Visiting North Carolina’s Desert

If someone had told me that there is a desert in the state of North Carolina, then I likely would’ve laughed hysterically. But it turns out that it is true!

Recently, I took a little trip over to the Outer Banks area of the state just to check it out since I’d never been. And while I was over there, I discovered that there was a sand dune park. It is actually a state park and it the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. How freaking cool is that?

It is free to visit and wander around, so I did just that. What is really weird about it that you have this desert just sitting near the coast of North Carolina. I mean, who thinks of a desert when they think of North Carolina? I certainly know that is not where my mind goes, well, I mean now it does, but not before then.

The interesting thing about visiting the sand dune state park in the Outer Banks is that the temperature on the sand dunes is a good 10 degrees warmer than away from the sand dunes. So, you have to really plan your visit there when it is a little cooler so that you do not get scorched just trying to check out this super cool desert near the sea.

Check out the photo below of some other people visiting the sand dune park. It appears to be taken sometime around sundown, so it looks pretty cool. It is still hard to believe that this desert is located in this southern state!

Seeking Cherry Blossom Trees In Bloom

Last year, I made it up to Washington DC to see the famous cherry blossoms in bloom at the Tidal Basin. It was something that I’d wanted to do for a while and it was totally worth the trip.

DC cherry blossoms

DC cherry blossoms

Next on my list is seeing them in Philly as they have a Japanese garden with them that looks pretty cool in the photos. So, I am hoping to see that this year when they hit peak bloom.

And up for next year, hopefully, is going to Japan to see them in bloom in Kyoto and other Japanese cities. That will the the icing on the cake right there.

Now what is interesting is that I have begun to notice that there are some in bloom where I live here in Raleigh. They are in bloom right now! But the ones in DC and Philly have yet to hit peak bloom for 2014.

Taking notice of all the local blooms made me realize something. There really is beauty all around you – you just have to take time to look around and notice it. It’s like little pockets and moments just here and there, and if you’re rushing around then it is easy for you to miss those moments and pockets. Instead, they just blend in with everything else around you as part of the blur and rush of everyday life. Next time you are out and about, I urge you to take a moment and really look around you and see what beauty might be hiding amongst the blurs, just waiting for you to take notice of it. Once you see it, it will change your day and maybe even your whole way of thinking.

Choosing A Fit New Hobby

Since I work from home and do not get out all that much, I decided that I needed to get myself a new hobby that not only gets me out of the house but also can be part of a fitness routine. You see, my working from home also results in me sitting on my bum more often than I should. And I do not want to turn into a gelatinous blob, so I did a search online for some frugal hobbies that will help me get fit.

At first, I thought about running because I used to run cross-country in high school. I remembered how fit I was when I was doing that, but it was a rather boring activity after a while. So, I scrapped that idea.

Next I considered taking up tennis again, but I had to scrap that idea too. Why? Because it is kind of difficult to play tennis if you do not have a partner to play against! I mean, I guess I could’ve stuck with playing tennis on the Wii, but that does not get me out of the house or give me the fitness benefits that I am interested in getting for myself.

Then I ended up on a hobby website where people were talking about the benefits of cycling and that intrigued me. It was not something that I’d ever done before, so I had to read up on it. I certainly did not want to spend a ton of money on a new hobby. It did not take long to learn that I could do this hobby on the cheap, so I started looking for the best cheap road bikes for the money. I found that you could spend thousands on a good road bike or just a few hundred. I decided that I was okay with a few hundred and set to making this my new hobby.

The cool thing is that I can now get out of the house on the bike and run a few simple errands without using the car. This means that I get the fitness benefit as well as getting out of the house and checking an errand off my list. I actually ind of wish that I’d gotten started cycling sooner. And maybe I will move from here to a place where I can do a lot more cycling and maybe try living car free for a while. I figure if there is a service like zipcar in the area, then this would be possible. Who knows though!

Seeing A Concert At Theater At Madison Square Garden

I recently went to my first concert at Madison Square Garden, except that it wasn’t in the big arena that you see on TV. Instead, it was at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Yup, a much smaller venue, but better for concerts than an arena if you ask me.

Well, getting into MSG was quite the experience. It was much like going through airport security! Before you can walk up the steps to enter the building, someone asks you to take off your hat (it was cold when I was there) and unzip your coat. Then, you have to spread your arms out, like at the airport. They wand you from the front and the back. Then, you get to go through the doors.

Once inside, someone has to look through your handbag. After that is done, you get your ticket scanned and get in line to ride the escalator up to enter the theater. When you get to the top, you walk down a long corridor where an employee is yelling for you to stay to the sides. At the end of the corridor is a snack bar, restrooms and entrances to the theater.

The theater itself is nice enough, seating is comfortable enough. If you are lucky enough to be seated on the floor on the stage left area then you are super close to the lower restrooms. This is great for quickly taking a bathroom break and not missing anything on the stage. And you just might see one of the performers over by the restrooms since they seem to use those ones. That is a kind of cool part of this theater.

And when the show is over, they open the side exits and you get right out on the street instead of having to walk back through the venue, which is nice.

The worst thing about seeing a show here are the prices at the snack bar. You have to pay $5.25 for a bottle of water AND they keep the cap so that you cannot reseal it! So, you have to hold it the entire show or set it down and hope that no one kicks over your expensive bottle of Dasani.

I prefer other concert venues, but I wouldnt be opposed to seeing a show here again if I had to do so.

Want to know the concert that I saw at the theater? Check out the video below for more info!

My Yotel NYC Hotel Review

Yotel NYC

Yotel NYC exterior

I finally got a chance to stay at the Yotel hotel in NYC this week. I’ve actually made reservations there on more than one occasion in the past, but I’ve always ended up canceling them due to finding a better deal at another hotel. But this time, they were the cheapest for the time period, probably because I’d booked a Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal that gave me a rate of only $179 per night.

It is worth noting that this hotel is listed as “Times Square West” on pretty much every travel site, but that is not exactly truthful. Okay, technically, the hotel is west of Times Square at 42nd St. However, it is way far far – all the way over at 10th Ave., which is past the Port Authority bus terminal. This means that you have quite a walk from Times Square to the hotel, and you walk through what are some less populated areas.

Now, I’m definitely not saying that this isn’t a safe area. What I am saying is that some people might not feel safe walking back to the Yotel at night. This is just something to think about if you are the type of person that gets scared easily in big cities.

So, onto the review!

The check-in process at the Yotel NYC is a traveler’s dream! There are a bunch of kiosks in the lobby and you just check yourself in. That’s it. Then, you get on the elevator and ride up to floor FOUR. This is where the actual lobby of the hotel is located, but you can just take a right out of the elevators to the other bank of elevators that will take you up to your room. You do have to use your room keycard to get these elevators to work.

The rooms are small, but that is expected. They are perfectly functional though, which is all that matters. My biggest complaints are that the bed feels like you’re sleeping on a park bench with a sheet over it and (like most hotels) they have a lock on the thermostat so that you cannot put it to your preferred temperature. It was around 19 degrees (brr) when I was there and the room would not warm past 72 degrees. Normally this would be fine for me, but the large window by the bathroom was quite drafty and it most definitely was not 72 degrees in that area of the room – try showering in that! Brr!

I did love that each floor has a galley with free coffee, water, ice and hot water. There is also a microwave and mini-fridge in there. Definitely saved me a lot on bottled water and coffee.

Overall, it was a decent stay for the price.

Pure Organic Chocolate Brownie Bar – Yum!

I am always on the lookout for tasty snacks that are 100% organic as I do not want to eat any conventional packaged food. My diet is pretty much 100% organic, which is why I want my snacks to be the same. One of the big things that I miss since going organic a few years ago is… the delicious chocolatey goodness of a brownie.

Sure, you can buy an organic brownie mix and make up your own batch of chocolate treats. But sometimes you just want to be able to pick up one when you’re out somewhere, right? Plus, making a batch of organic brownies is a wee bit time consuming and I am not at all interested in that.

So, I was really stoked when I saw the Pure Organic Chocolate Brownie bar on the shelf at my local Earthfare grocery store. I picked one up to give it a try – I should’ve bought more! It was so good!

Sometimes when you get something that is supposed to be a sweet treat that is labeled as natural or organic, then you end up with a food item that in no way resembles what it is masquerading as. That is not true with this little bar. It definitely tastes like a chocolate brownie with nuts. Sure, the texture isn’t exactly like the brownie that you’re used to, but it does remind me a lot of those Little Debbie Cake brownies that I used to eat as a kid.

The only other flavor of these bars that I’ve tried is the Banana Coconut. It is pretty good, but not as great at the Chocolate Brownie bar. So. if you’re considering trying just one of flavors in this line of bars, then the brownie bar gets my vote.

Once of the things that I just love about these is that they are packed with omega 3s and protein. In fact, I usually take a couple of these with me on hikes to give me a quick energy boost once I start slowing down and getting tired.

Kids also seem to love these, at least my nephew does. So hey, if they are kid approved then they are good enough for everyone, right? I suggest that you give one of these bars a try and see if you agree with me that they are kind of like the Little Debbie brownies. (they so are! you’ll see!)

Gift Acknowledgement Is A Must

If there is one thing that I can pinpoint that annoys me more than anything else out there, then I would point to a lack of gift acknowledgement. When I send someone a gift, I like to know that it was received. A simple, “hey, got that package you sent” will suffice. I do not need to be thanked but I do want to know that it at least arrived. But, I seem to be in the minority with this, at least when it comes to my friends and family who I send gifts to. And it does not matter if I send cash, a gift card or an actual gift because no one wants to be bothered to let me know they got what I sent – except for my parents.

Of course, maybe that is it. I was raised to promptly acknowledge a gift, of course so were my brothers and they do not employ this courtesy.

Sometimes I just want to know that the item did not get lost in the mail, y’know? But alas, I usually end up having to ask the recipient if it arrived. And if I don’t do that, then they never tell me that it arrived until months later when they see me. Not only is this incredibly rude, but it is also disrespectful. How long does it take to send a quick email or text message? Not long at all, so don’t even bother telling me how busy you’ve been and that’s why you haven’t had a chance to let me know that you received what I sent you 8 months ago.

But, if there is one thing that I’ve learned it is that people are not going to change how rude or disrespectful they are, especially if their excuse is that they are putting themselves first. So, maybe I’ll stop sending gifts since they seem to go unappreciated.