DC Cherry Blossoms

Even though I have lived in DC for nearly four years, I still get ridiculously excited as I wait for the spring Cherry Blossom season. Did you know that there are people who dream JUST ONCE of seeing Washington, DC transformed into a pink snowstorm?

Tidal Basin

To get the most reliable updates, I subscribe to the DC Cherry Blossom watch on my Instagram feed. 

My heart breaks for the people who planned their big DC trip for late March based on 2017’s peak cherry blossoms (March 25) and now learn that 2019’s peak blossoms are predicted for April 4-6.

“Bloom baby bloom,” wrote @hughester. Delightful alliteration.

I also love the spelling mistake in another Instagrammer who wants to be there for “peek bloom.”

And honestly it does feel like the Yoshino cherry blossoms “peek” out and smile with their dazzling pink-tinged white blossoms. As a regular walker on the Tidal Basin, I love to watch the cherry trees change from their spindly branches, barren of color, in winter to glints of green as the first buds plump out.

Early March

 Next emerge the “florets” and the “peduncle elongation.” Finally by April 6, we should see full on puffy white as the trees hit peak bloom.

The annual return of National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC never fails to excite me. Suddenly the avenues on the National Mall are filled with the pink placards announcing the celebration. People pull out their pink t-shirts. On March 30, the sky will be filled with kites dancing in the wind on The National Monument grounds. This will be followed a week later with a spectacular fireworks show by Pyrotecnico on the Southwest Waterfront. And on April 13, Constitution Avenue will be packed with tourists and residents who come to see the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade®.

I made a video documenting the cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin over the last three years. It is such a fragile and fleeting moment in time.

During the peak bloom period, I will try to avoid the crowds by arriving at sunrise. I love to stand under the branches of the sheltering Yoshino trees, sniff the air and catch a petal floating slowly to the ground – marveling at the winged floral fairy.

“What a strange thing to be alive beneath cherry blossoms.”—Kobayashi Issa

First day of spring

Major events during the National Cherry Blossom Festival include: Pink Tie Party; Blossom Kite Festival; Petalpalooza; and Parade. The ANA Stage presents performances during the Festival that demonstrate cross-cultural exchange through a dynamic mix of American, Japanese, and other cultural performing arts. 

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Prague

Prague is a proud peacock. There are those who want to dub her a replica. You will hear the term “Paris of the East” brandished about. Don’t listen to this talk. Prague is the real thing – no xerox copy.

I visited Prague in June. It was sunny and quite hot, perfect weather for shorts and sandals. But this was just the beginning of the luck that would unveil itself – like the majestic peacock with his brilliant sapphire blue and emerald green plumage in the courtyard of the Waldstein Palace. I discovered the city before the crowds of tourists descended for summer vacation. 

Prague is proud, palatial and profound. I won’t lie. When you are in Prague, you will be reminded of Paris. Parizska Street is lined with high-end shops selling shoes, purses and clothes. The architecture recalls George-Eugene Haussmann whocompletely redesigned and rebuilt Paris in the 1850s.

But believe me, you won’t find pork sausages being roasted on Parisian avenues and boulevards. Nor will you buy large tankards of beer. This is distinctly a Prague phenomenon—watching tourists and locals juggling a sausage sandwich in one hand while drinking a foamy glass of Czech pilsen.

Doesn’t this make you hungry?

This was the scene that unfolded on a warm Saturday evening as my Uber driver dropped me off at Wenceslas Square. I had booked the Evening Ghost Tour of Old Town Prague. My guide was an expat who hailed from America but had chosen to relocate to Prague with his partner. He fell in love with the city.

Nighttime Ghost Tour

We started our tour surrounded by milling tourists who wandered around the square. Prague can feel like an ADD city as there are so many random distractions—musicians, dancers, crying children. (I don’t remember seeing many dogs. Strange.) Plus over 8 million tourists visit annually. It is the fourth more visited European city after London, Paris and Rome.

Our guide David who was dressed in black coat and top hat explained that Prague has a dark side. People in comas had been buried alive. And ghosts still wander the streets seeking vemegeance for crimes against humanity. Couple this information with spooky side alleys and you will feel uneasy.

But I think I felt the most scared in the Jewish Quarter when we visited its cemetery. It was pitch black. The narrow street was dimly lit. Our guide told us of the spirits of small children who died during an epidemic and now roam restlessly in the cemetery. I swear I felt these children were hiding behind the stone walls, watching us. I wasted no time calling my Uber after my tour ended. I was spooked. 

Jewish Quarter Cemetery

The next day I rose early for a four-hour private tour with my guide Eva. This allowed me to customize what I wanted to see based on my interests in history, architecture and art. We focused  on the Right Bank on Sunday and the Left Bank on Monday.

Eva was extraordinary. Since she is a Czech native, she was able to share so much information about growing up during the communist regime as well as life after the Velvet Revolution. (Before 1989, the former Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Communist Party.) 

Eva & Terri

Prague is situated in the northwest corner of the Czech Republic on the Vltava River. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Several Holy Roman Emperors resided in Prague including Charles IV. (There is even a bridge named after him.) Its historic center is listed on UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Eva delved into Prague’s proud past as we wandered down its medieval cobblestone streets. She steered me through a warren of alleys in Stare Mesto (Old Town-circa 1242) and Nov Mesto (New Town founded in 1348). We also walked through Josefov (Jewish Quarter) and Wenceslas Square although the Astronomical Clock was being renovated. We discussed the city’s different architectural periods—Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist. Prague is one of Europe’s best preserved cities because Hitler didn’t lay waste to it.

I also enjoyed the city’s modern architecture, especially the Dancing House (nicknamed Fred & Ginger). I honestly don’t understand how this building keeps standing. It is the Czech’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The building was erected in the 1930s.

Fred & Ginger building

Authors have waxed lyrical about this romantic city. Richard Wagner opined: “The ancient splendor and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade.”

But I think Franz Kafka captured the stranglehold that this Czech city holds on your heart—“Prague never lets you go . . . this dear little mother has sharp claws.”

His connection to Prague is memorialized at the Franz Kafka Museum. It features many first edition Kafka books. You can also view his diaries, drawings and correspondence.

And you don’t want to miss artist David Cerny’s controversial and irreverent bronze sculpture outside the museum. You can watch two men write literary quotes with their pee stream in the fountain (which is shaped like the Czech border.)

Prague’s Pissing Statue

A last stop on our walking tour was the John Lennon Wall. It is graffiti on steroids—covered with political statements and snatches of Lennon’s songs written for the Beatles. 

I ended my first day tour in Prague with a 45-minute boat trip. Leaving our dock we traveled down a skinny canal known as the Venice of Prague. Then we headed in the open waters, past the Prague Castle, the Theatre and under the Charles Bridge. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the royal route walked by Czech kings in a procession to their coronation in the St. Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle. 

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Croatia Memories

People. Strangers. Fleeting moments. Travel seems to compress life yet also rearrange it in our memories. 

Little sister

I take a ridiculous amount of photos on my iPhone when I travel because I know only one photo in five (or sometimes 10) will satisfy me. But oddly the most precious photos are the serendipitous occasions when I meet a person or an animal during my travels.

That was how in my search on my iPhone for my favorite photo of the Yoshino cherry trees in bloom on the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. that I saw the photo of three siblings I met in Croatia. They didn’t speak any English. I thought they were skipping school until I realized it was Sunday. My Exodus travel group was walking up a deserted mountain trail to see the Ronald Brown Memorial on Strazisce Peak. This summit overlooks Dubrovnik.

We heard them before we saw them. They were giggling. The big brother was chasing his little sister around a tree. I heard them chattering in Croatian. Then the oldest decided to approach us. He circled around our group sitting on the side of the road.

 “Sto radis?”

Our Croatian guide Mario translated what he asked us: “What are you doing?”

Mario replied, “Hadojne do vrja planine.”

The Exodus group on trek

The children thought it was hilarious that we adults thought it was fun to walk to the top of the mountain. They laughed and asked why we didn’t just play here. Climb a tree. Collect leaves. Chase each other.

“Pretar.”

Sadly, we explained: “Too old.”

But now I wished that I had stopped to play “Duck Duck Goose” or “Kick the Can” with them. At least they let me take their photos. And every time I look at it, I remember the wonder of playing for a child. 

Making friends in Croatia

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”—George Bernard Shaw

What was your favorite game to play as a child? (Comments welcome!)

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Theodore Roosevelt Island

To wander in Theodore Roosevelt Island (TRI)—nestled in the pocket of the Potomac and hugged by the George Washington Memorial Parkway—is to know solace and serenity. Here one can escape the blaring car horns and screeching brakes of Washington, DC’s traffic-snarled city streets and wander in a green refuge.

Photo Credit: Melanie Choukas-Bradley

The National Park Service (NPS) recently installed six new signs (“waysides”) throughout the 88.5-acre island. They detail the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt (TR) as well as key historical events on the island. The Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island (FoTRI) advised NPS on the placement of the interpretative waysides on the island. The goal was to connect visitors to the rich history of TRI and bring to life how the entire island (not just the Memorial Plaza) is a part of TR’s Presidential memorial.

One of six new waysides installed on TRI

The island was given to the Federal government by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in memory of the 26th president. TR knew the personal enrichment gained by spending time in nature. As President, he championed John Muir’s vision of creating a national park system. A conservationist President, he was responsible for creating the U.S. Forest Service as well as establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments by enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act.

His words are prescient—“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” 

Photo Credit: Melanie Choukas-Bradley

The island is a sanctuary for the nature-loving individual who knows the prescription of walking in the woods to solve any ailment—physical or mental. In my mind’s eye, the entrance footbridge metaphorically rises up and shuts off the island—transforming it into a leafy castle protected by its moat (the Potomac River). I know the recruptive powers to linger in the woodland glen, ponder the cardinal’s song, stumble upon a doe or watch ducks glide across the still water.

I participated in the FoTRI’s Winter Walk on February 23, which was led by naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley. She is the author of multiple books, including A Year in Rock Creek Park and The Joy of Forest Bathing.

FoTRI’s Winter Walk group in February

Choukas-Bradley brings encyclopedic knowledge of trees and plant life in the Washington, DC area. But the tour also reveals her personal love affair with the island. She is currently writing a book about Theodore Roosevelt Island. Starting our tour, she explains the geological differences of the island.

Over the course of our 2.5-hour tour, we stop to survey numerous trees as well as examine their leaves. Some are whirligigs that can float in the air like tree fairies. Some trees on the shoreline are budding even though it is still winter. Everywhere we see the island’s wild life is active; we examine the teethmark of a beaver that is building a new residence. A lone deer is feeding less than 10 feet away, unperturbed by our untimely interruption of her lunch. 

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I can’t believe this deer let me get so close.

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Our path is a bog since it snowed three days earlier. We swish and slide in the mud. We can walk deep into the swamp and tidal inlet as there is a lengthy boardwalk.

 Photo Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui

Here the vegetation changes. We see willows, bald-cypresses and cattails. This section of the island also gives us up-close views of the ducks sailing across the water as well as a raccoon spied in the forest beyond.

I love the variety of TRI’s trees—sycamores, silver maples, black walnuts, bitternut hickories, cottonwoods, pawpaws and Shumard oaks. Melanie shows us ways to identify the island’s trees in the winter. She also calls our group’s attention to the hulking tree on the shore which she identifies as the “Grandmother tree.” A majestic tree, its limbs seem to hug the air. I think of the elderly woman standing guard over her brood of wild life.

Grandmother tree

The island will fascinate history buffs. George Mason (signer of the Declaration of Independence) owned the land. He constructed a ferry which linked Virginia to Georgetown. Later John Mason (his son) built a plantation. During the Civil War, the island served as secret training grounds for the 1st U.S.C.T., a regiment of African-American soldiers. Over 1,000 former black slaves later found refuge on the island. Many helped to publicize their sufferings, including poet Walt Whitman.

In the 20th century, the landscaping firm of Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. restored the island. There are over 35,000 indigenous plants, trees, and shrubs. I predict you will lose yourself walking in this urban wilderness. Or to quote TR—“The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel.”

Photo Credit: Ana Ka’ahanui

FoTRI will organize its first 2019 Moonwalk on March 20. The unique sights and sounds of the island at night will leave a lasting impression. The 1.5 mile hike will be led by a National Park Service Volunteer who will carry a flashlight.

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First Saturday DC Walk

Do you want to stay healthy and make new friends? Then consider joining me on the DC EverWalk’s First Saturday of the Month Walk. Our next walk will occur on Saturday, April 6.

Join us on Sat. April 6

I will be leading this monthly walk in Washington D.C. as EverWalk’s DC Ambassador. 

On Saturday, April 6, our walking group will meet at 11:45 a.m. EST at the top of the escalator for the Archives (Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter) metro stop. 

From there we will walk two blocks to start our walk on The National Mall at 12 noon.

We will connect live to the EverWalk founders Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll via FaceBook Live to introduce our D.C. group. The organization wants to connect up with all 25+ Ambassadors across the U.S. and Canada via FaceBook Live. This will be fun! Plus you will enjoy seeing all the beautiful sights on the National Mall, including the Smithsonian Gardens.

A stroll through the gardens

You can walk as little as 1 mile with our D.C. group and finish up by 1 pm. But my goal is for us to walk 7 miles up to the Tidal Basin and circle past the major monuments—such as the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument—and then walk back down the Mall past the Smithsonian Gardens to the U.S. Capitol. 

Here is a video on my Instagram page about what you will see on this walk:

EverWalk was created by long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and her trainer Bonnie Stoll. Their mission is to get people out walking. If you don’t live in DC, you can still join an EverWalk in over 25 cities in North America. Or you can start your own group in your town by becoming an EverWalk Ambassador.

Inaugural walk participants (March 2)

We had four people (plus me) on the inaugural DC Walk in March. Here is a video showing highlights of what we saw:

I am also experimenting with a shorter 3-mile midweek walk after work. If you want to see my calendar for future walks, please visit my DC EVERWalk page on Meetup. We already have 40 members in the first month!

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Dominican Stew Chicken

I love to cook. So when I arrived home from my Punta Cana trip, I knew I had to experiment with a native dish. I also wanted a recipe where vegetables would feature prominently.

I decided to try cooking Pollo Guisado (Dominican Stew Chicken) because I was intrigued by the key element—Sofrito. 

The prep work takes about 20 minutes because you have a lot of veggies to cut. Sofrito (also known as Sazon) is a specialty of the Dominican Republic. You definitely will need a trip to the supermarket because Sofrito uses a lot of fresh veggies! You will need one green and red pepper (each), one red onion, three green onions, two tomatillos, two Roma tomatoes, 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro and parsley and six garlic cloves. (I also added a jalapeño pepper to turn up the heat.) 

Also known as Sazon

Basically I chopped each ingredient up into small chunks and combined in my food chopper. It only took about four pulses to turn it into a bright green chunky sauce. The recipe requires you to marinate four chicken thighs and four chicken legs in the Sofrito for 30 minutes. You also squeeze 1/2 lemon on the chicken. You then heat up a large pan with one to two tablespoons of oil. The chicken must be browned on both sides. You then add the Sofrito on top.

Simmer chicken for 1 hour

The final step is to mix 3/4 cup of chicken stock with two tablespoons of tomato paste. Drizzle over the chicken and simmer for one hour. Of course, my two Siamese cats—Henry & Eliot—were my assistant chefs.

My Dominican Stew Chicken burnt slightly but I liked how it caramelized the chicken skin and gave a smoky flavor to the Sofrito. If you want a stew broth, turn the flame down REAL low.

Pollo Guisado is traditionally served over rice. (I started the Sugar Detox diet when I returned from my vacation so I am substituting roasted broccoli and carrots for my sides.)

My kitchen smells exotic. If I close my eyes, I can almost pretend I am sitting on the beach in Cap Cana eating a plate of chicken, rice and beans. Comiendo Feliz!

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Punta Canta

Even though I knew since January that I was escaping the woes of winter for my 3-day holiday weekend in Punta Cana, I procrastinate until the night before my flight to pack. My Siamese cats (Henry & Eliot) promptly lay down in my suitcase. “Where we going Mom?” they mewed. I gently lift them back onto my bed and begin neatly placing my clothes in my carryon suitcase.

This is not a trip where I plan to get up at 6 am to go hike 10 miles up a mountain. This is not a vacation that will be spent in a major city visiting museums. This is the old-fashioned Bacchus-style “Go to the beach and sun thyself.” I will consume liberal amounts of frothy girly cocktails on a lounger sitting at the pool in the Dominican Republic.

It is a 4-hour direct flight from Dulles Airport to Punta Cana International Airport—yet a world away from my winter-weary life in Washington, DC. Punta Cana—as a destination—is laid back yet high-energy. It is also not one city but rather a vacation region consisting of a collection of towns which include Cap Cana, Cabeza de Toro, Bavaro, El Cortecito, Arena Gorda, Macao and Uvero Alto. There are scores of family-friendly as well as adult-only resorts. There are 10 different beaches. Although my mini vacation consists of only three nights spent in Cap Cana, they are precious days filled with sunshine, surf and smiles. 

It only rains briefly during my stay. The temperature ranges from 78-85 degrees F. The ocean outside my hotel balcony sparkles like the cerulean blue in a Monet painting. People bask on the beach, dousing their bodies with 50 SPF suntan lotion. The coconut smell makes me crave a pina colada with a pool of dark rum floating on top. (I average 2 pinas a day. I just can’t say no!) I can chose so many places to lay—a poolside recliner, a beach bed, an airy rattan room by the sea.

People are rowdy because there are two wedding parties at the resort over the long Presidents’ Weekend. Two outdoor spaces transform into romantic wedding receptions on Saturday night as the sun sets. Afterwards the restaurants fill up after 9 pm for late night dinners. 

Instead of dancing the night away, I prefer to rise by 630 am. I want to enjoy the stunning sunrise on the beach. I am surprised to learn that a lot of other people also get up early. We all wrap up in the resort’s tangerine-colored towels and watch the big orb turn golden in the sky. 

During my brief stay, I choose to balance my overriding need for pure laziness with two daily bouts of activity—morning yoga and afternoon water aerobics. The yoga class is rather ridiculous because I can’t hear the soft-spoken yoga teacher over the crashing waves. I sneak peeks at my neighbors. A lot of the poses seem made up but it is a heck of a lot of fun to practice yoga at the beach. Plus my reward for getting up early to attend the 8:30 am yoga class is a mimosa with my breakfast.

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Mimosa morning. #lifeisgood #puntacanaparadise

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I think the vacation highlight is my water aerobics class. I can’t remember having so much fun since I body surfed in 8-feet high waves in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. We have either Looky-Looky or Fido teach our class. (Fido is our fav.) Their energy, enthusiasm and exhilaration has to be seen to be believed. We are jumping, bending, swinging and dancing in the pool. There is a whole lot of splashing. Typically over 30 people swam up to join the class while another 20 folks stand and watch us at the swimup bar. Our class typically ends with us holding hands and forming a large circle in the pool and shouting “Aye! Aye! Aye!” (The staff also entertains us daily with a dance routine. I still can’t get the lyrics for Danza Kuduro out of my head!)

 I will end this blog by saying if you are debating whether you should escape the cold and spend a long holiday weekend in a warm place, the answer is yes. There is absolutely nothing that compares to exchanging my winter coat for a bikini in February and laying on a lounge chair by the ocean. Pure relaxation. 

And remember all those clothes I hurriedly packed on the night before my vacation started? Total waste of time. I wore my bikini from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm each day! (I did change into a sundress for dinner but only so I could eat at the resort’s fancy Italian restaurant which had a dress code.) There is a slogan for Punta Cana—“Seas the Day.” This play on words—substituting Seas for Seize—is the truth. 

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Sunrise. All is restful. #mondaymood #timetogohome

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Trip Notes: Punta Cana is served by its own international airport so you won’t waste a lot of time on rough roads. It took 20 minutes for our van to travel from the airport to our resort in Cap Cana. The all-exclusive resorts are a good deal if you only have 48 or 72 hours on land. There are a lot of fun tours (zip line, blue cave, hiking) to book but I wanted maximum time to chill out by the pool and on the beach. Plus the resorts cater to your every whim—whether early morning yoga to late night disco, nightclub and karaoke parties. 

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Caribbean Sanctuary

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic is a mecca for the winter weary who need a break from shoveling snow and wrapping up in woolen scarfs and hats.

Relaxing by the water

This is a vacation idea that my niece Karen and I conceived just three weeks ago. We started out planning a day trip to the spa in Leesburg, Virginia and ended up booking a three-night beach vacation in Punta Cana. It all made sense—direct flight from Dulles Airport, adult-only resort and oceanview junior suite.

From the moment we reach the gate for our 7 am flight, I can feel the anticipation. It also helps to see the rackish straw Fedora hats that everyone pulls out to wear as they escape Washington for the bright lights of the Dominican Republic. 

Our four-hour direct flight from Washington Dulles Airport to Punta Cana resembles a school bus; it is packed with kids. Apparently parents have no problem pulling their children out of school on a Friday in order to get 36 straight hours of sun ‘n fun over a three-day holiday weekend. (Maybe the kids are studying President Washington’s biography. Nope I see car racing games on their iPads.) But after we land at Punta Cana International Airport, there will be no kids. We are staying at an adult-only resort. 

Sunrise in Cap Cana

In my opinion, the first 24 hours after check-in are the sweetest because the whole vacation is in front of us. We conspire to soak in as much sun (plus slushy cocktails) as humanly possible. We have a choice of five pools at our resort.

Since we cannot check-in until 3 pm, we simply shed our winter sweaters, socks and sneakers, pull out a pair of shorts from our luggage and walk around the resort. We decide to go to Blue Marlin for a pina colada. After 10 minutes, they lead us to our table for lunch. It overlooks the sea. This is heaven.

What is it about that first meal when you start your vacation? Everything tastes so delicious—ceviche soaking in an aromatic lime marinade, broiled mahi mahi topped with lemon sauce, crumbly coconut pie.


After lunch there is a delay in checking in our room, so we decide to wander around the sprawling resort. At the Castle, we discover hanging swings where we can chill and gaze at the ocean. 

I follow a couple of rules for how to unwind when I only have 36 hours for my beach vacation.


1) Put my mobile phone in flight mode so I can’t be tempted to check my work email

2) Pretend my resort doesn’t offer free WiFi so I can truly detox from 24/7 internet 

3) Resist the siren’s call of social media and don’t check my Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter pages

4) DO not read the news back home

Why this monastic approach to vacationing? Whether I admit it or not, I can wear myself out by constantly checking my iPhone for emails and texts and living second-to-second for internet updates.

Why not live in the moment? What if I actually “rest” on my vacation by listening to a good book on my Audible account or reading a novel on my Kindle? The reality is that the good vibes generated by this mini-vacation will last a lot longer in my long-term memory if I deliberately take “mental pictures” of the scene in front of me.

I like to play a game called Five Senses. The idea is to deliberately slow down and record what is happening around me now. 


I look at the aquamarine, wave-tossed sea. The sky is velvet blue fabric unfurled across the heavens. Where does the ocean end and the sky begin? I gaze at the horizon for a long time.


I listen to the sea gulls sing as they dip down to the water and then soar to the sky.


I smell the intoxicating cocktail of coconut-infused suntan lotion and salt in the air.


I feel the burning-hot grains of sand as I tunnel by fingers into the mound underneath my recliner.

And I taste the bubbles of the icy cold seltzer water as it burns my tongue, swirls in my mouth and then slips down my throat.

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Sanctuary.

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Where am I? My own little “bubble” in Punta Cana where the world cannot reach me. What is happening? My blood pressure is falling, my stress is but a distant memory and I feel like I am floating. I do not have a care in the world.


So forgive me for not checking for comments or answering emails until I return from my vacation. There is a sign on the door that says “Be back in three days.”


Sea. Sun. Sand.

Zen

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

The search for the perfect mother-daughter trip began when my daughter was about two months shy of graduating from University of Virginia. We had always planned to visit Iceland but now she wanted to drink sangria in the tropics. 

Playa Santa Teresa

I wanted a direct flight, great AirBnb and ocean view. My daughter wanted a place to chill and NOT be writing her thesis. It was love at first sight when I read about Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. After all, who doesn’t want to stay in a place named after her? (Yes my name is Teresa but I am no saint!)

This stretch of Costa Rica’s beaches—located on the Pacific Coast—is ranked among the world’s top beaches. Surfers come down here and never return. The beach towns are filled with American hippies who will never leave. And the sea and sand are divine.

What I didn’t understand was how long it would take me to get from point A to point B on a combination of airplanes, shuttle buses and a ferry. It took about eight hours … and this was after a four-hour direct flight from Baltimore. Oh and there is that little problem with the ruts in the dusty roads leading to Santa Teresa.

But I didn’t know any of this when I booked our gorgeous Sunset Reef Ocean View suite (AorBnb) on the top of a mountain in Santa Teresa. The cost was $828 for 7 nights. Our unit had multiple hammocks to watch the sunrise and sunset over the ocean. It had lush tropical flowers and bushes below our deck. It had glowing reviews.

So I booked it. If you can put up with the fact that it is a long drive across the country to get to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast or if you are willing to travel in a tiny plane, this is a great deal. (Note I had booked my round trip on Nature Air but the airline was shut down after a crash killing 12 people on December 31, 2017).

The direct bus from the capital in San Jose where the international airport is located leaves at 6 am and 3 pm. It takes 6 hours including the ferry crossing. Suffice it to say it is a pain to get to the Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica but it feels like heaven when you survey Playa Santa Teresa (or nearby Playa Carmen) for the first time. Imagine sea stretching for miles. Feel the sugary soft sand slip through your toes. Marvel at the surfers who seem to glide on top of the huge waves.

There is a reason why Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan is “pura vida,” meaning pure life. I found Santa Teresa to be pure joy. Since the town has not been overly commercialized with highrise hotels and runaway development, it has a small town vibe. Even in high season in January (but after the Christmas-New Year tourism crush), I mostly had the beach to myself to swim, read or take long walks along the coastline. I enjoyed wading in the tidal pools and climbing over the huge rocks. I also loved how the backdrop to the coastline was a thick forest of palm trees where I could take rest when I overheated. 

The list is endless for what to do. Every day I saw tourists riding horseback on the beach. But the highlight for me was meeting two horses who ran (or maybe just cantered away) from their trainer and wandered on the beach.

Sitting drinking a sangria at a beachside bar, I bolted out of my hammock to greet them. They nodded their head when I asked whether I could stroke their long tapered neck. Both horses was chestnut colored. They were in no hurry nor was I. It was bliss petting them.

I also enjoyed eating lunch daily at Soda Tiquicia which is located on the main drag. This is where the native Costa Ricans (known as Ticos) eat in an open air dining cafe at picnic tables or the bar. There are billowing cotton curtains to block the noon sun. (It also does a brisk carry out business.) The kitchen produced the best “tipico” plate of spicy black beans, rice, salad and fried fish (or you could chose meat). And it cost about $6.

Typical Costa Rican meal at a Soda

I made fast friends with the cat who lived on-site with the caretaker at our 5-unit AirBnb. Her name was Teresa. She was a tiny tabby with striped fur and penetrating green eyes. All it took was the purchase of a can of tuna fish from the local grocery store to win her favor. Soon she was spending every night in our suite.

One splurge was contacting a local woman (an ex-pat from Vancouver, BC) for a 50-minute massage on our deck. So while I listened to the waves crash on the beach below (and her iPhone played classical music), she worked out every kink in my neck, back and legs from our long journey. Heaven!

I logged a lot of steps (about 8 miles a day) because I had the long haul down the mountain to get to the beach. Once there, all I wanted to do was walk for miles and lose myself in contemplation. Since my daughter likes to sleep in, I usually would fix my coffee in the drip Costa Rica coffee maker, enjoy a homemade cafe latte on the deck and then take a LONG morning walk while it was still cool. 

I regret to say that I was lazy about leaving Santa Teresa proper. I wanted to try the jet line adventure but I couldn’t get my act together early enough to book the tour and get myself by bus to the location. We also had big plans to attend a concert at a local bar on Sunday night but a torrential downpour soaked us and we chose to return back home and put on dry clothes. Heavy rains are a daily occurrence in July.

I also didn’t get to the 3,000-acre Cabo Blanco nature reserve, which was a six mile walk (to the south) from my AirBnb. And oh there is so much more to do in Santa Teresa if you choose. A lot of sun-tanned yogis stay in dorms on the beach and do Sun Salutations from their porch at sunrise. Another guest at our AirBnb enrolled in a Spanish immersion class and attended school during the day and vacationed at night. She was an elementary school teacher from California and she wanted to be able to talk to her students’ parents (many who spoke only limited English.)

And finally you can book an all-day fishing excursion (or snorkeling adventure) in the neighboring community of Mal Pais and bring home enough fish to organize a dinner party for five. Which is what our cool neighbors on the other side of our villa did—invite us to share their grilled fish and homemade ceviche. Of course we brought a bottle of crisp white wine. It was a great way to end our week in Santa Teresa.

At 330 am, we began the long final haul down the mountain … dragging our rolling suitcases. We had a sad (and yes tearful) goodbye to our suite cat, Teresa. Our pickup van waited on the main road, its headlights guiding us in the dark. Within hours, we were boating the ferry which would take us back toward San Jose.

Sitting on lounge chairs, we watch the black night dissolve into a swirl of pink, rose, gold and orange strokes painted across the morning sky. Peace.

Sunrise on the ferry headed back to San Jose

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In The Moment

“You should try being in the moment/then you’d want to catch things/in your mouth too!”—Daniel Ladinsky (poet)

I had the perfect focus group for my research. Two grand puppies—one was a grown up golden retriever, the other was a flat coat retriever puppy. My idea was to understand what constitutes a great vacation from a dog’s point of view.

Baby Perry

This is the first thing that I witnessed. Dogs love when you take them to the country and let them run around and be wild. No leash! So on a bitter cold January weekend, I drove up to my AirBnb cabin and asked my kids to bring their dogs up for a day of play. They romped. They chased. They rolled over (and over) in the snow.

Now my focus group of two shared these observations: 1) Deer droppings delicious; 2) Sticks fun; 3) Creeks wade; 4) Snowballs catch; 5) Humans chase . . . and food must be abundant. Or to quote the canines, “Dog like food.” 

So if you are planning a vacation, why not bring your dog and stay locally? I promise that you will see your life with a whole new perspective if you spend an afternoon in the woods with your dog. I was lucky to get one weekend day to laugh and play (and get worn out) by a grandpuppy named Perry who has an endless energy source. 

She swam in multiple sections of the creek (even though it was 32 degrees F out) while I stay bundled in my ski jacket. She pranced like a pony when offered a treat. (Puppies have such an endearing tilted cantor when they are excited!) She grabbed a big four-foot stick and carried it in her mouth. 

But the big celebration day was Sunday when the two “cousins” were able to play together. There was two inches of fresh snow on the ground. Calvin and Perry rushed up the hill to race each other, sniff and play. There was the big wide outdoors to explore. There was no mandatory return time. There was PURE GLEE. And I think the dogs had fun too. This human learned what is important on a vacation. BE IN THE MOMENT. Get out of your head. Wear yourself out walking. Bring along friends. Laugh a lot. Best dog vacation EVER.

PS As always, my readers’ comments are welcome on the blog. (I actually adore it when people post a comment!) Or you can share your own stories about vacationing with your dog (or cat) on my Instagram page. I want to especially thank my subscriber Deborah who wrote in Comments about a wonderful poetry book about our “fur family” members—Darling I Love You: Poems From The Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts And All Our Animal Friends by Daniel Ladinsky. It will melt your heart. I even read the cat poems to my two Siamese cats—Henry & Eliot. They gave the Cat Seal of Approval. MEOW!

Left (Eliot) / Right (Henry)

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