Tag Archives: Travel

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As mentioned previously, this was a year of books, food, and travel. And if I fill a blog post with discourse on those topics, we can conveniently ignore the fact that I utterly failed at the word of the year, which was finish.


I read 55 books this year, which is my lowest total since 2015. Only six were non-fiction. My top ten:

  1. The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
  2. Circe, by Madeline Miller
  3. Skeletons at the Feast, by Chris Bohjalian
  4. Window on the Square, by Phyllis Whitney
  5. Florida, by Lauren Groff
  6. Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  7. The Passage, by Justin Cronin
  8. Educated, by Tara Westover
  9. World Without End, by Ken Follett
  10. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan


I expanded my baking repertoire, becoming competent at macarons, French bread, and several recipes from The Great British Baking Show. I also cooked dinner for my family almost every night. Here are 10 recipes that I enjoyed trying for the first time.

  1. Baked Gnocchi with Vodka Sauce
  2. Sweet Potato Biscuits
  3. Hyderabad-style Chicken Biryani
  4. Fig Rolls
  5. Chicken Vesuvio
  6. Melon Caprese Salad
  7. Spinach Basil Pesto
  8. Heirloom Tomato Pie
  9. English Muffins
  10. Homemade Pasta

The heirloom tomato pie deserves special mention; it was worth every minute of prep time.


We traveled a LOT in 2019.

I returned to some of my favorite places: Montreat (NC), England, New Orleans, Chicago, Ellijay (GA).
And I visited new places: Minnesota, Scotland, Auburn, Chattanooga.
Then there was all the crew travel – Jacksonville and Tampa and Sarasota, oh my.

All that travel means that I feel I am starting the new decade weighed down by the things I didn’t get done in 2019.


Last year, I chose finish as my word for 2019. Not only did I not finish some of the big items I hoped to tackle, I added several new endeavors to my already-full life.

Basically, I’m a moron.

Instead of finally cleaning out the storage unit that holds my mom’s things, we added more to it. Instead of finishing the novel I started in 2018, I pushed it to the back burner. Instead of making sure that this introvert got time to breathe, and read, and recharge, I crammed too much onto my calendar’s pages. I said yes when I should have said no.

It’s tempting to make NO my word of the year for 2020, but that seems excessively negative and unproductive. So I’m going to make my word Refine. I would like to refine my list of commitments. I would like to refine my priorities. I would like to refine the things with which I surround myself.

That’s the goal, at least.

Happy New Year!

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A perfectly ordinary summer. What a miracle.

The older kids return to school in just under two weeks, and I think everyone is ready for the big day. For the first (and only!) time in the history of our eleven-year-old family unit, the three big kids will be attending the same school. PONDER THE MAGNIFICENCE.

This summer feels like the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013….because it is, in fact, the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013. Hazel was born in May of 2014, mom’s brain tumor was diagnosed in May of 2015, and those two events simply consumed the summers that followed them. The summer of 2016 was spent preparing to move, moving, and unpacking, and last summer was devoted to spending quality time with mom as she lived the last months of her life.

So what did we do this summer?

Jason changed jobs at the end of May, leaving his large-firm lawyer job for a small employment boutique. His main office is in the guest house, and I help him out with administrative and paralegal tasks as time permits.

We took everyone to Chicago in June, which was tremendous. We went to a Cubs game, visited museums, rented bikes along the lakefront, and ate our weight in tasty food. Chicago is very much my kind of town.


Hazel went to Farm Camp, two different VBSes, and Ballet Camp. She also got her first haircut ever.

Our neighbor got goats. I love them.


Our unexpected goldfish, Kitty the Fish, passed away at the end of June.

For someone who has lived in Florida most of my life, I visited a lot of Florida sites for the first time. We took the kids to Wakulla Springs. Hazel and I accompanied Jason to a work event in Palatka and visited Ravine Gardens State Park. And on another work trip, we stayed at the Don CeSar, which is (apparently) kind of a big deal hotel.

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I managed to get my patriotic bunting up over a week before July Fourth – a new record.

I painted Hazel’s toes and Tyler’s hair, both for the first time.

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I slipped off to Orlando to spend a couple of days with a friend from college. I listened to podcasts, ate half a cheese board, and watched TV in bed.

In house news, we re-arranged some rugs and did some frugal improvement by sanding and spray-painting the dirty (but functional) floor vents and ceiling diffusers throughout the house. They look good as new, at a fraction of the price.

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My outdoor plants have not died, although my jalapeno and heirloom tomato have steadfastly refused to produce anything. My Sweet 100 tomato plant has made dozens of tiny tomatoes, all of which have gone straight into Hazel’s mouth. She refers to this plant as her “snack bush.” I snort every time. I have ventured into the scary universe of houseplants, after being impressed that our Chicago AirBnB was full of them. I have a fern for the dining room, succulents for the kitchen window, and two new plants I just picked up on Saturday.

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It has been a normal summer. A beautiful, ordinary, normal summer. I never thought I’d be so grateful for one.


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The plan was simple. I was to take my mother to Jacksonville on Saturday for the wedding of her godson, the son of her oldest friend, and then spend the night on the same property where the wedding was being held. I felt clever enough to transport her from Point A to Point B and back in a 24-hour period. I even brought a couple of books, on the theory that I would execute my duties so competently I would have time left over to read while gazing at the ocean.

Instead, like the clever Sisyphus, I spent the weekend pushing my mother up the hill of my own hubris.

We left Tallahassee at noon. The wedding was scheduled for 5:00 at Amelia Island, a three-hour drive away. We stopped for lunch at 1:00. Mom preferred to eat at the restaurant, and I thought that with my help we could be in and out in a reasonable amount of time.


Most people can cope with the level of stimulus generated by a busy fast-food restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. Not my mother. She was completely overwhelmed by the noises, the lights, the colors.

I pushed.

I ordered for her, helped her sit down, brought her food, filled her drink, and begged her to eat. She sat, staring in the direction of the TV without really seeing it. I had to coach her through every bite. It took over an hour.

I pushed.

Back in the car, I realized that we were now in danger of being late. We pulled up to the hotel at 4:00. Of course, check-in was in the main hotel, and our room was in a distant building.

And here’s where I made my biggest mistake. I had assumed that a normal hotel setup would be fine for mom. She walks slowly and with difficulty, but she does not use a walker or wheelchair. However, there are some very real differences between a truly accessible space and a “normal” space. At 4:20, when I pulled up to the building where our room was located, I almost cried. All I could see were stairs. There were stairs to get to the elevator, which was also located at the back of the building. There were more stairs from the elevator to our room.

I pushed.

I got her out of the car and into the room. I got both of us changed and back downstairs to catch the shuttle to the ceremony site. We arrived at 5:05, just ahead of a golf cart full of bridesmaids. The shuttle dropped us 50 yards from the seating area. The distance stretched before me like a dolly zoom shot from a Hitchcock film.

I pushed.

The ceremony was lovely, and offered me exactly 20 minutes to breathe before tackling the next challenge – another 50-yard walk over unpaved ground to the reception site. We put mom on a golf cart, a process that took three adults and 10 minutes of coaching. Once at the reception, we deposited her in a chair. She did not get up for the rest of the evening. After dinner, we wrangled her back onto the shuttle and I somehow got her up to our room, undressed, and in bed.

Sunday morning, I woke up pushing.

I got her out of bed. I packed all our things, dressed her, and loaded the car. I asked if she was ready to go.

“I’m ready to go back to bed,” she pouted.

I made her use the restroom before we left. The toilet was low, and configured such that I could not stand in front of her to help her up. The awkward angle, combined with her inability to assist, caused me to wrench my back trying to keep her from falling to the floor. I spent the drive home with increasing stiffness and soreness in my mid-back.

Yet I pushed.

I arrived home just after noon and I was a wreck. I had spent every waking moment of the last 24 hours pushing my mother, pushing her to move, pushing her to focus, pushing her to cooperate. Even when we’re at home, I have to push her to drink water, push her to use the bathroom, push her to eat, push her to bathe.

I’m glad we went. It was the right thing to do. The wedding was lovely. But the amount of work required to execute a relatively simple plan was staggering. I consider myself to be pretty smart, but I was humbled by the number of factors I failed to adequately consider. And while I would love to say, “Next time will be better!” I honestly don’t think there will be a next time.





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Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans

Because “Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans with Two Tweenagers and a Toddler, Thank God for Alcohol” is just too long for a post title.

Very occasionally, Jason gets to travel somewhere awesome for work. On Monday, he had three depositions scheduled in New Orleans, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and haul everyone over there. Well, everyone except Hollyn, who chose to stay behind so she could train with her crew team for the upcoming erg sprints. Noble, but foolish.

Every time we go to New Orleans, we do several touristy things requested by the kids – this time, beignets at Cafe du Monde and browsing the French Market. But I also like to try a few new things each time I go, to keep things interesting.

On this trip, we used AirBnB for the first time, and booked an apartment in the Garden District/Freret area. Overall, I was pleased. The price was reasonable and the apartment was comfortable for the five of us.

I am unable to resist a used book shop, and this trip I found one I’d never visited before. The Librarie Book Shop has a well-curated collection of used books and the proprietress was extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans and the authors who call it home (or spiritual home). I picked upĀ A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture, by Roulhac Toledano.


Traditional pattern books were like DIY manuals for amateur builders, especially in areas where there weren’t established architects or designers. They are filled with sample floorplans as well as detailed drawings of architectural elements like mantels, doorframes, columns, and windows. Iconic architect Palladio published one in 1570, and pattern books were an invaluable resource to American colonists trying to build homes and municipal buildings in the wilderness.


This is not a pattern book in the historical sense, but is nonetheless a great resource. It outlines the various styles of architecture, including floorplans, used throughout New Orleans, and includes vintage real estate advertisements.


When I put it on the checkout table, the bookseller confided that it was her favorite book in the shop. For a moment, it looked like she might not let it go. I promised to give it a good home.

Monday morning, Jason boarded the streetcar for work (he reports this was an awesome way to commute) and the kids and I headed somewhere new – The Bank Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Located north of St. Charles Avenue on Felicity St., this place was packed with salvaged doors, mantels, hardware, corbels, windows, and other decorative bits from old New Orleans buildings.


I had to force myself to walk away empty-handed.


As should be pretty obvious, we love the architecture of New Orleans and seek to incorporate it (in tasteful ways!) in our Tallahassee house. This trip provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for future projects.




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Beach Bum

It’s hard to explain to people that, while I grew up in Florida and currently live in Florida, I do not get to the beach that often.

Part of it is the distance – Tallahassee is 45 miles from the coast as the crow flies, but it’s at least an hour-long drive to a decent beach.

Part of it is that I am a wee bit high-maintenance about my beach experience. I like walking on the beach. I do not like sunning myself, as I am frequently confused for some sort of beached sea mammal. STOP TRYING TO THROW ME BACK. I love watching the ocean from a porch, balcony, or veranda. I’m not crazy about parking my buns on a towel for hours and hours.


This past weekend I met some friends from college in Fort Myers, and on Sunday we drove out to Sanibel Island. We walked on the beach, watched a large pod of dolphins playing, and visited the lighthouse – which is not really a lighthouse, but more like a light-on-a-stick.


It was lovely.


There were plenty of birds to watch. This one gave me the side-eye.


The driftwood was fantastic.


It was also Kate the Chicken’s first beach experience. She must be a big fan of dolphins, as she did a wonderful frolicking-dolphin impression for several hours afterwards.



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Over MLK weekend Tyler and I drove to New Orleans to meet five of my college friends for a grown-up girls’ weekend.

By “grown-up” I mean there were none of the following: bar crawls, vomiting, leggings-as-pants, Advil-as-breakfast, tomfoolery, or shenanigans. There was PLENTY of wine, walking, laughing, catching up, and eating.

So much eating.

We arrived on Saturday, grabbed a bite, and headed to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is on the north side of the French Quarter. For some reason, I’d never visited it before.


Many of the tombs are not in good shape – the marble facades have come off, leaving vaguely dog-house-shaped piles of brick.


Some are reduced to rubble.


Dinner that night was at my favorite “fancy” New Orleans restaurant, Galatoire’s. It’s a different feel from most other fancy restaurants – it’s loud, and the main dining room is totally open, and if someone has a birthday or anniversary or what-have-you, the waiters alert the diners and EVERYONE sings. The staff is also great with (well-behaved) children.

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Sunday morning we enjoyed the jazz breakfast at our hotel. The concierge hilariously described it as, “You know, a regular continental breakfast – pastries, fruit, mimosas…” Have you ever seen mimosas on the buffet at the Holiday Inn? Me neither. There was also a live jazz pianist.

After breakfast we did a free self-guided walking tour of the Garden District, courtesy of Frommer’s. Tyler’s favorite part was the trolley ride.

Which reminds me. I didn’t quite realize how much he’s grown up since the first time he went to New Orleans, in 2008. But look at these trolley pictures:


After another tasty lunch at Ignatius on Magazine Street, we rode the trolley out a little farther to look at Tulane University and Audubon Park.


That night we had dinner at Acme Oyster House. Per tradition, we had pre-dinner drinks while standing in line. Outside. In the street! New Orleans’ open container laws feel delightfully transgressive.

Monday morning a few of us visited the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, which is pretty much Tyler’s favorite thing, ever. I had several more flashbacks to our first NOLA trip. Like this:


And this:


And this:

Fish Tank 2


We especially enjoyed the Parakeet Encounter, where one has the opportunity to be assaulted by small birds.


We met the rest of our group for lunch at Johnny’s Po-Boys, where we feasted on enormous sandwiches. After lunch, we took another self-guided walking tour through the French Quarter. I’ve been to New Orleans over a dozen times, but I learned interesting tidbits about buildings I’d previously walked right by.

The whole city was decorated for Mardi Gras, which began shortly before we arrived and will end right after the Superbowl, which is…..also in New Orleans.



The walking tour ended at Cafe du Monde, where we re-fueled with beignets and discussed dinner options. We decided to try Capdeville in the Central Business District, which was excellent.

And on Tuesday morning, we left!

It was a quick trip, to be sure, but I think we did a good job of filling our days without exhausting ourselves. It was so nice to see old friends and share new experiences with them.

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