“Rollin’ on the River”

One of the most relaxing times my girlfriends and I had during our visit to Pittsburgh was our leisurely cruise on the Gateway Clipper just checking out the landscapes along the banks of the three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers! The water splashing along the sides and the cool breeze were a nice backdrop for the scenery. Actually there are five boats in the fleet with a capacity for holding 2,500 passengers.

Alice enjoying the view

We set sail from Station Square on the Monongahela for a one hour guided tour and headed straight for the top deck where we had an unobstructed view of the city. The guide was a font of information as she pointed out the skylines buildings along with tidbits of their history. It occurred to me how much we lose out when we just look at a building without really knowing its importance. It was a mix of old and new architecture and all shapes and sizes. At the point where the three rivers joined, though still under construction, was a gorgeous landscape feature. And right next door the famous Three Rivers Stadium.

In addition to the one hour sightseeing cruise that we took, there are other tours available from a dining cruise to private weddings or corporate events. For more information on the fleet or for reservations visit them at www.gatewayclipper.com.

Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival

 

This was my first visit to Micanopy, Florida and my first craft festival of the year. I know the word quaint is overused but that is the word I would pick to describe this little town filled with antique shops, casual dining places, bed and breakfasts and restored Victorian houses. The people were friendly and our group of 9 girlfriends just had ourselves a great girl’s day out. It was less than an hour’s drive up I 75 from Ocala, heading north – perfect for a day trip.

The main street, Cholokka Boulevard, was PACKED with over 200 artists, crafters and food vendors. It was so thick with visitors though that it was difficult to see the wares. But we had a good time people watching and soaking up the excitement. Under a big tree near town center an impromptu stage was set up where musicians, dancers, and singers performed during the day that lent an air of gaiety as we strolled along.

This year’s festival went green by asking the food vendors to choose biodegradable products – which made me a fan right away. All the proceeds from the event went to non-profit church, youth and historical organizations to help out with their operating costs.

I am looking forward to returning to Micanopy again to enjoy the town and shops.

The Frick, Pittsburgh, PA

Right in the middle of the hustling streets of Pittsburgh, hidden behind a tree lined fence is The Frick. The complex houses an art museum, a car and carriage museum, a playhouse* a greenhouse and the Clayton – the Frick family home.

To give a little background, Henry Clay Frick was a noted industrialist and art collector. While on his honeymoon with new wife Adelaide, he met Andrew Carnegie and from that meeting they formed a partnership between H. C. Frick and Company and Carnegie Steel Company – the forerunner of United States Steel.

He had a daughter, Helen Clay Frick, who left as legacy, the museum and extensive art.

The day we visited The Frick we entered the grounds though an enormous rod iron gate that was surrounded by a red brick, rose-covered wall that encased the complex. The first building was the Car and Carriage Museum which housed the horse-drawn and horseless carriages the Frick family used during the gilded age.

To the left of that was the Frick Art Museum which I am sorry to say we never got to as we took so long seeing the rest of the compound. I hear the paintings, artifacts, and sculptures range from the 12th to 18th centuries. Something to go back to see!

Mary and Alice – Ready for lunch!

We had a luncheon reservation at The Café at the Frick outside under the awning facing the gardens. It was a wonderfully refined and girlie thing to do and we had such a good time. Teas and a Sunday brunch can also be enjoyed there.

Lunch-carrot and peach soup, crab melt on brioche and lemon tart

One of the fun things we looked at was this darling playhouse*. It was really a full sized cottage that I would love to live in!! It was the playhouse for little Helen. Now it is a gift and museum shop.

Alice, Mary and Janice in front of playhouse

Adjacent to it is a working greenhouse where flowers and vegetables (served at the Café) are grown. Outside there is also a very interesting garden with some unusual plants.

Janice – are giving a tour of the greenhouse?

Lastly, is the Frick family’s late 19th century home called the Clayton where 90% of the furnishings are original. It is beyond what I would call a family home. It is a MANSION. It was closed the day we were there but they do have regular tours. We peeked through the windows and were WOWED!!

Family home

In all we spent an entire morning to early afternoon but we also had afternoon plans in a different part of town and had to leave. Could have made a day of it.

The Frick

7227 Reynolds Street

Pittsburgh, PA 15208

TheFrickPittsburgh.org

Girl’s Reunion – Part Three

 

             Standing:Bill, Dave, Mary, Jan, Carolyn, Bob, Alice            Seated:  Sue, Arlene, Liz

In the first part of this series I shared that we four childhood friends made the decision to gather together for a reunion. And in the second part, we planned the where and the how. In this third section, it has finally happened and there is so much to tell that it will have to come in parts as we spent each day. (If you haven’t seen parts one and two, click the link and see us as we looked THEN!!)

This has had to be one of the best decisions I have made in a very long time. While it took us a lot of planning and time to put this together, I could never have imagined the benefits that I have reaped from spending these precious days with my life long friends. The question it left us with was why it had taken us so long to do this and with the promise to repeat in again- soon. Next time, maybe it will be a cruise.

Our decision to start our first reunion where we had our roots was the right one. I think it added an extra dimension to the emotions we shared at this gathering. Through the years, we’ve had brief visits with one or another but never until this time were the four of us together all at one time since we each began our own life’s journeys decades ago. Alice came in from California, Janice was still in Pennsylvania, about a 40 minute drive from the city, Mary from Maryland. I flew up from Florida and spent the night with Mary, who then let me share a ride with her to the Pittsburgh area.

Upon arriving in the Mon Valley, Mary and I took a quick drive through the small town of Charleroi where we spent our youth. This once thriving, booming place was now pretty much depressed. Our high school was gone along with the favorite drug store where we gathered for cherry cokes after school, and the movie theater, shops and dining spots we frequented were all closed. All our special haunts – gone or in decay. The town was a mere shadow of the place I remembered. It somehow felt like losing a cherished friend as the picture that still remained in my mind faded away to this current image. But we still had the first meeting of the four to look forward to later that afternoon and that buoyed our spirits.

I can’t begin to tell you how it felt to be with them all at the same moment. It felt like four pieces to a puzzle slipping into place. Between the hugs, kisses, tears and laughter I can only describe the moment like a rush of pure JOY. It immediately took me back to how tight we were growing up and felt that same closeness and connection today as then. How rare it is to have friendships so true and long lasting.

We had a lovely first dinner that evening at a spot in  Western Pennsylvania called The Speers Street Grill which we capped off with the group photo. We were a lively party of ten that included Mary’s brother Bob and sister-in-law Sue, Janice’s Mom, Liz, and Alice’s husband Bill along with two of her close friends, Carolyn and Dave, all of whom except Bill were still local. We had lively, fun dinner. The staff provided us with our own little room where we could just be ourselves without worry of disturbing other diners. When we were children, our four families lived within several blocks of each other so our parents were good friends as well. So many of our social events were shared not only with family but with these friends as well. They were really like extended family and we felt as at home in each others homes as we would be in our own. Now, Liz is the last of our parents and it was so special that we could spend time with her this first evening.

Following dinner, Mary, Alice and I followed Jan and Liz back to her home in Jeanette for more visiting and more food before heading to our hotel for the night. Back in the hotel, we winded down and finally said our good nights still high from the evening and looking forward to heading to Pittsburgh in the morning. I fell into contented slumber thinking how lucky am I. For tonight, all was right in my little world.

Girls Getaway Part 2

With the premiere of Sex and the City 2, I thought it was just the right time to give the update on my Girls Getaway. The four of us, from left- Mary, Alice, Arlene and Janice-aren’t the same as the four gals in Sex & The City and we aren’t going off on an exotic trip to the desert. But we are just as good friends to each other and it is a sure bet that we are going to have a blast – rehashing the past, updating each other on our lives, and making some new memories too. If you need to catch up on Part One and see what we looked like when we were kids, check here.

Now, finally, four months later, we have decided on where we are going and when. I had no idea how difficult it would be or how long it would take to blend all of our schedules with our own families, work, and other commitments for four women. It was no small task.  But, we did persevere and now we are happy that we were able to be persistent and committed enough to get it done.

After looking at the many options of where to go we finally decided, much to our collective surprise and now, much to our delight, on heading back to where we had our roots and history together – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We will gather there in mid August this summer. It should be quite an adventure.

Each of us is tasked with deciding on some of the sights we’ll visit. Some will be old haunts to see how they have changed over the years and some will be new. So many times people look elsewhere to explore and often neglect the things in their own back yards. I was amazed to find so many interesting places that I never knew about when I lived there!  A lot has changed too over the years,too.  Somethings are gone now.  I am not sure how we will feel when we can’t find the place where we went for a cherry coke after school or the place where we danced on Saturday nights.  But there are a lot of new things that have come to Pittsburgh and the valley, too.

When I lived there, I kind of took it for granted.  Just a dirty steel town I thought.  But today it is a thriving place to go and we are psyched. I will be back for the final chapter after our “sisters” reunion to let you know how we did.

My “Free” Cruise

 

We are back from our “free” cruise. All in all it was fun to get away but as in all things it was a mix of good news and bad news.

It was free and that is always a good thing. Well, almost free anyway. We did have the travel expense, but as we drove from Ocala to West Palm Coast that was a nominal shared expense. And we did have to pay the port tax for the Bahamas. Beyond that, we opted for an upgraded room for an extra $75 each. It allowed us to have this room rather than one that was on a lower level with bunk beds and no window. So it was worth it.

The weather was great. The water was that wonderful blue. The people were friendly so we had a good time making new acquaintances. We did encounter a little rough water about an hour out that lasted for a couple hours – just enough to make my best friend get a little sea sick. ( I hope she still is my best friend after getting her sea sick!! :) ) But after that one episode we had smooth sailing the rest of the way. The Bahamas Celebration is an older vessel and not as grand as say the NCL or the Royal Caribbean, but nonetheless, it offered all the services and activities. There were several dining places, the RIO and THE CRYSTAL ROOM with free seating, although we did need to select a time. Several other casual eateries were also available as was the gourmet, THE COVE, for an additional $25 per person. It suited us to dine at 6 pm rather than 8 and this freed us up to go to the nightly entertainment in the club. There was a nice variety of entertainment and the evenings there were a lot of fun. They also had a duty free gift shop, a spa and a casino.

Margaret and I usually ate our breakfasts topside at the breakfast buffet which was quite extensive. It lacked the ice carvings and elaborate presentations that I found when cruising on NCL or on the smaller ship, the DOLPHIN, but the food was plentiful and good. This was also the site of ongoing dancing, contests, bingo, steel drum bands, etc. going on day and night all through the trip.

The staff was courteous and helpful in every way. Whether we needed an extra blanket to ward off the chill from the AC, a little TLC for my seasick friend, or to bring us endless items to sample at the dining tables, they provided everything with a smile. It occurred to us how hard the staff works on a cruise line.

We had only one port of call on our 2 night, 3 day cruise to Freeport but I will save that for another post.

All in all, it was a nice little getaway. I probably would not pick that cruise line again and would opt for one of the larger lines with more ports of call, and would go for one that was longer than two nights. It felt like we were coming back before I really got into it. Yet, we got more than we paid for and it was worth the two hour time share presentation I suppose.

Tip of the Week – Cruise Tips

 

Having just come back from a little cruise, I thought I would leave you with a few tips this week so that you might benefit from my experiences.

The first deals with preparing in advance for the chance that you might experience a bout of sea sickness. If we could have spared my travel friend, Margaret, from her misery that first evening it would have made a profound difference in her enjoyment of the trip. Even if you think you would never yourself fall victim to it, it is better, as they say,to be safe than sorry. We got advice from several of the other ladies we met who had taken advance precautions. A trip to the drugstore for a patch or whatever the pharmacist had to offer would be one choice. The other was that one of the gals had bracelets special for this problem that put pressure on the inside of her wrists to avert getting sick. Next time, while I was fortunate not to be sick, I think I will be more proactive and prepare for the unexpected.

The other tip deals with watching your budget while on board. While it is true that food and SOFT beverages are included, alcohol is not. The wait staff was constantly in our face to offer Bahama Mama drinks or wine or something. And believe me, people were drinking freely at 6 or 7 or even 10 dollars a pop. I would hate to see their bills when they signed out. Fortunately, neither Margaret nor I succumbed to this so we saved a lot of money. I do enjoy a nice glass of wine or a fruity drink now and then, but we had just decided that for this trip, we would forgo the drinking, opting for iced tea, juice, milk and coffee. We are both trying to lose weight and tried to watch calories, even though I managed to gain 4 pounds!!!! Those desserts caught up with me I guess. And we really did try to monitor as best we could. But when you are out of your own kitchen, you are getting more sugar, salt, carbs, etc than you would when you prepare for yourself. But that is another topic for later perhaps.

So we are back, a little “fatter” and a little wiser. Hope you find these cruise tips helpful. If any of you have cruise experience and tips of your own, I would love for you to leave a comment and share yours too.

The Washington House Inn

 

                                                                     Photo from website

For some reason I have a little soft spot for staying in a bed and breakfast. Something so cozy and homey about them that I so enjoy. Probably this is a romanticized view on my part that just the words Bed and Breakfast can evoke that response :)

I remember the very first one I visited some years years ago that started it all. It was winter, during the holiday season and my daughter Jenn and I, as we traditionally did at that time of year, always found one special thing to do just for us that was fun and festive. That particular year we decided to spend the night in a bed and breakfast. It just screamed pampering and indulgence to us. Being a single mom, we always seemed to have to watch how we spent our money. So, to us, going to a B&B seemed to be really a big deal.

We were living in Maryland at the time and wanted to find a nice place close by that we could drive to. We found just what we were looking for in the sleepy little town of Charles Town, West Virginia. Even though this is a place of historic note with battlefields of the Civil War all around, there was nothing of particular of interest that drew us there. We went solely to experience a bed and breakfast.

The one we selected was called The Washington House Inn on  It was all decked out for Christmas which made it even more spectacular to us. A big sleigh on the porch filled with wrapped gifts hinted at the surprises within and made an eye popping first impression.

I remember our room at the time with it brass and trundle beds, rose and vine wallpaper, terry robes in the old fashioned bathroom, our own fireplace. It was very girlie. There was this little landing filled with antiques outside our room and the main floor salon had a Christmas tree where we sat and had cookies.

Photo from website

That evening we bundled up and took a walk. There was this town hall or some such that had a candlelight tour that we did and that was about it as I recall. But we had a great time IN the B&B which was just what we set out to do.

Photo from website

The breakfast was wonderfully presented. We were served a big home cooked breakfast in the dining room. I can’t recall what we ate any longer, but I still remember the presentation -the lace tablecloth, the holiday china. I even remember the little springs of pine on our plates. And the delightful hostess served in her long period dress, apron and cap. It was such fun. We felt very well taken care of by the owners there.

I have been to a few more since then. Different amenities and locals. But to me this is the one that still stands out in my memory.

My Stay-at-Home Getaway

 

                                                                    Photo by Christine Lebrasseur

It is WINTER. Tax time is on the horizon. You just blew your budget on the holidays………….. Sounds like you could use a getaway. Uh-oh. Dilemma! Just can’t afford a little luxurious getaway right now – or can you????

Ever hear the old commercial about “ Calgon, take me away”? Well, maybe some of you over a certain age may have. :-)

Let’s expand on that idea and plan a getaway all on your own for yourself – at home.

Now if I were going to have that day where I could indulge just myself to chase away those winter blues, what would I do? I am going to dream a little bit to come up MY perfect stay-at-home-getaway. For those who don’t know me well, I am a true budget keeper. I rarely splurge on myself just for the fun of it. So this evening will have to be outside my box without any guilt. A tall order. But I am willing to go there for the cause. Ha ha And, if I want to rationalize it is still a more economical deal that going somewhere else. Right!

So what would I need to feel pampered? This has to be the one time where I decide only to please myself. It would have to incorporate all the things that I enjoy:

ambiance

comfort

entertainment (music, reading and a good chic flick),

food and drink

To set the stage, I would have to buy some white lilies just because I love the way they smell. Then I would light up my scented candles (I like vanilla), turn on Andrea Bocelli’s, Romanza, and step into a warm bath in my soaking tub fragranced with oils and full of bubbles. (I really like my tub! It was one of the things on my must have list when I bought my house.) In my best flute I would have my first glass of Moscato d’Asti. I know it is not the most expensive bubbly, but it is the one I like. Who says I need a 5 star hotel anyway!!

After the bath, I would put on my toasty blue fleece pj’s ( I did say comfort ) and move to the living room. Tonight, I don’t eat at the table. I eat in the living room and calories don’t count- just for tonight.

                                                                                 Photo by Bubbletea 1

Rather than a meal, I would like lots and lots of little bites. Tapas and more bubbly. Yep, all of it -a little bit of this and some of that. It is after all going to be a long evening of movie watching. And for dessert a mini lava cake- rich, gooey, and CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!!!! Best of all, I don’t cook any of it. All take out.

Now if you could see my living room, I have these sofas that you kind of sink into. Not only that, push a button and the bottom comes up so you can put your feet up, and not only that but push back just a little and you are nearly reclining. Now I am ready to watch a movie. For this evening I pick Mama Mia, fun, happy, beautiful scenery, love Abba…ahhhh perfect. And just in case I need a double feature, My Life in Ruins. (Hmmm, I am noticing undertones of travel in my choices. Gosh, I would love to go to Greece). Just love those romantic stories with a happy ending, don’t you?? And after the movie, food and bubbly, I think it is time to settle in for the night. Armed with a good book, my preference is historical romance like A Breath of Snow and Ashes, filled with adventure, time travel and a strong heroine or maybe something fanciful like Bella Tuscany, and snuggled in my bed with my down comforter pulled up to my chin, warm, cozy, sated by good food, comforted by the perfume of flowers and candles, and totally relaxed from my own little home getaway, I’ll just read until I fall asleep.

We all deserve a little relaxation and fun in our lives. It’s not always about going somewhere to have a good time and to rejuvenate our spirits. I sure would like to hear what you would dream up for your little getaway-at-home. Not just the ladies, but you gentlemen out there, too. And if you are a couple, wouldn’t it be fun for us to hear what you could come up with to beat those winter blues at home.

Planning a Girls Getaway

 

Here we are in old photos when we were aound 12 years old – Mary, Alice, Arlene and Janice

This year is going to be one of those milestone birthday years for three of my life-long gal pals and me. We grew up together. Back in the day of neighborhood schools, we would make our trek to school, stopping by each house to pick up the gang until all four of us made the final walk up the school steps. We played together, took dancing classes together, went swimming and then to dances and football games together. You name it, we did it together.

 Then we grew up and each went our separate way. Surprisingly, we have remained close friends over the years despite our living miles apart and not really having much opportunity to actually visit despite our many promises to do so. A lot of life has happened since those good old days and a lot of people passed through our lives, yet we hold closest those childhood friendships.

 With New Year’s resolutions to be closer in touch as the years march by, we have decided to embark on a girls only getaway to celebrate our birthdays which all happen within a two week span of time- two of which are actually on the same day!  So 2010 will be the big year for us when we finally do it  and I plan on journalling the whole thing starting with the planning until the finish at our reunion birthday getaway. With one in California, one in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland, and me in Florida, this should be quite a major undertaking.  

If you saw the Movie Sex and the City where that group of friends turned an ill-fated honeymoon into a trip to a lavish villa in Mexico, you have an idea of what I have in mind. Heh heh.  But since there are going to be four votes, I am guessing that I should allow each of us to have a chance to tell about their all girl getaway fantasy trip. Who knows, if we have enough good ideas we may have to take turns until we each get our wish.

 Alice, out in California, and I have been doing some recent emailing and decided that this would be a fun thing to do and wanted to see if we could get the others on board. So I sent everyone a group email to see what the response would be. It was an enthusiastic thumbs up. With that decided it is time to get to work.

 Phase One – When

The first thing will be for us to find a common time and to get some ideas of what each thinks she can commit to time and budget wise. Trying to work around everyone’s personal schedules with families and lives of our own will be complicated, especially long distance. We will be doing this with group emails back and forth and see how it turns out. I will chart all of the information and armed with that we can start looking at our options.

But that is for the next post.

 
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