On Board the Queen Mary

I grew up hearing about the RMS Queen Mary, a British passenger ship with an aura about her not unlike the RMS Titanic (but without the disaster tales). On my last visit to California, I promised myself I would make a trip to Long Beach and climb aboard. Why? After years of reading and writing about the ship, I wanted to see her for myself and to visit the first stop on The Tucker – Tyler Adventure.

For $29.95 I bought a “First Class Passport” for a day on the ship which included a self-guided audio tour and a behind the scenes tour of the Queen Mary on the “Glory Days” tour. (Although also included in the First Class Passport ticket, I ran out of time and never made it on the “Ghosts and Legends” tour or on the adjacent Russian submarine, the Scorpion.) The next day, my friend and I drove to Long Beach, parked, and walked toward the ship looming before us.

Walking to QM

She is big. Longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, the Queen Mary is 1019.5 feet in length. She is tall. From her keel to her smokestack, the Queen Mary is 181 feet high, 49 feet above the water line. She is big enough that during her hey day she carried as many as 1,957 passengers on her 12 decks. For five days in September 1954, my mom and her friend, Rusty and Kit, were two of them.

QM Decks

The Queen Mary is also elegant. The tour took us to the ship’s ballroom and through the art deco bar. We peeked in at a first class cabin, now a hotel room.

After the tour, we wandered on deck, looking for the location where one of Rusty’s photos was taken.


We explored the souvenir shops, ate lunch in the Tea Room, and took the self-guided audio tour, finally finding a replica of a tourist or third class cabin, the cabin in which Rusty and Kit stayed during their 5 days aboard the ship.

Tourist Cabin

If you go, allow yourself plenty of time to explore and to discover. You might even want to spend the night. And if you want to know more about what it was like to travel on the Queen Mary in 1954, read the book, The Tucker – Tyler Adventure.

QM Sign

Trip taken July 2013.

Blackie: The Horse That Won’t Be Forgotten

I don’t remember sitting on Blackie’s back. I don’t remember seeing him stand in the same spot day after day, year after year, in a field now known as Blackie’s Pasture. What I do remember is visiting his grave at the end of the bike path in Tiburon, California, and hearing stories about the love for this gentle and swaybacked horse.

Although he died in 1966, children can still sit on his back.

Climbing on Blackie

In 1995, the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation erected a life size statue in the same spot where Blackie spent his last 28 years. In 2006, Christopher Cerf and Paige Peterson published a children’s picture book, Blackie, the Horse That Stood Still about Blackie.

IMG_8512The next time you visit San Francisco, consider making a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Blackie. He stands alongside the bay in Tiburon among the many cyclists, joggers, kite flyers, and walkers just out to enjoy the view.

If you want to learn more about Blackie’s life, click here.     If you want to visit Blackie, click here.

How to Cook and Eat a Padrón Pepper

Eating a Padrón pepper is a little like playing Russian Roulette, less than 10 percent of the peppers are spicy, but watch out if you bite into one of the spicy ones! Called Padróns because they originate in northwest Spain in the town of Padrón, these small peppers are green and less than 4 inches long.

I first discovered them on a trip to Santa Barbara, a town with many Spanish influences, including the architecture.


Simple and easy to cook, these little chili peppers make for an easy side dish. The best way to prepare Padróns is to saute them dry or in a little olive oil before adding a little sea salt.

Sauteed Padrons

Look for Padróns from May to September at farmers’ markets and at places like Whole Foods. But be sure to buy them green, if you wait until they’re red, 100 percent of the peppers will be spicy!

Trip taken August 2013.

Renting a Home Away from Home

When planning a vacation away for more than a few days, consider renting an apartment or cottage instead of staying at a hotel. While the service may be lacking, you’ll gain freedom to cook your own meals and explore your destination more like a resident than a tourist.

We’ve rented a house in Bolinas, California; an apartment in Cape Town, South Africa; and a cottage on Plum Island near Newburyport, Massachusetts. In all three cases, we stayed near the ocean, in comfortable lodging, for a reasonable price. In all three cases, we used VRBO.com to rent a place directly from its owner. Cape Town Apartment

Bolinas: Although the tiny house was bursting with our party of four adults and four kids, the deck allowed us space for overflow. We stocked the kitchen with our own favorite foods and took over the kitchen and grill; we jogged along the cliff nearby and throughout the local neighborhood; we drove to the local market, walked the beach, and ate out at a nearby restaurant.

Cape Town: Located between the ocean and the local markets, our two-bedroom apartment in Sea Point was full of books, DVDs, local artwork, and maps of the area. We caught the bus at the end of the road and walked into town for groceries. Cape Town  Artwork   Sea Point

Plum Island: Just outside our front door, a sandy path led to the beach. We ate mussels at the local restaurant before riding our bikes back to the cottage to cook our own fresh pasta. Although we spent little time inside, the cottage was comfortable and well equipped with movies and music to enjoy in case of bad weather. Plum Island Cottage

While we’ve had good luck and much success with our rentals, things can go wrong. In Cape Town, we arrived after a long trip to discover a bathroom without toilet paper. After knocking on our neighbors’ door, we borrowed a roll before venturing to the nearest local market to stock up. Each time we rent, we learn a little more to consider before we rent the next time. Things like:

  • What is the minimum stay?
  • Does the price include a cleaning fee?
  • What type of deposit is required and is it refundable?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are other guests allowed?
  • Do you need to bring linens?
  • How will you get the key?

The next time you’re looking for a place to stay with a little more character and a lot more flexibility than the Days Inn or the nearby Hilton, consider checking out VRBO, its parent company Homeaway.com, or one of their competitors. After your experience, you’ll feel almost like a local!

Trips taken 2007, 2009, 2011.

The San Francisco Wave Organ

As each wave greeted the rocks, I held my ear to a large pipe, waiting. Each wave brought a sound – sometimes just a trickle, like rain hitting a downspout; sometimes a glug as if I was drinking from a giant mug; sometimes a distant roar or a moan of discontent. Moving from pipe to pipe, I listened.

On a jetty in San Francisco Bay, just a short walk from the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Exploratorium, is the Wave Organ, a musical instrument of PVC and concrete tubes built and cemented into the rocks at just the right angles to capture the sounds and music of the incoming tide.


Creating different noises and gurgles as the incoming tide rushes through with varying force and intensity, the pipes look like barnacles or submarine scopes, their openings bending and twisting with personality.


My 8 and 6-year old niece and nephew explored with my teenage kids, testing the sounds emanating from various levels and heights; many pipe openings just the perfect height for their ears. I sat on a covered bench, where sounds from three pipes enveloped me.

SF Bay

The Wave Organ is the genius of Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, Exploratorium artists-in-residence in 1986. It is free and open to the public. You can see more photos and listen to an audio slide show at the Exploratorium’s website


Trip taken April 2011.



When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Tacos in Sausalito

When you’re looking for a quick bite of Mexican in the Sausalito area (just across the Golden Gate Bridge), but you’re not quite dressed for trendy and upscale, try Salsalito Taco Shop. After a hike in the Marin Headlands in January, I did just that.


I was craving ceviche and one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area, Fish, was closed (temporarily). So, Salsalito would have to do, and it did just fine. We ate on the enclosed porch near a propane heater. It was sunny but still cool, and the propane heater took the edge off. The chips were fresh and served with a green and a red salsa.


Choosing what to have for an appetizer was easy. I ordered the ceviche, small bits of white fish marinated in lime juice on a crispy corn tortilla. Choosing which taco to order was a bit more of a challenge. Steak, pork, chicken, shrimp, oysters, beans, veggies, or fish? I ordered two: the Taco De Pescado, lightly battered and fried fish served with shredded cabbage, carrot, and pico de gallo salsa in a corn tortilla for $3.85 and Taco Salsalito, shrimp sautéed with onion and bell pepper in a garlic wine sauce in a corn tortilla for $3.90. You can add rice and beans to any order and switch the corn to a flour tortilla.

Both tacos were delicious and worth coming back for. If you don’t like tacos, don’t despair. The Taco Shop also serves burritos, taquitos, enchiladas. huevos rancheros, fajitas, and chili rellenos with a selection of Mexican beer, agua frescas, and margaritas to enjoy.

Always on the search for good fish tacos, I’ll try Boston next.


Trip taken January 2014.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes

WordPress has a weekly photo challenge, and this week, the challenge is to tell a story with three photos. 

What do you do when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, backpacking, and you discover a rubber ball?

Finding the Ball

Do you leave it in the woods? Pack it in your pack?

Carrying the Ball

Or carry it with you, bouncing it and tossing it along the trail?

Tossing the Ball

To see some other three photo stories, click here.

Walking a Labyrinth

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Not a maze of several puzzling paths, but a pattern with a single winding path that leads from the opening to the center? I walked an outdoor labyrinth in Concord, Massachusetts, this fall.


There are two basic labyrinth patterns: the Classical pattern which has seven paths surrounding the center and the Medieval pattern which has eleven. The labyrinth I walked was made of a classical pattern.

Besides being a path with a pattern, what exactly is a labyrinth? According to the Labyrinth Network, the labyrinth is a tool for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation.

Labyrinths are old. The oldest dates back to the 13th century. They can be found around the world and across many cultures and religions.

Why do people walk a labyrinth? Labyrinths are thought to increase right brain activity, they can stimulate problem solving and act as a tool for conflict resolution according to the Labyrinth Network. They offer the walker a chance to meditate and to pray, to release and to receive.

IMG_1471So, what did I experience? On that sunny early fall day, I walked barefoot, feeling the warm bricks beneath my feet. I walked slowly and tried to breathe deeply (I have a habit of breathing shallowly). I cleared my mind as best as I could and just walked. Afterward, I felt relaxed and refreshed. Did I experience increased right brain activity? Maybe. Next time, I’ll plan on being creative soon after my walk.

Since my labyrinth experience, I’ve discovered several in the area I live, made of pavers, gravel, or field stones. My neighbor has one in her backyard. San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral has both an indoor labyrinth and an outdoor labyrinth. I’ve even seen portable labyrinths made of canvas.

If you’re interested in finding a labyrinth near you, whether you live in Alabama, South Dakota, Texas, or Colorado, the Labyrinth Society has a labyrinth locator to help you find one. There are over 75 labyrinths in Massachusetts alone!


Trip taken September 2013.

Exploring Colleges: UCSB

People often ask me, “How did you study when you lived by the beach?”

When I went to UCSB (the University of California, Santa Barbara), I did bring my books to the beach on occasion, and I may have opened a book once or twice. But I didn’t really study at the beach. If I wanted to study, I went to the library or stayed home. When you live by the beach, the beach becomes a constant, and it’s easier to just say no. That is, if you’re not a surfer.

IMG_1147 The UCSB campus is dramatic. Located on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the campus smells of salt air and the sounds of the ocean, and the sight of surfers is only a short walk or glance away.


Most of the 22,000 students (about 18,600 undergrads) live on campus or in the sleepy neighboring Isla Vista (IV), an unincorporated ½ square mile area 8 miles north of the city of Santa Barbara.

IMG_1143 Walkers give way to bicyclists on bike paths that pervade the campus; 53 percent of the students ride their bikes to class. There are seven bike path rotaries, an on campus bike shop, bike lockers and bike parking lots and even bike air pumps scattered around campus.

IMG_1131 Having a bike makes it easy to get to the beach. And to class.

Davidson Library

UCSB offers more than 200 majors, degrees, and credentials in five different colleges. The most popular majors include: biological sciences, economics, psychology, communication, political science, chemistry/biochemistry, environmental studies, English, sociology, physics, computer science, history, and film and media studies.

In spite of the school’s proximity to the beach, US News and World Report recently rated UCSB as number 11 among public colleges and universities in the nation. The campus is home to 11 national institutes and centers, and its faculty includes five Nobel Prize winners for landmark research in physics, chemistry, and economics.

Student at the beach

Obviously, there are some people who study and study hard. The question is, will you be one of them?

Trip taken August 2013.