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Thoughts on Travel Safety

I have been thinking a lot lately, undoubtedly as many of us have, about my safety when I travel. I have never been one to live in fear of anything. I have never let fear keep me from exploring the world and having amazing adventures. But this doesn’t mean that I act carefree without exercising caution. I find that there are things about travel that worrying about and obsessing over won’t help one bit. I will admit to still getting nervous on every takeoff and landing, but it will never keep me from getting on a plane. I have just accepted the fact that mechanical failure or the act of a evil person could bring down the plane at any time.

I know the acts of mad men do not just occur far from home. We have plenty of crazy people right here in the United States motivated by a number of different philosophies and at varying levels of insanity.
I often ask myself what would I do in an emergency. I think one of the keys is to spot one before it escalates to try to avoid being taken by surprise.
I don’t consider myself paranoid but here are a few things I do that are just a habit at this point but do increase my personal safety. I always take note of exits — that goes for when I’m at a bank, restaurant, shop, or government building. When we go out, I sit with my back against the wall and in a place I can see the entrance of the restaurant or cafe (it also makes for great people watching). I think that step alone goes a long way in securing your personal safety.
I am in no way an expert so here are some tips from the U.S. Department of State on travel safety:
  • Pack light so you can move more quickly and have a free hand when you need it.
  • Carry a minimum number of valuables and plan places to conceal them.
  • Check your bags, clothing, and vehicle to make sure you are not carrying any banned items or substances, such as weapons or ammunition, into your destination country. Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity and nationality.
  • Avoid packing IDs, tickets and other vital documents in backpacks or other locations you won’t be able to see at all times.
The U.S. Department of State hosts a private sector security overseas seminar, which includes intensive security awareness briefings and comprehensive discussions of services provided to private U.S. citizens overseas. This is the same security training that is required for all official U.S. government employees.
Some of the topics that you will be trained on are:
  • International Personal Security Overview
  • Surveillance Detection
  • Explosives/Mines (I hope you never find yourself in a place where that information is necessary)
  • Sexual Assault Awareness and Response
  • Hostage Survival
  • Environmental and Road Safety
  • Cross-Cultural Awareness
  • Crisis Management
The dates for this year’s seminars are April 20-22, 2016 and September 21-23, 2016; tuition is $420.
I’m not saying you have to become some sort of Liam Neeson in “Taken” kind of badass but just someone who is more aware of their surroundings especially when you are in unfamiliar ones.
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Thanksgiving Cocktail, Anyone?

The holiday party season is upon us so being the active, childless couples we are (the collective we is being used here since Amanda and I suck at the party hosting thing), we can have parties with booze and not worry who is of age.

I thought we’d offer some suggestions in keeping with a Thanksgiving theme. As a general rule, I never use top shelf liquor to mix drinks. The ingredients will just hide the quality, so the cheap stuff works in most cases.

Thanksgiving Punch
Ginger ale
1 part cranberry juice
1 part pink lemonade
1 slice lemon

Fill a chilled rocks glass with ice cubes. Add cranberry juice and pink lemonade. Top up with ginger ale, garnish with lemon.

Bourbon Spiked Hot Apple Cider
4 cups apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon orange juice
3 whole cloves
1 bourbon

Place the apple cider, cinnamon stick, orange juice, cloves and bourbon in a small pot and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 5-­10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a pitcher.

To make the drink: Add 2 oz bourbon and 1 cup of the cider mix to a glass. Garnish with an orange slice and stick of cinnamon.

Recipe by Vindulge

Naughty Pumpkin Cocktail
2 ounces pumpkin pie infused vodka
1 ounce dark rum ½ ounce kahlua
1 barspoon brown sugar simple syrup
Optional: splash of half and half

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass. Add ice if desired.

Optional: Top with a splash of half and half before serving.

To make brown sugar simple syrup: Mix 2 parts brown sugar with one part water on stove. Stir to combine and boil until thickened. Cool before using. Store in the fridge and use as needed.

Recipe by One Martini

Frosty the Caramel Apple Pie
1 -1/2 oz. vodka or tequila
1 oz. butterscotch schnapps
1 -1/2 oz. apple cider
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Apple slice for garnish
Crushed graham crackers

First, rim the lip of a chilled cocktail glass with your crushed graham crackers. Pour all the liquid ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into your chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple slice.

Serve over ice in a large wine goblet.

Recipe by Food Network

Hoppin’ Hot Scotch
2 oz. butterscotch schnapps
8 -10 oz. hot chocolate (water or milk)
Whipped cream (optional)
Chocolate shavings (optional)
1/2 oz. amaretto (optional, but gives off a warm, almond aroma)

In an Irish coffee mug, add schnapps followed by hot chocolate. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream. Top off with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings.

Recipe by Food Network

Apple Cider Margaritas
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce gold tequila
5-6 ounces sweet apple cider
orange segments and apple slices
cinnamon + cane sugar + coarse sugar for glass rimming
cinnamon sticks for garnish

Add a few spoonfuls of cane sugar, coarse sugar and cinnamon to a plate. Run an orange segment around the edge of the glass, then press into the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat the rim. Add a few orange slices in the bottom of the glass, fill with ice, then add the Grand Marnier, tequila and apple cider and stir to mix. Garnish with apple slices and cinnamon sticks. Enjoy.

Recipe by How Sweet Eats 

Honeycrisp Apple Sangria
3 cinnamon sticks
2 honeycrisp apples, chopped
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 750ml bottle of red wine
1 and 3/4 cups of apple cider
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange juice
juice from a lemon
club soda

Place the cinnamon sticks, apples, and orange slices in a large pitcher. Add wine, apple cider, brandy, orange juice and lemon juice. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 6 – 24 hours. Taste; if you’d like it to be sweeter, add 1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar, honey, or agave. If you’d like a cinnamon-sugar rim (highly recommended), simply moisten the rim of your glasses with water, turn the glass upside down and dip it into a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Pour in the sangria with fruit and add a splash of club soda (this unsweetened fizz is wonderful with the sangria!). Garnish with a cinnamon stick, if desired. Cheers!

Recipe by Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Taking Home (a Little) More than Memories

There are many schools of thought when it comes to souvenirs. Some ascribe to the “take only memories, leave only footprints” mentality, others don’t feel like a trip is complete without a major purchase.

Like most people, I fall around the middle of that spectrum. I won’t buy a trinket just to have it. In fact, I’ve come home from many trips without a single (tangible) souvenir — and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything.

Sometimes You Splurge

On our very first trip to Italy, Zeke and I were both on tight first-real-career-job budgets. Our round trip flight in and out of Venice was $420 per person (mainly due to our willingness to endure a 12-hour overnight layover in London, during which we had to change airports).

It was my first trip to Europe and the first I had traveled internationally without my parents, so some learning experiences were to be expected. For example, I started out paying cash for our hotel rooms — then quickly realized I wasn’t going to have enough cash to cover my other expenses. A quick call home to mom and dad replenished my AAA TravelMoney card (yes, I paid them back as soon as I got home), and I was back in business.

Thanks to that micro-loan from mom and dad, I was able to bring home my biggest splurge souvenir to date: a leather jacket from a tiny shop in Florence.

Worth. Every. Penny.

Worth. Every. Penny.

Sometimes You Save

Toward the other end of the spectrum, I was quite the saver on our second trip to Greece. Don’t get me wrong, I got exactly what I wanted.

Zeke has always loved Ruby’s, a fine jewelry store in Athens’ Plaka neighborhood. I didn’t get to go to Ruby’s on our first trip to Greece (although we traveled separately and Zeke did come home with a Greek key bracelet for me!), so on our second trip Zeke said he’d buy me anything I wanted there. Yes, he’s the best.

I walked in and looked at all of the gorgeous pieces of jewelry. There were diamonds, gemstones and pearls galore — all set in gold, silver and platinum. Each was beautiful, but nothing was really speaking to me. After a bit I suggested I take some time to think about my choices while we continued our shopping.

One of the next stores we happened upon had a blue felt-lined glass case full of rings and pendants. I was immediately drawn to a pudgy silver owl with tiny wings. The owl is the symbol of the goddess Athena and, as such, the city of Athens, so it felt like the perfect choice.

My chubby little owl.

My chubby little owl.

The price? €7. And I’m just as happy with this little owl as I would have been with the finery at Ruby’s. And, truth be told, I wear the necklace more than my leather jacket!

What’s your favorite travel souvenir? Was it a splurge or something more modest?

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Whiskey’s Roots in America

Who knew a wonderful world of whisky was waiting to be discovered in the heart of Pittsburgh at the Wigle (pronounced “wiggle”) Distillery? I was definitely surprised.


Wigle distillery, established in 2011 in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, creates dozens of spirits, whiskeys, gins and honey spirits. The small facility gives them the flexibility to experiment and use only the best local and organic ingredients. We were told on our tour they don’t use organic ingredients because it’s trendy, but because science has proven that organic barley, rye and corn make the best spirits.

The roots of Western Pennsylvania distilling date back to the 1700s. It’s considered the birthplace of American whiskey.

“Western Pennsylvania,” our tour guide told us “was Kentucky before Kentucky existed.”

Wigle, the man (this time pronounced “Vy-gle” due to his German roots), was one of the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 when the western Pennsylvania distillers resisted attempts by the newly formed national government to tax their products. The rebellion was quickly and nearly bloodlessly put down when the sitting president of the United States George Washington led an army into western Pennsylvania and arrested Wigle. Wigle was then taken to Philadelphia and pardoned by Washington as he approached the gallows because Washington didn’t want to create a martyr.

Sipping on cocktails included in the $20 ticket price, we were given a tour of the operation by a fantastic, energetic tour guide named Greg. He told us the parallel stories of the process to distill whiskey and the history of distilling in the Americas. The tour was also filled with samples of various kinds of spirits, along with sniffs and tastes of the various products in the different stages of the process. I swear the one of them smelled just like my mother’s cookies.


The final stop was a tasting of a flight of distilled whiskey. I will admit to only sniffing my flight since the various tasting stops left me with a little buzz.  If you like your liquor this is a wonderful stop on any trip, though I do recommend getting a ride or bring a driver, because if you want to enjoy it to your tour to the fullest you will need a safe ride home.

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A Local Brewer Does Good

Port CityThe brewers at Port City Brewing Company took home a big honor at the Great American Beer Festival this past September, beating out 518 other brewers to be named Small Brewery of the Year.

A small brewery is any one that produces 1,000 to 14,000 barrels a year. The community of Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, DC, didn’t need the award to convince them of the quality of beer brewed and bottled in the nondescript building located along an industrial road. The brewery has been producing lagers, IPAs, and specialty brews at capacity for a few years now as they try to keep up with the demand. It would be hard to find a bar in the DC metro area that doesn’t carry Port City.

The founder of Port City, Bill Butcher, thinks one of the keys to the popularity is the brewery itself. It’s a place fans of their brews can gather. You can stop by for a taste in their tasting room, which serves full-sized pints and lets you pick up beer to go in 6 packs, cases, or growlers. But dropping by for a pint isn’t the only reason to visit, their events calendar is packed. You can drop by on Friday nights for music and beer, or get a little cardio in with Joggers and Lagers on Monday nights. Beer Yoga is one of their most popular events; they’re attracting so many people they hold it on the brewery floor among the massive steel tanks filled with fermenting beer.

I’ve been there a couple of times and would recommend it as a stop for any beer lover on a trip to the DC metro area. I recommend their Oktoberfest, stout and IPA.

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A Private Affair: A Community Wedding

We hosted a wedding this past weekend — a wedding emblematic of a couple’s connection with their community. Andrea Changuris, a No Kids guest blogger and my little sister, and her long-time boyfriend Matt got married in a simple, Greek Orthodox ceremony just a few miles down the road from my parents’ house. The Brethren Church is where we attended preschool and the center community life in our valley.


The reception was held at my parents’ home under a massive tent, but still not massive enough. We borrowed two other tents from a neighbor for food service and a place for wedding gifts and favors. We did a lot of the work ourselves.

The mistress of the kitchen, my mother, spent months planning the menu and cooking the meals for more than 100 guests. We didn’t care that the plates didn’t match, we collected half of them from friends and relatives. The centerpieces were designed it assembled by our aunt and uncle.

The dress was a tea length a-line, originally our mother’s. A close friend and seamstress reworked it for Andrea. We didn’t need to hire a DJ or a band, we had a stereo system, a computer, and our brother acting as emcee. We even got waitstaff from the local high school, friends of my nephew. The entire bill was both elegant and rustic at the same time. The guests were welcome to explore anywhere they wanted, the fields or vineyards or to take a break in the house. They weren’t really guests, they’re friends and family.

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Uncle Willie, Tour Guide

You never know what you’re going to get when you step into a cab, especially when you’re in a place you’ve never been before. We’ve had positive and negative experiences in this department.

We’ve had a cabbie in Mexico turn a 40-minute trip into a 90-minute trip after getting lost. I had a cab driver on Crete charge me $20 for a 1-mile trip from the ferry dock to a hotel. But on our last trip, as we got into Nassau, we were in for an unexpected treat.

We drew Uncle Willie from the taxi line and were rewarded with a short adventure to start off our trip. The man greeted us with a smile, loaded us into his van and started us on our way. He felt obligated, with it being our first time in Nassau, to show us around as we wound around the island toward Nassau town and our hotel.

We were told about the importance of the fresh-water lake along John F. Kennedy Drive, and how expensive real estate was. Just beyond the lake was Cable Beach, where the home values range in the millions. The next spot was Baha Mar, a massive resort and casino near Cable Beach that stood incomplete due to bankruptcy. We traveled along West Bay street skirting the shoreline before turning on to Esplanarde Way, the home of the community of restaurants known as Fish Fry.

Uncle Willie explained to us that the best way to feel like a Bahamian was to get some Sky Juice, so he pulled over at a colorful stand near the road and called out to the lady behind the counter.  We weren’t exactly in a position to decline, so Amanda hopped out of the van and bought a cup of the Caribbean concoction of gin, evaporated milk, coconut, cinnamon and nutmeg. I admit it wasn’t that bad; it reminded of a vanilla milkshake watered down with gin.

The course of our conversation turned to dining, and my remark about noticing there were several Greek restaurants on the island turned to my own Greekness, which led to another detour. We wound our way through the one-way warrens of Nassau and began to roll down West Street, to pull up for a moment at a Greek Orthodox Church. The doors were open and they were just finishing up services, so the familiar look of the alter and priest in his vestments were more than proof that Greeks had make a real home on the island.

He dropped us off at the British Colonial and asked us to call him for a lift back at the end of our stay. I smiled and thanked him, and including a nice tip for the tour, asked for a photo.

The return trip was a little faster, with small talk about politics, economics and education on the island. Nonetheless it was a pleasant trip that felt more like a friend dropping us home than a cab taking us to the airport.

Uncle Willy


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