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Beer Here! Craft Breweries in Decatur, GA

If it isn’t already, the city of Decatur should be on your list of places to visit in Georgia. Within the perimeter of Interstate 285 and along the MARTA subway line, its as easy to get to as it is charming. Enjoy the restaurants and maybe a stroll around the square before trying  one of the three local craft breweries.

Three Taverns Brewery – the largest in the immediate area with an intimate tasting room and outside picnic space. They specialize in sours, so get ready to pucker on any available Sour Asylum option and calm it down with the ubiquitous Night on Ponce IPA. They’re quite popular, so be prepared to wait in line for your next taster.

BlueTarp Brewing Co – small brewery with local distribution. The tap room is open for tasting and tours with a dog-friendly outdoor space. They specialize in IPAs and we definitely recommend the Tropic Thunder. (Pro-Tip: check Groupon for their regularly available special)

Wild Heaven Beer – technically located in next-door Avondale, this brewery is a low-key hangout. Mum’s favorite is the Funkenrach smoked wild ale and I go for the White Blackbird Saison. There are special events every weekend and dogs are always welcome both inside and on the large outdoor patio.

Also check out…

Independent Distilling – ok, they don’t do beer, but they do have some sweet southern corn whiskey that’s worth a stop. They also make a delicious bourbon and rum, so make a tiny detour, enjoy the short tour and get ready to take a bottle home!

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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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Hurricane Season Travel

rainy season mudslide in Costa Rica
Traveling during the off season can cost a lot less than peak, but it does come with its risks. Off season in most places means a risk (or certainty) of inclement weather: snow, rain, extreme temperature, etc.  In the northern Atlantic, this equals hurricanes.

Mum and I travel during hurricane season all the time. Fall temperatures that are still warm without being too hot and fewer tourists due to families working within the confines of school schedules are extremely enticing. In all the times we’ve been traveling together, weather has not derailed our plans. In fact, NOAA has calculated the the probability of a hurricane eye hitting Miami in any given year as 4%. With a risk that low, why not?

hurricane damage on abandoned hotel in the Dominican Republic
2017 is abnormal, to say the least, with a record number of category 3 or higher storms in the Atlantic.  We have been planning an October trip to Puerto Rico since May and are watching all of the activity closely. The eye of category 3 Hurricane Irma passed off shore, but the impact of the winds caused damage. With Hurricane Maria’s category 4 eye passing right over the island (the strongest to hit in nearly a century), the extent is currently unknown but certainly significant. Like much of the Caribbean, tourism is integral to the economy of Puerto Rico. After Irma, our plan was to still visit the island bringing both our tourism dollars and some supplies for local residents that may assist with everyday life. Maria has changed that. Of utmost importance is the lives of the people who call Puerto Rico home. Necessities of everyday life and infrastructure repairs must be the focus for residents; tourism cannot distract from that.

With all of this in mind, Mum and I are currently considering changing our plans. Is it better to continue on and bring our tourism dollars and donations to the island, or are we more of a hinderance than a help? What’s the best course of action as a potential visitor to an area that had a recent weather disaster?

All we can do is keep watching the storms and hoping that those who call these beautiful islands home are safe and well.

Sunset in the Exumas
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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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Riding in Cars with Dogs

There’s nothing like a good road trip. Add a dog and you’ve got a recipe for a great weekend escape.  I travel with my dog Hondo as often as I’m able to, now 6 different US states in our 4 years together.  I feel that its easier to travel with him by car than airplane and always try to bring him along. While it does add more prep work (and planning stress) it’s totally worth it.

5 Tips for Taking Your Dog on a Road Trip

Safety First – When you’re driving down the road, your little beast should be as safely secured as you are. Keep your dog in a crate or seat belted in. Hondo’s harness is attached to a seatbelt in a car, assuring that he doesn’t go sliding if I need to hit the brakes fast. You can find a seatbelt attachment at pet stores.

Take Breaks – When you’re on a good stretch it can be tempting to keep driving for hour after hour. Try and break that habit and make regular stops along your route for rest breaks, snacks, and a little walk. everyone will be much happier (trust me)

Keep to a Routine – Dogs like routines. They seem to instinctively know when dinner time rolls around. While it’s not always 100% possible, I try to stay to our established routines on the road. It makes the change in scenery a little less stressful for Hondo.

Be Aware of Temperature – The heat and sun are amplified inside of a car and can easily become dangerous to all living beings. When you’re road tripping make every attempt to NOT leave your dog unattended in the car.  If you absolutely have to leave them, make sure to limit the time and take steps to regulate the temperate and airflow. On solo trips in the summer when I need to make an emergency relief stop where dogs aren’t allowed, I’ll  leave the car running with the air conditioner on and doors locked.

Be Well Supplied – There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to buy what you need for your dog when you’re away from home. Make sure that you being everything you might need with you

  • food & treats
  • dog poo bags
  • leash, harness, etc
  • crate & blanket
  • favorite toys
  • bowls for food & water

 

Do you have a tip for car trips with Dogs? Tell us in the comments!

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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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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.