Category Archives: Caribbean

Vacation Heaven!

Djòdjò

While Buffalo, NY was getting buried in record snowfall, Tom and I were vacationing in Aruba with perfect weather at 86°, as it sits almost on the equator. Bòn Bini (or welcome in Papamiento, the language of the island)!!! We went with our good friends Tony and Val, and Gert and Drew. They stayed at the Tamarijn, while we stayed at the Divi Divi resort. We could enjoy all amenities at either resort, as well as the Divi Beach resort that sits off the ocean, and travel between them all with golf cart-like transports.

Mi Dushi, Tom and I have been to Aruba five times, including our honeymoon and a wedding of a good friend of ours. We had decided at the beginning of 2014 that we were going to take a break from the Caribbean this year. But then in the summer, while at charity bingo event, our friends invited us to go with them. If they had said they were going to Antiqua or St. Lucia, we would have passed. But we can’t say no to Aruba — there is just no place like it — from the crystal blue water — to the wonderful waves in the ocean — to the amazing tropical drinks, Balashi beer, and outdoor oven pizzas — morning, noon and night. I could list 100 reasons why we love Aruba.

We went away the week before Thanksgiving. And while in Aruba, we were reminded of all the things to be thankful for, including our very good friends. We laughed every day and enjoyed every minute of our trip. And when we said Ayo (goodbye) to Aruba, I knew it wouldn’t be forever. We will meet again.

The video below says it all. Djòdjò (enjoy).

By the way, did you ever see a sunset on the equator? Well, it lasts only about two minutes, so you have to be ready for it — or you’ll miss it! I missed it numerous times until the last night there. It’s my last photo in the video — I finally got it a split second before it was gone. 

A L W A Y S  B E L I E V E !

Camera In Tow

This shot was taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera using a manual mode, f/22, ISO 6. Click image for full size.

This shot was taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera using a manual mode, aperture f/22, shutter speed 1/6, ISO 200. Click image for larger size.

Tom and I spent the day at McConnells Mill (again!), trying to figure out how to use all the features on the camera that we bought at Christmas. It was our hope that after taking our photography class and making the time to go out and shoot, we would learn how to use the manual mode. I think we still have a long way to go!  We’ve been on a mission to capture silky water, fireworks and star trails — all photographs requiring long exposures or long shutter speeds. 

We’ve played with the camera settings all summer and at every opportunity. Every time we came back from shooting, we re-read the manual, re-googled for new thoughts and ideas about what we are doing wrong, and made notes for the next time out. It seems like a long process, but rewarding at the same time.

While we still don’t have the lighting quite right, we’ve somewhat achieved the silky water, even though it rained all week and the water was muddy. And of course, after downloading the photos today, realized we had the ISO at 200 and thought we were shooting at 100. If you’re new to photography and want to try creating silky water, my best tip is to look for a cloudy day or go shooting in the morning or at dusk. The bright sunshine or daylight will blow out the water. We had a lot of sun today and had to wait for it to go behind the clouds. The other challenge we continually face is my ability to scale over the side of gorges and very steep gullies. It’s been our experience so far that some of the best sites require a long hike — and maybe even rappelling! Unfortunately, my hip doesn’t usually co-operate.


McConnells Mill is an absolute amazing place. The glaciers that came through western PA left rocks the size of homes. These rocks are nestled on the way into the park, as well as throughout the entire gorge. You can see just how large the one rock is that Tom is leaning against. While the summer may be coming to an end, we still have a couple of good months to shoot outdoors. We have trips planned to the Finger Lakes, NY, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ONT and Tionesta, PA. And then when it starts to turn cold, we’ll be headed to Aruba, camera in tow.

Always B E L I E V E !

Cabin Fever

Well, this has been one of the coldest winters I can ever remember. And, while I love the change of seasons, including winter — the single digit temperatures is bone chilling. Mix it with just a little dusting of snow, and we’re talking about a stressful commute to work. Everyone I talked to today commented on how sick they are of winter. I’m tired of the nuisance snow that we get three days of the week.

We’ve been feeling a little winter cabin fever and haven’t done much since new years, so we decided to plan things to get us out of the house a bit. Tom and I are taking a digital photography class and an ancestry class through Butler County Community College. We bought a new digital camera that has all kinds of capabilities, including manual modes. We wanted to get something to take amazing photographs when we travel. And researching our family history has been something Tom and I love to do, but we’ve kind of done all we can on ancestry.com, so we’re looking forward to what else we can do to continue our quest!

We’re also going to the musical Mamma Mia in February for Valentines Day with Paula and Jerry, friends of ours. I love, love, love ABBA — and Mamma Mia — and can’t wait. Tom is a good sport and enjoys musicals too, even though his buddies have been jag gin him. If I can get him dancing in the aisles, you’ll all see a video on here! The following weekend, we have a long weekend trip planned to Ellicottville, NY. We’re hoping it warms up a bit so that we can go tubing at Holiday Valley. If it doesn’t, we’ll still go as long as there are no major snow storms predicted for our trip. We’ll go to the Brewing Company and maybe hit the casino up there. And of course, we’ll take our new camera!

Paint Monkey

Last night, Gert had planned an excursion to Paint Monkey — an art gallery where they give everyone the same picture to paint. It had been more than 20 years since I used acrylic paints — I felt like I was back in art school. It was such a good time — there were seven of us — and we had a lot of laughs. It was amazing to think we could paint a picture in just two hours. If I had another hour, I would have felt better about adding details and shadows! And how appropriate that we painted a beach scene on a night that was 7°! I painted teal water and bright orange flip flops, thinking of my favorite island in the Caribbean. It was truly a bright spot in this cold and gray month of January.

I hope that all of you are finding things to get you out of the house this winter. Or maybe you’re finding more comfort wrapped in a blanket in front of a crackling fireplace. Whatever you’re doing, stay warm, be happy and always believe!

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

I Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and I’ve been thinking about all the things that I’m thankful for. I’m so thankful for Tom for who he is and all he does, all the time, everyday. Of course, Sid and Ben Ben, my two little cats (and yes, Tom, they come second). I’m thankful for my family and friends — all the fun times we have, and all the things we celebrate all year long. I’m thankful for MarketSpace and all the wonderful family there. I’m thankful for my faith and trust in God. I’m thankful for my health that I’m here today, and for as long as God chooses me to be on this earth.
Four Seasons in Pittsburgh

I’m thankful that I get to enjoy all four seasons — winter, spring, summer and fall. It snowed last night and now feels like Christmas!
Finger Lakes

I’m thankful that Bob introduced us to the Finger Lakes in New York.
Friends

I’m thankful for friends, neighbors and celebrations at Peters’ Pub.
Boating

I’m thankful for weekends on Tommy’s boat — tubing, wakeboarding and jet skiing.
Cabin

I’m thankful for our family cabin in Tionesta, PA. Everything about it reminds me of my Dad, and takes me back to those days when he was with us.
CaribbeanI’m thankful for good friends, Caribbean vacations to Aruba, Antigua, St. Lucia, Bahamas and the Riviera, laughter, catamaran cruises and island excursions.

Homemade_PizzaI’m thankful for my Mom. Tom’s Mom. And all the wonderful memories of our Dads. Memories of Grandma and Grandpap Knowlson. Memories of Grandma and Grandpap Miller. Father Bob. Debbie. Debbie’s pizza. My beautiful nieces. Tommy. Dan. Scott. Aunt Mary. All my cousins. Our home. St. Rose of Lima Parish. St. Gregory’s Catholic Church. Humility. Faith. Miracles. Surprises. Birthdays. Great doctors. Creative doctors. New technologies. Friends. New Friends. Old Friends. Lost Friends. Turkey. Homemade noodles. Chicken and dumplings. Steak on the grill, medium rare. Arby’s curly fries with cheese. Pittsburgh Potatoes. Coca-Cola. White sand beaches. Crystal blue waters. Summer rain and liquid sunshine. Diamonds in the snow. Diamonds in the sky. Shooting stars. Rainbows. Sled riding at Mom and Dad’s house. Velour leggings. Amusement parks and water parks. Online shopping. Christmas shopping. Outlet shopping. Christmas caroling. White Christmases. Christmas movies. Super bowl games. Steelers’ parties. Playoff parties. Christmas parties. Giving back. Paying it forward. Photographs. Old photographs. Traditions. Art glass. Typography. Kerning. Handmade papers. Uncoated paper. Letterpress printing. Etsy.com. Recycled and up-cycled stuff. Cabins. Camp Fires. Cats. Dogs. Sheep. Cows. Horses. Baby animals. Farms. Hookstown Fair. Canfield Fair. Tear-jerker movies. Slot machines. Lake Erie. Ellicottville. Martha’s Vineyard. Charleston. Nostalgic small towns. Lakes, oceans and swimming holes. Country music and Christmas music. Sixties fashion. I’m thankful for all my memories of all that is good in this world.

I’m thankful for living in the land of the free — one nation, under God. I am thankful for our service men who won’t be home this holiday. And, as we give thanks this coming Thursday, I pray for those who are less fortunate and those who find only sadness this time of year. And will give thanks for all that God has blessed me with in my life.

Always B E L I E V E.

There’s No Place Like… Aruba

I apologize before I even start this post. Sometimes I wonder if traveling to the caribbean is worth the hassle.I guess that’s really true for any travel that requires a flight, especially if you live in Pittsburgh. I always wondered how we managed to build the most awesome international airport on the east coast, and it’s hub to no airlines and has very few flights. While heading to St. Lucia last week, Tom and I looked at a wall of flat screens to display departure and arrival information, only to have two of them lit up — the others black. Two!!! That’s like maybe 20 or 30 flights listed, if that. It’s so sad, really.

The way home was even worse. Coming back at midnight — there’s maybe 500 people in the whole place. There wasn’t anywhere to even get a Coke or a bottled water. Oh, but there’s a restroom at every turn. It’s truly the most well-designed airport with so many conveniences built right into the venue. Only to be wasted. I wonder who is responsible for the state of this airport, and the travel inconveniences that an entire city of people have to face every time they travel. What idiot played such hardball with USAirways that they moved their hub to Charlotte?

Oh and then there’s Charlotte. Yes, we circled the Charlotte airport for like 45 minutes on our trip to St. Lucia. When we finally landed, we made it to our connector as it was boarding the plane. Oh and you had to get in a separate line for someone to look at your passport. It was truly the most unorganized, ridiculous procedure I had ever been through. So now we’re rushed on the plane, no time to get a sandwich for lunch, only to sit for another 30 to 45 minutes on the runway. Yea, the pilot said something about a problem that they had to put into maintenance log. Thanks. I didn’t need to know that. Who trains these pilots in what they should and shouldn’t say to the passengers?

St. Lucia’s airport was almost identical to Antigua’s in size and procedure. Getting into the country was easy. Coming home was quite different. There were only eight flights leaving St. Lucia on Saturday. You think that would be a cake walk, right? They all left within the same time period — between 2 pm and 5 pm. Talk about utter chaos at this small airport. It’s like being herded like cattle from one station to the next — with no air conditioning at all. By the time we finally got to the USAirways counter, my hair was completely soaked like I had a shower. The guy before me had his arm on the counter and left a big pile of sweat for me to have to work around. That was lovely. Tom and Spencer gave Jess the nickname, “Girl Sweats A Lot.” Poor Jess had the thinnest t-shirt on that was just soaked. Me, I wore longer crop jeans, because the plane is always so cold. Plus, I wore my compression stocking — it was like wearing long underwear in unbearable heat.

We were then herded into another line for immigration. There were two immigration agents for all these people at one tiny counter. When we finally made it to that point, there was AC. Then through security — finally there was a restroom and somewhere to get something to drink. But the whole thing took so long, we only had about 15 minutes before our plane boarded. And yes, our USAirways jet was parked about a half a mile away from the gate on the runway. So after I finally made it to the plane, completely soaked again, I had to climb the stairs with my compression stocking!

I know — I have to admit, I whined the entire time. But it only got worse. We had the worst two year old girl sitting in the row behind us with her Dad and five year old brother. She screamed for the first 30 minutes for her mom (who was seated 20 rows in front of us). Somebody behind us said, “will someone please get that kid her mother?” The poor Dad didn’t know what to do with her. She finally fell asleep, and we had peace for about 30 minutes. The flight was four and half hours and during that time, the mom had to change the kid’s diaper. It was so stinky, that all the seats around us could smell it. And to make it worse, she put it under Tom’s seat, and we got to enjoy that aroma throughout the flight. She had a couple more temper tantrums, and I will never travel again without my headset.

In Charlotte, we had almost two hours between our flights — to get through customs, re-check our luggage for our next flight, go through TSA security for what seems the hundredth time and get to our gate. Tom and I both needed something to drink. If we had time, i wanted to get a sandwich too. We sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting for a gate. We’re an international flight and most of the people on the flight had connectors. I was getting worried now about missing ours. Our two hour window was now just over an hour. I’m not impressed with the Charlotte airport in the least.

Finally we’re at US customs — another huge line. At least there were 10 agents to help keep it moving. We were in that line so long that our luggage was actually on the belt when got to that area. Re-checking it was easy. And then there was the TSA security line. Hundreds of people going through four checkpoints. RIDICULOUS!!!!

Okay, here’s my thing. I know that they’re doing all this screening for our safety. I get it. But there has to be a better way! They need to expand these areas to accommodate the number of travelers coming through these checkpoints. It’s 9:45 pm, and we’re just exhausted beyond belief. I’m so tired, so thirsty, so hungry and panicked as our flight started boarding at 9:40 pm. And yes, we get to the gate — they’re boarding. Tom and I are never late for anything. We like to have plenty of time at the airport. RUSH, RUSH, RUSH. We get on the plane without getting something to drink. Tom is so annoyed by that point that he’s telling me we’re never traveling out of the country again.

So all I am looking forward to is getting a glass of Coke. Yes, I’m so thirsty. Would you believe that they had to discontinue their beverage service at our row on the plane due to turbulence? The 17 rows in front of us had beverages and everyone in rows 18 and back had none. Just my luck, huh?

So the morale of my story. Go to Aruba. Aruba handles US customs in Aruba. Yes, you go through the entire process there, and then when you get to Charlotte, you skip all the other crap. You have time to eat. You have time to pee. And maybe one day — some airline will come and put their direct flights back to Aruba in Pittsburgh. It’s a no brainer really.

I’m not saying we didn’t have a blast in St. Lucia, because we did. But, there’s no place like Aruba. Truly in my book, it’s the best island in the caribbean and the easiest to travel to.

Are We There Yet?

I think movies like Christmas Vacation or Vegas Vacation are so popular, not because they are some of the greatest comedies of all time, but because they are relatable to so many people on so many levels. It was a time in history when taking the family road trip was the only way to travel. As a kid, none of us ever got on an airplane — I was 18 when I got on my first flight to see my brother at college when he was going to the Catholic University in DC. But taking that two- or four- hour road trip was part of the family vacation experience.

I was reminiscing about this just this week as people are getting their vacations onto the schedule at work. Their vacations are much different than the family vacations I remember. We didn’t travel to the Outer Banks or Myrtle Beach, because the thought of an eight- or nine- or more- hour road trip with us kids would have been a nightmare for my parents. There were no CD players to pop in a two-hour movie and keep the kids quiet or asleep. I remember playing checkers on magnetic boards so you wouldn’t lose the checker pieces or playing “padiddle” for hours, looking for those cars or trucks with only one headlight. We used to count the number of “piggy-backs” or trailer trucks with an extra trailer. We even kept track of what states other cars were traveling from by their license plates. Or how about “punch-buggy” — looking for a Volkswagon Beetle bug and wacking your brother or sister in the arm — whoever saw one first. Anything to keep us busy. Oh, and bathroom breaks — they didn’t exist. My Dad would tell us, “I’m stopping now, you’d better pee, because we’re not stopping again until we get there!” — that’s where I get my strong bladder from. And you always traveled with a cooler containing pre-made cold-cut sandwiches and cans of pop. There was no bottled water or drink juice boxes back then. Do you ever wonder who eats at those picnic tables at the rest areas on the turnpike? Yea, the Miller family did that.

I think today’s family road trip probably looks a lot different. Besides the CD player or total entertainment system available in many vehicles, and various car seats jammed in based on the age of your kids, I think you’d probably find the kids with earphones and their iPods, or maybe even playing games on their iPads — maybe someone reading a book on their Kindle (if that didn’t make them car sick). What would we do without technology? Times have surely changed — in only a matter of 20 years. But that’s another story for another time.

My Mom used to tell me that she never used car seats for us kids. We didn’t like them — so there you have it — she didn’t put us in them! She said it was easier to hold the baby in the front seat. Well, I guess there was less road-rage, cars didn’t go 100 miles per hour, people weren’t distracted by technology or in a major rush — they actually went the speed limit and took their time, enjoying the ride — that was part of the vacation — not to mention those 1970-something vehicles were steel tanks!!! So maybe safety wasn’t the issue it is today in our “beam me up, I wish I was already there yesterday” world of today.

And, think back to the days when nobody had a major credit card and certainly not a debit card. You had an old-fashioned checkbook and you traveled with cash in your wallet. Or maybe you got traveler’s cheques if you were worried that your cash could be stolen. Seriously, do traveler’s cheques even exist today?

Lake Erie 1971. The water was always a bit chilly, even in August — but we loved it anyways.

Lake Erie 1971. The water was always a bit chilly, even in August — but we loved it anyways.

We took a family vacation every year. It was usually in August, because we went to Lake Erie, PA in the early years and the water didn’t get so warm until then. And even then, it was pretty cold for swimming. And Mom and Dad, they loved packing us all up — each of us had our own hard-case suitcase with these flippy kind of buttons that were spring-loaded. I can still hear the sound they would make as you pushed the button to open your suitcase! Dad would literally be whistling while he loaded the car, laughing and joking — leaving all the stress of his work behind him, and Mom would be loading up the cooler. When we hit the road — everything was behind us for an entire week! Can you imagine that today? No cell phones, no gps, no computers, no way to contact anyone until you stopped at a pay phone somewhere along your route. There was no email, no checking voicemail or calling in to see if everything was okay. You were on vacation! Ah… we need to find that peace in our lives again!

As kids, there was no better place on this earth than Lake Erie. I still love it to this day. Tom and I go at least once a year to Presque Isle and hang out on the beach. Lake Erie was the beach for me. I didn’t see the ocean until we started going to Martha’s Vineyard for vacation — and I was in high school then. Those road trips were even longer — at least nine hours, but we rode in style in the back of the truck camper. So, our whining wasn’t heard by Mom or Dad in the cab of the truck — and they didn’t really care what was happening. Dad even welded a custom bike rack and had five bikes bouncing along with us. We were the epitome of the American family, living the American dream.

And if you think back to those “Vacation” movies with Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid, you laugh, because you had similar situations on your own family vacations. And, I love how they bring in the extended family with cousin Eddie — we all have extended family who only add to the memories of these days. And the crazy things that happened, yes, they happened to the best of us.

Gosh, I remember the year we went to Lake Erie in August 1977. We used to rent these little cottages where six or eight of them had their own private beach front. The cottages usually had two bedrooms and a small kitchen. You never ate out at a restaurant in those days! Mom would cook in this tiny kitchen or we’d cook on the outdoor grills. Maybe we’d go out for ice cream. But, I seriously cannot recall ever eating at a restaurant when I was little. I remember one morning, Mom had on the radio — one of those old-fashioned kinds with the big dial on the front — and it came across the radio that Elvis Presley had died. I would have been nine, almost 10 years old on that vacation — and I can remember asking my Mom who that was and she told me a singer. I don’t know why that stuck in my brain.

That was the same year that Dad took the boat to Lake Erie and on his way back to the cottage, caught the trailer hitch on some railroad tracks — ripping the underneath of the car or something bad. That’s how I know there weren’t major credits cards back then or the garages didn’t accept them. I don’t know, but they used all their cash to fix it. Another Griswold family vacation. And if you can imagine this scenario — back then, we had the station wagon, yeah, right out of the Brady Bunch, complete with the wood grain siding! Oh, and I can verify, it did have a third row seat — called a rumble seat, except when you rode there, you faced the traffic behind you. Oh, and AC — what was that?

Vacations today are more extravagant. Tom and I look for what Caribbean island we’re hitting this year, but we still love that road trip. So we plan a couple of those — less than five hours to our destination. Besides our trip to St. Lucia, we have several road trips planned. A couple to the Finger Lakes, NY, an Erie trip and a long weekend planned to Niagara Falls, NY. And, we’ll probably go to the cabin at least once. And this year to our trip to Lake Erie, I think I’ll pack a cooler for the day and plan a picnic on Presque Isle. I’m sure I’ll check my email while I’m sitting at that table — after all, I can’t live without it. But, I’ll fondly think back to all those Miller family vacations, remembering a simpler time.

I wonder if my nieces can read an old-fashioned map. Those were the days.

Aruba Ariba

On a brighter note — enjoy this fantastic tropical delight from Aruba!

Aruba Ariba

Ingredients

  • 1oz Vodka
  • 1/2oz Rum
  • 1/2oz Banana Liquor
  • 1/2oz Curaçao Liquor
  • 1/2oz Grand Marina
  • 1/2oz Fruit Punch

Directions

Step 1
Combine ingredients over ice and stir.

St. Lucia — Here We Come!

Photo compliments of http://cbayresort.com.

Photo compliments of http://cbayresort.com.

So we booked our summer vacation yesterday. We decided on St. Lucia which wasn’t even part of the original poll. We’re staying at the Coconut Bay Resort and Spa on the southern, Atlantic side of St. Lucia. And we couldn’t be more excited!

The lazy river at the Coconut Bay & Spa Resort in St. Lucia

The lazy river at the Coconut Bay Resort & Spa in St. Lucia.

This resort looks awesome. It has a water park, complete with a meandering lazy river. Now that’s my speed and I can imagine spending hours in the lazy river alone! The beach looks just a beautiful.

The island is very mountainous and was formed from volcanoes like all of the other caribbean islands. We’re definitely planning to see the Pitons, the most famous volcanic mountains. There’s just so much to do and see and that’s what’s exciting, because we’ve never been here before. There’s banana plantations, fishing villages (which I personally want to visit), a tropical rainforest and more. We’re definitely going to the Sulphur Springs and Botanical Gardens where I see we can take a therapeutic mud bath before rinsing off in the waterfalls. Now how incredible does that sound?

There’s a Catamaran sail around the northern caribbean side of St. Lucia. We’ll have to see how far that is from our resort. I’d hate to spend 2 hours or more on a bus. There’s a Segway tour which sounds like fun — I have to first head to Station Square in Pittsburgh to see if I can actually maneuver one of those! There’s ziplining, which I know I’m not allowed to do, but they have an aerial cable car that goes through the rainforest. That will be my speed! And shopping galore! It sounds like they specialize in artisan jewelry and silk and batik fabrics. I definitely look forward to shopping here. There’s fishing tours, dolphin spotting and sunset cruises. I think the thing I’m most excited about is checking out their exotic flora in the rainforest. Any photos I’ve seen are just incredible and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Oh and there’s festivals during the summer. Their Feast of St. Rose De Lima is August 30. From what I’ve read, they celebrate the entire month of August, so I’m hoping something may be going on while we’re there. St. Rose of Lima is my hometown parish from Darlington, PA. She’s always depicted with a rose. I think this is a really cool tie to St. Lucia. They celebrate with parades through town where natives dress as kings and queens. There’s all kinds of heritage around this festival and I plan to research it more before we go.

And lastly, they have a casino. It’s small with only 250 slots and a few table games. They say it’s easy to take a ferry to Martinique to do some serious gambling. So I guess if we’re so inclined, we could check out a neighboring island. But I’m sure we’ll be content with the nightly entertainment at our resort for the most part.

So if you’ve ever been to St. Lucia, please let me know what you recommend we do and see. I’m anxious to hear from you!

Vacation Destinations

Tom and I have been trying to decide where to go this year for vacation in the caribbean. Which would you choose?
Caribbean Destinations

Aruba’s Yellow Belly Tropical Drink

Yellow Belly

Serves 1
Prep time 5 minutes
Sweet tasting drink from the Divi Divi Resort in Aruba.

Ingredients

  • 1oz White Rum
  • 1oz Vodka
  • 1/2oz Banana Liquor
  • 1/2oz Orange Juice
  • 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice

Directions

Step 1
Add all ingredients with ice and mix well. Adjust ingredients to taste if desired.