Nantucket, the island of stories

I’ve read so many books that have been centered on or featured the island of Nantucket that I almost feel like I know what it’s like to live there. Well, not really but with a book and my imagination, I’ve come to love a place I’ve never traveled to – until now.

Nantucket

Nantucket

Taking the high speed ferry from Hyannis, we were transported to the island in about an hour. Parking was not too difficult to find, although it came with a cost and a short shuttle ride to the dock. The boat was fast, so stepping outside for a view can make your hair look like the bride of Frankenstein.

Once off the boat, you’re in the “downtown” area that’s filled with tourists, shops and wonderful smells of food. Our first stop was the whaling museum, where we were able to touch a whale’s tooth (huge!), touch the baleen from a whale and learn about items made with whale parts. The museum also has a rooftop deck to give you and overview of the harbor – a perfect photo opportunity.

We stopped briefly at Children’s Beach, very close to the ferry dock but on the small side for a beach. We decided to rent bikes and headed out with our map to Dionis Beach. A good 3 ½ miles later, we arrived hot, sweaty and ready to jump in the water. A short path through the dunes and we entered the beach, which was not crowded but had a good amount of sunbathers.

Nantucket Dionis Beach

Nantucket Dionis Beach

Bikes are somewhat expensive to rent so get them early and get good use out of them. If we had more time or stayed the night, we would’ve headed to Sconset, but instead took a shorter route to a closer beach.

After cooling off and playing for a while, we biked back, returned our bikes and went in search of food. After fueling up, it was time to get in line for the ferry back to Hyannis.

It was a quick trip. If you’re up for a day on the island, take the early morning ferry and the late evening ferry to get the most out of your day. If we had more time, the island aquarium was on our list to check out (and is working on an expansion). The views and storied beaches did not disappoint, and now when I read a book about Nantucket, I’ll be transported back to my island getaway.

Disclosure: Family trip, no compensation received. These opinions are my own.

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Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement

When my son was a toddler, he would tear up every time we went out in the bright son. He eventually grew out of it but he’s always been very light sensitive. So when The Vision Council invited me to a webinar, I was intrigued.

According to a recent report (PDF) by The Vision Council, 40 percent of U.S. adults do not wear sunglasses while outdoors and more than half of parents do not protect their children’s eyes with sunglasses. When you combine that with the fact that children will accumulate 80 percent of sun exposure by the time they are 18, you can see that there’s a real need, beyond fashion, to have sunglasses for your children.

Sunglasses on vacation

Shades – especially in the ocean.

We’re a sunglasses family. My daughter wears glasses, so each pair of glasses she has owned has been transition lenses (and parents, please, get the anti-glare, too – your photographs will thank you!)

We even kept her last pair of glasses when she got new ones, and she uses those while swimming. She wants to be able to see and have her eyes shaded, and you just don’t get that in a pair of swim goggles.

When we travel, sunglasses are a must for the whole family. And I’ve now learned that it’s more than just shading your eyes from the sun, it’s protecting them from the sun’s rays, too. Sunburn of the eye is real, in the form of photokeratitis. When you’re out and about on the beach, on a boat or anywhere for that matter, sunglasses protect you from the sun, which is strongest between noon and 4 p.m.

The Vision Council has a handy tool to check where in the world the UV rays are the strongest. Just go to http://www.missingsunglasses.com/, type in your ZIP code for the UV index in any city. Puerto Rico, because of its location near the equator, has the strongest UV rays in the U.S. Internationally, Australia has the highest.

I saw a report on the news at some point that said most cheap sunglasses have as good or better UV protection than more expensive lenses. If you’re unsure of what kind, if any, your sunglasses have, most eye doctors have a UV meter and will test lenses for you. Scratches on lenses will diminish the protection, so it’s better to spend a few dollars for a new pair than pay for eye damage later.

Transition lenses

What happens when transition lenses are in a netted pouch.

We always travel with sunglasses for the whole family. But now, I’m going to make sure we each have a good case for our sunglasses to minimize the risk of breaking them in our travel bags and to protect them from scratches. So the next time you’re worried about sunscreen and skin cancer, take a moment to grab those sunglasses. Your eyes will thank you.

Disclosure: I was compensated for attending the webinar and writing this post, although the opinions are my own.

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A bewitching history and future travel stop in Salem

After taking a history course in college, Witches, heretics and religion, my interest was piqued for a trip to Salem. Although it was a short period of time, the Salem witch trials caused such a stir that it has created a tourist destination and something the world still talks about and studies nearly 400 years later.

Salem Witch Musem

Salem Witch Musem

On a recent vacation to Massachusetts, we had a day trip to Salem, which started with the Salem Witch Museum. A bit hokey for the cultured tourist, this exhibit takes you through lighted displays and storytelling to give you a sense of what happened in the 1600s in Salem. It was presented clearly so my kids were able to get the full picture without asking a million questions.

After the show portion, we were taken into a second area where we were walked through the history of witchcraft, from pagans to witch stereotypes to the Wiccan religion.

After the museum, we walked through Salem, which also is famous for being the home of the Parker Brothers, creators of Monopoly and many other board games. The Salem Museum, which is free, is a small museum that has displays about the witch trials, a town fire in the 1800s and a special exhibit on Monopoly.IMG_9973

We also walked through the cemetery, which has gravesites that are several hundred years old, as well as an area dedicated to the victims of the witch trials. We stopped at a statue of Samantha from Bewitched, which was filmed in Salem.

IMG_9983After investigating the witch hysteria, we walked to the water and the pier and had a great lunch with lobster rolls and clam chowder. We walked through a few shops, which were bustling with tourists. The city itself is much more than its witch history and is a great place to stroll, eat and shop.

Disclosure: Family trip, no compensation received. These opinions are my own.

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Bringing an old deck back to life

My husband and I have argued about our deck for years. The original owner of the house built it himself. It’s one of the things that made us fall in love with the house – a multilevel deck, brick paver patio and partially surrounded an above ground pool.

Deck before

Deck before

We should’ve heard warning bells when the owner had it inspected before we moved in and had to rebuild the steps because they weren’t spaced properly. A few years later, we found that he didn’t anchor the posts properly, either, and the deck started to shift with the freeze/thaw cycle. A couple of times, we had handymen in to cut and repair the posts to make the deck level again. It’s currently a bit uneven and sloping towards the pool.

Before giving up and taking a chainsaw to the whole thing, I set out this summer to stain it to see if it was still tolerable. My husband, who travels a lot and took the first staining job several years ago, thought I was crazy and wanted no part of it.

After I bought a couple of gallons of stain, I saw a commercial on TV for Behr’s DeckOver. The commercial reeled me in, and I returned the stain and came home with the DeckOver. The advertising says the thick paint/stain would bring new life to an old deck, help seal up smaller cracks and give the deck a slip-resistant finish. When I was having my color added to the base, the guy at the store told me that the paint also would reduce the heat of the deck by a bit.

Deck After DeckOver

Deck After DeckOver

I started with the upper portion of the deck because it is the smallest and it’s the part that we look at the most, right off of the kitchen. I used a power washer to clean the deck and take some of the current stain off, although there wasn’t much left of it.

Twelve gallons later, we have most of the deck covered, with two coats on the walking parts (the instructions recommend two coats on all but we’re lazy like that and the railings took forever). I’ve been taking the job slowly, doing parts here and there on evenings and free weekends. My husband joined in a few times when he was in town, and the kids tried a few swipes of the paintbrush before getting bored and heading off to other pursuits.

Deck After DeckOver

Deck After DeckOver

We still have some of the bottom portions to do, along with the lattice that surrounds the deck to hide the underside. I’m considering investing in a paint sprayer for the lattice after having painted a few smaller pieces that make up our deck gates.

Ideally, I’d rather have a stain to have the wood grain show through. However, in the shape that our deck is in, this product is ideal to seal up some of the cracks and provide a surface that is perfect to surround our pool. The slip-resistant finish is so much better than slippery wood and has reduced slip and falls from our kids and their friends. I’ve recommended it to my mother and some neighbors who need to paint their front porch decking and steps. The finish, which feels almost like a fine grit sandpaper, is great for stairs, especially in a wet Michigan summer or icy Michigan winter.

If you’re looking to revive a deck or have a deck or stairs area that has heavy traffic, I highly recommend Behr’s new product. We’re falling in love with our deck again just in time to enjoy it during the summer.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated in any way. This is my personal opinion of Behr DeckOver.

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A short journey to Quebec takes you a world away

I’ve always wanted to visit Quebec, and mostly Montreal. People talk of the city as a “little Paris” and the European vibe it offers. If you drive there, even renting a car from the airport, you’ll have a quick lesson in French. The signs for compass points are in French, as are the stop signs and other navigation signs.

It is the law in the province of Quebec to speak French first, so most will greet you with a bonjour, and then a hello if you give them a puzzled look. We only ran into one gentlemen who was appalled that we did not speak French. When I told him I had taken Spanish in school, he said he thought maybe that was a good choice for living in the U.S.

The plane ride from Detroit was short, just over an hour. Our first stop was the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal. We had a tour of the city, old and new, stopping by the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica and wandering through the Just for Laughs festival, which was taking place that week. We were treated to a Montreal bagel hot out of the oven and were taken up to the top of a hill to view the city below. Bikers are everywhere in the city and you can rent bikes at several stations throughout the city.

Montreal has an underground city, but we found it a bit difficult to navigate and directions were not clearly marked. We tried to walk through it from our hotel to another section of the city but came up to ground level a few times and back down in our attempts. We ended up giving up and walking at street level. However, I can see how that would be a huge bonus in the cold winter months.

Our next part of the trip took us to the Fairmont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains. A beautiful ski village, Tremblant is also bustling in the summer with many visitors, shops and outdoor activities. Activity passes are available for gondola rides, mountain cart rides and countless kids’ activities. I took a gondola ride to the top and opted for the birds of prey show. In addition to the hawks, owl and eagle, we were treated to Mother Nature’s own show when a deer wandered near us. The views to the village are gorgeous.

The resort has several small pools – a regular pool, therapy pool (a little warmer) a cold pool and a hot tub. I had a Swedish massage at the spa, which took away my knots from traveling. Down the mountain, the resort has a beach area, which you can pay to enter or access with an activity card. No transportation is provided and it is a good yet healthy walk, especially up part of the mountain on the way back.

We used the resort’s complimentary bikes to take a ride through the many paved trails. Living in a very flat part of Michigan, the hills were a welcome yet challenging pace but we were rewarded with fantastic views of the river and several deer.

Our last stop in Quebec was the Fairmont Chateau Montebello, a huge log cabin structure that used to be a private club. The walking paths are along the water’s edge, the outdoor pool is clean and warm and the indoor pool is huge. I did not go for a ride but the horses looked happy and healthy as they were readied for the days’ activities.

The breakfast buffet at all three resorts were similar, and I had my fill of maple crepes at each. Alas, we didn’t leave any time for the famous Canadian poutine, but we’ll have to venture back again for that experience. Also, the hotels have a dog on staff! At most locations, you can sign out the dog for a walk or just give him or her some pets in the lobby.

Disclosure: This was a work trip for my husband and I was along for the ride. These opinions are my own and are in no way compensated.

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Bay Harbor brings style to resorts in Michigan

Not much can beat a warm summer day in northern Michigan. And a stay at Bay Harbor makes it even better. In late June, my family and I stayed at the Inn at Bay Harbor for a few days. The weather was perfect, the resort pleasant and the views spectacular.

We used the complimentary bikes one day and rode on the path towards Petoskey. The bike path was in perfect condition with lots of bike and walking traffic. It was shaded so although it was a very warm day, we had the cool breezes of shade on our side. A few openings in the trees provided spectacular views of Lake Michigan.

Downtown Petoskey is just a short drive away, with all of the walkable shopping and cute parks and restaurants for whatever strikes your fancy. We stopped for a music performance in a park, and the kids had fun exploring a toy store and a garden store with fairy gardens on display.

We had a couple of fantastic meals at the South American Grille and Wine Bar. A local Northern Michigan seasonal salad really hit the spot.

The kids had a blast at the pool, which is placed near gorgeous views of the bay. We took a break to walk the shore and find Petoskey stones, of which we found several. We wandered down to the volleyball net and had a short family game.

The rooms are nice and comfortable, with a bedroom, living room with a murphy bed and kitchenette, creating the perfect space for a family vacation. A small balcony overlooking the lake is a great way to end the day.

At dusk, we headed to the fire near the lake and made s’mores and my husband and son played catch on the lawn. Just a few days at Bay Harbor and we were well-rested and recharged.

Disclosure: My husband traveled here on a work trip. My kids and I were along for the ride. This review is my own opinion and is not compensated.

 

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Convenience and comfort at Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel

When you’re traveling for work, you hope for a decent hotel and hope that the location is close enough to see or do something if you have a few moments of downtime. And of course, you hope that you can find a decent meal.

The Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel has all of this and more. Located outside of the city center of Atlanta, the hotel is connected to the Cobb Galleria Centre convention center with restaurants and shops. We ate at Jocks and Jills, a bar and grill, which had great food and friendly service.

Just across the street through a sky walkway sits the Cumberland Mall. You’ll find all of the standard mall stores inside, as well as some chain and local restaurants. We had dinner – and cheesecake – at the Cheesecake Factory, which is always a good place to eat with friends.

Atlanta Renaissance Waverly HotelThe hotel itself is nice. The inner courtyard is large and open, in what looks to be that it was an Embassy Suites-type hotel in a previous life. The hotel is perfect for groups and those coming to conventions. The rooms were clean, beds soft and the breakfast buffet was good.

Downtown Atlanta is a short drive away, depending on the traffic and time of day. I’d recommend staying at the Renaissance Waverly if you want to be out of yet near enough to visit the city center.

Disclosure: I stayed here for work. The hotel did not compensate me in any way and the opinions here are my own.

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A few days at the Chicago Westin Michigan Avenue

Any hotel next to the Hancock building may look small, but when the hotel has two wings and two separate elevators, the place is a lot larger than it looks.

Chicago Westin Michigan AvenueWhen I stayed at the Chicago Westin Michigan Avenue in March, the hotel was packed but I never felt overwhelmed or had to wait excessively. It was definitely a smooth operation. The hotel had a mix of business travelers, sports groups and families, many of whom were shopping at the nearby Water Tower Place. In fact, the check-in desk has an American Girl on display and I saw many little girls walking around with their girls.Chicago Westin

The hotel rooms are fairly typical, with a desk, flat-screen TV and a comfy chair. The room did not have a separate refrigerator but did have a filled minibar.

The bathroom was clean and included the standard Westin toiletries. With a full hotel, I was surprised to find that I did not hear any noises from the hallway or from neighbors.

In the lobby, the hotel has a small Starbucks (with typical Chicago prices including $6 for a yogurt cup with granola). The restaurant bar was fairly full of people but I did not eat or drink there.

The Water Tower Place mall and Michigan Avenue shopping is just outside the door, and Giordano’s famous pizza is just a couple of walkable blocks away.

Disclosure: I stayed at the Westin Michigan Avenue for my day job and did not receive any compensation. This is my own personal review and opinions are my own.

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Exploring the new and improved Michigan Science Center

When your son, who has been practicing indoor baseball for the past four months, says he’d rather skip his first scrimmage because he still wants to explore, you know you’ve hit on a good thing.

I had never been to the Michigan Science Center before last weekend. Sure, I had heard of it when it was the Detroit Science Center but never made it there. I wasn’t quite sure what was there, if it was worth it and what the age ranges were.

I was missing out.

Michigan Science Center mirrorMy son and I spent five hours at the Michigan Science Center on a recent Saturday, were still having fun and did not see everything that we wanted to see. Had my daughter not had a gymnastics class, I’m sure it would have been even harder to get them to leave.Michigan Science Center manufacturing

When I hear “science center,” I think of science experiments and complicated processes that make my head spin. In reality, the science center makes learning fun. I’m not sure who was having a better time when we went into the “jamming room” and played the guitar and drums.

Of course, one of our favorites was the electric show – the classic show where you see someone put their hair on end. We had a great time learning about electrical currents and how our bodies react by touching and impacting the currents.

Unfortunately, we ended up missing the planetarium but we did see the IMAX show of tornado alley. My son walked in and said “where’s the screen?” I told him “the whole thing (dome) is the screen.” Whoa, blew his mind!

Michigan Science Center electricityWe had a nice break in the middle of our visit for lunch at the Cosmic Café, which had a good selection and was affordable.

Overall, we had a fantastic day and are already looking to go back again.

Discount Offer: Use code TweetTeam for the Michigan Science Center @mi_sci through April 5 and get $3 off adult/$2 off child admission. Not valid with any other offer. Limit 6.

Disclosure: We attended the Michigan Science Center as part of the TweetTeam. This post was not expected nor is part of the event for attending and is solely my opinion. 

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What every hotel should have

I stayed at a hotel recently that didn’t have an alarm clock or a coffee maker in the room. Apparently, they don’t cater to business travelers and/or wanted people to sleep in. As I traveled on several trips to a few states in less than a month, I began to make a mental list of things that every hotel should have.

A plug near the bed. For your phone. Especially if you don’t offer an alarm clock.

A refrigerator. It doesn’t take up that much space. I was recently at a hotel that had a “cooling unit” with a sign that said it would only cool to around 55 degrees and was not to be considered a refrigerator. Why? Why go through that bother? Just put in a fridge and make everyone happy.

A hair dryer. Standard, yet so many have been through the ringer.

A magnifying mirror. I found that I like hotels that have this now that I’m getting a little older. Although, sometimes the results can be more than you bargained for.

Ample coffee. One caffeinated and one decaffeinated is usually standard. If you offer a one-cup experience, give us a little more, please.

A safe that can fit a laptop. Safes come in so many shapes and sizes, and if it can’t fit my laptop, it’s not very useful to me.

A thermostat that allows you to turn on a fan. When you’re in a room with three other humans (including the little humans), being able to turn on the fan at night can make everyone sleep a little more soundly by having some white noise. Especially when those loud people coming crashing through the hallway after hitting the bar.

Room-darkening curtains . The ocean view is nice, but not for my little humans who are still adjusting to a new time zone. We recently had a hotel that had sliding wooden louvered doors to cover the sliding glass door. Pretty, but it sure didn’t keep out any light.

So what did I leave off the list? What else should a hotel have?

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