This Valentine’s Day, Become a Whiskey Lover

Chocolate WhiskeyThis Valentine’s Day, indulge your passion for chocolate….whiskey. If you aren’t far from Brooklyn, New York, you really have to make a stop and tour Kings County Distillery, where traditional American whiskey is handcrafted. The tour is fascinating, and the tasting is even better. If you want to find something new and exciting to do with your significant other, why not spend some time visiting this local distillery? If you love whiskey or are curious about whiskey, this would be a great way to spend your time.

The Back Story

When Colin Spoelman was in high school, he lived in Harlan County, a dry county in eastern Kentucky. Like many of his peers, he and his friends wanted to find a way to buy alcohol, but Harlan Country had strict laws (dating back to prohibition) against selling alcoholic beverages. In true Kentucky fashion, he and his friends bought spirits from a bootlegger, grabbed some provisions and headed out to go “camping” around an abandoned strip mine. The bootlegger, a local lady named Mag Bailey, was a legend in Harlan and sold moonshine from a shed just outside her door.

A Hobby Becomes A Business

By the time Mag died in 2005, moonshine was gaining in popularity and, home distillers started creating the spirit. Colin, who had graduated from Yale and relocated to Brooklyn, returned to Harlan to visit family. He bought a gallon of moonshine and brought it back to Williamsburg to share with friends. The white whiskey was a hit and when the gallon ran out, he and his college roommate David Haskell decided to make their own. The Yale grads created moonshine as hobbyists and sold their spirits to friends. Their cottage industry became so successful that they decided to make it a legitimate business and secure a farm distillery license where 75% of the product must come from New York Grain. In April of 2010, a modest space (325 square feet) and one, eight-gallon stainless steel still, became known as The Kings County Distillery. It had been ninety years since a distillery operated in New York City and it was the smallest one in the country.

A Location Steeped in History

Copper Stills

The Kings County distillery outgrew their original space in 2012, and the pair moved the business to the former Paymaster Building of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The area around the Navy Yard had a rich history of whiskey distilling going back to the time of the “Whiskey Wars” in the United States. The wars started in 1869 over a tax on alcohol to help the government pay the debts of the civil war. So many distillers went underground that it became difficult to collect the tax. The government sent soldiers to Brooklyn to break-up the distiller’s businesses, and afterward, the streets were flowing with the whiskey from the destroyed barrels. The corruption and the payoffs kept the underground distillers in business until 1871 when fires, industrial accidents from distilling spirits, and the tainted milk scandal, completely shut down operations in the area. The Kings County Distillery revived the whiskey production tradition in New York and paved the way for several new distilleries to open in the borough.

Whiskey and Moonshine

Whiskey begins its process much like beer, created by fermenting a mixed mash of grain. Next, it is distilled and then aged in barrels. The pulp could be any number of grains including corn, barley, rye or wheat, yeast, and some sugar. Whiskey must go through the distillation process to remove impurities but not the flavor. Stills separate the alcohol from the mash and have to be distilled again to get rid of the contaminants. Each time a spirit is distilled the alcohol percentage increases, but the flavor decreases. Most whiskey needs to be aged in a barrel to finish the process. The barrel imparts flavor and color. The longer it stays in the barrel, the deeper the character of the spirit inside. American corn whiskey remains unaged and clear. It is known widely as “moonshine,” or white whiskey, and it is the only American whiskey sold legally
that is unaged.

Award Winning Craft Whiskey

Kings County Distillery crafts award-winning, handmade, moonshine, bourbon, and whiskey using grain and corn sourced from farms in New York State. Malted barley and peated malt are sourced from the United Kingdom. The spirits have won awards from the American Distilling Institute, who also named Kings County the Distillery of the year in 2016. Kings County has also received awards from The American Craft Spirits Association and the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Using traditional copper stills imported from Scotland, the distillery crafts: moonshine, straight bourbon, chocolate whiskey, peated bourbon
(a scotch-like bourbon), barrel strength bourbon, winter spice whiskey, Bottle-in-Bond bourbon, single malt whiskey, and straight rye whiskey. “Bottled-in-Bond” was the purity seal that ensured the whiskey was made to the highest standard, being four years old and 100 proof. Kings County Bottle-in-Bond won a double gold from SFWSC in 2017.

The Proof is in the Taste

Tasting Room

Kings County Distillery offers daily tastings in the Gatehouses which served as the ceremonial entrance to the Navy Yard at 299 Sands Street. The Gatehouses is one of the only bars in the world that creates unique cocktails, pours and flights using the whiskey made in the distillery just beyond the tasting room. The Gatehouses is open seven days a week and reservations are recommended. The Distillery offers tours and tastings from Tuesday – Saturday from 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm. On Saturdays, tours run every hour from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm and cost $14.00.

Visiting Kings County Distillery is like going back to a time when spirits were handmade on small stills. The antique brick Paymasters building, and the tour, which combine the science of distilling and the history of the area, adds to the nostalgia. The tour and the tastings of the whiskey created at Kings County is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Kings County Distillery
299 Sands Street
Brooklyn, NY 11205


Holiday Travel With Family – The Great and the Slightly Disappointing​

rothenburg ob der tauber

It was planned. It was organized. It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes research and detailed steps to put a trip together are really all you can do to ensure a seamless vacation. But, even with all the care and thought, missteps can occur. It’s times like these that the saying, “Make lemonade from lemons” come to mind.

We wanted to join our college-age daughters at the end of their Junior year abroad experience. They had been in Europe for four months, and we decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to extend their trip and travel as a family. Great right?  And for all intents and purposes, it was. Looking back on it now, I wish that one little glitch didn’t occur to make one of the best trips we have ever had, come with small regrets, “If only we…”.

I knew that the time frame of our visit to Germany and Austria was during the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. I was excited to experience the Christmas markets in Munich, the fairytale – Neuschwanstein Castle, and the historic city of Salzburg, Austria.  It would mean that our regular traditions would look slightly different and that we would be celebrating our holiday abroad.  I took requests from each person and worked with a travel company to plan an itinerary that we could all enjoy. I must have had ten conversations about tweaking excursions, deleting cities or shifting locations to make the trip run smoothly from start to finish.

It is not easy to plan a vacation and find activities that would appeal an entire family unit, but somehow, it came together to form an experience we could all get behind. I led with the mantra, “If it is not your cup of tea today, it will be tomorrow.” Everyone agreed that they were game for all of it.

The day came, and we all met in Munich. I was thrilled to start this adventure with the people who mean the most to me in this world. We love to travel, and the trip started swimmingly. The hotel was clean, spacious, and located perfectly. Bavaria was even more beautiful than I expected and we also got some snow! That first visit to the Christmas Market in Munich filled us with delight and awe. We enjoyed the traditional foods, hot spiced wine and the stalls of handmade crafts. The warmth of the people added to the incredible experience.

We headed to Salzburg and loved the city, the market, and the lake district. Did everyone like the Original Sound of Music Tour? No, but those who weren’t entirely on board accepted that others were really enjoying the experience. We made up for it by visiting the ancient Hohensalzburg Fortress. The views from the fortress were breathtaking and the exhibits about medieval life, weaponry, and armor, were fascinating. All good.

As the days flew by, we sat around our dinner table and discussed the wonders of discovering each new place and all that we had learned. The trip was going way too fast, and soon we were in a new city with essential areas to explore or scenery to admire. I was really looking forward to visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a thousand-year-old town located in the middle of the Tauber valley. The day we scheduled our visit fell on Christmas Eve. What we didn’t realize was that much of the town was closed in observance of the holiday. Our tour guide offered to take us for a two-hour visit and drove us an hour each way so that we could see the medieval city and walk on the ancient ramparts. We went, but we were not entirely sure how little we would get to see. In the end, I am glad we took the drive, but the entire town was shut down. To say we were all saddened would be an understatement.

Was it poor planning? Hadn’t I hired a tour company to help me navigate situations like this? Yes, but sometimes it is hard to know precisely what the local customs dictate in different places. Since we didn’t have much time in the region, and because the only day we had to explore the town fell on a holiday, we decided to take our chances. We didn’t have an awful experience, but we were saddened to get to the charming town of my dreams and find it completely quiet as the residents prepared to celebrate the holy holiday.

Unfortunately, when we arrived back in Nuremberg, the holiday markets began to shut down. The only restaurants that were open were booked and did not have any extra seating. Luckily, we found a Spanish tapas restaurant that was open and had a hefty late lunch. We went back to relax at our hotel and later that evening emerged to try and find a snack. To our delight, an  Irish pub was open and quite busy. When we went to order, we were informed that the kitchen was closed. We laughed and chalked it up one more snafu to round out our totally imperfect day. We had a glass of cheer and went back to order room service. At our hotel, the kitchen was overwhelmed with parties. It would take three hours to get our order.

We weren’t starving. We were warm and safe and together and we had some incredible chocolates that we picked up on our travels. We played games and ate chocolate for dinner. To put it in perspective, our trip was idyllic up to and after that. It is one more memory to chuckle over, but it does remind one that you can’t be too prepared.

If I had one piece of advice, I would recommend asking your travel consultant or hotel staff what the restrictions might be if you are visiting a city during a holiday. Make reservations for all your holiday meals and check to see if museums or sights of interest are opened during your stay. Check public transportation and holiday schedules as well.

Travel is always an adventure. That is why we go. I love a good story, and this ranks right up there with all the ones I have collected along the way. Many people I talk travel with like to “wing” it. I am a planner but wanted some things to unfold organically. It is a memory we will laugh over in the years to come, but it will also inform my future travel decisions when heading out for my next holiday vacation.


Christmas Traditions – Old and New

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As soon as the Thanksgiving day was over, we knew the Christmas prep was about to begin. It would always start with the process of setting up our artificial tree. My father took the faux wood trunk out of the box and followed the color-coded wires on the ends of each branch and placed them in the coordinating holes. Then he dutifully took string upon string of multi-colored lights and wrapped them round and round the greenery until there wasn’t a spot left without a bulb. Finally, it was our turn. We took the large cardboard container of decorations out of the basement and gently unwrapped each one; looking every ornament over and commenting on our favorites. There wasn’t a bough on our tree that did not have some shiny ball or figurine dangling from a silver fishhook.

As soon as all the ornaments were hung, we took handfuls of tinsel and literally let it rain. We climbed up on the short utility ladder my dad used to string the lights and threw handfuls of the glittery strings up in the air. We shrieked with delight as the strands covered the entire tree, each of us, and the blue pile carpet below. I thought the finished product was perfection. I would wait until it was dark outside, then click on the rotating tree stand/music box that cranked out tunes like, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman.” As it twirled slowly around, I would sip my mug of cocoa and marvel at the glittering masterpiece.

I looked forward to all the little traditions leading up to Christmas like decorating, assembling lasagnas for an army of relatives, and setting the table. Traveling was not on the agenda when I was growing up. We took vacations in the summer, so it never occurred to me that people didn’t spend the holidays at home.

When I started a family of my own, we pretty much followed many of the same traditions (although we bought a fresh tree and nixed the tinsel). That was the norm until my brother suggested that we take a trip to celebrate New Year’s Eve “2000” in the Caribbean.

A whole new concept about how to spend the holiday opened up for me that year. The week before we hosted a dinner to see everyone and exchange gifts. On December 24th, we flew away from the cold in New Jersey and landed in the Turks and Caicos where it was hot and sunny.

Our rental home was beachfront, and the white sand stretched as far as we could see. Our dinner on December 25th took place in a Caribbean restaurant called the Tiki Hut. We traveled with a large group of extended family and friends, and even though we weren’t home, we had a fantastic time. That week the weather was a perfect 80 degrees, and our two-year-old girls lived in their bathing suits and built sand castles every day.

A few years later, when our daughters were 11, we traveled with another family to share Christmas in Italy. The children made ornaments from kits my girlfriend had purchased at home and packed in her suitcase. We decorated a small tree that we set up in the living room and it created a festive atmosphere. We spent our days exploring the countryside, tasting the foods and sightseeing.

I have come to appreciate both ways of celebrating for the holidays. The case for staying home is strong. We make the special foods that we only prepare at this time of year, and relax in our own house with loved ones. But, there is something I really enjoy about experiencing Christmas in an unusual place. I know it’s not for everyone, and it may seem odd to travel, but I actually enjoy the adventure.

It has been ten years since that last trip, but we are traveling this year. We plan to visit Germany, specifically Munich, Rothenburg, and Berlin. My husband’s heritage is half Italian and half German, so we thought it would be interesting to explore the traditions of his other half. There will be Christmas markets, gluehwein (spiced hot wine) and wursts to sample. While we will miss spending the day with our extended family, we will celebrate when we return. My children are getting the opportunity to travel instead of receiving material things. They are also collecting a unique combination of experiences. They get to have memories of being home and memories of being abroad. We are blessed to be together either way, which is a priceless gift.






Brunch Vibes


I love going out for brunch on a Sunday. It doesn’t matter if I am at home in my own surroundings or if I am away on a vacation, I figure out where we can go to grab brunch and enjoy the ritual of dining on both breakfast and lunch at the same time.

It must be a throwback from my twenties when I had my first apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. My friends and I went out every Saturday evening, enjoying the nightlife until the wee hours. Slowly and painfully, we would wake up the next morning around lunchtime, hungry and hung over. In short order, we would plan to spend the late “morning” eating the greasiest, heaviest food we could find. If you wanted breakfast, you ordered breakfast, and if you wanted lunch, you ordered lunch. We loved the concept because it was a meal that combined the best of both menus. After a Bloody Mary or Mimosa, and a strong cup of coffee, we would feel human again. The food would fortify us to tackle the business of afternoon napping between loads of laundry and any other residual work or chores we had to accomplish to be ready for the long work week ahead.

In honor of those days, I try to brunch whenever I can, wherever I can.  First, I conduct some research on the latest and greatest place that serves up the all-day feast. If I am home, I reach out to friends to see who would be willing to get up on a Sunday and start their day eating for a few hours. It isn’t hard to find someone who adores the ritual as much as I do. Brunch is a meal that demands that you take your time. It is an event where you slow down, enjoy civilized conversation and a great cup of coffee while easing into the day. If I am traveling (and after my research) I nab a reservation at a popular spot. I am rarely disappointed because it seems that every culture loves to linger over a lazy Sunday meal. I find that brunch in a different city adds people watching to an already glorious experience.

These days, the hangover may be a thing of the past, but the reluctance to dive headlong into the end of the weekend still lingers. I want Sundays to wind down slowly, enjoying great company, great food, and great coffee.


Summer is Coming

pexels-photo-348520.jpegWhen April turns to May, I realize that my favorite season is coming around. I love summer. I love it because it means that my family will spend more time together, either outside at home or on a vacation. It is the time of year where invitations to barbecues and impromptu get-togethers spring up. A season when neighbors and friends make more time to connect by sitting outside and laughing over shared memories and everyone slows down a bit to enjoy each other.

Being from New Jersey, I love taking day trips to the shore. As a child, we always visited the beach but it was for a week as a vacation. Now that I live closer, I can make a day trip out of it. On Saturdays or Sundays, we get up and put the chairs and beach towels in the trunk and start the short drive to our favorite sandy spot. The familiar smell of sunscreen and the delicious salty sea air restores me and I feel more like myself than at any other time of the year. I love to travel but some of my favorite memories have been right in my own backyard (so to speak).

My family and I soak up the sun and the dive into the waves. If I feel energetic, I take walks along the water’s edge or if I feel less inclined, I love reading a great book under a beach umbrella, all along taking in the sound of the crashing waves. And, after a few hours of idyllic seaside relaxation, we make plans to get provisions for dinner. The first stops always include dropping by our favorite soft-serve ice cream stand. Then, the route is always the same, the seafood market to purchase fresh fish to grill, the farmer’s market to select softball-sized Jersey tomatoes and ears of delicate, sweet, white corn as a side dish for dinner, and juicy peaches for dessert.

It is an idyllic time and I cannot wait for the warmer temperatures and my summer routine. I love to travel, but staying local in my corner of the world ranks up there as a great get-away and one I long for as April turns to May.

Spring Fever

I don’t know why, but for as long as I can remember, every February, I get the urge to plan a trip somewhere. It happens like clockwork, and it has become sort of tradition. Sometime around mid-February, I start looking online for destinations and then travel deals for those destinations. Once I start the process, I start sliding down the rabbit hole and inevitably, I make the plan to make the arrangements. I check in with my family and secure dates around schedules, and then I set up the trip.

My husband laughs at me every year because he knows that as soon as the cold weather hits and the holidays are over, that the vacation planning phase of my life begins. I can’t help it, the idea of travel away from New Jersey pulls me. I don’t even have to go somewhere warm. It needs to be a get-a-way to explore and enjoy a place I have never been.

Something weird happened this year that changed the typical vacation planning phase. I had not been thinking about a vacation because we decided to sell our home in February. I was so wrapped up in the details of getting the house ready that I did not feel that pull to plan a trip. Instead, it was my husband who, when planning a business trip, noticed that fares to Florida were low. He pointed out that we could go during our daughter’s spring break so that she could get some much-needed sunshine during a particularly cold New York State winter up at college. I was caught off guard and asked, “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?” We had a good laugh and got to work making arrangements that very night. I put him on airfare duty, and I began to look for hotels in the Miami area. Before the night was over, we had a trip planned, airfare and hotels booked and had called our daughter to share the good news that she would be traveling to Miami for the week.

I teased my husband and reminded him that he was usually the one to hem and haw about spending money and going away, but in the end, he always relented. This time it felt so weird to have a partner in crime and be of like-mind to plan a spontaneous trip during the deep freeze of winter. When the day came to fly away, we looked at each other with a sense of eagerness and excitement about getting to the sunshine state and avoiding the blizzard that was going to descend on the northeast while we were basking in the warmth. I told him that I had indeed changed him because my habit had rubbed off on him and now he was forever in the spring fever cycle with me. Just another perk of being married to a travel junkie.

Living Like a Local on Spetses

We made a split-second decision. Should we choose the house for ten days in Greece? Or should we spend a week in Italy? The school auction had the most amazing items to bid on, so it was tough to decide. We had spent our honeymoon in Italy and wanted to go back, but the idea of traveling to Greece was appealing because we had never visited there before. We decided to put our names down for Greece and hoped for the best. As an elementary school teacher, the only chance to have a family vacation was over the summer break. My husband and I loved to travel and fortunately, so did our ten-year-old twin girls. To our surprise, our bid was the winner, and in a flash, our summer plans were set. Our family was going to Greece.

When the plane wheels touched down in Athens, I knew that our family was going to experience a transformation. The girls and I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, but we looked past the jet-lag and focused on the palpable feeling of excitement for the adventure that was about to unfold. I had high hopes for this family trip, as it was the first one we had taken outside of the United States with our girls, Emma and Katie. For my husband Tony and I, it was the first one we had made abroad since before the twins were born. We landed in Athens that steamy, July morning and headed to an island called Spetses.

Our driver, Michele, picked us up at the airport and drove us two hours to the port in Costa, where we could catch a water taxi to the island. After traveling over an hour by car on the windy roads past Corinth, I stopped marveling at the scenery and began to regret drinking the orange juice served on the plane that morning. He drove those switchbacks like a professional racer, chatting in perfect English about his country and his friendship with Robert, whose home we were about to occupy for ten days. Robert and I were coworkers at school. He generously offered his house as an auction item at the annual fundraiser. After we won, Robert spent an hour on the phone with me helping sort out details, arranging for transportation (Michele) and explaining logistics about how to get to Spetses. He was my personal concierge, and I was in for something incredible.

Michele drove us to the port where we boarded a water taxi that gently motored across the sapphire blue waters of the Saronic Gulf. The shimmer of the gulf was sparkling in the morning light. I breathed deeply and let the feeling of anticipation begin to swell. I surveyed the coastline, and I remarked that Spetses looked lovely but extremely hilly. We all looked over at the island and studied the houses dotting all the way up to the top. We wondered aloud how the people got up to their homes. The journey we started twenty-four hours earlier was about to come to an end; we had reached our destination.

Stepping off the water taxi onto the dock, I noticed that the downtown area was teeming with people. It was joyfully noisy and hectic as boats arrived and departed from the landing. The fact that I didn’t speak Greek occurred to me, but I ignored it. I felt dizzy with excitement about setting foot on the island that Athenians loved but few tourists had taken the time to explore. Robert arranged for his house-sitter to meet us on the waterfront promenade, dotted with street vendors, shops, and café’s where the locals sipped coffee and observed the daily arrivals at the dock. A tall blond woman and her young daughter waved to us from the street. She introduced herself as Robert’s contact, Sophie, and she welcomed us with open arms. I noticed that she had an English accent. She explained that she immigrated from England to Spetses after marrying her husband who had grown up on the island. I thought her story was romantic and I was enchanted and comforted by her ease and warmth. Emma and Katie thought her daughter Anna was adorable. They spoke to her as the adults chatted about the flight and the drive. Sophie spoke fluent Greek and swiftly made arrangements for our luggage to be brought up to the house. We took a taxi up the steep hillside and finally stopped at a white-walled compound that surrounded two homes.

Robert’s house faced the gulf and was about as high on the island as you could get. His sister owned the second home on the property, and both places shared a small courtyard filled with flourishing lemon trees and potted plants brimming with bright fuchsia flowers. A tiny, but deep plunging pool was situated right off the stone patio beside the house. My girls, hot and tired from travel, ran upstairs with Anna to change into swimsuits. They couldn’t wait to splash in their very own pool. Sophie gave us detailed instructions about the house and the activities that we could experience locally. We toured the rooms, and the girls picked their favorites. Our master bedroom had a patio that we could access through the French doors. We stepped outside and saw more of those dazzling flowers whose vines crawled up the trellis and across a wooden pergola. The view of the gulf was astounding from that vantage point; almost dreamlike in its perfection. She made sure that we had some small provisions and let us know about “siesta,” the time when the locals shuttered their shops from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. They would return home to enjoy a long lunch with family and an afternoon nap. After a siesta, the shop owners would return to work until 9:00pm and then close for the evening and head out for dinner. She gently suggested that since we were living among the locals, we should be respectful neighbors and be as quiet as possible during that time. She left us with hugs and an offer to help again with any questions or problems. Then she was on her way, wishing us a relaxing and restorative vacation. I was thrilled with the house, but the wealth of information Sophie shared left me reeling.

That first day we unpacked and sat by “our” pool. We weren’t sure what to do, and of course, we were exhausted. The pool was so deep, and the water was so frigid that the girls shrieked when they jumped in, leading to a fit of giggles. I noticed that one of the neighbors peered out her window and closed her shutters. I remembered what Sophie said and realized it was siesta. I reminded the girls to keep their voices down, but it became clear that we should head inside. We stayed close to home for the day and decided to go out for an early dinner. We started walking down toward the town not exactly sure of where to go. We noticed a simple restaurant that had their menu posted on a sandwich board. It reminded Tony and I of those out-of-the-way places we visited while traveling through Tuscany. We were all hungry, so we decided to go in and have an early meal. We were the only patrons there. We managed to get our orders in with the waitress through hand gestures—she didn’t seem very friendly. We were starting to wonder what ten days would feel like there, especially with the language barrier. The food was rustic and authentic, which Tony and I enjoyed, but my girls were picky eaters and found it difficult to finish what they had ordered. They settled for bread and butter, and we decided it would be best to explore in the morning.

As the days unfolded, we walked up and down the hillside. Like the locals, we hiked up that steep mountain daily. Only a few lucky townspeople owned cars or drove small motorbikes to reach their destinations. As we trudged up the incline, we gained a respite by stopping in the fruit stall, local grocery, and the bakery along the way. At first, we pointed to the items we wanted to purchase, but after a few days, we exchanged smiles and simple greetings with the proprietors. I attempted to learn some phrases, and when I shopped, I asked about the Greek names of the fruits and vegetables. By the end of our trip, I was able to ask for the items in Greek. The shop owners and my family shared our languages back and forth as we started to feel like a part of the community. We adopted the culture and the rhythm of the island. We strolled downtown and ate dinner at 9:00pm with the rest of the local people. Our kids didn’t love the food, but they loved dessert. We allowed them to eat ice cream at 10:30pm every night. Sugared up and raring to go, we all stayed up late playing board games or cuddling on the comfortable sofa, watching VCR movies on the TV. We had no set schedule so, we woke up when we felt like it. We abandoned our regular routines from home.

Our days consisted of coffee and breakfast by the pool in our bathing suits and then down to town to catch a local boat which would stop at various beaches along the coast of “our” island. Each day we made plans to explore a different beach, which were all unique in mood and offerings. Many locations filled the entire stretch of sand with people. Most of the beaches had shacks where you could rent a lounge chair and a much-needed umbrella. Some had stalls where you could order food, buy beach toys or hire a motorboat for tube rides. Others were deserted and natural. My favorite swimming area was blissfully empty. Ligoneri Beach with its diving board bolted into the cliff, and the deep blue water lapping the white sand below it stole my heart. The dive off the board and the gigantic splash that followed was refreshing. It was the perfect antidote after hiking from the beach up the cliff to climb the ladder of the board. By one o’clock, the afternoon sun was blazing, so we went back to the comfort of our house, high up on the hill. We dined on the patio overlooking the gulf, munching on our lunch of softball-sized peaches, tomatoes, bread, and cheese. After a quick swim in the icy pool, we adopted the custom of taking a siesta. When we got sleepy, we either grabbed a book and found a nook to crawl into or lounged on our beds with the windows open, letting the breezes billow the gauzy curtains in a melodic dance. The lack of chores or appointments was heaven. The hustle and bustle of our life back home, the carpool, the work day, the after-school activities were just a blur.

One day we rented quads to cruise around the town. Tony’s quad was blue, and mine was red. We consulted our trusty map and planned a route to some of the out of the way places we couldn’t reach by foot or by boat. The kids hopped on the back, and we hit the road. We found a beachside restaurant that was off the beaten path. It had an upscale feel, with couches grouped on the grass and pop music playing on speakers. The crowd of people there seemed extraordinarily modern and young. The music and the energy intrigued us, and we made a group decision to check it out. We dined in the restaurant just off the beach underneath a pergola draped with white cotton fabric. The kids ordered burgers, but Tony and I had the most delicious grilled salmon skewered on sprigs of fresh rosemary. The smell of the rosemary that had been charred by the grill was earthy and gave the fish a smoky flavor. Both of the girls decided to try a bite, and the next thing I knew, my lunch was devoured.

Another day we jumped on a hydrofoil and sailed to a neighboring island called Hydra. Hydra was unique because there were no cars on the island. If you wanted to get to the top, you had to hire a donkey. We all rode them to the top, and the sight of us atop the mules made us laugh until our sides split. After walking around, having lunch and stopping in the local stores, we came upon a cliff where adults and children were jumping off into the water below.  We hadn’t anticipated a swim, so we didn’t have suits. We noticed that plenty of people just jumped in with their clothes on, so we figured why not? The cliff had different levels, so the kids and I chose the lower cliff and Tony climbed up to the top to the cheers of the other bathers. We splashed and laughed the day away.

After ten days, our idyllic vacation ended too soon. We planned to visit Athens before we left for home, to see the Acropolis and tour the city. We arranged to travel by high-speed ferry to the Port of Piraeus. We were sad to go. It had begun to feel like we were a part of the island that seemed so foreign when we first arrived. We made connections with the local people. As we passed each other on the street, we wished each other good morning or good evening (in Greek of course). We gave each other huge smiles and shared pleasantries. We adopted the practice of taking naps during the sweltering heat of the afternoon. The siestas gave us the energy to walk into town to enjoy the cooler evenings and nightlife of the island. My children began to appreciate the culture of a new place, and as the vacation progressed, I observed how much they had grown. The girls, who were such picky eaters, wanted to taste the local cuisine. They came away with a new appreciation for seafood because it was so prevalent and delicious. We couldn’t wait to start our daily adventures by reading maps and selecting what beach to visit, making detailed plans and explorations. They began to absorb the notion that experiences are more significant than material gifts and that pieces of destinations stay with you long after your return home to regular routines.

As the wheels retracted into the plane and soared through the air back to home, I recalled how travel helps you form new perspectives. I was nervous about taking my children out of their comfort zone, and the country, but it was worth it. Our trip strengthened our family bond because we worked together to design our daily excursions and formed unforgettable memories. We grew closer because of our shared experience marveling at the beauty and the history of Greece. Living in Spetses for ten days changed us like I hoped it would.


“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

NEW YORK ARTS-2Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a poem by Robert Frost that has always enchanted me since childhood. I thought of the poem last week when I went to New York City for a story I was researching. It was cold but warmer than it had been all week after a recent snowfall. I ended up in Central Park on a whim and I gasped when I encountered the sparkling scene in front of me. I closed my eyes and the words of the Frost poem came to me. I conjured an image of a horse confused by his rider’s reluctance to get from point A to point B quickly and I made a connection. I often feel that during my hectic days of getting somewhere to accomplish something that is (I believe) incredibly important, that there is, “No time.” Yet, there is something restorative about stopping and engaging in the scenery that can be worth the time it takes to do so. Even though it was not on my original agenda, I wandered along the path anyway. The beauty of the park was stunning, and even though I hate the cold,  I appreciate the beauty of winter. I almost didn’t take the time to enter the park, but when I did, My being was filled with the beauty of nature and the special something that is Central Park. Memories flooded my mind. As a younger woman, I would visit the park with friends during the summer to get some sunshine or some exercise. As a younger woman, I would visit the park with a date and enjoy a picnic on the lawn or the romance of the lake near the Loeb Boathouse. As a younger mother, I visited the park with my children, visiting the zoo or riding in a horse-drawn carriage to show them around the special oasis in the center of the city. Central Park is a special, magical place, and I am grateful that I  took the time to stop by and soak in all that light reflecting off the ground and the shadows cast by the trees and feel that nip in the air as I breathed in deeply the essence of a quiet place amidst the hustle and bustle. As I moved along the path, I reflected on the last lines of the poem: The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

Sunday Dinner, a Long-Standing Italian Tradition

I grew up in an Italian American household. My father was born in Brooklyn, but both of his parents were Italian immigrants. My maternal grandmother had a similar background, and even though her husband, my grandfather, immigrated from Cuba, he never shared his culture with us. He preferred to let my grandmother share her Italian heritage, so I considered myself Italian.

As an Italian family, we grew up knowing that Sunday was a family day. You never made plans outside of the house, because dinner was going to take all day. Sunday dinner was at least a four-hour food extravaganza. After church, we sat at the dining room table, stretched to accommodate fifteen, set with crystal, china, silverware, and cloth napkins on a red, damask tablecloth. I was always expected to set the table for the family. As a teenager, the last thing I wanted to do was to sit for several hours at the table, but it was tradition and it was expected.

You would not think of changing the way the meal unfolded or adjust the time spent at the table. Every course was served in order: soup, salad, pasta, meat, potatoes, vegetables, and then the break to stretch and wash the dishes. During our short recess, we prepared for dessert; the rich espresso gurgled and bubbled on the stove, the pastries placed on an enormous platter, and the table was set with baskets of fruit and demitasse cups. Then we all gathered once again, to close our meal. The aromas of the coffee served with a twist of lemon peel, and a small glass of Sambuca was a treat for the senses. When I smell it today, it immediately brings me back to my dining room table and all the people seated there.

The pastry platter was passed and we would choose a delicacy. I would never eat the cannoli; I thought the filling was strange, and the dried fruit was bitter. I usually selected the pignoli nut cookies and a tiny eclair frosted with chocolate. The pastries, had an essential place at the table because my grandmother brought them to New Jersey from the Brooklyn neighborhood where she lived. Apparently, they were authentic, and everyone looked forward to them with eager anticipation.

I never really understood why the meal had to be so long, why we had to eat the foods we always served, and why we had to put social plans on hold for the entire day, but as an adult, I wish I decided to continue the tradition to some degree. The modern family cannot seem to make enough time to sit for hours and linger over conversation and coffee. I guess that is why the holidays help me remember to be grateful for the family around the table; the laughter shared and of course the traditional foods that remind us of our heritage.

Road Tripping

Road trips are some of my favorite getaways. I love to jump in the car and drive. Don’t get me wrong, I love to fly, but the simplicity of getting in the car to get to my destination fills me with an instant gratification. There are no lines or security checkpoints and I can usually arrive someplace in a matter of hours. It all starts with an idea of where to explore. Next, I enjoy planning out the route, setting up my accommodations and then packing my bags. My love of road trips stems back to a simpler time when my family could not afford airfare for five people. We would road trip from north Jersey to the shore and stay on Long Beach Island for a week. We called it going down the shore. I remember heading to Gettysburg and learning about the Civil War. I was intrigued by the stories about the area and the battles that took place there. Or that trip we took to Virginia Beach, when I found a zillion shells and kept them at home in a jar as a keepsake from the trip. I loved the journey as much as the destination. I also loved the roadside food stops along the way. I had simpler tastes then, I ordered a burger and fries with a vanilla shake everywhere we stopped. I plan to do some road tripping in the new year and I will keep you posted on where I am headed. Maybe I will even inspire you to plan a getaway of your own.