When a man is tired of London…

When a man is tired of London…

London is still my favorite city. I love Paris, and New York as well, but London is the one I can revisit time and time again. Maybe because I was born in England, or because I lived there for a couple of years in my early twenties, but I’ve always felt at home in London.

Of course, like most big cities, it’s great to live there if you have the money to take advantage of all it has to offer. As many times as I’ve been there, every time I go, I find a new treasure. On my last trip, I went to the National Portrait Gallery. I’d been to the National Gallery plenty of times. How can you miss it, right? There it sits, perched at the top of Trafalgar Square and entrance is free. If you duck down to the side (toward Convent Garden) you’ll find the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery (also free).

If you like galleries, this is a real treat. I spent hours going from portrait to portrait. What I found fascinating is the range of work. It starts way back when when portraits and likenesses were done by anyone who fancied making a sketch. The perspective is so horrible on some of them, I roared with laughter. You have Madonna images, where her breast is positioned somewhere nature certainly didn’t put it. As art develops and time went on, the portraits move into the ‘grand masters’ and huge elaborate canvasses. All the way through to modern works and modern faces.

It’s a trip through time, one face at a time, and so well worth a visit. Next time you’re in London, check it out.

Here’s a little trip through some royal faces.

 

Catherine, Wife of Henry Vlll

Catherine, Wife of Henry Vlll

 

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

 

Elizabeth ll as a younger woman

Elizabeth ll as a younger woman

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Elizabeth ll, more recent

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Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge

Stepping back in time.

Stepping back in time.

Douglas Adams, in his book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe writes about Milliways, a dining establishment that uses a wormhole to take customers to the future where they dine and watch the universe explode. What fun.

 "The Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy thousand million billion years and will be ending in a little over half an hour. So, welcome one and all to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!" ”   	 — The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

“The Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy thousand million billion years and will be ending in a little over half an hour. So, welcome one and all to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!” ”
— The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

But of course we can’t go to the future (well, not yet anyway). But sometimes it is possible to step into the past.

We’ve all seen them, those wonderful throw-back diners, and in my new home town, Sheboygan, Wi, I’ve discovered a great one.

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Welcome to Harry’s Diner. Welcome back to the 1950’s.

You’re greeted at the door by the King himself. Where else do you get this treatment? (Okay, maybe Las Vegas)

Elvis     Harrys2

The wait staff is appropriately attired, the music is all from the era, and the food is excellent. What more can you ask? It’s just plain fun.

Memorabilia lines the walls, making it easy to fall back into a bygone era.

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My wife and I made a special trip in, early, early, so I could get these pictures. The place is usually hopping and bopping. Breakfast was, as usual, a delicious dining experience.

So, where’s your favorite throw-back restaurant? Let me know in the comments down below.

And if you’re ever in my neck of the north woods, stop in to Harry’s.

Steve

Life with the gluten free kid.

Life with the gluten free kid.

UnknownMy daughter is not celiac as far we know. The tests she took turned out inconclusive. Yet, gluten makes her sick to her stomach most of the time.When we go out to eat, I ask for the gluten free menu. Often, I have the server stare me down as though I’m on an annoying diet that will just have them running around on my whim. I now point directly at my daughter and say she can’t have gluten. That tends to make people react nicer and provide my daughter with exactly what she needs.

A few times, the chef at restaurants have come out and spoken to her about exactly what she wanted to eat and they accommodated her in such a way, they earned my eternal loyalty. At twelve years old, however, my youngest doesn’t always feel like being different from everyone at the table. She once announced that it was completely unfair that everyone could eat the bread except her.

In solidarity, I stopped having bread with dinner. A win-win as far as I’m concerned.

There are days, however, when her cravings override her brain and she sneaks a piece of calamari or a slice of warm bread. Her body is not super forgiving. Her stomach protests…violently. Those days, I’m not mad at her, I’m mad at the lack of options for a kid like her. It’s getting better. The New York Grand Hyatt surprised her with gluten free toast for breakfast. Her smile was electric. It doesn’t take much to stock some gluten free bread in a freezer, but the results would be a satisfied customer and increased loyalty.

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The Mommy Vacation

The Mommy Vacation

In the last three or four years, I’ve discovered a concept that would have sent my own mother into a complete stupor: The Mommy Vacation.

Years ago when I envisioned what motherhood would be like, my thoughts leaned toward Samantha Stevens with a modern day spunk. (That’s Sam from Bewitched if you weren’t as blessed with the same after school TV shows I was.)

Reality has proven to be something more along the lines of Gemma from Sons of Anarchy but without the bitch factor. I count it a win when my kids brush their teeth on a regular basis and felt like I’d hit a major milestone with I got my eight-year-old to start wearing panties again. (Yes, that was a three month debate I could have done without.)

Mother Defition

So, anyway, I’m trudging through motherhood, working a full time job, just starting to tiptoe through the world of writing, and trying to be a modern day ideal mommy, when I went to my first writers conference in San Diego. It was the first time I’d traveled solo since my oldest had been born, and while the conference taught me all kinds of killer writer-type things, it also clued me into the concept of The Mommy Vacation.

Definition

The Mommy Vacation – A minimum of three days (preferably five for maximum effect) away from all normal mommy responsibilities wherein the nurturing caregiver is not only allowed, but encouraged to:

  • Have someone else make the bed.
  • Have control of the remote.
  • Order room service.
  • Sleep late.
  • Have your stuff still be in the same place it was when you wake up that it was when you went to bed.
  • Have no agenda.

I can’t emphasize that last one enough. When you’re the person steering the household ship day in and day out, there is nothing so relieving as being free of to-dos and the clock.

Over the last three years, my national writers convention has become my official Mommy Vacation week. In one more week, I’ll be on a plane and headed to New York City for year number four, and I can’t freaking wait! I get to see all my writer pals, I’ll get to sightsee without anyone arguing as to why we’d go somewhere else, and I can be a slug in my room whenever I want.

It’s going to be FABULOUS.

What about you? Have you indulged in your own Mommy Vacations? What were your favorite experiences? If you haven’t gone on one, where would you pick? Or, more importantly, when are you going to make time and go there?

Rhenna Morgan

 

A Blistered Gypsy

A Blistered Gypsy

I had to smile when I saw it was my turn on “Eating Out”—things travel and travel related. I’ve travelled a fair amount, and moved even more. I’m writing this post from my 12th home in 16 years (I think it’s 12, but you get the picture anyway, even if the math is dodgy). I’ve just moved my family from Utah to Colorado. Not a big move as Hegger moves go. The biggest one we did was from South Africa to Russia. Not just in terms of distance but logistics. Some countries love their bureaucracy, and like to turn it into an intricate code. Both South Africa and Russia excel at this.

Christmas in Moscow

Christmas in Moscow

Anyway, as the title says, this gypsy is worn out with moving. It’s not the just the admin and the exhaustion of actually packing up your life and moving, it’s the emotional wear and tear of ripping out roots and replanting them somewhere else. This move my girls are 13 and 14, and feeling the separation from friends they made in Utah. They know the drill, that they’ll make new friends and all that. But they are struggling just the same. Your teens are not the time you want to be in limbo. And I know they’ll be fine, eventually, but I really can’t think of anything new to tell them to make it all feel better. It’s never easy as a Mum when you can’t make the bad thing go away with a  kiss and a popsicle.

First Day of School, South Africa

First Day of School, South Africa

On the other hand, despite being the perpetual ‘new kid’ at school, they have learned some amazing things, and seen all sorts of people and places. They view the world around them with a wonderful sense of tolerance that makes me very proud, and they are always ready to embrace the new.

Hiking in Vancouver

Hiking in Vancouver

 

My new home in Colorado is beautiful, perched right on the edge of a wonderful hiking trail. We’ll build happy memories here, and make it our home. The unfamiliar will become old hat and maybe, if I keep my fingers very tightly crossed, I’ll get to drift into  a rut here. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

 

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Halloween in Montreal

SarahSig

I’m in Punta Cana and you’re not.

I’m in Punta Cana and you’re not.

by Xio Axelrod

Did my title make you a wee bit jealous? It should because the Dominican Republic is awesome and everyone should come here.

woman in punta cana

Wheee! See, she’s having a blast. Come on down.

I took this while riding on a cable car in Puerto Plata. Down is far.

As you read this, I’m probably sitting in a cabana on the beach in Punta Cana, sipping freshly made mojitos underneath a cloudless sky. At least, I hope I am. Vacation weather can be unpredictable.

Take the spring of 2012, when Mr. X and I were on our second trip to the D. R., it rained. A lot. And not the “oh, this is a soft and beautiful shower” or “it’s pouring buckets, but will be over in fifteen minutes” kind of rain. It was a duck and cover rain. A run for the hills rain. At one point, we decided to sit on the beach anyway because, why not? For once, there were plenty of loungers. And wet is wet, right? Naturally, the sun decided to return on the day we flew home. Whatever, it was still quite relaxing. And mojitos!

Fortunately, most of our trips down here (this is our fourth) have been delightful and I’m hoping this one is the same. We arrived late Saturday afternoon and it’s now Tuesday. By now, we’ve settled into our daily routine.

loungers

First come, first serve.

Up by 8am to “reserve” a spot on the beach. [Read “claim.” We leave our towels and a few other accessories as unofficial notice that those particular loungers are occupied.]PC food

Then we head to the buffet for a yummy breakfast filled with fresh fruit, local delicacies and international fare. [Germans love cold cuts. I’m just saying.]

11am is mojito time. Don’t judge, it’s the D.R.

Line ’em up. Mojitos are yummy, refreshing and full of rum!

Around 1pm, we start feeling guilty for the 2 hours rum infusion and we grab some lunch, usually somewhere close to the beach.

Nighttime activities abound. You never know what you’ll find.

After lunch, it’s back to the beach until around 4, when we head to the pool for an hour or two. Mr. X is an ocean swimmer, I prefer the predictability of a pool. I like to know what I’m stepping on underwater. Also, there’s a bar. [I’m beginning to sound like a lush!]

Around 6-ish, we head up to our room, shower, change for dinner, and decide where to spend our evening. There’s always something going on somewhere: a live band, karaoke, a musical revue filled with celebrity impersonators, “Cirque de Sol” [only a hint of copyright infringement there], the list is really endless.

The real reason to come down here is the people. They’re all so warm and friendly and happy to share paradise with you, for a nominal fee. Honestly, for the food, the service, and every other thing there is to enjoy in the Dominican Republic (swim with dolphins!) it is remarkably inexpensive. We stay in moderate-but-gorgeous all-inclusive resorts, so food and drink are readily available. The only cash we carry is for tipping and souvenirs. Sure, you could go crazy and spend a mint in one of the “five star” properties, but there’s no need. Sun in the sky, sand in your toes, and mojitos on tap. What more could you ask for?

Mama Juana

Mama Juana is sweet, spicy and STRONG.

Mama Juana. You could ask for Mama Juana, and they will pour it for you. Just don’t plan on operating any heavy machinery afterwards. Salud!

I’m going for a swim.

 

 

xio sig1

Isn’t it time you visited Copenhagen?

Isn’t it time you visited Copenhagen?

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

One of my favourite places to go when I need a change of scenery is Copenhagen. Just an hour’s flight  away from Stockholm, it’s the perfect destination for a weekend trip–no layovers necessary. Of course, I’ve got a long-standing love affair with Copenhagen. It all started back in the summer of 1996, when I visited the city for the very first time. By then, I’d been living in Stockholm, Sweden–itself a beautiful city–for exactly a year. I loved Stockholm, but sometimes its pristine orderliness drove me insane. Things were almost too perfect. Copenhagen has a little of the same vibe, but it a more laidback way. Stockholm never really lets you see her with her hair down. Copenhagen doesn’t mind if you see her with smudged eyeliner and bedhead.

 

Yummy smørrebrød from Aamans. Photo credit: aamans.dk

Yummy smørrebrød from Aamans. Photo credit: aamans.dk

Craft beer and smørrebrød–yum!

So you’re probably wondering why you should visit Copenhagen, aside from the fact that it’s a beautiful city on the water full of beautiful people? Well, the beer and the food, of course. Copenhagen is home Carlsberg (probably the best beer in the world–or at least, that’s what they–meaning Carlsberg–say) and the world’s best open-faced sandwiches, which the Danes call smørrebrød.

For smørrebrød, there are tons of options, but many locals swear by Aamans. And while I am not a local, I can say I’ve enjoyed every smørrebrød I’ve ever had there. I love their blue cheese smørrebrød with plum gel, hazelnut creme, roasted hazelnuts and cress. I’m also a big fan of their herring sandwich and their braised pork breast sandwich. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.

Now, I know I mentioned Carlsberg, but when I am in Copenhagen, it’s not my beer of choice. No trip to Copenhagen is complete without stopping in either Nørrebro Brygghus on Ryesgade and trying the latest brews on tap or dipping into Mikkeller & Friends on Stefansgade and sampling their brews. I’m especially partial to their dark beers.

Now if you are more a pastry type, there are plenty of bakeries and cafés to duck into. For a classic Copenhagen experience, head over to Conditoriet La Glace, just off Strøget, and try the Karen von Blixen cake,  but get there early–it fills up quickly at the weekend.

The Little Mermaid. Photo credit: visitcopenhagen.com

The Little Mermaid. Photo credit: visitcopenhagen.com

More than just the Little Mermaid

Most tourists go to Copenhagen to see the Little Mermaid (or Lille Havsfrue as the Danes call her), but I’d suggest walking around the city and discovering it like a local. Most Danes seem pretty ambivalent about the Little Mermaid–they don’t really get all the fuss around her–I think the tourists streaming to the harbor to get a look at her is more amusing to them than anything else. I usually like going to Ny Carlsbergs Glyptoteket–an amazing collection of art and a fantastic café there, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk or the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July. And you can always check out the local music scene at Kind of Blue on Ravnsborgsgade, where you’ll hear everything from spoken word to indie rock to jazz. If you’re traveling with kids, they usually go crazy for Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Ask your hotel if they can arrange discounted tickets as it can be pretty expensive, but you can also order your tickets online

Go mad at Madklubben

A lot of people will swear to you that you need to book a table at NOMA or some other expensive restaurant while you’re in Copenhagen. I think you should save your money for shopping (yes, there is amazing shopping there) and then eat at Madklubben Bistro-de-Luxe. The concept is great–delicious food that won’t kill your budget–and the service level is top-notch. The menu is seasonal and features local produce.  I’ve eaten here a few times and never been disappointed. It’s also quite nice that waitstaff are insanely attractive.

A place to lay your head

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 22.09.48If you’re like me and you like great location, comfortable beds, and good breakfast when you stay at a hotel, then follow my lead. My husband and I love staying at the Hotel Kong Arthur on Nørre Søgade. According to Tord, their lobby bar serves the best gin and tonics in the world. I am partial to their very comfortable spa room and the inner courtyard, which is a great place to have a drink or relax during the summer. In fact, I came up with the idea for my novel, Maybe Baby, while enjoying a summer drink in the courtyard. It’s in a great location–just a short walk from Norreport Station, which means you can get back and forth Kastrup Airport very easily with either the long-distance trains or the subway. It’s also near Torvehallerne, a fantastic food hall that is a great dining option if you want a light lunch and a bit of people-watching. If the Kong Arthur is fully booked, try their sister hotel, Ibsens Hotel. Both hotels share the inner courtyard, and there are three restaurants nearby (Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, Pintxos for yummy tapas or La Rocca for Italian cuisine). I’ve tried all three–they are popular with locals and tourists alike and I really enjoyed the meals I had there.

The perfect place to relax on a summer evening.

The perfect place to relax on a summer evening.

 

So now that you’ve got a few pointers, what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time you booked your trip to Copenhagen and found your own favourite spots?

My Signature for the Blog

 

Beach Town Memories

Beach Town Memories

(featured image from www.beach-net.com)

One of my favorite memories, growing up, is summer vacations. Every June, after school was done, there was that day when my mother dragged my three siblings and me out of bed at 4am, packed up the car and took us to the beach with our aunt and uncle, to skip out on life for a while.

Every year we stayed in Ocean City, Maryland. Every year it was awesome.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I took the opportunity to take our girls there for the first time. You can’t imagine how giddy I was that they enjoyed it just as much as I used to when I was their age(s).

Ocean_City_MD_Boardwalk_August_2009_1

photo – oc, md – wikipedia.org

I could talk about the rides, the beach, the ocean itself. It’s all a blast. But one of the best parts of OC, MD is the boardwalk. There’s so much to do there, including shopping. If I’m being honest, however, it’s the food I miss the most.

There are several MUST EATS at the boardwalk. For the purposes of today’s blog post, I’ve narrowed it down to three, as to not overwhelm you. Because, believe me, there are a ton of awesome food joints I want to tell you about.

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photo – www.thrashersfries.com

First off, I have to start with Thrashers French Fries – I sincerely do not know how they don’t eat themselves out of business because these fries are the tastiest of the fry Kingdom. Including McDonalds. And trust me when I tell you, you absolutely HAVE to put the vinegar on them.

HAVE TO.

Then there’s Fisher’s Popcorn – they make it fresh and the smell is enough to cause you to gain 10 pounds but it is soooooooo gooooooood.

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photo – www.fisherspopcorn.com

We just so happen to have some of the best friends on the planet, who send us a couple of cans for Christmas every year. I might have finished off one of them before anyone got home the day they arrived. It’s an addiction really.

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Sorry about your luck, family.

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photo – http://bullonthebeachoc.com

And finally (are we there, already?), the pièce de résistance = BULL ON THE BEACH. Okay, seriously, and literally, THE best roast beef you’ve ever had in your entire existence. No lie.

So many more places on the boardwalk for you to visit. And so many reasons for you to fall in love with this beach town.

If you find yourself in Maryland, in the summertime, and you need something to do that doesn’t entail sightseeing, head over to the Ocean, ya’ll. And pig out on boardwalk food. You won’t regret it.

Big love,

Jo xoxo 6

Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield_CA_-_sign

For most people, Bakersfield is probably the last place they’d consider for a vacation. Thankfully, I’m not one of them.

Bakersfield is about two hours north of Los Angeles, and when you’re there, you truly feel like you’re in the country. As soon as I hit highway 99, I’m immediately free and much lighter.

For years, Bakersfield has been a tradition for my family. We’re a racing bunch. My father, his father and so on lived for fast cars and the thrill of Drag Racing. When my dad wasn’t running the cars, he was building them. His engine building legacy still follows him at the track, and for that reason, I have always made a point to continue the racing tradition with my son.

This is the first year we missed what is called “The March Meet” at the famous Famoso Raceway. This is basically the grand slam of  vintage Nitro Drag racing. Three days of beautiful, loud and fast. Thankfully, it is also the opening of the season–a full summer of racing fun!

Our next trip is coming up, and I have to say I can NOT wait for Friday night tractor pull action!!

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But… that’s not all Bakersfield has to offer. Every friend I’ve ever dragged along on the trip with me has come away thrilled and surprised by the great hole in the wall eateries I take them to. One of our favorites, a spot I never miss while I’m there, is Tina Marie’s. The food y’all. The portions are huge, it’s home cooking done right. I have dreams about the biscuits and gravy. They are beyond words. Of course, if you asked my son, his favorite place to stop is Sonic. Go figure. (We don’t have Sonic in Long Beach, CA… so it’s a big ol’ deal!)

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There’s so much more to see. From time to time, I’ve caught a show at the Buck Owens Crystal Palace, Home of the Bakersfield Sound. Basically, it’s the country music capital of the West Coast. Also, they have great food.

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So there you have it. Our rather un-fancy vacation spot. Thankfully, my son is a wild spirit like his mama. We always make the best of wherever we go. We adventure around, find funky little spots, and always come home with a crazy story.  Not to mention the Kern River… now, that’s when we have real fun!

~Jami Denise

New York State of Mind

New York State of Mind

IheartNY

 

I grew up in Philadelphia but have always had a fascination with New York City. Maybe it’s because of the glamorous and gritty shots of the city in movies and television, (everything from An Affair to Remember, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Serendipity, NYPD Blue, and of course, Sex in the City). Maybe it’s because the first time I bet on a Super Bowl (as a 5-year-old), I picked the New York Giants, and they won. (My winnings? A quarter). It’s the same with my New York Rangers. I’ve loved them from the first time I watched Mark Messier and Mike Richter in a game where they played my other favorite team, my hometown Flyers. Rivals, you say? Rebel, I reply.

So, whenever I have the chance to go exploring in the city, I jump on it.

The architecture is stunning, and the city is teeming with history and culture. You’ll find something interesting everywhere you look. Every time I go, I check out something new, but here are a few of my favorites.

 

The NY Public Library – I love the marble lions guarding outside (named ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude). But the carvings and statues inside are well-worth the trip. You can even get married here.

new-york-public-library-lions

Central Park – 843 acres in the heart of Manhattan. My favorite place for a picnic. And they have a castle.

aerial-view-of-central-park-nyc

 

The Plaza Hotel – Quite a storied-history. Movies have been filmed here, books were written and or set here (F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the hotel and penned The Great Gatsby), the list of guests and residents is very impressive and ranges from dignitaries to architects.

ThePlazaHotel

 

The Empire State Building – Meeting at the observation deck, on the 86th floor, was a romantic notion in An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle. I’ve done it a few times and once traveled up another sixteen floors to the Top Deck (102nd floor). Talk about a bird’s eye-view!

empirestatebldg

 

Grand Central Terminal – The history of how it evolved is fascinating.

Grand_Central_Station

 

The High Line – A “rails to trails” park, it’s an elevated former New York Central Railroad spur which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan. The park extends from Gansevoort Street in the meat-packing district, through Chelsea, to 34th Street.16-High_Line_Aerial_1

 

I love the museums and exhibits throughout the city. I’m not a foodie at all, so the restaurants are wasted on me. I try to eat pretty health-consciously, and my favorite meal so far has been lunch at a tiny café a few blocks away from Central Park north, a Greek yogurt and fruit parfait, drizzled with a bit of honey, and a cup of strong coffee.

By train or car, the trip from Philly to NYC takes about two hours. That’s nothing compared to some of the road trips I’ve done. Ten hours to Maine? Sure. Seven hours to Buffalo? No problem. Eight hours to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame? Bring it on. Now, that trip is a post for another day…

What are your favorite parts of NYC? Any recommendations on what I should do next?

– Susan