Monthly Archives: June 2017

Often Overlooked Vacation Spots

When it comes to vacation spots within America, sure, you can look at Orlando, the beaches of Southern California, Washington D.C., various amusement parks like Six Flags and Cedar Point, or just about any major city, but those places can be overcrowded, expensive tourist traps.  What most of us desire (OK, maybe it’s just me) in a vacation is a place where there is plenty to do, but also plenty of opportunities to relax and recharge.  I’m a big believer in not needing a vacation after returning from a vacation and having some money left in my wallet as well.  With that in mind, I present 10 often overlooked, relatively inexpensive vaca spots you might want to check out this summer in no particular order.

  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina – Established in 1934 and encompassing over 500,000 acres, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is an ideal location for anyone with even a passing interest in getting back to nature. Its numerous accommodation options include camping, cabins, and various low-cost hotels located along its fringes.  As for activities, take your pick: hiking, biking, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, horseback riding, ranger-led tours and other activities, and auto and train tours.  Visit nps.gov/grsm for more details.
  • Key West, Florida — “But isn’t all of Florida a tourist trap?” you ask. The answer is usually a resounding yes.  However, Key West has such a laid-back atmosphere and hidden gems in terms of small hotels and rental properties, that it made the list.  The secret to avoiding the tourist crush is to simply avoid Duval Street, but why would you want to do that?  It offers some of the best bars in the country.  Key West also offers beaches and numerous water-based activities.  Finally, if you get the chance to grab a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park, take it.  Its pristine beaches support some great snorkeling and the massive Ft. Jefferson is also worth the trip.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico – Founded in 1706 and occupied by Native Americans for centuries prior, this city of over half a million has plenty of history to offer visitors, such as the Petroglyph National Park and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It also has a variety of museums (to include the American International Rattlesnake Museum), a zoo, aquarium, Old Town Albuquerque, and the Sandia Peak Tramway which is the longest in the U.S., takes riders to a height of over 10,000-feet and offers panoramic views of the high desert.  As for accommodations, it offers everything from quaint B & Bs to trendy downtown hotels.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – No longer the Steel City, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a hip, technologically-based city. Its downtown is home to both swanky and economical hotels, a vibrant cultural district that features top-end shows, and nightspots that range from dive to chic.  Its New World history dates back to the French and Indian War of the 1750s.  Thus, history-buffs will find plenty of museums and historical sites to visit.  And after all that, there’s always the city’s sports venues.  The Penguins just secured another Stanley Cup, the Steelers seem to truly be “America’s team” and PNC Park, home to the Pirates, is consistently ranked as one of MLB’s best parks to visit.
  • Salt Lake City, Utah – Yes, there is plenty of Mormon based history in Salt Lake City, but there’s also so much more. This highest of state capitals offers numerous year-round outdoor activities centered around its mountains, state and national parks and the Great Salt Lake.  It also gives tourists the option of visiting its various museums, an aviary, planetarium, water parks, amphitheaters, and concerts at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  As for accommodations, the city has quaint bed & breakfasts, lodges, resorts and traditional hotels from which to choose.
  • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – Yep, you read that correctly…Idaho! Coeur d’Alene is located in western Idaho, not too far from Spokane, Washington and it offers something for everyone, except an ocean view.  There are over 50 lakes within a few hours of this mid-sized town of about 50,000, but by far the most popular is the massive Lake Coeur d’Alene.  As one would expect, the town is known for its outdoor activities to include fishing, boating, golfing, hiking, biking and anything else you can think of to do out-of-doors.  The town also puts on numerous festivals and fairs throughout the year and has a surprising number of “artsy” venues and dining establishments.
  • Portland, Maine – The water’s a bit chilly on the shores of this southern Maine town, but the ocean views more than make up for the chill in the water. The surrounding area of Portland offers a myriad of inexpensive places to stay, such as cabins, rental homes, small resorts and traditional hotels.  And while Maine is best known for its rocky coast, the area offers plenty of sandy beaches to choose from.  Did I mention the seafood?  Its fresh, relatively inexpensive and abundant.  Portland is also large enough to offer a vibrant nightlife…if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • La Push, Washington – Ok, if you really want to get away from it all, La Push is the place for you. Located about as far west as you can get in the continental U.S., La Push is home to and managed by the Quileute Tribe which has occupied the area for centuries.  Known for its picturesque beaches and ocean fishing, La Push doesn’t push one to do much at all, except relax and unwind.  However, should you feel the need, the nearby Olympic National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities.  The surfing is purported to be quite good along the coast as is the whale watching too!
  • Mackinac Island, Michigan – If La Push is the get away place for the west coast, then Mackinac Island serves that purpose for the central part of the country. Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island sits close to where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.  Firstly, there are no cars permitted on the island…yes, you read that correctly, no cars!  Next, there are no franchise hotels on the island.  It offers over 1,500 unique room options from small, family owned accommodations to resorts to a Grand Hotel.  Simply relax along a lake-front beach, visit Mackinac State Park, or rent a water craft and hit the lake.  It’s all up to you.
  • Kansas City, Missouri – Those who live in the center of the nation…so-called “fly-over” country, would do well to spend a few days in Kansas City. This mid-sized city is more cosmopolitan than mid-western and presents a myriad of tourist options.  It has some world-class museums devoted to World War I, American Jazz, and the negro baseball leagues…almost forgot, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is in nearby Independence.  Its city center contains numerous street cafés and if barbeque is your thing, then KC is the place for you.  And depending on when you visit, you might want to check out a Chiefs football or Royals baseball game.

Now it’s up to you to get out there and check out one of these hidden vaca gems.  What the heck are you waiting for?  Live a little already!

facebooktwitterpinterest

Awesome 4th of July Yard Decorating Ideas

Before we discuss these “awesome” decorating ideas, please allow me to pontificate for a moment.  It seems from my vantage point that our “patriotic” holidays (the Fourth, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day) have melded into a giant mélange of red, white and blue.  We seem to have forgotten their origins and why they were created.  So please indulge this former history teacher for just a moment.

Also known as Independence Day, this holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the representatives of the thirteen American colonies.  This Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and on June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, proposed that the colonies secede or declare their independence from Great Britain.  However, the vote was postponed until a formal document could be drafted which would explain to the world why the colonies felt it was necessary to take such drastic action.

The Congress then created the celebrated Committee of Five, comprised of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston to draft what would come to be known as the Declaration of Independence.  Written by Jefferson and primarily edited by Franklin, the document decreed, in no uncertain terms, that the colonies would be, henceforth, a free and independent nation.  It also went on to list the reasons why, or justifications for breaking from Britain, to include trade and expansion restrictions, the lack of self-governance and military occupation.

On July 2, Congress passed Richard Henry Lee’s resolution of independence 12-0 (New York abstained, but later changed their vote to the affirmative).  Then, on July 4, they officially adopted the Committee’s Declaration of Independence.  John Adams mistakenly thought the nation would celebrate its independence on July 2.  The next year, 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration’s anniversary on July 4 and as the years passed, more locations did the same until it became a paid federal holiday in 1938.

Just a little background for you to consider as you implement the following yard decorating ideas to celebrate the 241th anniversary of America’s independence.

Lawn stars – Take a large hunk of cardboard and cut out a five-pointed star for your template and if you’re feeling ambitious, cut out various sizes.  Place your newly fashioned template on your grass and paint as many red, white and blue stars as you require or desire.  And not to worry, the paint will NOT kill your grass and since grass grows relatively fast, you’ll chop the painted tips off the next time you mow. (photo courtesy of http://www.hometalk.com)

Red, white and blue centerpieces – Use mason jars rather than vases and fill them with bouquets of red, white and blue flowers and place them in a row down the center of your holiday picnic table.  Here are a few flower suggestions…red: chrysanthemums, tulips, gerbera daises, dahlias, or geraniums.  White: same as red, add daffodils.  Blue: forget-me-nots, bellflowers, cornflowers, or perennial geraniums.(photo courtesy of https://www.fiftyflowers.com)

American pallet flag – Simply find one of those ubiquitous wooden pallets lying around and paint an American flag on it.  Paint a blue background in the upper left corner and then add five-pointed stars.  And no, you don’t need to squeeze 50 of them on there unless that’s your thing, four offset rows of five is plenty.  Then paint alternate planks of the pallet red and white for the stripes.  And no, you don’t need thirteen stripes, that would be one big-ass pallet.(photo courtesy of: http://fourthofjulyblog.blogspot.mx)

Bouquets of red and blue Tootsie Pops – Find white jars, or paint a few, and place red and blue Tootsie Pops, stem down, into the jars to make a colorful and patriotic display…popular with kids and adults alike.

Patriotic cupcakes – Not necessarily a “yard decoration” unless you place them at strategic locations around your yard, these edible cakes of patriotic goodness are, none-the-less, quite popular.  For the cake part, simply use red batter.  As for the frosting…white, of course. And then top with blueberries…voila!

Now, as everyone admires your unique Fourth decorations, you can regal them with your knowledge of this country’s unique history.  Happy Fourth of July!

facebooktwitterpinterest

Senior Rules for a Safe and Happy Summer

Of course, the seniors to which I refer in the title are those of the “well-aged” variety rather than those who are about to enter their last year of high school or college.  As discussed in too much detail in my last post, summer in the northern hemisphere begins in the wee hours of the morning on June 21 and it is, by all accounts, the most joyous of seasons for most.  However, summer can pose a few heat-related dangers, especially for seniors.

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at regulating body temperature.  That’s why many older people tend to enjoy being in a warmer climate than younger folks.  As anecdotal evidence, I refer you, once again, to Seinfeld.  In episode three of season three (“The Pen”), Elaine is forced to beg Jerry’s elderly parents to turn on the air conditioning in their Florida condo as the previous night she complained to Jerry, “I’m sweating here.  I’m in bed…sweating.”

The next day, Jerry’s mom relents, but isn’t even sure she knows how to work the air conditioning.  As a result of this lessened ability to regulate temperature, many seniors fail to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke and/or heat exhaustion.  So here are a few tips to keep in mind as the mercury (I figure most people reading this post can remember mercury thermometers) begins to rise this summer.

  • Use the frickin’ air conditioning if you have it. Electric bill be damned.  If you don’t have A/C, then on extremely hot and humid days go someplace that has it and isn’t afraid to crank it.  It matters not where you go…a friend’s place, the mall, a museum, the movies, a library are all good choices.  You’ll be amazed what a few hours out of the heat can do for your overworked body.
  • Avoid too much time in the sun especially if you’re engaged in strenuous activity like yard work or exercise. And if you’re just lounging in the glorious sun, don’t forget to slather on plenty of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 759, or those cool, box-like sunglasses that offer UV protection.
  • Get the heat out of a hot kitchen, or if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen…choose whatever cliché you like, just avoid cooking on hot days and simply pop a delicious meal from MagicKitchen.com into the microwave machine which generates no heat at all. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to keep a few MagicKitchen.com meals in your freezer for those scorchers that you know are coming if they haven’t arrived already.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate BEFORE you get thirsty, because if you wait until the thirst arrives, you’re already dehydrated. And try to avoid “hydrating’ with alcohol or caffeinated drinks as they work as diuretics and serve to hasten dehydration.
  • Don’t just drink cool water, get in some, whether it’s a cool bath, shower, lake, pool, ocean, river…whatever. The cool water will help cool your blood which circulates throughout your body.  Another quick cooling off method is to run cold water over the inside of your wrists.  This area has a large number of blood vessels that run close to the surface and that cold water will cool all that blood as it circulates through your body.
  • Communicate often with friends and family to let them know you’re doing fine and staying cool on hot days. Use whatever method you, and they, are comfortable with, telephone, cell phone, Twitter, Snapchat…you get that idea.
  • Watch the humidity level. I’ve heard Arizona is hot, but it’s a dry heat.  That, however, is not the case in many places within our country.  High humidity levels are dangerous to us due to the fact that it causes our body’s cooling mechanism, sweating, not to work effectively.  The reason we perspire is to send liquid to the surface so that it can evaporate, thus, cooling our bodies.  When it’s excessively humid, that sweat on our skin’s surface doesn’t evaporate due to the high-water content in the atmosphere.  As a result, our bodies work harder to try and stay cool, placing more stress on our bodies, primarily on the heart.  So when the humidity’s up, keep your activity level down.

I’m not implying that you should cloister yourself in an air conditioned room for the entire summer.  I’m just giving you the same warning that Sergeant Esterhaus gave his officers after briefings on Hill Street Blues, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

facebooktwitterpinterest

A MagicKitchen.com Fourth of July Story

George and Martha were in no mood to host yet another Fourth of July barbecue at their suburban Virginia home they liked to call Mount Vermin (when they first moved in they had a slight mouse problem and the humorous name stuck).  The patriotic couple usually had a dozen friends and family members over for some steaks, sides, dessert and, of course, copious amounts of ale.  However, as the Fourth approached this year, George and Martha dreaded all the prep work required to host the gathering and they despaired.

George, a former military officer, and Martha, who had inherited a tidy sum of land and money from her first husband, discussed the issue after their dear friends, Alexander and John, inquired about their annual picnic.  Martha complained first.  It seems she was not looking forward to compiling a shopping list of all the necessary items, food and otherwise, required for the party and then making an hours-long visit to the market to purchase said items.  The thought of wandering up and down the endless aisles in search of steak, chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and various ingredients for her homemade desserts simply made her fantasize about living on a luxurious Southern plantation.

And she was just getting warmed-up.  She then had to haul it all home and then prepare all her signature dishes, like scalloped potatoes, rice pilaf, green bean casserole, cherry pie (George would provide the cherries from a local tree) and Dutch apple pie, among others.  After all the prep work, she then had to spend several more hours in a sweltering kitchen cooking it all.  George, in an effort to assuage her stress in times such as these, always referred to her as “the first lady of the kitchen,” but this year, she was having none of it.

George, not to be out done, then began whining about having to make his secret barbecue sauce for the meats as well as his ultra-super secret chili recipe that their guests, Abigail and Benjamin, so enjoyed.  He also bemoaned the fact that during most of the party he’d be tied to a hot grill, stirring the chili and flipping chicken breasts as Thomas and John’s cousin Sam, harangued him not to overcook their steaks.

Then, just as George was about to call Playicello (where Thomas lived and worked teaching kids how to play the cello) and cancel the whole thing, Martha, while surfing the net for frilly bonnets, came across a food delivery service called MagicKitchen.com and all was saved.  As she perused the site, she was amazed at all the delicious dishes they had to offer and it was all prepared and pre-cooked by certified chefs and then delivered right to Mount Vermin.  All they had to do was heat it up and serve, buffet-style.

She then quickly and easily ordered the hickory-smoked beef brisket, beef chili (which looked far better than that made by George), buffalo chicken artisan flatbread, crab cakes, and apple-smoked boneless pork and those were just the entrées.  For the sides she chose barley vegetable pilaf, French green beans with mushrooms and cream sauce, rosemary potatoes, and scalloped potatoes (which couldn’t possibly taste better than hers, could they?).

As for desserts, she selected Dutch apple pie, raspberry rhubarb pie, cinnamon-raisin bread pudding, and some gourmet cookies.  Voilà, done and done.  The food arrived just as promised and Martha simply placed it in the freezer until needed.  As for the party, Martha and George, for the first time, were true hosts rather than cook and wait staff and they were able to mingle with their guests and celebrate the Fourth of July as if they had something to do with the founding of the country.

Post-party, all their guests raved about the food and thoroughly enjoyed George’s tales of his military exploits, except for a few British guests who seemed oddly put-off.

facebooktwitterpinterest

Start a New Tradition with a Summer Solstice BBQ

As always, let’s start this post with some topical background information regarding the upcoming summer solstice…I figure it’s not needed for a barbeque.

Many people consider the summer solstice to be the start of summer while some in the northern hemisphere refer to it as midsummer (such as Will Shakespeare and his “Midsummer Night’s Dream”).  So what is a “solstice,” (it’s derived from the Latin words sol = sun and sistere = to stand still) exactly, and why does it always occur between June 20th and 22nd?

The existence of the solstices and equinoxes (there’s two of each, every year) is tied to the fact that the Earth does not float vertically in the vast expanse of space.  If you draw a line through the Earth, from pole to pole, that line is not straight up and down.  It’s tilted 23.4 degrees.  In other words, the earth is tilted 23.4 degrees on its axis.  And that tilt is why we have four seasons and their related solstices and equinoxes.

In the northern hemisphere, where I assume the vast majority of my readers live, we experience the warm summer months when the Earth is tilted towards the sun and the cooler winter months when it’s tilted away.  And while the Earth’s orbit around the sun is not a perfect circle, but rather elliptical (or egg-shaped), which causes our distance from the sun to vary, this distance, or lack-there-of, has nothing to do with our seasons.

Now, back to the summer solstice and what it is.  Due to that 23.4-degree tilt, the summer solstice is the exact time (this year it’s 12:24 AM on June 21st) when the sun reaches its most northern position, in this case, the Tropic of Cancer.  The winter solstice is when the sun is at its most southern position, or above the Tropic of Capricorn.  Thus, the Tropic lines are exactly 23.4 degrees away from the equator.  Isn’t math fun?

That is why, in the northern hemisphere, we get the greatest amount of daylight during the summer solstice.  In fact, the Arctic Circle will get 24 hours of daylight, Anchorage, Alaska will receive over 19 hours; Seattle, Washington almost 16 hours; Washington D.C. almost 15 hours; Miami, Florida 13 hours and 44 minutes; and Ushuaia, Argentina only gets 7 hours and 12 minutes of daylight.

Many cultures also turn the summer solstice, or midsummer, into a celebration (think Stonehenge) to include music, dance, drink and, of course, food.  And the food part is where MagicKitchen.com can offer some assistance.  We offer a succulent, hickory-smoked beef brisket that is glazed with a light, Kansas City-style barbeque sauce that only requires a few minutes on the grill to heat up.

If beef isn’t your thing, then how about some apple smoked, boneless pork loin?  We also got you covered when it comes to sides.  Simply chose from our popular BBQ sides, to include: nine-grain rolls, French green beans with mushrooms and cream sauce, haluski kapusta (say what?  A lovely combination of egg noodles, onions, cabbage and kielbasa sausage), magic mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, or stuffed baked potatoes.  So this summer solstice, host a BBQ, stay up late and celebrate the “longest day of the year” with the help of MagicKitchen.com.

facebooktwitterpinterest