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Pounce Cat Cafe + Yoga!

Cat cafes , which originated in Taiwan and reached its height of popularity in Japan, offer the chance for  paying visitors to play with or be ignored by felines who roam free in the space. The concept has spread to some major cities in Europe and the United States, but is still a rare novelty.

In Charleston, South Carolina the Pounce Cat Cafe offers a twist on the original. Entirely populated by adoptable felines from the Charleston Animal Society, visitors have the opportunity make a well socialized kitty part of their family after they finish their coffee or glass of wine.  The number of hourly visitors are limited so as not to overwhelm the cats and reservations must be made in advance through their website.

Additionally, Pounce offers yoga classes on Sunday mornings and its this that brought mum and I to their door, mats in hand. The class is run by a certified teacher who conducts an hour long vinyasa style session. The big difference from a traditional yoga class is that as you’re in downward dog or warrior two, a furry tail may teasingly brush your leg or indifferently saunter by.  Afterwards, you can spend some time with the residents while sipping a mimosa or cold brew. Now that’s my idea of a good morning!

 

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Beer Here! Craft Breweries in Harrisonburg, VA

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is known for both the beauty of the mountains and its many wineries.

Fans of hops don’t despair, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail runs along nearly the same route and offers a variety of craft breweries for any palate. One spot along the way with a concentration of stops is the city of Harrisonburg, VA. There are four breweries within walking distance of each other, allowing for a full day of touring the tastes in the historic downtown area. The big bonus for my visit was that all of these options had outdoor dog-friendly patios!

Three Notch’d Brewingone of three tap room locations of the Charlottesville based brewery. The Minute Man IPA was smooth and citrusy and the Watermelon Gose was refreshing, salty, and sweet. They also had dog biscuits available for purchase made from the grain left after the brewing process!

Brothers Craft Brewing – probably the most well known brewery in the area. The seasonal Hallelujah IPA has a mid-level bitterness and citrus note, but my personal favorite is the Hoptimization. If you can’t make it to the tap room, a number of local restaurants offer their brews on draft.

Pale Fire Brewing Co. – known for their IPAs, they also have a good variety of other styles. I personally loved the Salad Days Saison and the Electric Sheep Belgian Amber.

Wolfe Street Brewing – located in an old garage, this is the smallest and most intimate tap room location. They tend toward more ambers and stouts, but definitely try the Citra Tonic Pale.

 

If you’re more of a cider person, try nearby Old Hill Hard Cider in Timberville. Located at the Showalter Orchard, Old Hill offers tastings made from 10 varieties of apples grown specifically for cider making. Try their special mead blend and whisky barrel aged options for unique flavors (I bought a bottle for home).

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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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Charleston’s Dog-gone Charm

I’ve brought Hondo along on road trips to Charleston, South Carolina a number of times.  This beautiful, historic city is not only a great tourism spot, but also one of the most dog friendly places we’ve ever been. Everytime we go, there’s always a new dog friendly place to explore.

great view of Marion Square at Carolina Ale House
fully fenced in patio at Parson Jack’s

The downtown area is extremely walkable with great views of the harbor and historic houses. You can go from waterfront park, past the famous Rainbow Row, and all the way around the battery at the tip of the peninsula. The main shopping drag of King Street is lined with stores and restaurants, many of which have water bowls outside their doors for a thirsty pup. Many restaurants allow you and your little beast to on their outdoor patios. We recommend Kitchen 208, Taco Boy, Home Team BBQ, and 39 Rue De Jean.  Outside of the down town area check out White Duck Taco, Parson Jack’s Cafe, Triangle Char & Bar,  and The Dog and Duck.  For more, see the links at the bottom of this post.

 

vegetarian tacos at White Duck

 

Many of the craft breweries around the city allow pets on their outdoor patios.  We had an excellent time at Cooper River Brewing Company, sitting at one of the many picnic tables and listening to live music. Also check out Revelry Brewing Co, Ghost Monkey Brewery, and Frothy Beard Brewing. If you prefer wine or vodka, try Firefly Distillery (the original sweet tea vodka) and Deep Water Vineyard. Their dog friendly grounds and tasting room make a great afternoon on James Island. 
The beautiful beaches allow your pets with seasonal rules on acceptable hours and leash regulations. Hondo’s not a fan of the beach (he doesn’t like the evil water chasing him) but we do enjoy walking along the sand when we have a chance.

If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Monday in the summer, catch a Charleston Riverdogs baseball game. “Bark at the Park” nights are dog friendly and some offer special prizes if your pooch comes in costume!

 

For more dog friendly places in and around the Charleston area, check out these articles from Lowcountry Dog Magazine and Holy City Sinner.

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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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Hiking, Wine, and More in Shenandoah

In August of 2014, Mum and I met for a week in the appalachian region of Virginia. Neither of us had been to the area or new what to expect and both of us left wanting to return and explore more of the area.

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed in the small town of Basye near Bryce ski resort. Being there in the off-season turned out to be a good idea, not only because it was significantly cheaper. The ski resort, like many others across the country, offered activities to make the best use of the green hills like golfing, mountain biking, and tubing. Mum jumped at the chance to go zip lining and fly down the mountain through the tree tops. The whole idea frightens the ba-jezes out of me, so I sat on the condo balcony and knitted, watching her slide in at the end.

Shenandoah County offers a number of state parks with excellent hiking trails. Hondo and I hiked in a few of the local offerings and enjoyed the great views. Of course, Shenandoah National Park is also a prime local destination. The winding Skyline Drive offers amazing views of the valley and connects different peaks, waterfall, and amenities. There are a great deal of hiking trails, but not all are dog friendly, so be sure to follow signs and check your map. Thankfully the trail to the highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain was, and we enjoyed a long look over the patch-work countryside.

Nearby small towns of Mt Jackson, Quicksburg, Edinburg, Woodstock, and Harrisonburg make for great side trips . We made our way around some of the antique and thrift stores, family owned restaurants, and I picked up some local alpaca yarn. We even stopped at local potato chip factory, Route 11. They have large windows to the production floor where you can watch the potatoes at every stage from washing and peeling to seasoning and bagging. Their shop offers tasting of their regular flavors as well as a few unique offerings.

The Appalachian region also happens to be Virginia’s wine region. The “Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail” connects 22 local vineyards and you could take over a week just traveling to all the different options. Our favorite nearby stop was the Cave Ridge Winery. This small, family owned winery has daily tastings and live music on weekends. They’re also dog friendly and we felt very welcome to sit and sip our bottle while Hondo lounged by the vines.

The Appalachian region of Virginia has so much to explore and we only got a taste of it. I can’t wait to go back and see what else we can discover among the hills.

 

 

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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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7 Tips for Visting Cambodia

If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia, here are a few things I learned during my visit that might help you!

Cash is King – and the US dollar is everywhere.  Apart from the airport or the Villa Paradiso, its hard to find anyone who will accept your card. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops will only accept payment in cash. While the official national currency is the riel, most prices are posted in US dollars and change will be given in both paper varieties. If you are running low, many ATMs will dispense US dollars. On islands like Koh Rong Sanloem, only cash is accepted and there are no banks or ATMs.

Remove Your Shoes – when you enter a private home, religious space, and some businesses. Even on the  islands I needed to take my shoes off before entering any of the huts or public spaces. My sandals had an ankle strap, and if I had it to do over, I’d get something that was easier to slip on and off.

English is Everywhere – but don’t assume everyone speaks it. The majority of people you come across seem to speak a few words in english (numbers, basic pleasantries, etc), but you quickly learn that doesn’t mean you can communicate. The very few words I learned in Khmer were invaluable for getting around and bargaining. If you can only remember one, make it thank you. An “Awe Koon” goes a long way.

Bring  your Northern European 2 prong plug adaptor – because the one marked for Asia region won’t work. As a former french colony, the European influence hasn’t completely disappeared. Besides architecture from years gone by, the electric system uses round 2 prong plugs and not the flat 3 prong plugs you’ll find in other neighboring countries.

overheated? coconut water is nature’s gatorade

Drink Water – even when you think you’re not thirsty. The heat and humidity in southeast Asia are no joke. Bottled water is easy to get and inexpensive. Alternately, go for what the locals drink: count water or sugar cane juice. You can find carts all over offering these specialties for $1 or less. I didn’t even realize until I got back that I spent the entire week at least partially dehydrated.

A Scarf or pashmina  – is the national accessory. You’ll see plenty of locals with scarfs around their necks or heads as blocking the sun actually helps you feel cooler. Both the pashmina I brought and the scarf I purchased at the Russian Market saw continuous use. They’re also good for visiting religious sites where you need to cover your shoulders.

Avoid KTV – (Karaoke Television) even if you adore karaoke. The name is deceptive, as these are largely fronts for sex tourism. They’re only open at night and I passed many on way to the airport. Girls dressed to sell were sitting in red plastic chairs in the entrance waiting to be chosen by an incoming customer. If you absolutely need to sing along to your favorite Styx song, do it in your hotel.

Did I miss something? Share your tips in the comments below!

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A Phnom Oudong Outlook

On my final day in Cambodia I was in for a treat. S took the day off work, made a very tasty spanish tortilla for breakfast, and (along with A & Y) we  were off on an adventure. We hired a tuktuk for the day and set off for a long drive north through the countryside, destination:  Phnom Oudong.

Phnom Oudong, a mountain bordering the formal royal capital and Buddhist religious site, is about an hour dive north of Phnom Penh. Highway 5, which runs along the Tonle Sap river , isn’t yet fully paved, but will take you nearly to the gate. The dive north was something of an event in itself for me. From our tuktuk I would see the neighborhoods of the Cham minority (Cambodian ethnic muslims), rice paddies, fields of lotus flowers, factories, and tradtional khmer homes on stilts (so that they won’t flood during the rainy season). The sides of the roads are littered with trash throughout the country, as infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up with development yet, and at various points along the way there were small fires that were set to burn the collected rubbish. Cows walk on the shoulder, or sometimes in the middle of the road, prompting drivers to swerve around them.

just a few cows, in the road

 

You start walking up an incline past a number of stupas damaged by the Khmer Rouge, until you reach the start of the stone steps carefully set into the side of the mountain. There are a total of 509 steps up to the buddhist temple, and for the last section you need to take your shoes off out of respect (the white marble steps allow for you to not burn your feet). Along the way you pass baskets for monetary offerings, local beggars, and another stupa. We even encountered a few wise monkeys on our ascent.


The stupa at the very top is an incredible work of art. The white stone almost glows and every surface has intricate carvings and iconography. When you can finally tear your eyes from the structure and look out, the view is incredible from every direction. The country side below stretches  like a lush, green, patchwork quilt. From the southern view you can see the old city of Oudong below with its gold painted structures and temples.

Being so far away from the intensity of the city, looking out over the beautiful countryside, and hearing the buddhist prayers rise from a local center, its hard not to feel that this is something completely special. Thank you, Cambodia.