By Chuck Mai, AAA
Thinking about taking a family vacation this summer? Choosing and planning can be half the fun.
There are many short, fun, exciting, family-oriented and inexpensive vacation destinations within Oklahoma – and AAA Oklahoma is the first to point them out in AAA’s Oklahoma TourBook travel guide – but sometimes families want options. Planning a trip the whole family will enjoy is easier when you let AAA’s travel professionals help point the way with expert recommendations.
To select their top picks for key family travel destinations, AAA editors became kids again. With an eye toward finding options for kids from tots to teens, they visited and played at countless attractions touted as kid-friendly — many designated as AAA GEMs, offering a Great Experience for Members — along with notable restaurants and events. This family-friendly content is available in AAA’s popular digital and printed travel guides for select destinations.
The key to a successful family vacation is planning activities that are fun and exciting for every member of your group, recognizing that what’s exciting to a 6-year-old can differ from what appeals to teens. Recommendations from AAA’s travel editors help make these distinctions, ensuring easier travel planning and memorable vacation experiences.
AAA’s Top Picks for Kids are currently available for 19 U.S. cities coast to coast, including New York, Orlando, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Selections are separated into categories that include options for kids under 13, teens, and kids of all ages.
AAA editors’ Top Picks for Kids can be found in the AAA.com Travel Guides, the downloadable AAA eTourBook guides available at AAA.com/ebooks and the printed AAA TourBook guides available to members free at full-service AAA Oklahoma offices.
FOR EXAMPLE: AAA Editors’ Top Picks for Kids – MIAMI
Miami Seaquarium: At this AAA GEM attraction, kids enjoy the antics of Salty the sea lion, Flipper the dolphin and Lolita the killer whale. Between-show activities include saltwater exhibits with sea turtles and reef fish. There’s even a pirate ship playground with water guns and a spiral slide.
Monkey Jungle: What could be more fun than a whole park filled with monkeys? A fenced-in path through this subtropical forest keeps humans and monkeys safely separate while allowing visitors to get really close to these wonderful animals.
Duck Tours South Beach: If you want to tour South Beach and get a taste of its rich Art Deco legacy without hearing choruses of “I’m bored,” hop on an amphibious vehicle. The entertaining and educational 90-minute excursion concludes with a big splash into Biscayne Bay.
La Carreta Restaurant: Enjoy a delicious introduction to home-style Cuban cuisine, a big part of the Miami experience, at this local institution on Little Havana’s Calle Ocho (8th Street). Sample charbroiled meats and chicken-and-rice dishes, and snap a family photo with the giant metal chicken outside.
Beaches: You’re in Florida after all. Miami Beach is the obvious choice, particularly if you are staying there. There is also nearby Key Biscayne with its two public beaches: Crandon Park – a 2-mile stretch of sand noted for its calm waters and rental cabanas – and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, with its postcard-worthy historic lighthouse.
Everglades National Park: Drive down to South Florida’s wilderness jewel, a AAA GEM attraction. This endangered “River of Grass” is a haven for birds as well as alligators, snakes, turtles and manatees. Drive the 38 miles from the entrance to the Flamingo Visitor Center and enjoy the views from your car. Trailheads radiate out from the road at several spots, inviting short hikes. A thrilling high-speed way to explore the park is by airboat ride, offered at Everglades Alligator Farm and Everglades Safari Park.
John Saucier, of Midwest City, was a legend at the Ponca City Grand Prix, among the best to ever compete there in its more than 25 years.
Bill Stengle, of Enid, didn’t run at Ponca, but he did make build and drive midget racers, and he enjoyed motorcycles. He raised a son, however, who DID race at Ponca City.
I saw John race many times while growing up in Ponca. But it wasn’t until years later, when I returned to The Oklahoman, that we became friends, all because of one column I wrote recalling the PC Grand Prix. He thanked me “for the memories” and gave me an update on some of the drivers I had mentioned.
I never met Bill, but I saw his son, Jim, race a few times in Ponca City. Jim and I became close friends while I was living in Enid. We met through my association with others in the Sports Car Club of America and we both were members of the Enid A.M. Ambucs.
Jim was the only guy I ever knew who had a Corvette … in his attic. Disassembled, of course. I wouldn’t have believed it if his wife, Dixie, hadn’t gotten him to show me when my wife, Becky, and I visited them one night. Dang if it wasn’t true.
John died Jan. 25 at age 74, I’m sad to say. Scott Munn of The Oklahoman noted that John won 28 SCCA championships and was a member of the organization for 55 years. Scott said John was the only person to race in each of the 26 Ponca City Grand Prix events.
Jim’s dad, Bill, died Jan. 11 at age 95. His obituary included points about his innovative, mechanical abilities, such as this: “For extra income, he began drilling water wells with a rig he built himself.” That takes some skill, for sure.
Both men had served in the military, both men had loving families, both men were well respected and both were extremely talented.
I’m proud to say I knew John and I know Bill’s family. All because of shared interested in racing that has circled the track for many years.
I’ve always loved a good ghost story.
When I was a boy growing up, we would go on Scout camp outs, or have friends over and sleep out in the back yard under the summer stars. When I was older, we sometimes would have a camp out on vacation. And when I became a parent, we would do Scout camp outs (you’re never too old to be a Scout), or fishing trips.
But ghost stories always “livened” things up. Occasionally, what was supposed to be downright scary became downright funny.
On one Scout camp out (earlier version), a few of my fellow minicampers, armed with pocket knives for protection, sat around a fire at night and tried to outdo each other with the scariest story.
There were tales of headless spooks roaming the woods, bloody warriors looking for body parts lost in combat, drowning victims, hanged criminals and many others, whose mutilated forms were so aptly described by the storyteller that they best not be here.
Usually, the narrator would toss in a groan or moan for good measure. Sometimes, two or more would work together to add an element of surprise, such as tossing a stick or rock off in the distance when no one was looking to make a startling sound.
All in good scare; sometimes with funny results, especially if someone actually did react in terror.
I don’t scare easily these days. But I do still like a good story. That’s why reading what paranormal Tonya Hacker comes up with in her adventures catches my attention. As author of Paranormal Eyes, she details events and examines what has been reported to have occurred in and around Oklahoma, as well as elsewhere.
If you know of such an item, location, or sighting, she would love to know about it. Just give her a heads-up.
Read her Paranormal Eyes at KNOWIT/NEWSOK.COM/UNUSUAL-WEIRD-OKLAHOMA. And while you’re there, check out odd-but-true stories elsewhere in the country and around the world by clicking on the buttons directly below the title of the page.
It almost makes a fellow feel cheap, but I’m sure it certainly is something to look at.
A longtime colleague called the other day to chit-chat for a bit. As we have done for years, we wanted to get caught up on what’s been happening in each other’s life, and with our families.
We also wanted to send each other best wishes for the holiday season.
He was telling me about his family and mentioned that his daughter, another veteran journalist, had been working on a feature story about people who make a living putting up Christmas lights for others.
In particular, she told him, she had interviewed a guy who handled the decorative lights for a man who owned a major entertainment company in California. She told her dad the job paid well. Very well. Putting the lights on that one house brought a $50,000 contract.
I haven’t seen pictures, but I know without looking that’s a little more than I spent on my lights this year. OK, more than a little.
I’ve seen some pretty nice displays in my day. Big ones. Expensive ones. Just about anything Christmas-related you can think of, I’ve seen it.
My family likes to view the displays, those at individual homes, as well as the big municipal presentations, such as those in cities and towns throughout Oklahoma. Some of them are nothing short of incredible, from those you tune in to a spot on your radio dial to hear accompanying music, to those with live characters.
You can check on NewsOK and on wimgo.com for community displays to visit. They’re well worth visiting, in my opinion.
And there are even those who piggyback on a nearby display. I saw one recently where a house was awash in lights, from the rooftop all the way to the curb. Lots of blinking, twinkling lights, moving characters and music.
Next door, the house had a smaller display, but a sign in the front yard that caught my eye and added a little humor.
The sign, of good size and circled in bright lights, pointed to the big display and said: “Ditto.”
You don’t have to have the most recent, updated, technologically-advanced equipment to enjoy some of the best times of your life. You might not even need any that to enjoy it a second time. A good memory can do it.
During a few days of R&R (Realignment & Repairs) last week, I stumbled onto some items I had forgotten about long ago. A small box in my garage caught my attention. When I opened it so see what was inside, I found a mixture of items, from family and personal, to sports and recreation, to work and struggles.
Each one brought back a memory, often vivid, of another time and place. I remembered the circumstances, the people involved, and why I had kept each piece of my personal history “scrapbook” in the box.
There were papers relating to projects I had worked on in the office. There were documents on the purchase of an automobile, as well as insurance and items bought for it. And there were things my son and his daughter had made for me years earlier.
I found clips of stories relating to events I had been involved in (though, like most people in my business, we’re geared toward covering news than making it), booklets on items I wanted to take a second look at, and trinkets I had kept, for one reason or another.
Maybe they mean nothing to anyone else, but those items — all of them — have memories and meaning to me. They bring back those times when something happened that impressed me, or made me happy. I don’t recall finding one thing that was a bad memory.
I’ve read many times and been told that holding onto memories is healthy, so long as you don’t allow them to control your life. In other words, don’t live in the past, but don’t forget it as well.
There is a healthy middle ground. Check the resources on KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MENTAL-HEALTH-OKLAHOMA for ways to do just that.
And by the way, the items in that box I found have been safely stored away.
A short time back, a gentleman I’ve spoken with many times called to ask what I knew about the painted lines he was seeing on some downtown Oklahoma City streets.
“It looks like they’re bicycle lanes,” he said, “and some pretty good sized lanes. In fact, the biggest lane on one of those streets was marked for bicycles. What’s the deal?”
I told him he most likely had driven into the Project 180 zone and his assumption that these markings were for bicycles were absolutely right on.
This individual is not a bicycle enthusiast, though he isn’t against anyone getting their exercise on a two-wheeler. But he was concerned about how much roadway was being given to riders at the expense of drivers.
Not to worry. To everything there is a purpose. It will all work out.
A few weeks after his call, Kristy Yager of the City of Oklahoma City, sent out this news release. There’s a lot of information here, so read carefully:
“City streets are becoming more bike friendly with expanded ‘sharrow lanes,’ ” her release began. “The first of more than 200 miles of bike routes, including shared lanes or ‘sharrow’ bike lanes, are being installed in Oklahoma City.
“The sharrows are pavement markings which, along with new signage marking the routes, remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists and convey that the street is a preferred bike route. They are different from bike lanes because they do not allocate space just for the cyclist.”
That was one my caller had described. Kristy also explained “sharrow.”
“Signs saying ‘bicycle may use full lane’ will be posted along routes. The word sharrow is a combination of the words ‘share’ and ‘arrow.’ The marking consists of a bicycle symbol with two arrows above.”
And here’s the word on how this all is coming about.
“The city’s bike routes are being implemented in phases. Major streets included in the first phase include Eastern Avenue, S Villa Avenue and the I-235 and I-35 service roads north of 63rd Street. Downtown streets are also in the first phase.”
Transportation planner Randall Entz said: “Sharrows are being installed on streets like Hefner Road and NW 19th Street that are popular with bicyclists, but are too narrow for conventional bike lanes. When they are installed downtown as a part of Project 180 renovations, they will also help to keep cyclist out of the door swing zones of parked cars.”
One other very important note:
“Although we are designating bike routes and sharrow lanes, cyclists can still ride on any Oklahoma City street,” Entz added.
Sharing the road will make it safer for all.
Learn more about what’s being done downtown, including with Project 180, by going to HTTP://WWW.OKC.GOV/.
It only takes a split second to change lives forever. In an instant, the action of (or lack of action by) a distracted driver can produce catastophic, tragic results. That’s only one of the reasons “Drive Aware Oklahoma Week” is so important.
During news conferences Monday in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, members of the various volunteer organizations concerned about traffic safety, unified as Drive Aware Oklahoma, spoke out about what has become one of the most dangerous situations in our state, in our country: distracted driving.
They noted that the number of accident injuries and traffic fatalities related to distracted driving have increased steadily the past several years while attempts to make laws to stop them have been defeated.
Drive Aware Oklahoma members hope that, through making the public more aware of the risks and results of distracted driving, they can spur people to act, such as working with lawmakers to enact new laws and promoting efforts to educate drivers young and old.
It’s badly needed. Drive anywhere and you’ll encounter motorists driving distracted in one or more ways. It may be talking on a cellphone, texting, grooming, looking at maps or other reading materials, adjusting a radio or other entertainment, talking with others in the vehicle, or eating or drinking, to name a few.
The numbers aren’t good. Drive Aware Oklahoma notes that research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and others found distracted driving in fatal crashes rose from 7 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2009. It wasn’t unexpected that cell phone use was the major distraction in crashes, with nearly 1,000 people killed and other 24,000 injured nationwide.
A recent Virginia Tech study concluded that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to crash than non-texting drivers.
Distracted driving is particularly dangerous to young drivers, coming in as the number one killer of American teenagers.
Drive Aware Oklahoma Week has a direct tie-in with “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks,” a texting and driving prevention campaign by the Ad Council, the office of the State Attorneys General and NHTSA.
The awareness group encourages all Oklahoma drivers to get off their cell phones while behind the wheel. If the call is so important that you need to use the phone, group members say, pull off the road and stop first.
The short time it takes to do that just might be the time that saves your life and/or those of others.
We all need to aware of that.
There was a day when you couldn’t get me to say the word “retire.” I had too much going to even give it a thought. From the time I shut off the alarm and got out of bed until the time I turned out the lights at night, my life was set on “go.”
Through the years, there have been a few changes. Actually, there have been many. Some days, it feels like my get-up-and-go just got-up-and-went, as they say. Other days, I”m still going strong. Or at least, I really want it to be that way.
I recently took a class on retirement, just to see how I stood and what I might out to do to prepare for that day when I would be able to leave the fulltime job and shift at least some of my efforts from things I HAVE TO do to things I WANT TO do. Well, at least that’s’ the intention.
It was during that class that I realized I’m certainly not at that point yet. In fact, I’m not certain when I will be there. But at least now I have an idea as to what it will take to get me there. I also know there are many things to consider before I can make it happen.
I have to look at such things as …
* Finance — Where will it come from and how much will we have? Will my retirement account and our investments sustain us?
* Health — Will we able to get around well enough to remain independent?
* Insurance — What can we afford and what will it cover? Health, home and vehicle insurance are only part of that picture.
* Home — Can we maintain our home? There are always areas that need attention, from cleaning to repairs.
* Transportation — What are our options? Will we still be able to drive ourselves, or will we need assistance?
* Activity — A key point for most any retiree. It’s not just keeping the body active. You need to keep the mind sharp as long as possible.
These were just some of the key concerns. There are many more. Each individual’s situation is different.
Take a look at KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/RETIREMENT-OKLAHOMA to see areas a person looking ahead should be aware of before taking that plunge. Don’t forget also to look at KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MONEY-OKLAHOMA for more ideas on what you can do to prepare.
These and other topics in our “know it” library might be just what you need.
It’s a great time to get out, get some exercise and help support groups and organizations that are making a difference in the lives of those who need assistance.
Fall’s generally cooler temperatures and fresh air can be ideal to walk, jog, ride, run, or row. There are many opportunities to do so while helping raise money for local charities.
* Saturday, Oct. 6, you can join in the Oklahoma Walk Now for Autism Speaks, set for the East Wharf Children’s Park at Lake Hefner.
* Saturday, Oct. 6, the Heels for Hope 5k Race/1 Mile Walk/25-Yard High Heel and Feather Boa Dash for the Heels for Hope Foundation. This event raises money for ovarian cancer research, treatment and education.
* Sunday, Oct. 7, the BooBoo Dash 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run at Regatta Park to benefit programs of Children’s Hospital volunteers.
* The Team Hope Walk/5k for HD at Lake Hefner’s Stars & Stripes Park to help raise money for research of Huntington’s Disease. This event is Oct. 14.
* The Susan G. Komen Oklahoma City Race for the Cure at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, raising money for breast cancer research and assistance.
These are but a few of the many events related to health issues. But there are others relating to benefits such as pet adoptions.
Pick your favorites, as few or as many as you would like.
For a list of possibilities, check KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/CHARITY-OKLAHOMA, or go to WWW.WIMGO.COM and see what’s there.
You can help yourself and others at the same time.
You’ve most likely read or seen the plea, but unless you or anyone you know ever has needed blood, you may not understand the significance.
As someone who has been in that situation, I can tell you it’s extremely significant. It easily can be a matter of life or death.
“Someone needs blood every two seconds,” said Dr. John Armitage, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Blood Institute. “This constant need is why we are asking … residents to donate blood.”
Because there is no substitute for blood, the supply must constantly be renewed. There always is a need.
Maybe it’s because I have experience firsthand the need. Maybe it’s because I’ve known many others who have been through it. Or maybe it’s because I have worked closely with the institute and its staff for many years to see and hear about those times when a quantity of donated blood allowed someone to continue to live.
Whatever the reason, I do know, and I encourage everyone who can to consider donating. You can find information in news releases in any of the five “know it” communities about how and where you can do so. There are many opportunities through the year. Just check KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/EDMOND, KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MIDWEST-CITY, KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/NORMAN, KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/OKLAHOMA-CITY, or KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/YUKON for local drives.
You also can find information by contacting the institute or any of its donor centers.
Although all blood types are needed, those with O-negative type blood are especially encouraged to donate. According to the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), those with O-negative blood type make up only 9 percent of the national population. However, O-negative blood can be used in any emergency situation when a patient’s blood type has not yet been identified.
Oklahoma Blood Institute exclusively provides every drop of blood needed by patients at all hospitals in the metro-OKC area. Some 140 other medical facilities across the state also rely solely on OBI to provide life-saving blood for their patients.
Anyone, 16 years or older, can typically donate blood. Blood can be given every 56 days. To find out more or make an appointment to donate, call 877-340-8777, or visit WWW.OBI.ORG.
All 16-year-olds must weigh at least 125 and provide signed parental permission. All 17-year-olds must weigh at least 125 pounds, All 18-year-olds must weigh at least 110 pounds.