Everglades Airboat Adventure

Touring the Everglades in an airboat is the quintessential Florida experience. We went on our airboat ride at Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston. We saved a few bucks by buying tickets online. They can be used any time which was great because our first attempt to go was rained out so we wound up going a few weeks later. Tours leave about every 20 minutes so you don't need to reserve a specific time. Just show up and get in line. 
My best friend begged me to go on the boat wearing big sunglasses and a head scarf. Oh the things I do for my friends! This wound up being a very practical move since it gets extremely windy once the boat starts moving.


This woman in front of me had the right idea too. It was like a glimpse of my future self! 

Here's a view of the dock, boats and the Everglades. Everglades National Park is a 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve made up of coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods that are home to hundreds of animal species.

Our driver had 30 years of Everglades knowledge and Airboat driving experience but I won't spoil it for you by revealing the cool things we learned from him. 
Below is a photo of the 14 foot gator that swam right up to our boat and bumped it with his nose! I only wish I took a video of the woman who grabbed her two teenage boys and jumped up onto her seat screaming for the driver to start moving. That was definitely my favorite part of the trip!

The ticket price also includes admission to all 3 animal exhibits.

The best part is that Florida residents are able to use their tickets for free admission for a whole year. You and your family can go on as many airboat rides as you like and receive 10% off at the gift shop as well as discounts on 10 other South Florida parks like the Miami Zoo and Lion Country Safari. So what are you waiting for?

New Project

These are some illustrations I made for the subway component at a new children's play space in Brooklyn, New York.


My family members did a great job modeling for me so I could create the perfect image of subway riders. (Grumbacher watercolors and Prismacolor pencil on Fabriano paper)


My husband is the happiest MTA subway conductor ever.
(Grumbacher watercolors and Prismacolor pencil)

  
   This is the view from the conductors windows. (Prismacolor pencil and Nupastel on Bristol vellum) 
 


Work in progress




This is a simplified subway map for kids created using a combination of hand drawings, Photoshop and Illustrator.



Photos of the finished subway car below. (Photo credits: Paul Orselli)



                                      

Wells House and Gardens

                                 
Wells House and Gardens located in Co. Wexford, Ireland claims they have something for all generations to enjoy and share. I decided to put this claim to the test. Our group consisted of a 2 year old, a 30 something, a few 40 somethings, and a pair in their 60's and 70's. The estate which includes the house and land sits on 450 acres so there's a lot of walking and most of the things to see and do are outdoors so you'll want to keep that in mind when planning your visit.
                                 

We picked a beautiful day to explore and set out on a woodland walk. 


                                     

With many hidden treasures to be found such as fairy doors, a wishing well, fairy castle, climbing trees and sculptures, the forest felt enchanted and the the experience was magical. 

We also toured the gorgeous terraced gardens and played a giant game of chess.


Wells is a working farm so you can get up close with the animals. They have chickens, pigs, guinea pigs, birds, rabbits and raccoons. If you're feeling really adventurous you can book a Hawk Walk with Wells House's Falconer. You'll have the opportunity to handle and fly birds of prey in their natural habitat!


When you get hungry you can stop for refreshments at Mrs. Stone's Restaurant where they serve delicious lunches, snacks, tea, coffee and desserts. Their produce and beef comes right from the Wells estate. If you prefer to bring your own treats to eat, there's plenty of areas for a picnic as well as picnic tables. There's a really fun playground for little kids as well as a zip line, a 3D archery course and clay pigeon shooting for big kids and adults. 

There are indoor activities to do as well. We took a stroll through the Craft Courtyard and visited an art exhibit. There's also lots of quaint shops and galleries selling art, crafts, treats and fairy doors of course!

You can also take a tour of the 350 year old house. Guests are allowed and even encouraged to touch and examine objects in the house. We didn't have time to take a tour of the house on this visit but I definitely plan on going back to Wells House and Gardens again. I think everyone in our group had a fantastic day and we all agree that they truly do have activities for everyone.

Contact info:
Wells House & Gardens,
Ballyedmond, Gorey,
Co. Wexford.
info@wellshouse.ie
+353 (0)53 9186737







Nepal Earthquake Update #3

I received mind-blowing news this morning.The donations and packages sent to Nepal have gotten the attention of their President and made it into the newspapers. Because of all of you who donated, a free health camp has been set up in the Sindhupalchowk District where they are distributing free prescription medications and giving free check-ups. The clothes and blankets have also been distributed to those in need. What started out as just a small act of kindness, some money and old clothes, has saved so many lives that it's made national news in Nepal. What means little to us means everything to them. 
My friend in Kathmandu sent me this email to share with you, "Happy!! Happy!! Happy!! Thank you and your friends. I'm grateful. I'm lucky!"
I am overjoyed. Thank you to all who donated.
Kim
P.S. You can still make a paypal donation to: donationsfornepal@gmail.com

Nepal Earthquake- Update #2

I've been in contact with our friends in Nepal every day and Dharma has told me about all of the packages and donations he's received from everyone. He says (rough translation) "there are no limitations to my happiness." For those of you who volunteered to help but haven't done so yet, he has sent a desperate plea for prescription meds. which I explained we can't get for him. Many people are sick from living with no shelter in unsanitary conditions and need basic antibiotics. He's found a doctor who can give him prescriptions for the people who need the medication but there's not enough money to pay for them. Please donate what you can to the Paypal account: donationsfornepal@gmail.com and it will be used to buy them medicine. Also, if you've sent a package and can track it, please let me know if it's arrived at the post office in Nepal so I can tell Dharma. There's no fuel left so therefore no busses or taxis and he needs to walk all the way into the city to pick them up. 

To donate via Paypal:  Click the Tab that says "Send", Type in the email address: donationsfornepal@gmail.com Then put in the amount you'd like to donate.

If you don't already have a Paypal account just follow the steps to create one. It's very easy.

Thank you all again for your help. There are no limitations to my happiness!

Nepal Earthquake- Update #1

I want to thank everyone who donated to help our friends in Nepal. We are overwhelmed by your generosity and so far we've raised 80,500 Nepalese rupees. We are still accepting donations through Paypal at: donationsfornepal@gmail.com. The money will be split between Grameen Clubhouse to help the villagers of Kirtipur and the HECAC children's home which was destroyed during the earthquake. The children are currently living in tents. HECAC was founed by my friend Bishnu Subedi (no relation to Dharma Subedi). He and all of it's members are volunteers. ALL of the money is going to rebuild the home and take care of the children. To learn more you can go to www.hecac.org 



Remains of the HECAC children's home:





This is the temporary shelter for the children until the home can be rebuilt:



Please go to Paypal.com Click the button at the top of the page that says Send, then type in the address: donationsfornepal@gmail.com and put in the amount you'd like to donate.



Nepal Earthquake


Kim and Dharma
You may have read in the news that Nepal suffered devastating earthquakes in April and May. I have several friends in Nepal who I’ve been trying to track down for over 5 months. I heard back from all of them except for my friend Dharma. I presumed he was dead but finally received an email from him 3 days ago. All of my friends survived but they have families with small children and every one of them lost their homes. Their entire villages and an orphanage were destroyed. Most of the people in Nepal support their families on the equivalent of $75 (£ 50 / € 67) a month and now they’ve lost their livelihoods as well. Despite what the news reports have said, not one of them has received any aid whatsoever. My friend Dharma and his family have been living in a remote village in a tent. It has been 5 months and they’ve had no way to contact the outside world; no phone, internet, electricity or running water. There are no buses or roads that can reach them. Everything must be carried into the mountains on the backs of sherpas or donkeys but many of the paths were blocked off by avalanches.

In the past few days I have received 12 desperate emails from. Those who survived the earthquake are now starving. Winter is coming and many of the villagers- elderly, babies, small children- have no tents, blankets or warm clothes and will freeze to death. They also need medical supplies. They don’t even have basic necessities like Aspirin and Bandages.



Dawa, Darren, Kim and Dharma

They are human beings who love their children and friends just as much as you do. Imagine living with your children, cut off from the world with no money, no food, no water and no shelter. Think about your pets with their comfortable beds to sleep in. They have a roof over their heads in a climate controlled home. They have fresh food and water every day. They have medical care and some of them even have more clothing than the people in Nepal.

Dharma holding my hand during the
entire descent so I wouldn't fall

What I learned from my time in Nepal, was that the poorest people are the most generous and the most grateful for what little they have. They invited us into their homes, let us sleep in their beds, fed us the best of their food before feeding themselves. They kept us safe during an earthquake, a mudslide and got me medicine when I was sick.

You don’t need to buy anything new. Look around your homes at all the things you have. I’m sure you can spare a blanket, some winter clothes, bandages, medicine, sleeping bags, or a tent. You can also donate money to help them buy food. We have so much more than we need; iphones, flat screen TV’s, cars, and closets stuffed with clothes we never wear. So please don’t say you can’t afford to donate even $10 so a child won’t starve to death.

We've set up a Paypal account for you to easily make a donation. You can send your donation to the email address: donationsfornepal@gmail.com  You can also send an email to the same address if you'd like information about where to send a package.

If you were generous enough to donate to the Red Cross that’s wonderful, but unfortunately the aid never reached them. I have heard this same story from all of my friends in Nepal. None of them have received any help whatsoever. Not even a blanket. We are not the Red Cross. 100% of what you donate will go to feed these villagers and rebuild their homes and orphanage. None of it will go to a billionaire CEO.
                       

Dharma is one of the founding members of Grameen Clubhouse. They are the NGO my husband and I visited when we were in Grameen and I've been coordinating with them to help the villagers in Nepal. They are so grateful that people have not forgotten about them. If you want to learn more about their mission, you can visit www.grameenclubhouse.org. They are so ecstatic that we are sending help and emailed me these pictures of the villagers.   

   
                      
Please share this with your churches, synagogues, mosques, co-workers, book clubs, sports teams, neighbors and friends. Thank you for reading.


STUDIO CLEARANCE SALE!!!

kombi painting

I'M CURRENTLY HAVING AN END OF SUMMER STUDIO CLEARANCE SALE!! 

ALL ORIGINAL PAINTINGS ARE 10% OFF UNTIL SEPT. 30th.







CLICK LINK BELOW VIEW MY ORIGINAL PAINTINGS IN MY ETSY STORE:



United Airlines


I have flown on many different airlines in my world travels. For the most part, these experiences have been unremarkable. Therefore, I don't write posts about airlines that often. However, this is a museum and travel blog and this particular airline experience with United Airlines definitely warrants a full post. 

My husband and I booked a flight from West Palm Beach, Florida to Dublin, Ireland for June 4th -12th, 2015. We had not seen his family in three years and had been saving money for a long time so we could go to Ireland for his sister’s wedding and celebrate his birthday with his family. We intentionally picked the flights with the most direct routes as possible and the least amount of layovers because I had been having some health issues which were exacerbated by stress and sleep disturbances. There were cheaper tickets we could have purchased but we paid extra for the sake of my health. The total cost of the tickets was $ 2,241.80.

Our flight from PBI to Newark was meant to leave on June 4th at 6:13 pm. The boarding time was 5:38 pm. We arrived at the airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare. No one informed us of a flight delay at check-in, no announcement was made at the gate. We did not receive an email about the flight delay until 5:39 pm, one minute after the scheduled boarding time. According to United Airline's customer commitment, 

“they will notify customers of known delays, cancellations, and diversions….from or within the United States within 30 minutes after becoming aware of a flight cancellation, a flight delay of 30 minutes or more…” 

We only realized something was wrong when a long line started forming at the gate counter. We were told that due to “mechanical problems” our flight would be delayed by more than two hours which meant we would miss our connecting flight to Dublin. Had an announcement been made, we could have been booked on the next flight to Ireland but by that point it was already full. Again, I quote from United Airline's customer commitment: 

“In order to reduce any inconvenience you experience during cancellations and misconnections, we will: Do our best to contact you in advance regarding a flight cancellation using the contact information in your reservation; Work to confirm you on the next flight we operate that has seats available in the same class of service when rebooking is necessary; and Make available information about your rebooking through our website, at an airport kiosk, when available; and through our airport and reservations agents.”

Their employees booked and cancelled us on other flights 7 times making a total disaster of the re-booking process. The gate agent told us that we could get on a flight from Newark to Heathrow and there were available seats on the flight from Heathrow to Dublin but then before booking us she turned away to chat and laugh with another employee and completely ignored us. It was total chaos and one agent whispered to the other that she needed help because she had no idea what she was doing. We explained that my husband’s sister was getting married and we needed to make it in time for the wedding which was the sole purpose of the trip. By the time she turned her attention back to us there were no longer seats available on the Heathrow flight. Then she told us that we would have to stay the night in Newark and wait for the next flight to Dublin the following night. This would mean that we would not make it in time for the wedding. She said that we should go to customer service when we got to Newark and they would give us hotel vouchers, a shuttle to the hotel and a disgraceful $7.00 for meal vouchers. A $7.00 voucher would probably only get us a cup of coffee in Newark! Then she said we would not be able to collect our luggage in Newark “for security reasons” so we’d have to wear the same clothes for 3 days. Following that, she said that since we’d have to check out of the hotel at 10:00 or 11:00 am, “we’d have to find something to do with ourselves until our 6:30 pm flight.”

We contacted our family in Ireland and told them that we would not be making it in time for the wedding and they were devastated. My husband’s elderly parents were so excited to see us that they stayed the night in a hotel in Dublin so they could meet us at the airport in the morning and drive us the 2 ½ hours to his hometown in County Wexford. When they heard the news they drove home Friday morning since we would now be arriving Saturday instead of Friday.

When our flight landed in Newark we went to the Customer Service desk as we were told to get our hotel vouchers but no one was there. We looked all over the terminal for someone to help us but couldn’t find anyone. Had it not been for the fact that my husband looked at the flight status display board and saw that our original flight to Dublin was delayed by three hours, again for “mechanical problems,” we would have had to spend our night sleeping in the airport until our flight left the next day at 6:30 pm. We raced to the gate and begged to be rebooked on the flight. We were able to get seats and asked that our luggage be diverted to get onto our plane. The gate agent asked for descriptions of the luggage and rolled her eyes at us when we said the bags were black. I do not see the point of putting tags with barcodes on customer’s luggage if they are not going to be useful in getting the luggage on the correct flight. Furthermore, I told her that one bag was The Northface brand and had two luggage tags on it with our address in Ireland and gold, silver and white ribbons on both bags. There was a three hour window to get our luggage on the correct flight. Additionally, the flight time had been changed to 1:00 am yet we did not receive an email until 12:35 am even though we’d already been seated at the gate for two hours.

When we landed in Dublin our bags were not there. We went to the Swiss Air desk (partner airline since there was no United desk) to file a claim for the missing luggage and told them that we desperately needed the bags for the wedding the following day. The agent said he located the bags and that they were still in Newark and said they would be put on the 6:30 pm flight that night and “promised they would arrive by courier to our address in Wexford by noon the next day”. The man working beside him laughed and said, “good luck with that.”

Since my in-laws had gone home we had no ride back to Wexford and had to find a bus. Our coats were in our missing luggage so all we had on us in the 50 degree weather was the t-shirts we were wearing since we left Florida. It took us 3 ½ hours to get to Wexford by bus and then we had to spend another hour buying underwear, socks, and sweatshirts to get us by until we got our bags the following day so by that time we had lost an entire day of our trip.

The next day we called to inquire about our bag status and found out that the luggage had never been put on the flight from Newark and we had nothing to wear for the wedding. Again, as per United's customer agreement, 

“...If your checked bags are delayed or misplaced, we will make every reasonable effort to deliver your bags within 24 hours. If you have expenses resulting from a baggage delay and are eligible to receive compensation, we will compensate you for reasonable and necessary out-of-pocket expenses.”

We had less than three hours to run around town to rent a suit, buy a dress and shoes, and other basic necessities such as shampoo, soap, hair brush etc.. and then shower and get to the venue. We could have taken advantage and bought my husband a new suit but there was no time so he rented one instead; one that was ill-fitting and not nearly as nice as
the one he had packed. I couldn’t find shoes my exact size so I had to stuff them with toilet paper in order to make them fit. Furthermore, our wedding gift and my husband’s birthday gift were also in our luggage. Did I mention it was also his birthday that day?! 

We were late for the wedding, I had to show up with wet hair because there wasn’t even enough time to dry it and we had to leave the reception early due to the complete exhaustion and lack of sleep over the prior three days. Another day of our trip and an important family occasion was ruined.

The following day we had to wait around for our luggage to arrive (again). We missed a family breakfast with the bride and groom and yet another day was wasted. Had I known our bags weren’t going to show up until Sunday I would have bought a second shirt and a new pair of pants to wear rather than the pair I had been wearing for 4 days. When we opened our bags, we saw that someone had gone through them and tossed around their contents. Clothes that were neatly folded were bunched up and thrown around. One of my two luggage tags had been removed. I had attached it to the handle with a heavy duty cable-tie and the only way to remove a cable tie is to cut it with a knife or scissor. Whether or not this was done to lay the blame of the missing bag on me I do not know.

The accumulated stress, sleep depravation and frustration of those three days caused me get sick again. I spent the rest of the trip in bed and I lay full blame for the decline of my health on United Airlines. If it were not for the fact that I kept all of my medication in my carry-on bag, I would have wound up in the hospital.

When we arrived back in the United States on June 12th our bags were not there!!! We went to baggage claim and spoke to an employee named Debbie who neither said hello nor even smiled. United's customer commitment states that, 

“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day.” 

Debbie clearly hates her job and does not like coming to work every day and surely would be happier doing any other job that the one that she is doing. United Airlines should be embarrassed at the rudeness and unprofessionalism of their employees as well as mortified that they lost both of our bags on both of our flights. When our luggage finally arrived at our home the following day my bag was damaged. In the past five years we have flown on roughly 25 international flights and 40 domestic flights with other airlines and not once have we had more than a 30 minute delay, or a single piece of missing luggage. Yet United Airlines managed to accomplish all three in just one trip. They failed to meet their own Customer Commitment on so many levels. They call themselves, a “leader in the airline industry” yet the day after we returned from Ireland they put an entire plane full of passengers in an unheated army barracks in Canada while their flight crew stayed in a hotel. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/14/travel/united-flight-diverted-to-canada/ 

So I wrote a letter to their Customer Care as I was sure they would agree that compensating us for the airfare and clothing we had to buy for the wedding was a pittance for a company with a net income of $1.97 billion. After all, it was the very least they could do to make up for the total ineptitude of their company, the emotional distress they caused to our family, and the complete disaster they made of our trip.

I had to send all of our receipts to them but we were eventually reimbursed for the clothing. I also sent them pictures of the damaged luggage. In case you're wondering, here's what the law says about damaged luggage:

Destruction or Loss of or Damage to Checked or Unchecked Baggage
Both the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions provide: “The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of destruction or loss of, or of damage to, checked baggage upon condition only that the event which caused the destruction, loss or damage took place on board the aircraft or during any period within which the checked baggage was in the charge of the carrier.” Montreal Convention, art. 17.2; accord Warsaw Convention, art. 18.1.

The damage was reported in writing within 7 days of receiving the luggage. Pictures of the damage and documentation indicating the $300 value of the luggage was included. The suitcase was delivered on June 13. The letter was written on June 17th and shipped via 2 day Priority Mail.

I received a reply from J. Wilson from the  Baggage resolution Center dated July 15th (almost one month later) stating that “all damage claims must be reported within 24 hours of receiving the property." This is the Contract of Carriage for Domestic flights. According to the Warsaw Convention Chapter 3, Article 17 & 18 and Rule 28, E of United Airlines Contract of Carriage for International flights, a complaint must be made to the carrier within seven calendar days. Our flight was International and their letter is in violation of their Own contract of Carriage and both the Warsaw and Montreal Convention!!!

Not only did they not compensate us for the damaged suitcase but they made no apologies either. Adding insult to injury, I also received a letter from Annette Nielson in Customer Care on July 8th stating that United Airlines “does not refund used tickets....However as a gesture of concern, I have included a travel certificate for each of you.” The travel certificates were in the amount of $100. There are no United Airlines flights that cost only $100 so to use these vouchers would give more of our money to United. You can't even fly from Orlando to Miami for $100!!! And the statement that they don't refund used tickets is not true. After the news of their army barracks stunt hit newsstands and social media, they issued refunds for the cost of the used tickets to all of those passengers. 

I wasn't happy with what they considered to be a resolution and I wanted to get in touch with Annette Nielson but this was impossible since there was no contact information for her in the letter she wrote. No email, no phone, nothing. I wasn't even given a claim number that I could reference. I doubt Annette Nielson is even a real person. With the help of a lawyer, we drafted another letter sent on his letterhead, informing them of their violation of the Warsaw convention and their very own contract but I never received a response.

I have flown on so many airlines that I couldn't even name them all. Needless to say, United is by far the worst airline I have ever flown with. If you want to be United with your loved ones and if you expect to be United with your luggage, then whatever you do, Do Not fly with United!!! Ha!


Update September 7th 2016: Here's a fun article about 2 United Pilots that were arrested for trying to fly drunk!


Savannas Preserve State Park

Savannas Preserve State Park contains the largest, most ecologically intact stretch of freshwater marsh in southeast Florida. During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), Lt. Colonel Benjamin Pierce first used the term 'savannah' to describe the series of ponds and marches found in this area, which stretches more than 10 miles from Ft. Pierce to Jensen Beach, encompassing more than 6,000 acres.

The Savannas is comprised of six natural communities. Each community is characterized by a distinct population of plants and animals that are naturally associated with each other and their physical environment. The communities consist of:
Pine flatwoods
Wet prairie
Basin marsh (covers nearly 1,000 acres and is home to the largemouth bass, alligators, waterfowl and bald eagles)
Marsh lake
Sand pine scrub (home to the Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise)
Scrubby flatwoods

The park is also home to a rare plant called, avannas mint that grows nowhere else in the world. It also contains nearly all of the remaining populations of the fragrant prickly-apple, an endangered cactus species.







There are many ways to enjoy the park including biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and horseback riding. There is also a small picnic area and an eco-friendly restroom. We had planned to hike for the day but the landscape changes dramatically with the rainfall and many of the paths were closed off due to flooding. We went as far as we were able to go and then we visited the Education Center. The staff was extremely friendly and told us about the numerous interpretive activities available to school groups and park visitors such as guided or self guided walking tours, kayak and canoe trips. There's even a moonlight kayak tour which I definitely want to try. 

The Education Center features interactive exhibits and displays on local history, the preserve's natural communities, plant and animal species and live animal exhibits. 


We didn't have much luck with the hike but we did get the rare opportunity to watch these turtles mating. I've worked for several zoos and the circumstances have never been right to be able to witness what appears to be a fascinating feat of turtle acrobatics.


The entrance fee for the park is only $3.00 per vehicle and it's open 365 days a year. The Education Center is open Thursday-Monday.