Category Archives: USA

Laugh, Learn & Laugh Some More.

 

Our friend in Asheville thought we would enjoy the LaZoom City Comedy Tour and she was right on point.

The 90-minute open-air bus tour winds its way through charming Asheville and manages to impart quite a bit of local flavor and history between the funny, corny, and sometimes bawdy, commentary.

Tour guide Cookie flips out.

This is a great city – chock full of unique locally owned shops and restaurants (over 90%) and more craft breweries than anywhere else in the country. You can bet the breweries are mentioned during this tour, which allows consumption of wine and/or beer while on board, and includes a rest stop at the Green Man Brewery.

Two facts that made an impression:

  1. despite the ghost stories, no one died during the Civil War’s Battle of Asheville, and
  2. last month Asheville’s nationally renowned Wicked Weed Brewing company sold out to Anheuser-Busch. We hope it’s not the start of a trend.

Check out their website for times, fees and other tour options: http://www.lazoomtours.com/

The Magic of Miami’s Stiltsville

It’s easy to take things for granted.  Many of us never take the time to see what’s in our own backyard.

Miami’s Stiltsville was a unique, raucous, lively, storied, and often infamous, cluster of shack houses about a mile offshore in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Known for both wild parties and old-fashioned family weekends in the sun, Stiltsville was a destination that promised fun and a hint of the unknown.

When I moved to Miami in the 70s, I took Stiltsville for granted, passing up opportunities to visit.  The community had rebounded from Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Betsy in ‘65.  But then, on August 24, 1992 – it was gone.  Or at least most of it was gone. What was left after the fierce winds of Hurricane Andrew was mired in controversy and political wrangling. Not considered old enough (50 years) for designation by the National Trust for Historic Places, powerful people wanted the remaining seven damaged structures demolished.

The Bay Chateau House.

My husband and I were among the fortunate few when we recently visited Stiltsville on a glorious, sunny afternoon, and spent some very special time (with very special friends) relaxing at the colorful Bay Chateau House.

For four decades, our good friends’ family owned home #14, “Haven from Slavin.” I’ve always enjoyed their family stories of weekends spent fishing, swimming and exploring the tidal flats surrounding the homes. Water levels on the flats are 2-3’ and during low tide drop to just a few inches; a perfect aquatic playground.   Their three sons, now with children of their own, enjoy an exceptional shared history of their days on the Bay. It’s one of those sons who is now part of a group of caretakers for the Bay Chateau House.

Today, there are no private owners left at Stiltsville.  Instead, there is the unusual relationship forged by the Park Service and former owners; the non-profit, public-private Stiltsville Trust formed in 2003. Owners were transitioned to caretakers of this incredible resource. The U.S. Government now owns the entire area, a part of America’s only national park 95% under water, Biscayne National Park. Visitors can see the area by boat, but very few have the opportunity to actually enter one of the homes.

At its height in the 60s, there were 27 buildings, most on pilings raising them about 10’ above the sandy flats. Earliest records indicate man-made structures as early as 1922, and in the 30s Eddie “Crawfish” Walker sold bait and beer from a shack nailed to a barge.  Later in the 30s, things got really hopping with off-shore private clubs.  Then the Quarterdeck Club had a long run from the 40s until it burned in 1961, but much of Stiltsville’s boisterous reputation is due to the Bikini Club. The Bikini Club, run out of a yacht towed out and grounded in 1962, made quite a name for itself in its short three-year history. Its reputation was for hard-drinking, gambling, nude sunbathing and who knows what else. The club was closed down for operating without a liquor license and possession of 40 under-size, out-of-season crawfish.

Anyone for a swing-jump off the deck into the bay?

Private clubs notwithstanding, most of the stilt homes were owned by private families, who just loved the beauty, freedom and camp-like vibe of the natural setting. Of the seven surviving structures, one is the Miami Springs Power Boat Club started by firefighters, policemen and workers who lived near the airport.  The others are known as the Leshaw House, Hicks House, Baldwin-Sessions House, Ellenburg House and A-frame House.

I’m told by locals that Flipper’s famous TV scene going from deck to Bay was filmed at the A-frame House. Stiltsville also had many famous human visitors, including several Florida governors, local judges, Steven Stills, rib-master Tony Roma and Ted Kennedy. It’s been featured on film and in print, including TV shows Miami Vice and Sea Hunt, as well as several books by local best-selling author Carl Hiaasen.

Who knows what treasure will be the next to disappear.  Look around . . . while you can.

For More Info:

For a well-done 30-minute documentary produced by WLRN and featuring local expert, professor Dr. Paul George, visit Stiltsville through this link: http://video.wlrn.org/video/2365452261/

Biscayne National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm

 

 

The A-frame House. Can you visualize Flipper sliding off the dock?

The Ellenburg House.

With the Miami skyline as a backdrop, the Baldwin-Sessions House. The most elaborate structure still in existence, it was once featured in a national ad for Pittsburgh Paints.

Miami’s Coral Castle.

 

The 20-foot tall crescent moon (weighing 23 tons) and Saturn are visible behind Ed’s Throne Room featuring several unusual chairs. The largest chair (throne) weighs 5,000 lbs.

 

Check out my latest Pinecrest Magazine story: about lost love; or is it?

Magic, Madness or Marvel? Miami’s Historic Coral Castle Just Might be a Little Bit of Each

Pinecrest Mag.Coral Castle.Feb2017

A Whale of a Good Time: in Newport Beach

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Thanks to our daughter and her fiancé we had a wonderful time on our morning whale-watching excursion. Leaving from Balboa Island at 9 AM, I quickly forgot my concerns about the (really) chilly weather and potentially rough seas, when we spotted two grey whales just as we left the harbor.  We followed the whales for quite a while as they headed south on their long journey from Alaska to Mexico. As the marine haze lifted it turned into a beautiful, clear day.

dsc_0242 dsc_0241 dsc_0240  During the 2-hour trip with Newport Coastal Adventures, we zoomed around in a 6-passenger zodiac at 20-30 mph and that was a thrill ride all its own. Another highlight was finding ourselves in the middle of a pod of hundreds dsc_0382of playful common dolphin.

It was a blast. We loved it!

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Xmas Season in Newport Beach, CA: A Mini Photo Essay

Uber Xmas decor on Balboa Island.

Uber Xmas decor on Balboa Island.

One of the sandcastles on Balboa Island.

Sandcastle art on Balboa Island.

Walk along the water on charming Balboa Island, Newport Beach.

You can walk along the water around charming Balboa Island, Newport Beach.

Love these artist palette holiday decorations in Laguna Beach (home of the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts)

Love these artist palette holiday decorations in Laguna Beach (home of the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts)

Sunset from "The Deck" in Laguna Beach.

Sunset and chilly temps from “The Deck” in Laguna Beach.

Merry Christmas from SoCal.

The lovely Rancho Valencia Resort.

The Rancho Valencia Resort.

We are having a really nice time in Southern California. It’s been very chilly (I wore four layers to play golf), breezy and dry; a really lovely part of our country.  The Rancho Valencia Resort is stunning with lush landscaping and lots of privacy.  My favorite residential architectural style has always been Spanish/Mexican, so I feel right at home among the terracotta, colorful tile and beautiful courtyards.

Beach behind the terrific Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff by the Sea.

Beach behind the terrific Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff By The Sea.

We have enjoyed spending time with friends, making new friends, exploring the area and hitting more than our fair share of the area’s wonderful restaurants. I loved the 90 year-old vintage charm of the restaurant in La Jolla’s ocean-front La Valencia Hotel.  As far as seafood, our meals at The Fish Market in Solana Beach and The Pacific Coast Grill in Cardiff were top-notch.

I found La Jolla disappointing and preferred the aptly named Rancho Santa Fe with its stables, ranches and rolling hills. We’ve even had hot air balloons firing-up along the winding roads here.  As far as coastal towns, I’ll take the quirky beach vibe in Solana Beach any day.  A shout out to my friend Andi for directing me to the charming, unique shops on Cedros in Solana Beach.  It was a lot of fun.  The guys have played a lot of golf, but I only played one round at the Del Mar Country Club – where our foursome was among the five total players on the course for the day – felt like we owned the place.

San Diego Zoo.

San Diego Zoo.

We’ve even managed to fit in a visit to the famous San Diego Zoo. One hundred years old this year, they are in the midst of some serious (and behind schedule) renovations. They need the improvements, much of the Zoo is a bit tired and animal areas are smaller than I like to see. It made me realize how great our young ZooMiami has become.

Now, if they can only do something about the traffic . . . .

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Golf course at the tranquil Del Mar Country Club.

Golf course at the tranquil Del Mar Country Club.

Incredible Day for a Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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It’s Fall Festival Time in the NC Mountains

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Fall is a lot more than beautiful colors and cooler temps when you are in the mountains of western NC. It’s time for some unique and interesting festivals. There is something for everybody.

There is the Woolly Worm Festival for racing fans – that is if you like to race fuzzy caterpillars. woolly-wormThe black and brown “worms” are really the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The Banner Elk, 2-day event draws thousands to the cute town center to race their “worms” up long, taut strings. Winners compete for the $1,000 grand cash prize and the honor of predicting the weather for the upcoming winter. This year’s winner predicated slightly warmer temps and a bit less-than-average snow.  Catch the races in 2017, the 40th anniversary of the event: www.woollyworm.com

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Making Apple Butter.

One of my favorite events in the area is the Valle County Fair in Valle Crucis.  Sponsored by the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, it is a wonderful local event featured homemade baked goods, entertainment (including clogging), and decent quality crafts, in a perfect pastoral setting. I try not to miss it.  It’s always the third Saturday in October, the same mid-October weekend as Woolly Worm.

The Fair has become wildly popular, so go early; you will not only beatimg_7727 the traffic, but you will have the best selection of items to buy (and eat).  We always arrive just before the 9 AM opening.  All proceeds raised support the needs of local families in Avery and Watauga counties; last year $50,000 was raised and donated towards much-needed assistance.  Planning for next year?  Check out: www.holycrossvallecrucis.net

 

by Linda Altschuler

by Linda Altschuler

It’s a great time of year to take a leisurely Sunday drive into Asheville for the annual HardLox Festival to celebrate Asheville’s Jewish Food & Heritage. This year the single-day Festival coincided with the start of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Under a brilliant blue sky, in Asheville’s Pack Square, we listened to traditional Jewish music, meandered among the booths featuring information as well as crafts and Judaica.  Kids had a big play area, and parking and bathrooms were plentiful.

We learned about this festival first-hand from friends who img_7740have a home in Asheville.  Linda Altshuler is an accomplished artist who specializes in Judaica.  As expected, her booth was swamped with buyers snapping up her colorful prints, cards, glass cheese boards and other gift items.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

But what Jewish festival would be complete without food, and boy did they have food.  It’s all very organized, a brochure explains what’s available and the prices, tickets are sold at a special booth, so it keeps the food lines moving quickly. There was pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, bagels, Matzo Ball soup, Kosher hot dogs, whitefish, babka, mandelbrot, etc, etc. Even Dr. Brown’s sodas.  It was wonderful to have some of the delicious food we have dearly missed this summer.

 

For next year’s info, visit: www.hardloxjewishfestival.org and for more about Linda’s art: www.lindaaltshuler.com

 

 

The Battle at Bristol

Biggest college game ever – 156,990!

VOLS prevailed over Virginia Tech 45-24. 

It was hot, we walked a lot, both bands were great. Sassy, well-fed gals behind us kept up running commentary – but Southern girls do know football. Loved seeing Lee Greenwood sing “Proud to be an American.”  BTW, that Hokie band actually played “Do the Hokey Pokey.”

“Rocky Top Tennessee” – best game song ever!

 

 

From Road Hogs to Vettes.

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Our final adventure of this road-trip was a tour of the Corvette plant and museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Early in the itinerary we got to see hundreds of thousands of Harleys, truly hogging the roads in the Black Hills.  Today was a more fitting comfort level for my husband, who is a Corvette-owner.

The one million square foot plant is where all Corvettes have been assembled since 1981 (earlier Vettes were put together in Dearborn MI and St. Louis, MO).  It was an interesting tour and fun to learn about some of the new features, like the in-car camera to record drives. The facility has the feel of organized chaos with conveyors running in all directions overhead, delivering car parts to various sectors of the plant.  They were on target for completing 160 cars that day; 10 were finished during our tour.   Every Vette is pre-ordered and paid for in advance.

 

Roy Orbison's Vette.

Roy Orbison’s Vette.

The museum was nice; way more historical detail about Corvettes than I need to know. The most interesting part to me was seeing the area where the sinkhole claimed 8 cars a couple of years ago.  In a classic example of turning lemons into lemonade, the museum has created a detailed interactive exhibit and displayed the 8 damaged cars, or what was left of them-not much.

The cute Corvette Café proved to be a good spot for lunch before heading home.

4,400 miles since we headed across the country, we were back in our own bed.

For your next travel adventure, see the USA!

IMG_7332Sidebar:  You can book the plant tour and museum visit on-line ($16 combo ticket). http://www.corvettemuseum.org/. Be sure to allow ample time to park, the tour entry is at least ¼ mile from the parking area. You cannot take anything into the plant – no camera, phone, purse, backpack, etc. – nada. You need to wear closed shoes and don’t need to worry about a jacket, it was on the warm side.   

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