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Visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Next Monday, December 17th, marks the 110th Anniversary of Flight when the Wright Brothers skimmed over the sands of the Outer Banks in their “Wright Flyer”. On that cold December morning in 1903, the brothers who owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio had ventured to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina.  Kill Devil Hills provided isolation, high dunes, strong winds and soft landings.  After much research with their earlier gliders and wind tunnel tests, they had designed and built a flyer with a four-cylinder engine and propellers that they hoped was ready for flight.  As we all know, the 1903 Wright Flyer was a success and left the ground four separate times that day, twice piloted by Orville and twice piloted by Wilbur.

My son and I visited the exact site of this historic flight this past summer when we were vacationing in the Outer Banks.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial is managed by the National Park Service which always provides an excellent educational experience.  Below is a guide to what to expect and thing to do if your family wants to learn first hand about the Wright Brothers first flight.

Visitor Center

In the visitor center we were able to learn about the Wright Brothers, the 1903 Wright Flyer, and one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. On display were reproductions of the 1902 Glider, 1903 Flyer (the original is at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum), the Wrights’ first wind tunnel and part  of the original engine block from the 1903 flying machine.  We were also surprised to see the original flyer cloth from the original 1903 Wright Flyer that Neil Armstrong carried with him over 40 years ago when he stepped on the moon.

Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer

Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

When we drove up we were really curious about the large bubble-shaped buildings across from the visitor center.  Well the Centennial Pavilion is inside the bubble and it houses exhibits dealing with the Outer Banks at the turn of the century, the evolution of aviation and the challenges of flight and NASA sponsored space exhibits.

Curious about the large bubble shaped buildings?

Curious about the large bubble shaped buildings?

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

First Flight Centennial Pavilion

Reconstructed Buildings

Down a short path from the visitor center is the reconstructions of the 1903 wooden living quarters and hangar where the Wright brothers conducted their experiments. The living quarters were furnished with items like those the Wrights would have used and the hangar replicates the building where the Wrights stored their 1903 Flyer.

Reconstructed Living Quarters/Workshop

Reconstructed Living Quarters/Workshop

Reconstructed 1903 Hangar

Reconstructed 1903 Hangar

First Flight Boulder and Markers

The site of the historic first flight where the Wright brothers lifted off in the world’s first airplane is marked by the six-ton First Flight Boulder.  Numbered markers along the flight path indicate where the world’s first airplane landed after each of its four flights on December 17, 1903.

2nd Flight Marker - 12 seconds & 175 feet

1st Flight Marker – 12 seconds & 175 feet

First Flight Boulder

First Flight Boulder

Wright Brothers Monument and Big Kill Devil Hill

Atop Big Kill Devil Hill is the most magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean, Albemarie Sound and surrounding scenery.  It was on this old sand dune that the Wrights conducted over a 1,000 glider flights and where we were able to visit the 60-foot Wright Monument that commemorates the Wrights achievements in aviation.  One tip, make sure you stay on the paved walkways because there is a lot of spiny cacti on the hill.

Wright Brothers Monument

Wright Brothers Monument

Airstrip and Pilot’s Booth

The Pilot’s Booth which is adjacent to the 3,000-foot First Flight Airstrip is a great place to visit if you love watching airplanes take off and land.  The facility featured a computerized weather briefing system, route planning software, and navigational charts.

Pilot's Booth

Pilot’s Booth

December 17, 1903 Sculpture

This life-sized art recreating the first flight scene is amazing.  The 10,000 pounds of bronze and stainless steel sculpture is located behind Big Kill Devil Hill.  It offers a new perspective to the famous photograph taken by John Daniels.  The sculpture is designed to be hands on, so you can explore and climb on the world’s first airplane.

Recreating the first flight scene

Recreating the first flight scene

Orville

Orville

Other Ways to Enjoy the Park

Visitors can bring their own kites and fly them just as Wilbur and Orville did at the turn of the century. If you brought along your bike while vacationing in the Outer Banks, you can ride them along the road at the base of the Wright Monument. When we went over the summer their were several park activities, such as the Park movie and kid’s activities like Being Wright (where kids can fulfill one of the requirements for he Junior Ranger Badge) and Wright Kite where kids can build their own kite.  Finally,  picnic tables are located near the Pilot’s Booth and on the opposite side of the monument which makes a great place to enjoy lunch with your family and friends.

Park Movie

Park Movie

"Lets Go Fly A Kite, Up to the HIghest Point"

“Lets Go Fly A Kite, Up to the Highest Point”

Do you enjoy learning about aeronautics and aviation? Have you visited the Wright Brothers Memorial?  If you can’t make it to North Carolina, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum or local aviation museums are great places to learn.  Of course there are a lot of resources online too, like NASA Glenn Research Center’s website – it is great for kids and has a lot of DIY science projects!

Mill Neck Manor

Mill Neck Manor, formerly known as Sefton Manor.

Mill Neck Manor, formerly known as           Sefton Manor.

Keeping up with the elegance and luxury of the Gilded Age that now may be assigned to the Great Gatsby, Mill Neck Manor is one of the remaining historic estates on the North Shore of Long Island.  Once known as Sefton Manor, this granite Tudor Revival mansion overlooks the water of the Long Island Sound on eighty-six acres.  The majestic estate was the home of cosmetic heiress, Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge and her second husband Robert Leftwich Dodge.

In 1949, Mrs. Dodge sold her estate to the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, the founding organization for Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf.  The Manor House became a residential school for the Deaf and then a day elementary school. In 2001, a new Deaf Education Center was built which left the Manor House vacant and it is now used for events, Designer Showcases and monthly tours.

Since re-reading the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in anticipation of the Christmas release of the new movie based on the novel, I have embarked on a Gold Coast tour and was thrilled when I secured tickets for the once a month tour of Mill Neck Manor.  I enjoyed touring the Mansion that cost two million dollars back in 1923 and was impressed by many of the unique features and the formal gardens.  I was equally impressed with the life of Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge upon learning that it was her success as the company president of the Harriet Hubbard Ayer Corporation that financed Sefton Manor.  Below is a synopsis of my delightful afternoon at Mill Neck Manor.

The Manor House and Formal Gardens

Upon entering the home I walk through one of the most remarkable feature, the solid oak doors that are over 400 years old and were studded with iron detail.  After passing through the grand entrance the tour group convened in the Great Hall and learned about the history of the three-story residence.  The mansion did not have any original furniture of the Dodge family and many rooms were empty.  The vacant rooms allowed visitors to focus on the beauty of the engraved wood walls, ornate ceilings and the leaded stain glass-windows, depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays overlooking the main stair landing.

The main entrance doors are 400 to 500 years old.

The main entrance doors are 400 to 500 years old.

Stained glass windows depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays.

Stained glass windows depicting scenes from five Shakespearean plays.

Fireplace from Europe.

Fireplace from Europe.

Ceiling on the third floor.  No two ceilings in the manor are alike.

Ceiling on the third floor. No two ceilings in the home are alike.

The mansion consists of 34 rooms, 16 bathrooms and two elevators.  The Great Hall is on the main floor with a parlor to the right and the kitchen to the left.  Also on the first floor were fireplaces imported from Europe from the 16th and 17th century.  On the second floor was the bedroom of the Dodge’s only child, Mary.  This room served as an exhibit for  the Harriet Hubbard Ayer Cosmetic Company and had several original advertising pieces displayed on the walls.  The third floor rooms were for the servants.

Original Advertisement

Original Advertisement

Harriet Hubbard Ayer collection

Harriet Hubbard Ayer collection

In 1902, Harriet Hubbard published"Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book of Heath & Beauty".

Harriet’s life was beset by tragedy and triumphs and it is documented in her biography written by her youngest daughter.

After checking out a room that featured a two-way mirror and two vaults that were hidden in the paneling walls that were constructed from the last wood of the Sherwood Forest,  I ventured out to the formal gardens.  The sunken gardens can be approached through a pair of bronze gates that were designed in Paris and are named the Gate of Sun and the Gate of Moon.  Three Limestone Temples framed the gardens that were originally arranged in the form of a sundial radiating from the Venetian fountain that is centrally located.  Small water pools give the gardens tranquility.

Gates to the formal garden.

Gates to the formal garden.

One of the three temples.

One of the three temples.

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

Lillian Sefton was from Washington, D.C. and was a singer and actress before marring her first husband Vincent Benjamin Thomas.  Miss Sefton had appeared in a production with the daughter of Harriet Hubbard Ayer.  Harriet Hubbard Ayer had started a cosmetic company in 1886 to sell her cosmetic cream.  Ayer ended up losing control of her company to her business partner, but regained control through the courts.  Unfortunately, the bad publicity caused sales to crash.  Four years after Ayer’s death Benjamin Thomas purchased the company in 1907 for his wife when the beauty business was taking off.   Although Mr. Thomas was the president, it was Lillian that ran the company.  She became president after his death in 1918 making her the highest paid female executive in America earning $100,000 per year in 1937. Lillian remarried in 1925 to American Artist, Robert Leftwich Dodge whose works appear on the walls of the Library of Congress.  Mr. Dodge died in 1940 and Lillian sold the company in 1947 to Lever Brothers for $5,500,000, a low price considering the company had been grossing between six and eight million dollars annually.

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

Lillian Sefton Thomas Dodge

What you need to know to tour the Mansion

Tours are held once a month and can be booked on-line.  Each tour consist of a group of twenty-five and the admission fee is $25 for adults.  The tour is approximately an hour and a half.  Upon the conclusion of the tour, tea and scones are served.  If you enjoy touring historical homes, I highly recommend making a visit to Mill Neck Manor, but do so in the spring or fall because the house of course does not have air-conditon and it is very warm during July and August.

The Manor House

Mill Neck Manor is faced with brown Westchester granite and trimmed in tawny limestone.

Have you visited the Gold Coast?  What is your favorite historical home tour?

This past summer on our road trip down the east coast we spent some time in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  When we arrived we really didn’t have a plan and figured we would just stroll down America’s first and longest boardwalk.  I was excited to enjoy some saltwater taffy and my son was excited to play miniature golf and enjoy the rides at Steele Pier.

One thing I wasn’t expecting to do was to learn about the Miss America Pageant.  I was quite surprised after checking into to our hotel to find the world’s largest Miss America memorabilia collection in the lobby of the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel.  Now I’ll admit my son could have cared less about the collection, but I was swept away in memories of when I was a young girl watching the Miss America Pageant on television.  Honestly, until I was standing in the middle of the collection I had forgotten that the Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City from when it started in 1921 until 2005.  In 2006,  the pageant moved to Las Vegas after disputes over local funding and network television coverage.

The Collection

There were several dresses on display including the first Miss America, Margret Gorman’s sea green chiffon and sequined dress and the Statue of Liberty crown she wore in the 1922 competition.

The first Miss America, Margaret Gorman (1921)

Marian Bergeron was crowned Miss America in 1933 and wore a dress that resembled a Mardi Gras gown which is pictured below.

Marian Bergeron, Miss America 1933

The 1943 Miss America was Jean Bartel and is known for starting the Miss America Scholarship Program.

Jane Bartel, Miss America 1943

Lee Meriwether became Miss America in 1955.  She was the first Miss America to be crowned on television.

Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955

In 1967, winner Jane Jayroe wore the blue dress below.  During her time as Miss America she traveled to entertain the troops that were serving in the Vietnam War.

Miss America 1967, Jane Jayroe

The 1971 winner of the Miss America Pageant was Phillis George who also went on to become the first female sportscaster on national TV.

Miss America 1971, Phyllis George

Below is the dress of  Miss America 1986, Susan Akin.  Her dress actually reminds me of one of my formals I wore my freshman year in college.

Miss America 1986, Susan Akin

Also showcased were nostalgic pageant treasures like the Golden Mermaid Trophy and the Miss America Crown and Scepter.

The Golden Mermaid Trophy

Miss America Crown and Scepter

Through out the hotel there were photographs of past bathing beauties and the parade on the boardwalk which was referred to as “America’s Playground” in 1926.

History on the Sidewalk

The history of the Miss America Pageant continues upon leaving the hotel.  Along the side of the building there were plaques and shadow boxes with interesting facts about past winners like Vanessa Williams who became the first African-American Miss America in 1984 and Heather Whitestone who became the first woman with a disability to win the crown in 1995.

For fun you have to check out the statue of Bert Park, the original master of ceremonies of the Miss America Pageant.  Make sure you step under the crown for a photo op.  My son thought it would be silly, so he vetoed my “Here She Comes” moment.

Bert Parks Statue

Sadly, the Miss America Pageant is no longer held in Atlantic City.  In addition to the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel’s collection, the pageant is also remembered via “Miss America Way”.  Diamonds along the sidewalk are assembled like the Hollywood Walk of Fame with each winner’s name from 1921 to 2005.

Miss America Walk of Fame

Good News

If you have a thing for beauty pageants or just find the history along the Atlantic City boardwalk interesting, I have good news.  The Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel was unscathed by Hurricane Sandy and the Miss America collection is still displayed in their beautiful lobby.  I am sure the Jersey Shore, specifically Atlantic City will be doing everything they can to rebuild the historic boardwalk community and it’s landmarks in the aftermath of the storm.  I hope many people will support their tourism.  Just remember to check out the amazing Miss America Exhibit after you hit the casinos and enjoy a meal at the historic Tun Tavern.  I am sure you will leave singing “Here She Comes, Miss America”!

Do you plan to visit Atlantic City?

A NYC Christmas

Christmas in NYC

I ♥ New York City through all seasons, but the Christmas holiday is my favorite times to be out and about in the city.  To borrow a line from the Rockettes, it is “spectacular”.  I know Thanksgiving is next week and most of you are probably thinking can we at least enjoy the turkey and pumpkin pie before we start thinking about christmas carols and Santa?  I know by approaching the topic I am just like the department stores that have been decorated with tinsel and lights for the past month, but I can’t help it because I am officially in the spirit since I spent part of the afternoon in the Bloomingdale’s Christmas Department on East 59th street this past Saturday.   To be perfectly honest Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade next Thursday, so it is definitely time to start getting in the Christmas spirit.  Here are my favorite picks to enjoy a family friendly Christmas in the Big Apple.

Broadway Christmas Shows

The first Broadway show I ever took my son to was Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas and is a must see if you have kids.  If you want to add to the Dr. Seuss fun, make sure your family checks out The Grinch Holiday Workshop at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.  The interactive experience allows them to walk right into the scenes of the holiday tale.

My son’s first Broadway Play … wow that was only 6 years ago, he was so little.

This year there is also two other great musicals on Broadway which happen to be based on my favorite Christmas movies.  A Christmas Story, The Musical brings Ralphie to the stage and Elf is back this year with Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld)  as Santa.  If you are looking for a classical play and not a musical, A Christmas Carol is playing at The Player Theatre in Greenwich Village.  Whatever show you decide to see, make sure you check for discounted tickets at theatermania, goldstar.com, playbill.com or broadway.com.

The Holiday Train Show

As you can see  from the pictures below, it’s been a while since my son and I have visited the train show at the New York Botanical Gardens.  He used to be fascinated with trains, specifically Thomas the Tank Engine.  The Holiday Train Show has trains traveling through NYC landmarks like Yankee Stadium and Radio City Music Hall and the structures are made from all natural material like twigs, bark and pine cones.

The Holiday Train Show when my son was three.

The Holiday Train Show also offers special programs like puppet shows and rumor has it that Thomas and Friends™ will be making a special appearance.  Another fun family event offered is the Gingerbread Adventures where kids can step inside a child-sized Gingerbread playhouse and they can decorate their own gingersnap cookie.

Ice Skating by the Christmas Tree

The Rink at Rockefeller Center

There are a few places in the city where you can lace up your skates and hit the ice.  If you want to brave the crowds, there is of course the most famous of them all, the Rink at Rockefeller Center.  I personally would recommend Wollman’s Rink in Central Park or Citi Pond at Bryant Park. If you ice skate in Central Park, you will find yourself pretty close to the Le Parker Meriden Hotel.  In addition to being known to serve one of the best burgers in the city, the hotel also is home to the Gingerbread Extravaganza.  We went last year and the Gingerbread houses were amazing and all the proceeds support City Harvest, the world’s first food rescue organization.

Gingerbread Extravaganza

Last year we also went ice skating at Bryant Park. Like the rink in Central Park, it is much larger than the Rink at Rockefeller Center.  The restaurant Celsius is also much more affordable than the restaurants that surround the rink at Rockefeller Center.  You will find that Bryant Park is like a winter wonderland with a hundred boutique shops and there is also a charming carousel for the kids to enjoy.

Ice Skating at Citi Pond in Bryant Park

Bryant Park

Annual Holiday Shows

There is one show that is synonymous with Christmas in NYC and it is the Radio City Christmas Spectacular:  The Rockettes Celebration.  This year marks the 85th anniversary of the show and if you have never seen it, make sure you put it on your things to do list this holiday season.  Last year I took my god-daughter and even though it was a gift for her, it really was a gift for me when I saw her eyes gleaming when she watched the show.

Last year at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas spectacular.

For as long as I can remember (at least the twenty years that I lived in New York), the New York City Ballet performs George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ at Lincoln Center as a limited engagement over the holidays.  I went many years ago, with a date that didn’t realize that there was no dialogue in a ballet.  That memory still makes me laugh, but I also have fond memories of being delighted that I was seeing one of my most favorite ballets. Even though it has been a while since I’ve seen the performance, I am willing to bet that anyone who loves the ballet will enjoy the dancing snowflakes.

The Nutcracker – Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

Macy’s Herald Square

After  the Thanksgiving parade is over, Santa spends the holiday season on the 8th floor at Macy’s Herald Square on 34th Street.  There you will find Santaland® which is a Christmas Village with twinkling lights, candy canes and snow-capped mountains and of course lots of holiday goodies.  There is no better place to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper in his ear your wish list.

One of my favorite pictures of my Dad. This picture was taken in Santaland at Macy’s in 1994 proving that Santaland is not just for kids.

Also on the 8th floor is Macy’s Puppet Theatre.  Here your little ones will be able to enjoy Miracle on 34th Street..at Macy’s.  This 30 minute musical will delight all ages and your family will definitely leave in the Christmas spirit.

Before leaving, make sure you check out Macy’s famed window display.  It has been a tradition since the early 1870’s.  With the most windows of any department store in the city, I am sure there will be a window display that will appeal to every member of your family.

Have you been to New York City for Christmas?

 What is your family’s favorite tradition?

My parents and my son at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Today is Veteran’s Day and I would like to honor all those who have served for we would not be the great nation we are without them.  

My son has learned quite a bit about the American Revolution and the Civil War in school and through our travels.  He still has a lot to learn about both World War I and World War II which is part of the curriculum for the second half of this school year.   A lot of what he knows about World War II came from our visit to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and from stories my parents have told him about his great grandfathers who served our country.

My Dad has also shared his thoughts and memories of the Vietnam War while we were in Washington, D.C. at the Vietnam Wall Memorial this past March. He had mentioned that back in the sixties there was little respect or honor for veterans, which is surprising since President Eisenhower made Veteran’s Day an official holiday in 1954.

Teaching our children about those who gave their lives in service for our country is important.  As my Dad is the link to learning about my grandfather’s role in World War II and about his own experience to Vietnam, I am the link for my son to learn about veteran’s role in the Gulf War and of course the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I want my son to be able to relay stories of courage and patriotism to his children one day so they won’t take living in our country for granted.  He won’t be able to do that if he doesn’t learn by example.  It is our job as parents to make sure our children understand that we owe our security and freedom to our veterans past and present, so when you are traveling make sure you carve out sometime to visit one of our country’s National Cemeteries or memorials.  Chances are when you are there you might run into a veteran, so make sure to say thank you.

Pointing to my Grandfather’s name at the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

My parents at the Vietnam Wall

Have you taught your children the true meaning of Veteran’s Day?

Grateful After Sandy

Firefighters in chest high water putting out house fire in my coastal town on the south shore of Long Island during Sandy 10-29-12 Credit: Caryn Jenkin

One of my favorite circa homes in town 

Yep, my car is under that tree

My friend  Gail, from high school posted the following quote on Facebook last week  by Albert Clark.  “In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”  Despite the unusual circumstances that many people have experienced in the Northeast, I am happy and it has to do with gratitude.

The last two weeks have been challenging, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I have been blessed with overwhelming feeling of  gratitude. I am grateful that I no longer live in the house on the water that I resided in for eight years that took in three feet of saltwater and debris from the canal.  I am grateful that the big red oak tree on the corner fell on my car and not my house.  Speaking of my house, I am grateful that it didn’t go up in flames during the storm like three homes in my town and the 80 homes in Breezy Point in Queens.  I am grateful that I was only without power for a week compared to those families that still do not have power.  I am grateful that I live in a generous community that has reached out to so many in need which turned into a lesson for my son that didn’t require any traveling.

The first couple of days after the storm, I had no idea about how the storm affected neighboring communities in New York City and New Jersey.  Once the power and cable resumed I was shocked and saddened as I sat in front of the television and read stories online.  I quickly realized that many of the places that my son and I visited just this past summer like Coney Island, Atlantic City and Cape May were on the list of the devastated communities.  I also learned that the HMS Bounty, which we boarded on Memorial Day weekend sank in Sandy’s wrath in of all places off the coast of the Outer Banks where we spent a week only two months ago..

The crew of the HMS Bounty was so friendly and really made it fun to learn about maritime education.  Fourteen crew members were rescued, but sadly Claudene Christian was not rescued in time and neither was the captain, Robin Walbridge.

HMS Bounty in Greenport, New York (the tall ship’s home base) this past May.

These revelations definitely made me pause with sadness, but at the same time I realized  how grateful I was that we were able to experience these places before Sandy erased the historical charm of America’s first and longest boardwalk in Atlantic City or America’s First Amusement Park in Coney Island.  In addition, I  am truly grateful that the crew members that we met on the HMS Bounty were rescued after enduring what must have been an unbelievable frightening experience at sea.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk this summer.

Coney Island this past summer – grateful for the memory of such a happy day.

Coney Island after Sandy …all the electronics that made the Wonder Wheel go around sat under water.

I also look forward to Ellis Island and Lady Liberty opening again once the significant storm damage has been repaired.  The Statue of Liberty was once again illuminated this past Friday offering a beacon of hope to all those that literally are picking up the pieces of their lives.

Visiting Lady Liberty before she was closed for renovations and from super storm Sandy.

I pray for all those that were affected by what was ironically

dubbed as the “perfect storm”

and hope that they still can find something to be grateful about

and once again experience happiness.

The Georgia Aquarium

A couple of weeks ago while in Atlanta I was fortunate to be able to attend a private dinner at the Georgia Aquarium.  I have to tell you that I was pretty excited to go to the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that I was going to be able to take in the galleries while the aquarium was closed to the public was icing on he cake.

During the dinner in the ballroom we were able to enjoy a pretty spectacular backdrop, the Ocean Voyager exhibit.  This exhibit was created to house whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world, so you can understand why this particular tank holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  In addition to the four whale sharks, there were also four manta rays which were beautiful.  Of course the whale sharks and manta rays were the star of the show, but the stingrays and goliath grouper were also pretty amazing too.

Told you they were pretty big.

After our dinner we were able to tour the aquarium freely for a couple of hours. We visited all the regions of the world ranging from the cold ocean waters to the warm coral reefs.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the beluga whales and the southern sea otters in the Cold Water Quest gallery.  The sea otters, which are endangered species were adorable and there was a cute little baby snuggled up to its mom.

Southern Sea Otters

There were several other galleries like the Georgia Explorer where there were many touch pools and interactive exhibits.  We saw an albino alligator in the River Scout gallery.  In the dolphin tales exhibit, we saw what else…two dolphins entertaining each other.  The Frog exhibit which opened up in the beginning of the year had over fifteen species of frogs and many were quite colorful.

I really enjoy scuba diving and Key West, so it is no surprise that my favorite gallery was the Tropical Diver.  It was so relaxing and we were able to see “Nemo”, seahorses and amazing jellyfish.  At the center the exhibit was one of the largest living exhibits which I guess is to be expected since is in the largest aquarium. There was even waves crashing overhead while we sat mesmerized while viewing the living corals, thousands of colorful fish and tiny glass sweepers.

My favorite picture from the Georgia Aquarium.

Pacific Sea Nettle Jellies

Moon Jellies

I really enjoyed my evening at the Georgia Aquarium and would love to return with my family.   I also really thought the location was perfect for families, so we will have quite a few places to check out.  The Georgia Aquarium is surrounded by the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center where you can tour the CNN Studio and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. There is no other place that can claim that they are the home of the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that there so many other family friendly things to do makes Atlanta a great place to spend a weekend. What do you think?

Have you been to the Georgia Aquarium?

On my recent trip to Atlanta I was looking to dine out at a authentic southern restaurant.  I asked a local for a recommendation, and he advised me to check out Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint.  My first thought was what the heck is a Juke Joint?  Thanks to google and my smart phone, I quickly discovered that juke joints were like our bars of today and they began popping up after emancipation.  Juke Joints primarily catered to African-American sharecroppers and plantation workers in the southeast and provided them with a place to socialize with friends while enjoying a meal or having a couple of drinks. They were also known for their music, especially the blues.

When I told my friend from San Francisco about Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint she was just as excited to try a restaurant authentic to the south.  Originally a southerner before moving to NYC, I too couldn’t wait to take a look at the menu and was also excited because we were also going to be able to see, or should I say hear one of Atlanta’s best blues bands.

As soon as we stepped in the restaurant we were greeted with the jiving sound of the Breeze King’s harmonica, historical photographs of juke joints in a collage on the wall and chatter and laughter from the crowded tables.  The ambiance in one word was cool.

A little history on the wall.

Would you like to try some moonshine?

Our energetic and genuinely friendly waiter also shared something else that was pretty cool – a selection of Midnight Moon Moonshines.  Of course we had to sample a little because how many place offer moonshine?  After toasting our shot glasses and throwing it down I literally screamed “wow, that burned” and quickly realized how the juke joints of the past became so rowdy.  We both decided to ensure that we made our meeting the next morning we most probably should layoff the moonshine and switch to beer.

Did you say Fried Green Tomatoes?

At first glance at the menu, I was disappointed.  Just kidding!  I was only disappointed that I couldn’t try practically everything on the menu!  I debated back and forth over the southern starter and the seafood gumbo to start and between the fried chicken, pork rib rack , the shrimp and crawfish e’toufee and the shrimp and grits for my entrée.  Ultimately we went with the southern starter because it included fried green tomatoes which I hadn’t enjoyed in most probably twenty years.  For the entrée, Nicole decided on the Fried Chicken which is one of the more popular dishes according to our waiter.  I ended up going with the shrimp and grits.  Everything was so delicious.

Shrimp and Grits

Fried Chicken

The Breeze Kings

Hopefully if you find yourself in Atlanta and plan on going to Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint it will be on a night that there is live music.  Consider yourself lucky if you are there on a night when the Breeze Kings hit the stage.  They have been voted Best Blues Band in Atlanta nine separate years.  Their pumping, smooth style and rhythm really tied together the whole juke joint experience.  These guys were truly talented and I really loved the harmonica player.  Can I use the words authentic and cool again?

The Breeze Kings

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

James Michener

When you travel do you sample the region’s most famous foods?

Thirty-three million copies of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize novel, Gone With The Wind has been read since it was first hit book stores in 1936.  This historical romance is the 8th most read book in the world.

Gone With The Wind is the eighth most read book in the world!

I am one of those thirty-three million.  I truly love the book and the movie which was released in 1939 and won 10 Academy Awards in 1940.  Scarlet O’Hara was one of my favorite characters growing up.  My Granny gave me a Scarlet O’Hara Madame Alexander doll for my ninth birthday and on that very same year I also had a Scarlet O’Hara birthday cake.  Of course when I was nine, I had not read the book yet, but had seen the movie, which was enough for me to reenact the romantic drama in my pretend world with my Scarlet Doll and Ken Barbie.

My Madame Alexander Scarlett O’Hara doll from 1977.

My Scarlet O’Hara birthday cake with my aunt, cousin, sister and granny in the background.

With such fond memories, the first place I decided to visit on a scheduled business trip to Atlanta was the Margaret Mitchell House. So a week ago today, I arrived a half a day early for my meeting, braved the rain and navigated the Marta from my downtown hotel to the Birthplace of Gone With The Wind.

Apartment # 1

Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh’s apartment.

Margaret Mitchell and her second husband John Marsh lived in the Crescent Avenue apartment in the 1920’s. In 1926, Mitchell left her job as a journalist for the Atlanta Journal to recover from ankle surgery.  While homebound in Apartment # 1 (which she referred to as “the dump”) and bored with reading, her husband suggested that she write her own book.  As we know today, that is exactly what she did over a three-year period.

A week has past since my visit and I am still excited that I spent time in the very apartment which she lived and penned one of my favorite stories.  The apartment was pretty small and crowded with furniture with a desk near the front window where she wrote her now famous novel.  When I say small, I mean like Manhattan apartment small.  There was no eat in kitchen and the breakfast table was actually in the only bedroom. Apparently she didn’t mind, because she didn’t like to cook for guest.

The living room with Margaret’s desk in the corner where she wrote Gone With The Wind.

The bedroom that also served as a small dining room for Margaret and John.

The small kitchen off the bedroom. The icebox was just outside the back door.

Margaret Mitchell:  A Passion for Character Exhibition

This exhibit focused on Mitchell’s life as a writer and ranged  from her early childhood to her time as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal.  The exhibit also looked at how the book affected her life.  She never had any children and referred to her novel as her child.   I really enjoyed this exhibit and found myself fascinated by the interesting facts about her family that came out in her writing.  For instance Mitchell returned home from college one day after her mother died from influenza, just like Scarlet returned home to Tara one day after her mother died.  I also wondered like many others if Rhett was based on Red, her first husband and if Ashley was based on her second husband John.  She claimed that no character was based on any one person, but on characteristics and the lives of many people she knew.  I also got a kick out of learning that after dancing to ragtime at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in the 1920s, Margaret Mitchell was denied membership to the Atlanta Junior League. In 1939, the league asked her to be the guest of honor at a costume ball for the premiere of “Gone With the Wind,” but she declined their invitation.

Margaret’s desk from the Atlanta Journal. The legs had to be cut down since she was 4’9”.  I love the picture above the desk of Margaret surrounded by men just like the opening scene of Gone With the Wind when Scarlett was surrounded by men on the steps of Tara.

A picture of a picture – Margaret’s risque dancing.

Gone With The Wind has been translated in 35 different languages.

The Making of a Film Legend:  Gone with the Wind Exhibition

The first thing I saw when I opened the doors to this exhibit was the original doors from Tara.  They were beautifully restored after being stowed away in a Georgia barn after being removed from the set.  When I turned left the next thing that I saw was the original portrait of Scarlet that hung in Rhett and Scarlet’s Atlanta Mansion.  The portrait was restored because it was damaged by the whiskey glass that Clark Gable threw at it while filming the movie.  It would have been cool if they had left it in its original state.  There was also a short film in the exhibit that detailed the transformation of the novel  to the classic film.

The original doors from Tara.

The original portrait of Scarlet O’Hara that hung in the Atlanta Mansion in the movie.

It’s hard to believe that after reading 1037 pages and watching a four-hour movie numerous times that I only spent about an hour in the home where Gone With The Wind began. Although it was only an hour it was a very happy hour which was actually around noon and not five o’clock.  Learning about Margaret Mitchell has given me an even greater appreciation of Gone With The Wind. This is something that I never would have imagined as a nine year old girl playing with my Scarlet O’Hara doll and quoting lines like “Fiddle-dee-dee” and “After all…tomorrow is another day”  in my most southern voice or giggling as I cursed for the first time whenI made my Ken Barbie say “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

When is the last time you have seen

Gone With The Wind?  

If it has been a while, and you don’t have four hours

check out this 2 minute clip from SUPERCUT on YouTube!

Welcome to Coney Island

When I told my thirteen year old son this summer that we were headed to Brooklyn to take in some history, I received his expected moan as he said “Mom, enough with the history trips already”.    I just laughed and told him to call a friend to join him, because this history lesson revolved around roller coasters and thrilling rides.

Coney Island is just a stone throw from Manhattan.   Okay, not really, it is the last stop on both the D and F subway lines, but well worth the trip.  If you haven’t been there in the last two years you might have a different opinion, but since the renovations in 2010 it is a really fun place to spend the day.  The best thing about Coney Island is the atmosphere that places like Disney World, Six Flags and Busch Gardens can’t replicate.  Coney Island has many attractions like the New York Aquarium, the Brooklyn Cyclones (Met’s Farm team), the Coney Island Circus Side Show, and the Coney Island Museum.  Our mission however, was to spend the day at Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and then end the day chowing down at Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs.

Luna Park

The original Luna Park was open from 1903 to 1944.  It recently reopened in 2010 and many of the rides pay homage to the original parks, Steeplechase Park and the first Luna Park.  As soon as we arrived we loaded up our Luna Cards with  Luna Credits (40 credits- $35, 60 credits – $60 & 125 credits – $100).  The Luna Credits were valid at Luna Park, Scream Zone, and the Cyclone Roller Coaster.  We were able to use the cards for rides, games, and food.  The boys loved the Scream Zone and did a lot of screaming themselves on the Soarin’ Eagle and the Steeplechase. The Steeplechase was ridiculously fast and it was cool to know that this ride was based upon the original mechanical horse ride over a hundred years ago.  The only thing that was missing was the attendants were not dressed in jockey uniforms like years past.

Soarin Eagle

Steeplechase

The Coney Island Raceway which is also in the Scream Park just opened this year.   It was a great track and my son gave it a ten when comparing it to the many other go-kart tracks that he has dragged me to over the years.

Coney Island Raceway

The Luna Park Rides were divided into high, moderate and mild thrill rides.  We focused on the high thrill rides and the Brooklyn Flyer (swings), The Tickler and Wild River were our favorites.

Electro Spin

Of course the grand daddy of the rides was the historic Cyclone Roller Coaster which was declared a NYC landmark in 1988.  2012 marked the 85th Anniversary of the cyclone, so of course we had to celebrate by riding the landmark.  All I have to say is that I thought The El Torro was scary at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, but the first drop on the Cyclone brought back the same frightening feeling 10-fold. In addition to the rides, there were plenty of games in Luna Park, and both boys came home with many angry bird prizes.

The Grandfather of the American Roller Coaster

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

This amusement park is sandwiched in between the Scream Zone and Luna Park. The Luna Card is not accepted here since it is under different ownership and you can buy tickets at one of the booths in the park.  Deno’s has a great kiddie park with 17 rides and four adult rides including the famous Wonder Wheel.  The Wonder Wheel was built in 1920 and is 150 feet high.  No matter if we were looking at the Atlantic Ocean or the skyline of Manhattan, the views were amazing.  The boys also had a great time on the bumper cars and I loved the Thunderbolt mainly because it brought me back in time to the days I visited Pontchatrain Beach in New Orleans when I was young.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel

Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs

You can’t go to Coney Island without eating a hotdog from Nathan’s Famous. Charles Feltman actually invented the hotdog in Coney Island in 1867, but it was a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker that opened up a small hot dog stand in 1916 that now is the home of the “World’s Best Hotdog”.  Ninety-five years later my son, his friend and I ended our exciting day of thrill rides and games with an original dog and a cheese dog just like the many generations before us that flocked to Coney Island for some family fun.

It’s time for the original

The original and a cheese dog

Have you been to Coney Island?  What was your favorite thrill?

Both amusement parks are open on the weekends through the end of October.

If you want to get the full educational lesson, click this PBS website before visiting America’s First Amusement Park.

The fun never stops at Coney Island!

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