Archive for the ‘Cultural Arts’ Category

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?

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Kayaks and Canoes are also for rent at the Peconic Paddler at the traffic circle next to Milton L. Burns Park.

Did you enjoy part one of  30 reasons to vacation in Riverhead?  As mentioned before, the great thing about Riverhead is that there is something for everyone. Mom’s and daughters will enjoy having tea at Tea Time Cottage, decorating Gingerbread cookies at The Gingerbread University and shopping at the outlets. Fathers and son’s will enjoy Riverhead Raceway and the Railroad Museum of Long Island.  Families that enjoy the outdoors can rent kayaks and paddle down the Peconic River or rent bikes and cycle by the riverfront. Science comes alive at the Long Island Science Center or Atlantis Aquarium and history buffs will enjoy Hallockville Farm or the Historical Society Museum.  Below is the continued list with details and links to make planning your getaway to Riverhead simple and stress free.

11.  Ride the mechanical bull and do a little line dancingCody’s BBQ offers more than just the typical barbecue fare, it host line dancing on Saturday nights and an opportunity to ride a mechanical bull.  The inflatable mechanic bull is set up outside on the back deck.  If you are thinking about going, check out their facebook page because events seem to be updated more than on their website.  This sure is a fun night out and there is not to many places for you to get “your Cowboy on”!

The Mechanical Bull, photo credit: Cody’s BBQ

12.  Shopping – If shopping is your thing, there will be no shortage of stores at the Tanger Outlets.  Stores include accessory shops, children’s apparel, apparel for men and women, footwear, specialty shops and housewares and home furnishings.  Make sure you check out their website for coupons and special offers.  Another great place to check out is 73 Main in the historic downtown area.  I am sure this new boutique will be one of many with Main Street be revitalized and the addition of the Hyatt and approaching opening of the Suffolk Theatre.

Shop at the Outlets

13.  Long Island Science Center – This hands-on interactive educational museum emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math.  Families will have great time exploring the exhibits like CSI and solving the crime or creating  a small toy with tinker toys or building their own creation with legos.  Also offered are family workshops.  Admission is $5 per person.

Long Island Science Center

Time to Investigate

14.  Hallockville Museum Farm – Hallockville, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on 28 acres where visitors can tour their historic houses and barns from the mid-18th century.  In addition to touring the museum’s buildings, gardens and collections, families will get to experience real farming in the fields and get to meet animals like cows, sheep and chickens.  One of the best times to visit  is the third weekend of September when they have their annual Fall Festival & Craft Fair.  Make sure you check out their website for other fun events, like Geology hikes.

Hallockville Museum Farm

15.  Spend the day at Reeves Beach – On the shore of the Long Island Sound, this beach is about a ten minute drive from the center of town.   A gazebo sits atop a cliff overlooking the Sound and beach and there is restrooms and parking.  Parking however requires a beach permit from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Day permits can be purchased for $10 at the Recreation Office at Stotzky Park.

The Long Island Sound

16.  Railroad Museum of Long Island –  With two locations in Riverhead and Greenport, train enthusiast will love this museum.  Admission includes a ride on the World’s Fair miniature train and a guided tour of the Riverhead and Greenport site. Families will also like the model train display in the visitors center.  The best way to enjoy the day though is to arrive at the Railroad Museum of Long Island (RMLI), Riverhead site, at approximately 10 AM when it opens, on any Saturday and Sunday between Memorial weekend and Columbus weekend. Visit the Riverhead site and then walk over to the LIRR Riverhead station (across the tracks) and take the Eastbound 11:25 AM train to Greenport arriving at 12:05 PM. Visit the Railroad Museum of Long Island (RMLI), Greenport site, located across the parking lot from the West end of the Greenport train platform. After visiting you now have two choices. Return to Riverhead on the 1:11 PM train leaving Greenport and arriving Riverhead at 1:50 PM. Or if you want to do additional sightseeing in Greenport Village, return to Riverhead on the 6:11 PM train leaving Greenport and arriving Riverhead at 6:50 PM. When you return on either train, pack a lunch or snack, ride on the upper level of the train, and enjoy the view as you pass through Long Island Wine Country. (The LIRR fare is extra, but family fares are low-cost.)  Two annual events that you will want to keep in mind is the Riverhead Railroad Festival, always the weekend before Labor Day and the Holiday Open House with Santa, the first full weekend in December at the Greenport location.  The Riverhead location is also hosting Toy Train Play Days Columbus Day weekend.

Model Train Display in Riverhead

Railroad Museum of Long Island

17.  Dine at Riverfront Restaurant – The Peconic River flows just south of Main Street and there are some really great places to enjoy a meal with the family.  The cuisine at Turkuaz Grill is Turkish and Mediterranean.  I love the atmosphere under the trees with paper lanterns and the sigara boregi, (Turkish Cigars, which is fried thin dough rolled with feta cheese and parsley – yum).  If you are in the mood for Italian, The Roadhouse has great brick oven pizza and pastas.  Both Turkuaz Grill and The Roadhouse are reasonable priced and family friendly.  I also love Farm Country Kitchen, which is tucked away from the road on the banks of the river. They have quite a selection of wraps and salads made with the freshest ingredients.  There soups are wonderful too.

Turkuaz Grill

Enjoy pizza, pasta or wings along the river at The Roadside.

18.  Give into your sweet tooth – After dining along the riverfront, make sure to save room for dessert. Across the street from The Roadhouse, you will find the best homemade ice cream at Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe.  The historic downtown area offers up great shakes at the Star Confectionery, which is 1920s “classic” “mom‑and‑pop” luncheonette.  Just a couple of doors down, you will find the Baker’s Workshop. This cafe is part of the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center and the pastries here are spectacular.

Snowflake Ice Cream Shoppe

The Star Confectionery

19.  Explore Polish Town, USA – Polish Town is a small neighborhood in Riverhead settled by Polish immigrants at the turn of the century.  This is a great neighborhood to explore with kids and expose them to a different culture.  The streets are lined with red street signs and polish flags, so it gives you a feel that you are no longer in Riverhead.  It is here that you will start craving kielbasa and pierogisis even if you were not hungry.   No worries, if that happens, because the popular Polish Town Deli or Birchwood is on the main drag, Pulaski Street.  The best time to visit Polish Town USA is in August when they typically have the Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival.

Welcome to Polish Town, USA

Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival

20.  Grumman Memorial Park  – Families can pay tribute to the aviation and aerospace history that took place on Long Island at Grumman Memorial Park.  This free attraction is now home to some of  Grumman’s Long Island-built fighter planes, including one of the best known, the F-14A Tomcat, a supersonic fighter that could shoot down enemy aircraft in the middle of the day or night.

Grumman Memorial Park

Believe it or not, there is still 10 more places to highlight in this busy little town!  Stay tune for the continued list in Part Three of  the 30 Reasons to Vacation in Riverhead.

Main Street, Riverhead by the Community Garden

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Sunflowers along Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.

Riverhead, New York is small town on the east end of Long Island sitting at the mouth of Peconic River.  Many people associate Riverhead with the Aquarium, the water park Splish Splash, and the Tanger Outlets.  These might be the most popular attractions, but Riverhead has so much more to offer.  Affordable hotels (that are scarce further east out in the Hamptons) make it a great destination to visit with families.  This post is the first of three and families will be thrilled to find something to do for every family member.   There really is a lot to do, regardless of the season or your age, so check out my list below and make plans to venture out to the east end of Long Island for a day trip or a vacation in this family friendly destination 76 miles east of New York City.

1.   Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center The aquarium has been one of our family’s favorite place to visit.  It is not a huge, but it has so many exhibits and interactive experiences.  In addition to seeing beautiful fishes and the sea-lion show, the aquarium is the home of three Japanese Snow Monkeys and adorable Penguins.   When my son was three he was happy touching the stingrays in Ray Bay and now at age thirteen he has enjoyed the thrill of the shark dive  and the pirate snorkel adventure.  Other fun things for the family is the Discovery Tower, climbing Poseidon’s Peak,  touring the Peconic River on the Atlantis Explorer Tour boat or hanging out in the tranquil Butterfly Exhibit.

My little guy checking out the stingrays

Not so little any more doing the shark dive with his friend.

2.  Splish Splash– This of course is a seasonal attraction and is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  With 96 areas of water slides and wave pools, it is no wonder that it was voted one of the best water parks in America by the Travel Channel.  One of the things I like best about Splish Splash is how the park is nestled in the trees for shade.

The Lazy River

3.  Riverhead Raceway – This is a fun way to spend a Saturday evening.  I promise the race cars whipping around the track, demolition derbies and classic carnival food will keep your family entertained.  Races are only on Saturdays starting at 6 pm and the pit opens in the afternoon where you can check out the practice and modified trials.

Riverhead Raceway

4.  Martha Clara Vineyards – More than just award-winning wine, the Entenmann’s family friendly farm is inviting for the whole family.  The kids will get a kick out of seeing the turtles, goats, pigs, cows and other animals.  This family friendly vineyard host dog walks (yes, your furry four leg friend is welcome), live music, horse and carriage rides and of course wine tasting for the adults.  The weekend we visited we were also able to pick our own sunflowers from the field and families were sprawled across the lawn with their picnic lunches while listening to the Live Reggae Music by The Roots Foundation.   The kids played games like tag and bean bag toss while adults were playing bocce. The vineyard is opened year round, so make sure you check out their website for events and live music schedule.

Check out the doggie in the wine tasting room.

The Roots Foundation keeping the crowd entertained.

Say hello to the alpaca

Walking through the sunflowers.

Saying hello to one of the horses that pull the carriage through the vineyard.

Families playing on the lawn.

The Vineyard

5.  Treasure Cove Rentals – Located behind the Hyatt Place, the Treasure Cove Resort Marina rents bicycles, canoes & kayaks, water bikes and electric tour boards.You can rent by the one or two hours or for a half a day for four hours and venture out on the Peconic River.

Kayaking along the Peconic River.

6.  Gingerbread University – This is such a fun activity to share with kids and not just for Christmas.   Families can pick from decorating their own Gingerbread house or cookies.  Each month has a theme and when I stopped by they had cute whales to decorate for summer.  There is plenty of candy in the sweet shop to add to the decorations too.  Walk ins are welcome, but it is best to make a reservation.

Gingerbread University

Gingerbread cookies waiting to be decorated.

Decorating Kits

7.  East End Art Gallery – Located in downtown Riverhead on Main Street, this gallery is run by the East End Arts Council.  The Gallery produces eight shows a year and the gift shop showcases work of the member artist.  Admission is free and open to the public.  The day I visited there was an exhibit titled Found Objects and a fabulous women named Janet gave me a little background of some of the works of art.  I found many of the sculptures and paintings whimsical and thought it would be a great exhibit for kids to get their imaginative juices flowing by looking at works of art that were made of old alarm clocks and a kitchen strainer.  My favorite  object was a very large wastebasket that looked like a Starbucks cup made from Starbucks cups found on the ground.

A work of art made from found objects.

Kids would love this.

8.  Out East Family Fun  – This is an outdoor family entertainment center opened from March through November.  Miniature golf, batting cages, and jump shot basketball (a trampoline basketball game) will definitely ensure a great time. Summer seasonal activities include all water attractions which include 4 inflatable water slides, water wars (a slingshot water balloon game), shoot and shower (a basketball splash game), and a splash zone for the little ones. This place is a must, since vacation always should include a round of mini golf!

Mini Golf for $7 per person at Out East Family Fun

9.   Affordable Accommodations – There are three options for family accommodations in Riverhead – Holiday Inn Express East End, Hilton Garden Inn Riverhead and the Hyatt Place Long Island East End, all averaging about $150 a night.   Both the Holiday Inn Express and the Hilton Garden Inn are both located on Old Country Road which is close to the outlets, Splish Splash, Riverhead Raceway & Out East Family Fun.  The Hyatt Place, which opened up a year ago is on Main Street in the historic downtown section of Riverhead and sits along the Peconic River.  It is next to the aquarium and is close to the Long Island Science Center and the Railroad Museum of Long Island.  Treasure Cove Marina is also located on the premises for kayak rentals.  Each hotel has a pool, which is another attraction in itself when traveling with kids.

10.  Picnic at the Peconic Riverfront Park – Pick up lunch at one of my favorite places, The Country Rotisserie, and head down to Milton L. Burns Park which is behind the bank on Main Street.  This is a phenomenal park and you will feel like you are in an outdoor art gallery with the carved pilings along the river.  Seriously these pilings are a work of art, and you will find carvings of the Statue of Liberty, 911 Memorial and the Empire State Building.  There is a performance area , benches and checkers and chess tables.  The gardens are beautiful with many blooming flowers. This a charming retreat with pathways, grassy areas and some shade trees.  At the entrance off of Main Street there is a new playground and community garden. Across the street, south along the river you will find Ammann Riverfront Park.  This park runs behind the southern storefronts on Main Street.  Here you will find picnic tables along the riverfront with boat moorings. Sometimes a farmers market will be set up and the park ends at the aquarium.

Milton L. Burns Park

Statue of Liberty

See, they really are works of art!

Chess anyone?

Are you impressed with all that Riverhead has to offer?  Well this is just the tip of the iceberg, with twenty more reasons to vacation in Riverhead, make sure you check out my continued post later this week!

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Now that is Historic!

A new semester begins.

Across the country many students today started or returned to college.  About 28,000 students walked the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is the nation’s oldest state university.  UNC was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795.  It is the only public university in the United States that admitted and graduated students in the 18th century.  Knowing that both my son and I love history, it should come to no surprise that we visited the campus a couple of days ago, but there was also another reason to return to Chapel Hill.  I was fortunate to be able to live in this college town that is nicknamed a”Southern Part of Heaven” from 2000 to 2002 and wanted to show my son a part of his history that he was too young to remember.

This past Friday, the campus was buzzing with new freshman and their parents touring the campus with student guides.  Franklin Street which is named in memory of Benjamin Franklin, is a vibrant main street and is filled with many places to shop and eat.  We started our day at the Carolina Coffee Shop.  I watched other parents with their grown children giving them advise and trying to keep their emotions in check realizing that it might be one of the last meals they share before they have to part.

It was over my own bowl of cheese grits (something this southern girl can’t get in New York) that I realized I would be in the same position with my son five years from now.  It is these moments that you realize how quickly time goes by.  Ten years ago, I was pushing my son in a stroller around campus and in half that time he will be starting his independent life.

Carolina Coffee House

Pushing away a moment of sadness, I reminded myself that the reason I was there was to show my son the beautiful historic campus and all that it had to offer.  We walked around the campus checking out the old buildings like Old East which was the first building constructed on campus and today serves as a residence hall.  After checking out the South Building and “The Pit” (the sunken courtyard by the student union) we spent time at many of the landmarks that are often associated with UNC.


The Old Well is the visual symbol of UNC and sits at the heart of the campus. Originally it served as the sole water supply for the Old East and Old West dormitories.  Today it is surrounded with brick walls, plants and benches.  It is tradition that students drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes for good luck.  We saw many students with name tags lined up to get a drink.  My son decided to take a drink too, he said he needed good luck for his approaching year in the eight grade.  I told him a little luck couldn’t hurt.

A drink for good luck.


Like many universities, UNC has a bell tower that rings each hour.  Seniors have the opportunity to climb the tower’s steps to take in the view of the campus a few days prior to the commencement ceremony in May.


The planetarium is located on the UNC campus and is one of he largest planetariums in the United States.  Reflecting telescopes, star projectors and the domed Star Theater make it a great place to visit.  Many of the shows in the planetarium are written and produced at Morehead.  Shows range from lunar landings to black holes. One fun fact about the planetarium is that Morehead provided training for U.S. astronauts from the Mercury program to to the Apollo-Souz program.

Sundial in front of the Planetarium.


The university’s first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker developed what is now known as the Arboretum into an outdoor university classroom for the the study of trees, shrubs and vines that were native to North Carolina.  Between 1920 and 1940 East Asian trees and shrubs were added.  Today the Arboretum is is managed by the university’s North Carolina Botanical Garden and is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.


The Inn which was built in 1924 by a UNC graduate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the place to be on Friday’s between 5 pm and 9 pm from late April to mid-October.  Here you can relax and enjoy good food and bluegrass music while overlooking the tree-shaded lawn during their Fridays on the Front Porch series.


My son loves baseball and football, so checking out the stadiums where all the action takes place was a must.  We first checked out Boshamer Stadium which is the home field for the baseball team.    This stadium is new, but built within the same footprint of the old stadium.  We found the new entrance interesting since it was named Steinbrenner Family Courtyard.  Being NY Yankee fans we had to do a little research and found out the Mr. Steinbrenner and his family pledged one million dollars for the courtyard in 2006.  Apparently, Mr. Steinbrenner brought the Yankees to Boshamer Stadium to play exhibition games against the Tar Heels in 1977, 1979 and 1981. Jenny Steinbrenner, Mr. Steinbrenner’s daughter, graduated from UNC in 1981.

The Kenan Memorial Stadium has been the  home of the Carolina football team since 1927.  It is nestled among countless pine trees and when the stadium is full it can hold 63,000 people.  Of course when we were there it was empty, but I am sure it is almost as exciting as an LSU game …(sorry, I am a LSU Tiger fan despite living in Chapel Hill for two years.)


The Carolina Basketball Museum chronicles the history of UNC Basketball.   A six minute theatre presentation highlights Michael Jordan and others and the history of UNC Basketball including their six national championships.  There are interactive exhibits and cool memorabilia like a letter from Duke’s coach to Michael Jordan saying that he was sorry that Jordan was not interested in playing for Duke.


As mentioned earlier, Franklin Street is lined with boutiques, antique and vintage shops, bookstores, art galleries, hotels, the Varsity movie theatre,  restaurants, bars with live music and plenty of places to pick up UNC fan gear.  This downtown street was a fun place to hang out and spend the day.  I was disappointed we were only in town for the day, because I had a list of restaurants that I wanted to revisit like Crook’s Corner Restaurant, Mamas Dips (actually on W. Rosemary Street – yummy southern cooking like my Granny use to make), Spanky’s and Top of the Hill. I read that Chapel Hill has more restaurants per capita than any other US city, so whatever your palate is they have you covered.  I have to visit again just for an eating fest.

Franklin Street

As you can see our little tour of UNC kept us busy and unfortunately we didn’t have time for another great place to visit, the Ackland Art Museum.  Right on campus, this museum has exhibits ranging from European masterworks to North Carolina pottery.

Our visit to UNC filled me with such unexpected joy.  I loved revisiting the campus and sharing with my son a part of our life that he was too young to remember.  I told him stories of how we would often see owls in the trees as I strolled him through campus and how our neighbors told us that there was no wavering between Duke and UNC and how we became Tar Heel Fans and wore Carolina Blue.  Before leaving town, I made sure to show him his history too and brought him by our old townhouse, favorite park at the Chapel Hill Community Center and his first school, Chapel Hill Day Care in Southern Village.  As we left town on our long drive home we spoke about how cool it would be if he ended up going full circle with his education…Chapel Hill Daycare to UNC.  I guess only time will tell.

Our old townhouse.

Decked out in Carolina Blue at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park.

Have you toured a college campus with your children?  

As you can see a university campus like UNC can fill a day with countless things to do and plant the seed for a college education!

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Our road trip through Western New York state and Canada included many exciting pit stops. We were very excited for our two days in Toronto because we planned on cheering on our beloved New York Yankees that were scheduled to play the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.  We were also excited because we had planned to check off three more places from Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up – The CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Toronto Zoo.  Here are some highlights from Toronto’s must see family attractions.

Taking in Toronto

The CN Tower

1.  MLB at Rogers Centre – Our visit  to Toronto was actually planned around the fact that the New York Yankees would be in town for an away game.  My son and nephew are HUGE Yankee fans and if asked, they will tell you that going to the game was their favorite part of the road-trip. They were so excited that we arrived at Gate 11 of Rogers Centre at 5:30 p.m for a 7 p.m. game.  Since we were so early, we watched some of the warm ups and stocked up on your typical ball park food.  Rain earlier that day had kept the retractable roof closed, but the boys cheered loudly next to the Blue Jay fans throughout an exciting game that included a crazy fan running out on the field.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were not able to end up with the win, but the whole experience made the boys proud that they were “loyal fans” that followed their team on the road.  Needless to say, I’ll be checking the Yankee schedule this year for our planned road trip down the east coast.

2.  CN Tower – Standing at a height of 1,815 ft, 5 inches, the CN Tower defines Toronto’s skyline and is the most recognized icon in Canada.  It is actually the world’s tallest free-standing structure and serves as a hub for telecommunications across the city.  The only way to the top of the world’s tallest tower is by riding glass-faced high-speed elevator.  I am not kidding when I say high-speed because it is only took 58 seconds to reach 1,136 ft .  No wonder why it has earned the world’s title as the #1 elevator ride by National Geographic Journeys of a Lifetime.  Of course the boys loved the elevator ride, but they had an even better time giving me a heart palpitations as they walked across the glass floor 113 stories above the ground.  I personally enjoyed the four lookout levels that offered spectacular views of Toronto and Lake Ontario that just got better the higher we went up.

3.  The Hockey Hall of Fame – I know that Canadian’s would find this hard to believe, but our family really is not huge hockey fans.  This however didn’t keep the boys from having a great time and we were excited to add it to the list of our other Hall of Fame visits (the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame).  The Hockey Hall of fame was more than a sports museum.  The boys really enjoyed the interactive exhibits, the NHLPA Be A Player Zone, the broadcast pods and the replica of the Montreal Canadians dressing room. Of course getting up close and personal with hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup was one of the more memorable moments as you can see from the picture below!

4.  Toronto Zoo –  The Toronto Zoo was listed as one of the 7 Great Zoos in the world by Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up.  I have been to a lot of zoos (including the Bronx Zoo and the San Diego Zoo which also made Frommer’s list), but I have to say the Toronto Zoo really is one of my favorites.  Yes it is big, but I found it really easy to navigate.  The “Follow the Footprints” offered three trails that were approximately an hour and included opportunities to meet the zoo keepers.  There is also a kid’s zone that is divided into biomes – the prairie and the wetlands.  In addition, there is also a Waterside Theater where you can catch a bird show and splash island where the kids can cool off.

Toronto is a great city to explore with kids.  There were so many other places we would have liked to check out if we had more time like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Center.

Are you planning to go to Toronto?  What will you see?

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Today I was asked by a colleague at work if I had any recommendations for broadway shows in NYC with teens.  I quickly stated with enthusiasm Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark and the Blue Man Group.  Both shows are great for boys or girls.

Why they will love them 

Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark – Teens will love this play because it is like watching a comic book come alive in 4D.   The play is action packed and teens will find themselves anxiously awaiting Spiderman taking flight over their own heads.


Foxwoods Theatre – 214 W. 43rd St.

Where to Eat:

Junior’s – West 45th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave. I know this restaurant seems a little touristy, but it is really practical when eating out with teens.  It is typically crowded, but the staff keeps things moving with speedy service.  We have eaten there several times and have always enjoyed our meal.  If you are there don’t forget to order their famous cheesecake.  Junior’s is also friendly on the wallet and is one of the few affordable restaurants in Times Square.

Astor Place

The Blue Man Group– This is a one of a kind show.  The hour and forty-five minute performance features three bald blue characters combining percussive music, art and theatre.  Teens will love it because it is interactive and they will feel like they are at a big party. Make sure to sit in the poncho zone for added fun.

The Last Act


Astor Place Theatre  – 434 Lafayette Street. NYC

After the show

Where to eat:

Paul’s Da Burger Joint – 131 2nd Avenue at St. Mark’s Place.  I stumbled upon Paul’s Da Burger Joint thanks to a recommendation from Carol at NY City Mama. This place is nothing fancy, but the AWESOME burgers and shakes and the reasonable prices make it a win-win.

All smiles after some great burgers.

Buying Tickets – You can find discounted tickets on Theatre Mania for both shows. Savings are 35% on tickets for Spiderman (Broadway) and over $10 per ticket for Blue Man Group (Off-Broadway), so don’t forget to use the Theater Mania Discount promo code when making your purchase.

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The minute you arrive in San Diego you will more than likely be greeted with sunny blue skies and warm temperatures with frequent cool coastal breezes.  It truly is picture perfect.  In addition to the gorgeous weather, San Diego also offers many fun family attractions that show off the city’s proud heritage and culture.  My family loved San Diego!  It was the perfect destination for my son and Dad to hang out together while I had to attend a business meeting.  Luckily, I still had some time to join them in the fun.  Here are our favorites!

1.  Sea World is most probably one of the most popular destinations when visiting San Diego.  There was plenty to see and do in this 100 acre marine theme park.  We really enjoyed the Shark Encounter through a glass tunnel.  My son also liked the stage comedy show where the star was a very talented seal.  Of course, rides like Shipwreck Rapids was a hit with him too!  He was soaked and loved every minute of getting wet.  I on the other hand decided to sport a beautiful whale poncho.  I just hope I didn’t look like one!  The highlight, no surprise,  was the killer whale show.  Where else can you see Orcas performing water gymnastics?

2.  Hotel del Coronado is one of California’s premier ocean resorts.  The circular red roofs and turrets are located on one of America’s most finest beaches.  We learned that stars like Marilyn Monroe and royalty have stayed at this elegant wooden castle.  The restaurant in the hotel is actually named after Edward, Prince of Wales. We had fun touring the hotel and the grounds and learned that it was nicknamed “The Del”  because the hotel had numerous leisure activities for guest.  Before moving on, we took in the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean as we walked along the smooth beach of white sand.

3.  The Gaslamp Quarter is named for the early street lights that decorated the sixteen blocks that were the home of Victorian commercial buildings back in the 19th century.  Today the Gaslamp Quarter is a National Historic District with many shops, galleries, theaters and restaurants.  There are walking tours available of this charming neighborhood.  We picked up historical tidbits and saw things like the brick firewalls that saved the neighborhood from the great fire of 1872.

4.  Old Town is the birthplace of San Diego.  The center  has a collection of restaurants and shops that have a colonial mexican design.  We enjoyed shopping and a great lunch at the Plaza Del Pasado in Old Town San Diego State Park.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays  you can catch volunteers roaming the streets in period costumes and there are ongoing living history activities.  Also on Saturdays is the Old Town Market.  There is live music at this artisan fair and it is free.

5.  Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial is beautiful site to honor our country’s veterans.  As you will see from the pictures below the view from the mountain top was amazing, not to mention quite serene.

6.  The San Diego Zoo was on our must see list since it is listed as one of the “Seven Great Zoos” in Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up.  With more than eight hundred species of rare and endangered animals my son and Dad had a lot to see.  The animals were separated by moats instead of bars and the grounds were filled with many exotic plants which my Dad appreciated since he is a “garden man”.  Another thing my Dad appreciated was the guided bus tour since the zoo was so large.  My son is fascinated with Australia, so he really enjoyed seeing Koalas and Kangaroos and shared his excitement with me.  He was quick to add that just because he saw a Koala bear didn’t mean that he still didn’t want to go to Australia!

7.  The Maritime Museum consist of several ships and submarines.  Exhibits for the museum are  on a turn of the century riverboat, named the Berkeley.  The Berkeley carried refugees from the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Oakland.   The most popular ship is the  fully-restored windjammer named the Star of India.  The Star of India has been in the San Diego harbor for seven decades and is the oldest active sailing ship in the world.  The Russian Submarine was also a big hit with my son.  This was a great way to spend the day on the waterfront.

8. USS Midway is also on the waterfront and conveniently right next door to the Maritime Museum.  This aircraft carrier’s odyssey stretched from the end of WWII to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.  An impressive 47 years!  There was more than 60 exhibits and 27 restored aircrafts to explore.  My son had fun checking out the crew’s sleeping quarters and the ship’s jail.  The flight simulators and interactive exhibits like the “Ejection Seat Theater” will excite any kid, big or small!

9.  Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres offers a behind the scene guided tour that is great fun for any baseball fan.  I had went to the 1998 World Series when the Yankees scored a victory against the Padres and I couldn’t wait to take a walk down memory lane with my son.  He was allowed to explore the dugout and check out the press box.  For baseball fans, this is fabulous ball park to visit.  There is not many baseball fields that have a sandy beach and palm trees for a backdrop!

Our trip to San Diego was nothing but delight! I loved that the city was vibrant, but without attitude.  The easygoing nature of the people and the fabulous weather had me considering a move out west.  Since that is unlikely, I guess I’ll just have to make another trip.  There are still many places that my son and I still need to explore like Presido Park, Heritage Park and the many museums in Balboa Park.  I am sure my son would love to take a thrill ride on the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park along Mission Beach.  I also heard that the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is great too, especially the behind the scene tour.  Looks like we have an excuse to head back out to San Diego!  Have you been to San Diego?  Do you have any places we should add to our must see list?

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Did you know there are 77 floors in the Chrysler Building?

This past Saturday my family decided to kick off the winter break by embarking on a Stray Boots Urban Game in New York City.  What is Stray Boots, you ask?  It is an awesome family experience that is half scavenger hunt and half walking tour with your cell phone as your guide.   We love receiving expert knowledge of tours, but are not big fans of being tied down to a tour.  This urban game which is offered in fourteen cities allows you to “let your boots stray with your cell phone leading the way”.

Stray Boots offers thirteen different game zones.  Since my niece was visiting from Louisiana, we decided to choose the Bryant Park and Grand Central: Movers, Shakers & Skyscrapers since the area had the greatest number of major NYC attractions.  Here is some highlights of our adventure as we found sites by answering questions and completing photo-op challenges!

Ready to get started after a fabulous lunch at Bryant Park Grill

We started in Bryant Park and received our first clue via text message after entering our activation code.  We began looking for the man Bryant Park was named for and happened to be sitting pretty on the east side of the park.

The kids with William Cullen Bryant

Searching, we looked for the plaque on the statue for the middle name to answer the question and then learned that William Cullen Bryant was the driving force behind two other New York City landmarks – Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Moving on, we headed up 6th Avenue to 43rd Street and made a left to answer another clue:  What theater was once home to the League for Political Education?

The Town Hall

The Town Hall hosted many political speakers, such as 1st Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she spoke in defense of FDR’s New Deal.

Another clue lead us to dbBistro Moderne and we found out that you can eat one of NY’s most expensive cheeseburgers, stuffed with foie gras. Since we needed to find out how much it cost, we headed into the restaurant to ask one of the waiters.  We learned that it was $32!  We soon discovered that the $32 burger was just a drop in the bucket compared to eating at NYC’s most expensive restaurant, Masa, a Japanese restaurant in the Times Warner Center.  Dinner there can cost $300 to $500 per person!

Across the street from dbBistro Moderne, was the Royalton Hotel that was built in 1898.  As we searched to find what color the old-fashioned telephones were in the lobby we learned that the building was one of the first buildings in NYC to enable street-level passage from one block to the next.

Making a call at the Royalton

When we arrived at Grand Central Terminal we had to find something that was worth $10-20 million!  It turned out that the clock that sits on top of the information booth is GOLD…who knew?  We also discovered that Grand Central Terminal is a very romantic place!  The Biltmore Room was known as the “kissing room” since passengers coming off long-distance train rides like the Knickerbocker were met there.  Another romantic area was the rotunda outside the Oyster Bar, which has a whispering corner that is a popular spot for marriage proposals!

Grand Central Terminal

A VERY Expensive Clock!

Central Market where Murray started making cheese in 1940!

I was surprised to find out that after living in New York for almost twenty years that I was not aware of Library Way!  Library Way has 96 plaques in the sidewalk on 41st Street that contains the quotes of 45 writers.  After we found a quote by Thomas Jefferson we headed to the NY Public Library where we answered clues in the Periodical Room and  the Rose Main Reading Room.

Clue on Library Way

The New York City Public Library

The scavenger hunt took us about three hours to complete and at times it felt like the Amazing Race when we ran into other people also playing the game.  This game is great for families! Kids learn things without even realizing and it and the game truly was interactive and SO MUCH FUN!   We can’t wait to check out some of the other game zones in the future!

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Just east of New York City is the eleventh largest island in the United States.  It is beautiful Long Island and it has been my home for the last ten years.  Known for its gold coast and gorgeous beaches, Long Island also offers many cultural, historic and science-based attractions for families.  Close proximity to Manhattan makes Long Island a great day-trip for both visitors and New York natives!  Here are my family favorite destinations:

1.  CRADLE OF AVIATION MUSEUM – When you visit Long Island’s Air and Space Museum your family will be able to explore eight exhibit galleries that are home to over seventy-five air and space crafts.  Kids and adults will enjoy learning about the major role Long Island has played in aviation and historic flights like Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”.   Many interactive exhibits and short films make the experience a lot of fun.  The Junior Jet Club is a great place for children under six to explore.   Older children will enjoy the Giant Screen Dome which offers a great selection of movies like “Legends of Flight”.

Cradle of Aviation Museum

2.  FIRE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE – For many travelers that crossed the Atlantic Ocean back in the 19th Century, the Fire Island Lighthouse was the first evidence of land.  Your family can enjoy learning about the whaling industry, shipwrecks and Long Island’s fishing industry by visiting the interactive exhibits. Families will also enjoy the guided lighthouse tower tour where you can climb 156 steps to the top of New York’s tallest lighthouse..  The lighthouse and tours are offered year-round.  For tour information visit the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society.

The Fire Island Lighthouse

3.  SAGAMORE HILLSagamore Hill was the home of President Theodore Roosevelt.  This is one of my favorite places on Long Island.  I have to mention that the home which is the main attraction is under renovation, but there is still plenty to see and enjoy.   The Roosevelt Museum at the Old Orchard house  has great exhibits and several short movies which highlight many aspects of President Roosevelt’s political and family life.  Families can also enjoy the outdoors on the Sagamore Hill Nature Trail.  If  your family enjoys the nature scene, make sure to visit the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Center which is down the road from the President’s home.   Visit the sanctuary’s website for great family events like “Dancing Under the Stars” and the popular “Owl Prowls”.  Adjacent to the Sanctuary, you can also visit Theodore Roosevelt’s Gravesite.

Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, NY

The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Center

4.  SHINNECOCK NATIONAL CULTURAL CENTER AND MUSEUM – The Shinnecock National Cultural Center and Museum is the only Native American operated museum on Long Island.  Since I am not a native New Yorker, I really didn’t know too much about the Algonquin heritage until my son studied the history of the state of New York in the 4th grade.  Visiting this museum is a great way to enhance your families knowledge about the history and culture of Native Americans.  There are two permanent exhibits that span over 10,000 years of Shinnecock history, educational programs and workshops.  The museum is located in Southampton, New York and is open from Wednesday through Sunday.

Shinnecock National Cultural Center & Museum

5.  OLD BETHPAGE RESTORATION – Old Bethpage Village Restoration is a living museum that recreates a Long Island Village in the pre-Civil War era.  Families will be able to roam 200 acres and visit historic buildings like a church, school, farmhouse and general store.  Costumed guides give demonstrations and kids can learn what life was like in the mid-1800s.  There are many seasonal events like the Civil War Battle in July and the Fall Harvest Fair in September.  Old Bethpage Village Restoration is open from March 31st through mid December.

Old Bethpage Village Restoration

6.  SUFFOLK COUNTY FARM AND EDUCATION CENTER – The Suffolk County Farm is a real working farm where families can get close to the farm animals and participate in special events that are offered for all seasons.  Events like “Yesterday’s Family” will have your kids learning how to churn butter and make candle holders out of metal.  Other fun events are the St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt in the spring, the Ice Cream Social in the summer and the Sunset Wagon Tour in the fall.  In the summer, kids can also participate in garden sessions on Wednesdays for eight consecutive weeks where they can grow their own food in the Children’s Garden.  The farm is open seven days a week from 9 am to 3 pm.

Up close with the animals.

7.  COLD SPRING HARBOR FISH HATCHERY AND COLD SPRING HARBOR WHALING MUSEUM – Cold Spring Harbor is a quaint seaside village that dates back to the 1600s.  For a small village, there is actually a lot going on! The Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium is a great place to visit with kids.  Families can learn about the freshwater ecosystem of  New York and check out the largest living collection of  freshwater reptiles in New York State, amphibians and fish.  There is two aquarium buildings and eight outdoor ponds where visitors can feed the trout and experience “Catch & Keep” fishing.  Make sure you check out the website for feeding demo and tour schedules.  Admission for adults is $6.00 and children between the ages of three and twelve is $4.00.

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium

Two minutes down the road on Main Street you can also visit the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum.  My son and I really enjoyed learning about Long Island’s whaling history.  The museum offers changing exhibits, films like “Flubber” that will show during President’s week  and special programs that often revolve around holidays.  Admission for adults is $6.00 and kids between the ages of five and eighteen is $5.00.

Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum

8.  WALT WHITMAN BIRTHPLACE & INTERPRETIVE CENTER– In the 1800s, Walt Whitman was born and raised in West Hills, Long Island.  This Long Island native is regarded as one of America’s greatest poets.  I love visiting the homes of literature greats so I can learn about their experiences that lead to their words living on for centuries.  Step back in time by taking a guided tour of the home.   Families will also be able to enjoy changing exhibits that consist of memorabilia books, photographs and excerpts of Whitman’s writing at the Interpretive Center.   In addition to the exhibits, the center also has a bookstore, museum shop and a multimedia area where you can hear Whitman’s own voice on a video tape.    Make sure to check the website for special events like poetry readings, the Victorian Tea Party and events for children.  When the weather is nice, families can also enjoy picnics and hiking tours of the beautiful grounds.

Exhibit in the Interpretive Center

9.  LONG ISLAND CHILDREN’S MUSEUM– The Long Island Children’s Museum is a hands-on museum that will inspire children’s creativity.  This award-winning children’s museum has twelve galleries, art exhibits and a theater. Some galleries that were a hit with my family was” Bubbles” where the kids could step inside a giant bubble, and “Communication Station” where my son did a news broadcast.  Theatre presentations consist of music, dance, puppetry and theatre that is interactive and explores both cultural and educational experiences.  Admission is $11.  Please see the Long Island Children’s Museums website for museum hours and special events.


Communication Station

10. ATLANTIS  LONG ISLAND AQUARIUM & EXHIBITION CENTER –  This is one of the best family attractions on Long Island!  Kids will be able see a 120,000 gallon shark tank, an all-living coral reef display, sea-lion shows and over 100 exhibits that offer interactive experiences and touch tanks. In addition there are several aquatic adventures that families can participate in like the Penguin Encounter, Scientist for a Day and Sleepover with the Sharks.  The new Exhibition Center  is now open and the Butterflies & Birds Flying is the current exhibit and is a limited engagement.  Atlantis Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center is located in Riverhead, NY.  The new Hyatt Place East End Hotel has recently opened next door if you would like to extend your day-trip into a weekend getaway. Admission is $22.50 for adults and $19.50 for children.  A little pricy for a family, but so worth it!

Atlantis Long Island Aquarium

11.NASSAU COUNTY MUSEUM OF ARTThis museum offers great programs for families and children.  Every Sunday at 1 pm, the museum host art activities, family gallery talks and family friendly gallery guides.  Check out the website for more family events like Show us Your LEGOS®.  The Outdoor Sculpture Gallery is also a fun place to check out with the kids.  The museum is located in Roslyn, New York which is only 25 miles east of New York City.

Outdoor Sculpture Gallery

12. CUSTER INSTITUTE AND OBSERVATORY – Amongst private homes in Southold, you will find one of Long Island’s most amazing experiences.  It is not a “day-trip”, but I have to mention the Custer Institute which is opened on Saturday evenings for stargazing.  Far from the city lights, star-gazers are allowed to use the powerful telescope to check out the night sky from 7 pm until midnight (weather permitting) and tour Long Island’s oldest observatory.  Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 14.  For more information, call (631) 765-2626.

The powerful telescope at the Custer Institute and Observatory.

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The Artifact Exhibition

This year will be the 100th anniversary of the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic. Several events will take place to commemorate this anniversary like the re-release in 3-D of the 1997 Titanic movie and an auction of 5,000 artifacts.

The Grand Staircase

Another way to commemorate this event is to visit the Titanic, The Artifact Exhibition.  We visited this exhibit when it was at the Discovery Times Square in New York City.  I have seen many traveling exhibits that have come to the Discovery Times Square, and this by far is my favorite!  When we entered the exhibit, we received a replica- boarding pass of an actual passenger aboard the Titanic.  Then we traveled on the chronological journey of how the ship met its fate.  Two of the things that are ingrained in my memory was touching the cold iceberg and seeing china perfectly stacked in sand in front of a picture that was taken on the bottom of the ocean floor.  It was amazing that the dishes were perfectly stacked in the picture . The cabinets that eventually disintegrated had preserved them.  At the end of the exhibit, we were able to look up the name of the passenger on our boarding pass on the Memorial Wall to discover whether they perished or survived.

My son had read Titanic by Anna Claybourne and Katie Daynes before we visited the exhibit in November of 2009.  The exhibit brought the pages in the book alive for him and it was also an opportunity to learn about the human spirit in face of the tragedy from the stories throughout the exhibit.

This exhibit has been long gone from New York, but if you are lucky enough be in the area of one of the current or upcoming exhibits, I highly recommend this fabulous exhibit.  The journey back to 1912 will allow you to connect with the passengers and crew through personal stories and you and your children will learn things you never knew about the” unsinkable” ship.

Current and Upcoming Exhibits in the United States.

Natural Science Center of Greensboro – The exhibit ends this coming Sunday, January 8th.

The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit – Opens March 2012.

San Diego Natural History Museum – Opens February 10th.

Union Station in Kansas City – Opens March 2012.

For International Exhibitions please go to www.rmstitanic.net/

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