Relieve holiday travel stress

Instead of living with headaches or muscle aches caused by travel stress, slot in some spa time

Whether it is for fun such as ski slopes or sunny sands or to visit family, your holiday trip will likely include stress hazards.

They may be airport hassles, crying toddlers a seat away, late trains, weather delays or road construction.

No matter what the cause, the result can be tight neck and forehead muscles, headaches or back pains.

Instead of living with it or taking two aspirins and not calling the doctor in the morning, slot in some spa time.

Family and friends may sympathize with the pain but you and they will have better togetherness time if you feel well. And that is the point of spa treatments today.

Time in a relaxation room at Peninsula Chicago's Spa by ESPA is part of the stress relieving experience
Time in a relaxation room at Peninsula Chicago's Spa by ESPA is part of the stress relieving experience

No longer considered an indulgence, spa experiences are typically categorized as wellness treatments.

Many resorts and vacation destinations feature spas. However here are a few I have personally experienced and recommend.

The Peninsula Spa by ESPA

You don’t have to stay at a Peninsula Hotel to book a spa treatment there. ESPA combines Oriental, European and Ayurvedic approaches. Because I live near Chicago, I book treatments at the Peninsula Chicago. But the hotel and its Spa by ESPA are also in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beverly Hills, New York, Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai and Manila.

Burke Williams Spa

If traveling to San Francisco, San Jose or to Los Angeles or Orange Counties, lucky you because there is probably a Burke Williams Spa near your destination.  

Enter the Joya Spa on the grounds of the Intercontinental Hotel in Scottsdale and leave cares and stress behind
Enter the Joya Spa on the grounds of the Intercontinental Hotel in Scottsdale and leave cares and stress behind

Joya Spa

A spa experience at the Joya Spa at Intercontinental Montelucia Resort and Spa, Scottsdale, AZ is a vacation. You don’t have to stay at the resort to use the spa. However, you may have to book a session before leaving home because local spa enthusiasts have found Joya.

Coldwater Creek Spa

Maybe the idea that a popular woman’s apparel store also has a spa may dissuade some people from trying it. But I have repeatedly gone to the one in Southlake, Texas for a pedicure that is pure bliss. The problem is there are just not enough Coldwater Creek Spas. There are two in Texas and on each in California, Oregon, Illinois, Colorado and Florida.

Pack and travel lighter this holiday season

Throwing everything from the closet into a mega suitcase is a hard habit to break but holiday travel nowadays calls for smarter packing

You may think you need six pairs of shoes when visiting family or heading to a holiday destination. Maybe you think people care if you wear the same sweater twice.

Think again if you would like to lighten the holiday travel hassle.

Before switching from general features to travel writing, I really did throw five pairs of shoes into my suitcase and wore my comfy gym shoes on the plane.

I used to stuff stuff into a check through bag and a carry-on
I used to stuff stuff into a check through bag and a carry-on

I also brought clothes changes for every day and every evening. Of course I had to bring a large suitcase that I checked through to my destination or wrestled with into the car trunk and up the stairs of B and B’s.

By the way, even if my room was on the first floor of a B and B, it typically had stairs up to the entrance. And even if my plane arrived on time, I had to wait way too long for the suitcase to appear on the baggage carousel.

What a difference the change of writing assignments made.

I didn’t realize I had changed so much until I packed for a recent Washington DC trip and threw, well folded, everything into a carry-on that could fit into the overhead compartment.

For me it was no longer a big deal because I hadn’t used a large suitcase in two years.

The realization that I changed came however, when my husband pulled out his mega-sized bag and I asked, “why?”

“Because I need two suits and a sports jacket,” he said. He was attending a four-day conference where he had to speak one day, while I was doing my travel thing around the capital.

After rethinking what he had to pack (the two suits) and wear (the sports jacket) he saw he could fit everything into his carryon as long as he also took a small travel bag for books and the 3-1-1 bag.

Travel lighter for less holiday hassle
Travel lighter for less holiday hassle

Packing habits can be hard to change but after packing lighter once, you may also change. When changing planes, it is also nice to know you have what you need instead of worrying if you and your bags will ever meet again.

Here are some tips to lighten the load and stop worrying where you suitcase is.

1. Coordinate your outfits so you don’t have to pack more than two pairs of shoes. Wear the bulkiest third pair on the plane or in the car.

2. Limit slacks, shorts or skirts to two to pack and one to wear

3. Women can use tops for costume changes with different teddy’s and tees but should look for ones that are wrinkle free or hang out well. Jewelry also changes a look but don’t travel with favorite or most expensive jewelry.

4. Men also use different colored dress shirts and ties or casual shirts for different looks.

5. Instead of a purse, women can bring a Sac or other sling-over-the-shoulder bag to carry items that don’t fit into the small suitcase. Pills and make-up should go into this bag. Pack a dressy purse or neutral one.

6. Men will find that a small sports bag will carry items not packed into the small suitcase.

7. If presents are an issue remember that TSA does not want them wrapped so best is to mail ahead instead of packing them unless traveling by car. If returning with presents, mail the bulkier ones back home.

Finally, a new online travel magazine is running a holiday list of items that make travel easier. See the items at Striped Pot.

Happy Holiday Travels

The choosing and care of your holiday tree

Start a family holiday tree choosing tradition and find out how to care for your tree

Probably you are not looking for a tree quite as large as the 70 foot blue spruce that was donated by a McHenry County, Illinois family to Chicago as the city’s tree in Daley Plaza.

A 70 foot blue spruce from McHenry County now stands tall in Chicago's Daley Plaza
A 70 foot blue spruce from McHenry County now stands tall in Chicago's Daley Plaza

However, if you live in the Chicago area chances are there is a tree with your family’s name on it out in McHenry County. That is where corn and farm stands bump up against orchards and plant nurseries and a USDA report listed the county’s growers as harvesting more trees than elsewhere in the state.

At McHenry’s Richardson Farm in Spring Grove you can do more than merely search for the perfect tree. You can turn it into an experience.

Ride out to the trees and have fun finding just the right one. Cut yours down and hitch a ride back to have it shaken, baled and receive twine to tie it to your car. Oh, and be sure to have a donut and cup of hot chocolate or coffee before you leave.

Start a family tradition of finding and cutting the perferct tree
Start a family tradition of finding and cutting the perferct tree

“Coming here is a family tradition,” says Carol Richardson who explained that families return there every year for their tree.  “It’s the entire experience: going out in the wagon, choosing a tree, looking around for a wreath and sipping hot cocoa.”

However, before choosing be sure the tree will be happy in your household  and look its best when most important.

Here are a few guidelines from Carol Richardson and from the farm’s website:

Before you head out, take a look at the photos and tree descriptions

  • Some trees have a longer life after cut than others. If set on getting a tree with a short cut life such as a Balsam fir or Norway spruce wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas to cut it. Also, ask or look for signs that recommend trees that last from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
  • After bringing your tree home make a fresh straight-across cut (not diagonal) about ½ inches from the original cut and immediately put the tree into water (warm is better the first time than cold.)
  • A water reservoir stand is best for the tree’s life but it still should be periodically checked so you keep the water level up. Some houses are drier than others which changes water evaporation time. Also trees drink water at different speeds. You can slow evaporation by placing the tree away from direct sunlight or a heating vent.
  • More guidelines

Richardson Farm, 9407 Richardson Road, Spring Grove, IL 60081 815-675-9729 For more tree farm locations see McHenry County or call McHenry County Convention & Visitors Bureau toll-free at 888-363-6177.

(Chicago tree photo courtesty of City of Chicago and trees at Richardson Farm courtesy of Richardson Farm)

Five ways to flavor your family holiday visit with fun and flair

Whether in or out of town, the next family Thanksgiving or winter holiday get together is also a chance to record old traditions and start some new ones.

Best, is to ink in some of the suggestions on the calendar so the holiday does not jump up before you are ready. Early November is not too early to start your planning.

Wreathing the Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago is a day after Thanksgiving tradition that includes several family activities
Wreathing the Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago is a day after Thanksgiving tradition that includes several family activities

1. Cell phone cameras are OK but if you want a high quality photo to save don’t forget to pack or have on hand a decent point and shoot camera. Some of them, such as Casio and Canon have movie capability. Digging into the turkey or ham, curling up on sofa or floor to play a board game or gazing at a tree or menorah lighting are memorable moments when someone says oops, who has a camera?

2. Add a new place to check out or a new activity to try. Sure it is tough to squeeze in research time before everyone comes or before you leave for the visit, but just adding a new adventure each year adds an element of excited anticipation. Chances are there are new exhibits at a museum you haven’t visited for ages, a nearby town that celebrates the holidays Dickens style, a forest preserve to hike or a family show, musical or ballet to see.

Trains, lights and miniature landmarks are an annual holiday tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe
Trains, lights and miniature landmarks are an annual holiday tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe

3. Seek an agency that is collecting gifts or food and where to bring the items. Family members can add the items to their shopping lists and increase the season’s joy by sharing.

4. Start a new tradition of trading reading material or recommendations during the visit.  It will give people something new to read on the way home or even during down time while visiting. Donate finished reading material to libraries and senior centers.

5. No question holiday time is also eating time which makes it a good excuse to try a new restaurant. The place may even become a new family tradition. Consider ethnic eateries, breakfast places and some that are outside the neighborhood or town. Definitely make a reservation.

The baseball season never winds down for true fans of the game and its players

Book Review

Even though the 2010 World Series is entering its final phase now that the playoffs are over, baseball fans don’t have to wait until spring training to get their “fix.”

“Roadside Baseball” (2003, Sporting News division of Vulcan Sports Media, Inc, St. Louis, MO, $16.95) by Chris Epting, maps out places where fans can find historic traces of a stadium, a home plate, a players’ home and a museum that recounts memorable moments.

An ardent researcher and appreciator of baseball and interesting culture landmarks, Epting  divides up the places he has uncovered by geographic  locations across the United States and into Canada.

All a baseball fan has to do when traveling to Florida or Arizona to escape winter weather or to any US destination to see friends or family is leaf through a state’s chapter to see what historic baseball location is nearby.

Even an armchair traveler who reads through the chapters will be saying, “I didn’t know that.”

In a foreword by Emmy award winning announcer Joe Buck, the sportscaster says: “Even if you consider yourself the foremost authority on the history of the game, this book can’t help but put a smile on your face. It put one on mine because its pages are filled with information that I thought I knew but really didn’t; stories of which I was totally unaware and now am glad I know.”

A hotel room with pure air is not just a dream

Imagine going into a hotel room and liking it a lot  – not just for the décor and view but also for the air. That’s room air, not the breeze blowing outside.

By the end of 2010, all the Hyatt Hotels in the US will have some rooms that have under gone a treatment to make them hypo-allergenic. As of mid-October, 65 of the chain’s hotels have some guest rooms that have undergone a hypo-allergenic treatment.

The Hyatt Regency downtown Chicago has some hypoallergenic rooms where the air is pure and bacteria are not allowed
The Hyatt Regency downtown Chicago has some hypoallergenic rooms where the air is pure and bacteria are not allowed

It’s great news for people with asthma or who are allergic to dust and fragrances. It’s also good news for travelers who simply appreciate breathing in pure air.

The treatment includes a special attachment on the room’s heating-air conditioning system and a separate purifying filter in the room.

It also has undergone a special cleaning of all surfaces which are then sprayed with an anti-bacterial “screen” so that bacteria cannot adhere to them.

The room is zapped to kill any other organisms still lurking. A special protective casing is put on the pillows and mattresses.

A card left on the room’s desk says it is Pure Room certified and explains what that means.

The decor of the Chicago Hyatt Regency's hypoallergenic room is the same as its other rooms. But it is what is below the surface and unseen on the surface that is different
The decor of the Chicago Hyatt Regency's hypoallergenic room is the same as its other rooms. But it is what is below the surface and unseen on the surface that is different

Hypo-allergenic treatment is performed by PureRoom, a Buffalo, NY based company that has partnered with Hyatt. Rooms are checked and re-certified every six months. 

I recently stopped at the Chicago Regency Hyatt to check out a PureRoom.

News such as this is really welcome to someone who is allergic but has to travel for work.

I start sneezing when any dust is around though I don’t have asthma. My nose clogs and my eyes water when sitting in a theater next to someone wearing perfume or in a hotel room where someone used a hairspray or cream that was not odor free.

All a guest will notice in a Hyatt hypoallergenic room is a room purifier in a corner and that the air seems particularly fresh
All a guest will notice in a Hyatt hypoallergenic room is a room purifier in a corner and that the air seems particularly fresh

I was told that even if someone did use something with a fragrance the purifier in a PureRoom would have gotten rid of its scent.

The air quality was excellent.

As someone who is often checking into a place eager to relax but finds the room has stale air, I love that a hotel chain understands about  people with allergy problems to help them breathe easier.

The Hyatt charges an extra $20 to $30 for these rooms but this traveler thinks the benefits are worth the price.

What you ought to know about a Hollywood collection of stories

Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet makes is a fun traveling companion

Book Review

Consider this a warning. Don’t read Hollywood Stories, a practically bottomless well of rich anecdotes collected by Stephen Schochet, if alone.

Even if you think you know about Hollywood personalities and clashes you are sure to find out something new in Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet
Even if you think you know about Hollywood personalities and clashes you are sure to find out something new in Hollywood Stories by Stephen Schochet

You will come upon a funny bit about two comedians such as the anecdote where George Burns is playing golf with Harpo Marx that is so good you will want to share it. No, I won’t tell you what happens .

Then, you will find yourself saying “I didn’t know that” when you read how a now famous actor got his start. And you will want to tell someone.

Luckily, I started reading the book evenings after other writing assignments were done.

The fortuitous timing meant that my husband who enjoys old movies and an occasional current flick, was nearby so I was able to say, “Listen to this” or “Did you know…?”

When I read during lunch and breaks. I had to find out what tidbits Schochet had found on Star Trek, Walt Disney and Disney characters and John Wayne plus stories about where stars lived and played.

However, no one was around to hear my latest find -make that Schochet’s find.

The author, a Hollywood tour guide, has been collecting stories for about 20 years. He tells many of them to his tour customers and on his syndicated Hollywood Stories radio feature.

Arguably, the next best thing to hearing him tell the stories is to read them. They are a welcome time off from work and hard news.

After finishing the book’s nearly 300 pages, each containing about three verbal snapshots of movie icons, I started making a holiday gift list of people who might appreciate the book. They should find it a fun read unless they would rather not explain to strangers why they are laughing aloud or saying, “oh!”

The caveat on Hollywood Stories is to not look for chapters on stars either alphabetically or by decade. An Index does list people, shows and places alphabetically but the chapters are divided into such segments as “Great Hollywood Comedians” and “Television Tales.”

Yes, the book has Hollywood in the title but the TV stories here seemed to fit well because the stars often lived in California or interacted with movie people.

Readers who want more info on a particular star need only look in the Bibliography. Schochet lists his sources.

To see how the author looks and sounds go to a TV interview available on UTube.

For more information visit Hollywoodstories

Hollywood Stories (Hollywood Stories Publishing, Los Angeles, CA $24.95 list, $17.96 online) is available at Amazon and  Barnes & Noble.

Questions you ought to ask before you book your accommodations

Asking questions before booking accommodations does not make you a prima donna. It makes you a smart traveler.

You are tech savvy so you already know to check if a place is WiFi or if there is a fee to hook up your lap top. But there are a lot more things that can make the difference between an OK and really good trip whether for work or play.

Odd as this may sound, think about what you like or wish you could change at home.

Bathroom – Think about the times you checked in to find a bathroom that was just redone and a dream compared to what you had at home. Or maybe, the opposite happened.

  • Do you have a shower but wish you had a soaking tub or a Jacuzzi?
  • Do you have a tub but wish you had a really good rain shower with space to sit?
  • Are you used to enough space to spread out shaving or makeup stuff at home so hate when you can’t do that when traveling?

Imagine checking in and finding your room has a shower but you want a tub or it has a pedestal sink with no place to put anything except on top of the toilet seat which you usually leave up.

By not taking settling for just anything, you are not a prima donna, you are a smart traveler.

Our room at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa had an amazing bathroom, fine view and comfortable seating
Our room at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa had an amazing bathroom, fine view and comfortable seating

Do: Send an email or call to find out exactly what the bathrooms have before booking a room.

Bedroom – What kind of bedding do you have, does the view matter and do you want a comfortable chair and a king size bed? For example: B&B’s are charming but some have a comfortable reading chair and others have just a place to sit to put on shoes. Many B&B’s only have space for queen or regular size beds.

  • It’s OK to ask for two beds if traveling with a partner who cocoons so you end up with no blanket or who kicks and turns throughout the night.
  • If you need a hard mattress then ask if any of the rooms have that.
  • If you hate the little pillows so many hotels think are a cute décor statement, ask if the hotel has regular or large size pillows. Some hotels even have a pillow concierge.
  • Unless you have a suite the bedroom is your base of operations so ask about the view. A room listed as partial view probably means you can see the water between the trees in winter when the leaves are gone or you have to step out onto a balcony and almost fall off to see it.
  • Rooms usually say if they have a chair but check if it is for the desk or a comfortable, upholstered chair.

Do: Look at the rooms on line. Most places show rooms in different price categories.

Be sure you know what comes with the accommodations

If a deal sounds too good to be true –

  • Check for add-ons such as a resort fee which you would have to pay just to use the pool or workout room
  • Check if the deal is per person or per room
  • Ask how old the place is and when it was last renovated or updated. Historic is charming but mildew and mold aren’t.

Checking before booking may sound like a lot of work but it is worth avoiding the hassles later.

Play with penguins

Sometimes the smart travel idea is not a city destination but a special museum experience

You can get up close and relatively personal with penguins at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. By registering before visiting the aquarium, guests can sit with and even pet some of these cute aquatic creatures.

Shedd Vice President of animal collections and training Ken Ramirez answers guest questions while trainer Lana Vanagasem quietly talks to a Magellanic Penguin
Shedd Vice President of animal collections and training Ken Ramirez answers guest questions while trainer Lana Vanagasem quietly talks to a Magellanic Penguin

The program began midsummer 2010 as a training aid, according to Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal collections and training.

“We want them to be accustomed to strangers,” Ramirez said. He explained that the penguins saw their trainers daily but not their veterinarians.

The surprise to strangers is that the encounter room is warm, not wear-the-coat cold. Visitors are told that the Shedd’s penguins come from moderate climes.

On a recent Penguin Encounter, marine mammal trainers Lana Vanagasem and Maris Muzzy brought up two 14 month-old Magellanic Penguins. Named for Ferdinand Magellan, the penguins typically are found around Argentina and Chile.

Shedd trainer Maris Muzzy and her Magellanic Penguin are both curious about the guests at the other end of the room
Shedd trainer Maris Muzzy and her Magellanic Penguin are both curious about the guests at the other end of the room

Born and being raised at the Shedd,  these two penguins started out a bit shy. “They are wary of potential predators,” Ramirez said. But he added that they are also naturally curious.

To protect from sharp beaks curiously exploring our feet we donned high black rubber boots. We were also told the penguins were used to watches but were attracted to shiny, dangling objects so other jewelry was best kept away from a penguin’s reach.

When the penguins seemed comfortable with strangers in the room, the trainers moved the birds from their laps to an Astroturf type of floor covering that was scattered with colorful toys.

The penguins seemed more interested in their guests than their toys
The penguins seemed more interested in their guests than their toys

Just as good as watching the birds check out the playthings and our benches, was the chance to pet them. Visitors don’t touch the penguins until the trainers hold them and give the OK.

The “penguin encounter” lasted about 30 minutes, not counting hand-washing and boot preparation or instruction time which added another half hour. Our group would gladly have spent more up close time but it was an experience we won’t forget.

To add to the experience, some of us went downstairs where the penguins swim and hang out behind a glass enclosure.

Extend the penguin experience by enjoying them in their Shedd habitat
Extend the penguin experience by enjoying them in their Shedd habitat

Opposite the real thing is a wall with pictures and identification of what kind of penguins are at the Shedd.

We did not have any children in our group but if we did they probably would have enjoyed the penguin costumes they could have put on opposite the enclosure.

Penguin costumes hang opposite the habitat, ready to be tried out by humans
Penguin costumes hang opposite the habitat, ready to be tried out by humans

Penguin Encounter switches from daily to weekends and holidays after Labor Day. Cost is $25 a person. Children must be at least age 4 to attend and ages 4-10 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information or to register call 312-692-3355 and visit Shedd Aquarium Extraordinary. The Shedd Aquarium is on the Museum Campus opposite Soldier Field at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605

Harley Davidson Museum is an off the beaten track Milwaukee gem

We often take the toll-roads and by-passes around a big city so we can quickly reach and enjoy our family or vacation destination. Even when we go into a city we typically head to the usual tourist draws. But hidden gems are missed by merely staying on the main road, as Robert Lee Frost wistfully surmised in The Road Not Taken.  “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”  (Frost, 1916).

So, every few weeks a gem of a road detour will appear here, from an ethnic neighborhood enjoyed mostly by locals or an interesting house that a movie or author made worth a visit to an atypical museum or garden or market.

The Harley-Davidson Museum, opened in July 2008, is worth a stop. All photos by Jodie Jacobs
The Harley-Davidson Museum, opened in July 2008, is worth a stop

First in the detour series is a museum of vehicles that over the past 100 years were used by the postal service, the military, delivery companies, celebrities such as Elvis Presley, and riders who enjoyed road trips sans cars. It is the Harley-Davidson Museum near downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Less than 10 minutes east of Interstates 94/43 and south of Interstate 794, the museum opened July 2008 at Canal and 6th Streets. Its location on land surrounded by the Menomonee River make it a fine place to walk and relax during a road trip. Signs at the interstate’s National Exit make the museum easy to find.

The US military used Harley-Davidsons in war and peace time
The US military used Harley-Davidsons in war and peace time

After buying a ticket on the main floor, go upstairs (handicapped accessible) to go back in time to see how bikes and their riders evolved in perception and usage.

From exhibits of photos, bikes and stories to rooms with engines and design machines, a visitor is easily “riveted” (excuse the pun) for hours.

Tip: If going by Labor Day, stop in the “Garage” annex to see “True Evel,” the story and exhibit of Evel Knievel’s exploits and machines that ends Sept. 6, 2010.

The H-D gift shop, café and restaurant-bar are a fun stop across the walkway from the main building.

After recording "Heartbreak," Elvis Presley bought a red and white 1956 Harley-Davidson KH
After recording "Heartbreak," Elvis Presley bought a red and white 1956 Harley-Davidson KH

If you go

Parking is free. Admission: adults 18-64: $16, children 5-17: $10, under 5 are free, students with valid ID, senior citizens 65 and older, military and H.O.G. members with ID: $12.

Hours: May through September Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. October through April 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Harley-Davidson Museum 400 West Canal Street Milwaukee, WI 532011 877-HD-MUSEUM or 1-877-436-8738