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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Travel can still fit into your budget

We're just 11 days into the new year and I'm already thinking about my next vacation. Mostly I'm thinking, "Can I afford it?" (And will I have a job when I get back?)

Many travelers are going to have to be even more thrifty about vacations this year. I suspect people will wait longer to make plans, hoping to get the best deal at the last minute. That's not a bad strategy, especially if your schedule is flexible or you're thinking about taking a cruise or booking a hotel. Fewer travelers means more vacancies at hotels, and desperate innkeepers willing to make a deal that's favorable to your pocketbook. Luxury hotels, in particular, are having a hard time, so if you have the cash, now is the time to stay someplace that you may have only dreamed of, such as the Four Seasons or Trump International Hotel & Tower.

Another idea is to decide where you want to go early on and then monitor airfare prices at, a Web site that keeps tabs on the highs and lows of airfare anywhere. Budget travelers can also save by signing up for e-mails from hotels or other travel providers that will give you the inside edge on coming deals. read more...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Florida nursing homes will gain funds despite big state budget cuts

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's 460-plus nursing homes will be an exception in the state Legislature's massive budget cuts to education and health care: They'll come away with more money, not less.

Nursing homes had been facing a 10-percent Medicaid rate reduction for the low-income patients they serve — a cut that would amount to $77 million over the next six months.

But House and Senate negotiators Saturday agreed to let the nursing homes use some federal budgetary alchemy to offset that cut, as well as previous reductions imposed in 2008.

By assessing a 5 percent "quality assessment" fee on themselves beginning in April, the homes can draw down more federal funds and create a total of $166 million, thanks to Florida's 55-45 percent federal-state funding formula for the health insurance program for the poor. read more...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

State running dry

When the Legislature convenes in Olympia on Monday, its agenda will be short on vision.

Never mind green jobs or health care reform. This session is all about how to balance the state’s budget in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Last week’s flooding, which cut off large swaths of Washington from the state capital and froze interstate commerce for days, provided a dire lead-up to what promises to be a grim 105-day session.

With a projected $6 billion budget deficit looming, it was a reminder that unexpected developments could throw a monkey wrench into lawmakers’ efforts to bridge the growing gap between revenue and the state’s progressive agenda.

Besides the weather, legislators will be grappling with other unknowns. read more...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Adventure tour operator seeks travel agent partners

The Adventure Company is hoping to work with more travel agencies as the adventure holiday market continues to see strong growth.

UK agency sales manager Vicky Gallear said the operator has launched a new Adventure Collection brochure for 2009/10 with the holidays offered taking in a number of different aspects, including city visits, nature experiences, new activities and beach time all in the same break.

It is hoped the variety of these breaks will prove attractive to customers who may only want to take one holiday this year due to the ongoing credit crunch.

Gallear said: “The adventure travel sector is one of the fastest growing in the market, but many travel agents are still unsure how to position and sell it. Even potential customers aren’t always clear on whether an adventure holiday would be right for them. read more...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Born wild

The experience of trekking via the Western Ghats to the Dudhsagar falls during the rainy season was out-of-the-world for Shilpa.

It’s his love for nature and wildlife that motivated Karthik to start Nisarga with a bunch of friends in 2003. Today, the organisation has grown to encompass various aspects of the natural world. “As time passed by, we gradually realised that there is a lot more to nature.” The main objective of Nisarga, according to Karthik, is to bridge the gap between human beings and nature.

Nisarga has three divisions — Eco tourism, Education and Research and Development. But the most favourite of all the members is trekking. “At least one weekend in a month, we indulge in backpacking. It can be through trekking or camping,” says Karthik. read more...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Activity and adventure breaks 2009: Get going! There's a whole world to explore

1. Private views

Follow in the footsteps of the great explorers and discover the world National Geographic-style. National Geographic Journeys – a new partnership between Titan HiTours, the escorted tours specialist, and the US-based National Geographic Society – will offer travellers such perks as tours with private access to museums, meetings with National Geographic experts around the world and specially arranged dinners in awe-inspiring locations.

Details: National Geographic Journeys (0800 988 5174;

2. Oman adventures

The buzz about the sultanate continues. Activity and adventure tours abound this year, including a new Biosphere conservation holiday: a liveaboard diving expedition charting the coral reefs of Oman's remote Musandam peninsula. Regaldive also newly explores the country's pristine reefs with liveaboard dive holidays. And Oman's rugged northern coastline has just become more accessible for non-divers with the launch of the world's fastest diesel-powered passenger ferry, linking remote regions with the capital.

For landlubbers, Pioneer Expeditions' new "full moon desert trek", guided by Bedu tribesmen, teaches how to tend camels, seek out desert fox, and use the stars as guides. read more...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Health advice: 50 ways to boost your wellbeing

Go fly a kite, join a boot camp, take up hula-hooping or even just re-arrange the furniture – getting your mind and body into shape does not have to involve the gym.


An adventure at any age, orienteering gets you back to nature, be it in the local woods or an urban park, and gives a mental and physical boost. British Orienteering’s website ( ) has a comprehensive guide to the sport, details of courses and orienteering clubs across the UK.


A thrifty way to a healthy diet is to sprout your own seeds. Home-grown sprouts, such as alfalfa, have more vitamins than shop-bought versions. To sprout seeds, soak, drain and rinse at regular intervals until they germinate, using a jar, cotton wool and water. Buy a starter kit at .


That feeling of satisfaction when the housework is finished is not just the sense of a job well done – you’re getting an endorphin release from the exercise. The physical exertion also reduces stress; experts have discovered that the risk of mental health problems, particularly depression, is reduced by a fifth in people who do 20 minutes of housework a week. read more..

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling Trailer

For San Francisco film lovers, we are pleased to present this story from “The Moving Picture.”

A trailer for the direct-to-disc sequel, Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling, is now online. The successor to the Seth Green and Dax Sheppeard comedy arrives on shelves January 13 and stars Oliver James, Kristopher Turner, Rik Young, Will Cuddy, Robert Blanche, Amber McDonald, Todd Robinson and Madison Riley. Check out the trailer, official synopsis and box art below. read more...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Alaska adventurers reveal what books they consider worth a read

The year is finished, a time for taking stock. We asked a trio of Alaska outdoors and adventure book aficionados what caught their attention in 2008.

Harlow Robinson, a two-time champion of the Crow Pass Crossing and president of the board of directors of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, joked that friends have come to dub his bookshelf "Harlow's Harrowing Tales" for his love of survival and adventure stories.

Robinson spent much of his year reading such classics as "Adrift," "Land of White Death," "Where the Sea Breaks its Back," "Endurance" and "Touching the Void" to name a few.

"I could go on and on," he admits.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fasten Your Seatbelts

When the present promises only economic hardship and political upheaval, what does the future look like?

In 2009, it looks like a world of gleaming spaceships filled with enlightened people who have emerged with their humanity intact after a terrible war. They have entered the 23rd century, shed racism, no longer use money, possess seemingly magical technologies and are devoted to peaceful exploration. I refer of course to "Star Trek" and its powerful story of a better tomorrow, which has been mesmerizing audiences for almost half a century and returns to movie theaters this coming May with an eagerly anticipated 11th full-length feature.

But wait. The future also looks like this: a dark, violent world where a horrific war between humans and cyborgs leads to the near-extermination of humanity. This vision, in the latest "Terminator" movie, is also arriving at your nearest mutiplex in May. read more...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Adventurers will count pennies

If the trend of last year's Adventures in Travel Expo was eco-conscious vacationing, this year's is a no-brainer: economy travel.

Dedicated travelers are not giving up their vacations in this slumping economy, but they are trying to make them more affordable, said John Golicz, chief executive officer of Unicomm, a trade-show company co-sponsoring next weekend's event at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont.

"The difference this year is value," Golicz said. "People are planning a lot more carefully. They can't make a mistake."

About a third of travelers recently surveyed by Unicomm said they plan to stay closer to home in 2009 or will visit somewhere where the dollar goes farther, Golicz said. READ MORE...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grandparents who help watch the grandchildren are the lucky ones

Through Christmas, we've had some extended time with our grandchildren, especially with 3-year-old Walt when both his parents had to work. Things like vacuuming and post-holiday straightening didn't get done. A trip to the park and playtime with the cousins did.

Lucky are the grandparents who get to see their grandchildren often. Luckier still are the children whose grandparents get to play a part in their lives — sometimes a large part.

A few years ago I read statistics that told of an amazing number of grandparents who help with the care of their grandchildren. There are an estimated 8 million children being raised by grandparents in America today and a larger number who are cared for part-time daily by grandparents. The grandparents who have total responsibility for bringing up grandchildren when for one reason or another their parents can't do it are the ones who really deserve credit. read more...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sheffield Village opens 'Nature Spot'

On Jan. 3, the Lorain County Metro Parks brings locals their own close-up wildlife experience with the opening of the new "Nature Spot" at the French Creek Nature Center.

The grand public open house happens from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it's free to all.

Visitors can tour the Nature Spot while learning about indigenous Northeast Ohio plants and animals that call this forest habitat their home. Rangers and naturalists will be on hand to explain the variety in this region.

The celebration begins at 10 a.m. with Silly Songs with Gary, followed by an exploration of the Nature Spot at 10:20 a.m. Visitors can pick up a "Nature Spot Scavenger Hunt" sheet at the Front Desk to aid in their explorations. read more...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nature's extraordinary books give you that special insight

Outdoors, nature and travel books address oft-entwined topics. If you want to see an Arctic fox or rappel into a cave, travel is mandatory. A winter adventure often means outdoors activities. Exploring Scotland shouldn't exclude its ecosystem and inhabitants.

Whatever the emphasis of your trip, embrace the options.

"Extraordinary Leaves" ($45, Firefly). Photographer Stephen Green-Armytage ("Extraordinary Chickens," "Extraordinary Pheasants") and botanist Dennis Schrader combined to create an extraordinary book.

These are more than 225 leaves at their finest, captured in artistic moments, with a complementary amount of text. The photographer groups them by color, edge, pattern, texture, shape, size and other categories. read more...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Events on Long Island

EAST MEADOW East Meadow Public Library “The Cats of Mirikitani,” a documentary about Jimmy Mirikitani, an 86-year-old artist, by Linda Hattendorf; Mr. Mirikitani’s work will be on display. Friday at 7:30 p.m. Free. East Meadow Public Library, 1886 Front Street. (516) 794-2570.

HUNTINGTON Cinema Arts Center “Brief Encounter,” by David Lean. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. $4.50 to $9. “Alexandra,” screening followed by discussion with Vic Skolnick, co-director at the Cinema Arts Center; bagel brunch included. Jan. 11 and 12. $9 and $12. “Great Expectations,” directed by David Lean. Jan. 13 at 7:30 p.m. $4.50 to $9. “Ashes of Time Redux,” by Wong Kar Wai. Jan. 14 at 7 and 8:40 p.m. $4.50 to $9. Cinema Arts Center, 423 Park Avenue. (631) 423-7611; read more...

Friday, January 16, 2009

ANGRY CAIRO Protests as Israel, Hamas Step Up Attacks, Vow to Fight on

Israelis and foreign observers from allied nations are beginning to question the tactical logic of Olmert’s air offensive against Gaza, even as they continue to defend Israel’s actions as self-defense against Hamas terrorism. Israel has announced the death of a top Hamas official, along with his 4 wives and 9 of his children, at his home in Gaza, and Hamas has vowed to seek revenge for the killings. Official death tolls now stand at over 400, and Israel’s 7th day of strikes included a mosque it says was used as a weapons cache for militant groups, with Hamas missile attacks into southern Israel increasing in number, range and sophistication. read more...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

South Elementary fifth-graders participate in science-filled adventure at Camp Grady Spruce

Fifth-grade students at South Elementary were in for a different science adventure with a recent trip to Camp Grady
Spruce, Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 17-19, just before the Christmas break.
Here, there were no desks, no walls, no books � just opportunities to experiment, identify, compare and live in a natural setting to experience interrelationship and interdependency between man and the environment.
The group included 100 fifth-graders and all fifth-grade teachers. One fifth-grade teacher, Cindy Cargal, stayed on campus to take care of the 18 students who didn�t make the trip for one reason or another. The teachers included Tracey Blackshear, Abby Moore, Lela Russell, Delnita Jones, Deedra Boaz and fourth-grade teacher, Kathy Collins, and sixth-grade science teacher, Brent Kofer.
Also included in the science adventure were Brent Evans, Jeff Fleenor, Lee Garner, Tonya Keyes, Tonya McKenzie and nine parents. The adults slept in the 10 cabins with the students during the science excursion.

The cost per student was $114 with about 50 per cent of the parents paying for their own child�s cost.
The fifth-grade teachers and South Elementary administrators made the decision from the very beginning that no student would miss the opportunity to go on the science excursion due to a lack of finances. read more...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Slopes and Waterslides Are Just a Drive Away

Winter is just beginning, but your family may already be in need of a vacation. Sure, you can bust open your emergency fund or charge to the credit card that tropical all-inclusive or fancy ski chalet, but in this economic climate, that's about as prudent as driving a jet ski into a hurricane. However, with holiday cheer still cozily enveloping you and a year's worth of new vacation days unused, one can't deny that early winter is a great time for a getaway with the kids. Although these options aren't free, they are certainly less expensive than flying off to a ski or beach resort.

So instead of springing for airline tickets, revel in again-affordable gasoline and plan a drivable family vacation. Here are three fun options, each just one to three hours from Washington, to satisfy weekend wanderlust: read more...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Red-Hot Brazilian Amazon Adventure

You need a very good reason to jump into a river swarming with piranhas, caimans, dogfish, stingrays, water snakes and electric eels. Heat was mine.

“If I told you everything that was in the water,” said guide Josh La Cruz, providing a short list of the notorious creatures populating the waterways of the Brazilian Amazon, “you’d never go swimming.”

With temperatures nearing 100 degrees and humidity close to 90 percent, I opted to ignore the river’s wildlife rap sheet. At that moment, boiling and sticky, I needed a dunk. So I plunged in and just as quickly scrambled out, not wishing to tempt fate. The South American sun had not driven me totally daft; I still had my fingers, toes and wits.

Brazil comprises 60 percent of the 1.4 billion-acre Amazon rain forest, and the hothouse jungle is stuck in terminal summer. “We have three seasons: hot, hotter and hell,” said Joyce Fernandes, a tour guide at the Amazon Theater in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state in northwest Brazil.

I visited during “hotter,” toward the end.

Monday, January 12, 2009

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a technical marvel. I’ll give star Brad Pitt and director David Fincher that.

Seeing Pitt’s face wrinkled and convincingly aged to 80 is impressive. Watching that face grimace and move on the body of a tiny person signals something that, technically, is nothing less than brilliant..

My curiosity, however, focuses on the screenplay, Eric Roth’s loosey-goosey revamping of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story. Both are tales of a rather simple man whose body clock ages in reverse.

Benjamin Button arrives near full grown and elderly in the short story. In the movie, he’s a little infant-size bundle in an elderly package.

I have no quibbles about how Roth, the veteran screenwriter of “Lucky You,” “Munich” and “The Insider,” distances his screenplay from Fitzgerald’s.

My problem is how much Roth rehashes his own Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump” screenplay structure. I admire anyone who can just sit back and let this otherwise grand adventure unfold.

Sadly, I can’t. “Benjamin Button” just needs a speech about how many ways shrimp can be prepared to be a cinematic twin to “Forrest Gump.” read more...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

“wellness & anti-aging are a trillion dollar business” - al mansoori

Heba Al Ghais Al Mansoori is a progressive Emirati national belonging to the young breed of UAE nationals who have made a name for themselves in the media and marketing fields in recent years.

Heba is an expert in the mass communications field. She graduated with a Bachelors degree in Arts with majors in Media, Marketing and Sociology in 1999. She worked with a mainline Arabic newspaper for three years before joining a leading Arab business magazine as its business editor. She then moved on to the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation to acquire some hands on experience in the broadcast field and headed their PR division for four years. She currently heads the Middle East office of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and leads a team of consultants promoting the destination in key markets across the region. read more...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

OUTDOORS: Fun things to do

Nature Walk: Myakke River State Park, Sarasota

The Manatee Sarasota Sierra Club is sponsoring a 4-6 mile nature walk starting at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 1. Wear sturdy shoes, bring water, sunscreen and a dish to share. There will be lunch afterwards near the river. Donation: $5. Space is limited. Reservations: 484-4113.

Friends of Myakka “Nature Adventure” Classes: Myakka River State Park, Sarasota

The friends of Myakka River State Park will kick off their sixth annual “Nature Adventure” series with new classes and the return of their most popular programs:

The Natural History of Myakka River State Park, a driving tour and nature walk will be 9- 11:30 a.m. Jan. 5. Tracking and Signs Left Behind, an exploration of animal tracks and scats will be 9 a.m.-noon Jan. 13. Participants must be 15 years old. Introduction to the Stars, a course in which participants and budding astronomers learn to use a sky chart and recognize stars and constellations, will be 7-9 p.m. Jan. 23. All classes will be led by Park Rangers and Friends of Myakka River all of whom are contributing their services and sharing their expertise in specific areas of nature and wildlife appreciation. Fees for classes range from $10-$80 and 100 percent of all funds collected will be contributed to the “Myakka Forever” Endowment Fund. Anyone singing up for three or more classes will automatically become a member of the Friends of Myakka River (a $25 value). The $5 per car park entrance fee will be waived for all Nature Adventure participants. Class sizes are limited. read more...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bay Area people of note who died in 2008

A restaurateur. A lion keeper. A breast cancer activist. A heroine in the AIDS epidemic.

A nightclub singer, Bayview-Hunters Point community activist, World War II hero and key figure in the Free Speech Movement.

They were among the thousands of people who died in the Bay Area in 2008.

Some were legendary in local history. Others led full lives, but were less well known. All of their lives reflected - and helped shape - the diversity of the Bay Area. read more...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cincinnati Nature Center’s Winter Travel Series begins January 4, 2009, with Richard Munson’s, “Mongolia: Land of Chinggis Khaan.”

In July 2007, Richard Munson accompanied his daughter and son-in-law, both residents of Mongolia and former Peace Corps volunteers, on a 1,440 mile excursion in central and southern Mongolia.

Visitors to Cincinnati Nature Center can journey with him as he retells his adventure during CNC’s opening Winter Travel Series program January 4, 2009 at 2 p.m. Munson’s travelogue presentation gives visitors a glimpse of a place of that most can only imagine. Each Sunday in January, visitors can take a trip to a new part of the world, without leaving the comfort of the Rowe Woods auditorium.

“I was enthralled with the vastness and the subtle beauty of the land that few Westerners have the privilege of knowing,” Munson said of his journey through central Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.

From the Flaming Cliffs of Roy Chapman Andrews’ fame—who was the model for Indiana Jones in the movies—in the dry and seemingly empty reaches of the Gobi Desert, to the vast herds of sheep, goats, yaks, camels, and horses in the steppes, Munson saw sights that forever changed his view of the world. Foremost, however, were the people, the proud and friendly descendents of Chinggis Khaan (the Mongolian spelling for Genghis Khan). read more...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

County offers Junior Snow Ranger program

Junior Snow Rangers is a free do-it-yourself winter nature adventure with self-guided hikes and activities designed to help children learn more about nature's winter wonders and how to cope with winter weather.

To get started, pick up a Junior Snow Ranger Booklet from rangers at Bartley Ranch Regional Park. Once the booklet has been completed, children meet with a park ranger to talk about what they learned. Participants who complete their booklet by March 31 will receive a Junior Snow Ranger certificate and an invitation to an end of winter party. read more...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

ANGRY CAIRO Protests as Israel, Hamas Step Up Attacks, Vow to Fight on

Israelis and foreign observers from allied nations are beginning to question the tactical logic of Olmert’s air offensive against Gaza, even as they continue to defend Israel’s actions as self-defense against Hamas terrorism. Israel has announced the death of a top Hamas official, along with his 4 wives and 9 of his children, at his home in Gaza, and Hamas has vowed to seek revenge for the killings. Official death tolls now stand at over 400, and Israel’s 7th day of strikes included a mosque it says was used as a weapons cache for militant groups, with Hamas missile attacks into southern Israel increasing in number, range and sophistication. read more...

Start the new year with a splash at Polar Bear swims

Dive into the new year with an audacious splash at one of several "Polar Bear" events today.

Inaugurate a year of adventure and ready-to-face everything bravery, with a chilly dip into Lake Washington. At least the ice and snow are gone and with showers and 41 degrees forecast, you won't be dripping icicles.

The original local polar-bear swim at Matthews Beach is in its seventh year and organizers expect to hand out about 1,000 official Polar Bear Plunge Patches to everyone who takes the plunge. It's free and festive, and costumes are encouraged.

Folks in the Mount Baker neighborhood invite anyone to join in their event at Mount Baker Beach. Renton Parks host a dip into the lake at Coulon Park.

The Resolution Run combines a healthy 5K run/walk with an optional polar-bear dive at Magnuson Park and post-race beer garden, chili feed and hot chocolate reward. read more...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

USC, Clemson Discuss Impact Of State Budget Cuts

While the state makes plans to cut spending by $380 million, two of South Carolina’s biggest colleges are making plans to deal with any upcoming shortfalls.

Football rivals Clemson University and the University of South Carolina are weighing options like hiring freezes, cutting back on travel and even cutting enrollment in smaller academic programs.

Both schools are responding to reports from the state that the budget cuts will deeply impact education and health spending.

The Associated Press says two thirds of the cuts will come from public school and health-related budgets.

The president of Clemson issued a letter Thursday on the cuts (reprinted below) while USC has published Web pages devoted to answering questions about the cuts. read more...

Friday, January 2, 2009

Virgin America Wins Best Low Cost Airline in Business Traveler Awards

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 12, 2008 (GlobeNewswire via COMTEX) -- Virgin America, the new airline on a mission to make flying good again, today took the award for "Best Low Cost Airline in North America" among domestic carriers in Business Traveler Magazine's 2008 "Best in Business Travel" Survey.
"We're honored to be recognized as the top low-fare carrier choice by the most selective and experienced travelers," said Virgin America President and CEO David Cush. "Virgin America offers attractive fares and next generation amenities that appeal to today's business travelers. With inflight internet fleetwide by Spring 2009, we're continuing to innovate and deliver a flight experience that keeps business travelers comfortable, entertained, and connected to their work and lives from 35,000 feet."
The Business Traveler "Best in Business Travel Awards" are based on a survey of four thousand randomly selected subscribers who were given open-ended questions about the overall quality and service provided by low cost carriers operating in North America. Business Traveler is the world's leading publication geared towards frequent business travelers. read more...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gov. orders new spending cuts amid bleak forecast

INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mitch Daniels ordered most state agencies to cut their spending even further Thursday to eliminate a projected $763 million spending gap through next June.

No state employees will lose their jobs as a result of the cuts, but they won't get 2009 pay raises and fewer will travel out of state as a result of the additional 3 percent cuts on top of 7 percent cuts a year ago.

Daniels made the cuts after the latest state revenue forecast showed the state collecting $721 million less in tax dollars during the current budget cycle than had been forecast just a year ago.

Some items won't be affected: The state still will distribute payments to K-12 schools as budgeted, and public safety won't be cut, Daniels said during a news conference in his office. read more...