Charlotte Tourists 2013 – Day 1

As the years fly by, hosting our friend Bill’s annual visit to Charlotte gets more and more challenging to plan. We’ve hit most of the top touristy spots and I have a self-imposed rule of not repeating things.

It’s a chance to do things we wouldn’t normally seek out so I start collecting ideas months before his flight lifts off the ground in Boston. I’m happy to report this was the most fun “Bill” trip yet! It began when I cryptically told Bill to bring clothes that he didn’t mind getting dirty and, that he must arrive before the end of October. Continue reading

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Barbara Jean’s Restaurant

Saint Simons Island, Georgia

Saint Simons Island, Georgia

Delicious crab cakes and fat shrimp. That’s how a friend described her last meal at Barbara Jean’s Restaurant in the Jacksonville, Florida area. That was enough to pique my interest. There are four restaurants in the chain. The one my friend suggested is in Ponte Vedra on the Intracoastal Waterway.

While enticing, it is south of where we’re staying and we are heading north on I-95. Instead, we opt to try the original restaurant in Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Saint Simons Island is a lovely little upscale area with world-class golf courses, a lighthouse near a pier and Spanish moss hanging on the trees. It’s dripping with quaint. Continue reading

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Museums Open Doors with Free Admission

Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Castle and gardens

Free culture! Come and get your free culture! Continue reading

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Bye Bye My Sweet Buddy

Buddy PuppyI spotted a tiny puppy curled in a ball at the back of a cage at the pound. I couldn’t really see the sleeping ball of fur because his cellmate was at the front of the cage barking and snarling at me.

Cairo and Sandy in AnchorageIt was a recon trip. Mike wasn’t with me. Our yellow lab/Great Dane mutt developed a large tumor on his spleen and suddenly he was gone. A week later we were traveling in Europe. It was a whirlwind trip that covered Saltzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Auschwitz/Birkenaeu, Prague and Munich.

Traveling was a great distraction. Then we came home to a dogless house. The first time someone came to the door and there was no bark we realized we were ready for another dog.

Buddy called to me. I had to get Mike and see what drew me to the pup at the back of the cage. We were just looking so we didn’t have a leash or any supplies with us. Of course, he came home with us.

Wild BuddyThis furball was so cute but his cellmate taught him well. He had a vicious streak. Our vet told us we needed to hire a personal trainer for him because if we didn’t get him under control, we’d have to put him down. Our trainer couldn’t believe that an 8-week old pup could be so aggressive.

579314_460219327350241_151460465_nAfter diligent work, we slowly gained Buddy’s trust. Eventually we could touch his face and pet him without him snapping. As he got older he grew to love belly scratches and playing “smoochie poochie” when I kissed his face. He was a smiling dog that always looked for the yard with the best grass to roll in.

IMG_2459He decided on his own that it was easier for us to put on his collar and leash if he put his front paws on a chair for easy access to his neck. Then he would lean in for some face kisses.

He remained the alpha where the cat was concerned. Rudy loved Rudy Fetchingto antagonize Buddy. Buddy didn’t like the cat getting too much attention so he would have to go out on the porch if Rudy wanted to play fetch. Yes, the cat fetches.

Buddy loved his vegetables. This guy ate everything from asparagus to zucchini. His favorites were romaine lettuce leaves (mostly the brown stuff) and then the core. And broccoli. And peanut butter. And his bedtime snacks. This dog was a chowhound. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for food.IMG_2334

When he knew all food delivery was done for the day, he would disappear for a few moments and return with a favorite toy as a gift.IMG_0355

When he refused to eat a pill-laden glop of peanut butter, we knew something was wrong. Of course I tried to rationalize that it was a different brand of peanut butter. Or maybe there was something wrong with the pills hidden inside. But the day he didn’t gobble down his kibble, it was clear that he was shutting down.

IMG_0373We tried to keep him eating. I cooked eggs for breakfast for him. He had rotisserie chicken and rice for dinner. We bought canned food for the first time in his life but nothing really interested him.

He’d go for a walk to please us but a trip around the block was long and slow. It was clear that something was terribly wrong with him. At 12 ½ years old, he was an old man. Nothing we could do would give him a much longer life or more importantly a better quality of life.

IMG_1917We always said that if a dog doesn’t want to eat or can’t pee or poop, it’s not fair to make them go on. We knew the day had arrived. While he had come so far from the snarling little puppy, he still hated to go to the vet and loathed close inspection of his body. I found a vet who would euthanize him at home and made an appointment for Sunday at noon.

Saturday night was horrific. Even though he had stopped eating a day or so before, Buddy spent the night throwing up. He couldn’t even keep water down. I called the vet to come early but he had an appointment at 10:00 and could not get to our house before our appointment.

Buddy went to a corner of the backyard where he never went and basked in the sun for a long while. I think we both secretly hoped he would peacefully slip away out there but no, he wanted to be with us. The weather was nice so we stayed on our screened-in porch with him. He seemed to enjoy the cool tiled floor.

The vet, Keith, came in an unobtrusive car and explained everything as he went. After the formalities of signing a waiver and giving him a check, Keith prepared us for what was to come. First he would give Bud a sedative. Once he was relaxed and deeply asleep, he would insert a catheter and administer the drug that would stop his breathing, stop his heart.

As Keith went to give Buddy the sedative, our fighter perked up and gave him a lightening-fast snarl of a warning that he didn’t like needles. Even on his deathbed, Buddy needed a muzzle for that first shot. It made us pause to see a glimmer of his old self, for a second a little hope that maybe we were doing this too soon.

IMG_1158There were several professional people who said we needed to put that tiny puppy down. Even George, the trainer warned if the training didn’t take… all I can say is you were wrong. Yes, it took work in the beginning but he was the best Buddy dog and there is a huge empty hole in our home. Even Rudy, the cat has lost interest in playing fetch because Buddy isn’t here to antagonize.

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Road Trip? There’s An App For That

Somewhere in Kentucky

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
In whatever comes our way

Lyrics from “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf

Got a hankering to hit the open road?

Before you load up the car, load up your smart phone with these helpful free apps.

Continue reading

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Asheville’s Calling

SONY DSCThe ads are cheesy. An iPhone rings and the caller I.D. says Asheville, N.C. The tagline from this tourism board commercial is “Asheville’s calling. Will you answer?”

Asheville has been calling me for a while but not because of the ad campaign. I have not been able to get out of town for a while and I am desperate for a mountain fix. I need a change of scenery and a day trip is just what my inner travel junkie negotiated with my wallet.

Continue reading

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What Can A Travel Agent Do For You?

Travel Guide BooksFor me, planning a journey is as much a part of the trip as the actual travel. Preparation gets the anticipation juices going. In addition to researching a destination online, I love the now antiquated exercise of going to the library and borrowing as many travel books as possible to map out that next dream trip. Yes, I am a travel geek.

Normally, I don’t take advantage of travel agents. But, travel agencies do serve a useful purpose. Take Mann Travels, a large travel agency headquartered in Charlotte, NC.  They saved me the cost of ridiculous bank fees when I needed dollars exchanged for Chilean pesos for a trip to Easter Island (Money, Money, Money)

Because of that experience, my curiosity is piqued when I see numerous ads promoting a Mann upcoming travel show. On a chilly Sunday in January, I drag my husband along to check it out promising we’ll stay no more than one hour. Continue reading

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Stalking Homeland in Charlotte

One of Showtime's Homeland Shoots in Charlotte

One of Showtime’s Homeland Shoots in Charlotte

The year has flown by and it’s time for the annual weekend visit from my nearly lifelong friend Bill. Although Bill would be content to spend the two and a half days sitting on a couch yacking, that is not my idea of a good time. Prior to his arrival, I make up a list of interesting places to visit.

Bill’s visits were never a challenge when Mike and I were gypsies moving from city to city. There was always something new to explore. But, now that we’ve been in Charlotte for 12 long years, my self-imposed rule of not repeating anything is making that to-visit list more of a challenge.

Most of the must-see Charlotte-area tourist destinations have already been covered: the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the Levine Museum of the New South, the Latta Plantation. We’ve been to the mountains; we’ve been to the sea – road trips to Asheville and Charleston were checked off early on. Last year had an international theme. (Read about that trip here.) So what to do this year?

Charlotte has a pretty active film community because of North Carolina’s generous 25% refundable tax credit for productions done in the state. Add to that a diverse choice of typical looking locations that stretch from the ocean to the mountains with small towns, big cities and farm land in between. Crew costs are cheaper than L.A. and New York. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to close streets, businesses, or a university campus for a shoot here. Continue reading

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Easter Island Planning & Packing Tips

The Mutt and the Moai at Tongariki

A trip to Easter Island is the trip of a lifetime. A trip to Easter Island is long and expensive.

But if you are one of the 50,000 or so people who make this trek every year, you will be well rewarded for your efforts. Don’t shortchange yourself on time, and don’t put off doing it. I should have bumped it to the top of my to-do list a long time ago. I really loved this incredibly special place. Continue reading

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Daily Torture – More DNC Fun

The hottest tickets in town dropped in my lap at a business meeting. Tracy could barely contain her excitement and concentrate on the purpose of the meeting. She had just gotten her hands on tickets to a taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” I said, “I would kill to get tickets to The Daily Show!” There were two extra tickets! Tracy generously offered two tickets to me and my husband.

My fabulous employer told me to go and have fun! We tried to concentrate on the business at hand and all raced home to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, Mike couldn’t get the afternoon off.

A friend who went the day before said we needed to be in line no later than 2:00 and assured me that I could bring a backpack. With permission to pack, I wanted to make sure I was ready for rain. I filled my backpack with the poncho from the media party, a pair of waterproof sandals so I wouldn’t have to stand around in squishy, wet shoes again, a phone charger in case I had an opportunity to plug-in and my iPad to pass any boring time in line. I wore comfortable walking shoes in case we had to park miles away but my mistake was to wear clothes that were way too hot to wear standing in the hot sun. Continue reading

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