Scottish Fling

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

We set off to trace our Scottish roots this summer, the clan Webb in tow, consisting of my 85 year-IMG_6248old father, husband and daughter. Webb is actually an English name, and we were looking for the Glenns, my great grandmother’s people. Family lore said we were descended from the oldest daughter of Robert the Bruce, a towering historical figure. My father, the family genealogist, had never been to Scotland, and we were looking for a family experience to remember. On so many levels, we found exactly that in Scotland.

Traveling with multiple generations is an adventure, and we were concerned how my father would fare on his extra plane trip from Los Angeles. He arrived in Chicago, eager to go, the wheelchair attendant pushing him speedily down the concourse at O’Hare airport where we all met for the non-stop, overnight flight to Edinburgh. The airline was very accommodating of his travel needs, bumping us both up to the front the economy section with seats together.

Arrival at the Edinburgh airport meant another mad wheelchair ride through customs and passport control; pushed by a lovely man who’s accent made him almost unintelligible. He, however, got us to the taxi stand in record time. We were so early in fact that I woke up the rental agent to ask her to meet us at the apartment with the key. She groggily agreed.

Edinburgh has an array of lodging from bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels. We choose a self-catered (meaning you cook) apartment in New Town, the heart of Edinburgh, built in the 1800s. I wanted a place that had a sleeping room on the first floor so my Dad didn’t have too many steps. Traveling with a cane now, he was a bit unsteady on his feet. The stone steps to the front door were the first challenge.

It was right then we were introduced to the kindness of the Scottish people, which became a repeating theme throughout our week. The cab driver was very concerned that the agent wasn’t standing at the door when we got to Royal Crescent Street, and the row of grey stone townhouses. He insisted on parking the cab and helping my Dad up the stairs to the door. Then he unloaded the bags and waited with us.

Our apartment was very stylishly furnished and included the ground and lower ground floors of a magnificent Georgian “A” listed building. Built over a period of some 85 years, between 1765 and 1850, New Town was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had made one small error, which was not checking that the half bath was actually on the first floor. My Dad had to navigate half a spiral stone staircase to get to the facilities. Note to self—never do that again!

We organized our week by two day-long guided bus trips and sight seeing in the city. The skyline in the Scottish capital city Edinburgh is dominated by the Castle for the last 1,000 years. Not very accessible to a man with cane, the three of us visited while Dad rested. The other royal residence, Holyrood Palace, however, offered free wheelchairs and was very accommodating. This is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth although she is in residence one week a year when she throws a 8000 person garden party. Our invitation must have been lost in the mail. The palace was built by King James IV of Scotland and improved by his successors into the marvelous building it is today. Mary Queen of Scots lived in this palace and married both her husbands within its walls.

We selected Rabies Tour Company to escort us  into the countryside on our family history quest. Rabies offered small 16 passenger buses and lots of personal attention that suited us perfectly.

It seemed that Robert the Bruce was similar to George Washington in the U.S., every place in the country had some claim to this national hero. Our first trip was into the Kingdom of Fife where our illustrious ancestor had ruled as king. A quick stop at St Andrews golf course was not really part of our historical visit but was fun to see the windswept golf links. Our second trip took us to the ruins of Melrose Abbey where Robert’s heart was buried, brought back from the Crusades. Melrose was founded in the 12th century by the Cistercians order. Walking among the stones and half walls, we got sense of what life was like in the earliest days. Our last visit was to Rosslyn Chapel, of DaVinci code fame, a perfectly preserved 15th century family chapel.

Our trip wasn’t in search of the HolyGrail. Instead, we were looking for some important family time to make new memories. Scotland proved to be a wonderful place for that and much more.


California town famous for mud baths

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

My father, at 84, has traveled the world, seen and done almost everything. Wanting to a plan a day trip during a recent trip to see him, we discussed what was still on his bucket list. He had never tried a mud bath.

IMG_8947[1]I did some research and settled on Calistoga, Calif., a Victorian-era town famous for its mineral water and mud in Napa Valley. This small village had been serving up spa treatments since 1862. As a bonus, it was also close to some extraordinary wineries and restaurants for our post-bath afternoon.

The Baths at Roman Spa had enough appointments for seven of us on a bright spring morning. They also offered two-person rooms, each with two tubs, which they advertised for “romantic couple’s baths.”

Given my dad’s age, he needed help getting in and out of the tub and shared a room with my long-suffering and always helpful husband. You can imagine the father-in-law bonding that occurred during the 60-minute treatment.

The session began with immersion in a bath of mud—a combination of Calistoga volcanic ash, peat and natural geothermal mineral water from local springs. A hot mineral bath followed, with a much needed cool-down in the relaxation room to finish the experience.

The mud was very hot and smelled like sulfur, so it was a bit of an acquired taste.

Once I sank down in the tub, however, it seems as if I was floating. Afterward, I felt rejuvenated.

Done with our treatments, we headed to one of our favorite restaurants for lunch, Mustard’s Grill in St Helena. Mustard’s chef/owner, Cindy Pawlcyn, wasn’t at the restaurant, but her staff carried on with their usual panache.

The Grill was named for the wild mustard flowers we saw around the vineyards. For 30 years, they’ve been serving classic American food with an extraordinary wine list. It’s a small place with lots of windows.

We split two entrees, the Niman Ranch Baby Back Ribs and the Seafood Tostada. A couple of our party enjoyed exceptional cheeseburgers and fries. Of course, the burgers were piled high with avocado and bacon. An order of onion rings with house-made tomato-apple ketchup made the lunch perfect.

Barely able to waddle out of the place, the rest of our party decided to do a little shopping in St. Helena, while some of us visited one of our favorite wineries, Corison.

With so many California wineries being absorbed by conglomerates, we wanted to visit a truly family-owned winery that still produces exceptional wines. Corison fit the bill admirably.

Cathy Corison has forged a life of wine that has spanned more than three decades, and she has transcended formidable challenges to become one of the premier female vintners in California. With a master’s in Enology from U.C. Davis in the mid-1970s, and after many years of wine-making for others, she honed her skills and sought to express her own wine-making voice.

In 1987 she made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet. Her vineyard, located between Rutherford and St. Helena, is in a region that is among the best places in the world for making Cabernet. Corison Winery regularly produces some of the most concentrated and superbly ripened fruit anywhere. The harvest of 2011 marks Cathy’s 25th vintage of Corison Cabernet!

Though it’s Cathy’s name on the label, Corison is a true family winery. Cathy’s husband, William Martin, designed the barn, keeps all the equipment humming and manages the day-to-day details of running the business.

On the day we were at the vineyard, he was operating the forklift, even as the mobile labeling truck was tending to the latest vintage of Cathy’s wines.

My dad was tired but he rallied for a glass of cabernet.

Visiting the Webb Family Roots

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Taking the Chelsea off-ramp from Interstate 94 on a recent Sunday, I wondered what would have greeted my ancestors when they made the trek from New York to this area in the 1830s. Certainly not the Taco Bell, KFC and McDonalds we found on the road! Chelsea is a wonderful, small town with one of our favorite restaurants, The Common Grill. Unfortunately, I had no time to sample their fresh seafood on this trip. We were looking for the church that my great, great, great, great grandfather, John Glenn, and his brother Charles had built in 1846 on the family homestead—North Lake United Methodist. The church had special family meaning, as its first services were held in our family’s home and my great (x5) uncle served as the speaker. He wasn’t a trained minister, but religion was important to my family, which had arrived in Washtenaw County just eight years after the county’s founding. The Glenn brothers first built a school that doubled as the community’s church. Before our visit, I’d only seen photos of the building in family albums, and it was eerie to imagine the simple white wooden structure as it might have first looked when the family built it in 1846. Leaving Chelsea and after ten more minutes’ drive, we arrived in Dexter, a quaint village of 4000 souls along the banks of the Huron River and Mill Creek. Strange how we had ended up living 57 miles from where my great grandmother, Emma Glenn, was born in Dexter. We had named our daughter after this great grandmother, and two others who shared the family name. My great grandfather, Richard William Webb, was born nearby in Unadilla. All of this family genealogy made us hungry, so we started searching for a lunch spot. The local Dairy Queen was one possible choice; I do love their chocolate dipped soft serve ice cream. Terry B’s looked more to our taste—a restaurant and bar, located in a arts and craft style former farmhouse built during the 1850s. The yellow building with a bright purple awning looked very inviting with its big deck for outside seating. My great grandmother might very well have walked by this same house growing up in Dexter. It did feel like a day for family ghosts, but no one joined us for lunch at Terry B’s, as it was only open for dinner. Their menu looked it liked was worth a return visit, however, to try their Michigan Shrimp and Grits or locally raised rib-eye steak. Our next choice was the Red Brick Kitchen and Bar, a self-styled gastro-pub. It looked wonderful. Luckily, I didn’t have my heart set on that one either, as it was closed on Sundays! It seemed that this trip had not been very well planned from an eating perspective. But, not being food snobs, we went back to the Dairy Queen. Their original double cheeseburger with a side of onion rings fit the bill. IMG_1880I took my ice cream cone along for a short walk along the river boardwalk in the new Mill Creek Park. In addition to the boardwalk, the park boasts an amphitheater, two boat launches, two observation and fishing decks and benches. On our back way through the outskirts of Chelsea on Territorial Road, we decided to stop at the Ugly Dog Distillery. We wanted to buy a bottle of their bacon-flavored vodka, which had been recommended for Bloody Marys. The distillery was born out of a bet between two friends, made at a campfire four years ago. The spirits were named after one of the owners’ dog, Ruger, a German wire haired pointer. Bacon was not their only unusually flavored vodka. How about whipped cream vodka? Perhaps the next time we visit my family roots, we’ll search for the family graveyard, where all our forebears now rest, to pay our respects…and go on a day when the local restaurants are open.

Traveling with Three Generations

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

I hate being so predictable. When I recently read that multigenerational vacations remained the single hottest travel trend in 2014, I realized I was one of many seeking quality time with both parents and children. None of the research captured why I organize these trips. It’s very simple. I don’t have enough time with either generation.

This is the time of my life filled with departures—some permanent and some temporary. And time is really flying. I don’t want to turn around and find many of the people central to my life aren’t around anymore for anything, including making new memories. I’m planning the trips more frequently now, as the clock runs faster for my parents and since our daughter wants to travel on her own or with her friends.

Years ago, we started to travel with multiple generations—a trip to Venice, Italy with my mother and then four-year-old daughter. More recent trips included a week in Maui with my mother and stepdad.

Let me share a recent trip as a primer for planning your own three-generation trips. I look for places that are near good medical facilities and that have non-stop flights. The island of Maui fit the bill.

Renting lodging was the first step. We needed enough bedrooms so that each generation had their own private space. Don’t do this unless you, as the organizer, also want to plan all the meals. If not, pick a hotel or resort. We rented two cars, so every generation had access to an escape route. And planning naptime into the day is important.

We found a lovely beachfront, first floor, no steps, three-bedroom condo, at the Kahana Villagewith a nice living room and a huge lanai. With separate rental cars, we met at the condo. My folks took the master, so they had their own bathroom—another key point in traveling with elders.

We made a plan for the week that included together time and alone time.. Breakfast every day was together, but everyone was responsible for his or her own. Lunch was a pick-up affair, and dinners were planned as either in or out. My husband and stepfather wanted to go winetasting, while my mom, daughter, her friend and I wanted to go snorkeling. Perfect.

The younger generation wanted to drive the road to Hana and hike to the waterfalls. The road to Hana is listed on every top ten list of things to do in Maui and consists of miles of hairpin turns, punctuated by opportunities to hike up to waterfalls. My folks passed on that, and my husband and I shared the driving and the girls hiked all the trails. The highlight of one stop was a young man proposing to his girlfriend, which my daughter captured on her iPhone and then emailed to the happy couple! The girls wanted to sample the nightlife in Lahaina. My husband chaperoned while I stayed home with my parents.

We all used the beach in various configurations, except my stepfather who doesn’t like the sun. Our all group outing to another beach featuring sea turtles was rather comical. We arrived in our separate cars. My parents wanted full shade, the girls wanted full sun, and I wanted to scream. It was a fun day at the beach shuttling between them! My solution was to rent a raft and float out on the ocean.

The best memories, however, were the simplest things we did together. We had a great meal out at Roy’s, a Hawaiian fusion restaurant with a few locations on the Islands and elsewhere. Going to the farmers market and the fish market and then cooking dinner together was probably the best moment of the trip.

Traveling with my parents and daughter is the stuff of lasting memories.

We’ll Always Have Paris

Published in the Battle Creek 4/1/2012

Some 40 years ago, my father took me to Paris, France. At fifteen years old, the City of Lights was a magical place. When I returned to Paris this time, I took my father.  It was a bittersweet visit, my father at 82 was having difficulty walking long distances and an afternoon nap was a required stop. Forty years ago, we went all day without stopping. While we aged, Paris fundamentally hadn’t changed.

We rented an apartment, right off Boulevard Saint-Germain in a very nice neighborhood in the 7th Arrondissement (AR).  In classic French fashion, we shopped every day and cooked most of our meals in the tiny galley kitchen.

We retraced our steps to Notre Dame Cathedral and sat quietly in the pews looking at the famous rose stained glass windows. Across from the church, we looked for the restaurant where we ate the final meal of the last visit. It was still there, a typical brasserie. I remembered every detail of the meal, steak entrecote, frites and haricot verts but Dad remembered exactly where the restaurant was.

We reminisced about our last night in Paris so many years ago. I just had to see the Arc de Triomphe one last time.  Neither of us could remember why it was so important. We madly dashed through the fabulous Metro system and ran up the stairs to see the historic arch built in 1806 to honor the war dead, lit up against the dark night sky. We barely made our train. No running in the subway this trip, just a slow walk with my father leaning heavily on my arm.

Each morning started with a café crème and a fresh croissant. Our daily routine included buying a fresh baguette, and who could resist a small pastry too? Éclairs, flan ancienne (custard pie) tarte citron were our choices. We shopped for cheese in the shop downstairs, picking out cheese by guess since we didn’t have any idea what everything was.  We drooled over everything at the Marché Raspail (open Tuesday, Fridays and Sundays) four blocks from our apartment. From cheese, to fresh seafood, to mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables—one of the city’s most famous open air markets.

Dad wanted to treat me to lunch so we headed to the two block Rue des Grands Augustines. Upscale restaurants like Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes where the tasting menu dinner started at $150 per person to the more affordable and also charming restaurants like Roger La Greonouille (Roger the Frog) where the fixed price lunch was only $35 per person with a ½ bottle of wine.  The Frog was more in our price range. We nibbled on filet de Bream, a flaky white fish.

While Dad napped in the afternoons, I visited my favorite museums. At the Rodin Museum, I sat in the garden soaking in this masterful sculptor of the 19th century, Auguste Rodin. I thought about my Dad, resting a few miles away and his love of travel, music and art — loves he had passed to me, starting with that first visit.  For a few hours in the Musee D’Orsay, I immersed myself in the most complete collections of Impressionist painters in the world. The new installation was a much better grouping of artists than I remembered from past visits. I’d visited this museum with my Dad on that very first trip to Paris.

We walked slowly together through the Paris of 2012, remembering our first trip together. For my Dad and me, it wasn’t just a line in a movie, “We’ll always have Paris.”