Our Lifeguards in a Covid 19 World

Miami Bayfront Park, lifeguard stand.

We have a new kind of lifeguards in our altered world. The amazing people who staff our nation’s hospitals. In this week’s post, I want to thank those exceptional men and women.

 At our new ground zero are the physicians and nurses who are on the front lines fighting this battle against the coronavirus. It’s not only the doctors and nurses we need to recognize, but a few decades working in hospitals and healthcare communications also taught me plenty of behind-the-scene details.  So many others are at risk. We need to also thank the housekeeping staff who scrubs the rooms, transporters who move patients from place to place, lab techs who run tests behind the scenes, administrators who struggle with capacity, quality and logistic issues, the plant ops crew who keep facilities in working order, dietary staff cooking to feed patients and exhausted staff, respiratory therapists, radiology techs, and so many more. Each hospital is a universe all its own and let’s not forget all those contractors who work regularly in hospitals like the electrical contractors who, literally, keep the lights on and the monitors humming.

Give thanks to them all.

Serenity . . . .

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.” 

Every day I am inundated with emails about planning my next trip, how I should book now and pay later, urging me to “dream” about where I want to go. Well, for now, I don’t want to go anywhere and I also don’t want to think about all the places I was planning to visit. I’m staying put and doing my best to stay healthy and calm.

In the interest of sharing my feelings, here are a few seaside photos that bring me a sense of serenity. I hope you enjoy them. – Karen  

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Hillwood Estate and Museum, Washington DC

Note to my readers: Even though we are all homebound these days, I hope you will still join me in my quest of experiencing new places and cultures.  For today, I planned a post from our recent trip to Washington DC and Hillwood Museum. If you enjoy the content below and are interested in visiting Hillwood yourself, you can explore their collection with Hillwood from Home. You can also watch their featured videos on YouTube. Stay safe, Karen

Anyone who loves museums, mansions, Russian art, French furniture, and/or expansive gardens is in for a real pleasure when they visit Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.

Marjorie Post was the heiress to the Post Cereal fortune. When she was married to E.F. Hutton, they transformed Post into General Foods. A later husband was the Ambassador to Russia during the 1930s and Margorie’s 18 months in that country sparked a love of all Russian art, iconography, porcelain, and artifacts. Hillwood was created when she bought the mansion in 1955, and spent three years remodeling, working with a curator from the beginning. Margorie designed the space to become the museum she envisioned, planning all along to leave her home and 25-acre estate to the state for public access.

I loved seeing the two Fabergé eggs in her collection and the Russian porcelain display. I hope you can get a bit of an idea of the house from the few photos below.

Hillwood Estate and Museum, Washington DCMarjorie’s story is as interesting as the house. And although I’ve been to her Mar-a-Lago home, I still enjoyed learning even more about her life. The hour-long docent-guided tour was delightful and when you are in her bedroom suite, you can see her closets, the safe where she kept her jewels, as well as a rotating display of her gowns and incredible jewelry. The ballroom in the house was set up for movie screenings since her Hollywood connections (her daughter was actress Dina Merrill) facilitated getting first-run films to show her guests.

Hillwood Estate and Museum, Washington DCIn the kitchen, you could see stacks of Jell-O molds in the glass-front cabinets, because all of her fabulous dinners included that iconic General Mills “delicacy”. The dumbwaiter in the butler’s pantry was used to bring up china and crystal from her extensive collection stored in the basement.

It wasn’t the optimal time of year for us to tour the gardens, but the greenhouses were filled with blooming orchids. The visitor center had a great gift shop (but the soda vending machines did not work). On the grounds, there is a nice café and we enjoyed a very quick, but tasty, lunch. The location is convenient, adjacent to Rock Creek Park. The estate is hidden with entrance gates tucked off the road. I got our tickets online so we could skip any on-site queue, but it turns out we visited on a quiet weekday.

Next up – as friends and family have, I need to sail on her yacht the Sea Cloud.


The Spy Next Door.

International Spy Museum, Washington DC

International Spy Museum, Washington DC

When I was about 12, I sneaked a book out of my parent’s bedroom. It was Ian Fleming’s James Bond thriller, The Man with the Golden Gun. I read the book late at night and successfully returned it without detection. There has been no turning back for me – I’ve been fascinated with spies, real and fictional, ever since.

My trip to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. was a super-treat. The museum surpassed my expectations. History buffs will enjoy the focus on spy-craft through the centuries, from the Trojan Wars, Washington’s spies during the American Revolution, how spies shaped the Civil War, and more. I learned so much.

International Spy Museum, Washington DCWell-placed videos help set the stage and creative design guarantees visitor engagement. Fascinating artifacts from both World Wars and the Cold War are on display, as well as personal stories of spies known and not. Double agents, traitors, the pickaxe that killed Trotsky, cleverly hidden cameras, listening devices of every description, poison-tipped pens, cyber-spying, invisible ink, and code-breaking. It’s all here. And, interactive modules play off the ID cards on lanyards distributed as your ticket allows you to experience real-life scenarios. Even the attack on Bin Laden.

I will return.

Of Note:
Advance info I read said to allow 2 – 2.5 hours, but I felt we could have spent all day. A senior discount is available. Although fabulous for school-age children, those with babies need to know they are not allowed to use strollers but must carry the baby or use one of the back-packs provided at the museum. Spymuseum.org

International Spy Museum, Washington DC


On a recent girl’s trip to the Golden Isles area of Georgia, three of us left our luxurious Sea Island enclave to explore what’s known as Millionaire’s Island. About a 30-minute drive, through the marsh and over bridges, brought us to Jekyll Island.

Jekyll Island Club ResortFrom 1879, the island was home to a hunting club and by 1886, it had become one of the world’s most exclusive enclaves. The clubhouse with its now-famous turret opened in 1888, followed in 1896, by the six-unit Sans Souci building (which still has many of its original features).  Eight suites were added as an annex to the clubhouse in 1901, and members built 18 “cottages” along the coastal setting in the early part of the 20th century. Famous family names included Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Field, and Pulitzer. Not as large or opulent as their New York, Chicago, or Newport homes, these cottages were meant to be “rustic” with the largest having only 13 bedrooms. None had kitchens, because, of course, they took meals at the clubhouse where women wore a different gown to dinner for each night of the 3-month season from January through March.

Getting a break from the clothing rituals, women also embraced the resort’s sporting activities, some even winning sporting trophies, much to the dismay of the male members.

Jekyll Island Club Resort

Jekyll Island Club ResortWe took the 90-minute historic tram tour and it was a real treat. It was a beautiful February day and you could easily imagine what the scene would’ve been like more than 100 years prior. Our guide was excellent and the commentary was jam-packed with interesting information about every detail of island history and the member-families. We loved the tour and also went inside a couple of the “cottages” where there was great attention to furnishings and restoration details.

We learned in 1910, The Federal Reserve was born here when a group of financial leaders held a secret meeting and in 1915, the first transcontinental call took place. Connecting to the AT&T President from Jekyll Island were President Woodrow Wilson in Washington DC, Alexander Graham Bell In New York, and others in San Francisco and Boston.  After World War II, the State of Georgia purchased the Club and opened it as a State Park in 1948. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark District and anyone can visit and/or spend the night. You can arrive by car or boat/yacht. The original Clubhouse and hotel were restored in 1987, with several cottages also available to rent and more hotels have opened outside the historic district on other parts of the island.

Jekyll Island Club Resort

The setting is tranquil, shady, and very relaxing with beautiful paths and water views. In fact, we had trouble distinguishing between roads and sidewalks. Tours leave from Mosaic, the Jekyll Island Museum, and the $20 tickets include entrance to their small exhibit space and interactive displays.

Jekyll Island Club ResortAll the touring and walking around worked up an appetite, so we headed over to the Jekyll Island Club Resort for a tasty lunch. The original building was much smaller than I imagined but still resplendent in its Victorian charm. If only ghosts could talk.




Dancing with Wolves – Not.

I am afraid of dogs.  Big, little, fluffy, noisy or quiet, they are pretty much all the same to me. You might be surprised to find out I grew up in a home with German Shepherds, nice ones at that.

You can imagine how enthused I was when my brother’s family announced they had the perfect gift for him – a visit to a wolf sanctuary. Located in Naples, Florida of all places. But I have to admit – it was the most perfect experience gift for my brother – ever.

So, my husband and I went. I admit I was nervous.

It was actually much more interesting than I ever could imagine. The Shy Wolf Sanctuary is located in a residential, rural area near Naples and houses 69+ animals including an amazing number of wolves, wolf-dogs and other wildlife in large, well-maintained shelters.  The setting is lush, even after losing canopy from a recent hurricane, and staff works hard to provide stimulation and enrichment for the animals. It’s an all-volunteer operation and they depend on contributions. My brother’s wife and kids had donated so we could have a private tour and some one-on-one time with a few of the animals.

First off, who knew wolf-dogs were legal in Florida?  How crazy is that?  Naïve pet-owners can end up in a real pickle since there is no way of knowing how the animal will eventually react. Some with a higher percentage of wolf can be more dog-like in temperament, others quite the opposite.

As we learned more and saw more of the animals I could feel my anxiety level dropping.

At Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, FL.

Proof – I actually “pet” Mohan, a wolf-dog!

We had our special time with the very large wolf-dogs Mohan and Dancer, and I did touch one of them – lol. Otherwise, I was content to watch the rest of my family cavort, get licked, and nuzzle with them.

At Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, FL.I loved seeing the bobcat, Bob Leo, and the beautiful, majestic Florida panther, Cimarron. I do love cats, of any size.

These are all rescued animals (since 1993!) and I was so impressed with the volunteers.  Our expert guide Jeremy is a tech wizard during the week and rescue-maven on the weekends. He was amazing.

My favorite part was definitely when all the wolves started howling; then the five resident coyotes joined in. BTW, coyotes do everything they can to stay away from wolves.

At Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, FL.You can’t just walk into the Sanctuary, visits are limited. If you are interested you need to set-up an appointment (and make a contribution) well in advance, but it’s worth it. It’s a great cause and a great service to South Florida. You can contribute at many levels and ways, including $49 to feed a wolf for a month or $588 for a year. It’s a Florida 501c3, is licensed and has high ratings. Check out their website and read more about their mission and details about each animal: https://shywolfsanctuary.org/

Wolf trivia:  Real wolves don’t have blue eyes – only amber.

Avenue of Oaks, Sea Island, GA

I just got back from an annual trip with some of my great NC girlfriends.  This year we went to The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia.  We were so lucky with the weather – we ventured farther north than usual and had braced ourselves for some chilly temps, but were pleasantly surprised with warm, breezy days. Even the rain gave us a break and held off until our last evening.  This is the low-country and you are in and around marshes making it even more humid than my home in Miami, and I was glad to be visiting in the winter months.

The Cloister, Sea Island, GAThe author at The Cloister, Sea Island, GAThe Cloister is a beautiful resort and I was surprised to learn it had been completely re-built and reopened in 2006 after being torn down in 2003. Expansion has continued with more facilities and rooms added as recently as 2016, with the resort now offering 267+ rooms. Never intended to be anything more than a temporary facility when the Addison Mizner 46-room resort opened in 1928, the now greatly expanded hotel was re-designed to create the same cozy feel and friendly spirit of the original. The style is Southern-elegant yet comfortable, with furnishings like you would find in the homes of your Southern friends (at least the ones with good taste-lol). Presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Eisenhower have visited the resort and now it was time for our gang of ten.

Even the gals who had visited many times enjoyed the historic tour we took with resident historian Wheeler Bryon (that really is his name). We all enjoyed Wheeler’s terrific sense of humor as well as the interesting info he shared as we toured Georgia’s Golden Isles, including Sea Island and a stop at the Fort Frederica National Monument. The Fort was a British stronghold dating from 1736, built to battle the Spanish for control in the New World.

St. Simons Lighthouse, GAAfter a wonderful wild (local) shrimp lunch in quaint St. Simons at Iguana’s, most of our group hit the cute shops and I headed over to check out the picturesque 1872 St. Simons Lighthouse and Keepers Cottage. BTW – later I heard there was supposed to be free ice cream at Iguanas – how did we miss that?

Tabby at Sea Island, GAOnce I got overlooking for cats, I learned about “Tabby” construction, consisting of crushed and heated oyster shells. The material was used in early slave cabins and the Fort and is still used in many area houses.

I loved the way the area’s beautiful homes were numbered in the order they were built and was surprised to find out neither The Cloister or the homes are on the historic register. Owners can build in a variety of styles but somehow it all comes together. The idyllic scene is not marred by mailboxes since everyone gets mail at the Post Office. Maybe it’s the majestic live oaks dripping with Spanish Moss, or the winding narrow streets through the residential areas, or just the friendliness of everyone you meet – but it instantly felt very comfortable here.

Later, I made a point of seeing the famous Avenue of the Oaks near the Sea Island Lodge and golf courses. I can see why it’s a favorite spot for brides to pose for pictures. At the Lodge, the Colt & Alison restaurant served up a wonderful farewell dinner for the group and I enjoyed having a Caesar salad made the proper way – at the table.  During pre-dinner cocktails, we enjoyed a brief sight and sounds of the bagpiper playing while walking on the greens. He must’ve had the same weather app we did since he made it under cover just in time before the skies opened up.

As a group, we did plenty of eating, drinking, card-playing, a little golf, a little spa, and a whole lot of talking. It was poetic the Monday edition of the WSJ had a feature about the importance of friendship. Quoting from an interview with Lydia Denworth author of the book “Friendship” the article focused on the scientific benefits of having friends and she describes it as a “key to survival.” She explained a study at Harvard concluded the “best predictor of your health and happiness at 80 was not your wealth or professional success. It was your relationships at 50.” 

I’ll drink to that!

Black Banks River, Sea Island, GA

Discover this Gem on Oregon’s Coast

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Depoe Bay, Oregon

We had the most wonderful experience at the Whale Cove Inn. From the first moment we entered our beautiful suite we were enchanted by the picturesque view. The second time we entered our suite we were mesmerized by whales in the harbor.

The facility is lovely, perfectly maintained, and beautifully decorated. GM Sarah was delightful, personable and provided excellent information and direction. Our suite was on the top floor with a harbor view from the bed. I suggest calling ahead & discussing which of the 8 suites is available and would be preferred; staff were extremely helpful.

IMG_3227Our two-room suite was well-appointed and we felt quite at home. Both rooms had up-to-date TVs with a good range of stations, bedding was comfy, and the shower was good. We had ice, and feather pillows, plenty of plugs, a make-up mirror and lots of room to spread out. The public areas are also lovely, but we were content to retreat into our own world.

I was not, however, bold enough to venture the cool temps and get into the private tub on our balcony. Instead, I wrapped up in a blanket, had a glass of good red wine, sat on the terrace, and looked for whales. A Gray Whale was hanging out in the cove and as it rolled to feed, kept showing one side of its tail fluke, known as “sharking.” Perfect.

Breakfast was served in the dining room buffet-style and included pastries, fruit, cereals, quiche, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, etc. You could also request eggs to order, which my husband did. A daily newspaper of choice is delivered to your room. The dining room is operated in the evenings by an independent entity, serving very good, high-end dinners. The menu is fairly limited and does change. We had a fish dish and pheasant. Both were served beautifully and were very good. Portions were generous without being overwhelming.

IMG_3285Even though we live on the water, the view here was really special; not to mention the harbor seals, bald eagle, and gray whales. On our final morning, it was as if the whales knew, and one came in the harbor to wish us more good travels.

It was magical perfection and I loved it.

Budapest Keleti Station.

Traveling by train is one of the great pleasures of Europe. If you’re over 50, or just like to save time, you may want to consider a hotel close to the station. It’s easy and less stressful. Quite often the hotel staff will meet you and take your luggage, or even transport you a short trip to your home-away-from-home. This post reviews six convenient, elegant hotels in Cologne, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Prague, and Budapest.


 All ready for Christmas at Excelsior Hotel Ernst, Cologne.Cologne | Excelsior Hotel Ernst

A short walk from the train station you will find the lovely Excelsior Hotel in the center of the city, just across from the Cathedral.  Even though it’s a short walk, I was traveling with my Mother who was in her 80s, so I asked the hotel to meet us so my Mother would not have to walk. Bellmen were waiting for us when we arrived and we were at the hotel quickly organizing our attack on the first of the Christmas Markets. Cologne has seven.

Delicious tea treats at Excelsior Hotel Ernst, Cologne.After hitting the first of the seven Christmas markets, we were back at the Excelsior for afternoon high tea, our chosen alternative for dinner tonight. A wonderful way to end the day, stuffing ourselves with all those wonderful goodies. Our room was contemporary and comfortable, with a TV that swung 180 degrees to face the sitting area or the beds, acting as an attractive divider. The final surprise that night was looking out the window of our room and seeing the beautifully lit cathedral.

The Blue Danube, Budapest, Hungary.Budapest | Le Meridien Hotel (now a Ritz-Carlton)

We arranged for the hotel, to send a driver, so leaving the station was a breeze.  In about 15 minutes we were at our centrally-located hotel, tired, but ready to begin our adventures.

The Meridien is a large, contemporary hotel with all modern conveniences and this property lived up to the expectations of the chain. One evening we attended their Hungarian dinner complete with entertainment, it was a lot of food and an enjoyable evening.

The first order of business was to find a Hungarian-style restaurant close-by.  We went to Dio about 5 minutes from the hotel across the square.  The meal was terrific, my husband started with goulash, and the rest of us tried pork, smoked trout, and veal.  Then we dashed back through the square to avoid the drizzle starting to fall and off to bed for good night’s sleep.

Lovely Prague

Prague | Pachtův Palác (was Mamaison, now a Smetana Hotel)

A driver from the hotel met us and helped us navigate the deceptively large station that is quite expansive under the level in which the trains arrive. My husband and I were traveling with my Mother (in her 80s), so we had extra bags to manage as well as a travel partner not keen on stairs and long walks.

We arrived at the Pachtův Palác in the Old Town (Staré Město), just across from the Vltava near the Charles Bridge in time to regroup before dinner.  We stayed in really lovely apartment/suites carved out of the Baroque Palace of Count Jan Josef Pachta, built in the 18th century. Mozart and his wife were regular visitors, and it was here that Wolfgang had his only encounter with Giacomo Casanova. Beethoven was among the many other composers who also visited. I could only try and imagine what it must have been like during a visit by the Mozarts. I chose the more historic suite locations, but many of the rooms also have wonderful views of the castle and river.

The hotel staff was great and directed us to excellent spots for dining as well as an amazing walking tour. We had a wonderful meal at the casual, comfortable Restaurace Stoleti near the hotel, also on Karolíny Světlé.  Trying to eat a little healthier after the excess of previous travel days, we opted for a delicious meal that included salad, grilled trout, chicken, and a spinach/blue cheese omelet.

A Bavarian Christmas at the Hotel Excelsior, Munich.Munich | Hotel Excelsior by Geisel

The Hotel Excelsior is an iPrefer property centrally-located to the train station, shopping and Christmas Markets. Unfortunately, British Air left my suitcase in London, so I spent some serious time trying to find out where it was and when they would get it to me.

The hotel is a family-run, Bavarian-style property.  It was charming, with friendly staff and very comfortable. It was beautifully decorated for the holidays, a great way to start our Christmas market trip. They provided me with some basic toiletry essentials I didn’t have on hand and I did sleep in the cozy robe provided. Our room was spacious, with a sitting area and a nice bottle of Riesling Kabinett Trocken along with some treats for waiting for us.

I was just ready to hit the adjacent department store for new boots and clothes when my missing suitcase showed up. We decided to pack up the wine and save it for our next stop.

View of the train station from Le Meridien Grand Hotel, Nuremberg.Nuremberg | Le Meridien Grand Hotel

My friend and I walked out of the Nuremberg train station (shown here), with print and google maps in hand. Neither was needed once we looked up from our paper and screen, the hotel was right in front of us. The Le Meridien Grand Hotel is a modern hotel within a historic façade with a perfect location. One of the great things about European cities is the ability to walk to so many places and that experience is enhanced for me when you can easily just walk out the door of your hotel and either walk to your destination or jump on a train.

We arrived too early for check-in, but in plenty of time for a delicious lunch at the hotel restaurant.  We sampled some of our first delicious Nuremberg sausages (Nürnberg Rostbratwurst) along with a nice Rosé. Once done, our room was ready and we took off for the castle, shops, and markets. I don’t care about hotel toiletries, but I do love a good pen and notepad and so does my good friend and travel partner. In addition to tips about the area and Christmas Markets, the nice young clerk at the front desk kindly gave us extras of their great turquoise-colored pens.

Stuttgart | Althoff Hotel Am Schlossgarten

Can't beat the views from a European train.

Can’t beat the views from a European train.

The Althoff Hotel Am Schlossgarten is a modern hotel located just across the street, very close to the train station. From here were explored the nearby ObererSchossgarten and central city center as well as the large Christmas Markets area. Our room was contemporary with a nice sitting area; it was very comfortable.

The hotel did not have a salon but recommended Ramp Salon just a block away. I checked in early in the morning for a quick blow-dry after experiencing their fabulous massaging, hair-washing recliner (we need to import these to the US). Neighborhood culinary delights ranged from the local version of Sauerbraten (basically, a steak) at Carls Brauhaus, tasty brunch upstairs at Wirthaus am Schlossplatz, to chips, chocolate, and our bottle of Riesling in our room. A final dinner of brauten & dumplings at the hotel’s VINOthek restaurant was finished off nicely with a beautiful pear dessert.


Deco feature, Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach.

Deco feature, Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach.

Hey, it’s Super Bowl time in the 305!

So, this week’s post just had to be from my home county, Miami-Dade. There’s a lot more to our county than South Beach and a football stadium, although there is certainly nothing wrong with either. If you want to see the area like a native, you need to come mainland and get into areas like Coral Gables, Brickell, Coconut Grove, Redland, and Wynwood, to name a few.

But if you must stay on the Beach, at least try to soak up a little culture. The Wolfsonian Museum is a little gem tucked into a 1927 Mediterranean Revival historic property at 10th and Washington Avenue. The museum features the eclectic collections of Micky Wolfson and currently includes wonderful exhibits on Deco, Luxury to Mass Market and Cuban Caricature and Culture.

Deco feature, Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach.Near the Deco exhibit, you can pick up a handy booklet “Miami Beach Deco Walk” which is a great neighborhood guide with some details of seven Deco hotels that link to items in the museum exhibit.

The Wolfsonian is run in conjunction with Florida International University and also has a lot of programs for students and faculty. Their stated mission is “explores the inventive and provocative character of the modern world. Through objects and design, we reveal how the past influences the present and shapes the future.” I can’t explain it any better than that.

At $12 for admission ($8 for seniors and students), it’s quite a bargain. Get all the details at https://wolfsonian.org/

To finish off your experience, head over to Española Way, a charming area first developed in the 1920s and now completely revitalized into a wonderful, tree-lined pedestrian street lined with cafes and shops.

If you just can’t adapt to the Miami vibe and have a relaxing outdoor meal, then you can walk a few more blocks to 1601 Drexel and grab a good meal at Miami’s new Time Out Market.   Not half as large as the one I recently visited in Lisbon, it’s still a treat.

Whatever your pleasure, enjoy.


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