My Ideal Day (and my “Feeling Goals” for March)

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The view from my front porch – my happy place!

Hello everyone! I have been home for an entire month now, and as much as I love my time at home, I’m getting bored with my routine! Does this happen to anyone else? I have fallen into a cycle of going to bed too late, not sleeping well, and then feeling sluggish all day, so I’m going to change things up a bit for March.  Here’s my plan…

I’ve just started a book called The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and am finding it an interesting mind shift from setting goals of “What do I want to accomplish” to setting goals of “How do I want to feel?”  Danielle suggests thinking FIRST about how you want to feel, and then choosing actions that will support those feelings.

Me on trail

My ideal day includes exercise, fresh air and sunshine

My ideal day would be calm yet energetic, filled with fresh air and sunshine, something productive, something fun, something active, quality food to fuel my body, and a good night’s sleep. Using this scenario as a guideline, I chose the following Feeling goals: energetic, productive, happy, well-rested, and active.

I want to set a tone of feeling ENERGETIC and PRODUCTIVE early in the day, so instead of my current habit of getting up and sitting with my coffee and computer for an hour first thing, I’m going to accomplish one small task before I sit down with my coffee. Even starting a load of laundry or making the bed will get my head in the “I’m going to be up and moving today” mindset!

Another PRODUCTIVE goal will be to schedule time to work on my blog – if I want to eventually start earning money from this endeavor, I need to treat it as a job and not a hobby. I do have a home office, but think I would also benefit mentally from getting out of the house sometimes and working at a local coffee shop. In March, I want to try out three different places and see which ones I like the best. 

I want to feel WELL RESTED, so I am going to start my bedtime routine by 10:30 PM and be in bed reading by 11. I am someone who needs LOTS of sleep – seriously, 8-8.5 hours is ideal, so this is a key goal for March! Another step which will help me sleep better will be to step away from electronics by 8 PM…so, other than an occasional texting session with my kids (they are all grown and live far away), the computer and phone will be put away at 8 PM.

I want to feel ACTIVE – for me, this requires getting in some form of exercise most days. I’m currently starting to train for my next bike trip (I’m biking the Czech Republic with friends in September!) so I’ve been including spin and barre classes along with outdoor walks and runs on sunny days. I’ve found that I love exercising outdoors so this also ticks the fresh air and sunshine box – on the days I do an indoor class, I usually spend some time on my front porch to get that fresh air and sunshine. I use my porch time to work on my blog, meditate (I’m loving the Headspace app), or just read a book.

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The base ingredients for my morning smoothie

Two other items that help me feel ENERGETIC and HAPPY are the “something fun” and “food to fuel my body” categories. I need to incorporate something fun into my days…whether it’s a day trip somewhere, a hike, sitting on my porch with a good book, or coffee with friends. I’m setting aside three days this month to schedule all-day outings, either with my husband or by myself. As for fueling my body, I’ve found that what I eat for breakfast makes a huge difference in how I feel. I love carbs for breakfast (I’m a total pancakes/waffles girl) but I feel best when I start my day with a fruit smoothie. I use almond milk, a handful of spinach, some greek yogurt, and frozen fruit to make a delicious tropical smoothie and feel way more alert than if I eat waffles:) So I’m going to start most days with a fruit smoothie.

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My favorite fruits to add to my morning smoothie

So there are my goals for March…I’ll report back in early April and let you know how I did! How do you go about setting goals? I’d love to hear your thoughts…we can all learn from each other!

48 Hours in New York City

ESB in fog

Happy Wednesday! Spring has sprung in North Carolina…the daffodils and Tulip Poplars are blooming! I’m planning to explore some botanical gardens over the next few weeks, so watch for garden posts coming soon.

For this week’s edition of Wednesday Wanderings, I’m sharing details of our recent trip to New York City to see Hamilton.  New York City is a place I love to visit; every time I spend time in the city, I find new adventures and hidden spots. This trip was just a couple of days…a quick birthday getaway! 

Lodging:  We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, on 8th Avenue between West 48th and West 49th.  While I don’t usually like to stay in the Times Square area (it’s way too crowded most of the year), the location was brilliant for this visit. The hotel is diagonally across the street from the 50th Street subway stop (C and E lines) so it was super easy to get from La Guardia airport to our hotel by public transport (full blog post on how to do this coming soon), and since we went to several shows, it was a super quick walk to all of the theaters! Eighth Avenue, while just one block away from the craziness of Times Square, is much quieter, and we heard very little street noise at night. As a bonus, I used my Hilton Honors points so it was completely free! Read this post to find out more about how I choose hotels in NYC.

Ate: Restaurants in New York run the gamut from $3 pizza slices to $200 dinners; if you are on a tight budget, you can eat just as easily as if you have no spending limit. We usually choose to spend our money on experiences rather than food (although a great meal can absolutely be an experience), so on a day to day basis we tend to eat on the cheaper side. We had breakfast the first day at the Times Square Diner and Grill right across from the hotel. The food was very good diner fare, and they currently have a deal with the Hilton for a 10% discount for hotel guests. The next day, we had breakfast at the Blue Dog Kitchen Bar. A nice step up from the diner, and the food was delicious. It’s a small place, so I highly recommend reservations!

Our two dinners were at Serafina and Hurley’s Saloon. Serafina is an Italian restaurant with several locations around Manhattan; they have an extensive menu and delicious wood-fired thin crust pizza. The location near us was in the Time Hotel on West 49th Street…we started with the bruschetta, which was oh so yummy, then ordered the “pizza for the table” – a big square pizza.  It was very good, but if you have your heart set on the super thin crust, order the individual pizza as the pizza for the table had a thicker crust.

Hurley’s Saloon is a historic pub on West 48th Street that was established in 1892.  It’s a beautiful, atmospheric dark wood place with a huge bar, three floors, a beer garden, and rooftop dining when the weather is nice. We ate in a private booth in the Library Room and really enjoyed our meal. They also have a prix-fixe pre-theater meal for anyone heading to the theater afterward. I’d love to go back in nice weather and enjoy the beer garden!

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I love NYC in the snow – but it was NOT beer garden weather!

Saw: Our first night, we went to the TKTS booth and got last minute tickets to Avenue Q, which is a hilarious, slightly raunchy show using puppets (NOT appropriate for kids)! We are a theater family – our daughter has a degree in Theater Arts (she is a Stage Manager) so she educated us about technical aspects of the show that added to our enjoyment. 

**TKTS booth tips – TKTS has a website as well as an app – both list the current day’s ticket availability. You can also look and see which shows have been at the booth recently. If you want to see a play rather than a musical, there is a dedicated “Play only” line which moves more quickly. Tickets tend to be more plentiful on weekdays, although many shows are dark (no shows) on Monday**

The next day was my birthday; I found a BOGOF deal for the Downton Abbey exhibit, so my daughter and I headed there after breakfast, while the boys went to the Natural History Museum. The exhibit was awesome…entire rooms from the set have been brought over from England along with costumes, etc. I loved it as I had seen the entire series; if you haven’t seen the show, however, there are TONS of spoilers as each character has a section with their storyline summarized. If you’ve already seen the show and are a fan, go see the exhibit (it’s in NYC through April 2); if you haven’t yet but want to watch without knowing what’s going to happen, don’t go!

Hamilton, of course was the highlight of the trip! I bought our tickets way back last spring when a new block of tickets went on sale, so we waited ten months for our show date.  I listened to the soundtrack endlessly prior to our trip, which really added to my enjoyment of the show. I LOVED the show and would gladly see it over and over again, but my husband was a little surprised by the lack of dialogue. Most of the dialogue is singing; if you’ve heard the soundtrack, you’ve heard all but a few lines of the show. We made a beeline to the stage door after the show and met Michael Luwoye, aka Alexander Hamilton. If you want to get on the email list, click here and submit your email at the bottom of the page to join the revolution! For tips on other ways to get Hamilton tickets, read this article.

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Meeting Michael Luwoye at the stage door!

We also visited the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. They currently have an evocative exhibit about the 60’s which is quite interesting! The exhibit runs through the beginning of September.

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Guess who was a benefactor of the New York Public Library – Alexander Hamilton!

Shopping: The ONLY shopping we did this trip was a quick stop at Book-Off on East 49th Street – we love used bookstores and grabbed a few books from the $1 section to supplement our trip reading. It’s a very well organized store with a large selection of DVD’s and games as well as books.

So that was our quick 48 hours in Manhattan – what are your favorite things to do in New York City??? 

The Best Travel Gift I Ever Received

 

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**For those of you who don’t know, I am a voracious reader.  Reading, traveling, and sitting on my front porch (usually with a good book and coffee) are three of my absolute favorite activities. I used to be one of those travelers carrying several books in my luggage…until my husband bought me a Kindle! BEST. GIFT. EVER!**

According to Ambassador International, March 2-8 is “Read an E-book week”. In honor of the mighty E-book, here are my five favorite things about E-books and a list of some of the best E-books I’ve read lately. I do love a good print book as well, but there are definitely some advantages to an E-reader, especially for traveling.

You can load hundreds of books onto an E-reader, and save room and weight in your luggage. Seriously, this is one of the best things about my Kindle – I no longer lug several books per trip – I load up my Kindle and away I go!

The battery lasts a very long time! With the WIFI off, my fully charged Kindle can last up to two weeks before it needs charging. That means one less cord to pack if my trip is ten days or less.

My Kindle case has a built in light, which is great for reading in bed (or on the plane) without having to turn on an overhead light and bother those around me. I love that my kindle doesn’t have a backlit screen, as those tend to make it harder for me to fall asleep, and I often read at night.

You can adjust the size of the print.  Now that I need reading glasses, this is so helpful…I can adjust the size of the print if I don’t have my reading glasses with me and continue reading.

I can buy new books as I go, and download them when I’m connected to the WIFI in my hotel or at the local coffee shop.

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I could spend hundreds of dollars a year on books…and sometimes do! However, I’ve been trying to utilize more free and low-cost methods lately – here are some of the best ways I get ebooks without spending tons of money.

The best FREE way to read e-books is to utilize your public library! My library doesn’t always have the book I want, but when they do, I can check it out from my library and download it right to my kindle.  I’ve been using this service more and more lately…you gotta love public libraries!!

When I see an e-book I’m interested in, I add it to my shopping list on Amazon.  Amazon puts Kindle books on sale all the time, so I periodically run through my list and see if the prices have dropped.

Another great source of sale books is Modern Mrs. Darcy – Anne curates the selection of daily Kindle book sales and sends her best picks out in a daily newsletter. I’ve bought many a book (usually for $2-3) from her recommendations. If you’re a fellow book lover, check out her blog – I’ve been participating in her annual reading challenges for three years now and love them!

With my Amazon prime membership, I get one free e-book each month, plus access to the Amazon Prime Reading Library. I can borrow up to ten books at a time and keep them as long as I like. I also currently subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, but I’m not sure I’m going to continue this subscription – it’s only $9.99 per month, but I don’t think I read enough Kindle Unlimited books to justify the cost.  My goal for March is to finish the books I currently have downloaded from Kindle Unlimited and then cancel my subscription. I have a HUGE backlog of books on my TBR (To Be Read) pile, so I want to get caught up rather than continuing to pay for a service I’m not fully utilizing.

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What I’ve read lately…

The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown – The story of a woman who was an excellent astronomer but was overlooked because she was a woman.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford – A fascinating novel about the early days of the BBC and the women who worked there.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – Great novel about one immigrant’s experience in America – an Oprah’s Book Club pick.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – One of the best books I’ve read in the last five years – I’m on the waitlist at my library for his “A Gentleman in Moscow”.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis – A fantastic look at New York City in the 1950’s and the women who lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women.

What have you read lately? I’d love some recommendations!

**This post was not sponsored by Amazon – I just happen to have a Kindle so I wrote about my experience.  I do not get any commissions if you click on my links**

8 Topics to discuss before traveling with friends

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The Amigas on the trail!

Happy Sunday everyone! I’m writing this from my happy place – my swinging chair on my front porch, with my dog keeping me company.  I LOVE my front porch – it’s my favorite place for morning coffee, meditation, afternoon tea with friends, watching the rain, or just to curl up with a good book. My husband and I sometimes eat dinner out here as well!

Two years ago, I cycled 240 miles through Austria along the Danube River with two friends. We are currently training for our next trip (biking through the Czech Republic in the fall) and this got me thinking about topics we discussed ahead of time that helped make our travel smoother. So here’s our list, in hopes that it might help someone else have a better trip! My assumption here is that you value the friends you will be traveling with and want to nurture those friendships…if not, maybe ask yourself why you’d want to travel with them in the first place!

How to share expenses – If you only talk about one thing before booking a trip with friends, talk about finances.  Are you a budget traveler or do you like to stay in luxury accommodations? Are you on a super tight budget while others in the group have a bit more to spend? Money issues can cause a lot of friction if you don’t hammer out details ahead of time! For our trip, we agreed we were good with mid-level lodging except for one night of the trip when we upgraded to a hotel with a spa (after six straight days of biking, that massage felt really good)! And at our first meal, we realized we hadn’t talked about how to share food expenses. We decided that since we all eat about equally, we would put money into a communal pot from which we would pay for all meals and sightseeing. We put in 100 euros at a time, and when the pot was empty we added more. At the end of the trip, we split what was left. This system worked well for us but if you have a group where people have different budget levels, (or if one person doesn’t drink and others have three drinks every night) it might work better to have everyone pay individually. There are also all kinds of apps now which allow you to track expenses throughout the trip and the app calculates who owes what at the end of the trip. The key here is to talk about it before you leave!

**We did set rules for alcohol consumption – our rules were 1. No more than two drinks from the communal pot at dinner and 2. If someone started ordering six drinks at dinner, the other two were supposed to slap some sense into the person over-imbibing!**

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Coffee in Cesky Krumlov – paid for with our communal dining fund

Temperature preference – another important topic if you will be sharing hotel rooms.  Elizabeth and I like to have it cold when we sleep – Jenn likes it warm. Knowing this ahead of time, and knowing that we would be sharing two out of three nights, Jenn brought sweats to sleep in, and Elizabeth and I packed the lightest possible sleep clothes, so we could set the room to a mid-cool temperature.

Each traveler’s need for alone time – You might need time by yourself every day; Sue might be looking forward to spending every minute with you. If you address this need beforehand, Sue won’t be hurt when you want to retreat with a good book after dinner. My friends and I each require alone time in order to function well, so we booked one twin room and one single room for our trip, and rotated roommates each night. We each got a night by ourselves every third day and shared with a different person on the other two – this kept it fun (like sleepovers!) yet gave us our valuable solitude. At the end of our trip, we spent four nights in Vienna, and reserved a three bedroom apartment for those nights. After ten days of traveling together, it was heavenly to have our own bedrooms for the last few days! We recognized that we needed to be proactive on this issue, so agreed to speak up if we wanted to be by ourselves – it does no one any good to hold back and then get resentful or cranky! We ended up with a comfortable flow during the days as well…sometimes two of us would chat on the bikes while the other rode a little ahead or behind, just enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the river.

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Sometimes we all rode quietly and just enjoyed the peace on the trail

Travel styles – Do you like to get up early and fill every minute with activity, or do you like a slower pace? Are you imagining short, quick meals or leisurely lunches? Do you like to shop or are you all about the museums? How do you feel about seeing ten churches in one day? This is another area where conflicting styles can cause tension. We knew sleep and fuel were important since we were biking six-seven hours each day, so we planned for adequate sleep and a full breakfast each morning, with a break for a sit-down lunch. The three of us enjoy wandering through shops together but also had a few “must see”  attractions we scheduled into our plans. Another important agreement was to stop for bathroom breaks, photos or snacks any time one of us wanted, no matter what. On the rare occasions when we could have felt resentful (I stopped us once not 30 seconds after we had started back up from a 20 minute snack break because I saw some rock “people” on the side of the road and wanted to take a photo) we just reminded ourselves of our agreement and it helped us reset our patience. We also saw some fun details that we might have missed if we hadn’t stopped! And it became a running joke that no matter what, we’d have to stop twice within our first 15 minutes of biking each day – once for me to adjust layers (I was experiencing major hot flashes during this trip) and once for a restroom stop (we drank a LOT of coffee and water before setting out each day so we could wake up and stay hydrated).

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Rock “People” on the side of the trail

Sleep needs – some people can thrive on 6 hours of sleep a night; others need a full 8-9 to be good company. Let your traveling companions know that you want to be in bed by 11, or if you can’t function before 8 am. If you are one who needs more sleep *totally raising my hand here* bring what you need to make that sleep possible! My sleep kit includes an eye shade, ear plugs and melatonin. All three of us like to read before bed, so we brought kindles, which let us read without having to have an overhead lamp on.  Also consider snoring in this category – if you snore and Sue’s a light sleeper, this can cause very disrupted sleep for Sue. It might be well worth the money to get separate rooms in that case!

**Seriously people…sleep is so important when traveling, anything you need to ensure a good night’s sleep is worth every penny.**

Transportation – How do you plan to get to your destination, and around town once you arrive? Will you be walking, using public transportation or do you want to Uber/taxi everywhere? What about getting to and from the airport? Talking about this will avoid that last minute surprise when you come out wearing good walking shoes and your friend shows up in four inch stilettos and wants to take a cab. This can also fall under the financial discussion, as transportation costs can quickly add up for those on a limited budget.

Packing – Are you a diehard light packer and refuse to check a bag? Does Sue like to bring ten pairs of shoes and a huge suitcase? Are you going to be frustrated waiting at the luggage carousel or while Sue takes an extra ten minutes to haul her heavy suitcase up the stairs in the subway? Will you be resentful if you pack lightly only to have Sue ask if she can put her souvenirs in your suitcase “since you have extra room”? Will you have any group items to bring (we had bike repair equipment, but your group might have a tent and air mattresses if camping)? If so, divvy up the common gear so each person carries a little and the load is shared. Discuss luggage expectations and set the rule that everyone carries their own stuff.

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One day’s shopping haul – our luggage got heavier as the trip progressed!

And last but not least – how will you handle unexpected problems or issues that arise? Safety falls into this category – we agreed that we would stay together after dark when wandering outside of our hotel. A group of singles might discuss what to do if one of the group wants to stay out all night after meeting someone. We also agreed that if an unexpected problem arose that could be solved with a little bit of money, we would “throw some money at it and make it go away” – this agreement was very handy when we couldn’t find a laundromat for five straight days and had to pay 55 euros for our hotel to do an overnight load of laundry. After two days of biking in day old bike shorts, it was well worth that money to wake up and put on fresh clothes!

Have you ever traveled with a group of friends? What types of things do you wish you had talked about in advance, or were glad you did talk about?

A Day out in Raleigh

NC Museum of History

Happy Thursday all – here’s another post in my Wednesday Wanderings series (it’s a day late…we can pretend it’s Wednesday today, right)? Despite the fact that I’ve lived in NC for five years now, I’ve never visited any of the museums in Raleigh. So yesterday my husband and I decided to take a day trip and explore the North Carolina Museum of History.

We dropped our dog at doggie day care for the day and headed to a new Panera that was opening nearby. The first 500 guests received a travel mug and free coffee for two weeks, so we grabbed a bagel and our mugs, caught up with a friend for a bit, then got on the road with our mugs full of coffee for the drive.

Of course, we needed lunch as soon as we got to Raleigh (does anyone else set out for a day trip and get to your destination just in time for lunch?), so we stopped at the Flying Biscuit Cafe to fuel up for an afternoon of history. Every review mentioned the biscuits, which are brought out to your table before the food, and they were indeed delicious! I had the California Dreamer (avocado toast) and my husband had the Shrimp and Grits. We also tried the pimiento cheese fritters. Deep fried pimiento cheese – only in the South!

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Everything was scrumptious, including the fresh berries that came with my meal, and after rolling back to our car, we headed to the museum.

To the Western Front

Entering the exhibit…it was sobering to realize that men lived for months in these trenches

I don’t know what kind of museum people you all are, but we are the kind that like to read almost everything, so we can spend hours in museums! We started out in the permanent exhibit “The Story of North Carolina” but soon realized we wouldn’t have enough time to cover the entire museum (we arrived about 2:30 and they closed at 5 PM) so decided to leave that for our next visit and moved on to the time-sensitive exhibits. I enjoyed a look at fashions from the 1700’s to the 1960’s, then wandered upstairs for the immersive “North Carolina and World War I” exhibit – a fascinating look at trench warfare and the role of American soldiers in WWI. This exhibit is at the museum through January 6, 2019, so if you’re in Raleigh this year, I highly recommend it!

To go along with this exhibit, they have an entire hallway hung with WWI posters covering everything from enlistment ads to home front efforts. 

Books for our men

I am so in love with public libraries….this poster made my heart sing!

There were so many good exhibits at the museum!  I loved the exhibit “Picturing Nam: US Military Photography of the Vietnam War” as well – the photos from military photographers stationed in Vietnam are incredible and elicited so many emotions. One of my favorites was a photo of a military chaplain holding mass on a scrubby hillside for a few soldiers while another soldier stood guard.  This exhibit is only at the museum through March 18, 2018, so you’ll have to hurry if you want to catch it! I may make another trip back to Raleigh before it leaves, it was that good.

**Admission to the North Carolina Museum of History is completely free…they do have donation boxes scattered throughout in case you want to donate**

It was a great day out – good food, good company, and great history! Can you recommend any other museums in North Carolina that I should explore??

Five things to consider when choosing a hotel in New York City

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NYC skyline – photo courtesy of pixabay

Happy Wednesday all! Today’s post describes how I choose a hotel when I go to New York City.  A couple of weeks ago, we took a quick trip to NYC to see Hamilton for my birthday. After the tickets were purchased, I had to decide where to stay, and thought you all might like a peek into my thought process.

These are the five main points I consider when choosing a hotel (there are THOUSANDS of hotels in NYC – I am by no means a NYC expert, but have had fairly good luck using these parameters so am hoping you’ll find them helpful).

Our planned activities and how long we will be in the city – First, I plot our planned activities on Google maps. This gives me a sense of whether we will mainly be in one part of the city or traveling around to lots of different areas. If I’m in New York City for a longer stay, my activities tend to be more spread out. This time, we only went for two nights and had tickets for Hamilton and the Downton Abbey exhibit, so our activities were concentrated in the Theater District and Midtown West areas of Manhattan. (click here for a map and explanation of Manhattan neighborhoods) 

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My plotted activities – the stars are places we planned on visiting and our hotel

Weather – I consider the season in which we will be traveling – I LOVE being outside and walking around Manhattan, especially in the spring and fall, so will sometimes choose a hotel farther away from our planned sights or in my favorite neighborhoods so I can walk more. In January, however, NYC is cold and the tall buildings create wind tunnels, so it feels even colder. Our daughter from Florida joined us on this trip and she gets cold very quickly, so I decided to stay as close as possible to the theatre so we wouldn’t have to walk more than a few blocks at a time in the cold weather.

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Meeting Michael Luwoye (aka Alexander Hamilton) at the stage door with my Florida girl!

Transportation – How do I want to get around? Am I planning on taking the subway or walking? (I don’t often take cabs in NYC, but if you plan on taking lots of cabs then you can get a cab from any hotel but longer cab rides will of course cost more). For trips when my activities are more spread out, I’ll plan on taking the subway and will try to find a hotel with good subway connections for my planned activities (attraction websites helpfully tell you which are the closest subway stops – for a subway map of Manhattan, click here). Since this was a super short trip, I decided I just wanted to quickly walk to the theaters rather than spend a lot of time on the subway.

Expense – How much can I afford? There are a wide range of prices in NYC, so this is a big consideration. (January is an EXCELLENT time to get rock bottom hotel prices as long as you don’t mind the cold – after the holidays are over, prices drop super low for hotels and the city is much less crowded). I try to find mid-level hotels and generally pay below $125 per night in January – in spring and fall these same hotels run around $200-350 and in December they can be as much as $500-700 per night! Hotel prices in NYC are very dependent upon the season, so if price is a big consideration, go in January! (I’ve also had excellent luck finding reasonable rates in July, I guess because of the hot muggy weather this is also a cheap time to visit.) I’m a Hilton Honors member, so was specifically looking for a Hilton Hotel this trip so I could use my points to help keep costs down (just to be completely transparent, this is not a sponsored post).

Crowd Tolerance – Some folks love to be right in the hustle and bustle, but I prefer quieter areas. I abhor crowds, and refuse to stay in the Times Square area (7th Ave and Broadway between W. 42nd and W. 50th Streets) as it is crazy crowded! My favorite areas in which to stay are Chelsea and the West Village, but Midtown East is also a less crowded area in which to stay and is still close to places like Rockefeller Center, MOMA, St Patricks Cathedral, and Times Square. 

Times Square crowds

Times Square crowds – photo courtesy of Pixabay

So where did we stay for our January trip?

Taking into account our short trip, our planned activities, the cold weather and our plan to just walk to our activities, I decided to bite the bullet and stay in the Theater District/Times Square area so we’d be close, despite my low crowd tolerance. However, I was pleasantly surprised – I found the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square on 8th Avenue, between West 48th and West 49th Streets. It was my first stay at this hotel and being one avenue removed from Times Square worked out perfectly; there were far fewer crowds, yet it was super close to the theaters. We heard very little city noise at night and there was a great little diner right across the street for breakfast (or other meals) which delivers to the hotel if you prefer to eat in your room. As a bonus, it was across the street from the subway, which we used to travel into Manhattan from La Guardia airport. I used Hilton points for our stay, but the prices were right around $110-120 per night for a room with two double beds on our dates. A huge plus for me was the fact that the room temperatures were easy to adjust – some hotels in NYC are in older buildings with whole-building heating, so even if the heat is completely turned off in the individual room, the room is still HOT due to the older heating systems (I’m looking at you, Hilton New York Fashion District – I love you in spring, summer and fall, but don’t think I’ll stay here in the winter ever again). 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into my hotel-finding process for New York City! Thanks so much for reading! Do you have any tips for finding hotels in Manhattan??

**Want to join the email list to be notified when a new block of tickets go on sale for Hamilton NY? Click here  – there’s a spot to submit your email at the bottom of the home page**

It’s Never Too Late for a Dream

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photo courtesy of pixabay

New chapters in life can be exhilarating.  They can be terrifying. They are often both at the same time! Whether your new chapter is a birthday, empty nesting, a move to a new state, your youngest child going to school full-time, a new job, a divorce or simply a time when you are ready for a change, it is never too late to CHOOSE the direction you want to take! Don’t be afraid to dream big…we never know where our dreams will take us but I do know that if we don’t dream, we sure won’t go anywhere!

Since turning 50 and becoming an empty nester; I’ve been inspired to actively decide how I want to live this next chapter in my life. My theme is  “Fearless 50’s” so I am planning lots of adventures, both big and small! First up was climbing to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. This had been on my travel bucket list for years but after 9/11 the statue was closed for a long time, then Hurricane Sandy caused further closures. Once it finally reopened I jumped at the chance to climb; I celebrated my 50th birthday with my husband and Lady Liberty!!

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My husband and I in the crown of the Statue of Liberty

My second big adventure the year I turned 50 was a bike trip through Austria with two girlfriends; we rode 240 miles from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria along the Danube river, by ourselves on a self-guided adventure. I had probably only been on a bike ten times since college when I decided to do this, but it truly was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done! (My cover photo for the blog is from this bike trip – I’ll be writing a full blog post about this trip at some point).

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The Three Amigas! I’m on the right

Here are some of my other dreams for this next chapter of my life:

  • I want to do more bike trips with my girlfriends (we actually have the next one booked – the Czech Republic this fall!)
  • I want to plan a solo trip to Paris
  • I want to live in Europe for an extended period of time with my husband
  • I want to see snow come through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome  – I know what you’re going to say – it rarely snows in Rome and I’ll have a chance in a million of seeing this one….but it’s still a dream (thanks Anthony Doerr, author of Four Seasons in Rome) so it totally counts!
  • I want to explore the National Parks in the western half of the USA.
  • I want to start a travel/lifestyle blog and help inspire others to travel and explore this amazing world (first part is done – don’t think I’ve completed the second part yet as I’m only on post #3…but I can be patient)
  • I want to run an entire 10K (I ran 4 of the 6.2 miles of the Lilac Run in Rochester, NY last year, but want to run the entire thing!)
  • I want to push myself past my comfort zone in training for these bike trips and 10K’s
  • I want to have adventures, both small and big; alone and with my husband/family/friends
  • I want to make a difference in the lives of people who aren’t as lucky as I
  • I want to live a healthy, happy and active life rooted in compassion, love, and an adventurous spirit
  • I want to finish teaching my miniature golden doodle to Stand Up Paddleboard with me and take him on adventures as well

What are some of your dreams for YOUR next chapter in life???

A Day Trip to Appomattox Court House

Richmond Lynchburg Stage Road

The Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road that runs through the village of Appomattox Court House

Hello all! I’m sitting in my cozy little office on the third floor of my house (i.e. a nook in the attic) watching the rain come pouring down…I hope it’s sunny where you are. I’m beginning a new series today called “Wednesday Wanderings”, which will include posts about day trips and fun outings! I’m in central North Carolina, so let me know if there are any destinations in this area about which you’d like to read.

My son went back to college for spring semester later than most of his friends, so we had him to ourselves for a couple of weeks at the end of January. One of my goals this year is to support our National Parks by visiting as many as I can, so we decided to take a day trip to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865.

On the way, we stopped for lunch at El Jefe Taqueria Garaje (a Dia de los Muertos-themed taqueria and tequila bar) in historic downtown Lynchburg, VA. The tacos were delicious and we fueled up for our excursion (we did not try any of their 85 varieties of tequila, but if you like tequila, I’d imagine that this is your kind of place)!El jefe 1

After lunch, we drove 25 minutes east on Rt. 24 towards Appomattox Court House. You know when you have an image in your head of a place, and sometimes it matches perfectly when you see it, and others time it doesn’t? I don’t know why I was expecting a bigger, more urban place, but I was surprised by the small size of the village (there were only about 100 residents in 1865) and it’s out of the way location. The village sits on the old Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road, and it really is a tiny little place. Standing in the center of the village, it’s easy to picture the village deserted (most residents had fled before the Battle of Appomattox) and then teeming with soldiers stacking their weapons along this stretch of road after the surrender.

Richmond Lynchburg Stage Road 3

Almost 25, 000 soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered their weapons along this stretch of the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road on April 12, 1865.

Despite the small size, there are several other historic sites nearby, so you could easily fill most of a day if you are excited about Civil War history. We only had about 90 minutes before the park closed, so we had to prioritize and began at the Visitor’s Center.

**When in doubt at a U.S. National Park, ALWAYS begin at the Visitor Center – the Park Rangers are a font of knowledge and you can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet if you have kids!**

We saw a short film and viewed the exhibits, then joined a brief guided tour of the McLean house (the Park Rangers at the Visitor’s Center kindly announce when one is about to start so visitors can join the fun).

McLean House

The McLean House; photo courtesy of  James DeMers/Pixabay

Some fun facts I learned that day:

  • Appomattox Court House is the name of the town; Appomattox courthouse (one word, lowercase) denotes the actual courthouse building.
  • Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant never stepped foot inside the actual courthouse; the surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean House.
  • Lee’s aide, Lt. Col. Charles Marshall, was sent to town to find a location for the meeting. He chose the McLean House at random because Wilmer McLean was the first man he saw upon entering the town. The McLeans had no nearby family with whom to stay, so hunkered down in their home during the Battle of Appomattox.
  • Grant wrote the surrender terms to be merciful, in accordance with President Lincoln’s wishes; Confederate soldiers were given parole, protected from prosecution for treason, allowed safe passage back to their homes, and allowed to keep their horses.
  • Grant also provided 25,000 rations for the Army of Northern Virginia, as the men were famished due to lack of food during their march from Richmond.
  • 30,000 parole certificates were printed in two days at Clover Hill Tavern and 28,231 were given to the soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Robert E. Lee was under orders NOT to surrender; he was supposed to fight to the death or let his troops scatter and become guerrilla soldiers, but he knew that would drag the conflict out indefinitely so he disobeyed orders and surrendered.
  • Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia; he believed that each General had the right to personally decide whether to surrender his own army.
  • There were about 15-20 soldiers in the room when the surrender took place; after it was over, the soldiers were looking for souvenirs and one of them took the doll that McLean’s daughter had left on the sofa!
McLean House General Grant Table

The table where Ulysses S. Grant wrote the terms of surrender – Lee’s table is long gone.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. If you’re in the area, or passing close by on your way to somewhere else, I highly recommend stopping in! They have several special events throughout the year; most are during the anniversary week (April 6-12 in 2018) but they also host community and Ranger-led events from spring through early fall.

**The Junior Ranger Program is at most U. S. National Parks – kids can explore, learn, and earn a Junior Ranger badge for participating. Designed for ages 5-13 but anyone can participate – my kids LOVED these programs when they were younger! You can view the details for the Junior Ranger program at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park here**

Have you been to Appomattox Court House? Do you have any tips to add or nearby places that I should explore? What are your favorite National Park sites in the Southeast U. S.?

Dang it, Where’s Deanna??

Me on trail

Recently, I set out to have an adventure (my first as a new blogger), and I succeeded spectacularly! I left my house at “O-dark thirty,” as my dad would say (Navy-speak for “way too early for sane people”), to drive three hours to hike with women I had never met. There were about ten of us in a wide range of ages and ability levels but the women were a friendly bunch and it was a gorgeous fall day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I had a grand time.

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We finished the hike, I returned to my car, changed out of my hiking boots, and set off for Grandad’s Apples for some apple picking. This is when the REAL adventure began!

For those of you with keyless cars, did you know that your keys don’t have to be inside the car for your car to start? They just have to be near the car, say on top of the car where you might set them while changing out of your hiking boots. Did you know that the car will start, and it will keep running even after the keys fall off the top of your car? And that your car won’t give any indication that the keys have left the car until you stop for gas an hour away and try to restart the car?

**Would it be too much to ask for manufacturers to add some kind of alert, maybe a loud beeping and a lighted key symbol on the dashboard, to indicate that the keys have left the car?**

So Elvis had left the building, and Charlotte (my Mini Cooper) was stuck blocking Pump Number 5 at the Exxon station in Hendersonville, NC, a good three hours from home. I called my husband, who was THRILLED to hear my request that he drive six hours round trip to bring me the spare key. My next call was to the AAA roadside assistance specialist, who was confused to hear my request to tow Charlotte from Pump Number 5 to the Starbucks at the opposite corner of the intersection, where I could comfortably wait three hours for my husband.

“Is that more than 3 miles?” she asked me.

“No Ma’am, it’s about 300 feet.”

Tow truck

An hour later, the tow truck driver deposited Charlotte into a parking space at Starbucks and after grabbing a latte, I texted my adult children about my adventures.

“Oh, Mother,” my oldest replied.

“That’s what your dad said, only a bit more colorfully,” I texted back.

My husband finally arrived with the key at 6 PM, and we decided (since there was a little bit of daylight left) to return to the scene of the crime and try to find my keys. Truthfully, I was almost more upset at losing my Ampelmann key chain (a souvenir from Berlin) than my $250 remote key fob, but I also had my house key, office key, and multiple tags (my library card, YMCA membership, etc) on that key ring.  Although we searched and searched, we had no luck, and finally got home at 11:30 PM, keyless and tired.

But all was not lost….the next morning I received a call from my library, saying that a woman from Ohio found my keys! She and her husband found them in the middle of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and tracked me down through my library card on the key ring.  Four days later, due to the kindness of strangers, Ampelmann was back in the house. Whoop!

P.S. No, I never made it to Grandad’s Apples, and yes, the kind couple from Ohio have affirmed my faith in humanity.

P.P.S. It pays to have some kind of store card or tag on your key ring; this is how my heroes were able to track me down.

P.P.P.S The next time I took Charlotte in for an oil change, I mentioned my adventures to the service rep, and he told me there was a software update available that would fix the issue. He personally tested it out by starting the car and then placing the keys on the ground…lo and behold, Charlotte started loudly beeping and a light on the dashboard started blinking! SOOOO…if you own a Mini Cooper, test it out, then call your Mini dealer for a software update.

Do you have any funny travel stories to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below…