Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Civil War Grand Ball

The second of my two assignments for the HCCVB blog this past weekend took place Saturday night, and it was quite an evening to remember.

This year, the organizers of Hendricks County's Civil War Heritage Days added a Grand Ball to the weekend's schedule of events. Participation was open to any pairs who wanted to participate, and while the dress code was open to your "Sunday best," period costumes were definitely encouraged.

People really embraced the opportunity. Men were sharply dressed in Union and Confederate dress uniforms or period tuxedos, and women swept around the room in hoop-enhanced ball gowns. 

My mom was one of the courageous partipants. A friend of hers, John, really wanted to do it, but his wife couldn't be talked into it, so he asked Mom to go with him. John's wife and my dad went as modern spectators and enjoyed watching from the sidelines. I photographed Mom and John beforehand and had fun enhancing this one with a sepia tone:
Dances were done in period fashion: mostly group dances, with progressive movements that meant you danced with most everyone in the room. The waltz was the only outlier that you danced in closed dance hold. 

The dress up-loving little girl in me loved seeing everyone in Civil War-era attire, especially the women in their ball gowns. Mom dove into the opportunity, researched the period's fashion, then designed and made her gown. It looked incredible, like molten steel flowing around the dance floor. She bought a pair of white gloves, pulled a beautiful red fan out of storage, and voila!
Fans played a role later in the evening, when a "fan dance"—also called a "hat dance"—came up on the schedule. It didn't involve much dancing. Three chairs were placed at the head of the group. A man started by sitting in the middle chair, with a woman on either side. Each woman was supposed to whisper a secret in the man's ear, then he chose his favorite and danced to the end with her, leaving the fan with the woman left behind. Then she moved to the middle chair, and the next two men in line sat down on either side of her.

The dancers were all warmed up by then, and as the dance went on, they got more and more into it, with great facial expressions and theatrical flirting. I stood on the side laughing out loud while I watched.
Nearly everyone had big grins on their faces all night and seemed to be having a great time. I enjoyed getting the chance to mingle and photograph everyone.

You can learn more about the evening and see more photos in my post on the HCCVB blog

Civil War Heritage Days Grand Ball Photo Gallery

The photos above are just an extra sampling!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Plainfield Garden Tour: flowers galore!

My camera's memory card really got a workout this weekend! I had two big assignments for the HCCVB blog, the first of which was the Plainfield Garden Tour. I got a sneak preview of the first garden a few weeks ago and was looking forward to the opportunity to photograph some new flowers.

For me, it was an ideal scenario: people with beautiful gardens and landscaping welcomed the public onto their lawns, and I was able to photograph to my heart's content without being cited for trespassing. Count me in!

Brownsburg also held its garden tour this weekend, and another blogger covered that. We wrote a combination blog post together, which is now live on the HCCVB blog. You'll see a few of my photos there, but more of my favorites are below.

A weekend of garden tours

Landscaping enthusiasts rejoiced this past weekend when both Brownsburg and Plainfield presented their annual garden tours. Plainfield’s fourth annual garden tour, sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield-Guilford Township Library, did not disappoint. The tour featured seven beautiful gardens in Plainfield, with an eighth “bonus” garden in Morgan County. Read more...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

San Diego Zoo and the best Italian meal I've ever had

I was a kid whose television entertainment was heavily weighted toward PBS: Sesame Street, Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, 3-2-1 Contact, you name it. And when I think of the animal-education segments on those shows, it seemed like the San Diego Zoo was always featured as the go-to organization for experts. So when I got the chance to spend time in San Diego, visiting that famed zoo was near the top of my list of must-do activities.
And boy, is it a zoo. You can definitely spend most or all of a day exploring it, especially if the weather is nice and your companions are up for walking and have long attention spans. Our weather was pretty crummy: the temperature didn't get above 61°F, and it stayed gray and overcast all day. I was cold enough to contemplate buying a sweatshirt in the gift shop, but I ended up toughing it out.
The Zoo is definitely built to take full advantage of San Diego's (usually) nice weather: all exhibits were outdoors. Having visited the Indianapolis Zoo many times over the years, which encloses many of its exhibits indoors (i.e., Deserts Building, Oceans Building) to enable year-round visitation, this definitely struck me as different. Even all of the restaurants and cafes were outdoors, which on a chilly day when you're looking to get warm was a little inconvenient.
I also noticed that the Zoo features primarily land (and air) animals, with very few water-centric creature exhibits. I wonder why? Could it be because of the area's naturally dry climate, or perhaps because of its proximity to water-focused SeaWorld?
One exhibit I found particularly interesting blended exotic and domestic animals. The Zoo has at least two cheetahs, and each of them has a domestic dog buddy—an "animal ambassador"—in the exhibit with them. They've found that when raised together from a young age, cheetahs and dogs can bond very well, and the dogs help to keep the cheetahs calm. They all looked pretty chill to me!

I think this was also the first time I've seen a peacock displaying its tail in full glory. He seemed like he might have been a little confused, though, because he spent most of his time flirting with the wall behind him, then fending off the native ducks between us. Confused or not, he made quite a statement.
The giant pandas were definitely the headlining act of this show. They're the only ones in captivity in the United States, so I did really enjoy seeing them. They had two males out for us to see, and a female off-exhibit because they were monitoring her to see if she's pregnant.

These two pandas were much smaller than I pictured. When I hear "giant panda," I picture a bear about the size of a grizzly bear or polar bear. But these were much, much smaller (and I do think they're full-grown), and looked like they'd be small enough to just about sit on your lap.

One of the pandas was sleeping, but the second guy looked like he was enjoying watching us as much as we enjoyed watching him. That, or he was so oblivious to visitors anymore that he was just chilling and enjoying his bamboo.
We called it a day around 4:30, dragged our tired feet back to the car, and warmed up. For dinner, we ventured into San Diego's Little Italy. When I make it back to San Diego again, this is an area that I really want to spend more time exploring.

The area felt truly authentic, especially owing to the old men calling across the street to each other in Italian. We read in a blog post on Design*Sponge that you could pretty much choose any Italian restaurant on India Street and get a great meal. So we consulted our Yelp apps, looked at some menus, and picked one that looked good, Trattoria Fantastica. And let me tell you, this was the best Italian meal I have ever had. No joke. And I'm a girl who loves her Italian food, and always has. I had the Contadina, and my friend, Sarah Lynn, had the Lasagna. All through dinner, we kept pausing in our conversation to say things like, "Oh my god, this is so good!" We both cleaned our plates.

After dinner, we walked down the street a bit and saw some great-looking local shops that had closed for the evening, and we wished we'd discovered them earlier. I'll just have to go back!

The finale for the great day and evening—which happened to also be my birthday—was a treat of gelato right next door to the restaurant. Oh so good.
The weather in San Diego may not have been ideal, but I had a fantastic time and enjoyed exploring the area. I can't wait to go back and see more of California.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Preview of Plainfield Garden Tour

When I got the opportunity to cover the upcoming Plainfield Garden Tour for the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau blog, it didn't take much to convince me. Me? Visit, photograph and write about people's beautiful gardens and flowers? A match made in heaven.

I got a sneak preview when I visited the first home on the tour and talked to the homeowners. Below are a handful of photos I captured that day. I can't wait to get more at the other homes on the tour!

Sneak preview: Plainfield Garden Tour

Looking for inspiration for your next landscaping project? Then pull out your calendar and make time for the Plainfield Garden Tour on June 23 and 24.

In its fourth year, the Plainfield Garden Tour, sponsored by the Friends of the Plainfield-Guilford Township Library, will feature eight beautiful gardens around and south of Plainfield, in the southeast corner of Hendricks County. I stopped by the first home on the tour for a sneak preview.

Eric Turner and Michelle Tramm have cultivated 17 separate gardens on their property, and they have a particular love of daylilies. You'll see more than 400 different varieties of daylilies at their house alone.

You can see a few photos of their gorgeous flowers below and more in my full post on the HCCVB blog. Read more...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Diverse cultures of San Diego: Old Town and Ocean Beach

It comes as no surprise that you can find great Mexican food in San Diego—you can drive to the Mexican border, and Tijuana, in about 25 minutes. Having some great, authentic Mexican food was on my list of must-do items for my trip to southern California.

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After our day in ritzy La Jolla, we spent our next day exploring Old Town San Diego. Right in the heart of the city, it's an area that has preserved and restored a lot of the original, Mexican-influence culture and architecture. Part of Old Town has been set aside as a state historic park.
We found the best quality, authentic shopping at the Bazaar del Mundo. It offered beautiful pottery, handwoven fabrics from Guatemala, home decor, etc.

If you want Mexican food, this is the place to get it: the streets of Old Town are lined with restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. We chose Miguel's because it was recommended specifically by a San Diego-native friend, and we weren't disappointed.

After exploring Old Town, we drove to Ocean Beach to see the coast and walk along the pier. It was another chilly, overcast, windy day, but the surfer culture of Ocean Beach was still apparent. True surfers were everywhere, fully dressed in wetsuits to be able to stand the cool water.

Ocean Beach seemed like a neighborhood that caters to the low-income surfer who may spend time living out of his car, but whose passion in life is spending time in the water.

We found a beautiful view of the city and mountains beyond on our drive back to the hotel.
I fully realized that San Diego is an interesting city with a lot of diverse neighborhoods. From ritzy La Jolla to Hispanic Old Town and surfer Ocean Beach, there's something for everyone.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Preview of Civil War Grand Ball

Next weekend—June 22-24—is going to be a busy one! Last weekend, I visited two different sites to write sneak previews of events for the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau blog, and both of them happen that weekend. I'll be going to both events, as well, and writing about the experience.

The first sneak preview is now live on the HCCVB blog! Check it out.

After a widely successful initiation in 2011, Hendricks County’s Civil War Heritage Days celebration is back again this year, with an even wider selection of events and activities during the two-day festival in the heart of Danville, Indiana, on June 23 and 24.

One particular addition is a Grand Ball on Saturday evening in the Courthouse Rotunda. After many re-enactors participating last year requested a Grand Ball, the organizers at the Hendricks County Historical Museum and Danville Public Library added it to this year’s schedule of events. Read more...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Beautiful La Jolla and not-so-beautiful hotels

La Jolla, a northern suburb/area of San Diego, boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country. People called it "ritzy," "the Beverly Hills of San Diego," etc., and many people recommended that we do some shopping while we were there.

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The main shopping area is Girard Street, but we found a lot of shops (and longer-term parking) along Herschel Avenue. I specifically wanted to find the Title Nine shop in La Jolla, which is one of my favorite women's active-clothing stores, but we don't have one in Indiana... so I have to drool over the catalogs and website from a distance. I would love it if I could have one of everything from their store and dress in their style every day.

As I mentioned earlier, we found a great quantity of shops, but I got the feeling that the area definitely caters to the brand-name retail store over the local artisan. I'm sure part of it is due to the cost of renting a storefront there—so national or international brands may be the only ones who can really afford it.

When it comes to beautiful landscapes, though, I found the La Jolla coastline to be the most beautiful we saw.

A group of sea lions—adults and youngsters (the lighter-colored ones in the photo) alike—had staked a claim on the rocky shoreline, and I enjoyed watching them for a while. It may be the first time I've seen wild sea lions outside of a zoo setting, which is always thrilling.
Once you see how beautiful this section of coastline is, it's easy to understand why La Jolla is called "the jewel of southern Calinfornia" and people pay such a premium to live there.

Our day in La Jolla was a chilly one: I don't think the temperature climbed above 65°F, and we never did see the sun. But nevertheless, there were some very brave souls on the beach, wading in the water. I can only imagine how cold it was! Maybe they were from an area like Juneau, Alaska and 65° felt like a tropical day?
That night, we made our way to our hotel in San Diego, where we spent the final three nights of our trip. We chose the Kona Kai Resort & Spa based on its affordable rate, proximity to the airport (especially nice since my flight home departed at 7:30 a.m.), and positive reviews both online and in a guidebook.

Boy, were we disappointed. We laughed about how far we felt from the earlier hotels on the trip!

The location was nice: the hotel was on a peninsula called Shelter Island, which caters to vacationers and boaters. Beaches could be found on both sides of the peninsula, so if the weather had been warm, we might have taken advantage of it.

Our room was at the far end of the property, and while the structure of the building was like any standard hotel (interior hallways and entries) with a covered hallway, it was open-air, and the hallway floor was bare concrete. Which meant that noise echoed.

Inside the room, we definitely felt like discount-rate guests. The amenities included:
  • A window-style air conditioner for the room that appeared to be a 1980 relic and needed a few Fonzie-esque taps to quit rattling.
  • An outlet and separate table lamp that didn't work.
  • A single washcloth for a room that could sleep four.
  • A handtowel for a post-shower bathmat.
We also found it suspicious when we called to inquire about spa services, and were told that 1) they didn't offer manicures and pedicures, and 2) if you wanted to schedule a massage, your selection of appointment times were limited to the hour before or after another guest, since they had to bring in an off-site masseuse. 

But we took all this in stride, figuring the cost savings would be worth it. 

That was until 12:30 a.m., when we needed to call the front desk and complain about our noisy young neighbors, whose conversation we could hear every word of. And again at 6:30 a.m., when the smoke alarm in the room went off for 10 seconds or so, and the front desk brushed it off and said we shouldn't worry about it.

That evening, I complained to the manager and got us switched to a new room. The manager was very accommodating, which we appreciated, and he waived our parking fee for the duration of our stay. We definitely felt like we'd received an upgrade when we got to the new room—from an interior, carpeted hallway entry—and found four washcloths, a bathmat, working outlets and lamps, a newer and quieter air conditioner, and three decorative pillows on each bed (instead of just the two standard sleeping pillows).

It was certainly a stay to remember. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wine tasting in Temecula

Pure vacation time begins!

Taking advantage of my work trip to California, I extended my stay by a few days, and my friend Sarah Lynn flew out and joined me. It worked out perfectly, because she was planning to fly to Los Angeles the following week for her husband's grandmother's 90th birthday gathering, so she came out early so we could explore southern California together.

Neither of us had been to San Diego before, so we focused our four days there. We chose to take an inland, scenic route from Newport Beach to San Diego, which took us through Temecula.

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It was a beautiful, winding drive through Cleveland National Forest. It really hit home for me how susceptible to wildfires this landscape is. The whole area of southern California I saw was much more arid than I expected, especially around San Diego. I didn't expect to see cacti unless I were to drive inland toward Death Valley, but they were really all over the place.

While the altitude of this particular "national forest" wasn't very high, the quantity of trees were far from my idea of a forest, and the landscape was populated more by scrub-type vegetation.
The weather inland differs dramatically from the weather along the coast of California. Our drive to Temecula was the hottest we experienced, with a high temperature in the upper 80s. I hear so many people say, "Oh, but it's a dry heat, it's not as bad," but I tell you what—it was hot!
Temecula is a town of about 100,000, but it was the local wine country that encouraged us to make a stop there. Last summer, on my trip to Traverse City, Mich. with Mom, I did my first wine-tasting—so I was interested to see how it compared to a California experience.

The area promotes at least 35 wineries—we stopped at four. That was all we could handle! The four we visited:
I much prefer white wines over red, so that's what I focused my tasting on. I found a couple Gewurztraminers I liked, and an Orange Moscato at Danza del Sol, but nothing else even came close to encouraging me to buy some. And surprisingly enough, I liked the lauded South Coast Winery the least. Part of it was the atmosphere, part was the service, but I actually didn't find the wine I tried to be anything spectacular.

After a day of sweating and sampling wine, we continued our journey south, toward our hotel near Escondido. We'd heard from friends that roadside fruit and nut stands and avocado groves were plentiful outside Escondido, and since we both are big fans of fresh, local food, we really wanted to see this for ourselves.

I didn't get to see any avocado groves—and I was curious to see avocados in their element—but I certainly saw the plentiful evidence: Sarah Lynn and I were shocked to see roadside stand after stand advertising 25 avocados for $5.00. That's $0.20 each! I'm excited when we can find avocados for $1.00 each in Indiana, so this was unbelievable. Neither of us had a way to really transport or consume dozens of avocados back to Indiana, but we certainly laughed about the possibilities for selling them at a profit!

And let me tell you, we had fresh avocado on everything. Omelettes were topped with it. Salads featured it. Even Subway, which in some Indiana locations offers an avocado spread as a sandwich topping, in southern California had fresh, whole avocado on hand to slice individually for your order. I definitely enjoyed that!

Up next: La Jolla, which boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Shopping in SoCal

It's probably hard to go to California and not do any shopping. I took full advantage of the stores available to me while I was there. (My eyes and feet got a better workout than my wallet, thankfully.) Shopping in southern California offered some different experiences than I'm used to in central Indiana.

The second hotel on my trip was another "nice" one: the Island Hotel at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Sadly, there was no champagne waiting to greet us when we arrived, but there was always a staff member on hand at the door to open it for us.
The Island Hotel was a 10-minute walk from a large mall, Fashion Island. The proximity was fantastic, because I ended up with an extra day in limbo between work meetings and vacation, and I was able to spend part of the day at the mall, without need for a vehicle. Anchor stores included Macy's, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. Walkways and entries to each store were outdoors, which is one area that differed from many shopping malls in Indiana. In the last ten years, we've actually seen new and renovated malls move toward this outdoor model, but the weather in Newport Beach is definitely more pleasant for outdoor walking year-round.

If I were to pick one scent that best memorialized my trip, it would be that of the plentiful Night-Blooming Jasmine. It was a favorite of landscapers all over Newport Beach and San Diego. Its small, white flowers give off a wonderful perfume each evening, so walks to and from the mall, and dinners on landscaped restaurant patios, were accented by this beautiful scent. I intended to find a candle or lotion in this scent to bring home with me, but didn't find one that hit the mark. I'll have to keep searching from home. 

I could get used to malls that came with views like this!

I'm fully willing to attribute it more to the specific areas I was in, but I did notice that national retail chains were much more easy to find than locally owned, artisan shops and boutiques in California. When vacation officially started, we spent a day in La Jolla, and even the main shopping district there catered much more to recognizable retail labels. I missed that personal touch, and it was especially noticeable if you mentally compared it to Asheville, NC or Saugatuck, MI.

One of my favorite aspects of shopping in southern California was this: dogs were everywhere! Man's best friend was the shopper's best friend, and they were welcome inside all stores I saw. Many stores even had water bowls out on the sidewalk or inside the front door for these four-legged friends. Perhaps this openness has to do with the more outdoor-living culture. The terrier in the photo below wouldn't be seen inside a Banana Republic in Indianapolis unless he was wearing a service-dog vest.
The dog-lover in me really enjoyed seeing all these little friends out on the town. It did make me miss Buster, though!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer travels: California

You probably have a travel wish-list: a list of places you want to visit and see for the first time—or maybe a second or fifth time. Mine includes lots of European and Mediterranean destinations, but it also includes dozens of places within North America. (Not the least of which is a goal to visit all 50 states.) California has always held a spot near the top of that must-see list. The stars aligned for me this year, and I got the opportunity to travel to southern California for a business trip, which I extended by a few days and turned into a vacation. I'll share my adventures with you over the next few weeks!

I've wanted to see California for many reasons: various natural landscapes from north to south, including Redwood National Forest and Yosemite National Park in the north and central regions of the state, and Death Valley and the coastal beaches in the south; city landscapes and environments like San Francisco and San Diego; an abundance of fresh, local, and organic food (year-round!); and the promise of daily weather forecasts that rarely stray from sunshine and 70-75°F. 

Two of my clients at work have headquarters in San Diego and Brea, CA. We've been working with them for about a year and a half, but with the wonders of telephone + Internet communication, we've never before really had the opportunity to head west and drop by for a face-to-face meeting. That all came together last month, though, so I flew into San Diego with two of my colleagues for a couple whirlwind meetings just after Memorial Day.

Our first night, we stayed in La Jolla, a northern suburb of San Diego, at the Estancia Hotel. This destination hotel and spa had some of the most beautiful landscaping I'd ever seen, which not only gave us a fragrant, gorgeous walk to and from our rooms, but it gave the property a private, quiet, secluded feel. In a testament to the year-round nice weather, all rooms were accessed by outside doors, and to get to our rooms, we had to cross a couple interior courtyards. Wouldn't it be nice if all sidewalks looked like this?
I immediately felt transported to a different lifestyle when we entered the lobby to check in and were offered complimentary water (with cucumber, of course) or champagne. Relaxation and pampering were the name of the game at this hotel.

I was personally more entranced by the flora that I'm not accustomed to seeing in the Midwest. So the first thing I did after dropping off my luggage in my room was grab my camera and wander the grounds of the hotel.

We only got the chance to spend one night in this hotel, because the next day was filled with client meetings and a trip to Brea, a suburb of Los Angeles, about 1.5 hours north of San Diego.

We toured the client campus there, and I particularly loved the fact that they had lemon trees growing all across the grounds. They had a bowl of fresh lemons in the lobby that had just been picked that morning (and were the size of a softball), and employees are welcome to pick their fill any time. How great is that?
More and more companies are embracing things like on-site farmers markets (this company has one weekly in the summer), healthier foods, community-supported agriculture, etc. I'd love to have a company garden that included fresh citrus! What about you? 

More tales to come...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A new venture in blogging

Happy June to you! If I had to pick a favorite month of the year, June would be it. And not just because I happened to be born in this month. It's the beginning of summer, the longest days of the year, the beautiful weather, the green and bountiful vegetation, the growing garden, the outdoor activities with friends... I could go on and on.

Beginning this month, I've embarked on a new venture in the blog world: I am now a Digital Destination Expert for the Hendricks County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Each month, I'll be writing a handful of blog posts that highlight events, activities, sights, and features of the county I call home. I'm very excited about it! I'll be writing about just about any topic that strikes my fancy, but I'm specifically the go-to person on the team for Arts & Culture and Girlfriend Getaways.

My debut post is now up. Check out the preview below, then click through to read the rest. I hope you'll follow along. And please send me ideas, if you have any!

Five great Hendricks County spots to stretch your legs

One of my favorite things to do during the warm-weather months is meet a friend for an evening walk. After a long day of sitting at a desk, I love getting the chance to socialize, breathe some fresh air and exercise at the same time.

Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll, a scenic hike, or a day out with your family, you’ll find hundreds of acres of green space in every corner of Hendricks County. Take a deep breath and stretch your legs at these five must-see spots. Read more...