Water Photo Fun

Posted: under Day trips, Photography.
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sprayground fun

Every family outing does not have to be to an exciting location or a unique experience.  Even regular, everyday fun can sometimes be enhanced by capturing it with a camera.  These photos were taken last summer when our family spent the afternoon at a YMCA pool.  This pool has a slide and a wonderful “sprayground”, where jets of water shoot up from all directions, and buckets of water pour down upon your head.  The goal of taking these photographs was to capture the brilliant colors, the action, and tack sharp focus on the drops of water.  All were taken from a distance with a telephoto lens, of course, for water is a camera’s enemy.  A different style-choice would be to make the water look streaked and blurry, but that wasn’t my desire.

 

 

 

The final stretch

Deploying goggles

The plunge

Looking at the photographs stimulates my memories.  I can hear the water splashing and remember the squeals of the children.  I remember the warmth of the sun and the cool shock of the water on hot skin.  I even recall that familiar pool smell:  chlorine and sunscreen.

Bracing for the cold

These photographs were taken with a Nikon D700, ISO 400, lens 70 x 200 mm f/2.8.

Squeals of delight

My children continue to enjoy that simple day at the pool whenever the photographs scroll through the desktop screensaver.  They always cause us to pause and giggle, with a “Hey, I remember that day…”

The dreaded bucket dumps out.

Simple pleasures can bring simple joys.

Summer fun

 

Comments (0) Jul 29 2011

Mansion on Forsyth

Posted: under Travel.
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Mansion on Forsyth

My husband had to work twenty days in a row before getting a day off.  His work days are not like most – up at 4:15 a.m., seldom home before 6:30 p.m.  Add to that countless committee meetings and business meetings and phone calls at all hours of the night.  He was exhausted.  As his day off approached, he declared that he wanted us to go to a nice local hotel so that we could sleep in.  I balked at first.  I felt like that  was unnecessary and extravagant.  However, when the big day finally arrived I was glad that he persisted and I relented.  It was only 6 a.m. on his day off when his phone started ringing, and text messages began chiming their dreaded alert.  He was right; we had to get away.

He made reservations at the Mansion on Forsyth, an elegant hotel in the historic district of Savannah.  It looks out upon Forsyth Park and is an excellent location for strolling the downtown area.

I am not from Savannah.  I have lived here for ten years, but I am free from family connections that might in any way connect me to the traditions and superstitions that make Savannah so unique.  I watched Mansion on Forsyth being constructed.  I was impressed how the new construction perfectly matched the original Victorian mansion, which had once been a funeral home.  Therein lay the challenge.  When the hotel opened, my husband and I were eager to try the restaurant, 700 Drayton.  It was remarkable!  I still remember the baked chevre appetizer.  It was an all-time favorite meal.  I asked around to native Savannahians about 700 Drayton and learned that no one would try it!  Their responses were the same: “I could NEVER eat in the same room where Uncle So-and-so lay dead.”  Well, their loss.

So my husband and I went to stay at the Mansion, knowing already that locals measured it with a hefty amount of superstition.  What did surprise me was that the designers actually seemed to deliberately incorporate a “haunted house” theme throughout the entire hotel.  Here are a few photographs I took with my iPhone.  I did not expect the unusual decorating, otherwise I would have been better equipped.

Mansion on Forsyth bedroom

The rooms are extremely comfortable, although quite unusual.  The colors were muted with splashes of blood red velvet.

Bathroom curtain

The elegant bathroom is separated from the bed by only a curtain.

Bathroom

The light fixtures were creepy-looking candelabras.

The large bedroom mirror was convex, creating a sort-of funhouse quality.

Creepy shadows

Light fixtures were also unique in the unusual shadows they cast.

The entire hotel is decorated in bold and bizarre art work.

This one makes me giggle.

Perplexing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hahahaha.

A little creepy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lounge looks like it belongs in the game of Clue.

Mrs. Peacock did it with the candlestick in the lounge.

 

Chandeliers that illuminate the hallways have black crystals!

Black crystal chandeliers

The Grand Bohemian Art Gallery is connected to the hotel and has an impressive collection of artwork.  I was swept away by landscapes by a French artist named Jean Claude Roy.  Many talented local artists sell art there as well:  Rebecca Cope, Tiffani Taylor, Irene Mayo.

J C Roy

J C Roy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For out-of-towners, I highly recommend Mansion on Forsyth for both comfort and elegance.  For the locals, I hope my snapshots provide a peek at a place that few of you dare to tread.  As for me?  I didn’t lose any sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (2) Jul 18 2011

Large Family Traveling Logistics – Stretching the Dollar

Posted: under Traveling with children.
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Trip of a lifetime!

On the final day of my family’s vacation out west we drove from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to our hotel in Las Vegas.  It was bittersweet, because it was essentially the beginning of our journey home. The long, monotonous drive lent itself well to a time of reflection.  What worked well?  What would we do differently?   Traveling with nine children (plus a babysitter) from our home in Savannah, Georgia, to Las Vegas, then traveling 1650 miles through unfamiliar territory was a logistical challenge. My husband said many times that all the family vacations that went before this felt like practice for “the big one”.  But in the end we felt that this vacation was a resounding success!

I want to share with you some of the factors that we took into account as we planned our journey, and the decisions that we made.  Few families look like my family, but I hope that you will be able to glean some advice that you can apply to your own family’s adventure. In today’s post, I am considering matters of economics.

Stretching the Dollar

1.  To fly or to drive?

For our family to drive from Savannah to Utah, tour nine days, then return, would require approximately three weeks.   During those three weeks my husband would not be earning any money, yet would be paying out large sums for gas, food, and accommodations for twelve people.  We would also have to rent a van, because our plans included using a babysitter for five young children while older children went hiking, and our passenger van only holds eleven.  For our family, it was cheaper to fly.

Eight of the eleven

2.  Airlines and their specials.

Commercial airlines are suffering financially, and seem to be making every effort to squeeze out the last dollar from paying customers.  Because of competition between carriers, specials pop up all the time; you can not predict them or rely on them.  A great buy today may be eliminated tomorrow.

My husband purchased eleven economy tickets from  Delta Airlines.  With a little research he discovered that by getting a Delta credit card, we could check up to nine pieces of luggage.  Nine pieces!  Delta currently charges $25 per ticket per bag to check luggage one-way!  So this little special saved our family $450, and made our lives much easier.  I do not know if Delta is still running that deal.  My point is that a little sleuthing can uncover savings opportunities.

Oh, and ALWAYS print off a paper copy of whatever special you are participating in.  These things pop up and disappear so quickly, and few things can be as frustrating as getting that “deer in the headlights” look from the clerk at the airline check-in counter.

3.  Hotels with complimentary  breakfasts.

It costs time and money to take twelve people to a restaurant for breakfast every morning.  As often as possible we reserved rooms in hotels that provided breakfast.  Because of the level of activity that we were undertaking each day, it was so valuable to make sure the children were well provisioned each morning.

4.  Pack a lunch.

One of our first stops after arriving in Las Vegas was to go to a grocery store and purchase staples for lunch.  Our typical mid-day meal consisted of peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, apples, pretzels, and water.  Between meals we supplemented with crackers and granola bars.  While it was a dull diet, it was filling and nutrious and allowed us to travel through remote areas, not worrying about meal times and restaurant availability.

Shopping at chain grocery stores was always more economical than small markets near the parks.  I observed that the price of items like granola bars actually tripled near park entrances.  Backpacking staples, like trail mix or tuna, were outrageous!

Remote but beautiful

5.  Sit down to satisfying supper.

At the end of the day we usually ate at a restaurant where we could sit down, enjoy a satisfying meal, recount the day’s adventures, and talk about plans for the next.  I do not feed my children fast food, which is neither satisfying nor inexpensive.  Even though the areas we traveled through were quite remote, we typically found family restaurants near our hotels.  The closest we came to fast food was eating sandwiches and salads at Subway one night.

6.  Purchase the Interagency Family Pass.

For $80 you can purchase an annual family pass for entrance into the national parks and monuments.  I would not have known about this had the man who rented the van not told me.  It is not well advertised. It is also called the “America the Beautiful” pass.

Priceless views at Zion

7.  Join a natural history association!

Each national park gift shop we visited partnered with a natural history association.  If you purchase a membership to that association, you get discounts at other gift shops that cooperate with the association.  For $35 we purchased a membership to Bryce Canyon National History Association.  We were given four posters, two mugs, some pins, and 15% off our purchases.  It did not take many t-shirts later for that membership to have paid for itself.  Furthermore, we were able to use it at Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.  (Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, and not part of that network.)

With my oldest son at Canyonlands

 

Our trip out west to the Grand Canyon and other national parks was not inexpensive.  It was, in so many ways, the trip of a lifetime.  My husband and I got to revel in the natural beauty with all of our children before our oldest children leave home.  And we got to see our youngest children delight in the creation.  I do not know how much they will remember, but I hope that I will never forget!

Baby girl loved sliding down rocks

Comments (1) Jul 14 2011

Wheelchair/Stroller Friendly Day Trips from Savannah

Posted: under Day trips, Traveling with children.
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Car loaded - ready for adventure!

A dear friend asked for my insight on traveling with children.  Her oldest son requires a wheelchair, and she wanted to know if I could recommend “outdoorsy” trips that her family could enjoy, given the limitations of his wheelchair.  While I have never had a child in a wheelchair, I have pushed a child in a stroller almost daily for twenty years now!  There is a side of me that is always looking for a ramp!

I thought long and hard about outdoorsy day trips, and what would make such a trip a success. I came up with three major requirements.

1.  Destination reachable in less than 3 hours.

An ideal schedule might be to awaken at 7 a.m., be on the road by 8, and arrive at the destination before 11.  That would include time for a bathroom break.  Also the timing would increase the likelihood that babies would be lulled comfortably into a morning nap.

I do not feed my children fast food, so I would rather have a picnic lunch in the car upon arrival.  Not only is that economical, but it is comforting to the children to eat familiar foods.

After the adventure, we aim to be  back on the road by 3 or 4 p.m.  The car is filled with weary, ready-to-nap children,  and we arrive home for supper and a comfortable night in our own beds.

2. The Schlepping Factor

It is important that the effort required for the trip not overwhelm the joy of the experience.    Parking must be safe and readily available.  Few things will dampen your adventurous spirits like having to park in a seedy section of town, or discovering that parking requires a form of payment that you do not have, like quarters-only parking meters.

Wheelchair accessibility is required.  “Paved” does not necessarily mean wheelchair or stroller friendly.  Last spring my husband and I visited France with our 10-week-old daughter.  Our first day we hiked from a seaside town called Menton to the Principality of Monaco.  The five mile “stroll” was on a path that the guide book described as paved and easy.  Since my daughter was travel-weary, we chose to use a stroller.  Big mistake!  The guide book failed to mention the many times we would be required to carry the stroller up and down dozens of stairs.  Working together, we could do it, but it wasn’t pleasant for my baby girl.  Once we arrived at Monte Carlo the path was luxurious and the trip was worthwhile.  But we could not bear the idea of dragging her stroller up and down the path to Menton again, so we took a train.

Path to Monaco

Breath-taking Monte Carlo

 

How difficult will it be to navigate your family through the trip?  It can frustrating to try to compete with hordes of tourists (such as at the Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day Parade), or  constantly have to lift a child up so that he or she can see.  Everything worth doing requires effort, but not every outing is worth the effort.  There must be balance.

3.  Memory-making Potential

A good close view - Alligator Farm

Are the children able to interact in a way that makes the trip meaningful? A trip to a fine art museum may be comfortably climate-controlled and wheelchair accessible, but may fail to impress young children.  Similarly a trip to a historic site may engage older children but require a level of restraint for younger children that would make it unpleasant or inappropriate.  The goal is to have fun and make memories, right?  The places I recommend are not only child-friendly, but are perfectly suited to accommodate noise and wiggles.

Recommended Day Trips from Savannah, Georgia

1. The Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida

The Alligator Farm

Beautiful, historic Saint Augustine holds the possibility of adventure for people of all ages!  It is one of my favorite destinations to recommend for a romantic, weekend get-away for two.  It also offers many kid-pleasing possibilities.  And what could be more exciting that visiting the Alligator Farm!

The Alligator Farm is a zoological park that features every kind of known crocodilian.  There are familiar American Alligators as well as exotic crocodiles, garials, and caimans.  The park also houses other reptiles, exotic birds, and monkeys.  A nice path leads through a rookery, a large swampy area where wild birds come to nest.  These birds are protected from natural predators, such as raccoons, by the throngs of alligators that lounge about the tree roots.  It really is a sight to behold.

Gators guard the rookery

Educational and entertaining programs are offered at different times of the day, but the event not to be missed is Alligator Feeding Time!  Even if you leave the park to eat or visit somewhere else, it is worth getting your hands stamped so that you can return to see this spectacle.

Mesmerized at feeding time

It appears to me that the Alligator Farm was designed to accommodate the whole family.  The paths are concrete or wooden plank, the enclosures make viewing accessible to small children, and even the bathrooms have changing stations.  I think it is a hit.  What could be more thrilling and memorable than alligators of all shapes and sizes?

The St. Augustine lighthouse is a short distance from the Alligator Farm.  I have walked to it, but I would not recommend it.  The path lacks continuous sidewalks, and it can be a congested area for traffic.     I have climbed the lighthouse several times.  It is expensive and younger are not allowed to climb.  It is worth driving by the lighthouse, because it is really a beautiful sight.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty.  An Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to visit the city without having to get in and out and in and out of the car.  You can get tickets at the newly-renovated Visitor’s Center and ride the guided tour to see Flagler College, the Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Quarter,  the Fountain of Youth, and other points of interests.  My children thoroughly enjoyed the trolley tour, perhaps primarily because they got to see the whole city without having to pound the pavement on a hot summer day.

 

2.  The Jacksonville Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo

The Jacksonville Zoo is not huge;  its size will not overwhelm you.  Yet given its modest size, it possesses a fabulous and interesting collection of animals.  The enclosures are constructed for clear viewing and there is an observation area, the Giraffe Overlook, where you can even pet the head of a giraffe.

Giraffe Overlook

Up close and personal

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aviary excited  my children.  They were able to pet and feed exotic birds.

Aviary at Jax Zoo

Feeding the birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite specimen was an anteater.  In all the zoos I have visited, I have never before seen an anteater up close.  My husband, however, was charmed by the kudus, which explains why I have lots of photographs of kudus and none of the anteater.

Kudos to the kudus

When I last visited the zoo, they were constructing a play area with a splash ground.  I have every expectation that a splash ground would be a welcome delight on a hot Florida summer day.

Our younger, smaller family at Jax Zoo

3.  Charleston, South Carolina:  the Children’s Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium

Children's Museum of the Low Country

My last  recommendation for child-delighting day trips is not actually “outdoorsy”.  However I think it is worth naming, because sometimes you feel like you have exhausted the offerings of Savannah and really need to experience something new.  Savannah lacks a children’s museum; Charleston has a wonderful children’s museum called “Children’s Museum of the Low Country”.  It is a short distance from the visitor’s center, but I have always had luck finding street parking nearby, even for my enormous passenger van.  Some of the exhibits rotate, making it worth visiting more than once.  My children of all ages have enjoyed exploring the museum, and I have appreciated the dedicated toddler room with accommodations for nursing mothers.  An additional bonus – the price is reasonable!

Hands-on fun

Baby-friendly

Savannah also lacks an aquarium (the fish tanks at Skidaway don’t count).  The South Carolina Aquarium is a wonderful resource, and only two hours away!  The exhibits are easy to see, and I have never experienced large crowds or rowdy school children there.  There is a touch-tank that adds a tactile component that many children will appreciate.

Charleston is a beautiful city and the downtown area lends itself to both casual strolls or self-guided, architectural walking tours.   The sidewalks seem to be always in tip-top condition.  While some routes are brick, I have not encountered any of that bone-jarring, wheel breaking ballast rock like they have along Savannah’s river front.   My boys are always delighted to look out at Fort Sumter and to visit the Battery.

Boys at the Battery

Sometimes you go on adventures with your children, introducing them to all sorts of wonders of the world, and you wonder how much they enjoyed it, and how much they will remember.  A couple of years ago we visited the aquarium and had a lunch at a  hole-in-the-wall pizza place called “Pizzeria di Giovanni”.  The pizza was enormous and oh so delicious!  Then a couple years later I announced to my children that we were going to Charleston for the day.  “Get ready!” I told them.  “Put on your walking shoes.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are in full bloom.  We are going to Charleston and take a walking tour of architectural highlights!”  I can not say that my boys were thrilled with the prospect, but then they chimed in, “Sure, we’ll go.  Are you going to buy us a giant pizza?”

The biggest pizza ever?

Of course we bought a giant pizza.  Isn’t that what makes childhood memories become treasures?  Not just remembering them, but reliving them together.

Biggest pizza ever - Part 2

Comments (0) Jul 10 2011