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When is a Vacation Not a Vacation?

I was talking to a coworker the other day, and she mentioned that she would be on vacation beginning the next day. So, of course, I asked where she was going. She responded that she wasn’t going anywhere; rather she was staying at home and would be doing a few little hikes and just hanging out with her daughter.

That reminded me of a question I am frequently asked when I say I’m going to Georgia, or Arizona, or Ohio, or anywhere I happen to be going off to. “Oh, do you have family there?” More often than I would like to think, people are genuinely puzzled by the fact that no, I do not have family there.

These scenarios just got me wondering – When is a vacation really a vacation? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but a vacation must include a destination – generally with a plane ride but a road trip can certainly count too. I know the concept of a stay-cation has been much in the news lately, but to me, hanging around home is sheer torture. I look at all the organizing projects I should be working on, all the clutter I should be tackling, all the deck painting, de-mossing, gutter cleaning, weeding, car waxing, light fixture changing that I should be doing and it just makes me depressed. I can only truly unwind if I’m not stuck staring at all that stuff, thinking about what I should be doing.

That isn’t to say that I never want to do these things, but I just don’t want to use my vacation time to do it. It is a conundrum. A friend of mine only considers it to be a vacation if it includes 5 (consecutive) days off work.

Sadly, I have no vacation on the immediate horizon (under either the destination/plane ride theory or the 5 day theory) – just a couple of weekend trips nearby for the usual – a wedding, a birthday party, a baby shower. All fun, all looked forward to, but all not vacations. Now a destination wedding is a different matter! Although I have to admit that a wedding in Washington, D.C. would be more of a vacation than one in Arkansas.

Over the years, I have been on some fantastic vacations – I have had some wonderful experiences and made some great memories.  Here are just a few from the last couple of years.

Crater Lake, Oregon - August 2011

Crater Lake, Oregon – August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard - August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard – August 2011

Gold Beach Whaler

Gold Beach Whaler – August 2011

Slate Run Living Farm

Slate Run Living Farm – Winchester, Ohio – August 2008

The Hanoi Taxi

The Hanoi Taxi – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio – August 2008

The front entrance of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle – San Simeon, CA – August, 2010

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

Antietam National Battlefield – Sharpsburg, MD – February, 2008

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC – June 2012

The Joseph Manigault House - Built in 1803 - Federal Style Architecture

The Joseph Manigault House – Charleston, SC – June 2012

Savannah's Colonial Cemetery

Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery – Savannah, GA – June 2012

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery – Manson, WA – September 2012

An Elk Herd

Elk Feeding Area, near Hamilton, WA, September 2012

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes Station, CA – March 2013

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harbor Seal – Monterey, CA – March 2013

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – near Pebble Beach, CA – March 2013

So, how about you? What defines a vacation?

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Fennville Michigan – Find it on the Map!

Jon and I took a road trip this last weekend to visit Jon’s brother Justin and celebrate Justin’s birthday at a birthday BBQ. It was great to see the family, meet some of Justin’s friends, and relax in what turned out to be some fleeting sunshine. Justin is a scotch and red wine drinker, and I was in the mood for a white wine, so I brought my own bottle. The Fenn Valley 2007 Reserve Chardonel that we brought along turned out to be an excellent choice.

I know that many of you don’t associate Michigan with fine winemaking, but Michigan wine is starting to make a name for itself. Since my parents are from Michigan, and many of my extended family still live there, it is a foregone conclusion that I would go wine-tasting in Michigan. To tell the truth, I have been a couple of times, but since it is difficult to bring wine home on a plane, I don’t usually have wine to savor after the trip.

I visited my grandmother and extended family in October 2008, a couple of months after I met Jon. I flew out for the visit, but my parents were there at the same time and had driven out, so that meant that I could stash a couple of bottles of wine in their car for transport back to Washington. My cousin and I decided to take a couple of day trips, and we headed west to Lake Michigan. On the way, we stopped at Fenn Valley Winery, which has been in business since 1973.

Fenn Valley Winery

After being carded (that hardly ever happens anymore – unfortunately!), we went through a traditional tasting and decided which wines we liked. Interestingly, my favorite was a varietal wine that I hadn’t heard of before called Chardonel. Upon doing further research, I learned that it is a hybrid grape derived from the Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc grapes. The grape was first hybridized in 1953, but wasn’t released to wineries as stock until the 1970’s. Back in the 1990’s there was a push to get the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency (it has always seemed odd to me that wine is regulated by the same agency as semi-automatic weapons) to approve Chardonel as a varietal. I assume it happened, since the Fenn Valley Chardonel I purchased was a 2007 vintage. However, there is no longer any mention of Chardonel on Fenn Valley’s website, so I’m not sure if they are still producing it. It would be too bad if they aren’t making it any longer.

I read up on Chardonel, which seems to be more cold-hardy that it’s more famous parent, the Chardonnay. That is important when you are trying to grow wine grapes in Michigan. Although it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of Michigan due to the warmer wind that blows in off of Lake Michigan in the winter, the area around Fennville is still not what could be considered a temperate climate. Snow falls a good portion of the winter there, with low temperatures to about 10 Fahrenheit (according to the Fenn Valley website). Maybe Northwest Washington wineries should take up the Chardonel grape!

But back to the present day. I uncorked this delicious wine, and found that my choice two and a half years ago was justified. This wine is buttery like a Chardonnay, but more light and crisp that a traditional Chardonnay. It was a nice compromise between a full bodied white, and a crisp summer white. Jon liked it so much that he switched from the red he was drinking to have some of my wine. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if the sun had stuck around a while longer. It went very well with my spicy sausage, and with my hamburger. Hey, I know what you are thinking – “How much does she eat?”, so let me just say that Jon ate half of each. A girl has got to fend for herself in this marriage. When Jon’s around, no food is safe.

Perhaps when I visit Michigan next time, I’ll have a chance to visit Fenn Valley again. And hopefully, I can buy their Chardonel.

From Horses to Senators

The next day, I decided to head over to the Henry Clay house. I knew hardly anything about Henry Clay when I went, but he was another historical figure who had a house in Lexington (it’s actually a plantation mansion – it is huge), so I jumped on the opportunity.  Clay’s estate is available for tour, and the docents give a lot of very detailed information on who he was and what he did.  I learned that he was fascinating man, who certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the history books.

Henry Clay served the United States as a politician for most of his life, including in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, Speaker of the House (he was selected as Speaker on the first day of his first term of office – something that has never been done any other time), the US Senate, Secretary of State, and he ran for President 5 times!

He was a major contributor to the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was a supporter of the founding of a National Bank, developed the Hereford breed of cattle, operated a horse farm, had eleven children, fought in a duel, and created the Mint Julep. He died from tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 75. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay to be one of his mentors and role models, even though the two only met on a couple of occasions (through Mary’s family, of course).

The Henry Clay House

I also visited the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse while I was in Kentucky. The Kentucky Horse park is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a fairgrounds, but when the fair isn’t happening. All you horse-people who are reading this will certainly understand. There are some beautifully manicured grounds, horse arenas, jumping arenas, hot walkers, stables… and very few horses.

They do a Parade of Breeds twice a day in costume, in one of the side arenas, which is interesting, and you can see some famous retired racehorses and Standardbred pacers and trotters, but otherwise the park is kind of a dud. I wandered around for awhile trying to find something happening, but was pretty disappointed.

I also went over to the International Museum of the Horse, which had some appeal. It takes you through the history of the horse, from prehistoric times to modern day, and they have an exhibit on carriages and one on portraits of famous racehorses. But it just seemed like the exhibits were tired, and hadn’t been updated in a long time. I guess it is good to try a place out and say that you have been there, but I will find other things to do next time I’m in Kentucky.

The Man O’ War Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

Feeling unsatisfied after my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, I found a winery called Equus Run nearby and decided to try it out. Kentucky’s wine industry is in its fledgling stages – when I visited in 2008, I was told there were only 10 wineries in the state. The winery is located on the top of a hill, looking down over a beautiful valley. There was a pleasant patio where you could enjoy your wine. The server was friendly and informative about the wines, and I bought a bottle of their White Celebration blend. This was before the days of checked baggage fees, so I packed the bottle in my checked bag in all of my used socks, and it weathered the flight just fine. Interestingly enough, I waited awhile to drink it, and when I did, earlier this year, I found it to be too sweet for my taste. It seems that what I like has changed over time.

And just so you don’t think that I spent all of my time wandering around historic sites, I did spend some time at the pool at the hotel, and thoroughly enjoying the summer weather. I know, I know, all you sunblock, sun-shunning skeptics out there will probably be lining up to give me a lecture, but there is nothing like basking in the warmth of the sun, and feeling that warmth penetrate all the way through to your bones. When you live in the Northwest, a hot sun is a strictly seasonal phenonmenon, and you have to worship it when you get the chance. The George Hamilton look alike who was strutting around in his speedo was just the icing on the cake. He really thought he was hot, and kept trying to get my attention. It was really difficult to not laugh out loud – thanks but no thanks buddy! Well, look at that, I’ve gotten off topic again – so with that image of a 60-something, overly tanned guy with a slight beer belly stuffed into his speedo, I’ll leave you until next time.

 

All aboard for the Midwest!

Right before I met Jon in August 2008, I took a trip to Ohio and Kentucky. I wanted to see the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and see some of beautiful horse country in Kentucky. It was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Jon got to hear a full accounting of the trip on our first phone conversation and more on our first date. I’m sure that was his first indication that I am a travel nut, but thankfully, he is too.

I flew into Columbus, Ohio, and stayed the first night in a contemporary hotel downtown. The hotel was really nice – certainly someplace I would stay again if I end up around there. I do have to admit though, there isn’t a whole lot going on during the day in downtown Columbus. I took a walk around, expecting there to be lots of businessmen wandering around, but it was relatively dead. After I found a great place to have breakfast, I left Columbus and started on my way to Dayton. On the way, I drove past a sign for a state park, advertising an interactive farm. I drove down to check it out and found a quaint 1800s farm called the Slate Run Living Farm, complete with farm animals, exhibits on farming techniques and animal husbandry techniques. It was a beautiful day, so it was enjoyable to just sit in the sun and take it all in. There were lots of good photo ops at this place, and I got some neat photos of the barn with the sunny blue skies and clouds. In all, it was a nice relaxing day, perfect for working up to a visit of the aviation museum of all aviation museums.

Slate Run Living Farm

So, what can I possibly say about the National Museum of the United States Air Force? This place is enormous. It is not possible to see everything there is to see in one day. I made it through two of the three gigantic airplane hangars, but didn’t have time for the third. Which was ok, because the third focused on modern day aviation and the space program, and I’m much more interested in the beginnings of air travel, World War I, and World War II. And don’t think that the exhibits only pertain to the Air Force, because they aren’t exclusive. There are exhibits on the Wright Brothers, the German Aces in World War I, and Navy air operations during World War II. And, like I said before, the Space Program, if that is what floats your boat (I have to admit, the landing pods were pretty cool – the ones where you can land in the ocean and then float until NASA picks you up). This is a museum that can keep you fully occupied, even if Aviation isn’t your passion; you just have to have an appreciation for history. There is information about Doolittle’s Raiders, who flew bombing missions over Japan during WWII and the Wasps (the women aviators who transported military aircraft), just to name a few. It is humbling to see what Americans sacrificed for our freedom.

The museum houses the Bockscar, which is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  It is difficult to fathom all the lives that it destroyed and all the lives that it saved.

Bockscar, B-29 Superfortress

Outside the museum is parked the “Hanoi Taxi,” a Lockheed C-141, which shuttled the Vietnam POWs home at the end of the Vietnam War.  US Senator John McCain was flown home from his imprisonment in a Vietnamese prison camp on this plane.

The Hanoi Taxi

Next, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, hometown of Mary Todd Lincoln. No visit to Lexington is complete without a visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln childhood home.  The home is in downtown Lexington now, but apparently during the mid 1800s it was on the outskirts of Lexington. It is a beautiful brick home that has been well maintained over the last 200 years.  I got the tour, and the docent was very knowledgeable about Mary Lincoln and quite willing to discuss how Mary really got the shaft when Lincoln was assassinated (I always love when the docents are willing to go off of the script). Undoubtedly, Mary had some mental illness issues, but consider the fact that three of her four children died before reaching adulthood, several of her family members were killed in the war, and her husband was murdered. People in the north thought she was a traitor and that she was urging Lincoln for special treatment for her family members (geez, who wouldn’t?). She was booted unceremoniously out of the White House with no pension, and women of that time period typically didn’t receive any financial education or schooling in business affairs. I would be having a little trouble adjusting too. There really is more to Mary Todd Lincoln than the overspending nutcase that she is portrayed as.

Mary Todd Lincoln's Childhood Home - complete with garbage and recycling toters

And the best part of the trip, is that  it was not yet finished!  But I’ll save the rest for another post.

And this other time it snowed…

This snow that has been taunting us for the last several days and never actually appearing got me thinking about a trip I took a few years ago to Maryland and Pennsylvania, to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Civil War Battlefields. It was February then, and it also snowed on that trip. I always thought that people in Washington State were kind of wimpy about snow – it creates an amazing amount of chaos for a few inches. I thought it would be different in Maryland, but apparently not. I flew in and went to the hotel, and watched the news reports about the Snow-mageddon of 2008. So, figuring I was either going to be stuck or not, I went to bed and slept in the next morning. In the morning, the reports were all about the snarled commute and the various repercussions of the post-apocalyptic snow event. I was in a hotel room with a sliding door looking out onto an indoor courtyard where the pool was, and no outside window.

So, I slowly got prepared for what would be a horrible driving experience, and went outside – to find a quarter inch of snow on the grass and absolutely nothing on the roads or sidewalks. “Hey,” I thought, “it all melted – on with the day!” I drove out to the Antietam Battlefield, about 20 miles away, with clear roads and no issues the entire trip – only to find the Visitors Center closed due to snow. Someone had neatly taped a sign to the inside of the door telling visitors of the closure. Ok, so you mean some employee actually managed to get down to the Visitor’s Center (at significant risk of death or serious maiming – I’m kidding here if you couldn’t tell), opened the door, taped up the sign, and went home. Hello, you’re already there, why not just open? So, my trip to the Antietam Battlefield Visitor’s Center was thwarted, but I wandered around the battlefield anyway. Because, hey I was already there, and there really wasn’t much snow, as you can tell by this photo. I had a good time.

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

During that same trip, I also headed over to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to see the site where the historical battle occurred. If you haven’t been there, you should go, even if you are not a Civil War history buff. There is something deeply humbling about standing on the sites where tens of thousands of Americans died for their respective causes. The town of Gettysburg is still fairly small and is unravaged by time and the development that has plagued so many other towns and cities. The buildings and fields where the battle was fought still look today like they did during that time, and in a fit of bureaucratic genius, the US government saw the need even back then to do what it could to preserve the area for the education of future generations. You can look out from Little Round Top and imagine the Confederate charge that Joshua Chamberlin defended against on Day 2 of the battle. You can imagine the sheer insanity of Pickett’s charge on Day 3, across more than a mile of open field, over fences and rock walls, and back up the hill into a heavily fortified waiting Union Army (I’m still amazed that anyone lived through that).

The view of The Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

And the cemetery, what could I possibly say about that? To stand on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address months later, and to see the countless rows of graves marked with numbers instead of names – it really makes you wonder about whether the political infighting we experience today is really worth it.

Gettysburg Cemetery

When I was there, the new Gettysburg Visitor’s Center was not yet open (it was scheduled for its opening in April, and I was there in February). The old one was open though, even though there was actually more snow in Gettysburg. They had exhibits on the weapons that were used during the Civil War, artifacts, and a lighted battlefield map that took you through the Union and Confederate positions on each day of the battle. I believe that this map was created in the 1920’s so any child today would groan at the sight of it, but I thought it was pretty cool. Apparently others did as well, because the plan was to save it, rather than trash it when the new Visitor’s Center opened. In another 150 years, history buffs and scholars will really appreciate the foresight.