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Visit Tulsa, Oklahoma

November 6, 2012 Leave a comment

I confess that when my daughter first told me her now new husband was from Oklahoma, I couldn’t quite picture where that state was located. Later, when I began mentioning their impending marriage to friends and family, I learned that many people from the northeast draw the same geographical blank. For the record, it’s set right above Texas. Everyone knows where Texas is.

Last week, I finally got to visit this commonly lost (at least among Pennsylvanians) state, when my daughter and her husband got married in Tulsa. It was their second wedding–the first was held a week earlier near our home. When you marry someone whose family lives half way across the country, having two wedding ceremonies makes sense. It also gave us an opportunity to see Oklahoma and here is what I learned: there is civilization there, and Tulsa is a pretty nice place. Here are 5 things you might like to know about my experiences.

1. The weather was pleasant. I only mention this because there was a hurricane going on in the entire northeast while we were there. Also, I expected it to be quite warm in Tulsa. In fact, it was cold at night and mild during the day, with temperatures averaging in the low 50s during our vist. The sky was cloudless throughout the four days we spent there. According to, Tulsa boasts 227 days of sunshine a year and has an average daily temperature of 61 degrees, with lots of fluctuations in all seasons. The people we met did say the past two summers were quite hot, though.

The art deco Philtower

2. It was founded on oil. I thought Tulsa was going to be a cowboy kind of town. In fact it was nicknamed the Oil Capitol of the World throughout much of the 20th Century, if wikipedia is to be believed. Many of its buildings were erected by wealthy oil companies in the 1920s, designed in an art deco style that is attractive and sometimes ornate. Another building boom in the 70s and 80s produced more contemporary buildings. Overall, I found it featured quite a bit of particularly diverse and interesting architecture for a smallish city.

3. Art Museums: The wedding was held at the Gilcrease Museum, which features the most comprehensive collection of American western art in the world. It was a beautiful museum and the garden was a great place for a wedding ceremony (see photo on right).  During the cocktail hour, guests were allowed to tour the museum, which made for a particularly interesting addition to the wedding.

Because of the hurricane, our flight to Pennsylvania was cancelled, and we had the opportunity to spend an extra day in Tulsa. We decided to visit another art museum, the Philbrook. It is, according to the museum’s website, “one of only five museums in the United States with a unique combination of historical home, art collections and gardens.” This was an art museum that even my 14-year-old son didn’t hate too much because there was so much besides art to look at. The gardens were amazing. The photo on the left shows the rear of the museum.

Tulsa Townies. Yeah, they’re pink.

4. Tulsa Townies Bike Share:  One of the first things I noticed about Tulsa when we drove through was that it featured an appealing park and trail that ran along the Arkansas River. (If you didn’t know the Arkansas River ran through Oklahoma, well neither did I. I had to  look it up in the hotel room). One of the 2nd things I noticed was a display of bikes available for public use. When we found ourselves with an extra day to spend, we headed to the park to rent bikes and discovered they were Tulsa Townies, available at no cost (although we did have to swipe a credit card as a deposit).  I later learned that the bike program, which relies on a solar powered machine-to-machine communication system, dates back to 2007, and is one of the longest running bike programs in the country. It gave us the opportunity to get some exercise and spend some time on the 26-mile trail along the river.

Me, on a horse

5. Horses! One of my favorite Oklahoma experiences–besides attending the wedding and meeting my new son-in-laws extended family–was visiting the beautiful horse training center owned by Clint’s parents in Pryor, OK. Not only did we get to meet the more than a dozen horses they own, but I got to try riding one–something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

Overall, the experience was so much fun, it left me hoping that I could return to Tulsa someday to explore it further. And, it made me realize that there are probably so many places in this country that are rarely considered tourist destinations, but are nevertheless, rewarding to vist and discover.

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Get Towed on a Tube!

 Tubing is a great activity for those times when you want a new adventure without learning a new skill or over-exerting your muscles. It’s fast, fun and all you have to do is hold on tight and go flying behind a fast-moving boat.

For years my parents have had a cabin on a small lake in the Adirondacks that has made for spectacular family vacations. But, while tubing is commonplace among other lake dwellers, it’s something our family only attempted one time before. My nephew, Matt, who was then about 10-years-old, was terrified by the experience, so we pulled him in, pulled the tube out of the water, and it’s sat in the shed ever since.  Matt is now 22, a recent graduate of RPI and newly hired by Boeing in South Carolina. Maybe because Matt was absent from the cabin this year, or maybe just because the teenagers were itching for something to do (but they never want to leave the lake!), my brother-in-law decided to dust off the tube and tie it onto my dad’s pontoon boat. He wound up having to substitute a new inner tube, since the old one was decrepid.

My niece Amy preparing to be towed!

The result? Instant fun! The three teenagers had a blast speeding around the lake and bouncing over the boat’s  wake. And we had fun watching until inevitably they fell off. Then, of course, they got the idea that my sister and I should try it. We’re not teenagers by a long stretch but, what the heck? We decided to try it. First we each did it individually, but the real fun was doing it in pairs. Trying to outlast your partner and screaming together as the waves from the wake threw us airborne.  Holding onto the rope took enough strength that my arms hurt for days afterward, so I think there was some physical benefit.  But the best benefit, of course, is the experience of speed, and fun and water in your face (sometimes too much water in your face!) and just being with family in a beautiful place. Bottom

Hey, doesn’t this look like some kind of JCrew ad?

line is, if you have a tube gathering dust and cobwebs in a shed somewhere, pull it out, hose it off and take it for a ride!

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Take a Sailing Lesson on Barnegat Bay

June 25, 2012 1 comment

Before taking this sailing lesson, I’d only sailed one time in my life, about 25 years ago, on a windy day on Ithaca Lake. What I remember most about that experience is ducking the boom, which kept swinging back and forth, threatening to give one of our group a nasty knock in the head. We had trouble controlling the boat.

So, it was with some trepidation that I entered into this Living Social-inspired adventure, with my two friends, Anne and Diane. And that trepidation grew as soon as we stepped onto the boat and our Barnegat Bay Sailing School instructor, Mike, began a lesson on sailing that included lots of technical-sounding words and commands I’d never heard before. Like “Hard to lee,” and “jib sheet” and “tacking (which had nothing to do with tacks of any sort).  Anne and I looked at each other nervously, and wondered aloud what we’d gotten ourselves into.  Mike pulled out a laminated sheet and explained how a wind indicator worked and how various manuevers would angle your boat towards or away from the wind. All this within the first 15 minutes. Huh? I felt like I was back in geometry class learning Pythagorean Theorem. I nodded, but I really didn’t get it.

Mike our instructor, me at the main sheet and another student, also named Mike, at the tiller.

“This will all make more sense once you get out into the bay,” Mike said, because at that point, we hadn’t left the marina slip yet.

Anne was sitting closest to the tiller, so she got to steer first,  directing the boat through a narrowish channel marked by red and green bouys. She looked tense. I was glad it wasn’t me. But she got us through with no problem, and after a while, when she asked if anyone else wanted to steer, I said I’d give it a shot. I didn’t hit anything either, although it took a bit for me to remember that you had to pull in the opposite direction of where you wanted to turn. So, I was sailing? No, not yet. We still had the motor on to get us out on the bay.

When we were out far enough, Mike gave us instructions on how to unroll the sails. I had no idea what he said. Steering took every ounce of concentration from me.  Later I regretted this a bit. But, hey, I didn’t hit anything (well, we weren’t really that close to anything to tell you the truth.)

Mike complained that there wasn’t enough wind, but the three of us were okay with that.  He taught us how to change direction various times, and we each took turns at different posts–the jib, the main sail and the tiller.

Diane, me & Anne, posing as sailors

As it turned out, it was a lot of fun. And in the end, the fact that it was a little bit technical made it more enjoyable. So we weren’t just sitting in a boat on a beautiful day in picture-perfect bay on the Jersey Shore. We were sailors.  It really was the kind of experience that leaves you longing for more.

When we finished we ate lunch at a waterfront restaurant called The Cove. Then, we headed home, taking the three-hour ride back in Diane’s convertible with the top down. The perfect ending to the perfect day!

Paint a Picture

Recently, I went with a group of friends to a place in Skippack called Painting with a Twist. This franchise, located in a small strip shopping center, holds classes in which everyone paints the same painting, while an instructor leads the group. Our three-hour class featured this acrylic, called “Cobblestone Path.”  Yeah, I thought it was pretty ugly when I saw it. I hated the blobs of color, and the entire time I was painting it I felt I was doing a terrible job. Now, though, I have it hanging in my dining room. How to explain this? Well, how many works of art do I produce? I’m pretty sure this is my first since high school art class. Anyway, here’s how it works.

First, you are encouraged to bring wine and snacks. That way you aren’t hungry, thirsty or too stressed out while you produce your first painting since the days when your mom posted your stuff on the refrigerator.  Our group of eight brought a plentiful amount. We had time before the class began to eat and sip on wine, which gave me a chance to get to know some of the people in our group I hadn’t met, and chat with friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

Then we got down to work. The entire class consisted of about 30 people. We sat at long tables with easels, just like real artists. We were given three paint brushes, water to clean them and a palette with all the paint colors we would need already waiting for us.  Oh yeah, and a piece of chalk.

The instructor, a woman in her 20s who told us she was not an artist, stood on an elevated platform with a blank canvas on an easel on one side of her, and the finished painting on the other side. She began the class with the chalk and told us to draw a triangle at the bottom and a long line along one side. We had no idea why we were doing this, but we did.  Then we took the biggest brush and painted yellow on one side of the line. Next step, blobs of red here and there.

“You don’t have to do it exactly like me,” the instructor kept insisting. But since we really didn’t know what we were doing, I thought it was safer to just copy her’s precisely. Periodically I would turn to my friend, Sandy, and check out her painting. Her’s always looked better than mine. She thought mine looked better. Apparently the wine didn’t work–we were already stressing out.

We were allowed a brief break after we painted the inside of the triangle black. After the break, we got into the most stressful part–painting the cobblestones. The instructor illustrated a series of elliptical shapes that she insisted would look like a cobblestone path when we were done. Interestingly, this did seem to work. Even more interesting was the fact that everyone’s came out slightly different.

“Your stones look better than mine,” Sandy said when I was part way finished with the path. I thought her’s looked way better. The instructor came around checking everyone’s canvases. She told Sandy hers was perfect. She said I needed to fill in some of the gaps between the stones. I knew it! Sandy’s really was better! Anyway, filling in the gaps took a lot of effort and I thought I might be ruining the painting, but as long as you’re not standing too close, it looks okay.

The entire painting took three hours. There were long skinny trees and a row of street lights that were especially difficult.  In the car on the way home, five of us rode together, all agreeing we didn’t like the painting. The next morning I showed my husband and son. My husband just shook his head and laughed, but my son said he kind of liked it. And the funny thing was, I kind of liked it too.  My dining room is yellow, and we don’t use it often, so I hung it up in there.

A few days later my mom came to visit. I must tell you that she is an artist who produces some very nice still lifes that I have all over my house. I showed her the picture. She was thrilled that I’d taken up painting!! I tried to explain that I hadn’t but she held out hope. Best of all, though, I know if she’d been able to she would have hung it up on her refrigerator door.



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Try Ziplining!

Okay, do you want to come face to face with your fears? Do you want to live for real that dream you have of falling off a cliff? No? Me neither.  But last fall I purchased a Groupon for a Canopy Zipline Tour from Spring Mountain Ski Area without actually reading the full description. So it wasn’t until I got to the ski lodge, with my son Ian, my friend Sandy, and her son Adam,  that I learned there would be “challenges.” And it wasn’t until I got to the first challenge that I realized how much I really didn’t want to do challenges. Or even what they were.

  Check out the photo on the left and you’ll see our first challenge. The 65-foot Burma Bridge located in mid-air (about 50 feet off the ground according to the website).  The Spring Mount website says you can choose your own level of difficulty. In fact, I chose to avoid the bridge and just zip across on the line I was attached to with a safety harness. The guide did not accept this choice and threatened to shake the line if I tried it. So, no way out. I literally felt terrified stepping out onto that bridge. Harness or not, walking across a narrow swaying bridge fifty feet off the ground is something your brain strongly objects to. Slowly, I proceeded (even though the guides told us it was easier if you did it faster). I made it to the half-way point before slipping off the edge. The safety line worked. I stepped back onto the bridge and made it to the end. Whew! “Was that the worst one?” I asked one of our guides. She smiled ruefully. “I’m not saying anything,” was her response. My stomach, so recently steadied,  lurched again.

Onto Challenge No. 2: Rappelling out of a tree.  Step to the edge of a platform, and jump backwards. I’m not sure how far down. Very far, that’s all I know.  But I’d used up all my fear adrenaline on the last challenge, so I was calmer. My son, his friend and my friend were all less skittish than me, although Sandy did say “I’m not sure I can do this,” right before she jumped. Our four guides were very encouraging, and I soon learned that watching them cross a challenge had a calming effect, because they were nonchalant about the course.  In fact, when crossing the tightrope, one of them put on a pair of prescription sunglasses they’d discovered beneath one of the challenges, just to make it, well, challenging.

Oh yeah, about the tightrope. Let’s just say I did it real, real slow, my heart pounding the whole time, while I was thinking: Exactly what is the purpose of a Challenge Course, anyway?

Well, according to Wikipedia (and I mean, where else are you going to find an answer to that question?) “High ropes course and climbing programs generally focus on personal achievements and ask participants to confront their personal fears and anxieties.” I think that’s great. For other people. For myself, I just wanted to do the zipline.

 The 7 ziplines were all fun. I liked one where we were encouraged to do “Dead Man’s Drop,” falling backwards out of a tree with arms outstretched. By that time, I was used to the whole challenge thing, and if all I had to do was fall, I was fine. According to the Spring Mountain website, one zip was 280 feet long, with an average speed of 45 mph. The last one was 340 feet long. I never did manage to do one upside down, although all my companions did.

I think it’s safe to say that while I liked all the ziplines, I didn’t really ever warm up to any of the challenges. The worst for me was the “Sloth Crawl,” which required us to grab onto a thick rope, kick our feet over it and, hanging backward over the ground, pull ourselves to the next platform. We were told to use our legs to propel ourselves. I just used my arms. My entire upper body was sore for two days.

Overall, we all had a lot of fun doing this. My son swears he was never scared at all, which makes me realize two things: one, that fear of bodily harm from falling and speed may be age related; and two, that I better keep an eye on him when he starts driving in two years.

I also learned a thing or two about myself. I learned, for example, that heights really do make me nervous, and the best way to deal with that is simply to jump backwards off a tree with a safety harness on. I also realize (possibly not for the first time) that I will never be a circus performer, as the tightrope was clearly not my forte. But most of all, I learned that I should really read all the text on my Groupons, and not just the price.  In the future, I hope to always know in advance if I am signing up for a speedy ride through the woods, or a quivering walk along a high, swaying bridge.

Take a Vacation in England

There is probably no better way to achieve the quest to do something different than to visit another country. Recently I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a trip to England with my husband and son. We met up with my daughter, who is there for a semester as an exchange student. Here are ten things that were really different.

1. Paying in Pounds: It surprised me just how complicated it was to buy something in England–at least at first.  Not only did I have to mentally calculate the exchange rate to figure out the actual value of everything, but the denominations of the British pound were quite different from American money.  There were many different coins (1 and 2 pounds, 2 and 20 pence) that we don’t have in America. Even to buy a cup of coffee required me to strategize ahead of time. It was kind of interesting to think how something simple and basic can suddenly become complex when all the rules change.

2. The age of the buildings: In America, the oldest building I know of dates back to the late 1600s. The cottage we stayed in while in The Cotswolds was built in the 1500s. We visited castles erected in 1070-something, and we took a day trip to Stonehenge, which dates back thousands of years. By comparison, buildings dating to the 1800s seemed fairly new there. Overall, it was pretty fascinating to stay in a home built 500 years ago, and to realize just how primitive that dwelling must have been back then. My son found it creepy. The photo on the left is Lewes Castle, built when the Norman were fighting the Saxons.

3. Driving! For the record, I didn’t drive at all while we were there, but we rented a car and my husband braved the roads. Even from the left-sided passenger seat, this was terrifying. I was pretty sure we were going to crash into something. We didn’t, but keeping on the left side of the road proved to be a group effort, with us all involved, shouting out cues and encouragement. Interestingly, there are no stop signs in England. Instead, there are round abouts at every four-way intersection. Yes, every. These seemed to work surprisingly well, but took some getting used to.

4. The Language: Of course they speak English in England, but they use a lot of different words and expressions.  “We have a lovely car for you,” the car rental agent told us (they gave us a free upgrade to a Mercedes which was nice but more expensive to damage!). Lovely is a word they use a lot there. When you go to a pub (which we did) you don’t order a beer, you ask for a pint. Often, the language just sounded more polite.  For example, my son’s favorite sign read “Don’t let your dog foul the grass.”

5. Pubs:  The first time I stepped into a pub, I quickly stepped out. It was a Friday night and there were people standing everywhere (even outside) holding glasses of beer. I didn’t think I should be in there with my 14-year-old son.  In fact, I came to learn that an English pub is a lot different than an American bar.  Whole families go there, sit at a table, order food and a pint or half pint. It was more casual than a restaurant since you place your order at the bar. Since the pubs usually have wifi, and our 16th century cottage didn’t, we felt comfortable going every evening with our laptop to check our email.

6. Tea: I’ve never been a tea drinker, but the two places we stayed didn’t even have a coffee maker. Instead they had electric tea kettles which heat water to boiling instantly. The tea is usually served with cream and sugar, and it seems a shame to be in a country with so many adorable tea shops and to drink coffee. So I drank tea (two creams, two sugars is the proper way). And it was great! I never had a scone before that I liked, but the home-made scones at tea shops were amazing.

7. The Food: My daughter told me she liked the meat pies. A steak and kidney pie does not sound good to me. But I tried a steak and ale pie and it was delicious. My favorite meal was a full English breakfast (shown in photo), which includes a very lightly fried egg, bacon (which is more like ham), beans, a grilled tomato, home fries, sausage and toast. It didn’t look appetizing when I got it, but I ate it and had a very busy day spent walking and sight-seeing, and by dinner time I still wasn’t hungry. That is a breakfast that holds you for an entire day!

8. Historic sites: We spent a lot of time visiting historic sites. We saw the Roman Baths in Bath, Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon, Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and a few castles. It made me realize that there is so much to see and learn, and I really should visit more sites in America.

9. Public Footpaths: I had heard about England’s public footpaths but did not expect them to be so numerous. In the area where we stayed, footpaths were everywhere, crossing farms, bordering streams and creating narrow passageways along backyards. Whenever I had time, I would test one out to find out where it would bring me. More than once I felt uncomfortable as I walked right through private property. But it was a great way to explore a piece of the countryside.

10. London, Bath, Oxford: Each city we visited had its own personality. Because we visited several cities in a short period of time, this really became apparent. London was an amazing mix of modern and historic, Bath had a Roman feel to it and Oxford was a lively and beautiful college city. I wish I could have spent more time in all of them. Maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll go back and do just that.

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Delivering Food to Norco Food Pantry

The energy surrounding the Fill the Media Lab food drive continues to amaze me. Last Friday I attended a Postively Pottstown Happy Hour where 50 food items were collected. You can read about that in Sue Repko’s great Positively Pottstown blog. And recently I delivered over 60 items to the Norco Food pantry. Included among them were several jars of peanut butter, a large bag of cat food (I never thought about giving pet food), Easter candy (another good idea), and six big containers of laundry detergent.

The photo on the left shows Brian Wade, son of pantry organizer Ginny Wade, holding one of the bottles of laundry detergent. In front of him are bins with other donations, all of which were dropped off at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices on 140 College Drive, where I work. This is an easy drop-off spot, particularly if you are planning to walk or ride on the Schuylkill River Trail in Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, because our building is right in front of that. It’s open M-F 8:30-4:30. But there are plenty of other drop-off spots, and you can find one on this updated map of sites located all around the area.

The goal of the Fill the Media Lab food drive is to have 20,000 food items and 1,000 bottles of laundry detergent collected by Easter, and distributed to a number of food pantries in the area. The drive is being organized by The Mercury and the Town Square Bloggers, in response to an article that appeared in The Mercury regarding empty shelves at local pantries.  We’ve collected a lot, but we still haven’t reached our goal. So please, keep your food donations coming in!

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