd could be heard all along the  waterfront from Fort Mason to the Marina Green.

The women were stylish, the men were debonair,  and the buzz was electric.  Diane B. Wilsey and Diane Keaton were both observed deeply engaged in separate conversations as I wandered through the Pavilion with Ben Marks, Senior Editor at CollectorsWeekly.com.  Collectors were deeply engaged in conversations with the dealers and fellow collectors. Still others in attendance were deeply engaged in the caviar, oysters on the half-shell, mounds of shrimp, three sorts of pasta,  specifically, variations on a theme of ricotta ravioli, baby lamb chops, smoked salmon,  and more.  Then there were the desserts:  doll-size blueberry tartlets, chocolate pots de creme, fresh raspberries and strawberries, and a choice of tortes.  It was perfectly possible to eat an entirely healthy, green-based meal, but I sincerely hope no one did. This was a night for delicious indulgence.  Not incidentally, every penny raised by the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show goes to support Enterprise for High School Students, which teaches youngsters everything they need to know to get and keep a job, and then offers a job board as well.  In hard-pressed times, there is no more useful service.

Drawing dealers from New York, Paris, and London as well as the Bay Area, the wealth of offerings ranges far and wide. Steinitz/32 (77 rue de Faubourg St. Honore, Paris) , one of France’s leading dealers in 17th and 18th century antiques has framed his space in English boiserie recently purchased from the Huntington Library collection, then filled the space with pieces that would be treasures in any home in any country in any century. The marriage casque of book-matched tortoiseshell, pewter, and brass that I mentioned yesterday is one; a superb architect’s desk that opens up like a flower with a drafting board and shelves and multiple moving parts is another.  This is the sort of space that requires the  judicious use of a handkerchief to remain within the boundaries of socially acceptable.  One really ought not to breathe heavily and drool, however much one admires such splendid things.

Striking a different note entirely are the adjacent spaces, Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques/18 and Obsolete/40.  American Antiques/18  (www.jeffbridgman.com)   specializes in beautifully framed American flags with widely  varying numbers of stars and stripes.  There is also a  flag of the California Republic, complete with grizzly bear, and others equally effective at bringing our history home. Next door, Obsolete/40 (www.obsoleteinc.com) specializes in the whimsical, with a mechanical cow that captured my heart, and and an equally charming little gray elephant that appears to be emphatically shaking its head “NO”.  (Whether or not you view this as a commentary on the upcoming elections depends entirely on your politics.)

From London, John Jaffa/44 (www.antique-enamels.co.uk) has brought a writer’s travel box, filled with inkwells, letter openers,  and a wax seal .  By comparison with how badly I want this, Jimmy Carter knows absolutely nothing about lusting in one’s heart .  Jaffa also has dozens of  exquisite enamel  Faberge boxes by  as well as delicately contrived silver ‘vinaigrettes’ to carry my lady’s smelling salts should a tight corset, a crowd, or close weather indicate an impending swoon. Spencer Marks/13 (www.spencermarks.com) from Southampton, Massachusetts also has ‘vinagrettes’ along with a full canteen of Tiffany’s ‘American Chrysanthemum’ sterling silver in immaculate condition.

Just for pure fun, take a look at American Garage/8 (www.americangarageantiques.com).  Looking for wonderful wooden signs ?  They’re here.  Always wanted to pull the lever to order a steamship ‘full steam ahead’?  It’s here.  Have a pool house that needs decorating with vintage wool bathing costumes?  They’re all right here.

There’s more, of course, much more.  That’s the reason that you need to go to the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason between now and Sunday, October 28, 2012 to see the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show for yourself.  It’s open daily from 10:30 am to 7:pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 112 noon to 5:pm Sunday.   Tickets are $20 at the door and children under 12 are free.   The Lectures tent will be used for a really good series of lectures, so check those out in your program when you arrive. You can check on the World Series scores on your iPhone or just ask any passing stranger.

San Francisco Fall Antiques Show: Objects of Desire For Which You’ll Probably Need A Handkerchief

In Antiques, San Francisco, Travel on October 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Just got back from the first Press Preview of the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show which opens tomorrow, Thursday, October 25, 2012  at  Fort Mason Festival Pavilion at 10:30 am sharp. Be there when the doors open, and don’t forget your handkerchief: The exquisite,  intricately-worked objets are pretty much guaranteed to make you drool.  Centered around a nautical theme, the variety alone is enough to turn your head inside-out.  The lenders displays range from whale’s tooth scrimshaw to antique Canton porcelain bowls memorializing a shipwreck, with depictions of a three-masted sailing ship, both pre-and-post tempest.  There are children’s motorboat pond sailers and a massive ship’s model that anyone ever intrigued by the mystique of  sea-faring would cheerfully do despicable things to possess.  And all this is before you get to the dealers, who have come from seven different countries to tempt, and I must say, they have done a splendid job of doing so.  I found myself lured even by things in which I have never before so much as expressed an interest.

The first display is of an armada of 120 ships,  deconstructed and reconstructed, in obsessive detail. It is perfectly possible to lose yourself — and all sense of time — examining the hulls, sails, rigging, sheets, hatches and more than there is time for me to describe or you to read.  First displayed in Venice, California, they drew crowds day and night, with children as fascinated as their parents.  Across the center aisle, Nicholas Brawer  (28 East 72nd Street at Madison Avenue, NYC; 212/772-2664/

http://www.nicholasbrawer.com)  will turn your head around 180 degrees with fully restored stainless steel and brass Nikon Japanese Naval binoculars dating from World War II.  They are beautiful even if they were not functional, and, as it happens. they are.  No home with a view of the Bay should be without one of these; it will make everything else in your living fade to insignificance. With the America’s Cup looming large on the horizon, what further justification, what additional incentive,  could one possibly require?

There is more, much more, but I must shower and change to be back in time for the show’s Preview Gala tonight.  I’ve solemnly sworn not to post any photos until after 1o:pm tonight, so check in for the review of the Preview Gala and photos tomorrow.  The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show runs from Thursday, October 25th to Sunday, October 28th, so don’t miss it. Tomorrow: The French book-matched tortoise-shell and brass marriage casque dating from the reign of King Louis XVI at Steinitz/Booth 32, the mechanical cow at Obsolete/Booth 40, and the vintage wool bathing costumes at American Garage/Booth 8.