Should you find yourself in Charleston


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?


  • 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.


  • 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!




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).  

It's all real life

G and I finagled a quick getaway this weekend--a road trip to Sydney for about 48 hours where went to the opera, visited the temple, ate some good food and generally celebrated the fact that we've been married for 24 years. 

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We caught The Magic Flute at the Opera House, with costumes and sets designed by Julie Taymor of Lion King fame (here's a little taste; it was fabulous). I love that G doesn't take himself seriously (exhibit a: this photo); he's enthusiastic, game for adventure and fun to travel alongside (and the very embodiment of our family's travel motto of flexipositivity).

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One of our favorite things to do when we're visiting a city is to just walk and walk and talk and explore with some nice long stretches of people watching. We got a lot of that in this weekend with the perfect weather and surroundings for it. We ended up on this hilltop near the Old Observatory and watched the sun go down.

Oh, and Modern Family is filming an episode there this week and we even crossed paths with Claire/Julie Bowen. This was kind of hilariously appropriate because somewhere along the line Maddy's Aussie friends decided G is Phil and I'm Claire (I'm going to assume it's because we're American and maybe because of our coloring?! Otherwise, whatever. Do I have to be Claire?). 

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G scored us a terrific hotel set-up, right across from the Opera House and at the feet of the Harbour bridge.

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I think it's fascinating that what appears at a distance ^ to be just a solid white surface (I always thought it was made of stucco or cement!) is actually lots of little tiles laid in an intricate pattern to create the structure that is the Opera House. The cracks and patterns make it even more interesting, I think, and highlight the degree of work and planning and commitment for this undertaking.  Here the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Kind of like a marriage, yes?

Right before we left to drive back home, Maddy texted that she wasn't feeling so well. By the time we arrived, she was suffering from a stomach gomboo. Today she's home sick, fighting the nausea with sprite and saltines.

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And so life goes. I'm tempted to say "back to real life!" but it's all real life--the weekend getaways and the sick duty. One (very short) minute you're on a rooftop pool overlooking Sydney Harbour, the next minute you're holding your daughter's hair back while she throws up. It's all part of the whole marriage thing we signed up for back in 1990.

So, instead I'll say: back to regularly scheduled programming! And laundry.

Road tripping

Last summer, as part of our move from Boston to Australia, we drove across the midsection of the US of A with the whole fam-damily.   Crazy. Fun. Lengthy! That's a whole lot of together time. We researched routes and sights, routed ourselves through friends' and family members' hometowns as much as we could, and generally tried to spruce up our necessary, long trek into an adventure. It was a lonnnng ride with some bumps and squabbles along the way but we already catch ourselves reminiscing about it with fondness.  Here are a few survival tips we gleaned for taking a road trip (long or short) with big kids and teens:


 Include everyone in the planning. We started with a long wishlist of places to see, which included things like the Wizard of Oz museum, Laura Ingalls's house, the St. Louis arch, Graceland, Mt. Rushmore. Obviously we couldn't do it all but we started with everything on the table. Sam found a couple of good planning websites to try different route options and check to see if we were missing anything cool. We used Roadtrippers, which was good. (And here's a good Lifehacker post about apps and tools for making the most of roadtrips.)  Then we mapped out a reasonable drive time (between 6 and 11 hours each day) and planned stops and made reservations but kept it pretty flexible.

Make a mega playlist. I decided to crowdsource it and asked friends on Facebook and my personal blog to make suggestions. They came through brilliantly with a bounty of 167 favorite traveling songs from 72 people, representing the best of many decades and musical genres. I can honestly say we all (ages 13-45 at the time) enjoyed them. Feel free to use our playlist on Spotify or make one of your own tailored to your own greatest hits. I also wrote down who made each song suggestion, which led to some really great storytelling sessions as an added bonus. 



Pack a distraction box. Our kids were 18, 16, and 13 but that didn't mean they were too old for distractions along the way. Ours included a couple of balls and a frisbee to throw around at rest stops, some sudoku and logic puzzles, some audiobooks, books to read out loud, snacks, games. Bring an atlas, too, to trace the trip. Honestly, though, we ended up talking and listening to music and audiobooks for most of the trip.

Sam is not looking so flexipositive... 

Sam is not looking so flexipositive... 

Flexipositivity is our family's travel motto, a mashup of flexible + positive. It's a made-up word that draws eye rolls (and I'm sure it will be lampooned by our kids forever more) but it conveys what we hope will be the overall feel whenever we  travel. Things will happen and the only thing we have control over is our response. No sense ruining the day over it.  For instance, I lit my hair on fire in Kansas. Flexipositivity! Greg, who had been in Australia for a few months working in advance of our move, pulled onto the wrong side of the road. Flexipositivity time. Speeding ticket? Rained out? Have to take a turn sleeping on the floor? Flexipositivity, activate. (See? Now you're rolling your eyes, too.)

Embrace the wacky and the wonderful. World's Biggest Easel in Goodland, Kansas right next to the freeway? Yes, please. Ditto roadside dinosaur, stuffed penguins at Little America, and other oddities. Breaking up the trip with a little wackiness upped the adventure factor for us all. Build in a little time to be able to swerve off course and take a spontaneous stop now and then.

Sam and the World's Largest Easel, Goodland, Kansas

Sam and the World's Largest Easel, Goodland, Kansas

Take two cars. Ha! Just kidding, kind of. Last summer we needed to get two cars across the country and it was a fabulous--though admittedly spendy and un-green--way to go. I kid you not: For a lot of the journey, we had a kids' car and a parents' car. They could answer their own darn are-we-there-yet questions, right?  It was practically a second honeymoon.  As a more realistic alternative, shake things up by rotating seating throughout the trip.

Kids' car: better than the glass barrier in taxis and limos! 

Kids' car: better than the glass barrier in taxis and limos! 

- Along the Way looks like a cool road trip app, though I haven't tried it. Have you? 
 - I ordered this Journey Journal from Cracked Designs to jot some of our road trip memories. I also LOVE this one if you'd rather make your own trip scrapbook on the road.

Happy trails and safe journeys!  What are your favorite trip tips?

Surf & turf

When we first heard that we were moving to Australia last year, Greg put "learn to surf" high on his list of things he wanted to do. Never mind that we would live two hours inland. Or that we didn't have any equipment. Or know-how. Details!

It took him almost a year to get us out there but over ANZAC Day weekend last week we finally got the chance to give it a try. It was a beautiful autumn day at Narrawallee Beach: gentle, learner-perfect waves and surprisingly warm water.

We found a guy (this terrific and pretty hilarious surfing coach) to come meet us on the beach and put us through the paces, from warm-up stretches to sand-surfing to catching waves. 


In the middle of the day, I realized that we had hit upon the ideal mid-stage family activity: not surfing specifically, but learning something new together. The key? It was something where we all were equally, flailingly, hilariously novices.  No one was the boss or the expert (well, except Simon the coach. And he was good at being bossy, believe me.) It was in no one's wheelhouse, no one's turf. Just a bunch of newbies out trying something new together; no winners or losers, only cheers for anyone who made the slightest progress or caught the littlest bit of wave.

To G's delight, I think we're hooked. The surf school was getting rid of this season's wetsuits so we ended up getting one for each of us at a great price. (And, as an added bonus, we can all dress up as the Incredibles for Halloween in our matchy-matchy gear. Or not.)  Next up...what? Golf? Archery? Ceramics? Cricket? There are so many things we don't have a clue how to do it's hard to know where to begin.

[By the way, you've probably noticed by now that I am not featured in my wetsuit glory in any of these photos. Yes--and I guess this might water down my point a bit--in truth I was that mom. The one sitting out, taking the pictures and watching. I wholeheartedly agree with the get in the picture movement but let me just say, here and now, that on this particular morning I was delighted--THRILLED--to be documenting this.  I was perfectly content wandering the beach, reading in my beach chair, and cheering everyone on.  But I will say this: Next time I'll definitely surf. And now I've got my own supersuit.]

If you're in this part of the world (after you come and have a chat with me, of course), consider heading to Mollymook, Ulladulla and Narrawallee beaches on the South Coast. We found a great little cottage just a couple of blocks off the beach via Stayz. We ate at the classic beachside diner at Mollymook and strolled through the shops and cafes of the lovely historic hillside town of Milton. It was early in the off-season and we felt like we pretty much had this whole lovely area to ourselves!