Friday, September 30, 2011

In The Eye of The Beholder

Some people love HDR photography.  HDR simply stands for High Dynamic Range and is the process of combining several different photographs at different exposures to create an image that better represents what the human eye actually sees.

All of the photos in this post were created using HDR techniques.  Now, I am very new to this type of processing, and the true masters of this type of photography would likely cringe if they ever stumbled upon these, but I think they are pretty cool none the less.

Like using textures, or any other post processing technique, the sky's the limit with HDR and you can create images like the one above that almost have a dreamlike quality to them...

To the more "realistic" side of the HDR spectrum.

Some photographers hate HDR images, and feel like they aren't attractive or even realistic, but there is some evidence that Ansel Adams used this very technique (of combining several images) to create some of his masterpieces, so I'm just fine with HDR.  Granted Ansel Adams had to do it all by hand, and today's technology makes it much easier, and I'm thankful for that.

I don't create HDR images very often, but the Cathedral Notre Dame in Strasbourg, France was the perfect place to try my hand at creating a few HDR images.  I hope to continue to create HDR images and improve my skills, because they really do make for some amazing photos. 

So what is your take on it, hate it, somewhere in between?!  

For more on HDR photography you can visit Stuck in Customs, a wonderful site full of info on using HDR, and his images always impress!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Round and Round

Everywhere you go in France you can find one of these...

A beautiful old carousel...this one even has a stork you can ride on.  Storks are very important in Strasbourg and the surrounding areas.

They are intricately carved...

And feature beautiful artwork!

And on a Saturday afternoon you will hear the laughter of children as they go round and round.

Just watching these magnificent whirling machines, with their music playing, makes you feel like a kid again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Missing Europe

 Castle Heidelberg Germany

We arrived home from Germany and France late last night.  Today I am dragging anchor a little bit, but not too much.

 View of Castle on the hill from the town of Heidelberg

To say we had a good time would be a gross understatement.  When we boarded the plane yesterday in Frankfurt, we were both excited to see our son and our puppies, but sad to leave all that Europe has to offer.

 Statue in the old part of Heidelberg

We got to see so many beautiful places, immerse ourselves in the cultures of two beautiful countries, and we even met some wonderful people along the way...and isn't that what vacation is all about?!

 View from the castle looking down on old town Heidelberg

While Mr. Tide worked in Heidelberg for the first few days, I wandered the town, taking pictures and drinking in its beauty, which was everywhere you looked.

 Cafe in Heidelberg, Germany

I stopped in cafes along side streets and sipped mineral water and nibbled on croissants as I watched the world go by.

Bridge in Heidelberg 

By night, the city took on an almost fairytale like quality, and I kept my tripod and camera with me at all times so that I could capture the magic of it all.

 Flower Market in Strasbourg, France

After our time in Heidelberg, it was time to take the train somewhere, anywhere...and just a day before we would leave Germany we agreed to go to Strasbourg, was a very good decision!

 Flower stall Strasbourg France

The city of Strasbourg is a lovely mix of German and French cultures, and because flowers are such a part of the French lifestyle, the flower stalls on Saturday were a feast for the eyes.  I think I took 30 pictures alone of this one stall!

  L'ill Canal which runs through Strasbourg

Strasbourg is another story book city, and in the evening, when the sun is low, it is truly breathtaking. 

 Beautiful Doorway in Strasbourg

You can lose yourself here, and feel as though you've been transported back in time.  Can't you just imagine the people who have come and gone through this doorway for hundreds of years?  I took a whole series of door pictures while in many amazing details!

 Ceiling above the altar in Strasbourg's Notre-Dame Cathedral

And speaking of amazing details...the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg is almost beyond comprehension!  I spent over 2 hours photographing it...both inside and out, on one of the days we were there!  I think it is one of the most beautiful and painstakingly intricate structures I've ever visited!

 Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle France

On our last afternoon in Strasbourg, we headed south to the fabled wine route in Alsace and stopped at the Castle of Haut Koenigsbourg.  I will likely do a whole post on this amazing castle, but above is a glimpse at some of the intricately carved furnishings which grace nearly every room.

 Riquewihr France

After our tour of the castle, we headed to one of the small towns along the wine route called Riquewihr.  It was as if it had sprung right from the pages of Beauty and The Beast!

 Flower box (with texture applied) Riquewihr France

Riquewihr is a charming village with narrow hilly streets and half timbered houses dotted with overflowing flower boxes.

 Wine cellar in Riquewihr France

We were lucky enough to sample 3 different wines in a family owned cellar which dates back to the 16th Century.  The wines were all delicious, and they are only sold in France, as it is a small winery...I wish we had had room in our luggage to bring back a few bottles.

 Fountain Riquewihr

Everywhere you looked there were beautiful flowers and bubbling fountains.  I hope we can spend more time on our next trip to France just visiting these charming villages along the wine route in Alsace.

Tower Frankfurt Germany

After leaving France, it was off to Frankfurt to catch our flight home.  Frankfurt is an interesting city with a mix of old and new.  Historic buildings stand next to towering modern structures such as the space needle styled building pictured above.

Old Opera House Frankfurt Germany

The old opera house in Frankfurt is lovely, especially at night.  We dined nearby and waited for the sun to go down so that I could get some good shots after dark.

Cathedral Notre Dame Strasbourg France

One of the most interesting and beautiful things we saw while on our trip happened purely by accident.  I was taking pictures in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg when a gentlemen approached us and asked us in French if we knew about the green light.  I studied french years ago in high school, and let's just say that my speaking skills are rather lacking, but I am able to understand at least some of what is said to me.  

The man went on to explain that each year during the equinox, the sun is at a perfect position to cast a green glow onto the Christ figure on a podium at the side of the church.  The green color is caused by the stained glass panel which is perfectly aligned to do this just twice a year, and we happened to be there on that very day.  He told Mr. Tide and me where to sit in order to get the best view of this special event.  Apparently it's quite a big deal as there was a video camera crew and a speaker who explained the events which were about to unfold.  There was a speech, and the organ also played several songs...very impressive as it's a huge pipe organ that reverberates around the entire cathedral.

I set up the tripod and waited, and at noon time the green light began to filter into the church and it began on one side of the podium and slowly traveled until it rested on the carving of the crucifix.  Then after a few moments, it continued down the podium and onto the floor.  It was a very moving thing to see, and I'm so thankful the man took the time to tell us, or we likely would have left, never knowing what we would have missed.  This same man went on to take us around the cathedral giving us a sort of private tour full of interesting details about the cathedral and its meaning.  I love these chance encounters which seem to happen to me each time I travel, they are so very special and will remain with me forever.

I took literally hundreds of pictures during our trip, and I will be spending the next several days trying to process them and choosing the best ones to send to the gallery and to share with all of you.

I hope each of you had a wonderful week while we were gone and that your week is going well so far.  

Tonight I will be dreaming of France and Germany, and missing those two beautiful countries.  I feel so very fortunate to live where I do, but also to be able to travel to other parts of the world and enjoy all that they have to offer.  

I believe that it is through travel that we truly find ourselves.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'm a Big Girl Now

So many birthdays this weekend!  As you read this post, know that I am frantically running around trying to do all of the last minute things you do before you leave on a trip, but I had to post, because today is another special day at our house.

Today, Misty Belle has her 1 year birthday.  How time flies!  It was just yesterday that we were bringing home a tiny fur ball, and here she is, all grown up, a big girl!  Happy Birthday Misty!

Friday, September 16, 2011

From This...

Tomorrow, Saturday, will be my daughter's 24th birthday.  When I look at the photo above and see that curly haired, blue eyed, sweetheart, it's hard for me to believe that she is now all grown up, living on her own, and has become someone that we never could have imagined, because she's so much more than we ever could have hoped for!  

Sometime, when we weren't looking, she transformed from this...

To this...a young woman who knows who she is, but continues to evolve and embrace all her God given talents.  I would list them all, but that would make for a very long post!  So I will simply say Happy Birthday Angelfish!  We love you more than words can say, and we continue to marvel at the wonderful person you have become! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

***I was asked to re-instate the comments feature on my blog, but please know that for now I won't be able to reply unless you ask a specific question.  I know that sounds ungrateful, because I do love reading every one of them, but right now it's what I need to do, and I thank you for your understanding!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

If You Only Knew

When I wake up each morning and look out the window on my side of the room, this is what I see, a field full of wildflowers.  Well they are weeds, swamp sunflowers and some purple weed I don't know the name of, but I like to call them wildflowers, it makes them sound prettier.

We as human beings have the ability to do that sometimes, turn weeds into wildflowers or reality into fantasy.  I had just been thinking about that when I popped by Jane's Blog and read her post, on what real life looks like, not the gussied up version we plaster on our blogs so often.  You can check her post out by clicking HERE.

Parts of Jane's post cracked me up, while other parts rang so true for me that it was a little scary.  But the truth is we are all living parallel lives in many ways, and knowing you aren't the only one with dog hair serving as a 5th food group in your house, or that the laundry threatens to eat you alive, makes you feel better.

For those of you with OCD, or who live perfect lives where children sing songs or write you poetry each day, or your husband makes you breakfast every morning (ok well that one is true for me), then turn run away now!

No, that is not how real life is, because if it was, then shows like the "real" anything wouldn't be so popular.  Sitcoms like Father Knows Best (I loved that show!) and Leave it to Beaver would still reign supreme.  And don't misunderstand, I know that any show with the word "real" in the title is anything but real, but the premise that it shows people's vulnerabilities,  or the literal messiness that is real life is what people crave.

When I run in to people at the grocery store they will often you are so organized, you have so much going on...I don't know how you do it.  I often wander away thinking...were they talking to me?!  No, there must have been someone they knew standing behind me, because honey, if you only knew!

If you only knew how I cussed like a sailor this morning when I cut my finger on my #@$% tripod as I wandered around in my PJs at 8 am taking pictures.

If you only knew that I was frustrated beyond belief that after cutting my finger so bad that it bled like a stuck pig, all of the photos I took looked like crap.  So bad in fact that I am now sending my hugely expensive lens (the one that I've been saving for, the one that broke the budget this month) back to the store I bought it from!  And did I mention that the photo of the juvenile eagle 1 photo up, would have been awesome had the lens worked?!  Sadly, those juveniles don't just show up on my doorstep every day. :(

See that chart in the photo above, it helps you determine if your lens and camera are working properly to get clean, crisp photos (the ones taken with my new lens were horrible).  Yep, Mr. Tide and I spent precious time trying to figure out if it was me, or the lens.   All bets are off when a contest arises to determine if I am wrong or it the piece of equipment I am using is wrong.  9 times out of 10 it is operator error, followed by me saying things like ..."I can't figure this thing out!!", and I walk away in a huff.  Mr. Tide, the man who exemplifies the saying patience is a virtue, usually steps in, reminds me what time of the month it is, and helps in any way he can.  Lest you think he is perfect...he does however have the ability to walk past a folded pile of clothes for weeks without feeling a need to put them away!  And he believes that crumbs spontaneously generate from the kitchen counters, because he swears he wipes them down.  ;-)

If you only knew how much dog hair is on my floor right now you would swear a herd of alpacas live with me.  And yes, I vacuum frequently, but apparently I need to do it twice a day!  Ok, that is never gonna happen!

If you only knew that when the Verizon man showed up at my house yesterday I freaked out thinking, dear lord, I hope he doesn't need to go inside to check the line...maybe I can keep him in the living room and dining room which is straight and moderately dust free!

If you only knew that my dogs were barking and I had no bra on, not a pretty sight! (sorry Papa Jim and Doug if you are reading this!).

In blogland, time and reality are suspended.  There are no broken down barns like in the picture above.  It is edited, so all you see are the pretty flowers, the clean corners of houses, and the ramblings about finding the perfect this or that...but that's not real life.

I want friends who can call me and say, "ok, tell me if you think I'm crazy," and I don't, even if what they tell me would sound crazy to someone else!  And friends who I can call or email and say "ok, I cried because I'm afraid the plane is going to crash or my kids will get hurt while I'm overseas," and they won't tell me I've lost my mind, but will instead tell me that everything will be fine.

If you only knew how other people really lived, you wouldn't be so self conscious about how you live.  You wouldn't feel the need to say, "oh my house is a mess, when you just spent the last 2 days cleaning!"  You wouldn't feel the need to crop a photo once you realized that a pile of mail, or a pile of anything was in the shot.

My life is anything but organized, perfect, or even pretty some of the time, but it's wonderful none the less.  It's full of the good and the bad that make for an interesting life.  I am constantly entertained by the quest for everything that is vintage and imperfect that seems to be the style trend du jour right now.

People are paying exorbitant prices for things that are chippy, rusty, and imperfect and then trying their darnedest to arrange them precisely into their picture perfect worlds.  Does this not sound crazy to anyone else but me?!  Why crave imperfection in things and demand perfection in ourselves...this makes no sense to me, but what the heck do I know anyway!

If only you knew how little I know, how much I have to learn, how far from perfect I am, you would all run screaming for the hills...

***I was asked to re-instate the comments feature on my blog, but please know that for now I won't be able to reply unless you ask a specific question.  I know that sounds ungrateful, because I do love reading every one of them, but right now it's what I need to do, and I thank you for your understanding!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Fairy Hobmother, Coming to An Email Near You!!!

Sometimes wishes really do come true...just ask me!  

Last week I received a lovely email from The Fairy Hobmother.  She informed me that a wish comment I had left on a post over on Kate's Blog, about wanting some camera equipment was about to come true.  The Fairy Hobmother explained that I would receive a $50 gift certificate to use at to purchase a much needed memory card for my camera...YAY!

The timing couldn't have been any better, with me leaving on a trip in just a week, and because I had 2 photo shoots this past of them was a wedding, so I needed lots of room for pictures!  The photo above was taken at the wedding, along with tons of other shots, and my new memory card worked like a champ, so thank you Fairy Hobmother!!!

But like any good Fairy Godmother, or Hobmother as the case may be, I'm not the only one who can be granted a wish!  Nope, you can too!  You see, The Fairy Hobmother is quite generous, and a bit mysterious.

All you have to do is a leave a comment on THIS post, telling The Fairy Hobmother what your little heart desires.  Whatever you like, be it big or small, simple or fancy, for yourself or someone else.  Just leave a comment telling her what you would like, and then wait and see if you too receive an email from that elusive Fairy Hobmother!!  And if you do, please let me know, I would love to hear that your wish came true!  Good luck!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scarred, But Healing

(source unknown)

Ten years ago today I was sitting in my house when the phone rang.  It was a day like any other, a crisp clear September day, the day after my father in law's birthday.  I was following my daily routine, which consisted of driving kids to the bus stop, vacuuming, and throwing in a load of laundry after taking our dog out.

When the phone rang, I had just gotten out of the shower, ready to go run errands.  The voice on the other end of the phone sounded panicked, it was the secretary at my son's elementary school.  She asked what was going on, and I was confused and frightened that something had happened to my son.  Realizing I was clueless, she asked if I had seen the news, and I told her that I hadn't even turned on the TV that morning, I rarely had it on during the day.

She told me that a plane had struck one of the twin towers in NYC and for me to turn on the news, and that she had called me because she thought I would have some sort of insider info because of Mr. Tide's profession.  I told her I hadn't spoken to him that morning but I would go watch TV and let her know if I heard anything about what was happening.

I had barely hung up when my friend and neighbor phoned me, she too sounded nervous and suggested I go pick my children up from school immediately, and she asked me to get her daughter if I got there before she did.  Her husband is a local police officer and she's not one to panic, so when she said I should go, I didn't hesitate for a moment.  By this time, I had seen what was unfolding on television and I grabbed my purse and rushed to school to get my son, since his school was the closest.

I then left to pick my daughter up at the high school, and by this time the radio was inundated with the events unfolding that morning.  When I reached the lobby of the school there were people gathered in utter disbelief, all rushing to grab their children.  A friend was there picking up her son and daughter and when I hugged her she just looked at me and said, "I was supposed to be there!"  She had a meeting that morning at the Pentagon but had not gone to work that day.  As we counted our blessings, more people wandered around with blank faces, especially the children knowing that some of their parents were in the Pentagon that morning.

When I got home, I finally got a hold of Mr. Tide, or maybe he got a hold of me, the phone lines were jammed and no calls were getting out of DC.  He explained that he would be heading to the Pentagon, but that he would need to come home to get some things first.  He rode home with a friend, since he had carpooled in that morning.  When he got home late that night, I was never so happy to see someone in my whole life.  But he would leave the following morning to go to work while the rest of us tried to make sense of the tragedy, he would be there in the thick of things trying to make sense of the wreckage, in the most literal sense of the word.

When he had time he would call, and tell me about how wonderful the Red Cross or the many restaurants were treating them, so that they could focus on the task at hand.  As the days passed, he said the hardest part was mealtime, when they would pass around the letters written by school children thanking them for what they were doing.  It brought it all home, that this wasn't just a job, this was the investigation of lives lost.  People who were here one moment and gone the next.

That first evening my friend and I organized a candlelight vigil in our little cul-de-sac, and one of our neighbors told us how her dad had been right there in NYC and was one of those who barely escaped and had walked home after the towers fell.  It was like that everywhere you went, no one was left untouched.  At one of my favorite country stores, the owner's brother hadn't been so lucky and perished at the Pentagon.  One of my best friends called from California to say that her cousin was on the flight from Boston that hit the towers.  Even months after that day I was chatting with a woman in the parking lot of the grocery store and she told me how her husband had died at the Pentagon, you could see that her heart had a hole in it that could never be repaired.  Yet there she was, grocery shopping, I wondered if I could be so brave?!

When my son left this morning in his dress uniform to represent his Fire and Rescue company in a ceremony, it was all I could to to not cry.  How many wives, mothers, sisters, children watched as their loved ones left to go to work, a job they loved or maybe hated, never to return home.  And I wondered how they felt today.  As some of you know, I play an online game called Call of Duty, and one of the people Mr. Tide and I game with is a member of the FDNY.  I wondered what today must be like for him, and how they cope with the magnitude of loss suffered by agencies like his and the police departments of NYC?

We have a framed print, a shadow box of sorts, in our house with two pictures (one is the same photo pictured above), a patch, and a letter to Mr. Tide which reads in part..."I know that your hard work and dedication to service were critical to helping our Nation heal and rebuild.  Your skills, talents and expertise were required and you were there."  It goes on to say, "From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your unselfish service to the country, and thank you for all that you do every day to keep our Nation safe."

Today, ten years later, I asked my husband what this day means to him, whether it brings back all of those memories?  He simply said that he relives that day over again in his mind, the sights, the smells, the sounds.  He knows that his colleagues who worked the NYC scenes had it much worse, but those scars will be with him forever.  Scars, that until today, I never really realized their depth.

And yet there is healing, it didn't jade him, or make him hate, it made him find greater love, appreciation, and compassion for the life he has.  He "chose" to rise above the hatred of some, and to continue to do what he does best, keeping us safe.  He will never forget, he can never erase, and he knows that, but he has healed.  His example has inspired both our children who share that same strength and compassion.

Today, and each day I wish for those affected by this tragedy, that they will find peace, comfort, strength, and the ability to love again.  To not let the misguided beliefs of a few rule the way they live their lives.  As my friend Mac, also a first responder and gaming friend, likes to say "A hero in life, not in death."  I hope that today, those who lost loved ones will celebrate the true heroes their loved ones were in life.

***In an effort to spend less time blogging, comments have been disabled on this blog for the time being, thank you for understanding!***

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The To Do List, and Other Shortcomings

It's been raining cats and dogs here in Maryland over the past couple of days.  This would normally be a welcome event had it not been for the fact that we just had a hurricane, so more rain wasn't really what any of us want or need right now.  More rain means more flooding, our road was shut down this morning, more trees down, and more mess to clean up!

My to do is list is growing by the minute, and this weather is not helping.  How do you like our pile of debris, I fondly refer to it as Mount Brushmore?  Oh there is plenty more of it that you can't see, stuff too large for us to move from our backyard.  And in case you think that's just a few branches...the stuff on the left side of the photo is an entire pear tree, the stuff on the right is bits of the big dead tree from alongside the water.  We have phoned tree companies to come help us get rid of it, but they have bigger fish to fry, like people with trees on their homes...and did I mention that it's been raining cats and dogs?!  So they are right to service those people first.  The pile is so big that you can't see over it or around it, and it's starting to stink so I would love to have it taken care of before we leave...which is in just 10 days, I can't even think about that right now though or I will go completely insane!

Thanks SO much for the advice you all left me on my last post.  We still haven't made up our minds as to where we will end up.  And today, because I like to torture myself, I threw out the idea of maybe just flying somewhere within Europe, like maybe Scotland!  Mr. Tide just gave me a smile and calmly said, "well, I'm glad you are narrowing things down!"

So let's see, 

I have to help my sister clean out a garage, a shed, and a laundry room so that my parent's house can go to settlement on the 20th, we leave on the 18th!  And she and her husband have already cleaned up 4 trees that came down over there.  We also still need to repair the fence that was damaged by a tree that came down!

I have to get photos sent to a gallery in Vermont that I'm working with, and hopefully get some mattes ordered and signed before we leave. 

I have to go and see if I can rent an international cell phone, I just love going to the Verizon store...not!

I'm trying to tie up loose ends on some writing projects before I go.

I want my house to be clean and tidy so that when I return it will be to a clean house...hmm that's probably not gonna happen.

I ordered some pictures to send to friends and the order got messed up and was never placed, so that needs fixing.

My daughter made it easy on us by asking for cash on her 24th birthday in a week, so thank you Angelfish for not pushing your mother over the edge with an elaborate gift request!

I really need a camera bag for my trip, the backpack I got for Christmas is wonderful but really bulky.

I need to call the credit card company and see if our credit cards will even work over there since some places don't accept our magnetic striped cards now!

We have to take Misty to dog obedience this weekend.  It's her birthday on the 18th...she'll be a big girl then!

I have a photo shoot both days...but may have to bag out if we don't get everything cleaned out in time at my parent's house!

Are you tired yet...because I am exhausted!!!  But I'm excited too, giddy in fact, so it will all work out, just like it always does.  It's that build up that I hate!

And I am working on returning emails, but it's slow going!  To those of you, and you know who you are, who wrote me and said things that brought tears to my eyes over the last few months (YES, I'm that far behind on returning emails), please know that I haven't overlooked you or ignored you.  Quite the opposite in fact, it's because of your words that I'm as sane as I am right now.

And to those of you who have to live in the same house with me right now, God help you!  Thank you for your never ending patience! xoxo

***In an effort to spend less time blogging, comments have been disabled on this blog for the time being, thank you for understanding!***

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dazed and Confused

This week has been a bit of a blur.  We have cleaned up most of the trees and big leaf debris that came down on our property from Hurricane Irene, now there are just piles of things everywhere.  And my sister, brother, and brother in law have cleaned up the trees down at my parents.  It's been a daunting job and there is still more to do, like removing the other half of our big dead tree.  But after driving around our county and seeing the utter devastation to people's homes and property, our tree can wait so that the tree folks can get to the people who really need their help.  Besides, the dogs are liking the obstacle course of huge branches which still litter our backyard.

Besides work stuff, I have also been going a little nutty trying to decide what to do on our upcoming trip to Germany.  I'm not a big planner when it comea to travel, often not even knowing where we will stay or go until we get somewhere, but I would at least like to have some idea so that we can make the most of our trip.

We will spend 4 days in Heidelberg, Germany where Mr. Tide has some training, but the last 4 days will be ours to do with however we like.  I would love to venture south into northern France in the Alsace region, but trying to decide where exactly to go has become a bit overwhelming.  The wonderful thing about Europe is that there is so much, so close by, that you can literally lose your mind trying to figure out where to go!  We could go to Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, France, or stay right in Germany!  I've been looking at the TGV train routes and the world is our oyster, which is both good and bad!  I finally sent Mr. Tide an email this morning telling him my head is spinning and I just might wait until we get there and can talk to the locals to decide where to go.

That's exactly what my daughter and I did a few years ago on a trip to England, and we got to see some of the most beautiful and out of the way places that way.  France appeals to me because we loved our time in the south of France and Paris a few years ago, and I would love a taste of that magical french bread again!  Mr. Tide suggested taking the train back to Paris, which is less than a 4 hour trip.  But I am torn, I know you can never visit Paris too many times, but we've been there, and the thought of going someplace else is weighing on me and sparking my sense of adventure and discovery.

I also looked in to going to Strasbourg, France, which looks amazing, like it fell out of a medieval fairytale book!  But it also looks a bit touristy, which isn't really our style...sigh, so many choices!  A few friends have also made suggestions...thank you Traci, but I am still dazed and confused about where to go.  I know, poor pitiful me right?!

And to top it all off, the budget this month is shot because of college tuition for our son, books, meal plans, and now tree removal!  But I still plan to enjoy myself while I'm over there.

So I will leave the comments open for this post in hopes that one of you, any of you, can tell me where to go...including hell if you like!

I am slowly working through my emails, I have hundreds to return, but made it through about 30 yesterday, so by the end of the year I should be caught up! ;-)