Happy Wanderer: North Carolina’s Stormy Shores bring History Alive

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. The rain fell in punishing waves and the wind whipped the trees like a dungeon master. There were voices, too…shrill, torturous sounds coming from the sea that was thrashing about,  just yards from my bedroom window.

My mind was racing. 400 years of history were flashing before me as I lay in my bed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Wind and weather forged this chain of four islands – spits of land surrounded by sea and constantly shifting sands.

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Happy Wanderer: Easter in Savannah – A Trip Back in Time

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One of America’s most beautiful cities has General Sherman to thank for its survival. When Savannah, Georgia fell to the North in the Civil War, Sherman spared it from the fiery fate he’d metered on so many other Confederate towns. The gilded southern seaport survived – and still thrives – to this day.

Savannah was part of the last New World Colony (under King George the Second) and this history is evident today. In fact, 22 of the 24 original town squares still grace this southern bell, providing a gathering place every two or three blocks for the townsfolk and visitors.

It was Easter weekend when my daughter and I pulled into Savannah and up to the Planters Inn. This 200-year-old boutique hotel on historic Reynolds Square would be our home for the next two days, and a launching pad for as many tours as we could take in dress heels.

Yes, I said heels, and I don’t recommend it for everyone. But we wanted to immerse ourselves in the style and grace of a bygone era. Besides, it took a whole day of shopping to find shoes for our pastel dresses and we weren’t about to leave them in the closet. Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: Pond Skimming; Wet and Wild

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: March 19, 2010

Some folks are born with a silver spoon. I was born with two boards. My folks had me skiing when I was old enough to walk. That’s not unusual in Minnesota, where everything you’ve heard about winter is true. It’s cold, it’s long and it’s spectacular.

But something happens to Minnesotans in spring. We get a little giddy. Call it cabin fever, but we celebrate the first thaw like we’ve won the state lottery. We go a little bonkers.

So you can understand why the most vivid memories of my youth involve bikinis and Viking horns and snow skiing on water. It’s what you do when the weather turns warm and the powder turns to mush.

Pond skimming has become more than just a wacky way to ring in spring. It’s bringing in big business to resorts that might otherwise be looking at some lonely last days before a long summer break.

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Happy Wanderer: Around the World in 16 Days


These days, sending a student off to college almost always includes a semester abroad. Add up the cost, and you know the strain this can put on the family budget.  But at St. Mary’s College, last month, my students and I traveled the world in 16 days – for less than $300 each.

Before you go crazy doing the math, I’ll mention the “world” part was figurative. We didn’t really circumnavigate the globe; we rented a motor coach and stayed close to home. We toured world class cities, quaint coastal towns, French-inspired vineyards and Irish coasts – all within an hour’s drive of Moraga.

Below is one of the many outstanding student presentations shot on this trip.

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The season’s first snowfall in San Francisco’s East Bay

Midwest transplants, rejoice! Winter promises to bring more than one snowfall to the East Bay this year, thanks to El Nino and colder-than-normal temperatures. Here is a wonderful video, courtesy of student Bryan Navarro at St. Mary’s College in Moraga,  of our first snow of the season, Dec. 7, 2009:

And thanks to Bennett Hall for the photo, below, of his wife Helen and dog Jasmine on a winter walk.

Happy Wanderer: My top 7 picks for best outdoor adventure


When it comes to travel, it’s all about the list. The top ten this, the top five that…it’s almost daunting to pour through

dogsledding above the Arctic Circle

the minutia of must-sees as mentioned in books like 1,000 places to see before you die.

So here is a “bucket list” of real adventures – hand-picked by the Happy Wanderer over years of wild living leading up my recent hip surgery. These are not for the faint of heart. They are action-packed adventures for the daring and strong-boned and able.

  1. 1. Cage diving in the Farallones. In late fall, when the Great White Sharks come to feed on the convention of Elephant Seals off the Gulf of the Farallones, you can be part of the process. The trip calls for a hearty constitution as you travel by boat some 30 miles in choppy waters to this extraordinary marine sanctuary. Continue reading

Happy Wanderer: Hot air balloons spark flights of fancy


It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the balloon boy. If ever a story captured our collective imagination –the recent balloon

odyssey in Colorado did the trick. And although the saucer-shaped aircraft turned out to be empty, it could very well have housed a boy, a baboon, or even something sinister like the Japanese bomb balloons in World War Two.

It got me thinking about ballooning, and my recent trip to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta – the most photographed event on the planet. With over 600 balloons punctuating the sky, it’s easy to see why.

The carnival atmosphere starts before dawn. Under a blanket of stars, vendors prepare for the throngs of visitors making the pilgrimage to this sacred ballooning site in the shadow of the Sandia Mountains. The smell of burritos and corndogs permeates the still air and flickers of light pierce the darkness as the first shots of propane surge into the nylon envelopes. Continue reading

Tis the season for…block parties

Every neighborhood should have a way for folks to get together and cultivate common interests. We all need to look out for one another! A little food, some libations and even entertainment make a block party the social event of the summer. ..like this moonlight bash on Merriwood with master didgeridoo player Stephen Kent.