Planning a family reunion?

Our last family reunion ended on a disastrous note, but it wasn’t our fault.  Eight years ago, we booked a spacious house in Santa Barbara, California for the gathering.  So what went wrong?  When 5-month old Nick arrived, no one suspected he was coming down with the flu.  Within the week, almost all of us were quite ill.

The mere thought of it delayed our next get-together for many years, even though we knew that, no matter how well you plan a gathering, some things are beyond your control.

Two years ago we started thinking how nice it would be to spend a future Christmas on Sanibel Island, Florida. We wrote the family to ask if anyone wanted to join us – and their replies?  All 15 said “YES!”.

How did it go this time around? Fabulously well, we think, and we’re happy to share some of the reasons why.

Pick a location everyone wants to visit

Sanibel Island was a real draw not just for us but for everyone.

It’s one of the most famous shelling beaches with warm air and water temperatures even in mid-winter.

Choose a time everyone has free

We stayed for the entire Christmas week.  No school was missed, and, for those still working, only a few had to take off work.

Don’t over schedule

We all gathered together for a restaurant meal on Christmas Eve, and, on Christmas morning, we gathered by the pool in the outdoor gazebo to enjoy a potluck breakfast.

In addition to the shrimp deviled eggs, homemade bread, and fresh baked apple tart (in the photo), we also enjoyed fruit parfaits and bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Activities for the entire group were kept to a minimum, so that everyone would have plenty of time to do whatever their heart desired – whether that was taking a nap in the afternoon, shopping with your sister, or a small group gathered to watch sports on TV.

Book a place that has everything your group will need

For us, that included separate units for each family with full kitchens at Caribe Beach Resort, a pool, bicycles, and direct access to the beach.

Do something different

Everyone in the group, whose ages ranged from 75 down to 9, kayaked in Tarpon Bay on water-trails weaving through the mangrove forest.

Provide opportunities for mixing it up

Uncle and nephew were paired for kayaking.

 

If possible, choose a place with a beautiful and inspiring natural setting

Joe spotted brown pelicans roosting in a tree on his walk down the beach.

 Play together

 

Four of us played the board game, Splendor, on the beach.

Take some group photos

Beth’s brother and sister-in-law hired a professional photographer to take family photos as their present to the family.  How did that work?  TO BE CONTINUED….

 

December 2018

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When everything comes together…

Cloudy skies and a not-so-great AirBnB on Tybee Island, Georgia threatened our plan for a lovely seaside stay.  We decided to escape to the beach.  When we headed off for a walk, it was cool, and the grey sky showed not a hint of blue at mid-day.  Sigh…

We had walked quite a distance when we saw a patch of blue sky ahead which continued to widen.  We were amazed as the sea of slate grey under the clouds transformed into a deep blue under the clear sky.

The grey clouds had almost lifted when a freighter appeared.

It’s surprising that we even noticed it, as we were fixated on the many shells at the water’s edge.

The bright colors of the claw caught our attention.  We’d never coloring like this before.

Many birds dotted the shoreline – gulls, terns, skimmers.  Brown pelicans occasionally flew by.  Ahead we saw a tight knot of black birds in a circle, lifting their heads to the sky and singing.

We assumed that they were male boat-tailed grackles, but we’d never seen such behavior before.

About 100 feet (30 meters) distant, we saw about 25 female boat-tailed grackles congregated on a rock jetty. How interesting, we thought, and, as soon as we got back, we googled “behavior of boat-tailed grackles.”  We learned that they are the only songbird in North America to practice “harem polygamy.” We read that “Boat-tailed Grackle sexes remain apart most of the year, except in the nesting season when females gather in large, dense colonies, usually on small islands in marshes or in isolated trees in settled areas. Many males are attracted to each nesting colony, but only a few high-ranked individuals succeed in mating there.”

On our way back from the beach, we walked by a park where most of the trees were draped with moss.

What magic buttons can we push to feel calm and settled?  We have learned from years of travel that warm temperatures, sandy beaches, and ocean waves create an almost instant calming effect.  Throw in seashells and birds and we are truly in our element.

 

 

December 2018

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What is in between the Pacific and the Atlantic?

We usually hug the coasts, but it was time to expand our horizons to see what was in between.

Open roads with a view for miles…

Old West as a backdrop for a family photo…

Sunrise over our tent in Badlands National Park…

Culture at the Walker Art Center….

Signage on the beach left by a previous visitor…

Historic roadside statue…

Cape Cod!….

 

..and that is the condensed version of a 5-month road trip from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

 

December 2018

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The road trip’s best of the best

In this time of thanksgiving we reflected on our latest five-month road trip across the US and Canada and celebrated all the wonders and hospitality we received along the way.

When we started planning the road trip it looked so easy.  How were we to know how complicated the planning would be and how many choices we’d have to make.  We questioned whether to detour our route to favorite national parks or nearby quaint towns. The trip we initially planned turned out to be many months longer than the time that we had available.  Deciding how to cut back a well thought out trip is never easy.

Like you, we had read blogs and travel articles, so we had a clear vision of where we wanted to go.  The reality of the destinations always differed from our expectations – some better and some worse.  Through the process, we learned a lot about planning a road trip and how to get the best out of every day, but we’ll save that for a future post.  This post is to share our best-of-the-best from 5 months of travel across the US and Canada.

Best town of the trip for sightseeing: Shelburne, Vermont. We planned to stay in nearby Burlington but found a quaint AirBnB a little further south in tiny Shelburne.

A lucky change of plans as Shelburne is home to both the Shelburne Farms (photo) and the Shelburne Museum.  We spent three glorious days touring these sights, and it wasn’t long enough.

Best national or state park of the trip:  Custer State Park, South Dakota.  We thought Florida’s state parks were pretty terrific, but South Dakota wins for best state park by a long shot. It’s worth a destination trip.

Most memorable sight of the trip:  For scenery, the mountains and the wildflowers of the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow Mountains near Centennial, Wyoming are truly breathtaking.

Best scenic drive of the trip:   A tie between Rte 1A, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Route 240 across Badlands National Park.  The two drives could not be more different, but, on both, we loved slowing down to get a good look.

Best motel of the trip: In the private motel category the winner was Mangy Moose in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

The winner in the chain motel category was the HI Express in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.  This was the biggest surprise of all, as we almost never stay at a Holiday Inn Express (from bad experiences), but this one was a gem.

Best AirBnB of the trip:  Our budget category winner was a studio apartment in Barnstaple, Massachusetts – a comfortable place where the hosts made sure you had everything you could need at hand.

Our winner in the moderately priced category was a cottage in Bath, Maine – a sweet and charming little place.

Best meal of the trip:  Lobster Pot, Provincetown, Massachusetts at the tip of Cape Cod.  We were seated on the second floor with a view to the harbor and shared a grilled halibut entree with garlic mashed potatoes and lobster, leek and roasted tomato sauce.  Very, very tasty.

Honorable mention goes to a great road food stop – the Bedrock Depot in Dinosaur, Colorado. Their veggie burger on potato bun with lettuce, tomato, and avocado was excellent and the chocolate cinnamon ice cream was even better.   Everything was homemade, including the ice cream.  A simple – and memorable – meal.

Best dessert of the trip: We bought a whole apple pie at an upscale grocery store in Shelburne, Vermont.  It was from a local orchard.  Joe is a huge apple pie fan.  We expected it to be reasonably good.  It wasn’t just good – it was truly great!  Joe ranks it as one of the best pies he’s ever had.

We learned so many new things on this road trip (the almost-extinction of the bison, Crazy Horse, Native American astronomy…), tried new foods (cheese curds, walleye…), and we saw 15 new species of birds. (a snowy bunting, pine grosbeak, Lapland longspur…)  The trip was definitely an eye-opener and how lucky were we to get to take such an amazing road trip.  Our advice for anyone who’d love to take a road trip, big or small:  plan your route carefully and then take off on a road less travelled to enjoy a place you’ve never been.  Stay awhile, be curious, learn, take photos, and enjoy the differences.

 

December 2018

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Consider this

We came back to Washington for a visit after a year’s absence and things were decidedly NOT the same.  We were astounded when we took walks in our neighborhood on Capital Hill with the number of houses displaying signs for all to see.  Clearly, Washingtonians want to send a strong message to their neighbors, some of whom are our lawmakers.

”Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions)”

”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

”In this house we believe that black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything.”

”…a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter” – Thomas Jefferson

”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

”Hate has no home here.”

“Keep our public lands and monuments in public hands.”

”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. “  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

…and sometimes words aren’t needed for your message.

As 2019 is approaching, many will make resolutions to start the new year off right.  These signs offer a place to start.

 

 

November 2018

 

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Crowded and cold

Whenever we travel we need to make choices matching best places to visit with the best time of year to be there.  We prefer to visit places when the weather is warm, and there’s little chance of rain. Planning our 9-month road trip meant that we were going to have to compromise our standards for weather.  When we took off and drove through the desert, it was WAY…TOO…HOT, but in South Dakota and Minnesota the weather was close to perfect.

When we plotted out the stops on our long trip a year ago, we decided to add Cape May, New Jersey – a seaside town at the very southern tip looking out to the Atlantic Ocean. The weather there is perfect in the summer with crowds filling the sandy beach.   For a perfect peak season beach vacation there is a price to pay:  it’s hard to get seated at the restaurant of your choice and the expense to stay in the most humble abode would cause you to gasp. So we chose to visit Cape May in the off-season.  “How bad could a visit be in early November?” we asked ourselves.

At this time of year the only crowds were the birds, sanderlings in this case, a common shorebird.  Luckily for us, we could walk the beaches and see very few people.

Because everyone wants an ocean view on Beach Avenue, the painted houses are almost touching.

The first few days the weather was glorious, and we took a long walk on the beach only seeing a few people.  How lucky to have come to Cape May in the off-season!

The next day the temperature dropped and every day after got a little colder.  Clouds blocked that lovely sun and finally the rain started. We stayed inside for a day while the weather did its thing: bumping up the humidity.

We ventured out the next day to our own rain-induced maintenance issue, when Beth’s Sony RX100 II camera froze on a day’s outing in a nature reserve by the sea.  The camera battery and memory card were removed, and all were set out in the driest, warmest location in the apartment.  We waited.  A day later, with hope, the camera was reassembled.  Beth tapped the “on” button and heard the magical click of the camera coming to life.  It had worked!  We don’t know if this is temporary or if the camera is now back to normal, but we’re enjoying having it back with us on our walks.

Along with the cold, the wind picked up.  We put on our hats and gloves.  We wore layer upon layer to stay warm.  As we walked down a little used road, we’d been thinking maybe it was a strange time to visit Cape May.  Then we saw something ahead in the road. Could it be a little yellow ball?

When we got closer we could see a broken hard boiled egg shell with the white still inside at the side of the road.  There, perfectly placed in the exact center of the road, sat the round yolk.

Why?

We walked on and spent our last day strolling through Cape May Point State Park and observing birds, enjoying the quiet.

Staying in Cape May during off-season had been risky.  We enjoyed the lack of crowds of people and the presence of “crowds” of birds, but the windy, cold and rainy days left us yearning for warmth.  Should we head further south?

 

November 2018

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What can happen to your camera in the rain

We take lots and lots of photos as we travel, and our cameras may be our most essential travel “tools”.  We also take them for granted.  When we hiked in blowing sand in Nevada or pouring rain in Iceland, we tried to protect our cameras, but most of the time they are out and ready to snap the next photo.  Maybe we need to reassess that practice….

We arrived in Cape May, located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey.  Cape May is most famous for its grand painted Victorian homes.  The homes are lovely, but we were here to see another attraction: birds!

We were walking down to the Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows when we saw the yellow-rumped warbler’s lifeless body on the roadside.  We’re not sure how it died, but had to admire how absolutely beautiful this bird is when seen close up.

The day before, it had rained for most of the day, and now there was a lull until the next storm was due to arrive.  The conditions were less than optimal for bird watching.  Still, we walked on and hoped for the best.

Everything around us was damp or dripping wet.

We spent over two hours walking and watching birds in the preserve.  We think we were the only ones there….

…until we saw the raccoon prints on the path.

One of the more “exotic” birds we saw were mute swans.

Identifying birds is still not easy for us.  We learned to start the identification of swans by looking at their bills.  This photo was taken to ID the bird.  With a better look on the computer screen and with the bird book in hand, it was easy to figure out just which swan this was.

Photographing flowering plants and bushes along the boardwalk delayed our return.  The little dots of water were a nice touch.  And then it happened….

Beth’s Sony RX100 II camera froze.  The camera died with lens extended.  The on/off switch didn’t respond.  The screen was solid black.  We contemplated what to do.  Nothing worked.  The camera, like the little yellow-rumped warbler, had died with no explanation.  Beth carefully tucked the camera in her bag with the extended lens protected, and we walked home.

We’re not sure what happened.  It wasn’t raining.  Could it have been the moisture in the air?  The camera has been laid in a dry place with battery removed, and we’ll see what happens.  Stay tuned.

(Always trying to think ahead, we had saved our last camera, a Sony RX100 I, as a backup if anything was to happen to our newer model.  Cousin Susie was in possession of that camera, having used it on her African safari six months ago.  Now she’ll return it when she comes to see us in three days as scheduled.  How lucky is that?)

 

November 2018

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