Monday, January 5, 2009

Keeping Your Car in Tip-Top Shape for Winter


Now that the cold weather has arrived with a vengeance, it’s more important than ever to be sure your car is prepared for the onslaught of winter.

Keeping Your Car in Tip-Top Shape for Winter
The holiday season usually marks the beginning of snow, sleet, ice, and dangerous driving conditions for many parts of the country. This is the time of year to take care of some basic maintenance chores for your car and bone up on winter driving rules, to make sure you stay safe on the road.

Check your tires:
A worn tire with little or no tread driving on a rain-slicked road is a recipe for disaster. Hydroplaning on a wet surface causes the driver to lose control, which could result in a simple fender-bender or a serious wreck. To check your tire’s tread, experts suggest slipping a penny inside one of the treads in the center of the tire. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, then it’s time to get new tires. Adequately inflated tires with proper tread provide more traction on slippery roads.

Check your wiper blades:
The summer heat beating down on your windshield can deteriorate the rubber blades of your windshield wipers. When cold air arrives, the blades may start to crack. If you notice that the blades are streaking when it rains, then it’s time to have them replaced. Replace your windshield wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture that can help melt ice.
Have the radiator system serviced:
Be sure your radiator and heating systems are working properly. You can check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester.

Keep your gas tank full:
Driving on fumes is risky even in the heat of summer, but it’s particularly dangerous in cold weather. To help avoid ice in the gas tank and fuel lines, keep your gas tank at least half full throughout the winter.

Prepare for an emergency:
Every car should already have some basic emergency supplies such as road maps, a spare tire, a flashlight and extra batteries, and booster cables. But in the winter you should put together an emergency kit containing items you may need should your car end up in a ditch in bad weather and you have to wait for help to arrive. This emergency kit can contain items such as blankets, a first aid kit, a windshield scraper, a collapsible shovel, a tool kit for minor repairs, a container of water, a can of compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire repairs), and a bag of sand or cat litter to pour on ice for added traction.

Learn about driving in winter weather:
No matter where you live, icy roads are always a possibility. Even just a slight bit of moisture on the road, when combined with very low temperatures, can result in slippery roadways, especially bridges and overpasses. Here are some driving tips that may save your life:

- Improve visibility before you leave home by clearing all ice and snow from your car.
- Use your low beam headlights when driving in a rain or snow storm, for improved visibility.
- When you approach a patch of ice on the road, apply the brakes during your approach, not when you reach the ice.
- Move, turn, and brake slowly. Sudden changes and fast movements make it harder to maintain control.
- Always leave plenty of room between your car and the car ahead of you.
- Slow down. Posted speed limits are for ideal road conditions, not for bad weather.

Preparing your car and yourself for driving in winter weather is not difficult, and it may mean the difference between leaving home and arriving at your destination safe and sound, or leaving home and ending up in the hospital or worse. Take the time to plan ahead so you can enjoy a safe and happy winter.

Our Trip to St. Louis, Mo


Our Trip to St. Louis, Mo
Editor's note: These are cadettes and seniors from the girl scouts troop # is 5483 of Bellevue, Nebraska. Writing these articles was the last requirement for their Travelers Interest Project. I am happy to publish their articles here for your enjoyment of these young writers' talents.

©2009 Sarah Brewster
I am going to tell you about Troup 5483’s end of the year trip to St. Louis. We started at Bellevue public Library at 6:00 in the morning and left around 6:15-6:20 for St Louis, Mo. When we got there it was about 3:15 or a little later, but entering the city was just a site you wouldn’t ever be able to forget. It started as a regular highway and slowly turned into a magnificent city of old buildings and new buildings combined. The city was the most breathtaking thing in the world. So we went to take a tour of the mayor’s office first, and while that happened we learned a lot of the back ground of the city and its mayors.

When that was finished we went to travel “The Hill” and we had some free time that we used up because we got a tad-bit lost, ooops! After we found our way to Zia’s, the little Italian restaurant that turned out to be bigger than we expected, we ate the best tasting food in the world (to me)! The dessert was just mouthwatering! Since it was like an oven outside, we decided to go back to the hotel and check in and sleep.

The next day we were supposed to get the wake-up call at 7:00 AM, but my roommates and I didn’t get the call till 7:45…AH! yeah, that was killer! We hurried to the metro link at 8:00 to “catch” a train to down town St. Louis to get to the Archway at 8:45, which, by the way, has airport-style security. When we're going “up” the archway, lets just say everyone knew that we're in the little travel cars. Since it wasn’t as windy as some days the arch wasn’t shaky, so it was even more fun than it might have been.

When we were done with the “boxed picnic lunch on the riverfront” we went to the museum of Westwood expansion, had a tour of the old court house, and went to the riverfront area. Next we went on the metro link to Union Station. We got there just in time to see the Fudgery Show. Since that was right next to our eating spot, the Hard Rock Café, we walked right to it (no need of the metro link this time!). The biggest part of the whole trip is up next, people!

Well, at around 6:35 we went on the metro link to see the Baseball game at Busch stadium. The teams that were playing were the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the St Louis Cardinals. The game had a sudden interruption of, what do you know... rain! We wanted to stay and watch the last half of the game, but we ended up leaving, as well as half of the others in the stadium.
The next morning was a driving trip to the St Louis Galleria till about 1:15. After that we went to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Mummy Room, to be exact. After we explored the wonderful world of art, we went to the zoo, where we had fun watching a kid in a bear suit. We all were getting hungry and about to eat the zoo animals, so we went to Steak ‘n Shake, where I got the yummiest American style food ever! About 8:15 we went to the Muny to see the play “Fiddler on the Roof.” Since it was long, we went to the hotel and CRASHED in our rooms.

On our last day we were on the road around 8:15 to the City Museum. We spent our last minutes in St Louis there, and it was just perfect. It was artsy and I loved it! After lunch it was time to depart. On the way back we had burgers again for dinner, since we all love that kind of cuisine. We found it's always great to get home again.

©2009Kristen N. Rife
Here I was. Getting ready for another Girl Scout outing. But this wasn’t just another workshop or badge requirement. I had been waiting for this moment for a while. I’ve been talking and talking and talking about it and now its finally here!

As we always do, we gathered once again at the Bellevue Public Library to get ready for another trip. But this time, it wasn’t just another workshop. We were going to St. Louie! I couldn’t believe it. No Brownies, Dasies, Juniors, or any other younger Scouts. Just the big kids. First we took roll call to make sure everybody was there. Then we prayed for a safe trip out. After that we decided who was in which vehicle and took off. I was in the RV with three of my girlfriends, Charsia, Gabby, Jenny and me, Kristen. Just to get this straight, Mrs. Sylvester was the owner of the RV, not me. (Mrs. Sylvester is Gabby’s mom.)
The trip there was so much fun! We had a laptop, so we went to You tube and watched movies and listened to songs. Some of us slept because we had to get up 5:00- 5:30 and we were pretty tired. There were snacks galore too! Cheetoes, Fritos, Ruffles, ect. This was my first time in an RV, so I had a good first impression. My only concern was how small it was. It was a wee bit cramped, but I knew I could deal with it. It was complete with a stove, bedroom, small couch, eating table, and cabinets. It was a nice place.

One of the major stops we took while in St. Louie was seeing the Mayor of the city. We got a tour of the building and met a lady who works there. Then finally we got to a big room with red fluffy carpet. There was also a long wooden table with a number of chairs on either side. The chairs were tall and had red cushions for your back and bottom. They had a hard golden rim that made them look like they cost a fortune. We had a talk with the lady that worked there again because the mayor was busy. When we finally got to the hotel we drew names for who was with whom in a hotel room. Only three girls in a room was the rule. I was with Becca and Brianna. There were only two beds in a room so I had to share with Becca.

The hotel room was as big as a small-medium sized room. The beds were huge and took up most the space. The beds were extremely soft and fluffy. There were also two medium sized pictures of flowers above the beds. In front of the foot of the beds was a TV., so it was a pretty nice place.

Through the three days and two nights we spent there, we went everywhere it seemed. We went to the Galleria, Hard Rock café, art galleries, and other places. I would say my favorite place was a tie between the Galleria and the Hard rock café. The Galleria was lots of fun to shop in. But then again, the Hard Rock Café had excellent food. But I can’t forget the Arch. I know just about everybody who had visited St. Louis has gone to the Gateway Arch at least once. And everybody’s ridden in the small, crammed, trams you take to get to the top of the Arch and look down to see their car or relative at the bottom. So I just want to say that I had basically the same experience.

Every night after a long day of hiking we got back to the hotel about 9:00-9:30 and got to bed around 10:30. I remember I always went to sleep with the TV on. The cool thing about the TV was that it had a timer. So every night we set it to turn off automatically one or two hours later.
The way home was probably my favorite part because we got to go to this one museum. I forgot the name of the place, so just bear with me for a sec. At this place we got to climb, slide, jump, and dance, (just kidding.) We also ate there! I had the best pizza ever! Even though there was a ridiculously long line to wait in, it was worth it. After that, we saw Fiddler on the Roof. I thought it was a really good play. But I slept through the last half. Then we went to what I thought was the best restaurant EVER. Steak’n Shake. I had the best meal I think I’ll have in a long time. And I can’t forget the shakes there. They were the BOMB. So I totally recommend going there.

When we got back to the library parking lot, of course our parents, grand parents, and guardians, ect., were waiting for us to hug, kiss, and love on. When my dad picked me up, of course he asked the question all parents would ask when their kid is gone for a period of time. Just like when you get home from school and your mom or dad would ask, "How was school, Honey" and you would typically say "Good" or "Fine". So if you guessed that he said, "How was your trip?", you're right. And if you guessed that I answered back " Good" or "Fine," then your double right.

So as you can see, I did have a good time and this is the end of my story. So if you are planning to go to St. Louie some time soon or if you would like to, I hope you have as good a time as I did.

One of the major stops we took while in St. Louie was seeing the Mayor of the city. We got a tour of the building and met a lady who works there. Then finally we got to a big room with red fluffy carpet. There was also a long wooden table with a number of chairs on either side. The chairs were tall and had red cushions for your back and bottom. They had a hard golden rim that made them look like a fortune. We had a talk with the lady that worked there again because the mayor was busy for some reason.
©2009Briana Mayfield-Williams
During my summer trip, between 8th and 9th grades, I went with my senior Girl Scout Troop to St. Louis, Missouri. While on this trip, I visited the St. Louis Arch, attended a Cardinals baseball game, shopped at the Galleria (a mall), played at the City Museum, toured the St. Louis Cathedral, ate at one of the Italian restaurants on The Hill, visited the St. Louis Zoo and saw the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the Muny.

My favorite place to visit had to be inside the Arch. This was my favorite because of the scenery and the spectacular view when you arrive at the top. I also really enjoyed the Galleria because I love to shop. At Union Station, I saw a fudgery show which was very interesting. While at the Cardinals' game, there were a lot of interruptions because of rainy weather, but it still turned out to be fun. Of course, while we visited St. Louis, we had to eat and stopped at lots of fast food places. But, we also had the chance to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe which was just outside Union Station. We also ate at an Italian restaurant called Zia's on The Hill which has many different Italian restaurants.
©2009 Becca Beezy
I went on a trip to St. Louis Missouri right before school started. We went to see the Mayor's office, but we didn't get to see the mayor because he was in a meeting. We did get a tour of all the offices. The next day we went to the Arch. Some of us went into the actual Arch. It was really fun you could see the new stadium and all that stuff. Later that night we went to a game on the new stadium. It got rained out ,but we still had lots of fun. The Cardnals won we later found out. Then we went to an art muesum where there was a mummy display. Then we went to a muesum that was like a huge playground where we could just climb around . The trip was lots of fun I would do it again.
©2009Jenny Reiter
On August 4, my Girl Scout troop and I went to St. Louis with the money we earned from selling cookies. We all met up at the Bellevue Public Library early in the morning, packed up the R.V. and two other cars and went on an eight-hour drive to St. Louis. The beginning of the trip we all slept. When we arrived in St. Louis, we first stopped at the Mayor's office to get a tour. It was really cool to see the legislative chambers, architecture and detail in the building, and learn about the history of St. Louis. We even learned that St. Louis would be hosting the next baseball All-Star game and my mom and sister started thinking about how to get tickets to see it.

We went to dinner at a place called Zia's on The Hill, which is the Italian section of St. Louis. It was wonderful, and I especially loved it because I'm part Italian. That doesn't mean you have to be Italian to enjoy it!!! I ate so much, including dessert. When we finished, we drove across the bridge and over the Mississippi River into Illinois where we had hotel reservations not too far from where I used to live when my parents were stationed at Scott AFB.

Even though we got an early wake-up call the next morning, I got up with no hesitation. We went up to the Arch. It was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen, both the view from the top and the arch itself. We spent nearly all day there and went to the old Courthouse, too, which was across the street. The Courthouse is famous because it was the place where the Dred Scott decision was made.

The next day was my favorite. We went to the Galleria! We shopped all day and ate in the food court. It had Ben and Jerry's, which is the best ice cream on the planet! The Galleria is also one of the best malls I have shopped besides Mall of the Americas. Then we went to Union Station. My favorite part of that was The Fudgery. They make fudge right in front of your eyes and provide a singing and dancing show. After that, I bought some chocolate caramel fudge.

For dinner, we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, located right outside Union Station. They have some really good food and the atmosphere was really fun. I couldn't stop laughing and got the hiccups! Then we took the Metrolink to the Cardinals game. That was even more fun! The Cardinals were amazing and they won! We didn't get to stay the whole time though because it started raining, so we decided to head back. We all fell into our beds totally exhausted, but we decided it was probably the best day we had there.
Thursday was our last day in St. Louis. We packed up in the morning and headed out, but not before we made one last stop. We went to the City Museum. I know what you're thinking: a museum can't be fun. Wrong! It was a giant playground made out of recycled materials like metal wire, plastic bottles and things you normally wouldn't think of. It was so cool! There were twists and turns everywhere and you could even go outside five or so stories up in the air and go through obstacles. Then the inside was a giant maze. There were so many places to go that I don't think we got to explore it all! That was the end of our fabulous trip! We drove back to Bellevue, NE, but not before stopping at Steak N' Shake to enjoy their fantastic chocolate shakes one more time. When I got home I still wished I were back in St. Louis. Our Girl Scout Troop leaders surely know how to plan one heck of a trip!


Seattle's Alki Beach


It rains so often in Seattle that some residents like to say that they don't tan in the summer, they rust. But when the sun inevitably does come out, many locals, as well as the visiting camera-clicking curious, flock to one of the city's best kept secrets- Alki beach. Known as `The Birthplace of the city of Seattle,' this scenic two and a half mile stretch of waterfront park - from the Duwamish Head to the Coast Guard light house at Alki Point- offers spectacular unobstructed views of the city on Elliott Bay and of the far blue Olympic Mountains beyond.

It rains so often in Seattle that some residents like to say that they don't tan in the summer, they rust. But when the sun inevitably does come out, many locals, as well as the visiting camera-clicking curious, flock to one of the city's best kept secrets- Alki beach. Known as `The Birthplace of the city of Seattle,' this scenic two and a half mile stretch of waterfront park - from the Duwamish Head to the Coast Guard light house at Alki Point- offers spectacular unobstructed views of the city on Elliott Bay and of the far blue Olympic Mountains beyond.
Long. flat, paved paths make it ideal for bicycling, skating, jogging or walking while a popular sandy beach area provides a venue for those sun worshippers who prefer their lazy summer days to be…well, lazy.

During the summer months the beach area also plays host to professional volleyball tournaments, Pirate landings kicking off the city's Seafair celebration, Bar-B-Que cook offs, and a three day music fest featuring local and regional new talent. The beach area proper is lined with expensive condos, occasional beach homes, open air restaurants, and eateries, and, of course, the ever-present coffee shop. Make that 'coffee shops' plural because Seattle is the home base for two of the giants in the industry: Starbucks and Tully's- both of which have shops on Alki as well.

For those who don't wish to make the drive over to the West Seattle peninsula, a Water Taxi provides easy and convenient rides from Seattle's Pier 55 across the broad bay to Seacrest Dock. There, and leading up to Alki proper, you'll find several more miles of promenade with spacious grassy areas for sunbathing, picnics. If you're so inclined, there are several small but interesting beaches from which to launch rented kayaks or to watch the intrepid scuba divers take to the always chilly waters of Puget Sound.

Adjacent to the Water Taxi Dock is a public fishing pier usually lined with patient anglers hoping to catch a migrating Salmon. “Any luck?” is a commonly asked question while a smile or shrug is the common lie but every so often a happy angler reels one in to the applause or envy of a gathering crowd.
On the 4th of July visitors in the thousands line the grassy areas and promenade for the huge and always loud fireworks display. During the rest of the year the expanse serves as a backdrop for wedding photos, Frisbee throwers, hacky sackers, or happy slackers who are content with watching the green and white commuter ferries or Alaskan Cruise ships as they glide across the Puget Sound waters.
Alki, quite literally, has something for every body. And oh, just in case you're wondering, the name `Alki' is derived from the Native American Chinook Trade talk of the 1800s and means `eventually.' It became part of the local lexicon on November 13, 1851 when David Denny and his party of settlers first gave it the name 'New York Alki,' hoping for it to become as prosperous as its namesake with time.

To the actual Native inhabitants of `Alki', who, by the way, were not of the Chinook tribe but were the Duwamish, the place already had a name which meant `Prairie Point.' For well over a thousand years the area had been used by the Duwamish for crop cultivation and supported a busy fish camp.

Later, when Denny moved the settlement across Elliott Bay to the location that would become the city, the Founding Fathers named it to honor the Duwamish-Suquamish tribal leader, Sealth, who was instrumental in helping the newcomers survive and prosper. The pre-caffeinated settlers pronounced the name as Seattle.


A Day in San Gimigiano


I was staying in a castle in Tuscany. The week’s lodging also included a tiny Fiat so I could explore all the backroads and ancient villages of Tuscany and Umbria. Pietro, the faithful security guard at the castle, saw me to my car inquiring where I was going that day. “San Gimignano,” I told him. “Molte bene, very good,” he smiled. It was a drizzly morning. None of the roads in Italy seemed to have names or numbers, but at every intersection there would be a signpost with lists of all the towns any direction might lead one to. Trying to read all the Italian names and find the one I wanted so I’d know how to turn sometimes led to honking and angry shouts if there was anyone behind me. Italians, polite everywhere else, make up for it by being very rude behind the wheel. Even a moment’s hesitation riled them, so I’d turn in any direction. I spent a lot of time being happily lost.
Today on a narrow back road we were all slowed down by an APE – a three-wheeled motorbike cart. No one was honking this time. Even the most rushed Italian accepted the presence of APEs. They are the only way to get goods up the narrow ancient streets of the walled cities and towns. On the highways, the APE drivers always pull over when they can, but there is seldom a place to do that along the narrow Tuscan roads.

Eventually I crept my way to San Gimignano. I could see it in the distance. It looked like the New York City skyline rising out of the vineyards. San Gimignano dates back to Etruscan days. Tuscany wasn’t always as peaceful as it is now. During Medieval times the people built the city walls and 72 soaring towers for defense. Fourteen of these still remain. In its day, it must have been very threatening because it is still impressive today. I parked in the lot outside the walls and walked into the dramatic little city. The drizzle had lightened somewhat, so I roamed the cobble-stoned, hilly lanes.

I found one shop that sold nothing but game meat. There was a special on boar and pheasant that day.
I came to the Duomo, cathedral, of the town. By this time I was worn out by elaborate Renaissance art. But this duomo was different – it was a simple squarish brick Medieval building. No stained glass windows, no statuary, just elegant lines from a simpler time. I had read the frescoes were worth seeing, so I bought a ticket to enter it.

Because of the frescoes, the building is monitored for humidity so that all the heavy breathing modern humans won’t ruin the work of their ancestors. Because of the damp day, the humidity was higher than usual, and so the line of visitors was moving very slowly. I sat on a bench out of the rain in the courtyard while I awaited my turn.

On a bench across the courtyard a harpist had taken refuge with his instrument. He began playing Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. The liquid notes of the beautiful melody filled the courtyard. Everyone stopped chattering and just listened, rapt. The guard beckoned to me just as the harpist plucked his last notes. I felt sublimely happy. As I stepped through the doorway into the building I had a totally different sort of aesthetic experience. I felt like I had fallen into the Sunday funnies. The walls simply exploded with color.

The frescos were intended to teach the illiterate worshippers their Bible stories. They were executed in pure, bright pigments and arranged in panels from floor to ceiling just like comic strips. The art was the simple, non-perspective drawing of early Medieval times. Three walls depicted scenes from the Old Testament and the fourth wall showed the story of Christ. No photos were allowed. The San Gimignanians are determined to preserve their brilliant treasure and flashes might fade it.

No one rushed me and I could wander at will, taking it all in. I was aware of the others outside who were waiting for their chance. Even so, I must have lost track of time. When I went out at last I found the rain had stopped and the sun was rapidly drying everything.

I had planned to find a café for lunch, but discovered a quiet, lovely garden on a hilltop behind the duomo. I bought picnic makings and sat up there admiring the beautiful towers. I spent most of the afternoon roaming streets.

I finally set out for the castle where I liked to enjoy a glass of proseca on the marble terrace that offered a spectacular sunset view. As I drove up, Pietro greeted me and asked about my day. “Bene?” I smiled at him my head still full of harps and cartoons, “Si, molte, molte bene, Pietro.”


Tales of the Cocktail


Museum of the American Cocktail Entrance
I learned that New Orleans was the birthplace of the cocktail. Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a French planter and pharmacist, was forced to flee the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo during the Black Rebellion of 1793. He relocated to New Orleans and opened an apothecary shop on Royal Street. The building is still standing and has been an antique shop opened by the Cohen family for the last 100 years. Peychaud brought with him an old family recipe for bitters. He would add a few drops of brandy toddies, the Creole gentleman’s drink and restorative of the day. Peychaud served the drink in a double-end eggcup called a Coquetier (kah-kuh-TYAY). After purchasing Louisiana from France in 1803, many Americans moved to the Crescent City. Coquetier was most frequently heard as COCK-TAY and was soon slurred into COCKTAIL (after a few drinks.)

I admit it; I am a wine guy. I have been teaching and writing about wine for over 45 years. Even my e-mail spells it out- VINORON. A few years ago I added spirits to my journalistic endeavors and even shared teaching a spirit course at The International School Hospitality Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I have traveled to Scotland (Scotch), Ireland (Irish), France (Cognac), London (Gin), several Caribbean Islands (Rum), Mexico (Tequila), Peru (Pisco), Jerez (Brandy), Italy (Grappa) and Sweden (Vodka) for my research.

There was an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and find interesting angles for stories: The 6th Annual Tales of the Cocktail held in summer in New Orleans. I had been to New Orleans a year ago in May for the Wine & Food Festival (The Shame of America). “Get there and everything will be taken care of,” said Bonnie Warren, my previous host. True to her word, my five nights at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino & Hotel, including breakfasts and dinners, were covered. I just paid for airfare. The Tales of The Cocktail gave me a Media ID which worked for admission to most of the seminars and tastings.

I was ready to go to work. Tales headquarters was the historic Hotel Monteleone at the edge of the French Quarter on Royal Street. I quickly learned that any seminar taking place on the 16th floor roof was like weekend travel to The Hamptons. I avoided all those seminars after the first day when I waited, along with many other people, 20-30 minutes to go up and come down the two elevators. The other two disappointing functions for me were the two outside/inside ones- The Royal Street Strut and The Tiki Party. The strut had few shops open with very limited food (luckily, I was dining at Brennan’s that night). I arrived at The Tiki Party a few minutes early but had to wait almost a 1/2 hour for them to open the tent flaps. I had a few food selections and one drink, but when I looked up the tent was jammed and there was no place to sit. Did I mention it was hot outside and inside the tent? I left early and went back to my room at Harrah’s (next door to the tent). The Spirit Award ceremony was held at the Theatre at Harrah’s Casino and had plenty of food and drink and there were tables and chairs.
The seminars were fabulous. The problem was many were held at the same time, so I found myself multi-tasking and spending half the allotted time at two seminars. The Reidel Spirit Glass Tasting was the highlight of the whole five days. George Reidel was the best speaker and his dry sense of humor made the seminar number one. We also got to keep the Tequila, Single Malt & Cognac glasses.

My other favorite events included: The Tasting Rooms with free admission and sponsors pouring their products. I found some hotel guests who just wandered by and were smart enough to taste for free. For me, it was about seeing old friends and colleagues. Emerging Spirits or “What is the next big thing” Donna Hood Crecca, editor of Cheers Magazine led the panel discussion. The answer is: Absinthe, Pisco, Liqueurs, Rye, Rum, Sake, Gin, Irish and Cachacha. The opening of the Absinthe Museum of America was where I tasted the formerly banned products. How to Taste Like a Professional and Whiskies You Have Never Tasted Before were both led by Paul Pecault, who has finally published the revised edition of his Kindred Spirits book. I have used his old edition on hundreds of occasions for research. Artisan Spirits discussed products from smaller companies. The Spirited dinner at Zoe in the W Hotel perfectly matched many cocktails with the dinner courses. The Media Breakfast at Brennan’s was over subscribed and led by Bonnie Warren, who has done their public relations for over 21 years. She along with Rachel Douglas the public relations director at Harrah’s were my hosts. I sat in on every seminar that David Wondrich, Gary Regan or Jared Browm/Anistatia Miller conducted. I managed to tag along at the very end of historian Joe Gendusa’s daily New Orleans Cocktail Bar Tour. He visited 4 to 6 cocktail bars near The Monteleone Hotel with one free drink provided.

Due to the overlapping times the following are seminars I would have attended if I could clone myself: Eggs in Cocktails and Beer as an Ingredient in Cocktails; Bourbon & Blues and Rum and All That Jazz; The First International Symposium of Cocktail Shaker Collectors; Ultimate Bloody Mary Championship; Molecular Mixology & The Flowering Punch; Bartenders of The World Suite (started at 11PM when I was sleeping) and The History of Bar Snacks.

In 2007 the event used 7,250 mint leaves, 3,580 lime wedges, 800 watermelon cubes, 560 gin soaked dried cherries, 1,390 orange slices and 2 tons of ice.

During the opening ceremony the Sazerac was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans and The Punch & Judy by Charlotte Voisey was named the official cocktail for Tales 2008.


Gunkholing with CruiseWest


Gunkhole is a nautical term loosely defined as “to wander, discovering whatever is around the next bend or just over the horizon.” My wife and I enjoyed a splendid week of gunkholing aboard CruiseWest's Spirit of Endeavor on their Pacific Northwest Coastal Escape departing from Seattle. The ship carries only 102 passengers and its small size allows it into coves and inlets for an up-close look at the scenery.

Navigating U.S. and Canadian waters, our journey took us to Vancouver, Desolation Sound, Nanaimo, StateVictoria, Friday Harbor, the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands and Port Townsend. Departing from Seattle in the late afternoon, we headed west through the famous Hiram Chittenden Locks toward Puget Sound and then turned north, en route to our first port, Vancouver.

Hiram Chittendam Locks

The following morning, we passed under the Lion's Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1938. The Guinness family (think beer) built it to connect their land purchase on Burrad Inlet to Vancouver. Once the ship had docked, our chartered bus took us to the spectacular thousand-acre Stanley Park for sightseeing and then to Granville Island, featuring a Public Market with water-view restaurants and over 100 stalls filled with local fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish, baked goods and arts and crafts. Our last stop was at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, one of the highest footbridges in the world, stretching 450 feet over and 230 feet above the Capilano River. Walking across is not for those with a fear of heights.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

When we reached the poorly named Desolation Sound, we experienced gunkholing at its finest. What could Captain George Vancouver have been thinking? This fjord-like region, with over 60 miles of breathtaking coastline, is the largest marine park in British Columbia, dotted with picturesque islands, inlets, bays, and coves. It was here that the advantage of a small ship was obvious. From the deck, we touched rock formations, were splashed by waterfalls and took close-up photos of the flora and fauna.

The Spirit of Endeavor

Upon arrival at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, we were welcomed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then took a guided walking tour of this historic town, the third oldest city in British Columbia. We climbed the Bastion, built in 1853 by the Hudson Bay Company. Wandering and discovering on our own, we stumbled upon a casino. On my first pull of the slot machine, we won $22.50. We left immediately!

Sailing into Victoria put us on the same course that ships have followed for hundreds of years. In 1778, an impressive list of sailors first discovered and claimed Victoria for England: Captain James Cook was accompanied by George Vancouver and William Bly (of Mutiny On the Bounty fame).
The Historic Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. from the Bridge of the Spirit of Endeavor

An outing to Butchart Gardens while in Victoria is a must. In 1904, Jenny Butchart turned this abandoned limestone quarry into an extravagant 55-acre garden estate. Yearly, over one million visitors enjoy this one-of-a-kind homage to the whims of the very rich.
Butchart Gardens

The next day, we cruised Puget Sound off the north coast of Washington. More than 450 islands, split into two groups, make up the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands in the U.S. and the Gulf Islands in Canada. Eventually, we tied up at scenic Friday Harbor and leisurely strolled around this tourist-friendly waterfront community with its shops showcasing local artists.
Friday Harbor in Washington San Juan Islands

Port Townsend, named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver after the Marquis of Townshend, was the last stop on our trip. We joined our fellow passengers on an escorted walk along the waterfront of this charming seaport, noted for its vast number of preserved Victorian homes and buildings. Today it boasts a vibrant arts community.

Victorian Home in Port Townsend, Washington

Finally, we arrived in Seattle; our eight day gunkholing adventure with CruiseWest over. It was great fun and we had experienced firsthand the thrill of wandering, discovering whatever was around the next bend or just over the horizon.
Here are four reasons to sail on CruiseWest:

1. Interesting itineraries, informative lectures and knowledgeable expedition leaders.

2. Relaxed, casual atmosphere with an attentive, friendly staff.

3CityTours, airport transfers and gratuities included in the price of the cruise; only alcohol is extra.

4. Good food with emphasis on local cuisine, freshly baked bread and pastries; dietary needs or special requests gladly accommodated.

For further information:
CruiseWest -

Vancouver -

Stanley Park -

Granville Market -

Capilano Suspension Bridge -

Desolation Sound - (then search)

Nanaimo -

Victoria -

Gulf Islands -

San Juan Islands -

Friday Harbor -

Port Townsend -


Spinalonga-Venetian Fortress and Former Leper Colony Island Now a Tourist Attraction


Spinalonga, a small island off the northeast coast of Crete near the resort area of Elounda, has evolved over thousands of years from a hiding place for Christians fleeing Roman soldiers, followed by Cretans fleeing invading Turks, to a massive fortress constructed in the 1500s by the Venetians to protect its eastern Mediterranean interests. Finally, sadly, it became the official Greek leper colony for the first 50 years of the 20th century. Abandoned, desolate and decaying, the intrinsic and haunting beauty of the island evokes a myriad of emotions from the thousands of tourists, researchers and historians who tour the island each year. The former Venetian fortress island of Spinalonga now lies deserted.
For centuries leprosy, now known as Hansen’s Disease, was misunderstood, and the ability of a patient to transmit the disease was exaggerated. Now, we know that only about 5% of the population is susceptible to the bacillus, a bacterium similar to tuberculosis, and close, personal contact is required for transmission. However, for centuries patients showing signs of the disease had been quarantined, often for the balance of their lifetime, to supposedly protect the citizens around them. Thus, in the early 1900s, Greece decided to send all their diagnosed patients that had been lodged at various places around Crete and Greece to Spinalonga, though the reasons for the transfer are still unclear. Some authorities say it was to rid Spinalonga of a resident population of Turks that were deemed unwelcome in Crete. Others indicate that the natural isolation of an island, coupled with its existing village and homes made the decision easy, especially since the patients could be supported by goods and personnel transported the short distance from the village of Plaka by boat. However for the first twenty years, very little was done to help those patients who were uprooted from their families and unceremoniously dumped on the island with little infrastructure to support them. Finally, the 1930s brought some welcome change. Patients were awarded pensions; electricity was brought to the island; churches and schools were built and better medical care was made available. With the discovery in the 1940s of medicines to treat Hansen’s Disease, Spinalonga was no longer needed to quarantine patients, and it was closed in 1957. The island lay in desolation with the passing years taking their toll on the buildings until the Greek Tourist Board and the community of Elounda began renovation of some of the buildings to allow visitors to view this historic site during tourist season.

Tour boats take visitors to Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda several times each day at a cost of approximately $15; the trip from the Elounda harbor across the Gulf of Korfos requiring about fifteen minutes, while those boarding at Agios Nikolaos must allow approximately an hour from the dock. Since no accommodations exist on the island, visitors must depart before nightfall.

This dark tunnel greeted Hansen’s Disease patients’ entry to Spinalonga. Identified on many maps as Kalydon, a name never used by locals, this is but one of mysteries that surround this tiny island. No one seems to know exactly from where the name Spinalonga comes. Some attribute it to the nearby peninsula that resembles a “long spine” jutting out from mainland Crete. Others believe that the Venetian historian, Flaminios Kornilios, called the island Spina Leonis, which loosely translates to the “back of the lion”, and that this name was corrupted over the centuries to Spinalonga. Still others maintain that the Venetians named it Spinalonga after their own nearby island, now called Giudecca.

Whatever the origin of its name, what is certain is that Spinalonga has a fascinating history as does the entire island of Crete, which is believed to have provided Greece with the basics of a democratic society attributed to the Minoans. They left a legacy of elegant ruins at Knossos, south of the capital of Heraklion. Those with an interest in pre- and ancient Roman, Greek and Arabic histories can find much of interest in the numerous villages and archeological sites on this, the most southerly of the Mediterranean islands. However, visitors with more sybaritic interests will find them fulfilled with a visit to this friendly, low-key, sun-dazzled escape.
A spectacular sunset over the Bay of Korfos ends a perfect day on the beach.

While all corners of Crete offer vacation and beach opportunities, the coast from Agios Nikolaos north to Elounda (pronounced ee-loon-da) and on to the village of Plaka forms the nucleus of the beach resort and hotel corridor that attracts mostly European tourists. Lodging from small, family-owned apartments to five-star resorts dot the landscape, tumbling like white building blocks down the dry rocky slopes.
This windmill is a remnant of the famous salt-works near Elounda.

While April 1 to November 1 encompasses the high season for travelers to Crete, Elounda remains a fairly quiet fishing village until the weeks of July and August. The off-season months of March and November offer the attraction of peaceful strolls and quiet contemplation in comfortable weather at low season pricing. However, the number of open hotels, restaurants and shops are markedly reduced outside of high season. Corali Studios, an apartment hotel, located across the road from the beach and overlooking Elounda harbor has a full view of Spinalonga. It remains open all year with prices ranging from $65 to $100/day depending on the time of year and size of apartment. A short five minute walk brings the visitor to the village where grocery stores, shops, restaurants and bars line the waterfront.
The picturesque fishing village of Elounda is a charming stop for a day or a month.
While many European travelers travel to Crete by charter planes as a part of a vacation package, Americans may find the best connections through Paris, Frankfort or London to Athens and continuing on to Heraklion. Many visitors spend time in Athens and take the ferry to or from Crete. Taxis can be hired in Heraklion for the hour-long drive to Elounda, or the hotels in Elounda will happily send a local taxi to pick up their clients at the airport or ferry terminal. The cost is about $100 each way. Rental cars are available in all major towns, but for those who prefer to not drive, the public bus system, KTEL, offers inexpensive fares around Crete at convenient times. Also, during the season, tour companies in Elounda and Agios Nikolaos offer reasonably priced half-day to full-day excursions to further explore this lesser-known destination.


Vietnam’s Black Hmong Saleswomen


If sales are all about forming relationships, then the women of the Black Hmong tribe in northwestern Vietnam should write the marketing book. This discovery was made on a recent trip to visit Vietnam’s small ethnic minority tribes, many of them located in the mountains surrounding Sapa. These include the Black Hmong, Flower Hmong and Red Dao people.

Thanks to its cool weather in the long, hot summer months, Sapa was a hill station retreat for the French when they colonized Vietnam. It fell into disrepair until recently. As Vietnam has attracted more travelers and as more Vietnamese have been able to vacation, the area has grown into quite the resort, sporting over 100 hotels. This has been a financial blessing to the local tribes whose villages are near Sapa.

I was traveling with two girlfriends. Our plan was to trek through the valley with a guide and explore some local villages. As we walked out of Sapa, we were surprised to be joined by six women of the Black Hmong tribe dressed in their colorful headresses.(picture 199) They are named for the dark indigo dye used in their clothes. Two of them paired up with one of us. "Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? How many children do you have?" At first, I was resistant to their questions, but they were so friendly and kind that I opened up and began to question them also. They had items to sell but there was no mention of that.

We meandered down into the valley, chatting and visiting. The path became very steep, muddy and slick as we turned off the main road. The women gently took our arms and steadied us as we descended to the river level. Our group paused at one of the women’s houses for her to briefly nurse her baby. At Lao Chi, we stopped at a restaurant where our guide was to cook us lunch. (picture 208) It was there, two hours after the start of the trek, that we finally looked at the women’s goods. They had invested much of their time getting to know us (and we them,) hoping we would buy something. Obviously, we did. It helped that they had some nice selections of the embroidered purses, pillow covers, and wall hangings that we had seen in Sapa stores. But we would have bought something anyway, simply because we were now on a first name basis and had shared so much personal information. After hugs, Yen, Coo, Zoa, Lillie, My and Zaa left, and we had lunch seated in an open air restaurant overlooking the river and dormant rice fields.

After lunch we discovered that this marketing system was not limited to one walk. As we continued on, twelve new Hmong women joined us. "Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? How many children do you have?" I don’t know if the word got out that we were generous buyers, but more women continued to join us. When we finally stopped at our destination, 22 women were walking with us. We couldn’t buy from all of them and actually we bought very little from the second group. But they candidly said that was okay, "there would be other visitors."

From our walks with the women (there were more walks), we learned that the men are too shy to sell. Because the women are now selling, the men have assumed extra chores, including minding the children. The villages have even brought in English teachers to help them with the vocabulary they need. There is a system among those selling in the villages. Only one sale per person is allowed until all in the group have made a sale. They share goods among themselves to be sure everyone gets a sale.

During the next couple of days, we would see some of our new friends in the marketplace or on the streets of Sapa. They always smiled and said hello but did not ask us again to buy. Not all of the Hmong women were so disciplined as we were often approached on the Sapa streets to buy. It is certainly a risk that this new found industry could seem like begging. But we were impressed with the self-imposed rules that the village women used to protect both us and them.

The business schools in our universities could learn some lessons from the Hmong women. After all of the business, marketing, and financial plans, the decision to buy is an individual one. And being on a first name basis can tip the scale.


Visit Mayan Natives of Yucatan Jungle ©2009 Bonnie Neely


The Riviera Maya on the Yucatan of Mexico is a very special place. Thick tropical jungles of lush greenery embrace the pale yellow, soft sand of the playas, or beaches, which are continually kissed by gentle waves of the warm, clear aqua-green, opalescent Caribbean waters. As I lazily watch fluffy white clouds drift across the azure sky, I lie on a comfortable beach chair warmed by the bright sun and think of the people who have come and gone from these beautiful shores. Since over a millennium before Christ, the Mayan civilization thrived in this rich peninsula and preserved the land that provided their needs with abundant fruits and animals, birds, and sealife. The Yucatan has many cenotas ,or underground fresh water rivers, flowing through limestone tunnels and caves, which the Mayans kept pure as their source of life. And, thanks to the strict building codes and careful planning of current developers and the government, visitors can still enjoy much of the unspoiled landscape and seascape of the ancients.

In the 16th century the Spaniards arrived by ships and took over by force, killing many Mayans with swords or with European diseases. These armies brought Catholicism to the Indians and took riches and slaves. In time the Conquistadors established themselves as conquerors and built missions, set up trade, exchanged knowledge, and inter-married with the Mayans, creating the mixed, or Mexican population.
But some of the Mayans deep within the jungle villages were spared the invasion and have kept their lifestyles and skills and beliefs somewhat intact from ancient times. In the 20th century people began leaving these villages to find work in towns. But some of these Mayan villages still exist within the jungles of Riviera Maya and their heritage and ways are respected. has created eco-tours which help these people preserve their way of village life with income from the eco-tourism enterprise. We traveled a couple of hours from Cancun Airport south to see the remarkable Archeological Site of Coba. We were able to climb to the top of the tallest ancient stone buildings and see the jungle and valley for miles around. We rode rented bikes through the large historic site for a wonderful morning. Then we were shuttled on a straight road several miles into the deep jungle, where we turned right at the tallest pine tree and arrived at the Mayan village of PacChen. It was a thrill to visit in the town which is home to many families, who were healthy, clean, happy and friendly. Their small palapa houses with dirt floors and thatch roofs have never had signs of modern life until the summer of 2008 when they received electricity, The first thing they did with the money they had earned from tourist visits was to buy a television for the village!

In Pac Chen we found wonderful activities to fill all the rest of our daylight hours. We had a guided tour into the jungle, learning about the vegetation, poisonous plants, and the animal life, which is mainly nocturnal. After walking for a half hour we came to an altar site where an authentic Mayan Shaman, or holy man, conducted a cleansing blessing and prayer service before we were allowed to proceed. Years ago the shaman had prayed fervently for a way for villagers to earn money and preserve their village. When AlltourNative company worked with the village to develop tours and activities yet preserve the jungle and the authentic Mayan way of life, the shaman was grateful and made a vow to God that he would conduct this cleansing blessing with every visitor in order to give thanks and to protect the cenote the tourists would visit. We formed a circle and the Mayan shaman carried a small incense burner made from a hand hewn log, which held the hot copal resin, burning fragrantly as the offering to the spirits. With a branch of one of the local trees he fanned the heavy smelling smoke onto each visitor individually as he said a prayer in his native language, looking heavenward. Then he placed the incense on the altar of flowers and fruits and lit candles, praying and bowing. Then we were allowed to go on to the cenote activity.
A sturdy stone well had been built around a large hole in the limestone. We could look down deep below and see the clear, cool, underground river. With modern climbers' rope, harnesses, and caribinders, we repelled from the well into the fresh water where innertubes awaited us for the fun floating. When we were ready to ascend we had a modern rope ladder to climb up through another well that was above ground. What a thrilling experience. We were ready for a hot meal!

We walked back to the center of Pac Chen where the villagers had been preparing for us. On the night before we arrived a farm-grown pig had been butchered and dressed for cooking. It was wrapped in banana leaves and placed in a metal pot with a lid. The village men had dug a pit into the earth, and the large pot was placed on hot coals and then buried beneath palm leaves and dirt and rocks for 12 hours. We all watched and took pictures as the shaman ceremoniously dug up our dinner. It smelled delicious. The women, dressed in their lovely white dresses with elaborate colored flowers hand-embroidered on the yokes, had been making hundreds of corn tortillas all morning. They sat on the floor and made masa balls with their hands and then patted them on a low wooden table until they were perfect small circles. Then they fried them over an open fire.

We had a feast on tables covered with hand-embroidered white cloths which were protected by clear plastic overlays. We had never eaten such delicious small black beans and perfect rice. We rolled our pulled pork in tortillas and doused them with native pepper sauces the women had made, some very hot. We quenched our thirst and the peppery burn with freshly squeezed fruit juices the women had also prepared for us. No city restaurant could equal this delicious, home-prepared meal! We tried in English and Spanish to say thank you to our modest hosts, but they still speak Mayan and could only understand our big smiles.

Some of us had been concerned about finding bathroom facilities or pure water to drink, but purified water was available. Bathroom facilities were modest and clean and were western style toilets, which use a natural compost system to stay sanitary and odor free.
There were boats we could take out on the picturesque lake, and swimming was fun for those who wished to take a dip. We all wanted to purchase the simple handcrafts in the little village hut in order to help preserve the Mayan crafts. There were hand-carved animals of wood or stone, many kinds of jewelry, embroideries, pottery, Mayan calendars of ceramic, and other items. The hand-woven hammocks and hand-embroidered clothing were especially popular, and all were modestly priced.

We noticed a few cars in the village and learned the villagers do go into larger towns for supplies. They are isolated only by choice and with the determination to preserve their culture. We wondered, as we left, how much the new television will change the way of life and alter this beautiful native culture. The Mexican government provides schools within the jungle villages through elementary grades, and then the children must go to larger towns to continue their education. It was a day we will never forget, and it changed us, giving us first-hand knowledge of how people can live gently on the earth, without abusing or raping the environment with greed.




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