Postcard from Hawaii

Peaceful? Not with those rogue waves!

I was told we’d see a rainbow every day while in Hawaii. But since I wasn’t greeted on the tarmac by a hula dancer with a fresh lei, I figured that daily rainbows were a romantic exaggeration of fabled Hawaii. But the skies did not disappoint.

While I tend to think that life is too short and the world too vast for  vacations that call for relaxation over exploration, Hawaii allows both at once. The rich Polynesian culture and the exotic flora and fauna can be enjoyed while half-dozing on a beach.

A few things you must do in Oahu:

Travel to the North Shore, where the waves, especially in winter, are the towering kind seen in surf videos. You won’t believe your eyes.

While in the North Shore, you’re bound to see bumper stickers and tee shirts urging Hawaii to secede from the United States. Far from downtown Honolulu and crowded Waikiki Beach, the remote North Shore is home to proud Hawaiians that would love to return to their Polynesian roots. While in the area, stop by a local food truck that nourishes surfers with poke – a delectable raw tuna dish.

Though the rough currents can push you against razor-sharp coral, a little blood is worth the snorkeling experience in Haunama Bay. The range of sea life below the surface is nearly psychedelic. Newbies to snorkeling should start out at Shark’s Cove, where rocks create a cozy inlet free of sea turbulence.

I’m not above a classic tourist trap, so get thee to a good old-fashioned luau with hula dancers, fire spinners and a roast pig. Save plenty of room for the best item on the menu: kalua pork.

Take in some history at Pearl Harbor, where you can see the sunken USS Arizona just below the surface. It’s still a watery grave for the trapped military service members inside, and the sunken vessel still dribbles oil from its tanks to the surface.

Hike Diamond Head, a dormant volcano. It has sweeping views of the sea, as well as the crater hole. You can reward yourself with a cup of shave ice at the end of your descent.

Asian culture is rife in Hawaii. Korean BBQ and outstanding Thai places fill the landscape. While there, take in quality Asian cuisine. Or the classic Hawaiian dish that meshes East and West? Spam Musubi – my Kryptonite.

Hawaii was a little bit relaxation, a little exploration. Perfect for an overtaxed Type A like me.  Aloha.

Postcard from Egypt

egypt-044

Months before Arab Spring erupted, my husband and I took the trip of a lifetime in Egypt. It was only when we settled back into daily life did we realize how surreal it was. If you can spare it, you’ll need a good two weeks to explore the surface.

Here’s how to do Egypt right:

Shop in Cairo’s Khan-El-Khalili – the bazaar district. You can stock up on gold-threaded scarves, tea sets and spices. Make sure to go deep within the bazaar where the deals are. The stores near the entrances can charge more, as they see heavier foot traffic.

egypt-076

What’s the frequency Kenneth?

Though I’m not Muslim, I wore a head scarf to help me blend in with the locals and avoid getting overcharged while shopping. Plus, it shields you from the scorching heat. Did  I mention how beautiful they were?

egypt-084

See the sights – you will not believe you’re actually standing in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

egypt-047

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but more affordable in Egypt. Don’t buy the pale saffron going stale in an outside sack. Go for the blood red saffron sealed in a jar by the registers. It’s potent and worth the expense.

egypt-086

Kick off your shoes and see a mosque. They are historical and resplendent. As a tourist, it was a peaceful place to reflect, and a respite from the heat.

egypt-074

Take a small boat to ruins off the beaten path, like Korfu. It’s less crowded, and you can touch the actual hieroglyphics. It’s shocking that Egypt still allows us to touch them, so handle with care.

egypt-111

Drink hibiscus juice, which vendors walk through the streets selling. A small cup of the sweet red nectar will counter the afternoon heat.

egypt-085

Take a cruise down the Nile. Or shall I say, up the Nile? The water flows from South to North, and takes you all the way from the border of Sudan up to Alexandria. Your boat will glide past small towns, where a call to prayer can be heard emanating from speaker towers many times a day. In other towns, children crowd the shoreline just to wave at the boats sailing past.

egypt-136

Feast on glorious food; roasted lamb, hummus, tabbouleh and more. Try not to visit during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday in which the locals cannot eat or drink until sundown. They’ll still serve tourists, but the guilt will be distracting. We learned this the hard way!

egypt-053

Try and land a hotel with a rooftop pool, because baby it’s going to be hot! In Cairo, our hotel also oversaw Giza. At night, we watched laser shows on the pyramids, which made them even more surreal than they already were.

egypt-055

Take a hot air balloon ride over the desert.

egypt-140

Of course, do so at your own risk. It wasn’t until we were at airplane height that I realized we’re just a bunch of fools standing in a wicker basket with no parachutes. Even a sneeze could set the contraption rocking!

egypt-142

Visit Valley of the Kings, where you can see King Tut’s tomb.

egypt-103

Take a train ride through the Fertile Crescent, where a lush green world emerges from the desert. It’s said to be the cradle of civilization.

egypt-091

Go to Luxor and take in magnificent statuary. The fact that the ancient Egyptians had time to create such beautiful things is proof of the powerful, comfortable position they held in the region. War-torn and hungry civilizations don’t focus on art and storytelling.

egypt-156

Bring your sunblock, but soak up that vitamin D! The color will last for months!

egypt-112

Get pulled around the city in Raiders of the Lost Arc style!

egypt-133

Eat fresh dates!

egypt-012

And don’t forget your camera!

egypt-900

 

The Museum Behind Everyone’s Profile Photo

IMG_4459

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room

Even from 3,000 miles away, I couldn’t resist the lure of L.A.’s Broad Museum. My friends’ Instagram accounts blew up with images from the ethereal Infinity Mirrored Room, which also became everyone’s Facebook profile photo. Overnight. Newly-opened and with a minimum two month waiting list, (even longer for select exhibits), attendance seems to delineate who’s who in the art world of LA. Which does exist, for all you naysayers. Most of the people who say L.A. has no culture simply repeat it because they heard other people say it. They also have an identical eye-roll when someone mentions “the valley.” Sheep.

IMG_4475

The curators at The Broad (pronounced “Brode”- I know) prove that a taste for captivating art is alive and well in the City of Angels. Work from local artists and brooding up-and-comers are mingled with stars of modern art, such as Jeff Koons, along with pop art icons Lichtenstein and Warhol.

IMG_4476

For those of you who are still on the waiting list and hoping for a sneak peek, here’s a smattering of what you’ll see. For everyone else, it’s simply here for you to enjoy.

IMG_4485

Unusual piece by Andy Warhol, featuring Jacqueline Kennedy at JFK’s funeral.

 

IMG_4465

Takashi Murakami

 

The two pieces below by Jeff Koons are always tempting to touch.

IMG_4486 IMG_4479

 

The three pieces below are from my new favorite modern artist, John Currin. He captures the hope and humiliation in our everyday lives in a way that’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes embarrassing, but always provocative.IMG_4464 IMG_4463 IMG_4461

Hollywood Noir

IMG_4454

There are two versions of Old Hollywood. One is the rat pack at the Coconut Grove, Clark Gable driving his Deusenberg down Hollywood Boulevard and all things Liz Taylor.

The other Old Hollywood is a bit darker. It’s the Black Dahlia and zoot suit riots. It’s the debauchery of silent film stars in the roaring twenties, lasciviously described in Hollywood Babylon. This version was the theme of our recent rental in Los Angeles, and it created an atmosphere around our trip. The built-in bar was red, as were the leather bar stools. It was eclectic and full of secrets. A stolen street sign from Hollywood’s famous Cherokee Avenue loomed over the bar. There was a old pay phone (a relic; no dial tone), neon signs and vintage bar mirrors.

IMG_5558

If these walls could talk…

Instead of running around town to see old friends, they came to us. They took refuge in the dark recesses of the place. Huddling at the bar, rifling through the book collection and gathering by fire pit out back, where cotoyes howled all around us.

IMG_5718

At the base of the Hollywood Hills, this is where it all began. Looming over landmarks such as The Knickerbocker and Capitol Records, this home was built back when Pacific Palisades was “out in the country.” If walls could talk, there’d be tales of wannabe starlets who didn’t make it, hippies who had chance encounters with the Manson family and screenwriters working their way up at RKO.

IMG_5543

If you want to be surrounded by Mexixan kitsch, pin-up girls and a print of Krampus, this Airbnb rental will give your entire trip a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. To rent this place, click here.

IMG_5511

A house full of friends

Airbnb has truly saved us. We spend good money to travel someplace new, only to end up in a hotel that could be in any city.  You’re remote, with just a bird’s-eye view of the place you really want to be. The only place where giant hotels give you a feel for the town, is Las Vegas.

The other option used to be just bed and breakfasts. While they emote a local feel, the breakfast is always served too early and you’re forced to make pre-coffee conversation with strangers.

IMG_5651

Like many homes at the base of the Hollywood Hills, the yard is sloped and lush from mountain run-off

Thank goodness Airbnb swept in, with  rentals that range from log cabins in Colorado to five-star yurts in Nigeria, designed with tlc by the locals who own it. They fluff your nest with their old silverware and mix-matched dish sets. You use the towels from their old color scheme. Even if you never meet them, they were all around you. And if you pick carefully, it feels kind of great.

FullSizeRender

Virginia Wine Country

012a38a3df0c80cab8dd32c637519fb9b50c90c449

Veritas Winery

Virginia had been quietly making wine for centuries, but lately, it’s been hard to contain the enthusiasm. In the past 20 years, Virginia has become the 5th largest wine-producing state in the US, and many claim (including Forbes) that it’s becoming the Napa Valley of the East Coast.

01b534d5e4b7a8dbfb9b6e42cc38c631b12947a687

Central Virginia, particularly the Charlottesville area, is considered Virginia Wine Country. The rolling hills are lined with rows of grapevines, and set against the backdrop of mountains, it easily mimics Napa in the summer.

018e1fe78a07ee8f132e1d5884d5071ecf7bd35362_00001

Tasting at Blue Mountain Brewery

Gourmet grocery stores spot the landscape. They’re quaint, with chalkboard menus and outdoor tables shaded by umbrellas. And like the wineries, they have their resident dog. Benign but watchful, sweet but aloof. These small markets are packed with truffle pate, French bread and an array of cheeses for impromptu picnics.

01eed0ff2f79ca1bd0542e720cc3fca6f2eee68e17

Many dirt roads lead to intimate, family-owned wineries.

Both wineries and breweries feature local farm-to-table menus. The nearby farms that supply them sell peaches and strawberries at dusty, roadside stands. The mountains offer getaways for wine enthusiasts, and range from rustic cabins to elite ski chalets. In the winter, the area is bustling due to the ski resorts. But in the summer, the area accommodates wine lovers and the endless stream of wedding guests who attend nuptials at the wineries.

01994754fa6652790c88e516621e72db2c5da964d2

Running free through vineyards, careful not to crash any weddings

The difference between Virginia Wine Country and other wine regions would have to be history. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is at the heart of wine country, and Monticello grows grapes too. Tours are available, from his gardens, to a specialized Slave Tour that sheds life on the Hemings family, his direct descendants. Dave Matthews owns a winery next door. There are old plantations, Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields and many museums.

017cdee791211f9c27c2e6a2a6af74d3cfa8e3675e

Gathered with friends for a relaxing wine country weekend

Visitors have long been coming from Richmond and DC. Lately however, it’s opening up as a national destination, and for good reason!


Prom Night in No Man’s Land

059

What happens when the band plays Freebird

If one wants an edge when navigating fashion, they need to learn how to mix the high and low. If one wants to eat well, they’ll appreciate a white truffle pate as much as a street taco. And if one wants to live a good life, an appreciation of the high and low is also necessary.

046

This isn’t the ballet. This is a true tale of a commune in the California desert. Off the grid with no electricity and running water, it’s a refuge for those fleeing regular society. Not even the police monitor the activities in Slab City, which got its name from the giant slabs of concrete on the ground. It is the site of a former military base. Barbed wire still blocks off the edge of town, which is said to have been a bomb test site.

052

Chris McCandless, the young man who inspired the true story Into the Wild, lived in Slab City for a spell. Sean Penn even visited this collective of trailers and man-made dwellings to direct the film version of the book, using the real location and residents for authenticity.

049

On Saturday nights, Bill the Builder flicks on a generator, and residents begin to shuffle into the center of “town.” As the desert heat gives way to cool air, they gather at The Range, built by Bill the Builder. He’s the unofficial father to everyone there. There’s a stage, and seats torn from Greyhound buses.  A string of lights hangs above the live band, diffused by plastic paint buckets. Residents drink hooch and sing prion songs.

093

Inventive seating at The Range

Retired “snow birds” from cold climates drive down in their RVs to ride out the winter in California, and they often pull in to enjoy Saturday nights with the locals. But the year-round residents can seem menacing on paper. They’re often ex-convicts and people suffering from mental illness. But most are kind, scratching out a living off the refuse of others. Fences are made from mattress springs, and they all bathe in the nearby sulfur-tinged hot springs.

043

“Slab City Carol” reigns as prom queen!

How I found this place is another story. I’m here to share prom photos. Once a year, people come far and wide to dance to the live band’s rendition of Freebird with reckless abandon. They dress up and take prom photos. They drink Wild Turkey and wait for the king and queen to be announced at the end of the night. It’s a bucket list event for adventurers, road trippers and of course, les bon vivants!

042

Kim Burke-Connors (pictured left) and myself pose under the prom arch.

077

Laissez les bon temps roulé!

076

As the night goes on, more clothing is lost.p

097

094

Never leave yourself vulnerable in Slab City!

071

Residents pull out their hidden daggers, just in time for the photo!

065

063

084

The local lothario, who invites girls to his “temple”; an upturned septic tank from the military base, which is shaped like a temple.

079

Bringing the party back to Atlantic City

IMG_1061

With DC chef Christina Berrios (pictured left)

I’ll never forget that episode of Sex and the City, were Charlotte goes trashy to appeal to the blue-collar patrons of Atlantic City. That show is iconic, but poking fun at Jersey is like grabbing low-hanging fruit. Not as low-hanging as Florida, but still.

If East Coasters don’t feel like springing for Vegas (or even better, Monaco) we do Atlantic City. Is the place a bit declasse? Just ask the guy selling No Fat Chicks tees on the boardwalk. Is it fading? Absolutely.

But if Atlantic City is dying, why not infuse some life into it? If it’s tacky, embrace it! Our family does it in a big way. My uncle George and Aunt Nancy, with the help of their kids Rammy, Christina and Kelly, throw an amazing party. They have been hosting day trips to AC with a party bus you wouldn’t believe.

Here’s how to do it like a boss:

Get a party bus, send out invites, and fill it with people who like to party!

IMG_1099

They start you off at the bus site with  fresh Dunkin’ Doughnuts coffee and snacks, and homemade sandwiches for close friends and family. Then, they get the gambling started early, by passing out lotto cards, playing bingo, and giving fast cash prizes. They’ll offer $5 to the first person to pull out a bottled water, iPod, etc. They encourage folks to grab the mic in front of the bus and tell jokes.  The crowd is pumped by the time we arrive in Atlantic City!

IMG_1053

Bring a flask and pass it around.

IMG_0128

Bring CASH!

IMG_1046

Get a thematic Jersey manicure!

IMG_1059

Only a fool would pass up a Dolly Parton slot machine!

IMG_0130

Go on the boardwalk and be silly! Avoid the vulgar beach tees but keep on the lookout for sundresses, cheap sunglasses and quirky toys.

IMG_0444

Go on the beach. Yes, there are gangsters and perms out there, but so is the fresh salt air and warm sun!

IMG_1066

Get away from the din below in a cool penthouse, where you can wash the sand from your toes and the cigarette smoke from your hair (yes you can still smoke indoors in Atlantic City). Enjoy a nice scotch before descending.

IMG_1078

For the adventurous, visit that sacred floor between the casino and hotel rooms. Giant party rooms await you, hosting events. See were the party is, and go for the trifecta: open bar, buffet and loud music. Sneak in on the fun, Wedding Crashers-style!

IMG_1089

There was some kind of disco here!

Margaritaville may be a chain, but the menu is excellent and so is Jimmy Buffet. Get ridiculous drinks with fruits in them. Props to any establishment who tries to make the Northeast look tropical.

IMG_0136

And maybe, juuuuust maybe, you’ll get LUCKY!

IMG_0454

My husband scored this on the PENNY slots!

Road Trip to Monticello

IMG_1195

The house was stately, but overshadowed by the wild things in his garden.

When it comes to road trips, I get worked up Elle Woods’ sorority sisters in Legally Blonde. Minus the screeching. Well, a bit of the screeching. Sometimes a road trip can be better than a faraway vacation; zero airports and quality time with your dogs.

IMG_1206

View of the vineyards at Monticello (Italian for “little mountain”)

Tucked away in the mountains of Charlottesville, overlooking apple orchards and a vineyard owned by Dave Matthews lies this historic home, which is Italian for “little mountain.” Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s home sat on the plateau of a small mountaintop, and you could walk from one opposite slope to the other in a couple of minutes. Much can be said about the interior of Monticello, which is smaller than I had anticipated, much like Graceland. I blame tacky McMansions for this distortion.

IMG_1187

cock’s comb

I would be remiss if I described the grandeur of a place without mentioning it was built with slave labor. Monticello truly is an homage to the hard work the slaves put in; they created a haven. Even Monticello itself is trying to reconcile it’s darker past. They discuss Sally Hemings on a specialized slave tour, and it’s about time.

IMG_1207

A cool underground tunnel ran beneath the house, featuring all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into an estate. An ice cooler, wine storage, a kitchen; even Jefferson’s personal toilet.

What intrigued me about Monticello were the gardens. Jefferson enjoyed the beauty of unusual plants and delicious heirloom vegetables – many of which aren’t sold in grocery stores due to their shorter shelf life. He liked variety and appreciated the abnormal. I was thrilled to find that I could buy seeds that came directly from Thomas Jefferson’s garden. Here in Richmond, I’m continuing this line of ancient seeds.

IMG_1192

Strolling the grounds, I could see why Jefferson often wrote about how he would rather be home at Monticello. The tour inspired me to make my home even more of a haven, more of a gathering pace. And I thought nothing could work me up more than Pinterest!

IMG_1196

In the distance, you can see one little mountain on the range that was taller than Jefferson’s.

We’re currently planting a weeping willow in the yard, for a romantic backdrop. I’m painting a few interior doors Tiffany blue, with white trim. We’ve hung Moroccan lamps from wooden posts surrounding our brick patio. This patio will of course be accented by the heirloom plants we’ve grown from Monticello.
IMG_1204 IMG_1203 IMG_1189IMG_1208

Uncovering a Jackie O. Hideaway

IMG_0595

Growing up outside of Washington D.C., I’d pass the mysterious iron gates guarding Dumbarton Oaks, but the ornate black and gold facade hadn’t yet piqued my curiosity.

IMG_0624

Then, like many people around the world, I became fascinated by the Kennedy family and discovered that Jackie O. and many other Washington socialites liked to relax at Dumbarton Oaks. Just a few blocks north of bustling Georgetown, it features 53 acres of serenity and was but walking distance from the Georgetown home Jackie moved into after JFK’s assassination, pictured below:

IMG_0649

The home was purchased in 1920 by Milded and Robert Bliss, and found the grounds rather neglected. They hired progressive landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the various terraces, gardens and more.

IMG_0613

I spent a summer day alone on the grounds, exploring and taking note of inspiring techniques which I will use on my own property. Every home needs a cutting garden as does mine. But this estate goes far beyond flowers. I’ve since installed fruit-bearing trees, a grapevine, ornamental trees and am on the hunt for a spooky, romantic weeping willow.

IMG_0597

Dumbarton Oaks was a place that provided much solace for a grieving Jackie O., and it most certainly gifted me with an exhilarating Sunday, free from the stress of daily life. It’s a must-see for all nature-lovers, gardeners and would-be Bunny Mellons!

IMG_0601

IMG_0641

IMG_0610

Postcard from Ireland

IMG_1217

Blarney Castle in County Cork, where you can kiss the Blarney stone and magically receive the “gift of gab”

Whenever I think of Ireland, I think of road trips through the rolling countryside that come to a halt when a flock of sheep decide to congregate in the road. I wanted that classic film moment to happen to me; it’s so romantic. The closest we got was a confused goat crossing the street in a village.

IMG_1202

Hearty Irish breakfasts awaited us at every bed & breakfast, complete with blood sausage and all the tea you can drink.

The people in Ireland are so kind, I was suspicious of them at first. They’re always smiling and going out of their way to make your day better, even if you never asked them to. One night Robert and I stood on a bridge in Limerick, admiring the hundreds of wild swans that gathered on the water. In the U.S., parks will buy two or three swans for show in a man-made pond and call it a day. In Ireland there were swarms of them. It was late evening as we huddled on the bridge, when a man started walking toward us. We tensed up and wondered what he wanted from us. When he got closer, we saw that he was smiling broadly. He saw that we loved the swans and advised us on where to go during the day to feed them stale bread.

IMG_1164

Another time, a parking lot attendant let us exit without paying in full, due to some confusion I can’t recall. Before we pulled away, he smiled at us and said, “I always wanted to go to America to see those tornadoes, and be a storm-chaser!”

IMG_1261

Killarney, my favorite village and yes, Bing Crosby’s “Christmas in Killarney” played on a loop in my head

Ireland was full of charming villages, ancient ruins on the side of the road for people to explore, neon shades of Kelly green, and hearty Irish breakfasts that called for blood sausage. They changed the name to “black sausage” to make it more appealing to foreigners, I believe.

IMG_1317

The many pubs we visited were dark and comforting, with hand-crafted mahogany bars and booths.

We’ll be coming back.

IMG_1163

At Newgrange, an eye-opening Neolithic site just outside of Dublin

IMG_1191

Oh, just your average unmarked ancient ruin

IMG_1171

Fish and chips – Ireland knows that the best fries are steak fries!

IMG_1268

Wearing my locally made Aran wool sweater for this chilly night…in July!

IMG_1394

All of the bed and breakfasts in Ireland had ticking grandfather clocks, good family china and dogs curled up in chairs.

IMG_1373

King John’s castle in Limerick

IMG_1349

Exploring an abandoned church in Adare Village

IMG_1286

The breathtaking west coast of Ireland mimics the beauty of California’s Big Sur – a great, seaside drive over winding cliffs

IMG_1167

Ireland needn’t advertise their beef as grass-fed. Their response? “But of course they are!”

IMG_1170

Slane Village in County Meath