My first solo road trip!

The open road desperately called, and this time I answered with a mini road trip of my own to Arizona. It's about time I did it! And I can truthfully say it won't be my last. It's the first of many solo trips I'll be taking in the years to come. I promise. Following is a quick glimpse of the phenomenal sights the U.S. (or at least Arizona) has to offer...I look forward to discovering so much more!

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Hot Springs Discovery: Kusatsu, Japan

Traveled with mom to Japan a few years ago to Kusatsu, Japan, a small mountain village known for their hot springs. Mom's younger brother was nice enough to pick us up in Tachikawa, Tokyo for the long drive into cool, clear mountain air that cut through the fog in our lungs. It was refreshing, invigorating...a great trip.

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Look what I found...

As my navigator (friend Cheryl) and I drove along a New Hampshire highway (can't remember which) on our 2005 East Coast road trip, I caught sight of this posted sign. "No way," I thought. Had to stop the car and make a U-turn to photograph this gross negligence of a state sign. LOVE finding typos. And this is one of the best!

East Coast Road Trip '05

In September 2005 a friend and I embarked on our fifth (or sixth? seventh?) road trip across the U.S. Focusing on the East Coast, we packed as much as we could in two weeks, crossing six states, covering 2,618 miles, catching a LOT of outlet malls (sent home three boxes before the end of the trip!), going horseback riding (a first for both of us), and once again just missing our chance to go whitewater rafting. Two of the highlights were getting absolutely DRENCHED on the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour ride on the Niagara whirlpools and catching the cutest view with dimples: "Mark," another passenger on the jetboat ride. Of college age, he was evidently traveling with his parents. A definite cutie! Well, here are a few other incredible sights captured on our trip.

One of the nation's greatest natural wonders: Niagara Falls. American Falls in foreground; Canadian portion of the falls, Horseshoe Falls, in the back. Tourists in blue on bottom are a part of the Maid of the Mist ride.

Another view of the amazing Niagara Falls with Cave of the Winds tourists in yellow ponchos below. On the tour, you get to actually stand under the smaller part of the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and feel just a small portion of the falls' power.

LOVE the fruit stands along many U.S. roadways. A first for us: seeing nectarines growing on the tree.

Relaxing sunset at day's end. We're on the U.S. side; Canada is over yonder.

Cute 'lil duck pondering where he'll fly for the winter.

My dream home...

Had a chance to visit Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. A view from the oceanside path that runs parallel to a portion of the 20-mile Park Loop Road.

Coastal shot from same oceanside path.

Start of the path around Jordon Pond. Sandy gravel on one side... boardwalk on the other.

The end of a really nice one-mile walk around Jordon Pond.

I will never get over the absolute JOY and FREEDOM I always experience on my road trips. My friend may be getting homesick after a week, but my only question is: "When is our next trip?" If I could make a good living as a travel writer, I'd take the opportunity in a second. No question.

End the year with a bang!

All I can say is busy, busy, busy! I just reread my last post filled with high hopes of a new job...guess what? I never left! Anticipating a new job, I had cleaned out my cubicle in September, but lo and behold, I just made 16 years at my current job. What can I say?

Was offered one job, but turned it down because I felt the second one would be better for me in the long run. Turns out I was one of top three candidates being considered for the second job, but not top on the list. Need I say more? I don't want to get depressed about it, but I feel things happen for a reason. So there.

Between then and now, I visited Japan with mom who really wanted to soak in the hot springs, or onsen. We were fortunate in that my uncle (mom's younger brother) and his wife likes to drive, so he picked us up in Tachikawa, then drove us about 4.5 hours to Kusatsu. This small mountain village and its surrounding area are known for its healing hot springs, and is popular with honeymooning couples, retired groups on bus tours and families. It's definitely a tourist destination.

We spent two days at a quiet, hospital-like resort named Spax, of all things, then two days at a resort that catered to families. I definitely enjoyed Spax more with its spacious tatami room with small living area and sofa and Japanese sitting area, plus Western-style twin beds. The window looked out on relaxing forest greenery that looked peaceful in the fog. Better yet, the downstairs onsen had an indoor and outdoor area. Believe me, I was self-conscious about undressing and walking into a large bathing area with just a small wash towel. But I felt even more self-conscious waiting for mom in the dressing room fully clothed! Women kept asking me if I was alright! So I thought, "Hey, I'll never see these people again," and just took the plunge and did it. So glad I did as I was able to fully enjoy a true onsen experience. Sitting in the outdoor onsen was the ultimate. The air was chilly, filled with a fog that touched the surrounding trees, and the water was oh, so hot! I just wished I could have photographed the moment, but well, that wasn't possible.

I took a walk around the main hub of the village with my aunt and uncle, and found it to be a tourist destination, but with the character of the samurai of old. Rows of streets boasted shops on both sides enticing passing visitors with goodies: apparel, cute bags, jewelry and lots and lots of local delicacies to eat! Handmade rice crackers, manju, hot spring eggs (eggs in baskets boiled in hot spring water), broiled fish right on the street, and so much more.

In the center of the village is the source of the hot springs that flow down a fall and eventually back underground. You can wash your hands in it and even roll up your pants to dangle your legs in it. So cool. It was definitely a village that has its roots in old Japan; a lot of the buildings attested to that.

The second place we stayed was a family resort similar to those on the mainland. Everything you need is on property so you need not wander far during the day. Restaurants, gift shops, activities that include hiking, golf, tennis, as well as bus tours that take you to nearby natural attractions. They have a small onsen for men and women (separate), but they also have an onsen that's more like a water park! I didn't venture there, but I'm sure "bathers" went in wearing swimwear since it's for all members of the family.

By the end of the trip, my fingers quickly turned into prunes at the touch of water, even from just washing my hands! Mom and I truly enjoyed our idyllic vacation and mom began to actually feel physically better from her visits to the onsen. But you can only do so much eating, bathing, resting, shopping, bathing, eating, resting, etc. in four days. On every vacation I've taken I've always lost a few pounds, but after this trip, I had gained some! Relaxation has its price. But it was thoroughly enjoyable, especially being in the mountains. And we certainly have to thank my uncle and aunt for being wonderful hosts.

Well, reality waited just around the corner upon my return home. I came back to an almost empty work cubicle (I still haven't put things back in anticipation...of something) and deadlines. The company has since hired another editor and she's as sweet as can be. How can I be anything but positive when she's all that AND greets me with a "Good morning, Sarah!" in her sing-song voice every morning! Thank goodness for her.

This has certainly been a year of overcoming obstacles and learning from them as well. But there has also most definitely been joyous moments and times for which to be grateful. For sure. Happy Holidays to everyone and wishes for good health and happiness in 2007!

Taking the wheel

Okay, I'm starting with a clean slate and taking charge! Found this quote once and thought it was right on, especially since I felt it really pertained to the situation I was in and occasionally find myself back in from time to time. It's written in black Sharpie on a yellow stickie at the top of my computer monitor at work where I can see it every minute of the day. It's from America's humorist/author/philosopher Will Rogers..."Even if you're on the right track, you'll just get run over if you just sit there." Meaning, get off your a** and take action! Even though he passed on in 1935, I think his words continue to hit the mark, especially when it comes to politics. Check out his website here.

Here's something else to contemplate as you go about your busy day:
A list of "Happiness Traits" I picked up somewhere and thought it was very interesting. I'm not sure who wrote it or else I would give proper credit, but I think it's noteworthy enough to share (note: if anyone knows where it's from, please let me know and I'll credit the author). It's also written on a large yellow stickie and is stuck on my computer's hard drive as a reminder when work gets to be incredibly stressful—and it does.

#1: A quiet mind
#2: Self restraint
#3: Endurance
#4: Loss of interest in worldly charms
#5: Freedom from conflicts and distractions
#6: The desire for happiness

A few other traits I think might contribute to being happy are: to stop worrying (like it's that easy!), be productive, develop positive thinking and keep close friends with whom you can share your juiciest secrets!

Well, to help with the "quiet mind" part, take in this beautiful sunset. I took it on the side of the road halfway down Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. You know those times when you wish time would stand still? This was one of those moments...peaceful and utter satisfaction at being able to enjoy it.