January 26, 2011

Getting away from it all

America the Beautiful! No matter where you live in this great country, there are sure to be a number of attractions close by that would make for spectacular family getaways.

Treating your family to a great getaway doesn't have to be expensive. You don't have to shell out for airline flights to visit outside your backyard. Stick an imaginary pin in your hometown on a map, then expand outward in a circle, like ripples on a pond. Depending on how far you are willing to drive, you will be amazed at the number of attractions and sights to see within the radius you just defined.

When I did this, I found some great places for exciting family getaways within driving distance!

The one that intrigues me the most is Hannibal, Missouri - home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, since the age of four when his family moved to Hannibal from Florida, Missouri, about thirty miles to the southwest.
Using Memphis as my starting point, you can see from this map (courtesy of mapquest.com) that the trip is very doable for a family getaway. Hannibal is approx. 386 miles from Memphis and would take about six hours to drive. That's not allowing for all the stops in between when you find something along the way that sparks your interest!

Hannibal fascinates me not only for the history but for the attractions it offers to everyone of any age. Children and grandparents alike will find something to do in Hannibal. And it is small enough to maintain that small town America feeling of warmth and hospitality.
Mark Twain's boyhood home
Becky Thatcher House
Mark Twain Museum Gallery
Aside from Mark Twain's boyhood home - and the house across from it where his childhood friend Laura Hawkins inspired "Becky Thatcher" - the most fascinating stop on a tour of Hannibal has to be the Museum Gallery. With scenes and exhibits from most of Twain's books and events from his life, there's definitely something for everyone here!

From Tom Sawyer, visitors can "whitewash" the fence, see Tom's schoolhouse, meet Injun Joe, and get lost in the cave as Tom and Becky's candle goes out.

From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, visitors can step onto a raft tied at the river bank and watch a film clip of Huck and Jim on the raft.

From Roughing It, visitors can climb into a stagecoach and share the mining experiences of Sam Clemens and the characters, both human and animal, that he brings to life.

From A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, visitors travel back in time as the Yankee saves himself from burning at the stake by predicting a solar eclipse, test the "modern" inventions that he brings to the Knights of the Round Table, and view the social injustices and political inequities of the time through original pen and ink illustrations by Dan Beard, founder of the Boy Scouts.

Sam Clemens was a riverboat pilot from 1857 to 1861. Celebrating this portion of his life, there's a replica of a steamboat pilot house where visitors can view the great river that had such an influence on Clemens and his later writings, grasp the pilot wheel and tug the steamboat whistle or engine room bells. You can almost hear the call Mark Twain!

The Norman Rockwell Gallery is a special treat for visitors. In 1935, Norman Rockwell was commissioned by Heritage Press to illustrate special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Rockwell donated the 15 original paintings to the museum and they are on permanent display here. The special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn illustrated by Norman Rockwell are only available for purchase in the museum gift shops.

The Museum regularly hosts writers', young authors', and teachers' workshops, as well as art exhibits.
For a leisurely way to spend an afternoon or evening, try the Mark Twain Riverboat. You can enjoy one-hour sightseeing cruises, two-hour dinner cruises, and two-hour jazz/blues cruises. The whole family can enjoy the sightseeing tours and dinner cruises, but the jazz cruises have a cash bar and are for adults. Perfect way to end a day in Hannibal!

Want to catch some theater? There are several in Hannibal, each with a distinct flavor for discriminating palates. Tour Hannibal's Historic District aboard the Mark Twain Clopper, a horse-drawn carriage perfect for relaxed sightseeing. Or try the Hannibal Trolley for a different sightseeing experience.
Another famous resident of Hannibal was "Unsinkable" Molly Brown. She was supposedly on her way to Hannibal when the Titanic went down. There's a museum at her birthplace that is worth the visit for the history alone.

Then there's the Big River Train Town Museum, the Tom Sawyer Diorama, the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, and so much more.
And when the kids get cranky after so much "culture", you can indulge them with a visit to Sawyer's Creek, a large complex with a Fun Park complete with miniature golf, bumper boats, arcade, bounce house, and "tootoo twain" among its attractions. There's a sweet shop, wine shop, gift and Christmas shop for all your retail therapy needs. The Riverview Cafe offers delicious dishes with a great view of the Mississippi River.

Hannibal, Missouri offers a great family getaway in America's Heartland that is accessible by car within a day's drive of just about anyone. When thinking about your next family getaway, at least put Hannibal on your list of possibilities. There is tons of information online, plus you can request an information packet through the mail.

Have you found any family getaway spots within driving distance that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about them!

[I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Alamo blogging program, for a gift card worth $50. For more information on how you can participate, click here.]

January 5, 2011

Become "Pair Savvy" in the new year! {review}

I've always envied those knowledgeable about wine, beer, and cheese. Those cool, sophisticated folks who know precisely what to order or what to serve and it is always spot on and perfect. Me? I just get lucky sometimes. :)

But one of my new year resolutions is to try to eat better, and that doesn't just mean losing weight through proper nutrition and diet, but it also means being good to myself. I firmly believe that I overindulge in "comfort food" because my taste buds aren't being challenged and satisfied. So the dishes I truly love (mashed potatoes and gravy anyone?) I turn to again and again because they are familiar and beloved. Time to step out of that...ahem...comfort zone.

If I had a better understanding and knowledge of "what goes with what", I would become not just a better hostess but also more contented on a personal level. So when I heard about this new phone app called "Pair Savvy", it was with a great deal of expectation and excitement that I tried it out.

Pair Savvy couldn't be easier to use. Take a look at this Web mock-up of the actual app for your phone. You'll instantly see just how simple and useful this is.

As you can see, you can search by cheese, by wine, or by beer. Or you can click "Surprise Pairing" for a...surprise pairing. :)  You can even save favorite pairings in "My Pairings" for easy look-up later.

This is a simple but effective tool for taking the guesswork out of what goes with what. I love Swiss cheese. So when I search by cheese and click Swiss, I get this:

In an instant, I find out that Swiss is best paired with Champagne or Riesling wine, as well as appropriate beers and fruits. Champagne and Swiss? I'll definitely have to try that combination!

I love Beaujolais wine too, so when I do a search by wine, I get suggestions for pairings that are best for Beaujolais.

Camembert and Port Salut are two of my favorite cheeses, so these are definitely pairings that I will be doing in the future. I think I'll click "Save" to save this info for later...

Well, as you can see, the concept and execution of this little phone app are just brilliant. No more searching gourmet websites or trying to decide if you trust the salesclerk's recommendations. Just refer to Pair Savvy anytime you need help and it's like having your own personal gourmand and connoisseur on speed dial.

Get the app for your phone here!

Disclosure: I am a member of One2One Network. By posting this, I am entered to win one of five gift cards. No other consideration is implied. My opinions are my own.