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 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, or one of their competitors. After your experience, you’ll feel almost like a local!

Trips taken 2007, 2009, 2011.

Boston Strong

Today is Patriot’s Day, 239 years and a few days since the shot was fired and heard round the world. The lantern was hung, Paul Revere rode his horse, the Minutemen marched, and so began our fight for liberty.

Today is the Boston Marathon, a year and a few days after the marathon bombing, when the world supported Boston and the community came together. We were Boston Strong in 1775. We are Boston Strong in 2014.



We will always be Boston Strong.

Boston Strong

Gluten Free at Fenway!

Do you love baseball and the Red Sox? Are you gluten free? Did you know that now you can have your Fenway frank on a gluten-free bun at Fenway Park?

Gluten-Free Cart

At Fenway Park, not only do they have gluten-free hot dogs, you can also buy gluten-free pizza, whoopee pies, brownies, and cookies. Oh, and their cotton candy, popcorn, soft serve ice cream, and Cracker Jacks are gluten free as well. Check out this list and this map. They even sell gluten-free beer!


Go Red Sox!


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.


Object: the Ball

Some are obsessed with exercise. Others with chocolate or some other substance. But not my dog. She is obsessed with an object. And not just any object. She is obsessed with tennis balls.

No matter where she goes, she finds one. Near a lake or in the woods. Near a ball field or in a parking lot. In the grass or in the snow. She finds one.


With a ball in her mouth, no one else exists. Not a stick or even a rabbit. Just her, the ball, and the potential ball thrower.

She would rather chew a ball than eat or drink. The yellow-green fuzzy sphere wreaking havoc on her teeth but keeping her busy and focused.


She throws the ball herself or drops it at my feet. She waits. And hopes for someone to attempt to pick up the ball, to throw it, so she can retrieve.

More waiting

Finally, she pounces, chews the ball for a few times, and then throws it again. Ready to wait again, as long as it takes, for someone to throw her the ball.


This post was written as part of a weekly photo challenge. To see photos of other objects, click here.

Trip taken February 2014.

Stop and Focus

It’s hard to take time for yourself during the holidays. But this last week, I made it a point to get outside. With several inches of snow and a stir crazy dog, I strapped on my snow shoes two days and my cross country skis another two days. I didn’t go out for long – as little as 30 minutes one day and as long as an hour another, but the fresh air and exercise helped me slow down and take a break from my never ending list.


During these last few days before Christmas and the end of 2013, remember to stop and take a break and find a focus in the holiday blur.

Dog in Snow


Trip taken December 2013.

Reveling in Cambridge

I traveled to Spain the other night. To a place called Galicia. I traveled down an ancient road, the Camino de Compostela, with the singers and dancers and actors of the Christmas Revels at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. It was my first experience with the Revels – watching and then participating, singing along with the cast and the audience, holding hands with the people next to me, and watching other audience members dance around the theater at intermission. It was fun and joyous. I will go again.

Trip taken December 2013.

Talking Turkeys

Where did your Thanksgiving turkey come from? Was it wild and gamey or raised to be eaten? Did you buy it fresh or was it frozen and covered in plastic with a pop up thermometer stuck in it?

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I placed an order with a turkey farm in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Although their turkeys are available from nearby markets, I decided to pick up the turkey at the farm.


The afternoon before Thanksgiving, I visited Bob’s Turkey Farm with my 9-year old nephew. After paying for and picking up our plucked and wrapped up turkey, I asked the cashier how many turkeys were at the farm. “Zero,” the cashier told me with a smile. Then added, “We had 10,000 and saved about a hundred for Christmas.” When my nephew asked if the turkeys were white, he said yes and told us where we could find them.

We drove down the road to the barn and parked. As we walked toward the barn, my nephew called out, “Hi turkeys!” several times. Listen to their response.

After talking to the turkeys for several minutes, we said good-bye, and drove home to cook, thankful for local farms and for talking turkeys.

Roasted Turkey

Trip taken November 2013.

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

Horizon. The space or line where the sky meets the earth. 

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

On the road near Royal Natal National Park, South Africa.

According to Franklin Roosevelt, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Emigrant Wilderness, near Yosemite National Park, California.

Perhaps that’s why I love to travel. To see beyond my own boundaries, to meet new people and encounter new places, to experience life from a different angle.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

Upper West Side, New York City.

Upper West Side, New York City.