Sunday, October 18, 2020

Be happy: make travel plans and book flights now

This weeks post is courtesy of Scott Keyes, owner of He expresses a common feeling that frequent travelers know well—but have been missing.

The Happiness Hack of Booking Flights

A few weeks ago I booked my first international trip since the pandemic began—Madrid in late February 2021. Every time I book a flight, I’m reminded again of how wonderful it is to have a trip to look forward to. (That’s especially the case this cursed year.)

In fact, one of the most overlooked benefits of travel is that having a trip to look forward to—even one 10 months from now—can do wonders for your happiness today.

Tomorrow's Trip is Today's Treat

People usually discuss travel solely in terms of the joy you get during a trip, while ignoring the joy it brings you before a trip. I’m not just referring to the dopamine hit you get from clicking purchase on a cheap flight. I’m also talking about letting yourself spend the next however many months looking forward to that trip.

After all, nobody books a trip to Tokyo and then doesn’t think about it again until they board the plane. If you’re anything like me, the entire interim is spent dreaming of sushi and researching hidden gems I want to see while I’m there.

We can always daydream about future travels, but where the true excitement comes is when it’s about an actual planned trip, not just a someday/maybe idea. And what takes a trip from a mere idea to something real? When you’ve booked the flight.

Studies Show Anticipation is One of The Best Parts of Travel

When researchers have examined which parts of vacation bring us the most joy, it turns out that the period before a trip may be even more important than the trip itself. Study after study has shown how much happiness the anticipation of a trip can bring.

It’s not just that planning trips gives us joy today; it also makes travel more possible. According to one study, people who plan trips well in advance took 50% more time off from work to travel than non-planners. One big reason why: bosses are far more likely to approve time off when it’s requested months in advance.

Free Changes on All New Bookings

Right now, airlines are offering free changes on all new bookings, even basic economy. As a result, if come February 2021 it’s still not possible or wise to take that trip to Spain I booked, I can just push the trip back to the summer without having to pay any change fee. Remember though: free changes aren’t the same as free cancellations, and you’re still responsible if there’s a fare difference with the new flight you choose.

Knowing I can book flights and still have flexibility is, personally, the linchpin that gives me confidence to plan future travel amidst so much uncertainty today. Think of it as booking in pencil, not in pen.

In the past month, I’ve heard over and over from people how excited they are to make up for lost time once they feel safe and comfortable traveling again. And many of them have already started making 2021 travel plans as a treat for both their future selves and their current selves.

Photos from free sources. 


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Great Gardens of the South

Lovely water features can be found in all the featured gardens.
This one is in Garvan Woodland Garden in Arkansas.

Fall and spring are magical seasons for gardens, so now is a good time to plan your visit to enjoy a bonanza of blooms at one of these public Southern gardens. Even better, they provide lovely floral displays and programs throughout the year, so you can visit again and again.

Tulips are a specialty in Garvan
Woodland Garden.
Garvan Woodland Gardens

One of only eight woodland gardens in the U.S., this 40-acre landscape is located on a peninsula on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It began as a private garden in 1956 by Verna Cook Garvan and opened to the public in 2002.  

Garvan laid out each section, carefully marking every tree that needed to be removed, choosing each new plant, and selecting its location along four and a half miles of wooded shoreline. Many of her original tulips and roses are still part of the design. 

The  glass-walled Anthony Chapel is a striking feature of Garlan Woodland Garden.
Other highlights include dramatic waterfalls, four unique bridges, and the Anthony Chapel, which overlooks the lake and soars 57 feet into a tree canopy allowing spectacular seasonal views through its glass ceiling and walls.
Specialties: Daffodils from February-March, tulips March-April; nationally recognized Japanese Garden. Special holiday exhibits and plein art painting festivals.

Best time to go: The Tulip Extravaganza, features 10,000 tulips in a multitude of hues in March.  More than 100,000 other flowers, including daffodils, hyacinths, azaleas, and dogwood blossoms spread under a canopy of southern pines and ancient oaks.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home

Mirror Lake at Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Alabama.
 Famous for a spring time explosion of azaleas, Bellingrath Gardens, located 20 miles southwest of Mobile, Alabama, also features camellias in winter and chrysanthemums in November.  In December, three million twinkling lights transform Bellingrath Gardens and Home into a glowing wonderland. Other attractions include Asian American Garden, Mirror Lake, Conservatory, Butterfly Garden, Chapel, and Boehm Porcelain Gallery.

Azaleas bloom on the Great Lawn
at Bellingrath Garden.
Bessie Bellingrath initially built the garden that borders on Fowl Lake at an old fishing camp. Friends urged her to share the beautiful space, and the Garden attracted 4700 people the first day it opened to the public in 1932. After her death in 1943, Walter Bellingrath, who made his fortune bottling Coca-Cola, honored her memory with water features, additional plants, and paths to showcase the natural beauty of the area. 

Specialties: Blooming flowers year round, Bellingrath home, and Southern Belle Cruise on the Fowl River

Best time to go: 250,000 azaleas burst into glorious color from mid-March to mid-April, with a multitude of spring flowers providing the chorus.  Spectacular roses from April to December; Magic Christmas in Lights and festival in December. Combine with a tour of the home or cruise for best value.

Tyler Municipal Rose Garden
Texas has outstanding gardens, too. Thousands of visitors arrive in Tyler each October for the annual Rose Festival, held in the largest rose garden in the country.  But the 14-acre city park also features many flower and plant varieties in every hue year round.

Beautiful rose varieties come into full bloom for the annual
October Rose Festival in Tyler, Texas.
More than 38,000 rose bushes displaying at least 500 different varieties turn this site into an elegant landscape. Paths meander through the Garden, past sculptures, benches, and water features. Specimens range from tall grafted rose trees to tiny miniature roses.  In between are dozens of varieties of hybrid teas, grandifloras, shrub roses, climbing roses, and much more providing an amazing panorama of color.  Because the garden is an All American Rose Selection (AARS) test garden, visitors come all year to take notes on fragrance, color, and form of the newest varieties as well as old favorites.

New varieties of roses are tested and the best are selected for awards
in Tyler Municipal Rose Garden
Specialties: Roses!

Best time to visit: Spring and fall. Gardens are free. Fee for museum. Special fees apply during Rose Festival

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, October 5, 2020

Inspiration of Precious Moments park

If you’re looking for an uplifting place to visit, especially in uncertain times, there’s no better destination than the PreciousMoments complex near Carthage, Missouri.

Entrance to the Precious Moments park
A tribute to the artistry of Samuel J. Butcher who created Precious Moments figures, this park is anchored by the Precious Moments Chapel.  You’ll see 10,000 square feet adorned by 84 amazing hand-painted murals, 30 Bible verses and stories replicated in stained glass, and beautiful gardens decorated with meaningful sculptures. It’s a place for quiet reflection as you admire beloved Bible stories told through Precious Moments art.

Angels are recurring figures throughout the park.
While the Chapel has attracted millions of visitors, there’s much more to see.  Upon arrival, you enter a large building decorated with vignettes in Precious Moments style.  Informative films show the creative process, from casting the figures in clay to adding details and additional items nestled beside figures to close-ups of artists’ hands painting the distinctive muted hues. 

Statues of praying angels surround the perimeter, while stained glass windows with angel designs add to the cottage look. The world’s largest Precious Moments gift shop is filled with all kinds of figurines—for babies, marriage, graduation, family, friendship, patriotism--all of life’s special events and feelings. The Royal Delights Snack Shop will keep you nourished during your visit.

Beautiful gardens and water features honor beloved guests.
Head outdoors and you’ll see a statue of praying angels holding a tiny child. Called “Remember the Children,” it’s a memorial to children lost during the Oklahoma City bombing disaster.  The grounds are beautifully landscaped with colorful blooming flowers, trees and rock features. Grandma and Grandpa Cooper’s Garden, a water feature named in honor of an elderly couple who came every Thursday for many years, is a gesture of thanks for the love they demonstrated for everyone.

Mr. Butcher loved the woods, creek, and cave on the property he purchased in 1984. We understood why while wandering along well-kept paths.  Larry and I were impressed with the overall creativity including statues and fountains.  The solemn Avenue of Angles is filled with plants and figures dedicated by families to their lost loved ones.

Avenue of Angels is a way for families to remember loved ones.
In the museum, we saw original “Debbie” figurines including the first one called “Love One Another.” Each year new Precious Moments figurines are produced, some limited in production. Once those figurines are sold, the mold is retired and withdrawn from production.

Butcher himself painted every piece of art in the awe-inspiring Chapel. Three large, intricately-carved doors are inscribed with the scripture, “To God be the glory, great things He hath done.”  The heavenly ceiling, painted in 1985, originally included all but one of his angel figures, which was later added to indicate the ceiling was finished forever.
The Chapel is a work of art and a venue for story telling.
Several layers of art adorn side walls of the Chapel and stained glass windows, telling stories of disciples (painted in 2003) and parables through his trademark figures.  Circular paintings tell Old Testament stories, while children of the world are depicted in the ovals. 

Butcher’s sense of humor shows through as he painted Matthew, the tax collector, holding an IRS sign and the Good Samaritan with a Red Cross first aid kit. 

The park is open, but operating hours vary according to the season. Check online or call 800-543-7975.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Where to find the best pottery in Ireland

I love pottery.  I rarely pass up a craft show, potter’s workshop, or artisan’s gallery without adding to my collection. 

So it’s no surprise that I purchased a piece from Louis Mulcahy Pottery in DinglePeninsula in Ireland. What is surprising is that I agreed to the steep shipping charge back to the U.S. for the oversized platter that I chose. But since shipping was almost the same, I added a pair of Mulcahy’s signature red candlesticks, both of which are on display now in my home.

Louis Mulcahy has been potting for more than forty years. After winning first prize for pottery in the National Crafts Competition in 1975, he decided to move his workshop from Dublin to Dingle. He and his wife Lisbeth, a weaver, sold their house and invested their savings in a risky venture because he wanted to produce the best pottery possible.

The last of the big potteries making all pieces exclusively in Ireland, Louis Mulcahy designs and makes each individual piece. For multiples, such as tableware and lamp bases, he designs and tests the prototypes before handing production over to assistants.  Most pieces take two to three weeks from start to finish.

His studio, workshop, and retail shop in Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula produces and stocks an extensive range of exquisite porcelain and fine ceramic giftware and tableware, all made on-site. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 pieces (200-300 different works) are produced there each year. Using four or five special glazes, his work has gained worldwide recognition for its durability and lively finishing touches. The stoneware and porcelain pieces are dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe.

The pottery business is also home to an Open Room where everyone is welcome to try their hand at throwing a pot free of charge and under the eye of an experienced potter. It’s an educational experience that illustrates the skill and training required to master the craft. Learning to throw pots takes about three years, but it’s a lifetime commitment, says Mulcahy’s son-in-law, who also works as a potter at the studio.

Visitors are welcome to stop and browse and to refresh themselves at the Cafe upstairs, which  serves fresh local food, home-baked cakes, and coffees. After watching a demonstration, shopping for favorite pieces, and observing a guest try the potter’s wheel, we had a delicious lunch at the cafĂ© of tomato soup, ham and cheese panini, and fresh lemonade. 

In an amazing bit of serendipity, we ran into a couple we knew from our Texas town at the shop, and they invited us to visit their Ireland home. If the sunny day wasn’t already glorious, that ensured our “craickin” day was just perfect.

The Visitors Center is open now, and online orders are also accepted.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Why you should "See Rock City"

If the cheesy tourist-trap-style “See Rock City” signs painted on barns along the highway (including at my husband’s family’s wheat farm in Oklahoma) had touted the gardens of Rock City, I might have been tempted to stop and visit sooner.  I like blooming landscapes much better than rocks (which I have plenty of at home in Central Texas). So we bypassed this attraction when driving on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee many years ago. 

Charming rock bridge at Rock City gardens
 But our curiosity was piqued, and we did stop on a subsequent trip to Chattanooga.  We discovered a surprisingly charming attraction, not the slightest bit overblown.  There’s a reason 425,000 people visit annually, and it’s not to climb over all those boulders.  Opened to the public in 1932, Rock City Gardens is a delightful family attraction that features natural rock formations and views of Chattanooga.

New paths have enhanced Rock City.
Sightseers in the early 1800s were attracted to the naturally-formed avenues of the place they nicknamed Rock City.  Discovered by two missionaries who came to the Lookout Mountain area to minister to Indians in 1823, Rock City didn’t become a major attraction until Frieda Carter developed the large walk-through garden around 1930.

Today, visitors enjoy a peaceful and serene setting that showcases different forms of natural beauty—massive rocks, colorful flowers, cliffs, and waterfalls.  Nature’s handiwork is enhanced by the path Freida forged through the wilderness and among the rock formations with only a string to mark her trail.  Beginning in 1928, she spent four years gathering and preserving more than 400 varieties of indigenous plants in her garden on the family’s private estate.

Waterfalls and other features have been added
to attract visitors.
Attendance at Rock City burgeoned as families took to the highways for road trips.  Without video games or DVD players to divert their attention, children and parents watched the passing scenery—and were intrigued along the way by signs on barns and birdhouses extolling them to “Visit Rock City,” a result of an ingenious advertising campaign conceived by Frieda’s husband Garnet Carter (who also started the Tom Thumb miniature golf chain). 

Beginning in 1936, Carter convinced farmers from Texas to Michigan to paint large white block letters on roofs and sides of barns, inviting travelers to the attraction. Messages such as “To Miss Rock City Would Be a Pity” or “Millions Have Seen Rock City.  Have You?” convinced travelers to stop and explore. 

After reaching a high point in the late 1970s, Rock City declined during the 1980s as interstates pushed old highways—and the painted barns–off the beaten path.  But Rock City has rebounded and is now lovingly embraced by the city of Chattanooga as a major attraction.

The turnaround began when Rock City updated its features to appeal to modern travelers and joined with other nearby attractions in a marketing campaign.  Rock City has rebounded with new trails, garden paths, waterfalls, a climbing wall, and seasonal festivals. 

Spend a delightful time enjoying
the natural beauty of the area.
Original attractions along Enchanted Trail have been faithfully maintained under a new generation of family ownership.  Visitors can still wander down the Grand Corridor, walk through the Needle’s Eye and over Sky Bridge, slither through Fat Man’s Squeeze, and marvel at natural formations like Mushroom Rock and Tortoise Shell Rock.  Balanced Rock, a 1,000-ton boulder is a favorite photo spot, and visitors can see seven states from the Observation Point on a clear day.  Lover’s Leap, the site of a tragic Indian legend, and Goblin’s Underpass are also favorite sites.

Children and adults both enjoy Fairyland Caverns, where rock walls are illuminated with ultraviolet “black light,” highlighting Frieda’s collection of sculpted gnomes in creative vignettes.  Mother Goose Village is a gigantic landscape of storybook characters illustrating many beloved fairy tales. 

Landscaping and architectural additions continue to honor the original plan, so that new areas blend smoothly with the old. Themed music written for the park is subtlety piped along trails, tempo and style matching natural elements and enhancing the experience in an unobtrusive manner. The horticulture staff works year-round tending to the different species of trees and flowers on the 15 acre site, all the while carefully maintaining its natural ambience. The resident herd of white fallow deer are descendents of animals originally located there in the 1930s. 

On a clear day, you can see seven states from the park.
A beautiful 3200 square-foot Group Pavilion that can be fully covered with drop-down sides was added.  The addition of Grand View, a conference and special events center adjacent to the property, has also increased traffic. 

The Fudge Kitchen offers enticements of a different variety. Visitors should allow at least an hour and a half to tour the property, although dawdling is encouraged.

While improvements may catch the public’s attention, natural beauty is still the main reason visitors enjoy trekking through Rock City. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Which states have travel restrictions?

InsureMyTrip, which is representative of travel insurance providers, has seen a significant increase in the number of policies purchased for domestic travel. In fact, 50% of policies purchased in June 2020 were for domestic travel compared to 11% in June 2019. 

Still, with the continuing and complex situation surrounding COVID-19, travelers may be uncertain about travel restrictions and safety measures in place for each state.

InsureMyTrip offers a travel guide, correct as of September 1, 2020, for insight on travel safety and restrictions in each state.  Advice on what to expect before and after travelling may be helpful as you plan a trip.

Traveling Safely
If you are planning to travel in the coming months, safety is a top priority. When packing consider the following travel essentials:

        Face Mask
o   Wear this at all times in public spaces
o   If the mask is fabric, be sure to wash this regularly (you can include it in your regular laundry) using regular laundry detergent and ensure it’s at the warmest water setting for the material used to make the mask.
        Hand Sanitizer
o   Apply this before and after touching public surfaces or items, as well as before and after eating or drinking
        Anti-bacterial Wipes
o   Perfect for wiping down door handles, gas pumps, steering wheels and any other hard surfaces you may touch
        Contactless Payment Card
o   Cash is a high-touch item often passed between multiple people
        Non-perishable Food
o   This will minimise food stops and limit exposure to others
o   Non-perishable food also prepares for unexpected restaurant closures
o   Avoid eating and drinking on public transport as you will have to remove your mask
        Prescription Medicine
o   Try to pick this up curbside to avoid unnecessary contact
        Carry-on Luggage
o   If you are flying, opt for carry-on luggage so you can avoid lingering in pickup points waiting for bags to arrive
o   You also have a better sense of who has touched your luggage
        Essential Clothing Only
o   Consider packing light to fit your belongings in a carry-on
o   Be sure to wash your clothing regularly, especially once they have been exposed to the public

States with restrictions for out of state travelers:

Idaho: You are encouraged to quarantine for 14 days if you’re visiting Boise and other cities in Ada County.

New Mexico: All travelers – on arrival - must quarantine for 14 days or for the length of their stay, whichever is shorter.
The following states have both quarantine and testing measures are in place:

Alaska: All non-residents should take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to arrival and provide documentation showing a negative result. If you don’t take a test, a 14-day quarantine will be expected on arrival.

Connecticut:  Passengers must quarantine upon arrival for 14 days and fill in a mandatory form if staying for longer than 24 hours. This is only mandatory from travelers from states with a test positivity rate higher than 10% over a 7-day rolling average.

District of Columbia: Passengers are expected to quarantine for 14 days if they’re traveling from states listed on DC’s government site.

Hawaii: Currently all passengers traveling to Hawaii are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. From September 1st it’s mandatory for all travelers to fill in the Safe Travels application. The Pre-Travel Testing Program will not begin until October 1st.

Illinois: People entering/returning to Chicago from states with cases of at least 15 daily cases per 100k are required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Kansas: It’s only mandatory to quarantine for 14 days if you’ve travelled from Florida and if you visited Arizona from 17th – 27th July.

Kentucky: Travelers coming from states with at least 15 percent infection rate are asked to quarantine for 14 days. The states government website includes the full list of areas meeting this threshold.

Get tested before traveling to states
that require quarantines.
Maine: All passengers are subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine, unless a negative COVID-19 test is conducted 72 hours prior to arrival. Residents of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are allowed to enter without restriction.

Massachusetts: All passengers except those from low risk states, must fill out a health form and quarantine for 14 days or provide negative test within 72 hours. You can find the low risk states on the state government website.

New Hampshire: All travelers are expected to quarantine for 14 days except those from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

New Jersey: Passengers must quarantine for 14 days if staying in the state for more than 24 hours and coming from one of the states and territories on travel restriction. List can be found on the state’s government website.

New York: Travelers must quarantine for 14 days if staying in the state for more than 24 hours and coming from one of the states and territories on travel restriction.

Ohio: Travelers coming from high risk areas are asked to voluntarily quarantine for 14 days. High risk is defined by states reporting positive testing rates of 15% or higher based on a 7-day rolling average.

Check requirements before starting
a road trip to another state.
Pennsylvania: Travelers from any of the 19 surging states must quarantine for 14 days. The list can be found on the state’s government page.

Rhode Island: Travelers from states where positive tests are higher than 5% are required to self-quarantine for two weeks or provide negative test within 72 hours of arrival.

Vermont: Travelers are expected to quarantine for 14 days unless traveling from New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, D.C, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Texas is one of many states with no
current restrictions on visitors.
If the state you are interested in is not listed above, there are no current restrictions or measurements in place for out of state travelers. To view the full state travel guide click here

Information courtesy of Sara Boisvert, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at InsureMyTrip