Category: Travel

Epicurean Experiences in Quebec

Quebec Provence is heavily French-speaking. My knowledge of French culture is a bit lacking. But there are two items I associate with the French;their fashion and their food. Both were evident on my trip to Quebec. Suitcase space limited my shopping. But a person needs to eat at least three times a day. So the epicurean experience was a highlight each day of the trip.

Star of Saguenay

Our trip up the Saguenay Fjord produced a day of eating pleasure. While the breakfast at Tim Horton’s aligned more with a treat of pop culture, thereafter each dining experience climbed the rungs of culinary delight. The culmination was the evening meal.

La Cuisine is a French restaurant just a few blocks from the water in the older part of Saguenay. We dined there mid-week on a blustery night. Yet the restaurant had a group in one of the second floor rooms and about fifteen of us dining downstairs in the main room.

If you are ever in Saguenay La Cuisine is a must visit. The gourmet meal was a true epicurean experience. We started with a charcuterie platter for an appetizer. The three meats were a smoked duck breast, Perron pork rillettes and a homemade terrine. Accompanying the meat were a jelly, marinated vegetables and thinly sliced onion.

We asked about the terrine, a pate made in a specific container named terrine, hence the name. This was one of the few times our inability to speak French created a breakdown in communication. We settled for the French name and to this day do not know what wondrous ingredients comprised the terrine. This charcuterie platter was the best I have ever eaten.

The entrees managed to top the appetizer. Hard to believe, yet true. My travelling partner ordered the salmon from their regular menu but I opted to order from the seasonal selections. The Elk Medallions were tender, flavorful and accompanied by roast vegetables. The presentation of the dishes equaled the taste. Truly a memorable meal.

Montreal Treats

Each and every meal in Montreal was delightful. Perhaps the only reason I did not gain weight was the walk-ability of the city. I know I consumed more calories than normal. Meals ranged from Italian to French, seafood to beef with just a bit of sugar thrown in here and there.

Millennials traveling to Quebec will find Taverne Gaspar to their liking. The energetic vibe filled the air. There were very few people over forty in the restaurant the Saturday night we visited. I loved the music and the casual atmosphere. This place was made for people watching.

The food was quite good as well. I enjoyed sharing a charcuterie and cheese platter followed by a lobster roll. I am not an oyster fan but many orders were served to the crowd. Other favorites include a fish and chips platter and various burgers.

The setting added to the ambience. Taverne Gaspar is located in an old warehouse. The thick block walls served as a backdrop for a variety of art deco. Our table was underneath a door turned art piece. The location in the old part of Montreal along the waterfront is also a plus.

My favorite breakfast was a sinfully sweet chocolat et fruit croissant from Marche de La Villette. The restaurant was packed on Sunday morning as were all the nearby eateries. I allowed myself this treat even though reading The Case Against Sugar has altered my eating habits.

The tables were full, but for those who did not want to wait, the bakery counter at Marche de La Villette offered another option. Breads, croissants, sweet rolls and even cronuts were available. A cheese selection accompanied the baked goods.

Downtown Montreal Delight

Most of our meals were enjoyed in Vieux Montreal. However, my second favorite meal of the trip was from Rueben’s Deli and Steakhouse. The location at 1116 Sainte-Catherine St. W was crowded in the middle of the afternoon.

An arrangement of cakes in a glass display case
A dessert case greets you as you walk in the front door reminding you to save some room. Their smoked meats enjoy a case of their own. We sat in a corner booth with a view of the busy sidewalk. This location is in the heart of downtown Montreal allowing for people watching while waiting for your order. In addition to the people, we watched a few snowflakes falling from a seemingly cloudless sky.

The service is great. Once again there were no problems with communication. Menus are available in both French and English. Greetings are in French, with a rapid switch to English depending on the response.

I ordered the Famous Super Sandwich. The smoked beef is thinly sliced and piled high. The customer can add cheese if desired. The rye bread and mustard compliment the cured meat. This is not a sandwich I usually order. But I am glad I took the waiter’s suggestion. Truly a delightful meal. Of course the carrot cake I split for dessert added to the culinary experience.

Epicurean Experiences

A week of eating our way through Quebec Province could start a small book if each meal were described. I have shared some of the highlights. Other dishes you might want to try would include poutine which is French fry based, their berry pies, the crab cakes and if you are a coffee drinker, a morning stop at a Tim Horton’s.

The Canadians also have a knack with pizzas and flat breads. There are micro-breweries, wineries and fromageries to tour and sample. You will not go hungry travelling through Quebec Province.

This vacation was one of the best experiences of my life even though our travel dates were about two weeks too late for warm weather. Be sure to read the post on Lac St. Jean. Finally consider a trip this region so you too can enjoy the many facets of Quebec.

Quebec Province-Lac St. Jean to Montreal

Econogal’s Note: This is the third part in a series about the Province of Quebec. Details of a drive from Lac St. Jean to Montreal follow.

Our stay in Saguenay was brief since we woke up to rain. We were very satisfied with our meal from the previous night so just grabbed coffee and chocolate chaud from a nearby Tim Hortons. However, the manager did need to come assist us since she was the only one fluent in English. Since we were rapidly becoming Francophile we took the difficulty communicating in stride.

My travelling partner decided to drive up to Lac St. Jean to begin the day’s travels. Even with the periodical rain showers, the countryside was beautiful. There are many farms in the area dotted along the rivers and numerous lakes left behind by the retreating glacier.

This area is heavily French-speaking. Mid-morning, several stops were made in an attempt to find oatmeal. My travelling partner had searched for the translation, but perhaps the pronunciation was way off. Finally at one of the ubiquitous Tim Hortons, a picture of a bowl of oatmeal accompanied by the simple word gruel appeared. However, smiles and patience translate well. We did not experience any unfriendliness.

Lac St. Jean Tourism

There are indications of tourism throughout this area. But we did not see any tour busses. Unlike the United States, the area lacked chain hotels. But campgrounds were located both along the large Lac St. Jean as well as along the rivers and lakes of the various Canadian Parks we drove through on our roundabout journey back to the St. Lawrence River.

We drove up Highway 170 and turned west once we reached Lac St. Jean. Soon after, we began noticing the bike lane which would merge with the roadway from time to time. A key attraction of the area is the Velaroute des Bleuets. This extensive circuit offers cyclists many levels of difficulty for biking around the lake. We did not see any, most likely due to the weather and possibly the school year.

We missed our turn at Chambord. It was a fortuitous mistake. The road runs right alongside the lake on the way to Roberval. We found a wonderful lookout near the historic site Val-Jalbert. This vantage point allowed us to watch the storm squalls roll across the lake.

Some of the pictures of the lake and those of the farm fields come from this stop. The farm had strawberries and asparagus in close proximity to the rest area. Perhaps some blueberries were in another field.

This vantage point also allowed us to spot a place to park lakeside. We drove there and snapped a few shots against the whipping wind. Since we were not hungry we did not pop into the small seafood restaurant. This location appeared to be a major stop along the Velaroute des Bleuets.

Journeying Toward Trois-Rivieres

While we would have liked to drive the perimeter of the lake, our timetable did not permit. So we turned back toward Chambord and headed down Highway 155. This route follows the Bostonnais River for many miles. Again there were numerous campsites.

The drive is about 300 km so we did not take any detours. However, there are many hamlets along the road. One is La Tuque. The population of just over 10,000 made it similar in size to our home town. By this point, the Saint-Maurice River flowed alongside the route.

Toward the end of the drive, we passed the city of Shawinigan. A glimpse from the highway indicated manufacturing. Shortly thereafter, I was hit with a familiar waft of paper mill. Perhaps the next trip to Quebec will allow time to explore this area.

Return to Montreal

The leisurely drive from Saguenay up to Lac St. Jean and then down to Trois-Rivieres allowed timed to reflect. Our trip thus far had been wondrous. Yet we felt like we wanted to spend more time in Montreal. Thus we cut short our exploration of the countryside and returned to this city.

We began our morning with the familiar, a drive along the St. Lawrence. This time we were headed west on Highway 138. Sprinkled among the small towns and farms were numerous construction sites. New homes and new commercial buildings joined road construction to make the drive a bit slow. Anxious to return to Montreal, we joined the Interstate about a half an hour outside of Montreal.

Upon returning the rental car, we walked about a kilometer to our hotel where we left our bags until our room was ready. This time we were staying at the downtown Sheraton. As much as we liked the old part of the city, I was anxious to explore the heart of Montreal.

I fell in love all over again. The city bustled with activity. Streets were clean and I felt safe. While the city is built on the up-slope from the river, the streets running parallel to the river are somewhat level in elevation. Furthermore, there is a huge underground.

Shopping in Montreal

While walking along St. Catherine Street, we entered an area with a movie theatre and discovered the complex of stores and tunnels multiple flights below ground. Everything was well-lit with multitudes of people. Retail shops carrying items from clothing to jewelry to art supplies spanned blocks of the city. All underground. The result is Montreal now takes third place on my list of favorite places to shop. Only NYC and Chicago rank above.

The last morning in the Province of Quebec we split up. I returned to the underground shopping while my travelling companion wandered about. This is unusual for me. I seldom take off on my own when visiting a new city. In fact never before in a foreign country! But I felt so comfortable in Montreal. My only wish was for a map of the underground tunnels.

Returning to the airport, we cleared customs in Canada versus upon our return to the United States. I had not travelled outside of the U.S.A since 2012, so I do not know when the new machines came into play. Now you begin the process at kiosks by sliding the passport along the scanner of the touchscreen machine. Then you line up for a photo. Hats and glasses need to be removed. A slip of paper emerges with your photo verification. Finally the slip is handed to a live human further down the hall. I plan to count this as a new skill since my brain did learn something new.

Please enjoy the latest slide show and check back next week when I share information on the wonderful meals of our trip.

Travelling the Saguenay Fjord

Econogal’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the Province of Quebec

After two nights in Vieux Quebec, we decided to continue our travels via car. Enterprise allows you to rent a car in Quebec City and return the vehicle in Montreal. However, there is a drop fee. For us, the fee was less than a return train ride.

Exploring the Fjord

My prior research of Quebec uncovered the fjord. I was intrigued because this type of waterway conjures the Scandinavian countries along with the State of Alaska. Since, I have never been to either of the locales, the Saguenay Fjord was at the top of my list of possible destinations for the three unplanned days.

A day long car ride with some quick stops worked to counter the blustery weather. High winds are not a problem for us since we live on the High Plains where wind is normal and sometimes seems constant. But I was appreciative of the low profile VW Passat we rented.

We drove up Route 138 East. I cannot justly describe the incredible view. The St. Lawrence River was so expansive! The color change mid river on Ile d’Orleans was matched by the vividness of the trees on the hills sloping up from the river. We stopped several times to photograph both the river and the trees.

A key tourist stop is the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-De-Beaupre. We did not stop since two large tour busses had just unloaded. But the architecture was striking. The fall foliage on the sloping hill above made an amazing backdrop. Look for the shot from a quay on the Saint Lawrence in the slide show.

Rural Quebec

Not far past the shrine, the highway curves in from the river. But the road winds back and forth giving glimpses of river and land all the way up the coast to the fjord. Small towns dot the landscape. Farms and dairies make up much of the industry. The hotels are all Mom and Pop as are most of the restaurants. However, you will find a Tim Horton’s here and there. They truly rival Dunkin’ Donuts.

Our next stop along the highway was to buy some cheese. Many fromageries are located in this part of Quebec. Each claims to have the best cheese including the one we stopped at. Fortunately we could communicate. Once you leave the cities more and more French is spoken and English is a second language. We bought the house cheese, crackers, and salmon. The crisp temperature allowed the food to safely ride in the trunk.

As we made our way up the coast, we debated which route to take along the fjord. We needed to decide by the time we reached Saint-Simeon. The guide-book I used was in French. My French is non-existent but since it is a Latin based language, I was attempting to learn from the guide. Quite a few of our English words are derived from the French language as well. Between the maps, pictures, and recognizable words here and there, we opted for the road on the far side of the fjord. This meant crossing on the ferry.

Commercial Ferry

I have been on many ferries in my life time. Most carried cars across short stretches of river. One was even limited to pedestrians and bicyclists. All charged a fee. However, this one was free. (I am sure taxes paid for the operation. Taxes are very high in Quebec Province with a provincial tax on both goods and the Federal Tax. Thus a tax on a tax. But I digress.)
Our vehicle was the last to load. We might have missed the ferry if the 18 wheeler loading in front of us had not taken his time. The heavy trucks are placed in the middle with cars to the outside. The water was very rough from the high winds. The salt spray left its mark on the vehicles. I ventured outside just long enough to snap a few pictures. Usually I like to stand outside when on a ferry but the wind was just too much.

However, this first view of the fjord was incredible. The geography of a fjord is unique. Glaciers cut into the land carving the valley. The retreating, melting glacier leaves a body of water that is very deep. The Saguenay Fjord is almost 900 feet deep at its deepest point. For more information on how fjords form click on this National Geographic link.

Both highways along the fjord weave upward in elevation from the river. Our route, Highway 172 has several turn offs to drive down closer to the fjord. However we by-passed the earliest places to turn in search of a sheltered place to picnic.

Many visitors to this region choose to camp-out. Eventually we pulled off beside a creek and enjoyed our lunch. The tree tops quaked in the wind. But we stayed in the car with one window down so we could hear the stream tumble.

Sainte-Rose-du-Nord

After lunch we continued on the route toward the city of Saguenay. We climbed in elevation with no glimpses of the fjord. So we left the highway toward Sainte-Rose-du-Nord. The guidebook map indicated this small hamlet was on the shore of the fjord.

In warmer conditions, this must be teaming with tourists. As it was, we stopped at a shack (yes a shack) for one of the best blueberry pies I have ever eaten. The shack was not full. Mostly locals but I think a few were other tourists. Space heaters helped fight the cold. That and the body warmth of about twenty adults in a small area. We were the only ones conversing in English.

Sainte-Rose-Du-Nord has quite a dock although no boats were present. Along the dock are informative historical plaques in both French and English. The guide-book indicated a series of hiking trails that start behind the shack. We took the shortest one which led to a platform above the fjord. The weather was ominous so we did not venture farther than the roughly half mile loop.

As we were leaving, the high tide arrived. It was fascinating to watch the water rise as we were many miles inland from the mouth of the fjord. The slips jetting out from the dock bounced higher and higher as the tide came in. The wave action pushed on by the wind caused water to top the furthest slips even as they were bouncing several feet up into the air. The movement was riveting. We were hooked on the fjord.

Saguenay

Nonetheless, we pushed on. Our hotel reservations for the night were at the Delta Hotel on the far side of Saguenay. We wanted to reach our destination before nightfall. Crossing the Saguenay River into the town we spotted the historical section. Like many of the towns we passed, a church steeple rose above the buildings. We considered exploring the area the following morning. Just in case the weather continued to discourage walking about, we booked a dinner reservation at a restaurant in this old part of town. The meal at La Cuisine turned out to be the culinary delight of the trip.

Check back in a few days to read about the remainder of the trip as well as a subsequent review on the many delicious meals we consumed. For more information on the fjord, read this website post from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Enjoy this latest slide show!

  • Old church with backdrop of fall foilage
    Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre

Fall Travel Through Quebec Province

Note From Econogal:  This is the first of multiple posts. Check back 10/23/2018 for Part 2.

Fall is a lovely time to visit the Province of Quebec. The trees are glorious. But the weather can be a bit unpredictable in mid-October. On our recent visit we experienced some rain, wind, the regions first freeze and even a few snowflakes drifting down from the sky. Yet nothing detracted from the beauty.

Our trip planning was a bit haphazard which definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Hotels were booked for the first four nights in advance but not the last three. Why? Because this was our first visit to Eastern Canada and we weren’t sure where the road would take us. Also the closer the approach of the departure date, the less travel friendly the weather forecast became. However I am glad we incorporated this bit of flexibility.

Montreal

Our visit began and ended in Montreal. Since the nearest major airport requires a two hundred mile drive before embarking on the flight, we prefer flying direct. (An overnight experience sleeping at the Philadelphia airport with four youngsters many years ago sealed the deal.) However, the non-stop flight arrived just after midnight so we opted to stay at an airport hotel the first night. This fits in with my Travel Safety tips.

The Fairfield Inn we stayed at was incredibly quiet. I could not believe a train track was right outside our window. Furthermore, trains used the track regularly. The hotel must have had extra sound proofing! It also was a favorite with late night arrivals. The hotel shuttle had standing room only space at almost one in the morning. Fortunately for us, the others on the bus were part of a tour group. They had room keys handed to them at the airport by their tour guide. Thus, our check-in was easy.

The following morning we walked the short distance to the train station. We wanted to buy tickets to Quebec City for the following day. Plus, we wanted to see the cost of taking the train into downtown Montreal. After purchasing tickets for the next leg of our trip, we opted for an Uber drive into Vieux (old) Montreal.

Vieux Montreal

Since it was still morning, we dropped our bags at the Springhill Suites centrally located in the old part of the city. Immediately we set out to explore. Quite a bit of construction made the walk a bit tricky. Indeed almost everywhere we traveled in the Province were signs of development or upgrading of existing infrastructure. In Montreal we mostly saw the latter.

Strolling down Place Jacques-Cartier we spotted a horse and carriage parked at the bottom of the hill along Rue De La Commune. CiCi is a beautiful Belgian draft horse. Dennis, her driver takes very good care of her. He also served as a very knowledgeable tour guide. Perhaps just as important, the carriage included a very warm blanket which kept the misty air at bay.

A Belgian Draft Horse standing before a carriage.
The wonderful CiCi, a Belgian Draft horse with her carriage.

The hour-long tour is not cheap, (100 Canadian dollars) but gave a very good over-view of old town. The views of the mighty St. Lawrence River competed with the fall foliage and historical buildings. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect for me was how the old buildings were topped with new additions. Unlike the pop-topping done in major cities of the United States, these additions did not blend the new with the old.

However, newer buildings squeezed in among the old did a better job of blending in. But the masonry used helps distinguish new from old. The photos show some of these differences along with the small bits of wall still existing in Montreal.

Our carriage tour was one of the highlights. In part because of the friendliness and knowledge of the driver. He gave us history as well as recommendations on where to eat and what to experience with regards to museums. He also warned us about the hills we would find in Quebec City. Plus, he liked the fact we were taking the train to our next stop.

Montreal captured our hearts with our experience of Old Town. We loved the location of the hotel. But they were sold out for the night before our return flight. As a consequence, we left Montreal unsure if we would spend another night in the city or take transportation directly back to the airport.

Train to Vieux Quebec City

Montreal’s Central train station reminded me of the stations in Germany. However, since we departed on a Sunday many of the dozens of food outlets were closed. The station looked new inside but we knew the vastness inside harked to an age of more train travelers. A more modern sign of the station harking to old days was a bank of pay phones. Something I have not seen in years. Even so, the two trains we witnessed boarding had between fifty and a hundred individuals queuing for their trains.

The train ride to Quebec City allowed both of us to absorb the scenery. The brilliant colors of the fall provided a backdrop to the many farm towns along the route. I have included these colorful pictures in the slide show.

Quebec City

Our arrival to Quebec City posed some logistical problems. A long line formed for taxis and the Uber App would not load. Indeed, access of many functions on my cell phone ceased to work. Thus we walked up some very steep hills to the Hilton Hotel. Both the train station and the hotel are located just outside the walls of Vieux Quebec City. Unfortunately, the two locations are not in close proximity. I would estimate we traversed about a mile along crowded sidewalks to reach our destination.

There were many, many tourists in Quebec City. Even though large cruise boats docked at both Montreal and Quebec City, the effect was more pronounced at the latter. My travelling partner (who picked the travel destination) was amazed at the crowds at what he thought would be off-season. Alas, even though he does not share my enthusiasm for fall color, multitudes of others do. The crowds of camera wielding tourists were a bit overwhelming. Vloggers abounded. While I always try to show consideration with my picture-taking, the video cameras are large and they can become intrusive. Tripods blocked the sidewalks. Retakes sometimes held things up for the rest of the crowd. All in all a bit of a distraction.

Following the advice we received in Montreal, we opted to use the Hop-on Hop-off bus in Quebec City. The air was quite brisk on the top of the Double Decker vehicle but offered great views. The tour bus offers a number of languages to choose from. If your head sets are not working well, try to switch seats. We did this on more than one occasion.

There is much history in Quebec City. But if you have mobility issues, getting around is a bit difficult. I loved the statues, bronzes and fountains that appear everywhere. But perhaps the greatest view is of the St. Lawrence. The river seems to explode in width at this point. The view was particularly great from the top of our hotel.

Like Montreal there is much construction in Old Quebec. The city is actively protecting the centuries old wall with re-fortification. But there is also ongoing preservation of the newer buildings. The building and refurbishing lends an air of prosperity to this city and to the region in general. From an economic standpoint, I found this quite interesting since my understanding is that this Province is a bit behind much of Canada. Thus, I plan to do some more research.

Enjoy the slide show and check back Tuesday to see where we went after leaving Quebec City.

  • Herb Boxes in Montreal

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market Fun

One of the best things about summer is the abundance of Farmers Markets. Just spotting them from the road gives me a smile and a lift in spirits. But getting a chance to wander around one takes the enjoyment to a higher level. Last weekend I happened upon a great Farmers Market in Saratoga Springs, New York just loaded with fun.

Fresh Produce

The first thing I love about Farmers Markets is all the fresh produce. Ears of corn, tomatoes of all colors, beets, carrots and peppers are all standard at a market. The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market had all of these and more. Fresh milk, cheeses, honey and mushrooms were spotted, sampled and purchased as I wandered through the stalls. Other goods such as jams, flowers, herbs and home-made spirits were fondly looked at, but hard to fly home with, so just admired.

Ramble Creek Farm

Most often I see beautiful examples of farm product I am familiar with. But at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market I found a new to me item, a mushroom called Lions Mane offered by Ramble Creek Farm in Greenwich, NY. As you can see from the pictures, this mushroom has both a textured top and bottom. An unusual seafood-like taste makes this mushroom unique. But what intrigues me the most is the health properties. Lions Mane is thought to have positive effects on brain health. Visit this website for more information. Those new to Econogal can read the About Me section for a glimpse into why I focus so much on the brain.

I wish I lived closer to Ramble Creek Farm so I could purchase more of their organic food. I loved visiting with one of the owners. They have an approach to farming that I commend. Please visit their website by clicking here. If you live in New England you may live within their delivery area!

Saratoga Suds

Another entrepreneur I chatted with at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the soap lady. These were not just your ordinary hand-made soaps. These soaps had style! The cupcakes looked good enough to eat and were what first caught my eye. Saratoga Suds originated over 45 years ago. Of course the company offers traditional styled soap, but the creativity in the shapes and the scents sets this company apart from the rest.

Furthermore, this Farmers Market find is once again a natural product. Visit the website for Saratoga Suds by clicking here and order some soaps today. I think you will like this mineral water soap as much as I do.

Food to Go

In addition to farm products to take home and prepare, there were many vendors with food to eat right then. The piping hot dishes looked great but I opted for my traditional travelling fare, bread and cheese. I washed it down with some delicious lavender lemonade although the fresh bottled milk was tempting.

The croissant purchased from Mrs. London’s Bakery paired nicely with the kunik cheese and honey purchased from Nettle Meadow. The French style bakery and café has been treating the residents of Saratoga Springs for over 20 years. Few food operations last past the first five years, thus Mrs. London’s Bakery is an exception as well as exceptional. The croissant melted in my mouth.

Nettle Meadow had an engaging spokesperson and an informative display. The operation is a farm and a sanctuary. While goats are the star of the show, sheep, llama, chickens and ducks share space on the farm which is open to visitors. This popular stall at the farmers market offered a variety of goat cheeses. Their kunik cheese is an award-winning blend of goat’s milk and cow cream. I now have a new addiction.

I did not discover the stall for Saratoga Crackers until after enjoying every bite of kunik. But these crackers are delicious just on their own. Like many of the farmers market booths, samples were available. I could not decide which I liked best, the Garlic Parmesan or the Rosemary Olive. Both ended up coming home with me. I love the fact that Saratoga Crackers is focused on healthy natural ingredients and would love to someday meet The Cracker Master and learn of her ties to the Saratoga horses.

Farmers Market Music – Running The River

Another first for me at the Saratoga Springs Farmers Market was the live music. Two trios were performing at a far enough distance that the tunes did not conflict. While I liked the group playing music from my younger years, I loved the group Running The River. Their schedule indicates a regular appearance on market days along with many other events in the surrounding area. They have two new CDs Longbow and Riverside which showcase some of their original work as well as favorite cover songs. Their website which can be accessed by clicking here has a calendar with performance dates and locations. Running The River members are great entertainers. Make sure to watch the short You Tube Video of Running The River below.

The Saratoga Springs Farmers Market is superb. I think this ranks as the top farmers market I have wandered through. From glancing at Running The River’s performance schedule, the market seemed to be open longer than the traditional months. So I scoped the Internet and learned that this particular farmers market is open year round. If you are ever in the area, make sure to stop by. No matter the time of year!

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!

Destination Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa is a great place to visit. On a recent trip we enjoyed perfect weather which allowed us to enjoy several parks as well as street boutique shopping. Anyone thinking of vacationing in the central part of the United States should consider this charming city for their destination.

Iconic Capitol

The capitol city of Iowa has a lot to offer. History buffs will enjoy touring both the capitol building and the surrounding grounds. As you can see from the pictures in the slide show, the building is currently undergoing a face-lift. The restoration project is in full swing. But from an aircraft above as well as when driving, one just notices the shining gold dome.

My favorite park is on the grounds of the capitol. The eclectic nature of the various monuments appealed to me. At first glance I thought the memorials were limited to the fallen Iowans of the various wars. There is even a tribute to those soldiers buried in Iowa who fought in the Revolutionary War. This memorial showcases the original colonies. Thus a great visual teaching tool for young visitors to the area.

But, the tributes are far-reaching. One of the most attention attracting monuments from a distance is Shattering Silence. This tribute to a landmark slavery case involving Ralph Montgomery is appropriately located closer to the Iowa Court of Appeals. For more information on the historic decision, click here.

Other key memorials include a gift from Japan and multiple trees planted. The Iowa government has produced a map of the grounds. I wish I had found this map prior to my visit. Click here for the map. I recommend printing the PDF version found on the link.

Downtown

Our downtown Des Moines stops included the East Village Shopping area, Papajohn Sculpture Park, and the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. Each offer metered parking. But only the Test Garden offered much shade. There are plenty of places to walk along the river as well.

East Village

I love old-fashioned shopping along city streets. More of the businesses are Mom and Pop stores. Furthermore, clothing boutiques allow you to express yourself. Unlike the chains, service tends to be a bit more personalized too.

East Village has much to offer. Boutiques like Aimee and Matilda Muse were fun to pop into. Clothing from casual to dressy filled the racks. Alongside the clothing stores were two great places for those who like to cook.

First was Kitchen Collage. This shop had everything you could imagine needing in a kitchen. Knives, cutting boards, dish towels, place mats and hundreds of gadgets. I bought a tool to turn my zucchini into noodles. Kitchen Collage would be an ideal place to shop for wedding gifts.

At the other end of the block is Allspice. This locally owned store is a must visit for cooks. In addition to a wide array of spices, the store offers olive oil and vinegar blends. The service here, like the other stops in East Village, was top-notch. I have already used the pickling spices I purchased. To visit Allspice online, click here.

Papajohn Sculpture Park

The Papajohn Sculpture Park commands attention. The large pieces have plenty of room. But they still have a larger than life appearance. My favorite is the spider. However, the attention stealer is titled Nomade. The art piece is 12,000 pounds of stainless steel painted white. The artist, Jaume Plensa hails from Spain. You can view more of his work by clicking here.

Many families rambled across the park on the day we visited the area. This is a great place to let kids stretch their legs while absorbing this contemporary style of art. However, proper respect of the artwork is essential. The sculpture park is open from sunrise until midnight. The operating hours for the adjacent museum can be found by clicking here.

Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden

Just across the street from the Papajohn Sculpture Park is the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. We were fortunate to visit Des Moines on a Friday. Because the test garden is only open on Fridays from noon until 2 during the warmer months of the year.
The test garden had a small crowd waiting at the gate for the guides to arrive. This was a key destination for many visitors. A series of steps leads down into the garden. Reservations were not required. However, groups of ten or more can arrange for guided tours. Our group was half that size. So no guided tour. But I found the master gardeners friendly and informative.

Garden Highlights

A ring of crabapples surround a fountain courtyard in the center of the garden. The shady spot offered tables for those working nearby to bring their sack lunch. Visitors needing a break could sit at the tables and soak in the view. The trees were planted 20 years ago. In the ensuing years a canopy has formed creating the shady oasis in the center. The guide I talked with indicated sun-loving plants were set out underneath the trees in the early years. As the trees matured, shade loving plants took the position at the base of the crabapples. Now there is deep shade. The trees and the fountain more than suffice to anchor the courtyard.

A pathway winds around the edge of the test garden. They types of plantings varied with the amount of sun. One corner had a vegetable and herb garden. The bell peppers were huge!

Readers of the magazine easily recognize various features in the garden. The planters and benches are picturesque. The groupings of plants were inspiring. But what I found most helpful were the identification labels. These labels named both the annuals and the permanent flowers and trees. If I lived and worked in downtown Des Moines, the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden would be my lunch spot every Friday during the summer.

Following the request of the magazine, there are no photos of the test garden in my slide show. Visitors are allowed to take pictures for their own use. But not for any commercial use. Therefore, I am providing this link to the test garden website.

This is just a taste of what Des Moines has to offer. The city deserves a repeat visit and a longer stay to further explore its treasures. Consider this great place for your next vacation destination.

Secrets of the National Parks

Secrets of the National Parks Book Review

Summer is here. Travelers are flocking across the country and many of them are headed to National Parks. If you are among the many heading to the great outdoors, consider purchasing Secrets of the National Parks. I found this guide-book edited by National Geographic on a bargain table at Barnes and Noble for under ten dollars. But I think it is worth more.

My parents did not enjoy camping. However, both felt it was important that we were well-rounded in our education. Trips to National Parks played a key role in exposing us to the wonders of nature. Thus, as my kids were growing up, I made sure they also experienced some of our great national treasures.

I wish I had found Secrets of the National Parks sooner. The book offers a comprehensive guide to 32 of the most popular of the parks. Following this major portion is a small section of snippets about smaller, off the beaten path sites. Last, some of the Canadian National Parks are covered in a similar fashion to those United States sites which comprise the bulk of the work.

Maps and Photos

The editors facilitated the use of the book by placing a map of the United States at the beginning. Each of the 32 National Parks high-lighted in the work are positioned on the map. Then, the page number where each park is detailed is located in red beneath the park name. Thus, those wanting a quick look at a specific site have an easy reference. Maybe the next edition could represent the Canadian Parks in a similar fashion.

Maps are a key characteristic of the books. Each park description includes a map. The editors use a numerical system to indicate both the most visited and the secrets of each park. Thus, the first suggested site described by an author is located on the map with a 1 within a red circle. I found this a very useful feature of the book as many of the parks are vast.

The photos included in the book entice the viewer. The ones featuring the parks I have visited bring back great memories. Those of the places I have yet to see are beckoning. Each captures the essence of the individual locations. Some focus on landscape such as the photo of Delicate Arch. Others highlight the inhabitants from coyote to roseate spoonbills.

Plant life is often depicted with the magnificent natural formations as backdrops. One of my favorites was Sunflowers and Buttes included in the Capitol Reef National Park section. This site is now on my list to visit.

Secrets Detailed

Perhaps the best attribute of the guide are the secrets shared by the writers. While the sections cover the most visited trails, sites, and visitor centers, each includes at least one lesser known, off the beaten path choice. I appreciate this. My enjoyment of nature is heightened if I am not surrounded by throngs of people.

Details include the degree of difficulty of the various hikes. The book is quite useful in this way. Both hikers with very young children as well as those with aging ankles or knees benefit with forehand knowledge.

Updates to the sites are also related. For example, Mesa Verde which I have visited many times has additional attractions since my last visit in 2009. I need to make a return trip in the not too distant future in order to view the new visitor center and participate in the just established “Backcountry Hikes” program.

Nature has a tendency to change over time. Therefore, individuals using Secrets of the National Parks need to check before travelling long distances. Most notable of ongoing change at this moment in time (summer of 2018) is the volcanic eruption at Kilauea.

National Geographic has produced an easy to read guide that is appealing. On a recent trip, I shared the guide with two of my companions. One I asked to verify Wind Cave National Park was on the way to Sturgis. The other is weeks away from a trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Both individuals enjoyed Secrets of the National Parks. I think you will too.

June 2018 Wrap-Up

Purple and green basil.
Oven Dried Basil
Cherries pitted and in baking dish.
June cherries for a crisp.
First harvest of Beets

This year continues to fly by! Now that June has run its course we are officially half-way through the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are now experiencing days shortening. However, summer still has many hours of sunlight ahead.

June Garden Update

My part of the United States has already experienced multiple days of triple digit heat. So many in fact that I have lost count. However, the garden continues to produce. During the month of June almost 50 pounds of produce was harvested. The edibles included various greens, root vegetables, squash, peas and the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Also included in the harvest;cherries and gooseberries. I did lose the broccoli crop to the flea beetles and the pesky pests shortened the harvest of the kale.

Planting seeds continues as spots come open. I even plopped some old seed into the ground and will report on whether or not the seed is still good at a later date. My potato bag experiment may be headed for a second year of failure. One plant did not withstand the 1.1 inches of rain we had one night. Roots did not drain well.

Cataract Surgery

The first of the eye surgeries is behind me. The clarity now that the cataract is removed is unbelievable. I am still anxious about the next surgery but hope the outcome is just as good. My reading remains a bit behind my usual pace. Since my regular glasses no longer work on one eye, I limit reading time to an hour at a time. (Computer time follows the same limit.) This helps eliminate headaches from eye strain.

Travel included trips to two Garden Cities. Please visit the post on Summer Street Fairs from Garden City, New York. The other Garden City served as the location for my cataract surgery. Both cities are thriving.

Reading Materials

Due to the eye surgery, I have focused on reading newspaper articles and blog posts. The Wall Street Journal continues to serve as my go to newspaper source. There was a very interesting article on the equality of the bottom three quintiles. The article posited this emerging equality as the reason President Trump won the 2016 election. Very interesting.
Blogs are some of my favorite reading sources. I especially enjoy those that discuss books or gardening (or both.) One blog I like for the honest reviews is Life of Chaz. Another post which I loved paired wine and summer books, you can click here for that post. I do miss reading my mysteries and all the new books at my library. Thus, I am looking forward to getting my eyes back to normal.

June 2018 has come and gone. My month was super productive. What about yours?

Summer Street Fair

One of the best things about travelling through New England in the summer is stumbling across a street fair. Recently I enjoyed one such event in Garden City, New York. The main street gave way to numerous bands, vendors and many families. Sidewalk tables spilled from the restaurants and the weather was perfect.

The biggest change from my college days of New England Summer Street Fairs was the extent of the blockades and the heightened security. Unfortunately this is a sign of the times. However, the extra measures were reassuring. One still needs to be aware of the surroundings, but I felt quite comfortable in this setting.

As you can see from the pictures, all ages were involved. The youngest attendees surveyed everything from the comfort of their strollers. Then, the next age group bopped to some classic rock while their grandparents sang along as the bands played.

I loved the number of teenagers in the crowd. They participated in the singing and dancing as well. Further, it looked like things haven’t changed much since I was young. As the night wore on the cluster of girls edged nearer and nearer to the group of boys.

Street Vendors

The vendors ranged from pony rides to snow cones and diet aids to safety tips. While there were hot pretzels, I missed the cold pickles and ice cream of yesteryear. The group I was with dined on lobster instead. My lobster roll was almost as good as home-made. Unfortunately, I had no room for dessert.

Old fashioned glow sticks have been replaced by fancier devices. Unfortunately, I did not spot the vendor selling the lights. So, I missed a close inspection. These globes and sabers reminded me of light-up sneakers with their pulsing light. The kids loved them and I’m sure the parents had an easier time of keeping track of the youngsters.

Street Music

The music varied among the bands, but several played classic rock. Since I live in a part of the United States that prefers country music, I enjoyed the change of pace. The audience sang along and the performers were great interacting with the crowd.

Live music is a treat. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy an outdoor concert. I hope the Scottsbluff High School Choir which shared our plane sang outside when performing in New York City. However, they were not present at this particular street fair.

You don’t have to live in New England to enjoy a summer street fair. Look around. Street fairs can be found in cities, suburbs and small towns. A search online will garner lists in each state. If you can’t find one nearby, then organize one for your community. Celebrate summer. Attend a summer street fair soon!

May 2018 Wrap Up

The month of May is one of the prettiest and after October is my favorite month. Those lucky enough to get April showers are rewarded by nature with an abundance of blooms in May. This year the roses have been stunning. But the edible plants are also taking off.

The raised bed garden is in full swing. Harvest has already begun. The early spring crops of various greens, radishes and peas have made it to the table. Not only are sprouts popping through the soil, but blooms are here and there throughout the beds. It won’t be long before the first zucchini is picked.

The lasagna beds also contain plants. A potato came up volunteer in one bed. I think it is a white potato but not sure. So I’ll have to wait awhile to find out. Sweet potato slips arrived. Unfortunately, they were very dry at the roots. So, I placed them in a jar by the sink and let them revive for three days before planting. I split them up between a raised bed and the second lasagna garden. We will see if they make the transplantation.

May 2018 Travel

Travel was limited to a quick trip to Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is a favorite destination even when the weather is less than desirable. Spring seemed to be a few weeks behind in Central Kentucky. We enjoyed a tour of Kentucky Artisan Distillery. This bourbon specialized in small batches. The tour allows visitors a close up view of the process. Our tight timetable did not lets us participate in the tasting but I give this place high marks for the information shared. If you are in the Louisville area consider visiting the great people at Kentucky Artisan Distillery.

Other trips afield were to neighboring counties. Most were work related but one trip up the valley was in celebration of a high school graduate. It is so rewarding to see the next generation setting out. Their future will impact us in so many positive ways. Congratulations to all 2018 graduates!

Cataracts

My reading has slowed quite a bit this month. My right eye is compromised by a cataract. Surgery is scheduled for mid-June. Let me know if you have any advice in the comment section. I am very apprehensive about the surgery.
Headaches are a byproduct of the condition. But I am reading in small bites of time. The Friday reviews may reflect that with some old favorites. Stay tuned.

Slide Show

The slide show focuses on my yard. The roses are spectacular this year and I don’t think my photography skills do them justice. The same holds true for the vegetable gardens. I have also included a few slides showing some features of our outdoor home improvement. The final slide is a beautiful flower arrangement I received for Mother’s Day.

The Recipe Box Book Review

Multiple recipe boxes on a kitchen counterSam Nelson is the protagonist in The Recipe Box, a novel by Viola Shipman. Shipman is the pen name (and grandmother) of Wade Rouse. The novel includes mouth-watering recipes. The recipes have been passed down to Nelson through the female line.

The novel opens in New York City. Sam Nelson is a pastry chef. However, the story quickly reverts back to her native Michigan. The Recipe Box revolves around a family owned orchard and pie pantry. Sam moved to New York to get away from the family business. And to follow her dreams.

There are many flashbacks in the novel. Each is a glimpse of the work and effort needed to make the business work. Throughout, the women in the family are shown as the backbone of the company. But Sam wanted something else.

However, an unscrupulous boss leads to an abrupt departure from New York for Sam. She is unsure of her future. So the Recipe Box focuses on her decisions. In addition to a career change, Sam faces a change in relationship status. Angelo Morelli, a Jersey boy, follows her to Michigan. He is determined to move things to the next level.

Recipe for Life

Some might see the novel similar to a coming of age book. But the book is a family saga. Sam is at a crossroads in life. She needs to find herself. The recipes and traditions passed down define the family. But do they represent Sam?

I love this book and plan to gift it to one of my daughters. The underlying philosophy holds true regardless of profession. Happiness comes from within. Outside factors may influence you but you are who you are.  The author shares wisdom with regard to self and relationships with others. But most of all, the importance of family is emphasized throughout.

This is a great summer beach book or a winter by the fire read. You will laugh and you will cry. If nothing else, buy the book for the delicious recipes! Furthermore, if you possess your grandmother’s recipe box (or boxes) like I do, pull a recipe out of the box and make it this week. Just like The Recipe Box infers, there is no greater tribute to those before us than to whip something up using a family recipe.

 

 

March 2018 Wrap Up

March 2018 has been a busy month. In addition to reading many books and working on garden projects. I traveled. The first trip to New Orleans you can read about here. Currently I am visiting Orlando. March is a busy month for travelling. After all it is spring break for many. The planes are packed and in some cases the airlines are looking for people willing to be bumped from their scheduled flight. I have yet to accept the offer.

Cold mornings lent themselves to reading while waiting for the temperatures to warm up. As a result, I have about half a dozen book reviews waiting for a Friday publishing date. There was a stretch in mid-March when book after book was incredible. I am excited about the reviews (including yesterday’s on Educated.)

I spent the pleasant early spring afternoons creating a new garden area. The raised row garden idea came from Jim and Mary Competti, bloggers at Old World Garden Farms. You can read a review of their new book here.

Zip Ties

Since I had a scheduled trip to Florida at the end of March, I worked diligently to establish the 40 x 30 foot garden. I managed to finish putting a deer fence in place just the day before I left. Zip ties allowed me to get the job done in quick order.

There are pros and cons with zip ties. On the pro side, they are relatively inexpensive. I bought a container of a thousand for $10.00. They are easy to attach. Finally they are strong. On the negative side, they will eventually become brittle when exposed to outside elements and thus have a short life span. They also play havoc on your finger nails.

I used zip ties to attach recycled metal soffit to wire supports for the base of my garden fence. Then, I used zip ties to attach a netting to seven-foot poles (to deter deer.) I also used the zip ties as an additional anchor of the poles to the base fence. Most of the afternoons in March 2018 were spent on this gardening project. See the pictures below for a sneak peek. An extensive post on the how-to is forthcoming.

Readership Community

Readers are a dying breed. On one flight a chatty aisle mate kept interrupting my reading of Kristen Hannah’s latest book The Great Alone. She was quite curious as to what the book was like since I was so engrossed. I wish I had an extra book to give her. I can’t imagine boarding a plane without a book to read.

Once I reached my destination, I was happy to see my copy of Two Girls Down was no longer inside the Little Free Library around the corner from my Florida hang-out. So readers are still out there, we just need to reach out and connect. I would love to have a reading group to share ideas on The Twilight Wife.

The readership community of Econogal is slowly expanding. If you would like emails sent to you each time a post is released, subscribe now or bookmark the page. Generally, I post twice a week as part of my New Year's Resolutions. So far I am on track to keep the 2018 list.

Be sure to share what books you have read this month in the comments below. This is one way we can share  great books even if we cannot meet in person. I know March 2018 was a banner month for my reading. I made some great discoveries of new authors and enjoyed new releases from old favorites.

What did you read in March?

New Orleans: Not Just Nocturnal Fun

Recently I spent some time in the wonderful city of New Orleans. I can’t remember how many times I have stayed there nor just how young I was on my first visit. I can tell you there are few places in this world with the combination of great food and great music.

Music

New Orleans music is food for the soul. Strolling through the French Quarter or visiting Jackson Square gives one plenty of opportunity to listen to music without spending a dime. I am including snippets of music from this visit along with pictures. Just click on the highlighted jazz references below to access the video. The newest twist to the street music is the use of five gallon plastic buckets as drums. The mostly young drummers still managed to rake in some money with their upbeat music.

In addition to music on the street is music in the bars. Quite a few of the Bourbon Street locations sport bands which during the week don’t necessarily have a cover charge. If the madness of this famous street is too much, I suggest a slight jaunt down to Frenchman Street. The bars are low-key and the music is great.

Jackson Square Jazz Video

Two other venues are also good places for music. The first is a bit touristy. The Natchez, a riverboat with docks near Jackson Square offers jazz cruises up to three times a day. One can opt out of buying the meal for a considerable savings.
My second recommendation is a favorite with the locals. Rock-N-Bowl is a fun combination of bowling alley, bar and stage for bands. I love going there but if you want to bowl you may need to reserve a lane the day before. This nightspot is away from the French Quarter but worth the drive.

French Quarter Jazz Video

Food

Food and NOLA are synonymous in my mind. I cannot picture one without the other. Fish, crawdads, steaks, beignets, alligator, poor boys, pizza, and gumbo are just a few of the goodies. This past visit included shrimp and grits, alligator, lamb, crab cakes and steak. The only thing I did not eat was sweets.

There are so many great restaurants it is hard to go wrong. Top spots this last visit were Red Fish Grill and Bourbon House both on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and Jacques-Imos over on Oak Street. The drive to Jacques-Imos is worth it. Reservations are recommended for the first two. Jacques-Imos only takes reservations for parties of five or more.

At the Red Fish Grill, I loved the shrimp and grits and the scattering of popcorn as a garnish added some crunch. Both my dinner partners ordered the entire fish entrée. I just try not to look at the eyes. This was a repeat visit to the restaurant and every bit as enjoyable as the first time.

Bourbon House was packed so we elected to eat at the bar. The service was outstanding. Oysters were the appetizers followed by good size salads. We split the Petit Filets and I’m not sure when I have had a better flavored steak. I give high marks to Bourbon House and I didn’t even try the fine selection of bourbon.

Jacques-Imos was fun. We waited almost an hour but I was in great company and the time passed quickly. We walked through the kitchen to reach our table and I couldn’t take my eyes off the cheesecake; Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. The dish was out of this world.

Royal Street

My favorite daytime activity is strolling down Royal Street. If I lived within driving distance, I am sure my pocket-book would be a bit lighter. The antique stores on this street are only surpassed by the art galleries. I love looking in all the shops on this wonderful street just a block away from the debauchery of Bourbon. Service in the various shops meets the typical New Orleans standard; superb. Some of the shops you might want to pop into include Royal Antiques, Sutton Galleries and Jack Sutton.

Other neat shops and restaurants are sprinkled throughout the quarter. One favorite spot of my travelling partner was the Cigar Factory. The location on Decatur Street gives one a chance to watch skilled employees as they roll cigars. For those who don’t smoke, the ventilation is good if you just want to look in and watch the work.

A caveat or two for the mature traveler. The drum beats resonating from the five gallon pails along Bourbon Street lasted long after my bedtime. I suggest travelling with earplugs or choosing a hotel a few blocks away. Secondly, don’t cram too much into your schedule. Take your time and visit with the locals. Long-time residents of New Orleans have much to share.

National World War II Museum

While I was unable to make a repeat visit to the National World War II Museum this visit, I did want to include a brief mention. Since I was raised by a military historian and an art fanatic, I have visited a good number of museums in this country and a few overseas. I rank the World War II museum in New Orleans in the top five. The museum is easily accessible from the French Quarter via a short trolley car trip. If you only plan to visit New Orleans once in your life put this museum at the top of the must see list.

  • Group of skeletons on balcony.
    Watching from the balcony.

 

January 2018 Wrap Up

Books and magazines on a table
Reading material stacking up.

The first month of the year is over. I am still on track regarding my 2018 resolutions which you can read about by clicking here. In January 2018, I entertained at my home twice and enjoyed a lunch with two ladies I had not seen in over a year. So my quest to socialize more is moving in the right direction. I have also kept up with the posting on Econogal. The writing makes me happy so I do not think that particular resolution will be tough. However, I have not learned any new skills yet. But I have an idea for a new raised bed. I am still researching the topic and hope to start on it if the milder winter weather holds out.

Travel in January 2018 included a presence in four states. You might want to read Wintertime Santa Fe if you are thinking about a President’s Weekend getaway. My time spent in the Orlando area yielded some ideas for posts which include this one and another about small neighborhood “libraries” which will be forthcoming.

While in Orlando, my reading included the Orlando Sentinel as well as some periodicals I don’t usually read including Kiplinger, Time and AARP The magazine. Additionally I came across some blogs. These include Always Trust In Books, The Historical Diaries and Old World Garden Farms. I am still adjusting to reading on a laptop, reader or smart phone as opposed to something I can hold in my hand. I think there is a place for both in this world.

A conversation over the lunch table during a nursing home visit sparked this particular post. One of the individuals brought a book with him. California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker started a conversation on good books to read. I have added the book to my list. Additionally, I decided to add a post at the end of each month sharing the various items I have read since not all make it to a Friday book review. Furthermore, I am asking for input from this blogs’ readers.

Readership Community

January 2018 Wrap Up starts a year of monthly posts in an attempt to build a readership community. On the last day of each month readers will be encouraged to share book, blogs and magazine articles they read. For any of the newer blog readers, you do not need to use your whole name and you can have an alias. However, the email must be real. For privacy buffs like me, the emails are not listed and are not shared. Emails are necessary. I realize some blogs do not require an email to comment. I believe requiring an email prevents spamming and robots from attaching a variety of things including ads to this website. Again, I will not sell or share the email and it will not be published.

There are thousands of books, blogs and articles out there. I am interested in what you are reading. Please consider sharing what you are up to in the comment section below. The photo above shows the books received as Christmas presents, library check-outs, magazines and seed catalogs. I have a lot, but I look forward to your recommendations. I am sure I am not the only one who prefers books to television. Happy Reading!

Wintertime Santa Fe

Inn of The Governors
Street view of Indian Market
Indian Market at Santa Fe Square
Dried flowers in balcony boxes
Dried Flowers fill the Boxes
Dried arrangements in large pots
Dried Arrangements Welcome Guests
The Santa Fe square without crowds
A quiet winter day

I traveled to Santa Fe for the three-day weekend. It was the first trip in the heart of winter. I have visited Santa Fe many times but always in warmer weather. However, the day time temperatures were spring-like with highs in the mid-fifties.
There were some differences. Fewer tourists translated into some restaurants closed for a week or so. Some of the stores had shorter hours. The number of sellers at the Indian market on the plaza also seemed diminished. A perfect time to visit from my point of view.

Inn of the Governors

The last few visits to Santa Fe I have used the Inn of The Governors as my base. This independently owned hotel prides itself on service. The owner applies the Total Quality Management Theory of Dr. Edward Deming and it shows. In addition to great service, the hotel is centrally located with easy access both to the Plaza, Canyon Road, and my favorite shopping spots.

I fell in love with the Inn of the Governors back in 2010 when I was staying at another hotel just a few blocks away. Each morning I ran an 8 mile circuit since I was training for a marathon. The Inn of the Governors has boxes of flowers hanging from the balconies. Each time I reached those flowers I had less than a mile left. As you can see in the pictures, the hotel uses dried flowers in the wintertime to achieve this same welcoming look.

Dining

Even though some restaurants take a few weeks off in January, there were great places to eat. One of my favorite Italian restaurants is in Santa Fe. Osteria D’Assisi is about six blocks from where we stay. It was too cold to eat on their outdoor patio this visit but we enjoyed a wonderful meal listening to live piano music. I love eating here.

Just a block away from the hotel is Café Pasqual’s. Reservations will be needed if you want to eat at this restaurant featuring organic ingredients and community tables. I chose a traditional chicken mole enchiladas while my travelling companion enjoyed salmon that tasted like it was just caught. The space is small and inviting with great service.

Another busy spot is Del Charro, which happens to be connected with Inn of the Governors. This popular watering hole and restaurant is always packed. Movie crews often use Del Charro in their filming. The prices are very reasonable with set daily specials. I loved my chicken fajita but saw quite a few hamburgers being served. This is a great place if you feel compelled to watch a game on TV as Del Charro has multiple TV’s throughout their rooms.

Art

In addition to great food, Santa Fe is known for its art. In addition to a plethora of museums, travelers on a tight budget can appreciate the many artists by strolling through galleries. Canyon Road can be overcrowded in the warmer months, but was very accessible on my wintertime trip. This road lined with art galleries winds uphill towards the mountain. However, the hill could be slick if a snowstorm hits.

The best part about art in Santa Fe is the multitude of mediums. Paintings can be found in oils, acrylics, watercolors and mixed. Furthermore, Santa Fe takes art to the next level. Water fountains, metal sculptures, bells from recycled material, furniture, traditional bronzes and many other art forms are present. At one museum I even watched video art for the first time.

Seret and Sons

My main goal this trip was to find a decorative gate to use with the exterior wall that will be built this spring. So my first stop was at Seret and Sons, just one street over from The Inn of the Governors. The Seret family specializes in unique furniture, but they also have a yard of ornamental doors. I found a pair of teak doors that will serve as the gate to my side yard. Again, the service was fantastic.

Since my goal was accomplished so early in the trip, the rest of the time was spent soaking up the glorious weather and wandering in and out of shops, galleries and a wonderful bookstore. Needless to say books were purchased and reviews will take place in the future. Just across from the bookstore is a neat shop called Sequoia.

Sequoia

Sequoia is named for the owner, a designer/artist working with iron, natural woods and stones to create beautiful furniture and artwork for the home. I loved many items in the store and one came home with me. Sequoia, the artist, another master of customer service, is someone I hope to do much business with in the future.

Santa Fe in the wintertime can be great for the serious shopper. The crowds are much smaller than at their peak. Fortunately for me the weather cooperated. Sunny skies and temperate days gave way to nights just chilly enough to use the fireplace in our hotel room. If you haven’t been to Santa Fe, consider a visit. This historical city tops the list of my favorite weekend escapes.

Twenty States In 2017

Wedding couple2017 was a year of travel. I recorded time in twenty states. Since the United States has fifty states altogether, I reached forty percent of the country. Others look forward to overseas trips (and I do have some favorite spots overseas) but I love travelling through this vast country. The landscape and people vary so much from one shore to the other. I am sharing the highlights of all that travel in alphabetical order.

Alabama

I spent three different nights in Alabama and visited four towns; Dauphin Island, Dothan, Huntsville and Selma. Since family members from both sides reside in the state the overnight stays were easy on the budget. The National Park Service has a small but well done museum documenting the march from Selma to Montgomery. This center shares many stories from the Civil Rights era and is on U.S. 80 west of Montgomery just before you reach Selma. I was travelling the back roads of America when I came upon the historical site. The time spent there gave me a nice break from driving.

Dauphin Island is a barrier island in the Gulf of New Mexico. My quick overnight trip allowed me the chance not only to walk barefoot along the shore but also to hike a marshy area. The Audubon Bird Sanctuary is a designated National Trail System and starts with ocean dunes, winds through maritime forests and includes marshes and swamp land. This is an off the beaten path gem. If you are in the area please take some time to explore and learn. Interpretive signs line the trail.

Arkansas

Unfortunately my time spent in Arkansas was brief. I love this state, not just because my maternal family is from there, but for the beauty of the land. If you haven’t spent time in Arkansas I highly recommend a trip.

California

Just a quick weekend trip to California this year. I shared some highlights in this blog post Sampling San Diego. I now live in a land locked part of the country so I like indulging in watching ocean waves. The Pacific Ocean is vast and not where I grew up, but still gives me a sense of home.

Colorado

There is so much to do in Colorado. Highlights included visits to Denver and Boulder. The largest metropolitan area in the state centers on Denver. My favorite place to stay is in the Tech Center area. There is good proximity to some great shopping. Furthermore, the hotel rates on weekends are better than the downtown hotels.

However, downtown is the heart of the entertainment district whether you are interested in sports or the arts. The city has four professional sports teams with arenas in or adjacent to downtown. If you are a soccer fan, your stadium is further east. Downtown is home to both a performing arts center as well as several museums. However, you won’t want to miss the Natural History located near the City Zoo a few miles east of downtown. The National Stock Show is held each January just to the north of downtown. Finally the 16th Street Mall has shopping and dining. The street has free mass transit from one end to the other.

Boulder houses the University of Colorado. A visit to this campus is well worth the time. The architecture is unique and the location against the Flat Irons is dramatic. One of my favorite parts of the campus are the planet markers which are part of the Colorado Scale Model Solar System. After touring the campus you can eat and shop along Pearl Street, part of which is pedestrian only.

Florida

I made repeated trips to Florida last year. Highlights included a family member’s wedding in Tampa. The Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area is growing and has a bit of sprawl. There are beautiful beaches, some professional ball teams and a racetrack. While the area is home to both the Tampa Bay Rays and Buccaneers, it is also host during spring training to the Yankees. People can watch batting practice for free at the George Steinbrenner Field.

Georgia

My Georgia destination was the small town of Plains. The 39th President of the United States of America, Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn are both natives of this rural farming community. While many would not go out of their way to reach Plains, I made the effort. Plains reminds me of the many small towns surrounding my current home. The population is below 1000 and the commerce is home-grown not Big Box.

Even though I visited on a cold windy day, the warmth of the populace was evident. I enjoyed being a tourist. The small Main Street catered to the intrepid visitors willing to divert from the beaten path. However, those of us from the west would not consider the town isolated since the travel time to the interstate is less than an hour.

Hawaii

I spent close to a week on two of the Hawaiian Islands. Check the posts on the Big Island and Germaine’s Luau. This is a place I would love to visit again but I probably won’t. Unlike the continental 48 states, you can’t drive there.

Kansas

I love Kansas even, the seemingly endless drive along Interstate 70. The state rainfall varies so much from east to west. The eastern third of the state receives enough rain that the land has trees, rivers and lakes everywhere. The western section of the state reflects the Dodge City landscape of the movies. Dry, windy climate, the land peppered with small towns similar to Plains, Georgia. But many of the towns require drives of several hours to reach an Interstate. Some of the state highways allow you to drive 70 M.P.H. and traffic outside of the cities and major highways is light. This is a slower paced part of America I truly appreciate.

Kentucky

Many nights were spent in the Bluegrass State. If I had to live east of the Mississippi River again, I would choose Kentucky. I love the farms. Agriculture is an important industry in the state. Crops include corn, hay, hemp, tobacco and wheat. The state has a large cattle industry but is better known for the numerous horse farms.

My favorite part of the state is the area surrounding Lexington. If you tour the area, make plans to visit horse farms in the mornings and then utilize the afternoons for shopping, site seeing and touring distilleries. A favorite town outside of Lexington is Midway. This burg has great shopping and eating along a railroad divided downtown. Parking is sometimes tight during peak times. Midway College was the last all women’s college in the state. The fall of 2017 ushered in the first class to admit men to the day college. After spending time in Midway, the Woodford Reserve is in the general area so that is a possible destination.

Louisiana

New Orleans is not the only place to see in Louisiana. Like most of the twenty states, I spent the night while visiting. Again, I took advantage of staying with a relative instead of a hotel. The Shreveport-Bossier City area is in the northwest part of the state. The Red River separates the two entities as well as serving as the location of gambling riverboats. History buffs can download the N LA Byways app from iTunes or Google play for a GPS guided tour.

Mississippi

I drove through Mississippi twice last year. I count is as one of the twenty states but I did not spend the night within the borders. However, this is a state that I love to travel off the beaten path. Highway 49 from Jackson to Gulfport should be driven in a relaxed frame of mind. There are lots of places along the route to stop, eat and stretch your legs. Another drive I like is from Tupelo into Memphis. The road is good, but it helps if you know your way around Memphis. I consider this route a hidden gem.

Nebraska

My visit to Nebraska was centered on the solar eclipse of 2017. I loved being in the path of totality. Several posts were written about this event which was a highlight of 2017. Nebraska is another of the twenty states where I spent the night.

New Jersey

Another flying weekend trip landed me on the Jersey Shore. I experienced gorgeous weather mid-summer and had a chance to dig my toes in beach sand while taking in my beloved Atlantic Ocean. Even though brief, and not entirely successful from a business standpoint, I still rank New Jersey at the top of my travels. Perhaps it was the company, or the graciousness of the hosts who lived beach side or maybe just the weather, warm but not hot, thanks to the ocean breeze. I would repeat this trip at a second’s notice.

New Mexico

Unfortunately my time in New Mexico was fleeting. However I plan to visit again very soon. Check back next week to read my thoughts on the town of Santa Fe.

New York

Upstate New York, specifically Saratoga Springs is my second favorite spot in New York. The town is just shy of 30,000 which is large enough for amenities but not too large. The area of mineral springs has long been a favorite getaway for those living in more populated parts of the state. I have never had a bad meal at any of the restaurants although reservations and long wait times are part of the experience. Many boutiques and some nice jewelry stores can be found downtown.

Oklahoma

Several nights were spent in Oklahoma including a couple in Oklahoma City. I experienced my first Escape Room which you can read about by clicking here. I love the state having lived in McAlester many years ago. My favorite highway is 412 which runs the entire east-west length, dropping slightly south towards Clayton, New Mexico.

Pennsylvania

We flew in and out of the Pittsburgh airport and stayed nearby. Away from the city is a rural area experiencing development but we still managed to lose our way winding along the back roads. Western Pennsylvania blends into a jutting point of West Virginia. This is one of the interesting parts of travelling in the United States. Very rural areas are just not that far from populated city centers. For those who like to explore quiet back ways with the convenience of flying in an out, consider Pittsburgh as a starting point.

Tennessee

The juxtaposition of city and country life is also evident in the state of Tennessee. You don’t need to venture far from the major cities to experience rural life. I find Nashville a little easier to navigate than Memphis but that may be because in the past I have spent more time in Nashville while I usually just drive through Memphis. However, I encourage you to visit the Riverwalk in Memphis. I love the scaled map of the lower Mississippi River in the same way I like finding the planet markers on the CU Campus.

Texas

Another state I used to live in but last year just traversed. US 287 which runs northwest to the panhandle from Dallas is another of the alternative routes I like to take. The Texas Panhandle fits in with the high plains with respect to rainfall and topography. Again, you will find many small towns along the route. If you prefer staying in major cities, Amarillo would be a good choice.

West Virginia

I visited a part of West Virginia I had never been to. The locals call the area the Northern Panhandle. This geographical area has the Ohio River as its western boundary. A drive along state route 2 along the Ohio River is quite scenic. Small towns line both sides of the river. I enjoyed the beauty of the area and it was an easy drive from the Pittsburgh Airport.

Those are the twenty states I was in during 2017. I thought I would slow down this year. However by the end of January I will have reached four states. I still lack visiting Alaska, who knows maybe this will be the year. I have placed just a few photos in the slider below. Feel free to share some of your favorite travel spots.

Sampling San Diego

On a recent trip to San Diego my visit lasted about 60 hours. But I sampled a lot of great food during the allotted time. The Gas Lamp District was the first stop. One of the best things about the city is the climate. Even in November, outside seating is pleasant. The Gas Lamp District of San Diego has numerous establishments allowing the chance to dine alfresco. Parking is tough but when driving, opt for a city parking lot at the edge of the district.

Gas Lamp District

My favorite neighborhood bar is appropriately named The Neighborhood Bar. Although a change in chefs had occurred since the last visit, the pub maintains its friendly vibe. In addition to the patio tables, large sections of the exterior walls open up giving the inside tables an airy atmosphere. Further, the bar top extends to a two seat high top table on the sidewalk. Only once have I been able to score this spot. A large selection of tap beers is a draw and wine drinkers should have no trouble finding something to their liking. The menu is now burger based. Opting for appetizers, a dozen muscles were ordered before heading down the street for the main meal.

The center of the district is a short stroll away. Living in the center of the country, fresh seafood is a treat. But I also love Italian. Fortunately, San Diego offers a number of restaurants that combine the two. Chianti is one of these establishments. Halibut and salmon were complemented by grilled vegetables, polenta, risotto and an additional side order of pasta with traditional red sauce. This was my first visit to Chianti and I was happy.  The couple at the next table were sharing the lasagna. It looked fantastic. They said it was their favorite and they ordered it whenever they visited San Diego. A highlight was watching the moon rise while having dinner and people watching. If you don’t like cannoli, you have the option of crossing the street to Ghirardelli’s famous for both chocolate and ice cream.

Torrey Pines

A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines served a great meal the second night. A gorgeous sunset as you can see in the photoSunset over ocean provided a backdrop for dining. The large group I was with sampled pretty much the entire menu. Seafood ranged from Alaskan Halibut to Hawaiian Snapper. Roast Chicken and Seared Duck along with Prime Rib were other choices. I enjoyed the Apple Wood Smoked Niman Ranch Pork Chop with grilled vegetables. My favorite wine, Caymus Cabernet provided a nice finish to the meal.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego was the dinner destination on the third night of the visit. Unlike the previous nights, a lengthy wait for dinner occurred. Casa De Reyes is very popular. The large courtyard restaurant is surrounded by shops with numerous types of items. Olive oils, salsa and chocolate are just a few of the food items. You can watch while they make the fresh tortillas used at the restaurant. Items celebrating The Day of the Dead are also sold around the courtyard. Live musical entertainment in the center of the courtyard helps pass the time as well.

The food is worth the wait. The Reyes Appetizer Platter will spoil your appetite if your group is small, but it is amazing. The fresh corn and flour tortillas highlight the many varieties of burritos, enchiladas and soft shell tacos. If you like your food spicy just ask for their extra spicy hot sauce. I prefer tea to tequila but I saw plenty of margaritas served in the restaurant, some jumbo sized. However, the atmosphere was very family friendly. I had never visited Old Town before and I really enjoyed it. Plans are to go back in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this sampling of San Diego area eateries. While some places I visit one time, San Diego is a repeater. So if you have a favorite restaurant in San Diego, please share in the comments below. I would love to sample a new place on my next trip.

2017 Hurricane Season Economic Aftermath

The 2017 hurricane season is about over and it was active. In fact, the season ranks in the top ten most active seasons. Of the 16 named Atlantic Ocean storms, 10 became hurricanes. Six of the storms reached major hurricane status. Visit Dr. Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University webpage for statistics. Naturally, many are experiencing an economic aftermath.

Economic aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

The first storm I wrote about was Hurricane Harvey. Even though Harvey lasted only two days, damage is extensive. This hurricane was a rainmaker. A report from Business Insider cites almost 52 inches of rain from the storm in Cedar Bayou. The economic aftermath will include repairing or replacing approximately 20,000 homes due to storm damage.

I met with some Houston residents and former residents in mid-September. Their eyewitness reports were hard to comprehend. The area of West Houston where I used to live and work was heavily flooded. The flooding came in part from engineered release of water from two dams. This intentional flooding is comparable to controlled burns. Minor flooding, while damaging some, saved many more homes and businesses from the destructive force of water. Each person I met with estimated a timeline of years for full recovery.

Hurricane Irma Economic Aftermath

Hurricane Irma followed Harvey. The pictures on this post are from a part of Central Florida Hurricane Irma struck. You can view pictures from just after the storm by clicking here. The economic aftermath was greater in South Florida, but Central Florida shares in the repercussions. For starters, much of the disaster relief naturally centered first on the damage in the Florida Keys.

Central Florida damage was due mostly to wind. Trees and tree limbs remain piled along roads in late October while the storm struck September 11. Blue tarp covers parts of roofs. Eventually, damaged roofs will be repaired even if out-of-area work crews are needed.

During the hurricane and immediately after, laborers lost clock time and wages. Insurance companies treat hurricane areas differently in the form of higher deductibles. Therefore, some homeowners with minor damage such as screens torn by tree limbs may be out-of-pocket for all expenses.

Additionally, small towns and cities will need to pay overtime for the clean-up efforts. The Federal government is paying a large proportion of these costs. In some places out-of-state crews aid local crews. The work crew in the pictures above and the video below hails from Ohio.

Property owners will re-landscape once the debris is removed. Homeowners may want to remove tree trunks. New sod will cover the grass areas killed by the piles of debris.

Destruction from Hurricane Maria

The very destructive Hurricane Maria is still causing hardship in Puerto Rico.  Governmental issues compound the clean-up. One of the best analysis of the economic aftermath can be found in this The Economist article. It is impossible to tell at this point what the long-range impact will be. Thousands have left the island. At least one neighborhood is still stranded. According to the Miami Herald, a zip-line provides access to food and water.

Puerto Rico faces difficulty on many fronts. Since it is an island, individuals could not drive in to help as they did to the areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Additionally, Puerto Rico received a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma prior to the bull’s-eye hit of Hurricane Irma. Back to back storms created a greater need. The infrastructure of the island is in poor condition. Apparently the company hired to repair the electric grid may not have the manpower for a quick fix. Unfortunately, the timetable for restoring electricity to the entire island is Christmas. The citizens of Puerto Rico still have a long recovery ahead.

Natural Disaster Economic Aftermath

Humans cannot control natural disasters. 2017 to date has 15 separate billion dollar disasters in the United States alone. This article and chart from The Weather Channel show the locations and events. In addition to individual preparedness, one needs to heed other factors. Individuals who can choose where to live need to be aware of the surrounding environment. This would include fault lines, fire and flood dangers, and areas prone to blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes.

However, many of us have little choice in where we live. The economic aftermath for those in this category can be mitigated to a certain extent. Buildings along coastal areas can be built on stilt foundations. Furthermore, one can construct hurricane strong rooms. Likewise, buildings in America’s tornado alley can also include rooms constructed to withstand the wind force. Construction codes can fortify buildings in areas prone to earthquakes. Certain types of landscaping can reduce fuel for fires. Thus, advanced mitigation of some factors diminishes economic aftermath of a disaster.

 

Helicopter View of Kilauea Volcano

Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour

On my trip to Hawaii last summer, a highlight was a helicopter flyover of the active volcano on the Big Island. I do not like flying and the thought of a helicopter ride scared me. But I am trying to get out of my comfort zone. So I scheduled a flight for late afternoon the day before we left. This gave a little room for rescheduling in case of inclement weather.

We landed in Hilo about two hours before our scheduled flight. We used the extra time to pick-up the rental car and checked into a hotel. Since Hilo is a nice sized city we were able to accomplish everything in plenty of time to arrive back at the airport for the Blue Hawaiian Helicopter tour.

The afternoon was perfect. We were lucky because Hilo has a lot of rain. The amount depends on what part of the city you are but ranges between 130 and 300 inches. Therefore Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Hilo location recommends back-up times in case the tour needs to reschedule. Fortunately the weather was perfect.

HELICOPTER RIDE

There were eight of us on the flight. We had to estimate our weight when we signed up for the flight. However, Blue Hawaiian Helicopter did not leave anything to chance. We were weighed upon check-in. It is important to distribute the weight.

Wes the pilot was fantastic. He put me at ease before we ever left ground. Maybe he could tell just how scared I was! We loaded one at a time and I entered first. My assigned seat was next to the pilot. Even though the placement scared me at first, it was a good decision. No way was I going to fool around with any of the controls.

Once we were all loaded, Wes reassured us that the weather would be monitored closely and if conditions warranted we would return to the airport immediately. Next, he explained what the flight would entail. Kilauea Volcano was our prime target. We would look at the lava flowing into the ocean near Kamokuna before a flyover of the crater.

On the way to the volcano we flew over cropland. The Big Island grows coffee, tea, vanilla, bananas and avocados just to name a few.  If it weren’t for the active volcano, I would consider this an ideal place to farm.

LAVA FLOW

After the crop land, the ground transitions to rock. Blue Hawaiian Helicopter is a great way to see the lava flows. From the air you can see how irregular the lava flow is. The lava rock envelopes islands of vegetation. There is even a spot where you can see a road that has lost both ends to the flow. The active volcano is a constant threat. Places on the island such as Pahoa Village, which was threatened in 2014, are always at risk.

The ocean entry near Kamokuna draws sightseers both in the air and on the water.  The helicopter ride makes the view safe. This is the youngest part of the island. The interaction of the hot lava with the ocean is dynamic. The molten debris is unstable and creates dangerous conditions. At times, the rocks slide into the ocean.  Additionally, the hot steam can cause problems.

After a few passes of the ocean entry point for the lava, the helicopter headed to the crater. On the way we saw several areas of steam rising from the land. In these spots lava was just below the surface. In some areas vegetation is trying to re-emerge.

The aerial view of the crater is unbelievable. We were fortunate because the activity was high on the day we toured. As you can see in the pictures, multiple areas were erupting. A video camera would show the actual bubbling and Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours creates a video of each flight. I could have circled over the crater for hours. The helicopter approach is the only way to safely see the lava erupting from the base of the crater.

On the return to the airport we flew over one of the many waterfalls on the Big Island. The view from the air was impressive, but I have hiked safely around water. I do not think I would hike to the edge of an active volcano. I am very glad I challenged myself. The helicopter ride ranks in my top five experiences of my Hawaiian trip. I highly recommend Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours.

Helicopter Photos

Hawaiian fields
Cropland near Hilo
Flyover
Overview of Hilo
Lava1
Lava Flow
Vegetation and lava
Vegetation surrounded
Road and lava
Road to Nowhere
oceanlava1
Entry point Lower Left Corner
oceanlava2
Steam created at entry point.
oceanlava3
Hot flow
vents
Steam from underground vents
Crater1
Approaching the crater
crater2
Smoke from crater
Crater3
First look of hot spots
Crater4
Close up of bubbling lava
Crater 5
Last look of crater
Hawaii flight
Flying overland
waterfall
Waterfall

Escape Room-Trapped OKC Experience

 

Trapped OKC

Recently, I participated in an escape room. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is a thinking man’s entertainment. If you know some intellectual or just downright nerdy individuals, find an escape room near you and take them. If you are in Oklahoma City, try Trapped OKC.

Some of our group fit the brainy description, the rest went along for the ride. We all had an interesting experience.
This concept is a no brainer. Why didn't I come up with it? For a business venture, the overhead isn’t great. Some locks and other props and rental space in a building with good parking are the main costs from the owner’s standpoint.

From the customers view you need a good price point. Fortunately we had a Groupon coupon for Trapped OKC, so the price in my opinion was a good value. However, others might think this type of entertainment pricey compared to a movie for example.

Creativity is essential. The Trapped OKC employees were very polite and provided the background for the challenge. My understanding is the rooms were designed by the employees. We were in the escape room Ms. Morris of Moscow. I think from a business standpoint, the scenarios would need to change often in order to have repeat customers.

As I have discussed before, many things have a learning curve. Our group chose an expert level escape room. The individuals in our group ranged from late 20’s to early 60’s. Some of the younger participants were veterans at escape rooms while others were definitely novices. As a novice, I was glad to follow the lead in the beginning, because even though I had watched the Big Bang Theory episode featuring a game room, I was clueless. Groups need veterans to enhance the experience.

Engagement came quickly. Three combination locks kept hidden clues to the solution. Additionally, we received three lifeline clues via a monitor. The clues on the monitor were quite helpful, but the first disappeared as soon as we requested the second. Once that happened, a member of the group adjusted by making note of the following clues.

While the younger generation definitely led the way, each individual aided in the quest. Some common sense is also needed and in our situation the elders of the group provided that component. We did chase some wild geese, but we succeeded in many ways even though the final lock eluded us.

I can see how this could be a good exercise for a training group. We were fortunate that tempers didn’t erupt as I can imagine sometimes happens. Instead, I exited the room with a feeling of camaraderie. And I want to go again.

T-shirt
Low cost Start-up potential
Escape room
2% success rate for escape

Path of Totality Solar Eclipse 2017

Eclipse Day
August 21, 2017 will be in my mind for years to come. I was fortunate to watch the eclipse from the heartland. The location was in the 70 mile stretch called the path of totality. Approximately 40 people were enjoying the 2017 solar eclipse from a private ranch with incredible views of the horizon in all directions.

Yet another piece of luck was the presence of Dr. Michael Dowling. A veteran eclipse watcher, this was his fifth total eclipse, Dr. Dowling was invaluable in sharing his knowledge. Many had never experienced any type of eclipse. For most this was the first time watching from the path of totality.

As shared in Awaiting the Eclipse of 2017, my previous experiences were limited to partial eclipses. I am so glad I made the trip to see the full eclipse because there is a huge difference. Now I understand why people go to great lengths to travel to the path of totality. I am looking forward to 2045 when the path leads over my house. The eclipse will last about 5 minutes that year, more than twice as long as yesterday.

Over the next few posts I will share pictures and movies of my experience. The final minutes leading up to the total eclipse are shown in the longest video posted below.The camera is a bit shaky because I was holding it behind my back while watching the sun with my glasses. The shadow that sweeps across the land just prior to the moon totally covering the sun comes from behind. You cannot look both for the shadow and watch the sun. I chose to watch the sun and hope the camera could pick up some of the shadow. I was pleased that the video was able to capture the event. The audio tells the story as well.

All were shot with a two year old cell phone camera. I definitely need to upgrade. However, I was able to capture much more of the event thanks to Dr. Dowling. He was great. In addition to bringing a shadowbox to view the moon covering the sun, he provided explanations of what was going to happen. At one point he had volunteers act as the sun, moon, and Earth in order to demonstrate the process. I think this was particularly helpful for the kids in the group.

Solarscope

The pictures to the left are of the solar scope. Due to Dr. Dowling and his explanations of the eclipse highlights, I had a tremendous first experience of a total eclipse.

My absolute favorite part is called the ring effect. I did not try to capture this instant on the film. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. Sometimes photos can’t quite capture the human experience. Bailey’s Beads and the diamond ring effect fall into this category for me.

I plan to share the social experience in a later post. I have two chances to repeat this experience without leaving the continent. The first is in 2024 which would involve driving to Dallas. The second is over 20 years later. I plan to watch both from the path of totality.

Where were you for the 2017 Solar Eclipse?

Awaiting Solar Eclipse of 2017

PART 1
I live about 5 ½ hours south of the path of totality for this year’s solar eclipse. Naturally, I wanted to take part since my previous experiences have been partial eclipses. Fortunately I know several people who live in the path and found someone willing to put me up for the night.

Since the news outlets repeatedly released warnings about eclipse traffic I took the back roads which added a small amount of time. Of course, in my neck of the woods the main roads are two lane U.S. highways for the most part. The back roads are state highways and in some cases county roads. For the most part the traffic was not difficult. So maybe the traffic will be heavy the day of the eclipse, or maybe I am late to the party.

However, the farther north I drove the more crowded the gas pumps were. Perhaps this was a direct result of the warnings of possible gas shortages. Or maybe people wanted full tanks to go home on.
In addition to the temporary signs warning of higher volumes of traffic, the states I traveled through had other preparations. Lots of no stopping or standing signs appeared as well. As I reached the area that will experience the total eclipse cones and barrels appeared on the side of the road to keep people from parking on the shoulder.

I vividly remember some partial eclipses from when I was a kid. We made pinhole projectors with a piece of cardboard and a white piece of paper. This year I will be using specialty glasses. I will also observe shadows.

Another thing I hope to do this year is to take lots of pictures. Since I will be using my cell phone, the quality may be questionable. However, I plan to take pictures of the social aspect of the event as well as the eclipse itself.

The most important thing is not to look at the sun without special glasses. According to the NASA website it will be safe to look directly at the eclipse for the brief time it is fully covered and ONLY if you are in the path of totality. However, much like experiencing the eye of a hurricane, you do not want to misjudge the timing of the re-emergence of the sun.

I hope many of you take the time to see either the full eclipse or the partial depending on where you live. Be sure to check back on Econogal for a full report.

Germaine’s Luau- A Hawaiian Tradition

A Hawaiian Luau

Another stop on my recent trip to Hawaii was the island of Oahu. The traditional luau was high on the priority list for one of my fellow travelling companions. Prior to the trip I researched luaus in the Honolulu area where we spent one weekend. I selected Germaine’s Luau and I was not disappointed. I was looking for a family oriented event with audience interaction. Another key in my search centered on the fact I was not renting a car while on the Island of Oahu. Germaine’s runs shuttle buses out to the beach site where the luau is performed.

We were fortunate and had ideal weather for the night we scheduled. The pick-up location was just 3 blocks from our hotel. Germaine’s ran four buses into Honolulu and each made multiple stops. In addition to the driver, each bus had a host or hostess.

The host is tasked with collecting tickets and offering upgrades. Since I considered the trip a once in a lifetime opportunity, I had already signed up for the works. Our host “Cousin Greg” was entertaining and informative. He also excelled at marketing. Quite a few of the passengers bought upgrades and boy it was worth it.

Once we arrived, our Plumeria tickets granted us individual photos with the dancers. The photos are developed before the end of the night so you can take them home. Of course in this age of selfies there are opportunities to take pictures with your cell phone. In our case the advanced photos we had taken included the fire-knife dancer.

Our tickets gave us seats front and center right next to the stage. The upgrade also came with table service. This was particularly helpful for the family we shared a table with since they had young children. Since my experiences with children and buffet lines leaves something to be desired, I count this as a plus.

The amount of food is incredible! The toddler plate would have been plenty for me. The traditional dishes were fun to try. My favorite dishes were the Kalua Pig and the Haupia. As part of the entertainment the guests watch the roasted pig being lifted from the fire pit. The traditional dessert, the Haupia is fantastic. The coconut flavored squares had the consistency of Jello but you (or at least I) use your fingers to pop into your mouth. Of course Poi, made from Taro root, a Hawaiian staple was also served. The poi reminded me of hummus in consistency. I ate too much.

The entertainment was fantastic. Germaine’s really made it a family affair. Audience interaction was a key component and all ages were involved. Part of the success I believe was the ground work laid by the bus host and hostesses who had us interacting on the drive there. The guests on our bus came from all over the world. Many opportunities arose to go up on stage. Many of those on our bus did and it was fun to recognize them. The night we attended, a man who had been stationed at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack was celebrating his 90th birthday. Naturally we sang Happy Birthday to him.

I am sharing some pictures of the various dancers. Multiple South Pacific traditional dances were performed. The islands of Fuji, Tahiti, New Zealand and Samoa were represented. In my opinion the best part was the Samoan fire-knife dancer. I was so mesmerized I didn’t get any photos of the chief!

I am sure there are many good luaus but I certainly recommend Germaine’s. This is a commercial operation run like a family business. I loved the luau and would like to go back!

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The Big Island of Hawai’i

The Big Island

The State of Hawaii is comprised of a chain of volcanic based islands. The largest land mass, also named Hawaii, is often referred to as The Big Island. Population on this island is approaching 200,000. In comparison, the population of Oahu where Honolulu is located is approaching one million even though the size is about a third that of the Big Island.

Recently, I spent time on both islands and while I have favorable things to say about Oahu (Look For future posts) I fell in love with the Big Island. I spent a limited amount of time in the tourist areas, although you can read about a favorite stop in the Kona area in Quilt Passions. My favorite region is the ranch land which centers on the north central part of the island. The town of Waimea acts as a base for this industry.

On my first drive into the area I stopped at Anna Ranch. The old homestead has been turned into a museum and has an event center which is used for local special occasions. I was fortunate that the grounds were open because on a later trip the gates were closed. For tours, call in advance. The ranch has been in operation for generations. The land is named for Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske (1900-1995) and was founded in 1848 by James and Ka’ipukai Fay. A creek runs through the property and the pastures are beautiful. There is a self- guided tour with informative signage and a donation box. For more information visit the ranch website at https://www.annaranch.org/

I did not take the time to get on a horse, but several opportunities for trail rides and horseback riding can be found in this area. Two stables I passed while on my cross island drive were Horseback Above Waipi’o Valley and Na’alapa Stables. Each offers opportunities for riders of different skill levels. Reservations need to be made in advance. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach this part of the island.
A small shopping center anchored by the Parker Ranch store can be found in Waimea. A food court in the middle provides public restrooms. In addition to small stores and a Starbucks, is a grocery store. This is a great place to take a break from driving and do some shopping. From this point you can either head to the wet Northeast coast or the dryer Northwest section of the island.
On that first drive, I stopped at the lookout point over the Waipi’o Valley. The view from the overlook is incredible. The drop into the valley requires 4-wheel drive. So, venturing into the valley will have to wait for a future trip.