Category Archives: Travel

I went to Virginia and all I got was drunk – Part II

Halloween morning the other girls slept in but my body is used to waking up between 7 and 8 and sure enough I was awake by 8.  So I spent the quiet time working on Fred’s birthday present (more on that in a later post).  Once I popped the crème brulee French toast in the oven, though, the girls started to stir.

After the delicious breakfast, we headed out to our first winery for the day, Jefferson Vineyards.  It rests just south of Monticello on land that was originally Jefferson’s.  He had something like 5,000 acres of land and part of it was for growing grapes for wine.  The vineyard isn’t that big now, of course, but it rests on his land, ergo the namesake.  The tasting room was busy, but there were plenty of people to pour wine and still take the time to chat with us.  They asked for the tasting fee up front (some wineries wait until after the tasting and if you buy a bottle, will comp the fee).  However, the glasses we used were for us to keep.  They were nice, too, with the vineyard’s name etched in them.

We went on a short tour of the vineyard then.  Even though we’d already been to three wineries that weekend, this was our first tour.  After a brief history lesson, our guide took us around the outside of the facility.  He showed us the crates the grapes were placed in and then the two pieces of equipment used to extract the juice.  Which machine they used depended on if they were making white or red wine, which actually had nothing to do with the color of the grapes.  Who knew?  Red wine grapes start the fermenting process right away and their skins are left on to extract the color into the wine.  Then after fermenting for however long they need, they are squeezed.  White wine grapes are squeezed first and then fermented.

Inside the facility, we saw the steel fermenting containers and a room full of barrels of wine.  Each barrel holds approximately 300 bottles worth of wine.  The guide explained a process for getting the most flavor out of the oak barrels.  I can’t even describe everything that has to be done to the wine but let me just say that I never knew that so much work went into the aging process!  No wonder wine is so expensive.

After the tour, we bought a fair amount of wine and had the cashier open a bottle for us.  We took it, along with a cheddar cheese ball and crackers, outside.  The Monticello area is filled with trees and hills.  So we sat atop the vineyard hill and sipped and ate.  The sky was a bright blue, the trees were turning, and the sun was warm.  It was nice to sit and relax for awhile.

There were other vineyards on our list and other activities as well, but we didn’t want to rush around.  After our midday snack of wine and cheese, we went back to Jess’ house to get ready for the trick-or-treaters.  Jess dressed as a witch.  Missy was a rejected leprechaun (pretty much her outfit consisted of mis-matched green articles of clothing), I was a pathetic-looking Wonder Woman*, and Kate was a Southern Belle.  She had the whole she-bang.  See, Kate and Missy’s family participates in a lot of Civil War reenactments and Kate had her reenactment ball gown with her.  (She even sewed it herself.  I was very impressed!)  However, getting the costume on proved to be a challenge, a very hilarious challenge.  The bodice was a bit tight and Kate’s, er, womanly features had grown since she’d made the gown.  It started with Missy trying to get the bodice over Kate’s chest but it was not a one-man job.  So I stepped in.  We pushed and pulled but with no avail.  I called in Jess to help.  At that point, our faces were red from laughing so hard.  It took all three of us, pushing and pulling, to get that damn bodice onto Kate’s body.  In the end, though, she looked really good.

We sat outside to welcome the trick-or-treaters.  There were some really cute kids.  The most memorable ones were the young, charming boys.  One seven-year-old was dressed as a prince, with a gold crown and a red robe.  He walked up to us and proclaimed, “I’m a prince!”  So much for saying “Trick or treat”.  He thought Kate was a princess and she went along with it because who wants to explain a Civil War Southern Belle to a seven-year-old?  Before he left, I heard him say to Kate, “Prince and princesses belong together.”  Another charmer was a three-year-old dressed as a dinosaur.  He was rather shy but with a little push from Dad, he came up to us and held out his bag.  He didn’t say anything.  Kate asked him if he could roar so he gave out a meager “Rawr”.  We all acted impressed and scared so he roared again, this time louder.  Again, we pretended to be terrified.  A smile lit up his face as he watched our reactions.  He roared again, even louder.  Later, we could hear him roaring at the neighbors’ houses.

Before the night was over, Jess and I wanted to recreate one of our favorite Halloween pictures from our childhood.  The original:

I was the witch and Jess was Wonder Woman.  How cute are we?  Fast forward approximately 25 years and here we have…


Obviously, we’re not wearing the original costumes.

We cut the evening’s activities short because we had to be up early to head out on the road.  Missy had to work Monday evening and Fred had tickets to an NFL game for us (more on that later).  So, after a brief stint of sleep, we headed back on the road at 4am.  It’s not my favorite time of day, that’s for sure, but there was little traffic and overall, we ended up making great time.  Yes, it was a lot of driving for a 4-day weekend but it was worth it.  I love my sister and my cousins and being around them made it all worthwhile.

*Jess made me a crown out of construction paper.  At the right angle, it looked like the Pope’s hat.  Just look:

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Posted by on November 17, 2010 in About me, Food, Travel


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I went to Virginia and all I got was drunk – Part I

For Halloween weekend, my cousins, Missy and Kate, and I headed out on a road trip.  Our destination: Virginia and Jess for a fun-filled girls’ weekend.  After 11 non-exciting hours in the car (and standing behind the most indecisive person at Subway) we pulled up to Jess’ recently purchased townhouse.

As she gave us the grand tour, my mind filled with images of décor and paint.  I mentally spent the money Jess didn’t have to make the house over in her style.  We then made an alcohol and pizza run settled in for a night of food, drinking, and Euchre.

The next day we started out on the road again, this time to take in several vineyards and wineries of Virginia.  We did not lack choices; Virginia is riddled with them.  Jess and I are not wine connoisseurs (yet) but Kate and Missy know quite a bit, so we took their lead.  The first winery was up in the hills, through winding roads lined with orange and red leafed trees.  DuCard Vineyards is a small, organic winery.  We were the only ones there early in the morning.  Our host was a young man and when he spoke, I’m surprised the four of us didn’t swoon visibly.  A thick French accent came from his mouth, dimples on his cheek as he smiled at us.  None of us caught his name so we’ll just call him Pierre.

Pierre started to tell us about the first wine but then stopped in the middle of his speech.  “Can you understand my accent?” he asked.  It took me a second to figure out what he was asking, but once I did, I nodded and smiled.  It was a beautiful accent and I didn’t want him to stop.  I don’t think the other girls did, either.  We continued on and I watched Kate and Missy.  I swirled when they swirled, sipped when they sipped, ate a cracker when they ate a cracker.

Not surprisingly, I enjoyed the sweeter wines.  Kate assured me that when she started drinking wine, she started with the sweeter and went drier.  I still tried the dry wines because one never knows if something will strike her fancy.  I actually liked a few of the dry wines but not enough to actually buy them.  Kate also explained that red wines go well with red meat but I could try it with pasta and red sauce instead.  I will, too, but I wasn’t willing to spend twenty dollars on a bottle of red yet.

After the tasting, we bought our favorites and headed outside.  The first thing out of my mouth was, “He was cute!”  (Fred, if there were a cute French girl there, I wouldn’t have minded if you had looked.)

Pierre recommended Sharp Rock Vineyards and gave us directions from DuCard Vineyard.  It wasn’t too far so we went there next.  It was warming up outside and between the weather, the scenery, and the wine coursing through my body, I was in a great place and I was with my girls.  Who could ask for anything better?

Sharp Rock Vineyards rested by a creek in the hills.  The tasting room was in the attic of a converted barn.  We walked into the barn and the first floor had barrels of wine sanctioned off but there was no room to just stand and look.  We went upstairs and went to the counter.  There were other people tasting there but there were two people pouring the wine.  Because it was busy we didn’t have one-on-one service and the people couldn’t stop to chat about the wine as much.  Plus, they weren’t French or cute.  Still, I bought a bottle of wine, as did Kate, and we headed out again.

We had plans for 2pm but we still had some time to kill so we went to Prince Michel Vineyard.  They were busy as well, but they had more than enough staff to pour and talk about the wines.  They had a wide variety of wine glasses and accessories.  It was pleasant, except for the drunk woman by us, who was shouting at the lady helping us, “Why didn’t you ask for my ID?”

It was nearing two so we left for the Library of Congress (the audio/visual conservation branch) in Culpeper.  Every weekend they screen a movie and that day they were screening Young Frankenstein.  Despite my love for Mel Brooks, I had only seen the movie once before and this was a chance to see it on the big screen (for free, none-the-less!).  The Library of Congress did not disappoint.  The theater, which holds about 250 people, was practically full.  There were plush chairs, beautiful lights, and the ceiling was painted like the night sky.  Before the movie started, a guy gave an introduction for it, informing us of some trivia about the film, like how Mel Brooks appeared as a gargoyle.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, mostly consisting of more drinking and Euchre.

…To be concluded…

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Posted by on November 16, 2010 in About me, Food, Travel


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That’s okay, Sparky

My long weekend: Day Four

Today I found out that I am not actually dating Fredo from The Godfather. I am dating Clark Griswald of National Lampoon. Oh, he still looks like Fredo but he (self admitted) acts like Clark. Perhaps I should elaborate.

All summer Fred has wanted to go to an amusement park. We missed out on one during our trip to Michigan because of unfavorable weather. I’d been shuffling my feet back and forth as Fred attempted to talk me into a trip to King’s Island in Cincinatti. Fred seeks thrills while I prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground. But a good partner will challenge you to face your fears and that’s what Fred did. So we decided to take a road trip to Holiday World in Santa Clause, Indiana (in the southern tip) because it has the tamest rides of all the parks around. After dropping Jess off at the airport early on Tuesday, Fred and I made the three and a half hour trip to the amusement park.

It was a beautiful day so we drove with the windows down. The roads cut through farmland and tree spotted hills. As we finally neared Holiday World, the crest of one of the rollercoasters rose out of the trees. Surprisingly, I didn’t wet myself. We turned the corner and immediately noticed that something was wrong. The rides were stilled and the parking lot was completely empty.

“I can’t believe it!” Fred exclaimed. We both cursed a little bit but then started to laugh. It was more of a “If I don’t laugh I’ll cry” kind of a laugh, though.

“Well, what now?” I asked. There wasn’t anything else to see or do in Santa Clause.

“Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom isn’t too far from here.”

“Okay,” I replied, “but first why don’t you look up their hours on your Blackberry.”

Fred scrolled through his internet search and then cursed again. “Kentucky Kingdom permanently closed their doors earlier this year! I can’t believe it! I never got a chance to go there!”

“Well, what about Mammoth Cave?” I suggested. It was no amusement park but we enjoyed walking around nature.

“That’s kind of far. How would you feel about King’s Island?”

I shook my head. “Also too far.”

We got out the road atlas and looked around the area for someplace to go, something to do. We were determined not to let our day be ruined.

“Spring Mill Park has caves and it’s on our way home,” suggested Fred. I nodded in agreement and we headed off.

It was another hour and a half before we came to the park. As we approached the entrance we read a sign warning that the caves were closed to stop the spread of some disease. But we decided that we’d come this far so we might as well go in.

There was a pioneer villiage at the park. We walked around there and watched cornmeal be made at the mill. We then walked up the small path to the dam in the river but the rest of the trail was closed off. There was a cave up ahead but we couldn’t even get close. We were about to leave the park when Fred said he wanted to see the Gus Grissom memorial that they had there. He’d seen it before, years ago, but I’d never seen it. We pulled into the parking lot and got out. Before we could even get to the end of the car, a securiy guard popped her head out the door. “We’re closed!” she announced. “Of course,” both Fred and I muttered in return.

We made our way home and, upon arrival, watched National Lampoon’s Vacation. We laughed and while I noticed some similarities between Fred and Clark, there were more differences. Fred did not go crazy then hold up a security guard at gunpoint, forcing him to go on all the rides. He did not tie my beloved pet to the back of the car and then drive off. And he most certainly did not go skinny dipping with Christie Brinkley, though he probably wouldn’t mind that.

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Posted by on August 27, 2010 in About me, Travel


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Diary of a wimpy adult

In Kalamazoo, Michigan is a zoo that is unlike any other. There are no animals but there are plenty of rides and a lot of attractions. It is the Air Zoo where one can see and experience the history of flight.

Fred, his parents, and I went to the Air Zoo on our second day in Michigan. While I was growing up, Dad took the family to several air museums. As a kid, I found them rather boring. I wanted to zip around the exhibits as quickly as possible and get back in the car. However, as only grownups can seem to do, my parents wanted to take their time and read each description of the planes. But the brochure of the Air Zoo showed more than just planes; it also had rides.

The first ride Fred and I hopped on was a “hot air balloon” ride. It was mechanical and it spun in circles while swooping up and down. I really enjoyed it but the circling caused Fred to be nauseous. We then joined with his parents for a 4-D battle flight experience. The seats moved and air blew in our faces at intervals, not only giving the audience the sensation of wind but also the smell of plane exhaust. While I liked how they incorporated smell, I was a bit disappointed at the rest of it. I thought that the seats would move constantly, dipping us back and to the sides. But the chairs only moved back and only a couple of times. I left the “ride” wanting more.

The next ride was a flight simulator. Basically it was an elaborate computer game that two people could play. The participants were strapped into their seats, each with controls at their side.  One was the pilot and the other was a gunner.  Then a lid came down over them, completely trapping them in a tiny box. The game screen was projected in front of them and they had complete control of what happened while they were in there.

As I stood in line with Fred, I saw most of the boxes doing barrel rolls and hanging either straight up or straight down. I quickly lost my nerve. I figured that Fred, who loves rollercoasters, wouldn’t let me, Ms. Chicken Shit, get away without doing at least one barrel roll. It wasn’t that I was just afraid of the ride, either. I was afraid of throwing up and I hate the thought of throwing just as much as the act itself. So I stepped out of line and let Fred’s dad, who was also a thrill seeker, ride with him.

As they climbed aboard, I yelled out, “You can always ditch in the ocean!”  Fred’s mom and I watched the monitor that showed us what they were seeing inside the ride. Less than a minute into their flight, the plane headed straight for the water. “I was only joking,” I thought but maybe they were just having fun. Then, suddenly, the whole contraption flipped around and their simulator was facing the opposite direction it had started in. It was then that I felt right in my decision not to go on the ride.

Next to the flight simulator was an exhibit called “The Fly Girls of WWII” which featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).  Each woman was listed with a picture and brief biography.  Original uniforms were displayed on mannequins.  There was also a short history on the WASP mascot, Fifi, which was drawn by Disney animators and based on a Roald Dahl character.

We then looked at the long and sleek Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird.  (Yeah, I didn’t know what it was at first, either.)  This plane was built by NASA to spy (on what, I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with America’s enemies).  It was painted completely black and the aerodynamics of it were stunning.  It could reach a speed of Mach 3!  It was quite a sight to behold.

Next to the spy plane was another ride, this time a trip on a shuttle to the space station.  It was another mild ride, but definitely more exciting than the 4-D ride.  That was the end of the first building so we took a break and had a snack from the Kitty Hawk Cafe.  We skipped the gift store (“Fly Buy Store”) entirely and headed for the East Campus.  Here visitors could pay for a plane ride where they took hold of the control themselves.  Even if it had been free, I wouldn’t have done it!  We stuck to the exhibits, which were all about space, instead.

A tiny capsule caught my attention right away.  It was just big enough to hold a toddler.  Right below the one window were three handles, each a different color.  Curious, I read about the odd contraption.  It turned out to be what the monkeys trained in to prepare for flight in space.  The handles were part of a series of tests.  If the monkey did well, he got a banana pellet.  If he did poorly, then there was no pellet.  To help kids understand (or perhaps just to keep them entertained) there was a video version of the tests to play.  I started out doing fine but…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not a monkey in the space program.

Despite having watched Apollo 13 (one of my all-time favorite movies) right before heading out on our trip, I still couldn’t comprehend the size of the shuttle.  Well, the Air Zoo helped put it in perspective for me.  There was one burner set up so that one could walk underneath it.  It was bigger than I’d imagined from watching movies, and to think that the shuttles had four of those on it blew my mind!

Fred and I tried our hand at docking a station.  The first time around, I was in control of the direction while he was in control of the speed.  I veered off to the right and then over-corrected the mistake.  It was more difficult than it looked so I made Fred switch places with me to see if he could do any better.  He wasn’t able to dock on the first try either, although he was a lot closer than I was.

We then walked through a recreated shuttle that depicted how everyday tasks were handled in space.  I learned that astronauts have to wear a snorkeling mask when showering so the water doesn’t go up their noses.  Then they have to vacuum off the water from the walls and their skin.  It was also interesting to see their sleeping quarters and bathrooms.  Everything looked a lot more complicated and in such a tinier area!

We were forced to bypass the Zero Gravity ride because it had a maximum waist requirement of 38 inches.  That was one of the rides I’d been looking forward to so I was quite disappointed when I learned I couldn’t go on it.  Fred wanted to go on the Space Ball, a contraption that rolls two people around and around.  I didn’t want to go (again, I didn’t want to throw up) and this time I was happy to see a maximum weight capacity that forced me to sit out.  Instead, Fred went on the ride with someone else who wanted to go and didn’t have a partner.  I watched as Fred was spun around in every which direction.  He looked like he was having fun but the ride left his nauseated.  The rest of us were ready to go anyway, as we had a long car ride still ahead of us.

Aside from Fred’s nausea, the four of us left Michigan in good spirits.  It’d been a fun weekend.  I can’t wait to go back some time and experience more…with my feet firmly on the ground, of course!

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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in About me, Travel


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Michigan: come for the beaches but don’t stay at Days Inn

“I need to use the restroom,” I said to Fred as we whizzed by a Marathon station.

“A little heads up would be nice,” he responded.

“It comes on suddenly,” chimed in his mom from the back seat.

I turned around, trying to face her.  “Thank you!  Finally I have someone on my side who understands!”  I am notorious for having a small bladder, which is especially apparent on road trips.  Fred’s mom has the same affliction.  It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one in the car who frequently had to stop.

“Alright,” Fred said, “the next gas station I see we’ll stop.”

The four of us, me, Fred, and his parents, were taking a weekend mini-vacation to Michigan.  Specifically we were headed for Muskegon Beach.  Fred and his parents thought of the trip idea Friday afternoon.  Fred’s parents are on vacation this week but didn’t have any plans made.  When the idea of going to Michigan came up, they asked us to go with them.  It sounded like a fun way to spend our time.  We’d been trying to think of things to do on the weekend and there’s only so much one can do in town.  Fred also wanted to be outside as much as possible but it’s been so hot lately that it’s not much fun to be outside for very long.  What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to go to the beach?  And since we live in the Midwest, our choices were a bit limited.  We quickly accepted the invitation.

“There’s a gas station,” Fred said as he started to pull the car over.

“Not a BP!” I exclaimed.

“Why?  Are you afraid of spills?”

I tried to glare at him but he didn’t buy it, probably because of the smile on my lips.

We got on the road a little late so by the time 2 o’clock rolled around, we were still 2 hours away from our destination.  Fred suggested something closer and so we found Silver Beach in St. Joseph.  As we circled through the town trying to find a spot to park, we kept seeing throngs of people lugging beach gear and heading toward Michigan Lake.  Finally we opted to pay for parking and pulled up to a lot.  The attendant said it was $20 but we figured we’d be looking for another hour if we didn’t take him up on the offer.  I forked over the bill but not without grumbling, “Boy, you’re making a killing today.”

We gathered our stuff and headed for the beach.  Apparently the crowd we saw was not only there for the beach but also for a festival.  Carnival rides were set up alongside food and game booths.  A sign warned us about prohibited items:

We couldn’t figure out why the word “dogs” was in quotes so we continued on.

The sand was hot beneath our feet and we wasted no time getting in the water.  It’d been close to 15 years since I went swimming in a lake and that was a much smaller lake (I’d felt the algae brush my feet in that lake).  The waves swept over us as we waded in.  The water wasn’t too cold, but just cool enough to be relaxing.

We stayed at the beach for a couple of hours, drying out in the sun between swims.  When we were ready for dinner, we headed back out the way we came.  There was a little street with a bunch of cute shops that we’d passed on the way down.  There was a cafe in particular that caught our eye.  It was the Chocolate Cafe.  There was more than just chocolate there, of course.  There was soup and sandwiches (on top of ice cream, cheesecakes, and espresso drinks).  The chocolate was made by the South Bend Chocolate Company, an establishment to whom I like to give my money.  The jumbo milk turtles are my favorite and worth every penny.

After dinner we headed to our hotel in Grand Rapids.  The combination of being out in the sun, all the walking, and riding in a car put me to sleep (car rides always put me to sleep).  We stayed at the Days Inn and of all the places I’ve stayed in my 29 years, this one was my least favorite.  Our first room had dead ants on the floor in the bathroom.  While I was glad they were dead, I was not happy to see that no one could be bothered to sweep them up.  Fred told the front desk and we were hoping that they would upgrade us to one of the jacuzzi rooms, but instead they just bumped us down the hall.  The room appeared fine and so we settled in for the night.

At least, we tried to.  Fred sat down on the bed and let out a moan.

“Soft?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “Come here.”

I sat on the bed.  There was no give to it, no bounce.  The thing was like cement.

Now, you have to understand that Fred prefers a soft mattress while I like something firmer.  His mattress at home is nice and soft and I do enjoy sleeping in it.  I think my mattress is still rather soft with the pillow-top but Fred claims that it’s made of marble.  So, since I thought this hotel mattress was hard, imagine what Fred thought it felt like!

We showered the sand out of hair and scrubbed the lake residue off our skin.  There was no shampoo and the body soap left our skin feeling dry.  When I dried off, I remarked to Fred how not soft the towels were.  “They feel like sandpaper!” he agreed.

“I think they’re supposed to exfoliate your skin,” I said, “while simultaneously removing it.”

I spent the night tossing, trying to get comfortable.  With no give in the mattress, my back felt stiff and it hurt slightly.  I tried to give my neck some support by hugging the pillow, but that caused my arms to frequently fall asleep.  The majority of the night was spent with my bones creaking as I stretched my legs and back so they wouldn’t stiffen up.  When morning came, I shot out of bed and refused to touch it again, even just to sit on it to put my shoes on.

As we were getting ready to leave, I called Fred into the bathroom.  I pointed to the ceiling above the shower.  It was leaking.  At that point we just had to laugh.  Next time, we figured, we would spend the extra $20 and stay at the Comfort Inn.

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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in About me, Travel


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