Thursday, December 31, 2009

when in rome...

I got to spend a day in Rome this past week on a layover. Christmas in Rome is all about the Nativity. There are Nativity scenes set up in all the major plazas and in front of the churches around town. In December Piazza Navona, is transformed into a huge Christmas market. A large nativity scene is in the square. Stalls sell all kinds of Christmas nativity figures, decorations, candy and gifts. There's a merry-go-round and Babbo Natale, Santa Claus is also there. The lady with him is not Mrs. Claus, she is La Befana. La Befana is who delivers presents to children in Italy on Epiphany, much like our Santa Claus. In Piazza Navona, you could get your photo taken with Babbo Natale and La Befana. Christian legend has it that The Magi asked La Befana where the baby Jesus was, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night. They invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart,and went looking for the baby Jesus. Befana still searches today, on Epiphany, Befana comes to a house where there is a child and leaves a gift. Befana looks like a witch. And like for Santa, the italian children leave a snack for Befana! The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food.

The Piazza Navonna was filled with places to purchase nativity stuff. Like furnishing dollhouses or building a model train layout. There were all sorts of things to put together to build your own nativity.

I also walked around town to see my favorite tourist attractions in Rome. The mouth of truth, La Bocca della Verità, is my favorite. Anyone who had seen Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn is familiar with this sculpture.

Bocca della Verita

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire! Why don't I see this in the USA more? I can't resist roasted chestnuts! So yummy, hot and served in a paper cone.

I also walked by the forum, where I saw this bride and groom getting their wedding photos taken!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas in West Seattle

I love spending Christmas at home and luckily we have Seattle layovers during the holidays, so I can combine work with pleasure! Last week I was supposed to work a flight to Paris, but the Seattle to Philadelphia flight had a mechanical and I was forced to stay home. I made lemons out of lemonade by going down to Alki Beach to see the Christmas Ships. Onboard the ships, they have choirs singing Christmas Carols and on the shore there is a bonfire and often the local Starbucks will be providing hot drinks. You can pay to ride on the ships and even have dinner. Or if you have your own boat, you can put lights all over it and come along, making it a lighted boat parade! It is great fun to go out and see the lighted ships come up to shore and hear the music.

This week, I was home on a layover and I was supposed to work the flight back to Philadelphia overnight. However, the major snow storms on the east coast forced the airline to cancel our flight and I got to spend another evening at home. Again in an effort to make lemons out of lemonade, I took an evening stroll around my neighborhood to see the Christmas Lights!

My neighborhood is always full of lights during the holidays, almost every house is covered in colored lights and the yard displays are wonderfully fun!

There is lots of variety.

This year there is also a house that has one of those systems that matches the lights to music. You can watch the lights flash around to Christmas Songs. Here are a couple of videos of that house!

Some of my favorite house displays have more retro decorations.

I love this Santa with his sleigh and reindeer!

And these cute little snowmen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stalking Wendelin Van Draanen

As many of you already know, I collect children's series books. Specifically, Nancy Drew books and older books from the 30's thru the 1950's and 60's. But I also like to keep up with current children's books from Lemony Snicket to Harry Potter and one of my favorites is The Sammy Keyes mysteries. Wendelin Van Draanen is the author of these books and they follow the misadventures of Sammy as she solves mysteries around her hometown of Santa Martina. The place names and landmarks in Santa Martina seemed awfully familiar to me and I noticed the resemblence to areas around San Luis Obispo, CA. It's no mystery, because Wendelin Van Draanen lives in the area and based Santa Martina on the real city of Santa Maria, California. Other fictional cities frequently mentioned in the books are Santa Luisa (San Luis Obispo), and Sisquane (Sisquoc). The city of Pomloc is also mentioned once, a reference to the city of Lompoc. Ryan and I are often down in San Luis Obispo, CA visiting his family and I have been on the lookout to see if Wendelin Van Draanen does any book signings in the local bookstores.

Well, one day Ryan flew down to San Luis Obispo without me and I get a phone call from him later that day about the adventure he had on his flight. It seems he was sitting next to this woman on the plane who WRITES CHILDREN'S BOOKS!! He wondered if I had ever heard of her! Duh! I was jumping up and down in my seat with excitement. So did you get me an autograph? No, of course not, but he had her email address. It seems they talked about Ryan and his website more than they did about Sammy Keyes books and exchanged email addresses when the flight was over. So being the good boyfriend he is and hoping to redeem himself after failing to get an autograph the first time, Ryan emailed Wendelin Van Draanen and she ended up sending me an autographed copy of one of her books! Hurray!

For more information about Wendelin Van Draanen, Sammy Keyes and her other books, you can visit her website:

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Final Miles

On Sunday, I headed out to Bridle Trails State Park over in Kirkland and hiked 1.6 miles on the Trillium Loop. They have these cute little signs with symbols on them for the trail markers. That brought my hike-a-thon mileage total up to 51 miles. On Monday I decided to go ahead and hike a few more miles to exceed my 50 mile goal for the month. I drove out to Squak Mountain State Park in Issaquah and was so pleasantly surprised to discover the Pretzel Tree Interpretive Trail.

This is a short, easy, trail meandering among the trees of Squak Mountain State Park. It is perfect for kids because of the Information boards along the trail telling the story of Field Mouse as he decides to take an adventure in the woods. He meets many different local forest creatures and discovers their importance in the forest as he searches for the Pretzel Tree. The crow picks up garbage, termites and bugs transform a tree into a nurse log and more.

Towards the end of the walk, we finally get to see the infamous Pretzel Tree! Pretty cool. I was enchanted by the whole hike which clocks in at about 3/10 of a mile. I did a few more tenths of a mile on the May Valley Loop to get in a complete mile at Squak Mountain.

The May Valley Loop Trail has had washouts and parts of the trail are closed. The trails here are maintained by volunteers from Issaquah Alps Club, Mountains to Sound Greenway and WTA.

Then I hopped back in the car and went to Soaring Eagle Park in Sammamish to do 2 miles and find a slew of letterboxes! It was a terrific day and a terrific end to hike-a-thon 2009. Thanks so much to everyone who pledged this year. We have raised $1,485 dollars and I hiked a total of 54 miles! Whoo Hoo!
They will accept donations through September 10th on the website:

Click here for any last minute donations

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Just half a mile shy of 50....

A gorgeous Saturday in Seattle and the Twin Falls Trailhead of Olallie State Park was packed! The trail was crowded with families and dogs! I met up with another USAirways employee to do a quick 3 miles roundtrip to see the falls.
There is a really nice waterfall viewing platform with awesome views of the 150-foot drop of the Lower Twin Falls. We also hiked out to where a bridge crosses over top of the falls.

So my mileage total is up to 49.5 miles and the pledges total is now $1,098! I fully expect to exceed my mileage goal of 50 miles since I have already exceeded my pledge goal of $1,000. There is more than a week left for hiking and You can help by still making donations on the WTA website during the month of August, just click on this link:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bishop Peak Climb

I flew down to San Luis Obispo, CA between Seattle trips to visit with Ryan while he is visiting with his family. So while I was there I hiked another 5 miles for hike-a-thon by climbing Bishop Peak. Bishop Peak is one of the Morros in San Luis Obispo. The Morros are a chain of volcanic plug mountains from the ocean at Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo. There are either 7 or 9 peaks depending on who you talk to. They are called the Nine Sisters. Bishop Peak is the tallest of these. On a clear day we would be able to see all the way to the ocean from the top, but The La Brea fire, about 56 miles southeast in the San Rafael Wilderness was contributing to the hazy atmosphere on this day. The trail passes through grassy areas and an oak forest before you climb to the huge granite boulders at the top.

So my mileage total is up to 46.5 miles and the pledges total is now $948! only $52 dollars away from my goal of $1,000. You can still make donations on the WTA website, just click on this link: Amanda's WTA Fundraising Page

The Nine Sisters
Bishop Peak

Bishop Peak Wine

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blackberries and Blueberries

Had to take Ryan to the airport on Saturday, so I was able to stop by Des Moines Creek Trail and get in 2 more miles for hike-a-thon. I always do a mile or more on the Des Moines Creek Trail each year. It is so close to the airport and so convenient for me. During previous years I was able to pick blackberries on this trail and the blackberry brambles still run rampant along this trail, however, this year the blackberries are not quite ripe yet.

On Monday when I got home from work, I decided to go out to Mercer Slough to see if the blueberries were ripe yet. The U-Pick was open, but the girl at the front warned me that the berries were sparse. She was right. I only got about a pint of blueberries before I gave up and decided to hike around the Slough on the Heritage Trail and Lake to Lake Trail. I got in another 2 miles for hike-a-thon.

So my mileage total is up to 41.5 miles and the pledges total is up to $923! only $77 dollars away from my goal of $1,000. Thanks to my USAirways buddies who have contributed over $400 towards that total!! You can still make donations on the WTA website, just click on this link:
Amanda's WTA Fundraising Page

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Camping on the Coast

I picked my sister up in Portland on Sunday night and we decided to spend all day Monday in the Columbia River Gorge, hiking with my friend, Karen. We hiked Larch Mountain. A nice little 6 mile loop can be had by hiking Larch Mountain Trail, Multnomah Creek Way and Oneonta Trail. Along the way, we saw lots of wild blueberries, but they were still not quite ripe. A little sour. I was able to pick up a couple of letterboxes along the way too! The view from Woman's Forum looking back along the river was lovely.

On Tuesday, we left Portland and headed for Fort Stevens on the Oregon Coast. We stopped at Camp 18 on Highway 26. They have a little trail there called the Humbug Creek Trail, so I hiked it for a measy little 3/4 of a mile. We stopped at McMenamins Sand Trap in Seaside, OR for some of their terrific beer and pub grub. By the time we got to the Campground at Fort Stevens and had the tent up, it was almost sunset. We thought we could knock out the 1 mile trail around Coffenbury Lake before it got totally dark. So we are hiking and hiking around the lake and it gets darker and darker and I am thinking that this is more than one mile!! It turns out the lake is one mile long. The trail around the lake is actually 2.4 miles! So we got in more miles than I had planned for Tuesday.

On Wednesday, we visited Fort Clatsop and I hiked the Netul River Trail for 1 mile. We spent most of the day in the galleries and shops at Cannon Beach. It was raining most of the day and we didn't feel like slogging along the trails. We also visited the Astoria Column and saw the Goonies house!

Thursday, we got up bright and early to return to Seattle. Took some photos of the Wreck of the Peter Iredale on the beach at Fort Stevens and then headed back to Washington State and Cape Disappointment State Park. We hiked the Cape Disappointment Trail to see the lighthouse and also the McKenzie Head Trail for more views. (and letterboxes) On the drive home, we also cruised through Raymond, WA to enjoy their sculpture trail. And we were able to make another stop at Burgerville in Centralia this time, for their Walla Walla Sweet Onions Onion Rings! With the Garlic Aioli sauce they are awesome! My sister has already posted some of her photos from the trip on Facebook!

So I have a total of 37.5 miles and $783 for WTA Hike-a-thon. Many thanks to my letterboxing friends who have contributed so generously. You Guys ROCK! or is it SPOR? Don't forget if you are mailing a check to me to have it in the mail by September 3rd. Checks should be made out to WTA or Washington Trails Association. And my Fundraising Page is set up to take credit card donations.