US Grant Hotel and Grill

October 8, 2019

We arrived in San Diego around 1:00 this afternoon, and headed to our hotel to check in. Located near the Gaslamp Quarter, the US Grant Hotel, built in the early 1900’s by Ulysses S Grant, Jr, and named for his father. It opened in 1910, and the family and friends marveled over the fact that many of the rooms had their own bathrooms!

The Grant may have been ahead of its time regarding bathrooms, but it was behind the times regarding how women were treated. Until 1969, the Grant Grill Restaurant only allowed men before 3:00pm. Apparently, women didn’t need lunch! On June 17, 1969, six women made lunch reservations under an ambiguous name – Sydney Windle – and enjoyed a lunch of mock turtle soup. Apparently, Sydney and her five friends weren’t asked to leave, and they are credited with changing the course of history.


After checking in and finding our rooms, we took a stroll to the Little Italy neighborhood for lunch. We found a lovely spot with outdoor tables – Enoteca Style – where we enjoyed wine and paninis. When returning to our room, we were greeted with chocolate dipped strawberries and sparkling cider – what a treat!

Dinner tonight was at the Grant Grill Restaurant in our hotel. It appears we will be eating well on this trip.


It was a long day for us, with a two hour time difference from Minnesota, so we headed off to bed shortly after dining. We need our rest for tomorrow’s activities.


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Surprise! Vacation Trip

October 7, 2019

My best friend and I will be embarking on another decade of our lives soon. To celebrate, we opted for a surprise trip with our spouses, using The Vacation Hunt, a company started by a young couple in 2017. We started by filling out an on-line survey, listing our likes and dislikes, time frame, and budget. Had we wanted to, we could have received some hints ahead of time, but we chose to be totally surprised. We did, however, get information about climate and suggestions regarding what we might want to pack a week ahead of time, as well as flight dates and times.

The Vacation Hunt sent us a packet a few days ahead of time, including tickets to a local tours and shows, plus hotel and flight reservations. We opened our package the night before our flight for “the big reveal.”

We were pretty excited about this because we had visited San Diego a couple of years ago, and enjoyed the climate almost as much as all of the attractions in the area. We were only going for three nights, but expected to have an enjoyable time.

We learned that we would be staying at the US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. We had attended a show there two years ago, so already knew its reputation. Yay! We would be touring the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, then taking a Harbor Cruise. We would enjoy a musical – The Man of La Mancha – and had dinner reservations set up at some local restaurants. We would also have some free time to explore on our own.

Throughout the trip, The Vacation Hunt had arranged special touches, including birthday desserts at two restaurants, plus sparkling cider and chocolate dipped strawberries in our hotel room.

Let the adventure begin!


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Fallen Trees and Fall Colors

October, 2019

My husband’s family owns a cabin in Northern Minnesota, just a few miles from the Canadian border. It’s a beautiful retreat from the hustle and bustle we experience in our everyday lives. The cabin is “off grid,” so our power comes from solar panels, batteries and generators, and we had our own cell phone tower. We can hear loons singing on the lake, the wind rustles the leaves on tall white pine, birch, and other trees that surrounded the cabin, chipmunks scurry around looking for food, grouse freeze in place, hoping we won’t notice them (we are in the middle of grouse hunting season). There is evidence of deer, moose and bear. Wolves have also been sighted on occasion. We’ve never seen mountain lions, but are sure they are here. In spring, we find lady slippers in bloom; in summer, we can pick blueberries and raspberries (if the bear haven’t found them first.)


Until recently, we could barely see the lake from the cabin. We were surrounded by tall trees until a tornado hit in July. Tornadoes are rare up here – the annual average is less than one per year. Fortunately, this was a mild tornado, probably an F0, and no one was hurt. There were a couple of people staying here, so they were the first to witness the devastation that occurred. They watched as the tornado hit the lake and pulled water into the air before it died a natural death.

It’s been about 2.5 months since the tornado struck, yet the we are still shocked and saddened by the aftermath. Workers have been in to clear up some of the damage, cutting trees and hauling logs away, but there’s still plenty of cleanup to be done. It will probably be a year or longer before things begin to look normal again. The cabin itself fared quite well, although the roof needs to be replaced.

Mark and I decided to take an ATV and drive around the lake this morning (about four miles around). We stopped a couple of times to clear branches from the trail, but were only able to make it about half way. Mark had constructed a cell phone tower about 18 years ago (we want to get “away from it all,” but still stay in touch). It was bent in half, but surprisingly, some of the equipment still works. Remarkably, all of the solar panels survived, but did need to be moved to a new location.


Fall colors are approaching their peak in this area. Brown ferns tell us that we’ve already had the first frost. Snow fell just two days ago. While driving around the lake, we are greeted by the reds and oranges of young trees surrounded by their uprooted elders. Many trees are leaning precariously, supported by other, stronger ones. We notice more bedrock that has been exposed by uprooted trees. This 2.5 – 3.5 billion year old rock lies close to the surface at any time up here, often only a foot or two below the soil.


Next spring, we’ll see a lot of new growth, not just young plants, but older ones that have more space to branch out on their search for the sun.

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Newport, RI

Sunday, September 8, 2019


Today was a long drive from Lebanon, Vermont. We are staying at the Hydrangea House Inn in Newport, Rhode Island, located within walking distance of the harbor and many of Newport’s historic sites, including the iconic Newport Tower.

The Newport Tower is located on land that once belonged to 17th century Governor Benedict Arnold (ancestor of the Revolutionary traitor.) Governor Arnold referred to his wind mill in 1677, so it was probably constructed a few years before that. Carbon dating has put the date somewhere between 1635 and 1698, although there have been several theories floated that suggest it was built by Vikings several centuries before, or even Knights Templar in the 1500’s. Everyone loves a mystery.


Monday, September 9

We started our day by driving the Ten Mile Drive  around the southern portion of Newport’s peninsula. This drive provided beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay, as well as several beaches and mansions.

We then walked down to the harbor and to catch the Newport Harbor Shuttle, which stopped at six different locations. We could get on and off anytime throughout the day, but chose to simply take the ride and learn a little bit more about Newport. Among the stops is Historic Fort Adams which was built over 33 years, from 1824 – 1857. The first fort had been constructed in 1798-1799 as a coastal fortification, and named for John Adams, who was the US President at the time. During the US Civil War, the US Naval Academy was moved here from Annapolis because of concerns about southern sympathies in Maryland. The fort and most of the land surrounding it was transferred to the State of Rhode Island in 1965, and was designated the Fort Adams State Park.

Time for a walk, we set out for Newport’s Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile National Recreation Trail along the west side of Easton Bay. We didn’t walk the entire trail, probably only half of it. The views were stunning.

Tomorrow, it’s back to Minnesota, where we hope to have a few more pleasant days before the onset of winter.

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Vermont after Ice Cream

Afternoon, September 7, 2019

Sated and happy, we moved on to discover that there really is more to Vermont than ice cream. We had heard that the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in nearby Stowe has delicious cider donuts, so we decided to check it out. Since we didn’t need any more sugar today, we purchased some cider and donuts for later – both lived up to their reputation. The store was chock full of cider and maple inspired goods and tchotchkes, from jams and jellies to magnets and mugs, plus everything in between.

The Cabot Farmer’s Store was just a couple miles away, and we desperately needed something protein based to bring us down from our sugar high. Cabot Creamery celebrated their 100th year as a dairy co-op, and, according to the sign in the window, it is “owned by 800 farm families.” We sampled several cheeses and must admit their cheese is mighty tasty, especially the aged cheddars.

Next, we stopped at Old Route Two Spirits in Barre, Vermont. This small distillery has been in business for just a few years. They produce three rums (Maple & Ash Barrelhead, Cherry Barrelhead, and Coffee) plus Joe’s Pond Gin. The Maple & Ash rum is blended from one rum aged in a maple barrel and another aged in ash; the Cherry is in a cherry barrel, of course, and real coffee is mixed in the Coffee rum. There was also a very small batch spirit called Viking Funeral, which was distilled from honey mead. We sampled them all, and purchased bottles of the Maple & Ash and the Cherry rums, plus Viking Funeral. Inspired, my husband may try his hand at distilling some from our own honey.


Old Route Two is just starting to produce whisky, which has more requirements than their products. To be labeled an American whisky (or whiskey), it must:

  • be distilled to less than 95% ABV (alcohol by volume) and stored in oak containers;
  • be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV; and
  • must possess the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky.
  • be aged a minimum of two years
  • contain no additives

Whisky, by the way, is how the Scottish spell it, and whiskey is how the Irish spell it. The word comes from the the Classical Gaelic word for water: uisce or uisge. Most, but not all, American whiskey is spelled with an “e.” Now you know.

All of Old Route Two Spirits equipment is made by Trident Stills in Maine. Old Route Two uses a 300 gallon hybrid pot still, so the batches are, indeed, small. Total fermentation capacity is 2,400 gallons. The barrels are handmade in New York from New England hardwoods.

We then visited Quechee Gorge at Quechee State Park. The 165 foot deep gorge was carved by the Laurentide Ice Sheet about 13,000 years ago. This land was once owned by the A. G. Dewey Company, which operated a wool mill here from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900’s. The mill was powered by water from the nearby falls and pond. The Army Corps of Engineers took over the land as part of a flood control plan, and built the North Hartland Dam. The State of Vermont leases and manages this lovely little park, which has several tent and RV sites attached. The lower end of the gulch was being used as a swimming hole by several young people on this warm late summer day.

We ended the day with cider mixed with whiskey and accompanied by cider donuts. Not terribly healthy, but not so bad either.

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I Scream You Scream for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream!

Saturday morning, September 7, 2019

Today, we paid a visit to Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury. Any ice cream aficionado will tell you that this is the number one reason to visit Vermont. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, and they opened their first “scoop shop” in Burlington, Vermont. In 1978, they began franchising the shops, and they now have locations all over the world. It continues to thrive as part of the Unilever family of brands. In 2018, there were 54 flavors available, including my favorite (Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!) and my husband’s (Cherry Garcia.)


In 1985, Cohen and Greenfield created the Ben & Jerrys Foundation, donating 7.5% of the company’s pretax profits to philanthropy. When we chose our tour, The Flavor Fanatic Experience, we were given the option of devoting a portion of the fee to one of three charities:

  •  The Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. We opted for this one which aligns so closely with our own desire to promote education.
  • Salvation Farm‘s mission is to build increased resilience in Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management. They also grow some of the fruits used by Ben’s and Jerry’s.
  • Migrant Justice‘s mission is to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights.

First we toured the factory – no photos allowed. Our tour guide explained the process and talked about some of the local vendors that they get products from, including Salvation Farm, and Cabot Creamery, a farm co-op based in Vermont. Dairy waste is returned to local farm suppliers to use for producing energy. Ben & Jerrys also source many Fairtrade certified ingredients. At the end of the tour we sampled some ice cream, which we could enjoy guilt free – almost! The flavor today was Sweet Like Sugar Cookie Dough – it was very sweet, with a crunchy texture just like a sugar cookie.

After the factory tour, we did the Flavor Fanatic Experience, which allowed us to go into the Flavor Lab and whip up a batch of ice cream ourselves – Vanilla Caramel Brownie. We mixed vanilla into the heavy cream, sampled it (of course), then poured it into the mixer/chiller (a very expensive machine). All throughout the process, we learned more about what’s involved in making quality ice cream – the correct blend of cream and milk, the best ingredients, the balance of flavors – everything that makes a delicious batch of creamy, cold goodness.


Once the ice cream was of soft-serve texture, we took it out, spooned it into a couple of containers, then added brownies (sampling again) and stirred to mix thoroughly.

Next, we layered the caramel – lots of gooey caramel – and gave it a final mix before spooning it into a box and putting it in the freezer.

Did I mention that we sampled it? This carton will be tested by Quality Control, and if it’s not contaminated by our activities, will be served for sampling at a future factory tour. All of this was followed up with an ice cream cone! We were so sugared up that we forgot to visit the Flavor Graveyard – darn! We’ll just have to come back.

This was all before noon. What a delightful experience, and we even get to keep these snazzy smocks.



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Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves are located about an hour from Mount Washington, in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. The terrain here was carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. The Lost River was discovered when two brothers, Royal and Lyman Jackman, were fishing along a stream in the gorge. Lyman slipped through a moss covered hole and into a cave, landing in a waist deep pool of water. The river (brook) runs above ground before disappearing below the surface.

The walk through the park is not long, but there are about 1,000 stairs to negotiate if you take the entire tour. These caves, formed by granite rocks deposited by ancient glaciers, are more like narrow crevices. Some of the openings are too narrow for many people – at one point, called the Lemon Squeezer, you are required to pass through a very narrow framed triangle-shaped slit before entering the cave, to verify that you won’t get stuck once inside. This required some gymnastic contortions that were demanding of my almost 70 year old body, but I did it! One other septuagenarian made it through as well, along with her grandchildren, but not her daughter! Mark was able to get through, but opted to stay back and take photos. In this cave, I had to creep through on my stomach.

Of the other caves or crevices, most were much easier to negotiate. There are waterfalls, both above and below ground. Some of the side trails afforded us stunning views of the surrounding area.

After this strenuous activity, we headed to Burlington, Vermont, where we were in time to enjoy the sunset over Lake Champlain.


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