Cripple Creek, Colorado

By Christina VanGinkel

The first time I visited Colorado, nearly twenty years ago, one of the towns I was fortunate enough to call upon was Cripple Creek. Cripple Creek was still a sleepy little town back then, reminiscent of many old west flavored towns scattered about the state. It sat nestled amongst the mountain vistas that were and still are such a big draw for tourists all over the world. At that time, gambling as a source of revenue was being talked about, but it had yet to make a comeback. Where gambling had once thrived in the over one hundred saloons that dotted the face of the town, and then been banned as the flavorful old west town tamed down, it was once again legalized in 1990.

Home to Limited Stakes Gambling (meaning that all bets are limited to a maximum value of five dollars), Cripple Creek is also home to many fine restaurants, and various attractions including many old west flavored ones. From ghost walking tours, which combine a walk and tour of some of the most celebrated ghost sightings around town, to meeting some descendants of the very mules that made this mining town what it was during the heyday of the mines, there are some unique ways to pass the time in a town known for its casinos.

The state of Colorado itself is a wonderful place to visit. With tourist stops ranging from the tops of mountains to caves, there truly is something for everyone to see and experience in the state. For this reason alone, whether you are considering planning a family vacation or a trip for yourself or as a couple, Colorado is a fine place to consider.

You can take the kids on all sorts of daytrips, and then sneak off to the nightlife that a town such as Cripple Creek offers, for some fun adult entertainment in the form of the Limited Stakes gambling. On the other hand, enjoy the nightlife morning, noon, and night if you are traveling without kids! Several of the casinos also offer arcades for the kids to enjoy some gaming in during the day.

While in Cripple Creek, be sure to enjoy the fine dining in their many restaurants and retire for the night in one of their many historically located hotels. There is plenty to see and do, and if you enjoy gambling, but dislike to fast paced, huge crowds of places such as Las Vegas, then this might be just the atmosphere you have been searching. Unless you come for a visit though, it will be hard to find out if it is all the things, so many people believe it to be.

Located just west of Colorado Springs, which is home to numerous tourist attractions of its own, Cripple Creek was once considered one of Colorado’s foremost ghost towns. With laws put in place before the gambling took over the town, many of the original structures were preserved, providing much of the fun of the old west theme that the town has long been famous. While it would not in my opinion still qualify as a sleepy ghost town as it surely was the day I first visited twenty years back, it nonetheless still has a lot to offer for anyone interested in Colorado’s historical buildings and history rich in ghost tales. There is the Butte Opera House, which is open year round, and restored to its original 1890’s glory, the Cripple Creek District Museum, which is located in the original location of the Midland Terminal Railroad Depot, or the Old Homestead Museum, an original 1890’s brothel in Cripple Creek’s Red Light District. There are gold mines, rock climbing, hiking, even a skateboard park. Cripple Creek is a town that offers something for everyone in the family.

Fees for these and other attractions vary, with some of the attractions open year round, and others only during the summer months. If you are planning a vacation to Colorado, be sure to put Cripple Creek at the top of your list of towns to stop by and visit. You may end up staying for the whole trip though, as there are attractions and activities all around town, day and night, just waiting to be discovered.

Wish You Were in Dixie? Visit Historic Richmond

Richmond, Virginia, is famous for lots of things, too many to name; one of the biggest is its ties to Civil War America. Richmond was the home base of the “Confederate States of America,” the place where the Confederate White House, occupied by Jefferson Davis, was located. Although time has taken a big toll on America’s Civil War sites, many of Richmond’s historical homes and buildings have been preserved or restored. Here you’ll discover some homes and churches that witnessed Richmond’s role in the “War Between the States.”

Richmond is such a big city that its historical properties are split into many different neighborhoods. One of these neighborhoods is known as the Franklin Street District. Here you can find 19th century homes ranging from the early 1800s to the Victorian era of the 1890s. Among those that stood during the Civil War are the Cole Diggs House, the Kent-Valentine House with beautiful stately columns, the Ritter-Hancock House, and the Price Home, also known as the Dooley-Madison Rest Home. There is additional amazing architecture spanning decades; you can find some wonderful stone and brick homes that resemble castles with walkways and round rooms.

If you have a tour guide or know someone who is familiar with the area, you may enjoy knowing the name of each individual house you visit. If you love historic homes as I do, you’ll probably want many photos (of course, be warned; if anyone is still *living* in these old homes, and in most of them people still are, it may look strange when you point your camera at their house). If you act like a tourist, they will probably leave you alone! Try to get pictures of plaques and markers as well. Some historic homes in Richmond can be toured, so hop online to a place like (or search the web) and ask the staff there when and where certain tours will be offered.

St. John’s Church District (known as Church Hill), is also home to structures that stood during the Civil War era. No visitor should even consider coming to Richmond without seeing St. John’s Church. Not only did it stand in the 19th century, but in its older form stood in the days of the Revolution and hosted the “speechifying” of Patrick Henry. The homes of Carrington Row were all constructed in the early 1800s (1818 to be exact) and are uniform in appearance. The Adams-Taylor House, Morris Cottage, and Adams Double House all stood in the 1860s. The Elmira Shelton House, a quaint red-brick home with simple but elegant adornment, is particularly interesting because of its connection to Edgar Allen Poe. His sweetheart (Elmira Shelton) once lived here.

Some historical structures are scattered throughout the city and aren’t situated in any particular district. One of these is the Wilton House, an ancient edifice from the mid-1800s. It originally stood outside of town but was later brought into the city limits. The Tudor home known as Agecroft is by far Richmond’s most historical building and the most interesting. You may find it difficult to believe it was built in the 1400s even though Virginia was not colonized until the 1600s. It’s true! The home was actually moved from England, from an area known as Lancasshire.

Don’t forget to learn all you can about Richmond and its role in the pivotal “War Between the States” before visiting the city, since it is most famous for that association. Look for the canals lying outside the city. Near the canals you’ll find a building steeped in history; the Tredegar Iron Works. Almost all of the cannons used by the Southern Army during the war were made right here in Tredegar. The place itself was built in 1837, a mere twenty-four years before the start of the war.

Driving will probably not be an easy feat in Richmond even on the “slowest” hours of the day. This is where it helps to take a bus, tour, or other form of public transportation so you don’t frazzle your nerves trying to get around. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask directions. Even if you’re a “Yankee,” I guarantee Richmond’s citizens *will not* bite. And don’t try to put on a fake Southern accent to blend in; it’s very noticeable, and all they will hear is a “Yankee” trying to sound like a Southerner!

By Lacie Schaeffer

Fort Matanzas – Florida’s Forgotten Outpost

When researching historical attractions in St. Augustine, Florida, the Castillo de San Marcos, built in the 17th century, is immediately one of the first things you will find. Unfortunately Fort Matanzas, located near adjoining Anastasia Island and completed in 1742, is largely ignored. This fort, though small, is still a great St. Augustine side-trip. Remember that the only way to get to Fort Matanzas is by ferry; the structure actually sits on a patch of land known as “Rattlesnake Island.” Don’t let the name fool you; this barren strip is actually one of St. Augustine’s most beautiful places because it hasn’t been completely taken over by development as many other nearby places have.

Fort Matanzas is a Spanish fort and helped to keep pirates and other enemies at bay during the turbulent years between 1700 and 1750. The English sieges in 1702 and again in 1740 made the soldiers even more determined that, although the Castillo guarded the main city, another fort would be needed to protect the back end of St. Augustine. Thus Fort Matanzas, so named because of the French “matanzas,” (slaughters) that happened near this site, was begun.

It is important to learn every aspect of St. Augustine’s history that you can possibly can before arriving. Learning the history behind Fort Matanzas opens the door to a part of history nearly forgotten. Once you arrive on “Rattlesnake Island,” take time to read the signs that explain the function of the fort and the history of the surrounding area. You can tour the inner rooms of the fort, including the main lookout, soldiers’ quarters, cannon deck and other small but fascinating places. The sentry box may be of particular interest to small children.

The soldiers’ quarters area is especially small, but a well-appointed room where you can see what life was like in the 18th century. If you’ve visited the Castillo, you will notice that some of Fort Matanzas’s rooms are like smaller versions of the rooms in the Castillo. The officer’s quarters are still a very tight squeeze but the furniture is somewhat finer, perhaps from showing off the difference in rank. Some parts of the fort may only be accessible at certain times, so check to see what your tour will cover when you arrive. Be sure to remember the fort is not very large and there are small spaces, tight squeezes and narrow sentry boxes to navigate around. Keep on eye on younger children. Please remember to tell children not to climb or sit on walls or cannons; not only can it harm the fort itself, but could pose a danger to the children.

Fort Matanzas is important not only for its historical past but also the many creatures that call Matanzas Inlet their home. Be on the lookout for seafaring visitors and ocean birds. If nature is your thing, check out Fort Matanzas’s website at and find out if there will be a nature walk when you plan to visit. This activity may not be a winner if you’ve traveling with kids, unless they happen to love birdwatching or spotting exotic plants. Another great attraction offered at various times (check their page to find out what’s happening when) is a torchlight tour of Fort Matanzas. I would definitely recommend checking into this just for the sheer uniqueness of the tour.

If you visit Fort Matanzas, be sure to stop by St. Augustine’s huge 17th century fortress, El Castillo de San Marcos (The Castle of St. Mark). For a while known as Fort Marion, visitors can be glad the original Spanish name was restored because it evokes so much more romance and adventure. The courtyard, separate rooms, and gun deck with its many cannons make the Castillo a must-see for the St. Augustine traveler. The site of Fort Mose (a fortress no longer standing that once housed an African American colony) is another military site you may want to study.

Fort Matanzas (and also Castillo de San Marcos) are owned and operated by the National Park Service, so if you have questions about either site, don’t be afraid to ask. Many Park Service staff you may encounter will be able to answer queries about anything from St. Augustine’s past to where you might find the restrooms!

If you come to Fort Matanzas, take lots of pictures; even if the space of small, there is history covering every inch of the structure, from it’s beginning in the 18th century to its much later restoration.

By Lacie Schaeffer

Fuel Cost Calculators and Saving on your Next Road Trip

By Christina VanGinkel

Like many Americans, my husband and I have become somewhat consumed watching the price if gasoline go up and down and then back up in recent months. With summer arriving in just a matter of weeks, and a few road trips in the planning stages, we have been trying to budget for the cost of fuel on these hoped for getaways. Without knowing what the cost of gasoline will be by the time we go, we know that coming up with an actual cost will not be possible, yet we hope that we will be able to at least judge it within a reasonable amount by using a fuel cost calculator.

A fuel cost calculator allows you to input information such as your starting point and destination, along with your vehicles make, model, and year. Some fuel cost calculators, such as the one online via the AAA car club, limits you on your starting point and destination to a select few cities across the United States, but will provide you with an estimated cost for both one way travel and round trip, along with distance in miles between the two points.

Another site, Road Trip America, has you input information such as number of miles you will be driving, how many miles per gallon your particular vehicle gets, and price per gallon. It will then figure your costs only after filling in this information. The site foes have a graph that allows you to look up your vehicle if you are unsure of what the average mile per gallon of your vehicle is. My Microsoft Trips and Streets software that came bundled with my Dell computer has a similar feature, with the added advantage of being able to instantly look up the distance between two points and offering tips on various driving routes. It does not allow me to look up the miles per gallon of my current vehicle though.

Tools such as these are increasingly becoming popular and will likely continue to grow in popularity. While no single tool can help alleviate the increase in the cost of gasoline, coupled with other tools and tips, such as making sure your vehicle is in optimum running order before heading out, together they will allow us to travel more informed. For someone who drives quite a limited distance in his or her daily routine, ignoring the soaring cost of gasoline can be accomplished. What happens though is when that same person decides to take a road trip, sticker shock at the pumps hits harder than they ever imagined.

Whether you are planning one or several road trips this summer, consider the use of tools such as these and other fuel cost calculators to be informed as to what the adventure will cost you. Then add on savings by driving as economically as you can:

Avoid piling on extra weight. If you have been toting around a trunk full of stuff, clean it out before you head out.

Use your cruise control. By maintaining an even speed as long as possible, your vehicle will potentially save fuel. This is one of those features that might not seem like a big thing, but when combined with other fuel saving tips has the potential to add up.

For much the same reason that using your cruise control helps to save gas, so does driving sensibly. If you are constantly mashing on the brake, then speeding up, and then hitting the brakes again, you are defeating how your engine uses fuel, and will suck up more than its fair share. Driving sensibly is not only safe and the right thing to do; it can keep more money in your pocket in the end. I actually read a report that said the fuel used when driving erratically down a stretch of road when compared to the same vehicle on the same stretch of road driving in a logical fashion was over twenty fiver percent! That could really add up when you consider the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is currently hovering near the three-dollar mark.

Be sure your car is in good running condition. Your tires should be inflated to their recommended level. Fuel and air filters should be cleaned or replaced as needed. Change your oil on time. A motor that is running, as it should, will most likely use less fuel than one in need of repair.

RV Travel

By Christina VanGinkel

Travel in an RV has been a time-honored pastime for many families. This summer, I see there is even a comedy starring Robin Williams that is a spoof on this type of travel. Yet, for many families, this type of vacation is the one type that can allow even large families on a budget to travel together. As more baby boomers come into an age that they not only have older children, but also grandchildren, many people believe there is going to be a renewed surge in this type of travel. Even with most RV vehicles being anything but a gas saver, when compared to the combined cost of travel by other means, such as air combined with other costs such as hotel stays and eating each meal out, RV travel can still offer huge savings. Figuring out how to travel and keep your sanity is the last major hurdle for many families in the decision making stage of whether or not to choose this type of vacation.

There are things to consider, and tips to follow, but if you are serious about having the vacation of a lifetime, in an RV, it can be done. Just ask the millions who have gone before you and done just that.

Many companies rent out RV’s from basic to deluxe models. Rental can be for various timeframes, from a few days to a month or more. Even if you plan to purchase an RV, it might be wise to rent one first, to be sure that this sort of travel is really for you. It is best if you rent one that will be equal to the size that you plan to buy. Some companies even offer a rent before you buy plan. These plans allow you to use an RV that you intend to purchase on a trial basis first. Most people continue through with the purchase, but a select few realize that RV travel is not for them. Others become so enamored with this type of travel that they spend as much time as they can doing it, some even retiring to RV parks for their golden years.

Choose a destination. Too often first time RV travelers feel that the RV itself is the vacation. It is not. You and your traveling companions can only be impressed by the inside of the RV so long, and then you will need to focus on where you are going and what you will be doing once you arrive.

Who will all be going with you? Will you be taking any pets or young children along? If so, what extra accommodations will need to be made? RV travel can often find various age groups traveling together, and in close quarters such as an RV, they get to know each other well. It is hard not to see grandma first thing in the morning when you are sleeping just a few feet away from each other. Bring along a card and board games to keep from becoming bored between attractions. Books and magazines are also necessary, and if traveling with small kids, make sure to pack a few favorite toys and their bikes if you will be staying in parks that will accommodate their use.

Make sure rules are in place before heading out, and that they are followed. Simple things like everyone having a few simple chores will keep the vacation a vacation, and not leaving a big mess at the end of each day with everyone arguing about who is going to clean it up. Institute a few mess avers too, to help keep down on the chores. Everyone, including kids should take off their shoes before or upon entering, especially if you are parked anywhere that might feed the mess problem, such as in a muddy campground with it pouring rain outside.

Traveling by RV is a great way to explore your state or the whole United States for that matter. There are RV parks that offer rustic camping to deluxe parks that have swimming pools and restaurants. If you are considering trying this much-loved form of travel, do not let this summers expected high gas costs deter you. When compared to other forms of travel, an RV vacation is still a bargain.

Visit Florida’s Fountain of Youth: More Than a Tourist Trap

There are probably not very many school children who haven’t learned of the Fountain of Youth’s pivotal role in America’s history. Back in the early 16th century when that audacious Spanish explorer named Ponce de Leon came to Florida’s shores, he was rumored to have been looking for a “fountain of youth” that would keep men (and women!) young forever. St. Augustine, Florida has played up this association since it became a tourist town, but it’s important to know what else you can find at this ancient site.

Unfortunately, that is all the Fountain of Youth is to many people; a myth and a legend. The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park contains so much more than the fountain (although everyone *should* drink the offered cup of water from the spring, just to say they have). The park, located near attraction-laden San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine, is a beautiful escape from the souvenir stands and t-shirt shops in a few other parts of town. You can step off at the Fountain of Youth from one of the trolley tours or, if you’re lucky enough to stay at the Howard Johnson Express Inn as I was, you’ll be able to walk to the Fountain of Youth Park from there.

Before you even enter the park, you’ll be amazed at the natural beauty. Old trees join branches overhead to make the small street resemble an enclosed promenade. An old coquina wall (coquina is one of St. Augustine’s most well-known building components, comprised mostly of tiny seashells) runs the length of the park’s entrance. Once inside, you’ll hear the squawking of exotic birds that will transport you to the 16th century.

Back in 1513, before Ponce de Leon arrived, the site that is now the Fountain of Youth Park was inhabited by a Native American tribe, the Timucuans (pronounced TIM-uh-kwan or tim-UH-kwin, depending how you learn to say it). Much evidence of their occupation still exists, and you can find burial grounds, a huge statue of a former chief, Oriba, and exhibit areas that showcase everyday Native American objects.

Before beginning the tour, you can choose to stop for a bite to eat at the small lunch stand near the park’s entrance. Barbeque, chips, hamburgers and drinks are just some of the things sold here. Although I wasn’t impressed with the quality of the hamburgers, I do remember a tasty barbeque sandwich from one visit. To soak in the ambiance of Florida’s natural landscape, sit in one of the covered swings scattered around the lunch stand and enjoy nature. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll certainly see a lot of it here.

One of the things that makes the Fountain of Youth so special is the soft Spanish music piped throughout the park. As you walk among fountains, shaded pathways and calling peacocks, you hear these tunes that are very calming. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of the experience. If you walk down to the park’s boundaries, you will find the spot of the original colony, occupied from September 1565 to April 1566. It’s amazing to realize Europeans actually lived in America so many centuries ago. A marker to one of Menendez’s forts, San Juan de Pinos (Saint John of the Pines) shows the military strength the Spaniards strived to harness. This fort was burned by England’s Sir Francis Drake in the 1586, as the marker states.

At the site of the original settlement you’ll find a huge body of water, much calmer than the untamed Atlantic Ocean found nearby (from Anastasia Island). This is the Matanzas Bay, and its history is ominous. In 1565, France wanted parts of the New World for themselves, but the Spanish were not going to allow this infraction. The French Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, was the Frenchmen’s home base. In September 1565, when Fort Caroline was attacked by Spanish soldiers, some survivors made it to what is now present-day Anastasia Island, but they were slain by Menendez and his men. The Spanish name “matanzas,” which translates as “slaughters,” was given to this grim and bloody spot and the name still marks the bay that runs between Anastasia Island and St. Augustine.

On the way back from the original settlement, you will want to stop in at the extraordinary gift shop, affectionately known as Don Juan’s. Ship models, a big clothing selection, bottled Fountain water, picture frames, books, models; anything you might want for a St. Augustine souvenir, you should be able to find here. The prices are usually very reasonable.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Trading Homes to Save on Lodging

By Christina VanGinkel

Trading your home or apartment with another family to save on lodging while vacationing is definitely not for everyone, if you are game though, there are steps to take to make the trade as simple as can be. Whether you go through an agency that sets up trades such as this, or if you are trading with long time friends or acquaintances, certain things are a given and should be done to help the trade go as smoothly as possible.

Try to trade with someone that has children the same or near the same age as you have. Some agencies go as far as not allowing trades where children are involved, while others will just try to match the ages of children, so toys are age appropriate. Marking a room off limits is also acceptable, as long as it is discussed beforehand, and the room should then be locked. This could be a room such as an office, or craft room, where the visitors would really have no need to use the room in the first place.

Next, remove any valuables from the home, or lock them in a safe. This especially applies to jewels and guns. Medications should also be removed. The last thing you want to worry about is if their young child or teen got into something in your home that could cause harm.

Cleaning your home thoroughly before the trade should defiantly be done. Not just a quick spiffing up, but a true cleaning. You should hope the same of the house you will be staying in. The last thing someone wants to do when they arrive at their vacation destination is clean a mess that is not even theirs. Be sure to leave room in the fridge for any groceries that they might need to store, and with this in mind, be sure to remove anything that might spoil while you are away. If you know the guests, and wish to leave some items at their ready, such as a container of milk and a fresh loaf of bread, do so, but leave a note expressing that the items are for them.

Leave a list of all emergency numbers that might be needed, including fire, police, emergency, plumber, electrician, furnace or air conditioning, etc. The number and name of a neighbor who might be called upon is a good idea too. If your home has a pool or sauna, for example that the guests might be unknowledgeable about, a neighbor who is willing to go over the basic controls with them could be a godsend! The same neighbor might also be kind enough just to keep an eye out for any behavior that is less than what you would expect of guests in such an arrangement. If going through an agency, there should be specific guidelines to issues such as entertaining in the home. If the arrangement is between you and friends, be sure to discuss issues such as these. Never leave your home, which is one of life’s most valuable assets, to the trust of even a good friend without some discussion.

A list of where specific items are at is also a good idea. If you keep the coffee pot stored, or the washer and dryer are tucked away out of sight, jot the details down, along with any other information that you feel might be helpful, or make their stay more enjoyable. A list of local restaurants with take out menus, along with brochures on nearby attractions is not something you would have to do, but it would probably be greatly appreciated. Do not ever tell someone to use whatever he or she would like, unless you truly mean it. Everything to one person is very different to someone else. If you do not want someone driving a car, or taking your classic Harley for a spin, take the keys with you.

Trading homes is a great way to save money on a vacation, as long as each party takes the time to be clear on any aspects of such a trade. If this sounds like something you might like to try, research it first, and be sure it is the right thing for your family before you make the final key swap!

A Travel Guide to St. Augustine’s Historic Homes

Every inch of St. Augustine, Florida, founded in the 16th century, is filled with something of historical import. Each home, street, and block has a rich past underneath its surface. Although St. Augustine offers “modern” attractions like any good tourist town, its best attractions are undoubtedly the old homes that dot the city. Most date from the 18th or 19th centuries and are great places to soak in St. Augustine’s past.

Some visitors come to St. Augustine specifically to stay in a bed and breakfast that has stood for 200 years, or to study an architectural style not found in their own hometown. Part of what makes St. Augustine special is the style and material of many of its historic homes. Although many are reconstructed, most were fashioned after the house that originally stood on the site. Spanish-style homes are difficult to find and almost impossible to find on the East Coast, unless of course it is a modern reproduction.

To see what kind of houses Spaniards would have occupied in the 1700s, stop by Spanish Quarter Village in the quaint shopping district of St. George Street. Here you will find a number of small houses made to look as they did in 1740. Many homes in the “Village” can be toured for an admission fee. Of special interest is the Gonzales house, a short whitewashed home like many that still stand in Spain, and the Gomez house, a wooden structure. On the opposite side of the street you will find the white Ribera house with its blocky exterior and high garden wall typical to Spanish homes.

One of St. Augustine’s most famous architectural assets is the abundance of balconies that make it a unique city. Many older houses along St. George Street have these wooden Spanish balconies, as do many homes throughout the “Ancient City.” If Spanish houses aren’t your thing, the colonial-style homes built during the 1700s and 1800s are of equal beauty.

Stop by the Tovar House, a lovely red home on St. Francis Street constructed throughout the 18th century. Across the street you’ll find the military barracks that once housed Spanish monks during its days as a monastery. Next door to the Tovar House is the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, known as the “Oldest House” to locals and tourists alike. A tour inside the Oldest House will enlighten you to St. Augustine’s many building styles. The bottom floor, originally the only floor in the house, was the Spanish area where the first family lived in the early 1700s. The second floor, added later during the 1760s, is where an English woman and her husband lived when St. Augustine was given to England. The furnishings here are distinctly more elegant than the sparse items found downstairs.

The Ximenez-Fatio House has been home to both European and American families since the last years of the 18th century. During the decades before the Civil War, it gained a reputation as one of the area’s best inns, and has been restored to appear as it did then. A tour will give you appreciation for the many finely-appointed rooms and outdoor kitchen. You’ll learn that many guests came from up North to partake of St. Augustine’s healthful climate, and numerous visitors chose the Ximenez-Fatio House as their lodging. This is (in my opinion) of the most beautiful houses in St. Augustine.

Located on tiny, narrow Aviles Street, crowded between high fences, other historic homes, and modern boutiques, the Ximenez-Fatio House is a tall white multi-story home. It is much younger than the “Oldest” House but still well over 200 years old.

Stop by the Father Miguel O’Reilly House for another historical tour. Opened a few years ago after a complete renovation, the O’Reilly House is a cheery home on Aviles Street and is also a great stop for a historical house tour. Visitors can see the garden and tour two floors of the house. During the 1700s, a priest called Father O’Reilly occupied this large home and gave his name to the property.

The St. Francis Inn is your best bet if you want to combine visiting a historic home with exploring the world of “ghost hunting.” Begun in the 1790s, the house was completed decades later when a flat roof known as a “mansard roof” was placed on top. You can stay here for a lodging experience you won’t soon forget, and you might see something out of the ordinary if you keep your mind open!

By Lacie Schaeffer

Remembering to Be Flexible

Everyone has their own type of travel style. For those who have never traveled or rarely travel, they might pack for days and feel tense during the entire process, until they reach their destination; other newbies might have rose-colored glasses on, imagining that traveling is a romantic, exciting adventure. Others who travel from time to time might have a bit of excitement each time they go anywhere, knowing that each travel excursion is an adventure, and that while things can go wrong, they hope for the best. Frequent travelers usually adopt a sort of routine they follow each time they go anywhere. This can be especially evident in frequent business travelers. They pack a certain way (in fact, many times their luggage remains partially packed at all times) and they do not like their routine to be disturbed. They are adept at dealing with mishaps, lost luggage, traffic, and delays, but they do not like it. They have their plan and they do not want anyone or anything getting in their way.

Many years ago when our children were small, we flew from San Diego to Washington, D.C. to visit my family at Christmas. Our children were ages seven-years-old, two-years-old, and one-year-old, so it was quite a challenge. On the way to Washington, D.C., everything went according to plan. The children were well-behaved and happy, and we had brought along many items to keep them entertained, especially the little ones. Yet, while we were in the nation’s capital, staying at my parents’ home, all three children became ill. The illnesses were not serious, but all three developed ear infections, and the doctor advised us not to fly for three weeks. This was two days before we were to return home to San Diego. My husband had to get back to work with the Navy, so I was left to endure another three weeks with sick children in my parents’ home. We had had a nice Christmas visit, and had met my brother’s new wife, but we had been there more than a week and we were ready to get home. I was less-than-thrilled at this extension to my Christmas vacation.

Yet, my biggest concern was getting back to San Diego on the plane alone, especially with my two little ones, both still in diapers. After much discussion, my mother offered to fly back with me, just to help me get everyone home again, and then after staying a couple of days, she would go back again to D.C. This was a lifeline to me. I wanted to be flexible and agreeable, but I could not imagine flying back alone with those two babies.

When the day of our long-awaited departure came, we left the D.C. area around mid-afternoon and we were to arrive in San Diego in the early evening hours. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. As we approached San Diego, we were told that the airport was completely fogged in and closed until further notice. We were so close, yet so far. So we were ultimately taken to the Ontario airport, just outside Los Angeles; about a two hour drive from San Diego. When we finally landed, it was close to 8:00 p.m. and we were hungry and exhausted. Yet, the airlines could not decide what to do with us. They kept us on the plane for more than an hour, while we waited, angrily. Finally, we were put on a bus for San Diego, but we waited on the bus for another hour before departing. The bus was cramped and dark. And the interesting thing was that the majority of the complaints were coming from grown men who were traveling alone. There were one or two other families with small children, and they were taking it in stride, knowing that they had no control over the situation. Yet the businessmen were unmerciful to the flight attendants and other airport personnel who shuffled us around.

We ultimately arrived in San Diego, by bus, after 1:00 a.m. Thankfully, my husband had kept track of our progress and was waiting for us at the airport. Never had I been so glad to end my traveling excursion. What I learned from the adventure? Plan ahead, but always be flexible.

Winter Vacation Destinations

Many people are unable to take vacation in the summer time, either due to work issues or the fact that the kids are in year-round school and have a break that’s too short to work around. Many others prefer taking their vacation at other times of the year because the summer is either too hot, too crowded with other vacationers, or because they simply prefer winter sports. If you find yourself in a position of being able to take your vacation at a time other than during the summer, following are a few winter vacation destination ideas for you and your family.

Winter is the time for winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, sledding, or just building a snowman. If you live in a southern area where snow is a rarity, you might enjoy taking your winter vacation to a place that receives a significant amount of snow and caters to winter sports enthusiasts. Colorado has more than twenty ski areas, but vacationers must understand that a ski area offers so much more than simply skiing. Aspen, Colorado is a historic mining town which has four separate ski areas, a quaint town with surprisingly great shopping, and restaurants that would rival any big city in variety and excellence. Aspen has also become the playground for the rich and famous, so for those who like star gazing, Aspen may be the place for you.

If you would rather avoid the sometimes crowded streets and slopes of a ski area, consider Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Glenwood Springs is not far from Aspen (less than two hours driving) and although it does not have a ski area, it offers ice skating opportunities, snowmobiling tours not far away, and of course the world famous hot springs. Glenwood Springs has a natural underground hot spring bubbling under the town. Today there is a giant pool for bathers with a water slide and spa. The water is like a Jacuzzi, but the pool is larger than two Olympic sized swimming pools. Most of the pool is very shallow, so people of any age can enjoy the heat, and the pool is open every day, regardless of weather.

New England also has winter playground areas. Sugarloaf, Maine, is known for producing Olympic skiers and snowboarders, but in addition to the super ski slopes, it is merely a quaint little New England town where the locals never change. While Maine offers much in the way of winter sports, few others states rival its cross-country skiing trails. Nordic skiers might ski for hours around the woodland trails of Maine; and the occasional moose sighting can be quite a thrill!

Another charming New England village is North Conway, New Hampshire. North Conway is home to the Cranmore ski area, which is a mid-sized, intermediate ski area that is very family friendly; but the thing for which North Conway is famous is its outlet shopping. Set in a beautiful valley, overlooked by famous Mount Washington, North Conway has several large outlet malls that have been built in the traditional New England architecture, so they aren’t displeasing to the eye. One doesn’t feel as though he is in mega-suburbia, but rather, in a tiny village that just happens to have great shopping. Outlets such as Reebok, Nike, L.L. Bean, Nautica and countless others will keep shoppers busy for days.

Of course, if your vacation falls in the winter time but you are still itching to get some warm weather and sunshine, you can always head south instead. Florida, the Bahamas, the entire Caribbean and of course, Mexico are delightful in the winter time. Even Southern California has fairly mild winter weather, as so southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and southern Texas. Many a New Englanders and mid-westerners head to Florida when the winter snows descend, and Mexico is an easy retreat for those who live in the western part of the country. For the truly adventuresome, there is even Australia and New Zealand, which enjoy summer time while those of us in the northern hemisphere are having winter. The destinations are available; the question is, where do you want to go?

Just remember to plan ahead and to seek out vacations and activities that the whole family enjoys. Happy vacation!