Part One of our many-layered trip – Washington, DC

Representing hyeorlando

Representing hypeorlando

Last month’s trip was full of “holy shit!” moments. From beginning to end, the two weeks was chock full of eye-opening events and scenery. Our first leg took us to the 38th Annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference in Washington, DC. It was my fifth year of attending and I wasn’t disappointed.

Margie & Bob's home in Falls Church

Margie & Bob’s home in Falls Church

Arriving a day early, we were picked up at the airport by a friend I’ve known since we were in the fourth grade. Margie and Bob reside in Falls Church, VA, and were gracious enough to put us up on our first night in their lovely home. Decades ago, Margie’s mom managed the Home and Hobby store on chic Park Avenue in Winter Park, which was the go-to place for crystal, china and anything shiny and breakable. Margie’s welcoming home reflects her mother’s taste and charm.

Is this Hillwood or Margie's place?

Is this Hillwood or Margie’s place?


But first, Margie took us to the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which includes the Georgian-style mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal empire). Some of you, as old as I, might recognize Ms. Post’s daughter, Dina Merrill, the actress and philanthropist, who carries on her mother’s legacy. One of my favorite stories on the tour was about an incident which occurred during the depression of the twenties. Ms. Merriweather Post gathered up her collection of jewelry, placed it in a safe deposit box, then used the savings from the insurance on said jewelry to open several soup kitchens for women and children. She served up food and drink for the poor with linens and china, respecting the dignity of those who were not as fortunate.

Hillwood Estate

Hillwood Estate

The mansion/museum is full of art, china, and original furnishings; and the magnificent gardens are resplendent with color. This jewel of an estate is tucked away in the residential Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and provides an enlightening and quiet side trip from the tourist areas of the city.

Which fork do I use?

Which fork do I use?

While Charlie hung out with an old school friend of his own, the rest of the weekend put me into star-struck nerd writer overload. The roster of speakers at the NSNC conference was incredible. Beginning with Connie Schultz, I was thrilled to meet this prolific writer, of whose FaceBook page I am a stalker. Connie used to write for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer but left the paper when her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, campaigned. She now is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate and writes for Parade Magazine. This Pulitzer Prize winner gave me a “holy shit” moment when I realized she was following me on Twitter.

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Holy shit! Connie's following me!

Holy shit! Connie’s following me!

Other speakers kept us enthralled and in stitches, such as Craig Wilson, retired USA Today columnist; John Avlon of The Daily Beast; Gene Weingarten, Dana Milbank, Marguerite Kelly and Alexandra Petri, all of the Washington Post; and Llewellyn King, who currently is host and executive producer of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and whose background is too lengthy to list here. These are but a few of the journalists who graced us with their presence over the weekend and were so inspirational to a “wanna-be” writer.

The Capitol at Dusk

The Capitol at Dusk

Again, I was thinking, “holy shit!” while having dinner in the bowels of the Capitol building after a short tour of the rotunda, with nary a soul around but our small group of writers. Having toured the Capitol before with hordes of tourists, it was an eerie feeling to be there without the crowds. Our footsteps echoed in the pristine rooms which have held so much of this country’s history. It was an awesome experience and one I will not soon forget.

Hallowed halls

Hallowed halls

Washington Monument through Capitol window

Washington Monument through Capitol window

The next chapter takes us to Portland, Oregon…to be continued.

Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By, Gina Barreca

Today I’m sharing a column by Gina Barreca. Gina’s an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar, writer of eight books and columnist (Not That I’m Bitter) with the Hartford Courant. At the last NSNC conference in Hartford, we were lucky enough to be her audience as she taught us “A Lesson in Being Funny.” Needless to say, we were in stitches LOLing, ROFLing, LMAOing…she’s hysterical.

This being a travel blog, my fave is number 8. Enjoy, and thanks Gina for your words!


Laugh Often And 19 More Rules To Live By
Not That I’m Bitter

I’ve made a list of 20 rules to live by.

1. Bring your sense of humor with you at all times. Bring your friends with a sense of humor. If their friends have a sense of humor, invite them, too. Remember this when going to hospitals, weight-loss centers and funerals, as well as when going to work, coming home, waking up and going to sleep.

2. If it’s worth crying over, it’s probably worth laughing at. Cultivate a sense of perspective that permits you to see the wider and longer view of the situation; this will help you realize that although your situation is upsetting, it might also one day become a terrific story.

3. Other people don’t care what you’re wearing.

4. Don’t be a sissy. This is especially important if you are a woman. Girls can be sissies, but behaving like a simpering, whining, fretful coward as an adult is unacceptable no matter what your gender happens to be. If you are anxious, scared and feeling powerless, you don’t need to change your behavior; you need to change your life.

5. Don’t lie. Cheat the devil and tell the truth.

6. There is one exception to the rule above: Never say a baby looks like a sausage wearing a hat. The parents will not forgive you. This is a situation in which telling the truth is not wholly necessary. If it’s not possible to tell the whole truth for fear of causing undue pain, just say the baby looks “happy.”

7. Never use the passive voice. Do not say, “It will get done.” Say, “I’ll do it” and then offer a solid, unwavering deadline. Always make your deadline.

8. The pinnacle is always slippery; no peak is safe. Only plateaus offers a place to rest. Are you ready to stay on a plateau or are you climbing? Decide and pack your bags accordingly.

9. As we age, love changes. As a youth, you fall for an unattainable ideal. When you’re more mature, you fall in love with a person: “Sure, he has only one eye in the middle of his forehead,” you’ll rationalize, “But he never forgets my birthday.”

10. Power is the ability to persuade stupid people to do intelligent things and intelligent people to do stupid things. This is why power is dangerous.

11. Sherlock Holmes said, “Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” Listen to Mr. Holmes.

12. Everybody wants a short cut to love, prosperity and weight loss, although not necessarily in that order. Apart from being born into an adoring family, getting good genes and inheriting the mineral rights, however, there are no short cuts. The rest of us have to work at it.

13. Help the dramatically self-pitying to understand that they are not, by definition, sympathetic or interesting. Encourage them to address topics other than themselves.

14. Be kind, not nice. Kindness is both intentional and meaningful. Acts of kindness requires generosity, emotional and otherwise. Perfunctory and superficial niceness is, too often, mere window-dressing.

15. Only poor workers blame their tools. It’s not the fault of the computer, the school, the train, the government or poor cell phone reception. Take responsibility.

16. You know how sometimes you don’t think you’re asleep — you’re half listening to a conversation or the television — only to discover you were unconscious? One part of your head would swear it’s awake, but when you actually snap out of it, you realize you were wholly elsewhere? Sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes the only way you know you’re truly in love, in the entirely wrong profession, being a moron at parties or a great poet is when you snap out of it.

17. You can always stop what you’re doing.

18. You should either be doing something useful or you should be playing. You should not be thinking about playing while at work or thinking about work when you’re out having fun. Compartmentalizing your life is not inevitably a bad thing. It’s easy to waste pleasure by feeling guilty and waste potentially effective time by feeling resentful.

19. Be aware that a safety net, if pulled too tight, easily turns into a noose. Don’t trade independence for security without being aware of the consequences.

20. Someday you will die. Until then, you should do everything possible to enjoy life.

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

“Travel is Fatal to Prejudice” Mark Twain

Detroit, Macon, Hartford, Bloomington, Indiana…do these cities come to mind when planning a summer vacation? Probably not on your bucket list, nor were they on mine. However, my eyes were opened to the wonders of these towns while attending annual conferences of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a gathering of gifted and enthusiastic writers.

These destinations have so much to offer in terms of American history and cultural milestones, as well as tragedies and triumphs which helped shape the ever-changing character of our country. We were schooled in the rise and fall of the automobile industry in Detroit, as well as its funky record of Motown’s musical creations, allowing us to better understand the current status of this troubled place. We were also introduced to new industries and start-ups, which are trying to revitalize the city center and bring new creativity and economic success into the area. Detroit became one of my favorite American cities.

Detroit 012

Detroit 017

Macon, Georgia, provided yet another education, this time in Southern rock and roll. We learned about the Allman Brothers and their creative time living in this town, touring the home in which they lived and created so many unforgettable tunes. We were introduced to several celebrities who currently or once called Macon home, including Nancy Grace; Durwood Fincher, aka Mr. Doubletalk; and Ed Grisamore, The Macon Telegraph columnist. The conference was an experience in Deep South culture, food and humor.


Before visiting Bloomington, I only knew it as the home of Indiana University. Exploring the campus, we understood why Travel and Leisure named IU Bloomington one of America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses. The city also is host to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Here we were shown the bedroom used by the Dalai Lama when he is in town. Humbled by the room’s sparse décor, we were reminded of his humble, peace-loving existence. The academic culture of this town where theater, arts and sports activities abound, makes it a wonderful place to visit on more than one occasion.



This year’s conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Mark Twain. We learned that he lived in the Hartford house for seventeen years with his new wife and children until unfortunate financial decisions forced him to leave his pricey abode and travel Europe on speaking junkets to earn back his losses. Mark Twain’s quote is timely as we see signs of bigotry still prevalent in parts of this country. Our minds cannot help but expand when being exposed to cultures beyond our home town and culture.



Hartford is also home to Billings Forge Community Works, which bills itself as “a driving force for community participation and empowerment…through promoting access to healthy food; engaging youth; and developing employment opportunities and economically sustainable social enterprises.” They have taken a blighted area and turned it into a diverse community which includes mixed-income housing, nourishing gardens, afterschool care programs, as well as providing employment, encouraging civic engagement and promoting access to healthy food.


Having only attended four NSNC conferences so far, my intent is to plan each future year around this event, regardless of how innocuous the locations might appear. Our country’s cities, both big and small, offer too many edifying opportunities to pass up. Once again, Mark Twain says it best, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”