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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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Eating Around the World in Atlanta

Atlanta tends to be associated with zombies, southern belles, and pig-on-a-spit but the city is so much more. As headquarters for a number of international companies, people from around the world have moved here to start a new life, bringing with them their culture and cuisine. No matter what you have a taste for, you can find it somewhere in Atlanta area.

For a taste of Ethiopia, we go to Desta Kitchen. Their authentic dishes are served in a modern presentation and there’s live music on weekend evenings. You can order everything ala carte, but I always get the vegetarian plate with plenty of injera.

Thai is available throughout the city, but our favorite is Panita Thai Kitchen in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. The converted house is primarily open air and has an eclectic design which comes from 20 years of perfection. The food is layered, flavorful, and served in a presentation fit for a king.

If you’re craving authentic Italian pizza, Varuni Napoli is the only place to go. Classic combinations with no gimmicks are  prepared to-order in their wood fire ovens. Be sure to save room for a cannoli – trust me.

Buford Highway runs in the north east part of the city and is the place to go for authentic Mexican or South Korean food. El Taco Veloz has no-nonsense authentic tacos that take us right back to our trip to Cabo San Lucas. Sokongdong Tofu House offers classics with plenty of heat and even a few vegetarian options. Also, be sure to make a stop at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. The former shopping center is now one large grocery story with hard to find products from every  part of the world and a rather tasty tiny food court.

In the city of Decatur, a community of immigrants from India has brought flavors from all parts of the country. There are specialized markets, shops, and restaurants with unique dishes, but our favorite is Zyka. Order your dishes at the front counter, listen for your number to be called, then dig in to addicting veggie and halal dishes.

Of course there’s more, and each new trip in the city a chance to try something new!

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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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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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Night Layover in Nanning

When I first booked my flight to Cambodia, a scheduled 10 hour layover in Nanning, China gave me some pause. I knew nothing about the city nor what I might encounter during my flight change.  Guidebooks and internet resources describe this “small city” of 2 million people as a train stop en-route to Vietnam and tout waterfalls and historic areas outside of town.  As I was due to arrive after midnight, none of this was very informative for me.

My domestic Shanghai Airlines flight was the last arrival of the day.  The small, mostly regional airport closed soon after, with all the lights shutting down and the only staff a cleaning person or two. The doors were propped open, and people were stay inside near the baggage claim, but the heating was turned off and the metal benches were separated by armrests. I took a deep breath and decided to head into town. In the daytime there is a bus you can take to the train station near downtown, but after 11p it’s taxi only.

entrance to the Nanning night market

The taxi driver who flagged me spoke no English (and I speak no Mandarin), but we did manage to communicate through a translation app on his mobile phone, which we passed back and forth. He named an over-priced night rate of 160 CNY, which I accepted (note – next time, haggle!). The 45 minute trip from the airport seemed to fly as he sped around lorries with no regard to speed limit signs or lanes in the road. I had previously read about the Night Market in downtown and decided that could be a place to explore a bit. By the time I got there at 2am on a Thursday morning, the market was about 1/3 open. Restaurants were sweeping trash into piles in the middle of the street and a few locals were stumbling out to catch a ride home.  I walked around the few remaining stalls with seafood on sticks, tofu noodle bowls, and fruits before deciding to venture a little further.  A few blocks through tall, modern concrete buildings leads you to the Yongjiang river. Along the side is a lovely, clean, well manicured park.  Everything was silent and empty.

NNG from the taxi

By 4am I gave up and took a taxi back to the airport, the return trip costing night rate of 116 CNY. This driver didn’t have a translation app, but thankfully I had written down the word “airport” on a post-it note, which did the trick (after he corrected my pronunciation). The first domestic flight out of Nanning is around 7am.  Using my western standards, I assumed the airport would officially re-open 2 hours before. Instead, I walked in circled in the dark airport until the lights turned on at 5:45am and the first check-in counter opened at 6.  My international flight to Phnom Penh at 10am didn’t open for check-in until 9. (side note: I’ve never been so happy to be traveling with only my backpack.)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to have a layover in Nanning, aim for the daytime. The city looked lovely and I hope I get a chance to see it in full glory in the future.

 

bridge across the Yongjiang river

 

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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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Holiday Season Opener

img_1522Food. Family. And festivities. While many of us recognize Thanksgiving as the start of the holiday season, families who celebrated Diá do los Muertos are ahead of the game. Unlike the ghosts, ghouls and shenanigans of Halloween, the Day of the Dead is a meaningful, cultural spiritual celebration. In Mexico and Latin America, it’s a time to pay homage to the souls of those lost; to eat Pan de Muerto, to make sugar skulls and to engage in a vivid celebration of vibrant lives. http://dayofthedead.com/

This year, I took a road trip to visit Decatur, GA, where  Li and I bagged a loaf of  temptatious, glossy-egg-washed-crust Pan de Muerto. Decautur, a hip little town, is a unique place to visit, with obscure little finds like La Calavera Bakery. A single step through the front door takes you from Diá do los Muertos observer to participant. We lingered over coffee, simply absorbing the festive holiday vibe.

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But what’s important to take from this — is that, right around the corner from all of us is a “travel” destination that provides cultural insight. As the holidays continue to present opportunities for new experiences, take a moment to notice how those in your local community celebrate. Say yes to invitations and embark on new adventures. Learn more about your friends’ family traditions. Many celebrations are based on our own cultural roots.

This season, give your family the gift of enrichment. Celebrate Hanukkah. Visit a church service different from your own. Together, serve a meal at a shelter. Expand your world view from your own back yard.

And, next year, consider joining us in starting early. Gather with friends and family to celebrate Diá do los Muertos. Follow these links to learn more about Day of the Dead traditions. http://spanish.about.com/cs/culture/a/dayofdead.htm

Make sugar skulls:  http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/support/dodhistory.html

Bake Pan de Muerto:   http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7224/pan-de-muertos-mexican-bread-of-the-dead/