Should you find yourself in Charleston

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Driving down to Charleston from Virginia last weekend we laughed about our "getaway." I mean...getaway from what, exactly? It was the first anniversary weekend away in 24 years when we weren't getting away from the demands of parenting, busy Saturday mornings filled with birthday parties, sports practices and games, youth activities and the like. This time we weren't escaping those things. We were getting away from one place where we could spend all our time together to pay to go to another place to spend all our time together, ha! But no matter what your circumstances, a change of scenery, a road trip, a break from the chores and responsibilities of home is a good thing for a marriage.

Charleston was a dream. We stayed in a delightful VRBO spot (linked below) right downtown on North Market Street across from the famous Charleston Market. (Fun fact: it was an apartment directly above the Ben & Jerry's!) If I summed up our few days there it would be this: walk, walk, eat, walk, walk, eat, read, walk, eat, sleep. Repeat three days. Charleston's the perfect walkaround town--every street is charming and there are so many cafes, museums, shops to pop into when the mood strikes. 

On Sunday (at our friendly waiter's suggestion) we drove over to Sullivans Island--historic for both Fort Moultrie, which guarded the harbor from 1776-1945 in the Revolution, Civil, and World Wars. It was also, soberingly, the site of slavery's version of Ellis Island.  According to National Parks Traveler "About 40 percent of African-Americans alive today can trace their ancestral roots to West Africa through the Sullivan’s Island/Charleston gateway. This is, oddly enough, about the same percentage of white Americans whose ancestors were processed through Ellis Island."  

After taking in the history of Fort Moultrie we walked along the Sullivan Island beach and spent the afternoon sitting in the warm sun, talking and enjoying the ocean breeze and view. Two dolphins came close to the shore and cavorted for a good 20 minutes or so in front of us. We decided it was an anniversary blessing from them--hey isn't 28 years the dolphin anniversary?


Stay:

  • We loved the location and amenities in our VRBO rental apartment. (And the sheets were to die for!) Terri and Carl were welcoming and fantastic to work with. Honestly there are many great listings through VRBO and small boutique hotels that looked divine, too. The main suggestion we would make is that you book something near all the charm of Old Charleston: French Quarter, South of Broad, neighborhoods near Meeting Street and Market Streets.

Eat:

  • Magnolias: the book of Pat Conroy essays I was reading mentioned that Magnolias was his favorite Charleston restaurant. The guest book in our apartment also raved about it so we booked a reservation (even though the only one we could get was at 4:45!). It definitely lived up to its reputation: exceptionally delicious Southern fare and great service. We caved in to the swan song of the pecan pie to cap off the meal and did not regret it a bit.
  • Henriettas at the Dewberry; we had our official "anniversary dinner" here and it was very good. 
  • 1 Broad: we went here twice! Really great breakfast fare and bakery items. Plus live music.
  • Another Broken Egg Cafe: Good, filling Southern breakfast. I had the lobster omelet, G had shrimp and grits. Both were rich and satisfying--and we didn't want to eat again for 8 hours!

See/Do:

 

 

36 days later

I'm just a girl, standing in front of a screen, asking where the time went (my deepest apologies to Notting Hill). Are you having a similar case of time whiplash? How on earth can it be the end(ish) of January already?! Here's what we've been up to at our house (and I'll just admit up front that a couple of these may show up as posts of their own in the future):

I'm living without a phone (mine got stolen/lost right before Christmas) so I've pretty much jumped off social media and am rather off the grid, in general. It's an adjustment but it's not terrible. Mostly I am just too wallet-reluctant to buy another phone, ugh. My watch, computer, point-and-shoot camera, and landline are filling in pretty well for my smartphone in the meantime. 

I've been pretty immersed in wedding planning and prep (please send reinforcements, I'm in over my head!). More posts to come on this topic. I may not know the first thing about throwing a wedding but I do appreciate a good website project (Minted makes it super easy):

I'm still riding the boost of a terrific family trip to New Zealand over the holidays--forced family fun along with some (slightly uncomfortable but important) learning opportunities with everyone figuring out how to reconfigure as a family every time we get back together. But totally worth it!

 Speedboats in Shotover Canyon

Speedboats in Shotover Canyon

 Gorgeous Doubtful Sound

Gorgeous Doubtful Sound

 Hiking Queenstown Hill

Hiking Queenstown Hill

In an attempt to fit in as much as we could over our last and final summer holiday break in Australia, after we put the girls on the plane back to their universities in the states I joined G and Sam (miiiiiiiiles outside of my comfort zone and fitness level, to be honest) on a 4-day backpacking/hiking trip in Tasmania. It was spectacular, rewarding, and hard going now and then.  (Again, though, totally worth it!)

 Top of The Blade at Cape Pillar

Top of The Blade at Cape Pillar

 Looking down from Cape Huay

Looking down from Cape Huay

After that excitement we came back to routine+everyday life last week--digging through emails, catching up on various commitments, doing laundry, trying to get ahead of the weeds in the garden, and putting away Christmas. Hey, if a Christmas tree was never decorated, can it just be called a tree and kept up all year? Asking for a friend.

Which brings me to right now: I'm christening this solo weekend, while G and Sam are away on a scout trip, as my "personal retreat weekend"--making 2016 plans and goals and generally embracing my list-making, future-planning inner geek. Also staying in my pajamas far into the day, eating when/what I want, and streaming some Netflix. Because inner lazy geek, too.

What about you, friends? Catch me up on your doings lately.

And I know Sarah has had a very full month as well...she'll catch us up soon, too.

Around the world in 40 days

Okay, not around the world. But halfway-and-back kind of amounts to the same thing, right? I'm happily getting re-nested after doing some serious and scattered wandering since May/June. Here's a really quick nutshell catch-up:

1. I finished my dissertation! And then defended it! In retrospect I kind of can't believe it's done. And, also in hindsight, I see how much of a barrier I was to myself until I just decided to get 'er done. Turns out writing a dissertation mostly means showing up and putting words on the page. (And, okay yes, it involved coordinating approvals and feedback with a long-distance committee, too. And data analysis.) I'll probably post a little more about the study itself another time but for now I'm just so grateful for my own personal support crew at home throughout all these years as well as those who cheered me on elsewhere. My family couldn't get away to attend the actual defense so it meant so much to me to have friends show up for my presentation and celebrate with me afterwards. And a friend (looking at you, Jen) who actually let me stay in her house in the Boston area while they were on vacation elsewhere.

 Next time I defend a dissertation will you remind me to take more photos and to wash my hair that day? Okay, thanks.

Next time I defend a dissertation will you remind me to take more photos and to wash my hair that day? Okay, thanks.

2. Fun times in the NYC. I ended up with some extra time on my hands on the east coast so I talked my good (and, happily for me, spontaneous) friend Christie into a last-minute girls' trip in NYC. We had a blast, including some mighty fine meals, a celebrity sighting or two, theatre evenings, loads of walking, and (best of all) excellent conversations about everything under the sun. 

3. Family times in Utah. After that I headed to Utah for time with my parents and Lauren. The rest of the family joined us there after the Aussie school semester ended on July 3. G had his 30th high school reunion, we had a week at Bear Lake with G's family, time at Wildwood with my family, and so many good, soul filling moments that I will live off of for months. 'Twas perfect.

4. Launching countdown for Maddy. University and freshman orientation doesn't start until later in August but, since I had already been gone for almost 6 weeks, I realized I couldn't stay away any longer to wait for the actual first day of school. So we did the dorm outfitting and goodbying a little earlier. It does NOT get any easier the second time around, folks. We will miss our Maddy girl immensely but are so happy for her new stage. She's so READY.

At our family talent night, my cousin Colin sang this song he wrote with a friend. Sitting there between my two girls, it was the perfect song for the day before our goodbyes. I posted a little snippet on my instagram but here's the whole, beautiful song. Thanks, Colin. 

I went to France

 Lyon, France

Lyon, France

Just to catch everyone up: The husband and I flew to France two weeks ago to pick up our oldest daughter, Jordan, who was serving an 18 month mission for our church. For the duration of her mission, our communication was limited to e-mails and real-life, written letters -- oh, and those two sacrosanct, one-hour, Skype calls on Mother's Day and Christmas. All of this to say, it had been a long time since I'd seen or even really talked to my baby. I intended to march over to France, collect my child, and eat as many patisseries as humanly possible.

A few months before the completion of her mission, we received instruction that we should pick Jordan up at the mission president's home at 9 pm on Monday, November 10th. And since I didn't want to be stalker-mom in Lyon, France, I scheduled our flight to arrive that same day at 4 pm. And folks, we made it work! Both of our flights were on time (Houston to London, and London to Lyon). We made it through immigration in under five minutes, and our luggage came flying down the shoot. We rented a car (through some lovely ladies who spoke very little English), and jumped into the car with French-only instructions on how to operate the GPS. [Also, a public service announcement: If you rent a car in France, it's going to have standard transmission. In order to put the car in reverse, you have to pull the gear-shift-thingy UP.] So, yes, we were the clueless Americans in the Enterprise parking lot who couldn't reverse their car. But I was going to collect my first born, so I didn't care one bit! I'm clueless. I'm fine with that!

 This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

This is the bridge we walked across to get to our apartment. Pretty impressive, right?

And then, after months of waiting and more months planning, and many a night of anticipating, we were there -- just Sterling and I driving through French toll roads and roundabouts and then on the tiny cobbled streets leading into the heart of Lyon. We found the apartment we had rented on AirBnB quickly but got ourselves completely lost and befuddled trying to find parking. We may or may not have driven onto a square where cars are not allowed. Also, we may have driven the wrong way down a one way street (or two). But we found parking in the nick of time, and set off at a run with our luggage across a long bridge spanning the Saone River. We stashed our belongings, tidied our hair and clothes, and then ran back across the bridge to the car and set off for the mission president's home. We found it easily. Two missionaries met us outside and led us into a downstairs rec room. Two other sets of parents were already waiting. So we all stood around and made nervous chit chat, knowing good and well that our kids were just upstairs. After about 20 minutes Sterling and I were led up the up the stairs, and before I found my bearings on the next level . . . she was there. Walking towards me. Tears in her eyes. I just grabbed her up and held on. 

And then we were laughing, and the other parents started coming up behind us. We met the mission president and his wife and many of the other missionaries who were leaving with Jordan's transfer. And here's the strange part -- as she stood there next to me, my arm around her shoulders -- it was like I'd just seen her yesterday. Intellectually, I knew she'd been gone for a year and half, living an entirely different life in an entirely different country. But my heart didn't recognize those differences even one tiny bit. Maybe this is cheesy, but it was sort of like the bond between us, once stretched from Texas to France, immediately resumed it's original shape. And there we were -- the same but different. And honestly? Even though she has been forced to transition from missionary to mere mortal, I'd think she'd agree that with the people she loves . . . there is no gap in the relationship. We just take back up with our girl -- even though now she eats cheese and yogurt, which is a COMPLETE and BEFUDDLING surprise. 

 Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Ta da! Upon entering the apartment in Lyon.

Up next: Part Deux: Eating our way from Lyon to Bordeux

 

Vacation surprise

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Once upon a time (yesterday), we were on a winter family holiday to the Sunshine Coast. It was sunny, beautiful, but brisk weather so we decided to explore a bit. We consulted a map and planned out a scenic hike through a national park to a remote, secluded beach for a picnic, hoping to see koalas and other local wildlife along the way. It was gorgeous and we talked our way through the hilly tropical forest to, eventually, the beach. There was a wetsuited surfing family down the beach and we walked a bit further, nestled ourselves in the sand, and got out our sandwiches. 

As we lunched, we soaked up the sun and enjoyed the gorgeous scene. Further down the beach, we noticed an old guy heading to the water. He was very tan. At precisely the same moment we all realized every inch of him was tan. Every naked inch. Looking around we realized we had navigated ourselves to a clothing-optional beach. Whoops. Surprise!

(Local wildlife, check.)
 

Growing pains

I'm writing this post from Madison's rented room in the Upper West Side in Manhattan. It's like a dorm, tiny . . . with a heavy, square desk and a twin bed lifted up on risers -- two small dressers stashed underneath. When we got off the plane yesterday, we took a taxi from LaGuardia to this new room -- both of us a little jittery . 

Our cab driver was a friendly man from Senegal. He picked up on Maddie's nervous excitement. He told her this was a great place for kids to learn to be on their own. "Be smart. Be careful. You will be fine," he repeated from the front as he sped through Harlem. I gulped. I wouldn't even let Maddie ride her bike around our suburban neighborhood alone, but now I was going to leave her all by herself in this honking, graffitied mass of people? 

I suppose I am.

Her room is hot -- no air conditioning. Where we come from the words 'AC' and 'no' NEVER EVER go together. Today we trudged down to PC Richard & Sons on Broadway and 86th and bought a window unit. After we paid Maddie stood out in the rain trying to hail a cab. I stood back with the air conditioner. The guy who sold it to us watched the whole thing. Under his breath he murmured, "Don't worry. She'll get it."

I know. Keep telling me that.

Be Jauntful

We've been lucky to travel a bit as a family and to live in some pretty interesting places over the years. Every once in a while a friend will email and say "you know how you used to love to drive down to NYC now and then? Well, we're going there on vacation and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for what to see, where to stay, what to eat...?"  I love it.  I love a good journey and I really love sharing great places along the way. But sometimes it's hard to remember or explain the recommendations in a narrative email. It takes a little time to look up all the links and addresses and directions. Over the years I've wished there were a way to put together an itinerary complete with map and links and notes. 

Well, now there is! I'm really excited about Jauntful. (You might remember I briefly mentioned Jauntful's concept a while back but they've recently launched and I've started exploring their site. I'm seriously excited to use this service. By the way, they don't know me at all nor have they paid or asked for my endorsement. I'm just a giddy oversharer is all.) You type in favorite spots--cafes, activities, hotels, must-sees--and they map it and fill in the nitty-gritty details. And they create a shareable, printable map from the suggestions you provide! Genius.

My friend Alyson is coming to visit next week (huzzah!) so I've been exploring the Jauntful guides to cities nearby. I think we'll probably try this one for Sydney--I love that there are hotel/cafe tips along the way, too, with suggested sequence and insider tips.

I tried Jauntful out by documenting the Melbourne trip I posted about last year and I'm hooked!  Oh, the possibilities.

p.s. If you do join Jauntful, let me know! I'd love to get your take on your hometown or your favorite destinations. Armchair travel is almost as fun as the real thing (um, with less jet lag, too).