Sunday, April 23, 2017

Road Trip Wrap-Up & What's Next

We are back with our daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law in Alexandria, VA after almost three weeks of road tripping through the Carolinas. We had an incredibly interesting time visiting Wilmington, NC, Kiawah Island, SC, Charleston, SC, Congaree National Park and, finally, Richmond, Virginia. We learned about the battles of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War up close and personal. We toured mansions, plantations and forts, walked miles and miles and miles, took walking tours, boat tours, canal tours and one very memorable ghost tour, enjoyed a bevy of craft beer, wine, and cocktails, and literally ate ourselves silly. In other words, we had a great time!

But we both agree it's nice to be back in familiar territory here at our daughter's for the last few days of our trip. This is our fifth time visiting since she and my son-in-law moved here in July, and it is feeling increasingly like our second home. Today, Sunday, we attended the Alexandria branch of the Unitarian congregation we attend in California and felt immediately welcomed and at home, so we have yet another activity to add to our list of things to do when we are here. And then there is our granddaughter, who continues to be the light of our lives, and who seems to love us as much as we love her based on her happy screams of recognition when we drove up yesterday.

Our thoughts are starting to turn toward California, however, because we have a lot of lovely things to look forward to once we return. We have our newly landscaped yards, front and back, and I'm so excited to see what has come into bloom since we left. We have our office project completion scheduled for next Friday, and that is going to be terrific to see completed because that will be the absolute end of the journey of six back-to-back projects we kicked off last December - new entry way flooring, new hardwood flooring, new backyard, new vanity and flooring in powder room, refinishing of existing floor, which turned into wood flooring replacement when the refinishing stain failed to match the newer flooring stain, and then, finally, my husband's home office project.

We also have a lot of fun social activities to look forward to when we return, and then in a few more weeks, the first of a series of California out-and-back trips involving our RV. Most of our trips will center around physical activities - biking, hiking and backpacking - so my plan is to dive back into strength training the moment we get back. We did a pretty good job of logging walking miles during our trip, and I even ran a bit of my walk this morning, although I made myself return to walking after just a 1/4 mile because I don't want to go to fast and re-activate the repetitive use issues I've been battling since last January 2016. As eager as I am to return to running, I know I absolutely have to go slowly if I want to avoid re-injury.

Here's a quick overview of what we did, and what we ate, after leaving Charleston, using the same one to three asterisks rating system. One asterisk for so-so, two for good, three for great. Also, I broke up the activities by day in that Richmond is very large, and we therefore grouped our activities by geographic region.

What We Did

Congaree National Park (on the way to Richmond, VA)***
Monument Avenue**
Richmond Battlefield National Park Visitor Center** Free!
Historic Tredegar**
Civil War Memorial Footbridge Across James River*** Free!
Canal Walk** Free!
Historic Canals Cruise**
Shockoe Slip* (More touristy than I expected)
Hollywood Cemetery** Free!
Virginia State Capital*** Free!
White House of the Confederacy***
Museum of the Confederacy**
Historic St. John's Church*** (Hearing Patrick Henry's famous 'Give me liberty or give me death!' speech acted out by docent while sitting in the same location where it occurred was unforgettable.)

What We Ate (All three of these were outstanding - thank you TripAdvisor!)

East Coast Provisions***
Greek on Cary***
Mama J's Kitchen***

And from Richmond:

Virginia State Capital, where we enjoyed an excellent, free, 90 minute guided tour.

Beautiful downtown Richmond views enjoyed from our historic canal cruise.

And more beautiful views along the memorial bridge walk of the Class 4 rapids along James river.

Make it a memorable day wherever you are!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

We're Going to Hamilton!

Thanks to our AmExpress cardholding son-in-law, we were able to snag two tickets yesterday for the Los Angeles leg of the upcoming Hamilton World Tour a full ten days before they go on sale to the general public. Whatever block of tickets were being held for AmExpress cardholders were apparently snatched up in minutes, so we are over-the-moon excited that we were in the group that was able to get through.

Oh, and we did not purchase the $650 or $750 tickets(!), in fact I didn't even know they had tickets in that price range until looking up our seat assignments this morning online.

And I thought the price we paid was high!

We aren't going until November, so we still have lots of time to become familiar with the soundtrack, and in my case, the history. My husband was a history major in college, focusing on American history, so for him this will be a breeze. In my case, I know Alexander Hamilton to be the guy on the $10 dollar bill, and that's about it, so I have a lot of brushin' up to do between now and then!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Charleston, SC - What We Did, What We Ate

One of the things I get the most enjoyment from is doing detailed trip planning for the many trips we take each year. Since joint retiring in 2012 (me 2011, spouse 2012), we have spent approximately 50% of our time, about two and a half years, traveling. We have had some amazing, amazing experiences, and eaten at so many restaurants I couldn't possibly keep count - somewhere around 150 would be my best guess. And though every so often an activity or meal doesn't measure up as expected, I would slot those as being less than 5% of the overall things we have done and eaten.

All of this to explain why our time in Charleston, which comes to a close this morning, was jam-packed and unforgettable. We can rest when we're dead, right?

Rather than belabor each and every thing we did, I'll just list them as links, and include either one, two or three asterisks as an indication of how we rated them on a scale of one (low) to three (terrific).

Things We Did (in alphabetical order)
Aiken-Rhett House **
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge Walk *** Free!
Cathedral of St. John the BaptistFree! (Plus we attended Easter Mass here, which was quite lovely.)
Charleston City MarketFree! (We are not shoppers. If we were, this would be deserving of two asterisks.)
College of Charleston ** Free!
Drayton Hall Plantation ***
Fort Sumter National Monument***
Historic Charleston Walking Tour ***
H.L. Hunley Submarine **
Middleton Place Plantation ***
Nathaniel Russell House **
Old Slave Mart Museum **
St. Michael's Episcopal Church *** Free!
Unitarian Church *** Free!

And then there was the food. Oh, my, the wonderful, incredible food and drink of Charleston. We enjoyed each and every morsel and drink we ingested! And before I list where we ate and drank, I do want to assert that we walked everywhere, easily over 25 miles during our stay, and for that reason our clothes fit the same tonight, at the end of Day Four, as they did at the beginning of Day One. As I indicated, we travel a lot, so we really can't use the excuse that 'we're on vacation' as a reason to lose caloric control. Don't I wish though!

Similar to above, below are links to where we ate, along with the same asterisk rating system, and a couple of notes on what we felt the standout item was.

Where We Ate (also in alphabetical order)
Callie's Hot Little Biscuit** (We've had better, but did appreciate that they had eight different types.)
Caviar and Bananas*** (We shared a fabulous Cuban panini for lunch one day.)
The Darling Oyster Bar*** ($5 Bloody Mary's)
Husk*** (Everything!!!)
Jestine's Place*** (Fried Chicken)
Kilwin's*** (Ice cream)
Leon's Fine Poultry and Oysters*** (Fried Chicken Sandwich)
Poogan's Porch** (We ate here Easter Sunday evening, and our choices of open restaurants accepting reservations was slim. We would likely not have chosen this restaurant otherwise based on Trip Advisor reviews.)
The Rarebit*** ($5 Happy Hour Moscow Mules, Chicken and Waffles)
Tebow's Hot Boiled Peanuts*** (Cajun style!)

There aren't enough words to indicate how wonderful this city is, nor how much fun we had, so I'll leave you with a few photos instead:

Drayton Hall Plantation, one of the only plantations in South Carolina to have been left undamaged by the Civil War, the earthquake of 1886, and Hurricane Hugo.

Timbo's Hot Boiled Peanuts were ahhmazing!

Flowers everywhere because, Spring.

Looking out at Charleston Harbor from Fort Sumter.

Bloody Marys at The Darling Oyster Bar. See the hush puppy on a stick that came with? So good!

Someone could make a book about Charleston doors!

We walked over Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge and back, five miles round trip.
St. Michael's beautiful interior with Tiffany stained glass.

We're off to Congaree National Park this morning, one of the newest national parks, and number 36 to be visited by us. With 59 national parks in total, we'll have just 23 left after tomorrow.

Make it a memorable day wherever you are!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Five Frugal Things - Family Vacation Version

It's not as easy to get value for our money when traveling, particularly when we are with family, as we have been this past week, but here are five frugal things we did manage to do:

  • We waited in the cell phone lot to pick up our family over two different flights, saving short term airport parking fees.
  • We ate most of our meals in at our Kiawah Island Resort cottage. We had a three bedroom house reserved for our family trip, and one $130 trip to Super Walmart covered six people for seven breakfasts, seven lunches and four dinners. With the beach one block away, and the resort pool across the street, we rarely had need to leave the property.
  • We bought our gas off the resort's property, saving 30 cents a gallon.
  • Asked about, and received, a student discount for my visiting niece when we visited one of the area's large plantations, shaving 50% of her admission fee. 
  • We used Trip Advisor to find fun, tasty, casual southern BBQ joints to treat our family to three dinners out. Each one delivered, but the winner, hands down was Swig and Swine Wood Fired BBQ. It was insanely delicious, very reasonable at $9.00 per meal, and we are still all talking about our pulled pork sandwiches days later.

Bonus Frugal Thing:
  • Related to the last item above, we told our family the first round was on Mom and Dad, the second and subsequent rounds were on them. I feel like beverages and alcohol can sink a budget faster than anything when dining out! (PS - No one ordered second rounds. :-)

And one frugal fail:
  • Bought our granddaughter a cute ball covered with butterflies at the resort for a ridiculous $13.00. Saw a similar-enough ball at the market outside the resort for $2.99. But, granddaughter . . . need I say more?

We are off to the city of Charleston this morning, after dropping the family off at the airport. We have a VRBO reserved right in the center of the historic district, and we are excited to finally see this southern city by the harbor that people seem to love so much.

Make it a memorable day wherever you are!

Images from our time in Kiawah Island this past week, from left to right, 1) Middleton Plantation, 2) Angel Oak Tree, and 3) Beautiful Kiawah Island beach.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Greetings from the Carolinas!


We are in the midst of a family stay in Kiawah Island, and in that that includes our two and 1/2 year old granddaughter, things have been busy, busy, busy! But we are having a wonderful time, and I know it's going to be sadly quiet once she heads home, so we are embracing all the noise and activity of her while we can.

Here's a peek at what we've been up to since departing Metro-DC last Wednesday:

A new state for our list, #29!
Enjoyed a spooky Ghost Walk in Old Town Wilmington, NC.
It thundered and rained the entire walk, which made for even more spooky fun!

Our Wilmington VRBO was right across from this river walk, which made it so easy
to leave our car parked  and travel by foot and water taxi during our entire three night stay.

This turned out to be an unexpected highlight - a full top to bottom tour of the USS Battleship North Carolina. Traveling there and back by water taxi added to the fun!

We toured our first antebellum mansion while in North Carolina.

Then onto South Carolina, another first, #30 on our list. leaving just 20 more states to go!

Our first stop in South Carolina - Kiawah Island Resort, and this sign!!!

What brought us to Kiawah Island is this little cutie. As a family we enjoy getting together as often as we can, even with our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter newly settled on the east coast, and Kiawah Island Resort was driveable for them, plus full of activities for both grown ups and kiddos. 

The family that vaca's together stays together!
We're here for another few days, then the 'kids' all go home, and we move onto Charleston for some serious eats along with our sightseeing. I had been checking daily for last minute cancellations at Charleston's hottest restaurant, Husk, and something opened up yesterday that works perfectly into our stay there next week, so 'yeah' for diligence!

Make it a memorable day wherever you are!

Sunrise on Kiawah Island this morning.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

March In A Sentence A Day

Greetings! Today I'm joining in with some other fab bloggers to share how we spent our month in just one sentence a day. Editing myself down to just a single sentence was tough, I discovered - apparently it's much easier for me to be wordy than concise! And, although I did manage to limit each day to just one sentence, there might be a few that qualify as run-ons. (Insert blush emoji here)

Poor sentence structuring not withstanding, it was really interesting to look back and see how the month went. My takeaway is that while it was a pretty diverse month, I think it could have been even more so with just a little additional effort. So I'm doubling down in April . . . stay tuned!

Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to see who else is participating,
and to visit their blogs for additional March Sentence A Day inspiration!

March In A Sentence A Day
  1. I am so thankful for the technology that let me 'attend' an art class broadcast live from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.
  2. Attended my bi-weekly Chalice Circle, where 12 people share on a variety of topics in a safe, non-judgemental gathering. 
  3. Hosted my niece and her friend, both in for the weekend from Texas. 
  4. Enjoyed a long, hilly hike with my niece and her friend, followed by a delicious late breakfast afterward at one of my favorite OC breakfast cafes, Alicia's Cookery.
  5. Booked back-to-back early 2018 trips to New Zealand and Australia with Road Scholar, plus Fiji and American Samoa as on-our-own extensions. 
  6. Enjoyed an eight mile hike with my spouse under perfect 70 degree winter-blue skies. 
  7. Had lunch with a friend who may not succeed in overcoming her battle with lung cancer, which put my life into perspective pronto.
  8. Backyard re-landscaping project finally completed!
  9. Enjoyed a gorgeous, sunny walk along Seal Beach this afternoon, prior to meeting our daughter for dinner at her nearby apartment.
  10. Attended a wine tasting dinner with our wine society featuring a viticulture talk and pours from the winemaker at Alexander Valley Vineyards.
  11. Enjoyed a fun drinks & dinner get together with friends that got even more fun after we'd all enjoyed some Moscow Mules.
  12. After returning home from our third night out in a row, this time a Mardi Gras-themed jazz festival, agreed that we're no longer up to burning the candle at both ends!
  13. Incredibly interesting book club discussion about John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent, which turned out to be a compelling study of the ramifications of our choices when they are less than moral.
  14. Lazy, do-not-much day. the result of the house being torn up again for our latest remodeling project, leaving me no place to land.
  15. A great discussion over dinner with our movie group about the recently Oscar-nominated film Lion. 
  16. Toured a fabulous Pop Art Exhibit at the OC Museum of Art, with my art alliance group, followed by lunch at Tommy Bahama Newport Beach, which unfortunately ended on a less-than-positive note when one of my tablemates insisted on bringing up politics. 
  17. Listened to Pandora on my new iPhone for the first time during a six mile race walk, meaning current, fast, pop music the entire time.
  18. Fabulous musical concert and Mexican food dinner with a big group of friends from our Lifelong Learning program.
  19. Did a glorious eight hike in our recently reopened neighborhood state park, closed for months due to rare, non-stop S. California winter rainstorms.
  20. Excited - our new office cabinetry started going in!
  21. Depressed - discovered that the change order for our office countertops got misfiled, so completion will not be occurring today as originally scheduled. 
  22. Motivated to raise the bar on the adventurous side of life after attending the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour tonight.
  23. Attended a very funny musical, Something Happened On The Way To The Forum, by Stephen Sondheim.
  24. Dinner with our Foreign Foods group at an Irish Pub with delicious cocktails; Macallans Public House
  25. Sent my husband off solo to The Metropolitan Opera - Live in HD event we had tickets for in order to stay home, boo, because installation of our office hardwood flooring got moved from the 24th to today at the last minute.
  26. Dinner at the scenic Coliseium Grill, located poolside at The Resort at Pelican Hill.
  27. Packed, emptied the fridge and printed lots of docs for our upcoming trip.
  28. Flew to metro-DC to see our granddaughter, yeah!
  29. Watched Played with our granddaughter all day while Mom and Dad were at work . . . so fun!
  30. A very patriotic visit to Fort McHenry, the place where Francis Scott Key penned The Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812.
  31. Spent rainy day inside doing detailed trip planning for our upcoming overnight stays in Wilmington, NC, Charleston, SC and Richmond, VA.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What's For Dinner Wednesday - On The Road Version

Today is Wednesday, the day I normally do my menu planning and grocery shopping when we are at home. In that we are not at home, but are instead traveling on the east coast, I do things a little differently, and I thought it might be fun to review how meal planning works on the road vs at home.

At home, I budget a flat $100 a week for groceries, and have found that adequate for almost six years now, using my first year of retirement in 2011 as a starting baseline. It's easy to stay on budget at home in that I cook most of our dinners from scratch, we generally end up with leftovers to incorporate into other meals, and the majority of our meals are built around the low priced and abundant legumes, grains and produce available year round in S. California.

On the road, this is obviously much more of a challenge. First and foremost, once we leave S. California produce availability seems to diminish, and prices to rise. Plus it's much less convenient to cook from scratch most of the time in that I don't have access to the plethora of herbs, spices, utensils and prep space I do when at home. And while, sure, we could eat out each and every meal, that's really not practical for a couple of reasons - 1) it's expensive to do so, and 2) it's calorie prohibitive!

And that 2nd reason scares me far more than the first!

So when we are traveling around like we are currently, I simplify and scale back to accommodate our desire to eat healthy and stay on budget, while still allowing ample opportunities to enjoy the wonderful regional foods that help make travel so much fun.

Shopping day on the road consists primarily of stocking up on easy, healthy breakfasts and snacks. Breakfast for me on the road is generally yogurt and a banana. For my husband it's generally a granola bar and a banana. Day after day after day, yep, but it's easy to accommodate, grocery wise,and it's easy to travel with in that yogurt can handle being non-refrigerated in between VRBO's and hotels.

Road food!
Coffee in the morning is a must, and anywhere we might stay is going to provide either a coffee pot or a way to heat water, so we purchase both ground coffee and instant coffee packets, plus powdered non-dairy creamer.

I also grab a couple of sets of plastic utensils from the first place I can, and keep those in my purse as we travel along. Super handy to have on hand, along with napkins. Lots of napkins!

Road snacks are bags of nuts, usually almonds, and bags of baby carrots. Baby carrots are pretty darn sturdy, and seem to be able to go a good long time without being refrigerated similar to yogurt.

OK, so that's it for the boring stuff! But it is important, even if boring, in that it helps keep our nutrition on track, it's all calorie friendly, it's fairly high energy, abd it's certainly budget friendly.

Our approach for lunch, coffee breaks and dinner is much more fun, while still being as true to the above as we can.

For lunch we generally look for interesting, highly rated local joints and then share something, usually a sandwich or burger of some sort. And the more interesting the better! We've enjoyed street tacos, fish tacos, artisan sandwiches of every shape and style, artisan grilled sandwiches (even better!), wood fired pizzas, homemade soups with bread, and fab burgers ranging from black bean to bison. The share is the key here, along with passing on the fries whenever possible, plus avoiding places that involve tipping - we generally have lots to see over any given day, and while we want to enjoy what we are eating, we want to do it relatively fast!

And we walk everywhere we possibly can. Seriously, we walk and walk and walk as much as we possibly can, hopefully at least five miles a day.

Our midday break is usually a coffee stop at the best rated local coffee spot we can find. We try our best to avoid whatever sweet treats might be calling our name, and instead break out some nuts to go along with our fresh brew - moderation, moderation, moderation!

So with all those walking calories burned, food calories kept to a minimum, and the wallet happily accommodated, we are well positioned going into the evening hours. Because the thing we look the most forward to when traveling is dinner! We really, really, really enjoying eating dinner out each night, hoping to find memorable, delicious food unlike what we can eat at home. We've discovered over time that while we are fine, fine, fine with fast and casual for lunch, even standing or walking around while eating at times, we do prefer a more relaxed, sit down setting at dinner. And since we've been so frugal in handling breakfast, snacks and lunch, we can loosen up the purse strings a bit for dinners.

One of our dinner restaurant selection rules is no restaurant chains! Having a couple of restaurant locations is OK as long as one of them isn't on our side of the coast (!), but that's it. My experience in eating at a whole lot of restaurants over the years is that something gives once a restaurant becomes corporate, so we avoid them whenever possible.

So in that we have a solid week of dining out dinners ahead of us, I thought it would be fun to give you a peek of some of the places we'll be dining over the next few weeks.

Cassey's Buffet, BBQ and Home Cookin' - I confess, this one scares me a bit, but it got such terrific reviews on Trip Advisor, I feel like we have to give it a try.

The Fat Hen - This one is a splurge, and I can't wait! A Trip Advisor fan favorite described as refined, French lowcountry cuisine.

Five Loaves Cafe - This cafe focuses on healthy, sustainable, local food.

Pearlz Oyster Bar - My spouse and I are oyster virgins, so we've decided it's time to put an end to all that, and this looks like a great place to do it!

Poogan's Porch - With a name like that, how could we not eat here???

Leon's Fine Poultry and Oysters - According to Conde Nast, this unassuming joint is supposed to have the best fried chicken in the South, and we are so there!

Mama J's Kitchen - Advertised as one of the South's premier soul food experiences, it should be a great way to bring our trip to a close later this month.

So to circle back where I started, our On The Road grocery budget covers breakfasts, snacks, lunches and coffee breaks, leaving just dinners to be covered under our general travel funds.

And our daily walkabouts should balance out our dinner calorie splurges.  Or at least, that's the plan!