Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gear Review: Cool Weather Skirt

For someone who loves the outdoors year round, I’m easily chilled as soon as the mercury goes below 70 F. So when the first day of fall debuted last week, I retired my thin linen tops and dresses and gauzy skirts -- though I still don sandals until I can no longer tolerate the frigid temperatures -- and stepped into a comfortable, quilted-type Tonia DeBellis skirt. It’s mostly cotton with a little polyester and Spandex, making it warm on a breezy day and form fitting, comfortable whether I’m sitting on a boulder in Central Park or strolling all over the city. It’s short -- way above my knees -- and stylish when paired with black leggings and boots, especially in New York City where a black color palette is still de rigour. Though it doesn’t pack small for my never-check-luggage philosophy, I most likely will wear it on the plane next time I head for the ski slopes where it might be my go-to skirt for lounging around the resort and walking around town.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Monaco's Green Spaces

For such a small country, Monaco is draped with an abundance of green spaces, covering 20% of its territory. In fact, the country has boasted a commitment to ecology, starting in 1873 with Prince Albert I, long before environmental consciousness was a bandwagon to jump on.

Though it's the Monte Carlo Casino, Grand Prix and other opulent- and luxury-laden sights and events that get all the tourist attention, my interest in Monaco is the myriad parks and gardens.

Located along a picturesque cliffside, the Exotic Garden is rich in plant species that are adapted to dry climes, namely cacti and succulents. These are sources from as far away as Central America and South Africa. The Japanese Garden is a wee affair, designed by noted landscape architect Yasuo Beppo. A man-made lake and a tumbling waterfall take up a good part of this small garden where the hardscape structures, including the gates and stone lanterns, were all sourced from Japan. A lovely spot to take in the shade is a lakefront pavilion. A path meanders past a small pond and myriad wild Mediterranean flora at the St. Martin’s Garden that’s also dotted with outdoor sculptures. After wandering along the paths, take a break at one of the many benches scattered about. Named for Prince Rainier's oldest sister, Princess Antoinette Park is a nicely manicured expanse with well-tended lawns and numerous gnarled olive trees

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Stylish + Practical Vest and Bag Combo

Have you ever been to a networking event without a bag check and wondered where you were going to leave your voluminous handbag? Or do you like to stop in wine bars as I do but you worried about draping your bag behind your chair or wondered why there are no hooks under the bar? When your cell phone rings, do you rifle through your bag, making yourself a target as you stand on a crowded sidewalk? Or do you keep your phone in your back pocket, which is hardly a secure location?

If you answered yet to any of these questions, then maybe you should think about carrying your vitals -- the things you can't live without -- in a stylish micro bag and vest. When they're worn together, there's no rifling through anything, no looking for a bag check, no worries in the wine bar. Worn together, you have the use of 10 hidden pockets in the vest (6  outside and 4 inside) and 15 pockets and slots in the micro bag. That makes a grand total of 25 pockets/slots. Do you need to use all of these? No, of course not. But at least you have options. And you'll never worry about where you left your bag. And, you'll look fashionable because, after all, who wants to look like a fly fisherman with a multi-pocket vest at a chic wine bar; or a geeky tourist wearing a bulky fanny bag/fanny pack? Think of the bag as the fanny bag antidote.

Who else would wear both or either of these two products:
students on campus
moms about town
anyone tired of neck/backache from toting a heavy bag
people in the hospitality industry
actors going on auditions

The vest is Made in American. And 10% of profits from all sales goes to She's the First, a non-profit dedicated to educating women in 11 countries.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Gallery Hopping in New York City

Walking tours are hit or miss for me, mostly miss. It’s a  hit if I come away more educated than if I walked to the venues on my own and, if not educated, then at least highly entertained. Because of either (or both), many are a miss. I recently signed up for a gallery tour of Chelsea -- the neighborhood with the greatest concentration of galleries in New York City -- with New York Gallery Tours that’s run by Rafael Risemberg.

On the plus side: this tour is unpretentious and informal, visiting a medley of different galleries with shows that just opened all within a several block radius. On the negative side, our group was more than 30 strong. (Way too crwded for me.) And, if I simply read each artist’s statement, I believe I would’ve come away with the same amount of information dispensed by Mr. Risemberg. Once he lead our group around to several works within each gallery -- the itinerary included 7 galleries -- we had all of two minutes to browse the rest on our own. (I bailed after gallery #6.)

Nonetheless, the works were impressive, some eccentric and avant garde, others sensual and curious. By far, the most noteworthy was the Brazilian art duo, OS GEMEOS, with their vibrant, boldly-hued paintings, sculptures, collage and drawings exhibited in five rooms of the Lehmann Maupin gallery. Another artist that fascinated me was Sarah Cain who showed her paintings in the Lelong Gallery -- her floor painting is on linoleum and is an expansive 2,500 square feet. Some artists either used unusual media or traditional media in an unusual way: Xu Zhen at the James Cohan Gallery created a 3D painting that looks like it’s a collage of sea shells. In reality he used a pastry bag to squeeze out the paint. Mark Wagner (at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery) is noted for making paintings out of slivers of paper currency. While Francesca Pasquali often relied on clusters of plastic straws to create her scultural pieces. 

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Green Day Trip From Manhattan

I’m infatuated with the Hudson Valley. Many of the towns are easily accessible from Metro North and are a quick trip from Manhattan. Cold Spring is one of those towns, just one-and-a-half hours from midtown. But, though, many people come for one of two reasons: scrambling up rugged Breakneck Ridge or wandering Main Street for the many antique-laden shops, I traveled here one morning to make other discoveries. Arriving early before the crowds descended on Hudson Hil’s, a charming restaurant along historic Main Street with a shaded, flower-rimmed porch and locally-sourced items, I dined on a black bean burger that was served with corn tortillas, guacamole and salsa, and delectable homemade potato chips. (I had the place to myself for all of 20 minutes but that’s ok.) Then, of course, I went in search of green spaces. I didn’t have to search long. The Foundry Dock Park is a scenic waterfront spot that’s a former Civil War loading dock. Now, you can picnic, walk the trails or just relax. Or, take a side trail to the West Point Foundry Preserve with its paved and unpaved paths, ruins of the Boring Mill -- the waterwheel is impressive against the wild foliage, and tumbling Foundry Brook. Before this ironworks plant opened in 1818, these lands were dense with woodlands that, sadly, were cut for charcoal. Now the area is a peaceful delight dotted with benches including two set beside a marsh that attracts plenty of bird life. 

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Green Spaces on New York's Governor's Island

What if I told you that a five-minute ferry ride from Manhattan allows you to climb landscaped hills for scenic views, relax in hammocks set amid wild brush, zoom down an almost 60-foot slide, and rent bicycles to a waterfront picnic spot? This is what visitors find on Governor's Island that sits off the southern tip of Manhattan. And, yet, so many New Yorkers never make it to these green, placid shores. The island recently opened up a newly-landscaped, 10-acre sector with a cluster of four hills, proving awe-inspiring views of the lower Manhattan skyline as well as art and entertainment options: think the slide quadruplets, and sculptural installations. The photo collage below is what I found on Governor's Island on my most recent visit where, of course, I criss-crossed the island on bicycle. There's no excuse for not hopping on board the ferry for an afternoon or a day away from the city's chaotic streets.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Fargo, North Dakota in Pictures

When someone mentions Fargo, North Dakota, what do you think of? If you're like just about everyone I spoke with, it's Fargo, the movie or the award-winning black comedy series on the FX network. And the image that comes to mind is, of course, the infamous wood chipper that figured prominently in the Coen Brothers' movie. But the Fargo I experienced was a fresh, savvy, creative one with a bustling main street, myriad art galleries and coffee shops, large swaths of bikable green spaces, and a community spirit bubbling with youth and entrepreneurship. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a tiny window into my Fargo experience. (And, North Dakota makes the 50th state I've visited.)

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Central Park's Newly Opened Garden

Central Park’s Southeast corner sees its share of crowds. In fact, with the Zoo, Wollman Rink and The Pond all located in that sector, it might very well be the busiest spot in the  park. And yet, for decades, since the early 1930s, a four-acre plot of wilderness remained truly a hidden treasure, sealed off as an inaccessible (to the public) bird sanctuary where nature was allowed to take over. Hidden, that is, until last month when it reopened with limited hours. It’s well worth visiting the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, a wee, wild landscape with rustic wooden gates, benches and overlook balustrades -- all constructed of black locust wood -- that reminded me of features I might’ve seen in The Hobbit. The skyscrapers around Columbus Circle are all visible through the dense foliage and yet this crowded part of the park may be one of the most serene. I recently took a guided tour -- though I don’t recommend the tour which I found lacking in terms of providing much in the way of informative bird and botanical information -- and fell in love with this small parcel of land with its curvy wood-chipped paths, and schist outcrops. (This is the rock that’s the bedrock of Manhattan.) Even on a day when the mercury hit over 90 degrees with muggy humidity, my visit was saturated with shade, the scent of fresh foliage and the sounds of birds. The Central Park Conservancy thinned out many of the invasive plant species, such as black cherry trees, as well as the Norway maple that the Asian longhorn beetle attacks. As I roamed about, we spotted hoary mountain mint, native grasses, pokeweed, tulip trees, mayapples, and strawberry bushes. The conservancy planted trees that are wind resistant, such as the hackberry. One lovely specimen sits at the center of a wraparound wooden bench perfectly positioned beside a scenic overlook, and my favorite part of this garden that feels like a micro Manhattan oasis. 

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Coastal Southern Maine + New Hampshire in Pictures

As small towns go, downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a favorite of mine, fitting all my criteria: waterfront location -- it’s on the Piscataqua River; numerous independent coffee shops, bookstores and wine bars; sense of history: the town dates to the early 17th century and numerous centuries-old buildings can still be found. But, most importantly, it’s got a walkable downtown. (The only downside: on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer, the town becomes party central.) While visiting a friend who lives nearby on the border with Maine, we decided to focus our daytime activities around little visited walking trails -- all a short drive from Portsmouth -- rather than joining the crowds flocking to the most popular sandy beaches. Here’s what we found:

The Urban Forestry Center, a two-mile walk from Downtown Portsmouth seems little used during the week when I spent a couple of hours on a web of shaded paths that weaved in and out of the forest and beside the tidal marsh of Sagamore Creek.

Despite all the tourist traffic in York, Maine, I strolled strolled first through Steedman Woods and then along first Fisherman's Walk and then the Cliff Walk in York Harbor.  My friend and I were the only ones on this trail that offered access to sandy bays and wide rocky surfaces, perfect for sunning.

Owned by the elite boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire, the Phillips Exeter Academy Woods has several one-mile-plus loops through the woods that, at times, border the Exeter River.

Rogers Park is located in Kittery, Maine on land that was originally settled in the 17th century by a member of the Rogers family that came over on the Mayflower. It’s set along Spruce Creek with flat trails skirting the water only to head back into the sun-speckled woodland.

Bird watching opportunities abound in the Heron Point Sanctuary in downtown Newmarket, New Hampshire where great blue herons, cormorants and other water and wading birds can be spotted on trails that skirt the Lamprey River.

Trails parallel the Great Bay’s tidal coast in the Adams Point Wildlife Management Area, a property in Durham, New Hampshire once owned by the prominent Adams Family. Also in Durham, at Wagon Hill, a former family farm, trails now wander around community gardens, into dense woods and along a calm shoreline

In Rye, New Hampshire, Odiorne Point State Park has something for everyone, pebbly beaches, historic military bunkers, dense forestland cut by numerous paths and even a small aquarium at the Seacoast Science Center.

This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my coastal Maine/New Hampshire travels. 

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