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Experience Eclipse 2017 in Charleston, SC

Planning to live in the “Dark Side of the Moon” for a couple of minutes? Interested in the “Moonshadow” live?

If you’re planning on taking a trip to a U.S. city, to take part in the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse experience, consider communities surrounding larger cities. Charleston is awesome. But, several communities surrounding Charleston, SC may be an easier bet to reach, to hunker in, and to explore. Among the sweetest is the Town of Summerville.

It’s estimated that, conservatively, the greater Charleston area will host between 60,000-80,000 visitors. Yet there have been several reports estimating over a million. According to College of Charleston Physics Professor, Dr. Chris Fragile, “This will be the most viewed eclipse in human history.” The South Carolina coast is the final place to view the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse before it heads out to cast the moon’s shadow onto the Atlantic Ocean.

The last coast-to-coast total eclipse to traverse North America was 99 years ago, in 1918. The next time the phenomonen of a total eclipse crossing our continent will occur is 35 years from now, in 2052. Why so seldom? The moon orbits at a five degree tilt. The earth and sun each spin on a separate axis. And, let’s face it; 70% of the earth is ocean, so our waters are much more likely to experience a total eclipse than we are.

HOW TO PREPARE:

Get Special Eye Protection

One cannot look directly into the sun on any occasion, and partial blockage of the sun does not affect its intensity, nor affect the ability to prevent eye damage. Sunglasses with UV protection will simply not cut it this time. Unless you have a welder’s shield collecting dust in your garage, you’ll need to invest a buck or two in a pair of eclipse glasses. When you wear a pair of eclipse glasses in a lit room, they will block out all light. Put them on to watch the sun and moon converge. Wear them, looking directly at the sun safely, to view the eclipse until totality. Only then, will you be able to remove the glasses briefly, to see the outer glow. Once the sun begins to once again emerge, you’ll need to don the glasses until you’re ready to, again, view the rest of the world around you.

You may also be fortunate enough to see “shadow bands,” explains Dr. Fragile. “They’re similar to the funny, squiggly shadows that appear at the bottom of the swimming pool,” he says. He suggests laying a white bedsheet on the ground to best view shadow bands.

Defer to your iPhone Camera

The amount of heat entering the lens and body of your 35mm SLR camera may be damaging. But iPhone cameras are designed to adjust to the amount of ambient light, making it safe to use. It may be time to purchase an iPhone tripod, or determine how to securely attach your selfie stick to your tripod.

Even through a telescope, a dense mylar filer is a necessity.

Plan for Chilly Weather

Yes, on August 21st, you are heading directly into the scorching summer heat of South Carolina. But you will need to pack a few items to keep you warm. During a total eclipse, the temperature will drop and the winds may pick up. Charleston Southern University Professor of math and physics, Dr. Fred Worthy, says that he experienced a partial eclipse during which the temperature plummeted by 30 degrees.

Escape the Crowded Interstate by Checking Out a Surrounding Community

I’m biased, because I lived in Summerville, S.C. for 12 years, and it remains my “home,” whether or not I live there. Totality  in Summerville will be experienced for between one minute and 40 seconds to two minutes. For additional eclipse stats, check out this link.  Summerville Dream has a great microsite highlighting the Eclipse happenings around Summerville. And, Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site will host events throught the weekend preceding the Eclipse. Check out the lineup at… http://southcarolinaparks.com/products/10004632

Summerville, S.C., The Birthplace of Sweet Tea, may be easier to access, because of its proximity to I-26, the main conduit into Charleston. One you’re settled in Summerville, check out the many things to do in the area both before and after the eclipse. Go to VisitSummerville.com to research and pre-plan your extra time. Visit private merchants in and around the quaint town square reminiscent of small southern towns, indulge in a game of golf, or take a walking tour of the town’s permanent sculpture collection – plus find Sculpture in the South’s more than twenty life-sized bronzes of birds perched on balconies, windowsills, shop signs and rooftops.

Also check out Summerville DREAM, the Summerville Visitor’s Center and Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce at 402 N. Main Street for recommendations on events, restaurants, or even that emergency auto mechanic you are not pre-planning to meet.

Buy the T-Shirt! The Greater Summerville/Dorchester Chamber of Commerce is selling a “totality awesome” glow-in-the dark T-Shirt. And a portion of the proceeds benefit the organization’s scholarship fund. You can pre-order your shirt and pick up at the Chamber – or stop in to purchase in person.

Need more information on visiting South Carolina? Check out  http://discoversouthcarolina.com/products/52.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Send Letters to the Universe

Consider something like this….

Dear Mother Nature,
Please do not send cloud cover on August 21, 2017!
With all due respect,
Mum

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Adventures in Navigating a Ropes Course

 

Not far from the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, the 1,300 acre U. S. National Whitewater Center provides family-friendly fun for all ages and fitness levels.  This amazing outdoor facility offers whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, ropes courses, zip lines, and more than 30 miles of mountain biking trails.  On a Thanksgiving weekend, my family embarked on  a family endeavor to mitigate the potentially damaging intake of holiday food.

Our quest began as a desire to zipline, but after comparing ticket bundle options, my brother,  sister-in-law, nephew and myself all opted to encompass the precursory adventure of a ropes course. Learning the ropes always means embracing a new adventure,  but re-learning how to walk again, afterward, was not on our agenda.

Although you have an a la carte  choice to zipline only, my family chose to heed the advice of Johnny Cash and “walk the line.” The first time stepping from a solid platform to unstable rope lines is intimidating, but there’s a lot to hang onto on that first pass across the treetops. What lie ahead  – a single line with a single overhead rope – was a true test of balance, muscle, and confidence. I did well at the start, but on the final stretch, I faced failure. And had to laugh.

As I hung there dangling in the trees, awaiting rescue by a muscular, fair-haired knight, I grinned, shook my head and silently kicked myself for listening to the advice change my footing to side step. While this was the way THEY successfully navigated the tightrope, I took a spill to oblivion.  In retrospect, I should have walked that line the way this aged-out gymnast would conquer a painted-on parking lot line; with previously trained turned-out feet, and shoulders held high. Why did I not do that?

The camaraderie and encouragement felt through a day of ropes course teamwork is something all families should take a moment to experience. And, our inability to walk up and down steps the following day proved to  be an unexpected secondary team-building experience.But laughter ensued. We endured both the challenges and the aftermath – together.

Whether you are near Charlotte, North Carolina or plan a visit to the area, I highly recommend an excursion to this fabulous family playground. And, check out their calendar of special events. Why not challenge your family to a fun run or watch a competition from the water’s edge?

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Navigating Your Travel Treasure Hunt

The very first stamp, on my very first passport, was earned in 1994 as I passed through Customs in London’s Heathrow Airport. I had ventured beyond the U.S. alone, on a three week long business trip and felt compelled to find a small, yet meaningful memento to take home. Although I do confess to owning a Milton Glaser I LOVE NY t-shirt, I prefer to find something more lasting. Today, regardless of their monetary value, my travel treasures are among my favorite things.  What do I look for? And where do I search for cool stuff?

International thrift stores contain unusual things. I discovered a fabulous vintage vase at a charity shop in England, wrapped it in layers of clothing, and prayed it would make the trip home. It did. But I learned a valuable lesson about my travel treasure-hunt habits. Today, bubble pack is on my Top Ten Must-Pack List.

Locally produced goods are among my favorite finds. I’ve picked up small blown glass items in factories in Bermuda and in Mexico. These objets d’art transport me to the place and time where glassblowers created their work as we watched on.

A trip to the grocery store is a must. From unusual flavors of Tang, to salsas, sauces, herbs and oils, take the opportunity to come home and allow your vacation to linger in your home until you’ve shared your treats with others. Among my

all-time favorites were several pounds of Costa Rican coffee, and the treasured bottle of Garzón Olive Oil reminiscent of my trip to the Garzón winery/orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

Local wines and spirits are yours to discover. The local Costa Ricans introduced Li and I  to Guaro. They laughed. We later learned why. Guaro is, in fact, GRAIN alcohol! For fun, I still brought home a couple of small bottles. The local Ron Barceló rum and Mamajuana I carried home from the Dominican Republic are still favorites for sipping my way into daydreams of coconut-filled wagons, a quiet beach, and the fresh whole fish we ate at sunset, toes embedded in the silky sand.

Never understimate the value of FREE.  Wine corks are integrated into my décor. The Bouza cork in my plant pot is from a memorable dinner with my extended Uruguayan family.

Shells, coral, and sea glass pieces washed ashore have found their way into a display cabinet. Each glass container, filled with shells, and labeled by location, generates lasting tranquility in my home. I can almost HEAR the crashing waves!

Individual Ziplock bags contain a menagerie of tickets, receipts, menus, business cards and phone numbers from each trip. As I blog, it’s easy to track down names and dates, and match photos to exact places and times. These invaluable “pinch me” keepsakes serve as reminders to be grateful for my amazing travel experiences.

Bring home art! I find interesting work in small, local galleries, or at street fairs. I take the time to meet the artist and share my appreciation for their work.  I selected Carol Joy Shannon’s hand-painted guitar during a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The golden-haired child hanging next to it is a find from Key West, FL. And the ballerina was acquired from a  gallery in Costa Rica. While all are paintings, I’ve chosen work of other mediums, like the pastel nude, the encaustic wax bottles of colour, and the watercolor/pen and ink drawing of New York City.  I have a backlog of framing to do – to showcase artwork collected in Uruguay and Argentina. And, each piece carries meaning, a story, and a flood of memories.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Cooperstown, NY
Union Square, New York, NY
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10 Insider Tips Driving Luggage Choice

When I was embarrassed enough to want to keep my suitcase in the car, rather than bring it into my host’s home, I knew it was time to let go of old baggage – literally. But the plethora of options is so overwhelming, the experience had me procrastinating as badly as when I am forced into the market to buy a car.

With humiliation as my motivator, I engaged on the hunt for the perfect-for-now set of two bags. What makes a bag perfect for now? Just like car shopping, everyone has different preferences that drive their decision. Below are the top ten considerations that drove my selection process.

  1. Time to try a hard shell case. The soft case that served as a cat hammock under my bed is history. The hair is no longer 100% removable, and I’m done expending the energy attempting to get “most of it” off. How efficient is keeping my bag half-packed, if I have to use 50 sheets of a new lint roller refill each time I choose to grab and go?
  2. I’m thrifty, so price is important. I travel enough to justify new bags here and there, so investing a fortune in bags is not on my radar. Li and I constantly ask ourselves, “Would I rather buy this or relax with an umbrella drink on a tropical beach?” The lure of the umbrella drink protects our wallets long enough to savor “experiences” over “stuff.”
  3. Brand matters. When inspecting quality, off brands just don’t measure up to proven standard brands. Luxury brands catch my eye, but I just can’t go there. While leather Gucci bags are enticing, I have just purchased yet another Samsonite duo. While I didn’t set out to be brand loyal, I tend to lean toward Samsonite. For some reason, I have chosen Samsonite for nearly 40 years. (Mental note: Buy Samsonite stock.)
  4. Don’t risk a cheap zipper. Poor zipper quality and construction are instant deal-breakers. I’d be mortified to have my suitcase spill my secrets onto the floor of an airport.
  5. Inspect the gusset fabric. Most bags tend to have a zippered gusset that allows me to bring more home than I left with. Close inspection revels that the weave is not as tight on bargain bags, thus less durable. While I do pack clothing with the intention of leaving it behind for the maids and their families, I still somehow need to unzip and make room for more wine, coffee, and art on my return flight (Pack Rat, Will Travel). Cheap gusset fabric is simply risky.
  6. Test the height of the fully extended telescopic pull. I have long legs, and hunching over to pull my bag through an airport is agony. I learned this the hard way, traveling to Europe with a too short bag and no chiropractor to save me.
  7. The lighter the better. The best thing about ditching my old bags is knowing that I will never have to lift that carry-on into the overhead again in my life. While many times a male hero steps in to help, I have struggled with first hoisting the bag to my seat back (while still in an upright position), then transferring it to the to the top of my head to get it just one more “oomph” into the overhead.
  8. Find wheels that glide like a Hot Wheels car on a twisty track. I drag bags around the store to check wheel bearings. I inspect the way they are attached to the suitcase. Heavy duty rivets – check! My luggage gets dragged over some rocky terrain, and the wheels had better not fail my sense of adventure. 360° rotation is a must. It’s for this reason I chose not to order online; I opted to peruse every Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Ross and Burlington Coat Factory in a 30 mile radius. For the record, Burlington Coat Factory’s discounted prices were typically $10 less per bag on exact same brands and features. (Colors were different in every single store.)
  9. Interior dividers help keep me organized.  I keep my carry-on pre-packed, under my bed, awaiting our next escape. It helps me to have my smaller items like travel make-up and toiletries, a mini-curling iron, and a small first-aid kit ready to go. Check out my Top 10 Must Pack Items to learn more about packing.
  10. Color does count. Gone are the days I just want my suitcase to blend in. I just won’t buy black bags. I now prefer to spot my bags from a mile away, and know that any thief wouldn’t dare drag noticeably colorful bags off the carousel and out the door.  Yet, as I previously blogged about how much I want to outsmart thieves, I do not want to drag UGLY through the airport. And I am reasonably sure I would tire of a print – so a bright solid it is. My previous big bag for check-in, under the cat hair, was red. My carry-on was kinda purple. This time I struggled over blue and silver, before settling on the blue. It was not until I rolled my bags toward the cash register that I realized they are not just any blue; they are MeetUatGate.com blue!

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Tannat’s Tasty Transport to Artesana

Li and I tend to explore local wine, beer or spirits when we travel. And at times we don’t have to venture far. Two weeks ago, I became a tourist near my own town, with Li in tow.

On a Friday, she’d met me at work, and we promptly escaped to explore the shelves of our favorite little wine bar in Summerville, South Carolina. With no agenda, I began scouring the shelves before asking one of the knowledgeable wine experts if they happened to have a Tannat. He said, “yes!”    My heartbeat shifted into overdrive. Yes!

One look at the label and I was immediately transported to the Artesana boutique vineyard I’d visited this summer in the Canelones region of Uruguay. I could not contain my excitement of finding this small production wine in little ole Summerville. I forced the wine dude to watch my video of my awesome winery visit, but not before he poured, I swirled, and I savored.

My AFS sister Merce has a great group of girlfriends who are wine aficionados. And even in the off-season, one new friend arranged for us to visit and enjoy a private tour and wine tasting at Artesana. An owner of this hand-farmed vineyard came in just for us, and we were treated to an amazing educational and tasting experience. And I fell in love with the International award winning Artesana Tannat. Which is simply not hard to do.

Dormant winter vines converged into the sunset. Majestic eagles circled, squawking warnings at the well-heeled vineyard intruders. Owls perched along posts watched wide-eyed.

In this case, photos tell the story better than I can. And only a glass of fabulous Tannat can provide you the perfect storybook ending. I urge you to discover the full flavor of a great Tannat like Artesana.

Not familiar with the Tannat grape? Read up at http://thatusefulwinesite.com/varietals/Tannat.php

Want to learn more about Uruguay’s famed Canelones wine region? Check out https://www.vivino.com/wine-regions/canelones.

Sisters.
Artesana’s winery.

Liquid gold, in my book.
All about vines and wines.

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Broken Spanish Over Japanese Tea

Montevideo from the top of the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel.

Last summer in Uruguay, my AFS sister, Merce, introduced me to her friend Meche, who introduced me to Silvia, who invited me to a tea presentation at the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel. I went. Alone.

 

It was a formal Japanese tea ceremony presentation, in Spanish. I know minimal Spanish. Silvia knows little English. And the only fluent English speakers at the event were the Japanese presenter and an Iranian woman. I was able to chat with the beautiful Iranian, and I was grateful to learn about her interesting life. It did not escape me that I was enveloped in an amazingly unusual International experience.

But I wasn’t there to speak English. I was dedicated to struggling through my poor Spanish for a few weeks in hopes of a slight gain towards proficiency. Knowing nothing about Japanese tea ceremonies, I found the evening extremely interesting. I was proud of my ability to understand most of the presentation, but only because I am able to read Spanish better than I can speak it. That evening,PowerPoint was my special gift.

Gorgeous antique tea cups placed on the tables generated both a grin and ping of warmth in my heart for that fleeting moment, as I remembered my grandmother and wished I’d inherited her amazing china cup and saucer collection.

Silvia and new friends enjoy a selection of teas and pastries.

Following the presentation, guests took turns introducing themselves. They nearly skipped me, when I stood I up and smiled.

“Mi nombre es Shari. Soy visitor de Charleston, Carolina Sur. Soy un 6 millas de mi hogar es el primero té plantaciónen el nos,” I read off my phone, slowly and poorly. What happened to US, I don’t know, but somewhere I KNEW the translation should have included the word “estadios.”

While we were sipping tea, and eating the most amazing plate of goodies, I’d used my handy-dandy Google translator to determine how to tell them that I was from Charleston, South Carolina, where I live about six miles from the first tea plantation in the US. Although the room erupted into hearty laughter over my broken Spanish, the crowd seemed to understand what I’d said, and it was clear my effort was most certainly appreciated.

Our tour of the Alma Historica Hotel was enlightening. Each room is named after successful artists like poets, singers, and actors. Individual room themes depict the celebrity’s art with distinct decor,

fine antiques and beautiful linens. When I return to Montivideo, Uruguay, I must indulge and enjoy a stay at the Alma Historica. And sip tea.

Many thanks to my new friend, Silvia, for the gift of a truly memorable evening. Come to think of it, I’d made a mental note to host a formal tea party in Charleston. Now seems the perfect time to plan it!

Learn more about Japanese tea ceremonies at http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net.

 

 

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Uruguay’s Mate (mah-tay) Tradition

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This guy was eager to pose with his mate cup and thermos.
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The mysterious mate case holds a thermos of hot water, a mate cup, and a straw.

Mate is an experience. Mate is a ritual. Mate is an all-natural herb. And a mate is a hollow gourd that serves as a cup. When in Uruguay, if invited, you must accept the opportunity to share this ritual of friendship and embrace the mate experience. It took me nearly three weeks to finally cave in and partake, and I now regret that I didn’t make mate a daily habit throughout my stay.

The centuries-old drink is known as the “drink of the lords.” To me, this national drink of Uruguay is downright bitter. I cheated. Just a bit of sweetener helped my palate adjust. Considering mate is known to relieve migraine headaches, neuralgia, and insomnia, and is recommended for weight loss, mate is likely a good habit to form. When I learned of the medicinal benefits, I realized that if I lived locally, I’d  work on acquiring a taste and ditching my coffee.

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Mate cups and straws at the street market.

Dried, chopped leaves, highly caffeinated,  are packed into a dried calabash gourd  “cup.” The straw, traditionally made of silver, is called a bombilla. The straws I saw at the market were made of nickel silver (called alpaca) stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane.

Hot water is poured from a thermos into a mate of dry yerba (pronounced sherba) leaves, and left to steep for a few minutes. As the cup is passed and shared, each person drinks until the liquid makes that slurp sound we Americans are urged to avoid. This ensures that backwash has not contaminated the mate cup, and that the straw is clear for the next in line. Each time the cup is passed a fresh batch of hot water is added to the leaves, and a new “slurper” downs their drink.

I observed mate on the streets, mate in parks, and mate cases inundating  a college campus. So I had to step up and finally act like a local. I could not leave the country without embracing the customary ritual of Uruguay– sipping mate with my extended family.

My experience was just plain fun in the kitchen!

Read more about mate at http://trentarthur.ca/mate-uruguays-national-drink/.

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My Top 10 Must Pack Items

On my quest to become a perfect packer (more at PackRat Will Travel), I have learned a few tricks. Below are the top ten items I will no longer travel without…

  1. Pitchable Ponchos
    I pack a few disposable rain ponchos for travel during rainy season, or to locations like the amazing city of London, where rain seems to be a year-round ordeal.  Visitors also underestimate the need for ponchos when vacationing in sunny Central Florida, where brief afternoon thundershowers are a daily occurrence. I typically find ponchos in the drug store for a couple of bucks each. They’re light, take up no room at all, and will prevent you from having to choose between overspending or modeling an unflattering-at-best plastic garbage bag. If your’re preparing to travel with a group, you can also order clear, disposable ponchos by the dozen for $19 at Uline.com.
    *Tip – if you hike into the Costa Rican rainforest, do not leave your rain ponchos in your rental car. http://www.meetuatgate.com/2016/04/30/thats-why-its-called-a-rain-forest/
  2. Techie Tool Kit
    A camera charger, a back-up battery, an extra SD chip, a cell phone charging cord, a Fitbit charging cord, a USB wall port and a USB car converter are my personal top tech needs. All tuck neatly in a transparent sandwich sized Ziplock. With three camera batteries and a cell phone to charge, I easily could employ three converters on an international trip. This summer, mistakenly packed only the converter I would need in Uruguay, South America. I neglected to research whether the same converter would work in Argentina. The answer was NO.
    *Tip – Save yourself some angst. Pack the complete kit, and be done with it.
  3. Pre-Packed Toiletries
    Since traveling intermittently for business in the ’80s, I have kept a grab-and-go toiletry bag packed at all times. When I return home, I refill what’s needed (like a fresh mosquito repellent bracelet) or add an item to my shopping list while it’s fresh on my mind. Among other necessities, I always have antibacterial wipes, my mini sewing kit, a magnifying mirror, a personal heating pad to fend off chills or sore muscles, and a small rubber door stop to wedge under my door for added security while in my room. My fully-packed catch-all bag resides in my small rolling carry on, providing a speedy way to skip town!
    *Tip – Hang a few safety pins from the bag’s zipper pull.
  4. Pretty Pill Box
    Ditch the bulky bottles. I photograph each bottle label with one easily identifiable pill, to ensure I have accurate documentation for two purposes; to verify my prescription while traveling, and to assist in case of a medical emergency. I take a full week in a pretty little pill sorter, with a few extras of my most important medications in case of a delay.
    *Tip – If you are prone to motion sickness, be sure to have your doctor prescribe Transderm patches for behind your ear.  Each works for three days – but the protection WILL wear off if you do not replace it by the end of day three. They fit right in the bottom of my pill case.
  5. Bubble Wrap
    I somehow gravitate towards bringing home “breakables.” So I pack a small roll of bubble wrap. I’ve carried home a vintage vase and a set of beautiful stoneware plates from England. I lugged a treasured pitcher from Paris, wrapped in a layer of bubble wrap, and padded with soft clothing. And I recently transported glass jars of goodies from South America. Yet, due to bubble wrap, I have yet to discover a broken artifact in my bags upon my return.
    *Tip – Consider shipping when you can; you’ll already have the bubble wrap!
  6. A Reusable Tote
    My favorite bags easily cover all bases, transforming between shopping bag, beach bag and “technology undercover bag” to deter thieves. I have very different preferences, depending upon mode of travel and destination. For international travel this inexpensive IKEA pocket-pouch converts into a generous sized backpack. For domestic air travel, I prefer a “personal item” that zips closed, like the duffel style bag available in our MeetUatGate online store. When driving, I prefer an open beach tote  stuffed with easy-to-reach road trip snacks.
    *Tip – The  IKEA pocket bags come in two sizes/styles and make great thank you gifts for travel hosts or new friends who you connect with during your travels. Take a few extra!
  7. Empty Ziplock Bags
    Ziplock bags ensure liquids like local sauces, liqueurs and perfumes do not leak onto your belongings. These also protect your fabrics from absorbing the scents of culinary herbs and seasonings you may want to take to or from your own home kitchen. I collect shells from each beach I visit, and the shells stay divided until I can display them. They also keep the tekkie tools listed above in one place. Quart and gallon sized ziplocks have a perpetual home in my rolling carry-on.
    *Tip – Pack a sharpie and clearly label your bubble wrapped and bagged items. I have this bag of beautiful, unlabeled stones…
  8. Wine Protectors 
    I must admit that I own both versions of these padded wine bags, and use them on nearly every trip. I carry wine, liquor or even olive oils to and fro in these great bags. My brief review: The WineSkin Wine Bag is more durable and a bit more attractive, but I like the heavy cotton absorbent padding in the Jetbag. I once carried a bottle of vino that sprung a slight leak  – and the potential mess was absorbed in my Jetbag, shielding  my clothing and new treasures from red wine..
    *Tip – The Jetbag accommodates BOTH a bottle of wine and a small bottle of sauce or olive oil (upside down and adorned in bubble wrap, of course. )
  9. Camera and Journal: With watercolor pencils and a waterbrush
    A few years ago I started creating a journal page depicting each trip.  I often have to finish them when I arrive home, but I have photos that spark vivid memories, allowing me to re-live sights, sounds and experiences. I write random things like names of kind waiters and foreign language snafus, sketch odd things like road signs and objects, and write descriptive entries about what I hear, see, and feel. The proportions of my scribbles are most times off, but my pages make me smile nonetheless. A waterbrush pen is a great tool for quick sketching on the move. The body of the pen is a water receptacle, so it stays moist without a cup of water nearby.
    *Tip – If you are unsure of your sketching skills, a small pad of tracing paper is your friend. Take rubbings of signs, portions of historic markers, foliage or textures and hand write your notes around them. Photograph or scan your “travel art” once home.
  10. Packing Cubes
    Last but not least, this year I became a packing cube convert! There are more expensive options, but the IKEA four-pack is an easy, inexpensive favorite as a start. For Li, packing cubes are about organization. For me it’s all about compression. When I traveled to South America for three weeks during their winter, I packed heavy sweaters, a sweatshirt, jeans and boots  – and could not believe how much could be rolled and stuffed into a single packing cube. The mesh allows the air to escape while you compress (sit on?) and zip the cube.
    This spring, I traveled to Cabo San Lucas with just a rolling carry-on and my clothing in just the three cubes pictured. The small cube contained five pairs of panties (hidden from view, thanks) and two swim suits, because what sane woman  could go to Mexico with only one? The mid-size cube contains a knit sundress, a pair of leggings, a casual knit dress that doubles as a beach cover-up, and a long sleeved tee. The largest cube is double-sided, with one side containing long cotton pants, a long knit skirt, two tanks,  a men’s white linen shirt, a cotton pashmina, and a strapless bra. The reverse side contained non-clothing items listed above like tech items, rain ponchos and journaling supplies. When I travel internationally, I pack clothing that I plan to leave behind. I plan for for the bubble wrapped treasures and of course, the wine bags full of goodies!
    Serial travelers may want to check out http://bestreviews.com/best-packing-cubes.
    *Tip – A clothing-packed cube doubles as a nice, firm travel pillow. Just pack it into a pillow case. I’ve even carried mine on my flight, as pillows count as neither a personal item nor a piece of luggage.

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New York City Conquers the Well Heeled

The first time I visited New York City for a grad school city session, I mistakenly presumed I was entering an unfriendly urban playground.  I was intimidated by the streets, the cars, the people and the night. People who know me likely can’t picture me as the puppy dog dutifully following a master of the city; my roommate Andrea, a New Jersey girl. That first morning, as Andrea led me from our hostel-ish abode to embark on our 15-block walk to our classroom at the Type Director’s Club, we agreed to pump some coffee into our system.

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Coffee on every corner.

In a blink, that coffee experience changed my perspective of New York City. Picture this. It’s November. I’m masquerading as a stylish city girl, sporting cute spike-heeled boots and a leather coat. I have a small point-and-shoot Cannon in my pocket, so I can quickly pull it out and sneak quick photos of the interesting and amazing sights. Andrea speed-walks a couple of yards ahead of me. The aroma of liquid caffeine beckons Andrea, and I follow her into the door of a corner cafe. In what seems like a blink, we’re back out on the sidewalk.  I’m balancing hot coffee in one hand, my mini-camera in the other,  and I’m racing against the blinking orange Don’t Walk sign. Then it happens.

In a nano-second, my heel sinks deeply into the manhole cover grid, and boom – I’m face first in the street, with two hands in the air; one holding my hot coffee high and dry, and the other holding my unscathed camera. Andrea is frozen, initially mortified. Immediately I am surrounded by concerned New Yorkers. Men and women, young and old, pull me from the street crammed with cars wildly honking horns to the safety of the sidewalk of 6th Avenue. I taste blood.

cimg0161smI look at Andrea, and it’s clear that she and I are on the same “this is worth a REALLY good laugh” page. (As long as I still have teeth.) I smile, close my eyes, and shake my head. She sheepishly asks if it’s OK if she takes a photo of me holding coffee napkins to my bloodied face. Hearty laughter fills the air, and I realize there will clearly be no opportunity to keep this story from my new classmates. My chin and lower lip are as decimated as a third grader’s skinned knee from a bad fall off a bicycle.

Within 20 minutes, my first impression as I walk into class is certainly not the polished, well-heeled professional one I’d planned. I appeared to have been mugged and was in serious need of a first aid kit. Type Director’s Club executive Carol came to the rescue, and I was further on my way to appreciating the kindness of those who live or work in the Big Apple.  During that initial trip, I grew to feel energized by the hustle-bustle of New York City, yet tamed by the lesson the manhole cover had taught me.

In the first round of Cute Heels vs. New York, the city had won hands down. Or face down? The following day I invested in a pair of really great new boots. Flat boots.

 

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Just Say ARRRGGGHHH.

Ever dreamed you were standing on a sea-worthy sailing vessel, in the Atlantic Ocean, dressed as a pirate and yelling ARRRGGGHHH at the top of your lungs?  I’ll admit it; this particular scenario is beyond any creative action my brain cells could tap from my imagination while I sleep. I never even dreamed I’d have to opportunity to go sailboat camping for a weekend. So when the “pirate opportunity” crossed my radar, I did not hesitate to volunteer to sail from Little River, South Carolina to Southport, North Carolina to participate in the annual Halloween weekend Stede Bonnet Regatta.

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Boat camping and not roughing it.

Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to go “day sailing” and sometimes spend the night on my good friend’s boat at the marina. The fore berth, the V-berth is a great little hideaway with a hatch delivering natural light. Even when day-sailing, I like to retreat briefly to my own little quarters. On one rough day, I learned that I am an equal opportunity barfer – I can stay aboard while hanging off either port and starboard side. I slept it off. Fortunately those stylish little behind-the-ear patches have successfully prevented an encore of that hilarious event. But that was day sailing and I was a complete and utter rookie.

 

This is different. This is a trip! This is a boat vacation; to celebrate Halloween as a bona-fide pirate chick!

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Charley and his angels face the competitors.

In the two weeks leading up to the big event, I went on a mission to find props. I scored a sword, a couple of hooks, a couple of red bandanas, and a wig for the captain, completely underestimating the level of costuming planned by our competitors. Captain Charley has a great group of female friends and I am honored to be one of Charley’s sailing “angels.”

 

 

img_1647img_1648Funny story – At the 11th hour,  I decide to make pirate flags out of pillow cases. I rush to the store, rush home, get my gesso and paints ready, tear open the package, and find the white pillowcases say LUXE. Ugh. Lazy chick does not want to go back to the store. So she decides to turn the X into a skull and crossbones. We are LUXE pirates, darn it! A few dots of Sharpie to convert the X to bones, a couple of coats of gesso to map out a white skull, and ta-da….we  have a homely skull flag. View the end product in action in the video below.

Fortunately the weekend was not all about the wind speed, because mother nature was far from generous in exhaling her breath into our sails. But we made it into our slip at Southport Marina with time to spare. Sailboats arrived, decked out in pirate flags and skeletons, with crew members testing their “arrggghhh” yells over happy hour libations.

img_4837adj-smNow, Stede Bonnet is the “gentleman pirate”  who was hanged in Charleston, SC in 1718, following a year of Atlantic Ocean piracy, in collaboration with Blackbeard and a host of other booty buddies. So for this race, captains and crews in the race must dress as pirates. Crowds gather in front of The Provision Company to view the spectacle from a great vantage point. This year 40 modern-day pirate captains and their crews dressed the part and engaged in the weekend’s race festivities. The day began with free Bloody Mary’s for the sailors and a few hours on the sea. In the evening, following a day in the seas, sailors and spectators gather for a fabulous costume party with visions of Pirates and Wenches I never thought possible. Free dinner, live music, and “booty” shaking were all found at The Provision Company, the host of the annual regatta.

New bucket list entry:   Pirate for a day. Check!

The day was party-riffic, but I occasionally come down with a case of  “people-overload.” The quiet days at sea ground me. With no other boat in sight and no other sound but waves crashing against the hull and gusts of wind filling the sail, I bask peacefully with the wind in my face. It’s an img_4905smopportunity to do nothing but clear my mind. My brain slows as I absorb the sights and sounds. An occasional butterfly finds us and lingers in the cockpit. Flocks of birds are finding their way further South for the winter season. Channel markers bob in the distance, guiding us safely through the Atlantic. I sweep salt from the side of the boat and marvel at the ability to harvest it from the sea.

Click below to join me at the Halloween 2016 pirate invasion of Southport, North Carolina…and just say arrrggghhh!