Category Archives: Uncategorized

ANNOUNCEMENT: TRAVEL PLANS FOR REMAINDER OF 2017

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Everyone who knows me can shout to the rafters that I love to travel, and they would also say that I love to travel internationally, in particular.

However, 2017 holds a combination of domestic and international excursions. In the earlier part of this year, I had the pleasure of visiting Atlanta (hadn’t been there since 1984) and San Francisco/Berkeley, California.  These were exciting trips that allowed me to spend time with family and old friends.

I am equally excited about my upcoming trips that will occur  September through November 2017. They are:

  1.     Seattle, Washington (visiting family and friends)
  2.     Reykjavik, Iceland (home of the Blue Lagoon)
  3.     Sydney, Australia (1st trip was in 2015)

Stay tuned for additional details, chronicles of these visits and loads of pics.

Where are you traveling next?

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I’M BACK!

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Well after a brief hiatus from writing weekly blog posts, I am back and ready to write, again!

I wish I could say that I’ve been veging out and staring off into space, but that’s not the case.  I’ve been busy — very busy, and as organized as I am, I can only juggle so many balls at one time.

It’s not easy holding down a full time job (a demanding job, I might add), building a thriving entrepreneurial venture, traveling, planning outings and excursions  maintaining commitments with friends and family and trying to get some relaxation time in so that I have enough steam to keep going.

So to get back into the swing of blogging again, I am keeping it simple — I am posting this wonderful pic of me, along with my wonderful cousins during our trip to Atlanta.  The occasion was a fun filled “Cousins Weekend.”

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Eight of us descended on our Atlanta based cousin and her husband to visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, take in the movie “Hidden Figures, sing along with Roy Ayers at The City Winery, grab some delicious meals at various restaurants and even worship at a Spirit-filled church.

It was the type of weekend everyone owes themselves.

Thanks for sticking with me; I’m glad to back in the Blogosphere!

TRAVEL TIPS SERIES: PART 1 — Strategies on Finding Affordable Airfares!

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If you’re hell bent on traveling the world in the same old way each time you do it, these tips may not be helpful to you. What I’m sharing here is for the OPEN-MINDED traveler that is willing to explore different and unique approaches to travel.

Although I have experienced travel where I’ve stayed in top notch hotels, ate numerous gourmet meals and taken my share of spacations, I am equally at home in an AirBnB, where I can prepare my own meals and still have very nice amenities at my fingertips.

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What I would like to share with you over the course of several posts, are travel tips that allow you to travel economically thereby allowing you to maximize your dollars!

So let’s start in this post by examining a number of ways to secure deals on your flights.

I strongly feel that being flexible and not relying on one mode of securing flight arrangements, no matter how it has worked for you previously, opens you up to the best opportunity in the moment.  For example, I once found a round trip ticket to New York City for $150 USD inclusive of taxes and and all typical fees! How?  That time through a travel agent.  Ironically, that same trip was pricing out at $100 more not more than a month later.  The next time that I needed to book a trip to NYC, I searched for another travel arrangement through Travel Zoo.  Although the cost was more expensive than the $150 ticket I secured on that first example I spoke of, it was still less expensive than the instance that cost me an additional $100.  This time it cost me $177.00.

Another tactic in your air fare search arsenal is to keep your ears and eyes open on special and often unbelievable deals that the airlines offer.  For example, recently Southwest Airlines ran a 72 hour promotion for its shortest routes in the United States.  My cousin got her ticket for NYC to Atlanta for $104 round trip!  Although I purchased my ticket prior to Southwest’s special promotion, I was able to find a great deal for $222 by going directly to Delta’s website!

What about International flights? Well, I needed to get to Madrid back in June, and I found one hell of a deal from Chicago to Dublin to Madrid on Expedia for $893.72.  For this flight, I had a seven hour layover in Dublin (going to Madrid), and although I had a 17 hour layover in Dublin (on the return to Chicago), I had enough time to experience some of this fun Irish city! I met some great people, hung out on O’Connell Street had had a fantastic meal, along with  beer at a local pub — The Temple Bar!

This mini excursion gave me enough to know that I would like to return for a longer visit. I have never had a layover that long, but I made the most of it by not spending it in the airport.

Dublin has a wonderfully vibrant airport with over 200 businesses, eateries, chocolatiers, perfumeries and designer stores.

NOTE:  Literally two minutes ago, a notification from TRIP Advisor came up n my feed informing me of an airfare for $734 from Oakland to Madrid (as you have probably guessed, I love Madrid)!  Now that is a deal.

CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT FLIGHT RESOURCES

The following are search options that I have not only researched when looking for a good fight price, but these sites have produced for me some results at wonderful prices:

Fareness.com — Where should I go in April for the best flight destination?  This site offers a wide range of destinations and travel periods (e.g. check where to travel to from October to February) and receive immediate results highlighting the lowest air fares. Then you can build the rest of your vacation based what is most economical for you versus making that decision based on locale only;

Yapta.com — A very underutilized resource — tracks pricing for millions of flights worldwide allowing you (like Fareness.com) to first pick a travel spot, then creating your activities around that.

The Flightdeal.com — Targeting flights to cities that are six cents or less per mile — Chicago, Seattle, NYC, Baltimore, Philly, D.C., Portland, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco!

Airfarewatchdog.com — The airlines reduce airfares daily, but they don’t advertise them. This site notifies you of fare glitches and/or bargains.

Expedia.com — I have had really good success with this site.  If you don’t mind layovers (sometimes long ones), Expedia can become your best friend! You can find really good deals, and you can access by internet or telephone agents.

In summary, here are the things you must be willing to do to snag great deals:

  •     Search Often;
  •     Sign Up for Email Alerts;
  •     Use Twitter;
  •     Use Priceline for Last Minute Trips;
  •     Combine Two Separate Fares Versus Booking One Fare (can be cheaper)

To utilize my consulting services on economical trip planning, please contact me at robin@thisidoforme.com

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Wanna Join Me in Greece?!?!

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As you all know, I love to travel! So, I’m letting you in on a little secret today!

This…I…Do…For…Me is announcing its 2018 International Excursion (its back to Sydney, Australia in 2017) to Athens, Santorini and Mykonos!

The beautiful aspect of this adventure is that airfare is also included, making this one of the most affordable international offerings that you will come across.

There are only 14 slots available, and as I announced this dream vacation on my social media platforms today, five slots were immediately taken! Don’t think too hard — JUST GO!

If you are seriously interested in seeing stunning Greece, please contact me at 773/759-1374 for information on cost, payment plans and a detailed itinerary.

OPA!

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DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT! Musings on a Helicopter Tour and Being Daring at 50+ Years Old!

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NEW BLOG POST!

Recently, at a conference I attended in California, I met Katie Wilks, a representative from the travel and ticketing resource company Mighty Mongoose. This company has developed a reputation for offering exciting and fun ways to explore major cities across America through a wide range of attractions, tours and events.

After being given the opportunity as a blogger to experience one of their tours, I set out to select something different  — something that I wouldn’t ordinarily position myself to do.  I could have picked any one of their great offerings — a Walking Italian Food Tour, The Botanic Gardens (I’ve never visited there) and several trolley and bus tours. Although these were all packaged nicely, the one that stood out was The Helicopter Tour of Downtown Chicago. It was as if neon lights encircled it.

I have wanted to do something daring for quite some time!  When I was a child, I vowed that I would be a skydiver when I grew up.  I was that kid who was always enamored with people who were mountain climbers or something that had an element of risk.

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Photo: We (that’s me on the left) are in the cabin of the “copter”

Now, I must admit — I had to give taking advantage of this helicopter excursion a second thought.  After all, when I first dreamed of skydiving, I was a kid.  Now I’m a 50+ woman, who likes daring, but with caution. After I did due diligence, but more importantly after I thought about how I would feel if I didn’t go on the ride, I said yes!!!  I’m at that stage in life where I don’t want to let fear hold me back — it’s now or never!

Mighty Mongoose was gracious enough to allow me to bring a guest along for this exciting opportunity, so I ran a “Can You Guess My Favorite American City Contest” on my  This…I…Do…For…Me (TIDFM) Facebook Page!

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Twanda Gates of Milwaukee, Wisconsin guessed correctly — San Francisco!  Love that city!  Twanda, like me, loves to travel, and even more ironic, she has a bucket list of things to experience and a helicopter ride was on it!

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I just love when a plan comes together, especially when it involves playing a role in helping to bring someone’s dream to fruition.

Upon arrival at Chicago’s premier helicopter tour company Rotorzen, located at 1339 S. Wood Street,  we were given an orientation by its professional staff.  We were given an overview of the helicopter that we would ride in and the iconic Chicago sites we would see.  We then met the man of the hour — our experienced pilot, Travis, who would guide us on this excursion! By the way, Rotorzen operates out of the largest heliport in North America.

As we took off on Saturday, September 10, 2016, at 2:30 p.m., I and Twanda took a deep breath, then relaxed long enough to enjoy a new experience.

It’s one thing to see The Willis Tower, Millennium Park, The Hancock Building, Museum Campus, Soilder Field, Navy Pier, Trump Tower and even Lincoln Park Zoo all on ground level, but to see these well known sites well above 1,000 feet, is awe-inspiring.  All I could keep thinking was “I AM ACTUALLY DOING THIS!”

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TIDFM contest winner Twanda Gates put it this way, “The helicopter ride was such an exhilarating experience.  The pilot was personable and professional, and he was an excellent tour guide. Thanks to TIDFM and the excursion sponsor Mighty Mongoose for my first helicopter tour.”

As I reflect on this wonderful day, I can’t help but to feel encouraged by the fact that just because you’re 50+ years old, your dreams (both postponed or denied) can still manifest.

Too many times we look at situations and opportunities from the view point that we are way too old to try something new and daring.  We feel it’s too late, so we over enmesh ourselves  in other things and other people to compensate for our fear.  This is not healthy.  We want a balance between doing our thing and assisting others to do theirs.

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Too many times we say we are going to do something after we lose some weight, or after the kids are off to college or some other moment in time.  The time is now! Stop putting things off and LIVE!

Make a list of those things you want to do, do them, and add new items to the list on a regular basis. You will be amazed at yourself.

Thank you Mighty Mongoose and Rotorzen Tours for playing a role in me living my dreams.

 

All Photos Were Taken by Robin Tillotson and Twanda Gates

 

A RECAP: ONE YEAR OF THIS…I…DO…FOR…ME!

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It was exactly one year on August 15, 2015 that I launched This…I…Do…For…Me (TIDFM)! It has been a year of tremendous growth, creativity, meeting fascinating people, traveling to places that I thought I’d never visit and stepping out with the belief that I could carry TIDFM off into the world for the benefit of women who are 50 years of age and older!

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I am most proud of the business’s website thisidoforme.com; this is the pipeline for posting information for our clients and readers in the areas of Art/Literature, Theater/Dance, Music/Concerts, Food/Restaurants, For the Soul, and Travel. I chose to focus on these areas for the website, as well as the blog thisidoforme.wordpress.com because activities, outings and excursions would serve as the focal point to encourage our target population to immerse and treat themselves, particularly since they have spent countless years caring for others.

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Here are some of the fun things that I, along with my adventurous clients explored this past year:

TRAVEL

In September 2015 – It was 11 cities in France – Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, Monaco, St. Paul de Vence, St. Balme Maxime, Nice, Lyon and St. Tropez! I left feeling like France was my home.

In November 2015 – It was magnificent Sydney, Australia! I have a trip planned for eight people planned in November 2017!

In January 2016 – It was the beautiful shores of Orange County and Los Angeles, California!  Shopping and sheer relaxation was the order of day for a solid week.

In June 2016 – I had the honor of traveling to Madrid, Salamanca and La Alberca, Spain! It was here that I fell in love with the culture, the magnificent food and the warm and loving people. I even had the chance to take a short side trip to Dublin, Ireland! I must go back there if for no other reason than I must spend more time in some of neighborhood pubs that are full of life, laughter and good food to accompany that fun environment.

ON THE TRAVEL RADAR FOR 2017:

It’s looking like Atlanta, Georgia in January, Cuba in February and back to Sydney, Australia in November 2017! Life is Good!

THEATER AND DANCE

Some of the theater outings that TIDFM clients participated in included Byhalia, Mississippi at The Steppenwolf Theater, Lorraine Hansberry’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window at The Goodman Theater, the musical 42nd Street at The Cadillac Palace Theater, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at The Oriental Theater and Satchmo at the Waldorf at Hyde Park’s Court Theater.

ON THE THEATER AND DANCE RADAR FOR 2017:

The critically acclaimed Hamilton (hopefully my group’s name will move up the wait list)! If I see nothing else except Hamilton in 2017, it will have been a good year.

FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

Yes, I and my clients love to eat! I, along with food critic Eleni Murphy reviewed some interesting restaurants. Eleni even shared some of her London, England favs. Oftentimes, these restaurants were sampled following a theater performance. What a way to top off a great production!

Here are some of the restaurants visited and reviewed during TIDFM’s first year of operation:

1. Café Ba Ba Reeba (Chicago, Illinois)
2. Sobrino de Botin (Madrid, Spain)
3. NAC (London, England)
4. Kappacasein Dairy (London, England)
5. Granger and Co (London, England)
6. Berners Tavern (London, England)
7. Sweet Mandy B’s (Chicago, Illinois)
8. Del Seoul (Chicago, Illinois)
9. Summer House Santa Monica (Chicago, Illinois)
10. Dove’s Luncheonette (Chicago, Illinois)
11. Cemetia’s Puebla (Chicago, Illinois)
12. Nini’s Deli (Chicago, Illinois)
13. Podhalanka (Chicago, Illinois)
14. Mercado San Miguel (Madrid, Spain)

ON THE FOOD AND RESTAURANT RADAR IN 2017

1. Army Thai on Damen
2. La Palapa on 34th Street

ART AND LITERATURE

I and a client attended the “Portraits of Motherhood” Exhibit, which highlighted the artistic talent of Antonia Ruppert. I found a gem on the south side of Chicago – The Creative Room located in the heart of the Park Manor community. This design studio’s mission is to provide a space for people to create their own DIY (do it yourself) interior design projects.  Clemenstien Love is the mastermind behind this hidden treasure.

I provided overview of books that I’ve read over the past year – including a few children’s books. There were a mixture of travel, music, autobiography/memoirs, short stories and social justice commentaries.  They ranged from biographies of culinary icon Marcus Samuelsson to children’s classics like “Corduroy” by Don Freeman.  For reviews of the other selections, please check out the art and literature link on thisidoforme.com

ON THE ART AND LITERATURE RADAR IN 2017

I plan in conjunction with another entity to include my clients on a few Famous House Tours during the holidays. Please stay tuned.

FOR THE SOUL

One of my favorite things to do in conjunction with the business is learning about the myriad ways in which women care for themselves even in the midst of dealing with life’s stressors. This section of the website spotlights a diversity of women who share with TIDFM’s audience how they care for their souls, especially as they are taking care of other people, their jobs/businesses.  Please check it out as you might find some helpful hints on self-care and the exploration of new things.

My first year has been loaded with fun, doubt, new experiences and places, great people and a true excitement about TIDFM’s future growth.

The growth of TIDFM has manifested through the creation of a logo, connecting with Mighty Mongoose Tours to write a blog post of an upcoming helicopter excursion, participation in The Diverbo program in Spain, serving as a guest on the radio program “Living it Up After 50,” hired two freelance writers for the website, ran two TIDFM contests, announced TIDFM’s first international excursion to Sydney, Australia, and I was asked to review a self-empowerment book by a coaching expert.

I am grateful to our readers, those who traveled with me and those who joined us on a number of outings. In the coming year, I plan to broaden TIDFM’s reach, and I hope you will stick around for the ride.

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PHOTO ABOVE:  Me enjoying Indoor Skydiving!

 

VOLUNTEER IN SPAIN!

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Photo:  Some of the Volunteers and Spainards — Class #1056.  I’m on the far left

NEW BLOG POST!

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO GET TO SPAIN!

Everyone thinks that the primary way to travel is by taking a traditional vacation replete with great hotels, tour guides, super expensive airfares and meals. I’m here to tell you that another fantastic way to get your travel jones satisfied is through participation in the Diverbo Program!

What is Diverbo, you ask? It is a language immersion program (means diversity and language) designed for Spanish speaking adults (there is also a children’s and youth program). Many of the program’s participants are employees of companies where gaining a greater command of the English language is becoming increasingly important. As a result, these employers are willing to invest in their employees so that transacting business with English speaking clients becomes easier.

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Photo:   Volunteers and Spainards hanging out in La Alberca, Spain

The Spanish speaking participants during my time with the program ranged from 18 to mid 50s. They were from Barcelona, Malaga, Almeria, Madrid, Bilbao and Marbella. Additionally, the English speaking volunteers were from various parts of the United States, England, New Zealand and Canada and were of varying ages.
Here’s how it works.

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Photo:  Improving their English, Diverbo is a week of immersion

You must complete an application that gives you an opportunity to share why the Diverbo Program is of interest to you. By the way, the program prefers people who speak no Spanish so that you are not tempted to speak the language with participants who really need the immersion in English during your eight (8) days in La Alberca (Salamanca Region), Spain.

You will have the sheer pleasure of working with the Spainards individually and in group settings to improve their English through FUN activities and activities. More importantly, you will walk away from the experience with a boatload of new friends – both from Spain and around the globe.

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Photo:  Volunteers and Spainards getting familiar with the town of La Alberca, Spain

You must be willing to talk, talk, talk and talk some more! The activities are led by a Master of Ceremonies and a Diverbo Program Director. Some days, I laughed so hard that I cried – that is how fun the exercises are. Needless to say, although I was a volunteer, I ended my week with Diverbo having received more than I gave. Eternal Bonds are created.

Diverbo covers the cost of your accommodations (lovely villas) and all meals (extremely delicious). Even two glasses of wine were included with every lunch and every dinner!

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Photo:  My Villa while during my eight days volunteering with Diverbo

This volunteer experience has left an indelible impression on my entire life.  Travel had always been a vechicle for my growth and development, and it has allowed me to really push to get the most out if life.  However, a volunteer travel experience really forces you to see that it’s not always about you, but how you make a difference in another’s life.  Would I do Diverbo/Pueblo Ingles, again?  I’ll just say,”Viva la Espana!”

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Photo:    Can someone tell me where all the fun is?

For more information, visit Diverbo.come

I WANT TO GO BACK TO SPAIN, NOW!

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NEW BLOG POST!

Spain is life! Spain is Beautiful! Spain is Everything!

I spent 13 glorious days is Espana! Every time I visit a new city, it becomes my favorite. Madrid is everything I imagined — sophisticated, vibrant and cultured. I was blessed to experience multiple facets of this great city.

Madrid was also not everything I expected. My imagination has not evolved enough to hold all that this beautiful city and country has to offer. Although I only scratched the surface of Spain (I’ve also been to Barcelona and Mallorca in the past), Madrid convinced me that I must return several more times to fall in love with other cities there. So in advance, I want to thank Seville, Bilbao, Granada and Toledo! I look forward to meeting you.

While in Madrid, I visited the venerable Prado, where I saw the work of the Spanish Master Francisco Goya (his Black Paintings were something to behold), and I visited The Reina Sofia. There I saw the work of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica! It’s one thing to see these works in a book, but to view them in living color is nothing less than amazing.

What is Spain without Flamenco, along with a tasty selection of Tapas? At Torres Bermejas, we were entertained by seven Flamenco artists. The costumes were phenomenal, and the art form, itself, will have you mesmerized. Flamenco is both sexy and powerful.

What would a visit to Spain be without seeing some of the places that famed American writer Ernest Hemingway frequented?

The bodega Sofrino de Botin is one such place! Acclaimed as the oldest restaurant in the world (in 2025, it will be 300 years old), Botin is mentioned in Hemingway’s Classic
“The Sun Also Rises.” It was his favorite restaurant in Madrid, and who could blame him. The Roast Suckling Pig and Roast Lamb are their signature dishes and will make you salute the chef. Their Sangria was classic, as well.

When you visit Botin, ask to see and/or be seated near The Hemingway Table.

What was most memorable? My favorite experience in Madrid had to be the Paella class I took with four other people visiting from Australia, Poland and Arizona. I have always wanted to take a cooking class abroad, and I got to fulfill that dream. We also prepared a Spanish Omelet and a Cod and Orange Salad. We had a blast! Our instructor was truly phenomenal.


My second week in Spain was spent in The Salamancan village of La Alberca! Stayed tuned for a blog post about my volunteer experience with The Diverbo Program.

The people of Spain are Diamonds, and if you really need a crash course in living well, just emulate them!

Enjoy my photos!

For or more photos from Spain and other travels, please visit http://www.thisidoforme.com/travel.html

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD –HISTORY YOU CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO KNOW

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NEW BLOG POST

EXCITING NEWS — Our Washington, D.C. correspondent Yvonne D. Hawkins brings us a new DMV excursion — The Underground Railroad Trail in Sandy Spring, MD!

It’s amazing how frequently hidden treasures can sit in plain sight. I heard about a piece of the Underground Railroad that runs through Maryland’s Montgomery County from a Facebook post that had gone viral among folks in the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.

The Montgomery County Department of Parks maintains the site and sponsors an Underground Railroad Experience Trail Hike. The department also sponsors field trips and programs for schools, but I’d bet many folks in this area don’t know about the place exists. Maybe that’s because the trail is in the small community of Sandy Springs, which sits on the outskirts of the DMV. Turns out, though, you easily could spend two days exploring this tiny hideaway. Sandy Spring was settled by Quakers, who were early abolitionists. And the area became a refuge for freedom-seeking slaves and home to a community of freed slaves. Today, there’s the Sandy Spring Slave Museum to see. Tours are by appointment.

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Photo:  The spring that gives Sandy Spring, MD its name

Families also can hang out at The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring, complete with zip lining, climbing labyrinth and climbing forest park that feature the area’s wooded landscape. And the Underground Railroad trail is among several features at the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring. Plus, the trail is part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. After learning about the trail on Facebook, I decided to walk it as something different for Sunday worship. I planned to meet a friend there. Oh, but I overslept and missed our rendezvous time. To bide time, my friend explored the sites historic stone barn, which features exhibits about the Underground Railroad, before she jumped on the trail alone. Judging from her response to the exhibits, I’ll check them out the next time I visit the area. Because there definitely will be a next time.

After I arrived, though, I met up with my friend about 1/4 way along the trail as she was returning. I walked back with her, but after she left, I decided to start over. I wanted to complete the entire experience. And the time I spent alone on the trail was deeply moving and spiritual. At one point, I stopped at a bench, close to the end of the two-mile stretch, to take a break. A wonderful spot there marks the underground spring that gives Sandy Spring its name. I sat there feeling grateful about my decision to finish the trail. Because it sank in that I was at the same place where my ancestors determined to secure their own freedom and stay on this same trail no matter what.

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Photo:  The meditational spot sits near an Underground spring that goes through the Quaker community of Sandy Spring, MD

The trail’s last marker lies just a stretch beyond the spring. It ends at a white ash tree that’s been at that spot for nearly 300 years. Today, the tree is surrounded by a newly fangled housing subdivision. I actually missed the tree the first time I walked by. Though I had a trail map—and the trial is well marked and super easy to follow—I decided to double-check with strangers along the way to make sure I was heading toward the tree. One man walking with his dog in the opposite direction told me, “Yep, just keep going. It’s about 100 yards that way.” Still, I missed it. The tree blended so beautifully with these new, big houses, I thought surely he didn’t mean that tree.

Instead, I saw a tall, barren white tree in the distance. So I kept walking. Until I ended up in someone’s back yard. And I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be. With nothing left to do but to turn around and go back, I decided to pay closer attention this time. I didn’t really know what a white ash tree looks like. So truthfully I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I decided to stop assuming that the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on the whole trail couldn’t be it. And this time, I noticed the teeny, tiny spur shooting off the main path. And I took it. And it led me to the marker that let me know, yes, I had arrived.

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Photo:  A White Ash Tree marks the end of this section of The Underground Railroad in Sandy Spring, MD

 

Yvonne D. Hawkins is a former newspaper journalist, certified spirituality and life coach, and Baptist minister. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and enjoys exploring the Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland area. But being a former Chicago and Evanston, Ill, resident, she also misses Lake Michigan. And the Taste of Chicago. Her newest blog is http://www.artistssaw.com.

TIP TOE THROUGH THE WHITE HOUSE ROSE GARDEN!

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New Blog Post!

Once again, our Washington, D.C. correspondent Yvonne Hawkins is giving us a glimpse and the inside track on events, activities and excursions offered in the DMV (Washington, Maryland and Virginia)!

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Photo:  The White House Rose Garden sits outside The Oval Office

Here’s a heads up for you: Get to Washington D.C. for the Fall White House Garden Tour, if you can. Though I’m not sure when the date will be released. Check http://www.whitehouse.gov for updates. But tickets are free and available first come, first served on the day of the event. And a pro tip: If you can’t nab advance tickets, just show up toward the end of the event anyhow.

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Photo:  the Oval Office in The White House’s West Wing

Everyone gets in then. The experience just might change your life. At least it did mine. I went to this year’s spring tour, and I now have a richer perspective of my connection to the seat of power. True story. Every time I see President Obama on TV make an announcement in the Rose Garden or see him emerge from Marine Force One, I get another “I get it now” click in my brain. The tour through the White House gardens, which sit on the South Lawn, changed my understanding of what makes our nation work—or rather, who makes our nation work.

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Photo:  South Portico Ground Level Entry of The White House

But the shift didn’t have anything do with the White House’s flowers, which are gorgeous, of course. Or the White House’s flowering trees, planted by different presidents and their wives over various administrations. Though, those obviously are stunning, too.

Even the hit the tour:

Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden (officially named the White House Kitchen Garden) – isn’t what did it. Instead, the aha was an accumulation of barely perceptible familiarities. They emerged singularly and slowly until culminating with the recognition that MO’s vegetable garden is, well, just a vegetable garden. I couldn’t really understand why I took a picture of it. It probably was a group-think thing. As others oohed and ahhhed, I kept thinking that the heads of lettuce there look just like every other heads of lettuce I’ve ever seen. Same goes for the collard greens and fresh herbs. Actually, same goes for many features of the South Lawn.

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Photo:   Moss Veggie Garden at The White House

Although, the water fountain and view of the Washington Monument are exceptional. And, yes, the presidential seal sits on the back porch. Still, the magnolia trees are just magnolia trees. You can get one at Home Depot for less than $100.

Before the tour, the White House seemed merely a symbol of the seat of presidential power. And as a symbol, it didn’t really seem real. You know, like the grocery store is real. I guess the White House is as real as the grocery store to folks used to determining the fate of the free world. I’m just more familiar the grocery store. And with struggling to make my bed, grab some breakfast and get out the door in time to battle morning traffic. I know about balancing bills and budgets. And about trying to do simple things to have a beautiful, refreshing space in the backyard. Turns out, the folks who live at the White House do, too. That’s the click that happened. The White House is a just house. Like mine. Just bigger.

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Photo:  Malia and Sasha’s Playhouse Outside The Oval Office

A family lives there. Children there must make up their beds in the mornings. The current dad of the house has a home office. It’s oval. The mom has a home office, too. Their backyard is where the family hangs out. The dad sometimes invites his friends to play basketball. Sometimes, he temporarily parks his helicopter on the back lawn when he comes home from work. But that’s just so he can be closer to the back door. Makes sense to me. After the tour, I now see the White House as accessible and relatable to my life. There was something about the ordinary affairs of beets in a veggie garden that demystified the joint for me.

The majesty of the White House’s symbolism as a seat of power remains. But we all have power in our own ways. And in those realms, the mundaneness of daily rhythms and attempts to beautiful our various spaces are amazingly common. Magnolias are magnolias. After the tour, my friend and I walked to the front of the house to mill around. And something clicked again. 1600 Penn is a family’s front door. I wonder if there’s a doorbell.

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Photo:. Ground Level, South Portico

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Photo:  Yvonne standing under The Presidential Seal

 

Yvonne D. Hawkins is a former newspaper journalist, certified spirituality and life coach, and Baptist minister. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and enjoys exploring the Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland area. But being a former Chicago and Evanston, Ill, resident, she also misses Lake Michigan. And the Taste of Chicago. Her newest blog is http://www.artistssaw.com.