Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Cutest Babies in the World (cont.)

Rockaway Beach
Day 4

On day 4 of my visit to Oregon, we spent the day at the beach! We made breakfast, and after eating, we headed down to the water.

Owen used the beach toys helpfully provided by the cottage owners to "collect sand," we met and played with other families on the beach, and we enjoyed sipping wine and snacking on the cheese plates we fashioned from our purchases on the drive down.

For those who have never been to a beach in the Pacific Northwest, it's important to consider that it's likely not the beach you're used to. The Gulf of Mexico beaches we grew up going to are hot, with blue-green waters, a beating sun, and the need for umbrellas. In the Pacific Northwest, you'll find COAST. It's often chilly, windy, cloudy/rainy, with rocky beaches. It feels wilder, like you are out in nature rather than navigating a tourist area.

I love it.

We watched movies in the cottage (I mean, they had The Incredibles. Say no more, as far as Owen was concerned!), cooked dinner, and had a lovely, relaxing day.

Day 5

Though the day started a bit cloudy, the haze burned off soon enough, and we were treated to deep blue views. Owen and I hit the beach again that morning while Grace tended to Maggie.

About mid-morning, we decided to drive to Cannon Beach, where Grace used to live and work. We started at the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum. This facility was Grace's former employer, so we had a chance to meet some of her colleagues in addition to browsing the excellent collections. We got Maggie fed and changed, and everyone took time to fuss and coo over her! She obliged by being adorable, and then we explored the exhibits about the area's history and natural resources.

After our trip to the museum, it was a quick walk to downtown Cannon Beach. We stopped to swing through a farmer's market, then made our way to Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse for lunch. We had seafood and other yummies in a casual atmosphere, then checked out a downtown toy store and candy emporium.

Then, we walked down to the beach! When you arrive waterside at Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock dominates the skyline. It is HUGE! Much like any large monument, it looks closer than it is. We walked all the way down the beach to get to it, marveling at its hulking permanence. At the base, you can even go tide pooling! We had such fun in the wind and the surf, and our photos and videos of the sea spray being wrapped around Haystack Rock by the wind were amazing!

Haystack Rock is incredible. 

After enjoying the sun and sand a bit, we headed back to the car for a quiet night and dinner in at the beach cottage.

Day 6

We awoke this morning, breakfasted, packed up, and made the drive back home. On this trip, Maggie slept blissfully in the car seat, so we were able to make excellent time.  When we made it back, we unpacked and relaxed a bit at the house, shaking sand out of . . . everything!

How can I be far away from
this sweet face? HOW?
That afternoon, I took Owen to the community pool for a swim. The pool is walkable from their house, and it wasn't too crowded! We splashed, met some of Grace's neighbors, and enjoyed some of the free pool toys that the community makes available in the poolside bins.

That night, we all drove to the farmer's market that takes place in Grace's neighborhood once a week. This was so fun! They have live music, tons of vendors (fruit, veggies, etc.), plus food you can buy and eat right there (caramel corn, brick oven pizza, a wine and beer tent, son-cones, etc.).

We had a blast! We got drinks, listened to the music, and ate nibbles at each booth. We shared a big, delicious pizza, and I got Owen a sno-cone. Then, Ryan and Owen went to an event on Mount Hood while Grace and I cuddled little Maggie for the evening.

Day 7

This day was pack-car-airport-plane-home. I hated to leave. I absolutely hated it. Hated to leave my sister, my nephew, and my sweet new niece. I may have cried a little.

Since returning home, I've demanded regular photo and video updates, and I've sent new little outfits (and stylish hats, if I do say so myself) northward. It is absolutely unfair that the cutest babies in the world are so far from me.

I am counting the minutes until Christmas, when I see my sweet loves again!

The Cutest Babies in the World

Sweet Owen with Mr. Bun at
secret breakfast
Earlier this year, I became an aunt again! My younger sister Grace gave birth to her second child - a girl! Baby Maggie is the first girl child that any of the three of we sisters have had. As you can imagine, the pent-up demand for ruffles, pink, and lace among the aunt and grandparent contingent is strong.

When sweet baby Maggie was about two months old, I took a trip to the Pacific Northwest to hold her, snuggle her, and help my sister. Here's the skinny:

Day 1

I flew into Portland, Oregon, and caught a quick Uber out to my sister's new house. She lives in a beautiful, new planned community in the city suburbs. I swept in and was able to love small people (both the new baby and her older brother, Owen) almost immediately. Oh, y'all. It's easy to forget how tiny new babies are, with their open faces, itty bitty fingers, and almost non-existent toenails. So small, so soft, and so, so precious. I also got to hear all about how life was going for Owen, who was glad to have another grown up to talk to! Heh.

Because Jesus loves me, Clayton, one of our mutual friends from our growing up years, was also in town for one more night! So, myself, Grace, and Clayton decided we'd go out to dinner that night. We made our way to Clyde Common for a night of deliciousness. We started with the charcuterie board and moved on to wine, entrees, and other general wonderfulness. Clayton is an absolute hoot, and I loved spending time with he and Grace. There is something special about friendships with the people who knew you when you were young that is impossible to replicate with relationships you build later in life. There's such history and ease. We cackled like hens!

By the time our tasting at Apolloni Vineyards
was complete, Maggie was asleep!
Price points for this restaurant are not cheap, but they are worth every penny. Cocktails are inventive, and waitstaff is friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt. Highly recommended. We had a magical evening here.

After dinner, we walked about a bit, even visiting a rooftop bar briefly to take in views. Then, as she was thoroughly tired after a day of baby-wrangling, we took my sister home. I got to sleep with a cute, cuddly 4-year-old that night, and he is the BEST snuggler!

Day 2

The next morning, Owen and I sneaked out of the house early to hit the grocery store and get brunch supplies. (We may have also purchased some dinosaur toys.) We came back to the house with tons of goodies and set to work, making slow-cooked eggs, roasted asparagus, a gorgeous fruit salad, strawberry butter, thick slices of toast, and lots of strong coffee.

When the house woke up a little later, we presented the fruits of our labors to a grateful audience. After soaking up the relaxation of it all for a bit, Owen and I decided to take a walk to the park. The neighborhood my sister lives in is so smartly planned. There are parks, a community pool, plenty of green spaces, and even schools, all within walking distance. It's so convenient, and the neighborhood is meticulously maintained.

Later that day, we bid adieu to sweet Clayton (Sob!), and I got down to helping out with the very small person who had recently made her debut. In all honesty, I'd forgotten a little about how to soothe a screaming newborn. You'd be surprised how quickly it all comes back, though! Swaddling, pacifiers, lots of bouncing and shushing and smooches. This early in her development, she could absolutely not abide the swing. She wanted to be held and fussed over, which I was only too happy to do! Diaper changes, the occasional bottle (as we were focused on breast feeding), but mostly just sweet love! I'd take her outside to the porch so she could see the trees, grass, and blue sky. I sang songs and kissed the top of her itty bitty head. Absolute heaven.

Grace and Owen couldn't resist the photo ops
at Blue Heron French Cheese Company!

We had a quiet dinner in that night.

Day 3

One of the problems Grace was sometimes having was that Owen woke early and was raring to go each day, often waking up both she and Maggie when they were still peacefully sleeping after a long night. On day 3, Owen and I circumvented this issue with secret breakfast. When my son Clay was little, we used to do the same thing. Hubs would want to sleep in on the weekends, but small people can be rather loud and excited when they wake up. So I would get Clay in the car and let him pick the place we'd go for a leisurely "secret breakfast" from dad.

Owen loved the idea, and off we went for secret breakfast at Biscuits Cafe. (We even brought Mr. Bun, his stuffed rabbit, who certainly did NOT want to be excluded from the fun.) He proceeded to charm every waitress in the restaurant and eat tons of pancakes and syrup. When we got close to leaving, we ordered Grace some biscuits and gravy to go, so she could have a lovely breakfast when she awoke, as well.

When Grace heard I was coming to town to visit, she saw it as an opportunity (with a third adult) to get out of the house more. I enthusiastically agreed, and we'd decided to spend a couple of nights at Rockaway Beach during my visit. We headed out on day 3, after we'd had a chance to get everyone breakfasted and ready to go.

We learned quickly that Maggie hated her car seat. Wisely, however, we'd anticipated such, so we'd identified a couple of places to pull over and take a break from the car during our trip. Our first stop was Apolloni Vineyards, which the internet had deemed "family friendly." We got Maggie changed and fed while Owen played with the toys in the family area that the vineyard had so thoughtfully provided. Then, while Maggie stretched out a bit, we enjoyed a wine tasting accompanied by purchased snacks (a cheese and fruit board, followed by gourmet chocolates - even Owen was impressed). We chatted with the staff and other guests, enjoyed our wine and nibbles, and just took a quick break from the road. Before leaving, we purchased a bottle or two of wine for the beach.

Our stretch of beach in Rockaway! The beach house we rented had great views!

Once Maggie was again snoozing peacefully, we got back in the car. We began driving through dairy country - wide fields of green, dotted by happy cows munching on grass. We made it another good leg of the trip before she made it known she was ready for another break. This time, we pulled over at  Blue Heron French Cheese Company in Tillamook. (We briefly considered the Tillamook Creamery, but we reconsidered when we saw the crowds there! Eeeek!)

Blue Heron ended up being perfect for us. After getting Maggie situated again, we enjoyed a cheese tasting and browsed the shop (more nibbles for the beach). Then, we sampled some of the ice cream they make on site (a favorite of Owen) and spent some time at the fun photo-ops outside. They had tractors, cut-outs, etc. After this quick break, it was back on the road.

This time, we made it all the way to our beach cottage before Maggie started getting cranky. We were able to unpack and get settled. We had a 3-bedroom that fronted the beach, and the views from the family room's glass doors were fantastic!

A bit later, Ryan (Grace's husband) arrived, and he and Grace made a quick trip out to the grocery store. We had a lovely dinner in that night.

More to come . . .

Saturday, September 22, 2018

ALL the books!

I've been reading quite a bit lately, and I thought I'd share a few three-sentence reviews on some of my favorites!

1.) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I've loved Patchett ever since being dumbfounded by Bel Canto years ago. This book spans decades and tells the story of two families whose lives messily intertwine. Characters are so strong and real.

2.) The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close. The voice of Beth, the narrator of this novel, is so clear and sympathetic in this book. I loved how she described and reacted to the detailed ecosystem of young, ambitious, would-be politicians she observed. I also liked how complex the core relationships were here - not just between characters, but within characters. (P.S. I later read Close's Girls in White Dresses, but didn't like it as well as this book.) 

3.) Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. This hilarious book about the Mississippi Delta is so spot-on that it should be criminal. I laughed out loud multiple times, and some of the descriptions have had enough staying power to remain with me months later. This book got me through a very difficult time.

4.) Big Little Lies, The Hypnotist's Love Story, and Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I'm late to the Moriarty party, and I'm so sorry!! I loved all of these books, but I loved Big Little Lies the most. I'm now a confirmed Moriarty fan!

5.) Wintering by Peter Geye. I found this novel via my library's free-checkout app, and I'm glad I did. It tells the story of a family and their relationships against the backdrop of the Minnesota winter. Appreciation for your ancestors/history, respect for the brutality of nature, and acceptance of the things you cannot change are all powerful themes.

6.) The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser. I have a trip to Boston coming up, so I read this book in anticipation of visiting the Isabella Gardner Museum. What a page-turner! I loved the caper of this real-life mystery, and I hope the art is one day recovered.

7.) Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. I suffered emotional trauma at the hands of this book. I loved these characters, I was infuriated by them, but most of all, I understood them. This book felt true. 

8.) 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush. I'd been meaning to read this book for ages, particularly since we visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library last fall. It was a love letter from son to father, a touching tribute with an incredibly unique perspective. I walked away with a better understanding of what drove Bush Sr. 

9.) Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Five years after its debut, I revisited what has become a classic for women working outside the home. While parts of it have not aged well, there is still much food for thought here. And as our national conversation around gender equality and gender politics evolves, it's interesting to look back periodically - recognizing how far we've come and how far we've yet to go. 

Farther afield

Beautiful architectural details at the Saenger
As per usual, I've been trotting hither and yon a bit lately on business. A few things I've been up to while there that I thought worth sharing:

1.) I hadn't been to see a show at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans in AGES. I made my way there to see the touring production of Waitress, and I loved it! Not only was the show bright, smart, and fun, the space was sumptuous. It was so good to be there again!

2.) A new place that I love for quick bites has opened up in New Orleans, too - Pythian Market Food Hall. Tons of great vendors, lots of variety, reasonable prices, and interesting people. You can't go wrong here!

3.) I had the occasion to be in West Monroe, Louisiana, recently, looking for things to do. A quick internet search revealed Landry Vineyards. On a whim, I popped over there for a quick tasting. It was a great experience! The wines are delicious, and if you purchase a bottle, the tasting is free! The grounds are beautiful as well! I came home with two bottles, plus some wine jam. (I am not even playing around with that stuff, people.) Recommended.

4.) I was in Little Rock on business, and I noticed a new storefront - Rock Town Distillery. You can pop in for a tour or a tasting. I found a low-proof peach moonshine here that was perfect as a summer drink mixer. (Toss a glug of it into a glass of lemonade, throw in some sliced strawberries, and serve with cheese straws. Can't get any more Southern than that!)

She works hard for the money . . .

Earlier this year, hubs and I embarked on a remodel of our home office. What began as an idea to construct a wall of built-ins turned into a complete re-do of our third bedroom. We yanked carpet (and y'all, it's GROSS under there), cleaned up, painted walls and trim, updated the light fixture, installed new carpet, and had a wall of custom cabinets built.

We topped it off with new furniture, and I bought a centerpiece painting by a local artist. I'm thrilled by how it turned out, and I love working in this space!

This couch folds out into a double bed if we need it. And I love the art piece!

Ta daaaa!! This is our built-in shelving, desk, and lower cabinets. 

Getting Colonial in Williamsburg (cont.)

The Pocahontas statue at Historic Jamestowne
Day 7

For our last full day in Williamsburg, we chose to visit Historic Jamestowne. This national historical park is situated on the site of of the oldest English settlement in the United States. John Smith, Pocahontas, figuring out tobacco - it all happened here.

After parking the car, we got our bearings at the visitor center. They show a 15-minute film and offer several exhibits that recount the story of the settlement. Then, you walk across some lovely boardwalks that deliver you to the settlement itself.

We started at the historic tower, the Pocahontas statue (a lovely verdi gris), and the memorial church. The whole settlement is still an active archaeological site, and there were scientists excavating inside the church during our visit. We explored the site of the 1607 James Fort, then made our way into "new towne," where you can see representative outlines of the buried foundations of taverns, houses, workshops, mansions, and more. At the Amber Mansion ruins, more scientists were excavating, learning about some of the earliest settlers in Jamestowne. They stopped their work long enough to talk with us and explain their methods.

Glass making at Jamestowne Glasshouse
It was a lovely, sunny day, and the area is fronted on one side by the James River, affording beautiful views and light breezes. A statue of John Smith looks over the river to the opposite shore. It felt momentous somehow to walk where some of the earliest English settlers trod, people whose grit formed the very beginning of America's character.

After thoroughly exploring the site, we stopped at the Jamestowne Glasshouse on our way out of the park. Here, craftspeople let you get up close and personal as they make lovely glass objects in an outdoor, wood-burning brick oven. They use glass-blowing techniques from the 1600s, and you can see the remains of a much older glasshouse, which unfortunately burned, nearby. You can also purchase contemporary items made in the current glasshouse. It was a fun visit, and watching the craftspeople work was mesmerizing.

By this time, we were very hungry! We stopped at Carrot Tree Kitchens for a late lunch. What a find! Offering menu items as varied as quiche, hummus, sandwiches, soups, and more, this was a perfect fit for us! We all had delicious dishes, and we finished our meal off with the from-scratch carrot cake that the restaurant is known for. Service was quick, the food was perfect, and the prices were very reasonable.

Carrot cake!
Then, it was back to the resort for a bit of rest before meeting up with an old friend. Julia is originally from Virginia, and she'd gone to college at William and Mary. She'd long told me that I should come to Williamsburg for a visit, and after a week in town, I had to admit she'd been right! We met up for dinner and drinks, she introduced me to some of her local friends, and we took an evening walking tour of the campus. It was so great to catch up with her!

The next morning, it was pack-drive-airport-flight-home! We learned so much and had so much fun in Williamsburg! I'm so glad we went, and I'd recommend it as a fun family vacation for anyone!

Getting Colonial in Wiliamsburg (cont.)

The Governor's Palace is impressive.
Day 4

We awoke the next morning ready to tackle another day at Colonial Williamsburg! We popped into Wythe House and gardens, where we smelled delicious crabmeat, butter and scallions bubbling on the fire in the kitchen. When we made our way into the parlor, who should we find but Marquis de Lafayette? (It was all I could do not to start singing "Guns and Ships" from the Hamilton soundtrack.)

Clay LOVED seeing him and talking with him about the Revolutionary War and (for real) told me not to embarrass him in front of Lafayette. (Though, when Lafayette asked the crowd what was the hardest part of invading New York, and I piped up The traffic!, it not only got a laugh from the room, Lafayette himself acknowledged, with a wry smile, "Very good, madame.")

We also toured the Governor's Palace and grounds, and both are gorgeous. The display of weapons in the entryway was a favorite, as were the spooky tales of graves beneath the garden's pavers. (We also got a taste of the chocolate maker's discussion in the kitchen. Mmmmmmm.)

Clay was sooo impressed with Lafayette!
We cooled our heels a little bit with some root beer purchased from the McKenzie Apothecary and consumed in the grass on the palace green. (This was really fun. Just cold root beer, great people watching, and some gorgeous family time on the grass.) Then, we chatted with the leatherworkers and bookbinders, got our feet dirty at the brickyard, and played the handmade harpsichord at the cabinet maker's shop!

A little pooped, we stopped in at Chowning's Tavern for one of our favorite tavern meals of the trip. We chose the sampler platter, which features all kinds of delicious colonial goodies, and a salad. We also got the family punch bowl, which was refreshing and fun! Our waitress at Chowning's was fantastic, too. A great lunch!

After lunch, we checked out the armory and the church, hobnobbed with the guys at the foundry, and browsed the market. We ended our day with a rousing tour of the capitol (There was a Brit in our group, which made for some interesting conversations.), a peek at the public jail, and a quick stop to talk to the gunsmith. (The gunsmith's shop is amazing. They make every gun by hand, start to finish. If you order a custom gun now, it'll take about 8 years to get it, due to the backlog of orders.)

Somewhere over the two days we spent at Colonial Williamsburg, we also talked with the wheelwright, the barber (This was almost a little show. He had a monologue in addition to the traditional audience Q&A.), the carpenters, the Indian delegation (a really cool culture share), and the weavers. (Clay even tried his hand at weaving some cloth.) There's just so much to do there. So many people to talk to, so much to see and learn.

We ended the day with dinner at Christiana Campbell's Tavern, which is said to be a favorite of George Washington's. A little spendy, but delicious! And the wait staff is top-notch!

The drive to Yorktown affords lovely views. 

Day 5

After two full days at Colonial Williamsburg, we were ready for a change of pace. We decided to head to Yorktown for some battlefield tromping. (Plus, Clay wanted to take a look at what Lafayette was prattling on about.)

We had a lazy morning, then drove the scenic byway to get there shortly before lunch. Yorktown has a picturesque little square, with cute shops, statuary, and pathways along the river. We walked around a bit before lunch, later settling in at Riverwalk Restaurant for a light bite. (They have an incredible lobster roll! And you can either eat in the indoor dining room or out on their patio, with a lovely view of the river. Pricey, but yummy.)

Checking out the artillery.
Fortified, we drove to the visitors center for Colonial National Historical Park. (Be aware that if you are visiting several historical sites in the Williamsburg area, it's worth checking to see if you are eligible for a discount on admission fees. Happily, we were!) After spending some time at the visitors center museum to orient ourselves, we followed the main Yorktown interpretive trail, pulling over at the wayside exhibits to explore further and read the historical markers.

We traced the British inner defense line, the allied siege line, the battery, some of the redoubts, and Moore House, ending at Surrender Field. Really cool to see, and we had a gorgeous day to enjoy it!

That evening, we relaxed at the resort. In addition to the amenities we'd already discovered, we found bikes, a small on-site theatre, and a game room! (They also had a golf course, but as we aren't golfers, we didn't partake.) In addition to his hoop and stick prowess, we learned that Clay is *also* good at shuffleboard. ;-)

Day 6

After three straight days of history, we went in search of pure fun on day 6. Our quest led us to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. We hadn't been to a theme park since our trip to Universal Studios in the fall of 2016, so we were ready for some rides!

We'd purchased our tickets and parking pass ahead of time online, so getting into the park was a breeze. (It also probably didn't hurt that we went on a weekday - fewer crowds.) Once inside, we headed straight for Battle for Eire. Not only is it near the park entrance (in Ireland), it's also one of their newer rides, combining 3-D virtual reality with moving seats. Really fun! Then, we backtracked a bit to Scotland to take wild ride on Loch Ness (one of Clay's favorite coasters of the trip), which was celebrating its anniversary! (I'd been a little worried that Clay wouldn't be game for all of the coasters at this park. But once he got off Loch Ness, raving about how much he loved it, I knew we'd be ok.)

As it was early in the day, lines for rides were still short. We were able to make a quick walk to Germany to hop on Invadr, a really cool wooden coaster that I think was my favorite of the day. Such a great throwback feel to it. And, because it was so close (and just opening, as the temps began to warm), we hopped on the Le Scoot water ride. We didn't get *too* wet!

By this time, we were jonesing for some lunch. We tucked in at Trappers Smokehouse, snagging an umbrellaed table where we could cool our heels. While we were there, we rode the easy Le Catapult (no line). We wanted to take a coaster break, since our tummies were still so full, so we spent some time at the Land of the Dragons playground, then took the easy Rhine River cruise while our lunches digested.

The drop on Verbolten. Be still my heart!
Then, we made our way to Oktoberfest, where we started with Der Wirbelwind (a fun, high-flying swing ride) before hopping on Verbolten. I LOVED the drop by the water on this coaster, and if the line had been a little shorter, I would have wanted to ride it again. 

Then, we walked over to Italy/Festa Italia, where we rode Escape from Pompeii (short line, with a fun, short water ride at the end), the Trade Wind, and the Battering Ram in quick succession. Closing time was approaching, and I allowed Clay to convince us to get in line for Roman Rapids. Mistake! The line was soooo long!! We ended up spending the majority of our remaining park time waiting on this one ride. We did go on it, got completely soaked, then took the train back to the park entrance and called it a day!

So. Many. RIDES!!

Grateful for a chance to have dinner outside of a theme park, we drove to Second Street Bistro, where I attacked a steak and relished in the air conditioned quiet. An oasis after a day of overstimulation. We ALL slept well that night!

More to come . . .

Getting Colonial in Williamsburg

We loved our time among the treetops!
Last year, our little family canceled a vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia, in October due to the threat of Hurricane Nate. Once it was clear that we'd wiggled past this severe weather event, we were ready to travel, but we'd already backed out our flight and hotel reservations (which, at that point, were too costly to re-book). Instead, the Bradshaw family spent a fun week in Dallas, which we loved.

But Williamsburg still beckoned. 

We picked up the destination over the summer, and we weren't disappointed! Here's a quick recap of our adventures!

Day 1

We flew out on a Saturday morning, and after a few delays in Atlanta, we arrived in Richmond a good bit later than originally planned. Undeterred, we went to the Enterprise Rental Car desk to pick up our vehicle. Oddly, the desk was unmanned. After waiting for 15 minutes, we began calling the corporate numbers we had on file, and eventually an agent appeared.

By now even later, we hopped into the car and headed for Williamsburg, STARVING. We made it to the area and hunted up a late dinner at Antonio's Ristorante. Perfection. We were hungry, their location was convenient, and they were open late. We practically closed the place down, feasting on pasta and salad. Service was prompt and friendly, and the food was good.

I think the only reason hubs came to Williamsburg was
to get this photo of Clay and I in the stocks.
By now, it was dark, so we hunted up our accommodations, Marriott's Manor Club at Ford's Colony, using our GPS. We checked in, navigated our way to our building, and gratefully sank into bed. 

Day 2

The next morning dawned cloudy, but no matter. We had a date with the treetops, and we weren't going to be late! We breakfasted onsite at the resort and drove to APE Zipline, a nearby adventure course. I'd discovered online that little man was *just* big enough to participate in their Treetop Adventure (the adult, not the junior version), and we couldn't wait to get airborne!

After signing a release form, getting suited up with our gear, and going through a quick training course, we were in the leafy canopy! Though employees are on the grounds throughout the course, you work your way through the trees on your own, managing your harness and lines. There are options for more advanced runs (which we only chose once), as well as intermediate and beginner ones. 

We all had SOOO much fun! Little man loved the long ziplines and the various obstacles. There's water throughout the course if you need a drink, and you can always stop a minute and catch your breath or get some rest. There are some fun Tarzan leaps, opportunities for fancy footwork, and plenty of peaceful time among the trees. Highly, highly recommended. 

After a physical morning, we were ready for a hearty lunch! We popped into Food for Thought, where we enjoyed delicious dishes, large portions, and a reasonable price point. We grilled each other using the table trivia while we waited for our entrees to arrive. I had the shrimp and grits, hubs had the steak and crab cake, and we got bread pudding for dessert! Delish, quick, and filling!

After lunch, we decided to head back to our resort and explore it a bit in the sunshine. We'd booked this place after significant research, based on its location and wide array of amenities. We had a one-bedroom villa in the Jamestown Commons building. Our villa featured a large bathroom, a full

It was obvious that the silversmith had a rather high opinion of himself.
kitchen, a dining and den area (with a fold-out couch for little man), a closed-off bedroom, and a lovely balcony. Our building was also adjacent to a pool, a playground, grills/picnic tables, and tennis/basketball/shuffleboard courts. (They even had horseshoes! Such fun!) 

We spent a little bit of time at the pool before stopping by a local grocery store to buy breakfast items - eggs, bacon, fruit, bread, butter, coffee, etc. (Morning is a tender time. If I can avoid getting too far out/about first thing, I totally will. Making our own breakfast at the villa each day let us ease into our activities.)

After some unpacking and a bit of dinner nearby, we hit the hay.

Day 3

Once of the main attractions that drew us to Williamsburg was, of course, Colonial Williamsburg. Little man is learning about American history in school, and I thought, "What better way to learn than to see it for yourself?" The attraction offers one-day and three-day tickets (frustratingly avoiding two-day tickets, which, after our visit, I think would be absolutely perfect). We'd purchased the three-day tickets. We arrived, parked, exchanged our tickets for badges in the visitors center, and walked in.

Now, you can either take the shuttle bus from the visitors center into historic Williamsburg, or you can walk past the windmill and Great Hopes Plantation to get there. We loved the walk, so that was our choice. You first cross a bridge that takes you back through historical events and milestones. (There's something unsettling about losing all of your rights as a woman by merely walking over this bridge.) Then, you wind through the trees, past brooks, etc., until you arrive near the Governor's Palace. 

We started our visit with the short orientation skit at the courthouse, and then we were off. Hubs wasted no time putting Clay and I in the stocks. (I think it was the highlight of the day for him!)

The blacksmith didn't mind throwing a little shade on the silversmith. 
Then, we began exploring in earnest. We loved the Patriots at Play area, where you could play with colonial-era toys. (Clay is a complete savage at hoop and stick. Just sayin'.) We also loved the craftsmen's buildings, where you can speak with folks who really work at the crafts they display and talk about, using colonial-era tools and methods. (You'll know which craftsman's buildings are staffed by the flags out front. If there's a flag, it's open. If not, try the next day.) 

On day one, we went by the wig maker's shop (She was an absolute SCREAM!), the apothecary (Sadly, she told me she had nothing to offer me for my general orneriness. She did, however, prescribe a trip to the tavern for hubs.), and the printing press. (The guy at the printing press could literally have his own show in Vegas. My corny son was laughing out loud at the puns.) 

We had a yummy lunch at the Kings Arms Tavern (We came to really enjoy tavern dining.), where we inhaled pottage pies and house made chips. 

That afternoon, we also gleefully stoked the general metal worker shade between the silversmith (who obviously thought that he was the most important metalworker in town) and the blacksmith (who drily maintained that unlike the silversmith, he created things that people actually needed). 

By late afternoon, we were pooped! We returned to the resort to relax, popping out for a late dinner at Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant, where I had the divine scallops spinachi. Then, it was back to the resort to rest up for the next day!

More to come . . . 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sisters in San Diego (cont.)

Day 5

On our last full day in San Diego, we decided to walk to breakfast. We'd been passing Dunedin, which claimed to offer New Zealand eats, all week, and our curiosity finally got the better of us. It was a delight! We enjoyed a mix of eggs and pancakes al fresco. Staff was knowledgable and prompt, and we loved the flavored lemonades!

Sated, it was time for our next adventure - a trip to the Carlsbad Flower Fields! This enchanting attraction is about a 45-minute drive from San Diego, but it's worth every mile. Acres and acres of gorgeous ranunculus in riotous bloom. It's the dream of both photographers and gardeners. We had checked the website ahead of time, and we were there for 85% bloom, with perfect weather.

When we arrived, we hunted up a parking place, flashed our tickets at the gate, and headed in. We decided to walk all the way around the fields. Near the entrance, it's quite busy. But if you walk to the far end of the attraction, you'll have fields of flowers all to yourself. The blooms are color coded, so great swaths of pink, red, yellow, and white dominate the hillside. Amazing views. We took tons of photos and admired the beauty of the day before heading back towards the entrance.

There, we delighted in the poinsettia hothouse, the orchids, and the sweetpea maze. They have some beautiful formal and educational gardens to offer as well. We ended our day with scrumptious strawberry treats from a vendor at the entrance.

Strawberry yumminess notwithstanding, we were hungry, as it was late afternoon. We decided to drive up to the small town of Carlsbad and see what kind of lunch we could rustle up. We found culinary bliss at a little place by the ocean - Vigilucci's Steak and Seafood. Luckily, we arrived just as happy hour was starting, so we ordered some drinks and appetizers and decided to split a place of pasta.

It was then, then my friends, that I found the meal of the trip - the pappardelle con fungi e capesante. Think house-made wide ribbon pasta, studded liberally with a variety of mushrooms and large-pan-seared scallops, drenched in a white truffle brandy cream sauce. I was in heaven. HEAVEN. We enjoyed appetizers, pasta, wine and conversation, chatting for a bit with a nice gentleman who was so hospitable and proud of Carlsbad that he bought us a round of drinks! We were sitting outside with a view of the ocean and the glorious day, so we took our time.

When we were finished, we realized that the restaurant overlooks one of Carlsbad's beautiful public beaches, so we tooled down there, parked, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the surf, people-watching, and soaking up the sun. After the sun dipped below the horizon, we were hungry again. What to do?

I'll tell you. Go right back up the hill and have pasta again at Vigilucci's! I'm not ashamed. I know something good when I've found it. So, we indulged again. Full, happy, and with oodles of vitamin D circulating through our veins, we then headed back to San Diego and to bed.

Day 6

My older sister left town early that morning, but my younger sister and I had some time before our flights. We decided to have breakfast in a new neighborhood, which is how we ended up at Fig Tree Cafe in Hillcrest. We had literally the happiest waiter I think I've ever had. Like, EVER. He seemed absolutely thrilled to be serving us breakfast. After the pasta-palooza from the day before, I opted for the granola and yogurt, served with tons of fresh fruit. It's a huge serving (we could have split it), but what I ate of it really hit the spot!

After eating, we headed down to the Embarcadero for a stroll. We admired the public art and the green spaces, as well as the historic ships. We walked the length of it, from the Star of India all the way down to the (ghastly) Unconditional Surrender statue. Went out on a pier or two to admire the views and take in the air. Then, it was back to the car and off to the airport!

This was my second trip to San Diego, and I fell in love with this city all over again! Just a beautiful, beautiful place, with so much history and so many fun things to do!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sisters in San Diego (cont.)

Day 3

The next day, we awoke fairly early and headed to nearby Breakfast Republic. We LOVED this place! I chose the delicious and filling San Diego benedict, Grace got the crab cake benedict, and Laura had the veggie breakfast tostado. Throw in some OJ and bottomless cups of coffee, and we were some very happy campers! Portions were HUGE (I could only finish half of my benedict.), and prices were definitely reasonable for what we got. (For everything, the tab was around $45. 

After filling up the tank, we hopped into our rental car and headed for the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. I'd really wanted to swing by here on my previous trip to San Diego, but I hadn't been able to make it happen. I was thrilled to make it there on this trip! The place is gorgeous! Because we arrived a little later in the morning, there were no parking spaces to be had further in the park. After paying our admission fee, we parked the car in the lot at the base of the cliffs and hoofed it up the main road to the trailhead.

Views from the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
We started with the Guy Fleming trail, an easy loop that offers stunning views of the cliffs and the water, as well as up-close encounters with the reserve's namesake trees. We found that it was warmish on the trail when we weren't fronting the water, and chillier when we were, due to the lovely ocean breezes. Then, we made our way to the head of the beach trail an hiked down it to the water. Again, lovely vistas.

When we made our way to the water, we kicked off our shoes and let the surf tickle our toes as we made our way down the beach to the parking area. We took time to examine smooth rocks, their edges worn off by the tides, and marvel at the sea, the sun, and the air. Lovely.

On the Torrey Pines beach trail
After we finished our hiking, we took a quick drive to Del Mar. Once there, we found a public parking spot (small fee) and pointed our feet towards Poseidon on the Beach for a bit of lunch. We got a seat by the window and sampled a mix of shrimp cocktail, calamari and tacos. Delicious!

Sated, we ambled along the beach at Del Mar, near Powerhouse Park. There was a lovely little park with some green space, plenty of sand and sun, and great people-watching. We decided to lie in the sun a while and enjoy the fine afternoon. Kids flew kites in the park. We walked along all the beach trails. After a few hours, we climbed back into the car and headed back to the house for a nap.

Nibbles at Figaro!
We weren't too hungry that night, but we felt the need to get out and about for a bit. We decided to explore the main drag in North Park. We ended up at Figaro Dessert Cafe, inhaling fruit tarts, opera cake, and other yummies. We walked around the neighborhood, stumbling across Bottlecraft, a great beer and spirits shop with a lovely selection of cheeses and meats. We couldn't resist buying the ingredients for a first-rate meat and cheese board, along with a bit of wine, for later.

Then, it was home to bed!

Day 4

Up, up, and away!
The next morning dawned EARLY for Laura and I. I'd booked us a sunrise hot air balloon ride in the wine country north of San Diego. That meant we had to get up before dawn to make our way there. When I'd booked the experience with California Dreamin', they'd told me that, due to safety regulations, pregnant women weren't allowed to ride in the hot air balloon. So sadly, we had to leave Grace behind.

At any rate, Laura and I made our way there in the dark. After navigating to a very deserted winery parking lot, we called the company. It was then that we learned they'd forgotten to account for the recent time change, so they'd told us we'd need to be there an hour before was actually necessary. Facepalm.

We'd passed a Starbucks a few miles back, so we headed there to warm up and get some coffee. We then arrived back at the rendezvous point at the *correct* time, joining two other couples in the van that would take us to our flight.

Aloft. Scenery was gorgeous.
Our pilot worked with his crew to determine the best place to inflate the balloon. We ended up in a small field with several other balloonists, and it was beautiful to watch them all inflating their airy ships as the sun began to rise. Then, we climbed into our balloon, and with a few quick blasts of fire, we floated heavenward.

I don't know how to explain this experience. It's silent. You're gliding over the scenery noiselessly, watching your shadow trail you on the ground far below. People saw us above them and waved happily. We waved back. At one point, during the highest point of our flight, we were above the clouds. Up there in the rare air, the gentleman in one of the couples we were flying with proposed to his girlfriend. I filmed the whole thing on his phone!

And when we flew close to the ground, we saw sweet little bunnies, coyotes, and other wildlife. It was such a treat to watch them from above!

After about an hour, it was time to land. Our pilot and his ground crew brought us to the earth smoothly and expertly. As they packed up the balloon, we loaded back into the van, which dropped us back off at Vindemia Winery for a delicious breakfast. Fruited breads, Brie with crackers, hot coffee, mimosas, fruit, and more. Complimentary glasses of wine and slices of chocolate cake were also served, as one of our flying companions was celebrating a birthday. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I'm so glad we did it. I can't believe I waited this long to fly in a hot air balloon!!

A progressive dinner in Little Italy!
After breakfast, Laura and I did a little shopping in Old Town Temecula. We found some souvenirs and a lovely lavender shop. (Their linen spray is divine. I sleep like a rock when I use it!) Then, it was back to San Diego to reunite with Grace.

After a little cheese-noshing, showering and a short nap, we dressed up for a night on the town. We planned to eat our way through Little Italy! I'd downloaded their official app for self-guided walking tours, which we decided to cover as we went. First, we learned about Juan Cabrillo and Little Italy's roots in the fishing industry. Then, we enjoyed appetizers and drinks at Mimmo's, where I had two Italian cream sodas: one that literally attacked me, and another that I attacked. (Apparently, if you stir an authentic Italian cream soda too vigorously, there's a chance it can erupt like a high-school science fair volcano! Luckily, my lap napkin was water-resistant!) We also shared a quick plate of calamari. (FYI - We learned on our walking tour that Mimmo's was once a horse stable! History is everywhere!)

This is the second drink. The one that didn't attack me.
After that, it was more learning - market culture and the impact of WWII on the area. The view of the harbor and its encroaching ocean. The fishing nets, some of which still hang on a forgotten fence at the end of a parking lot.

We stopped at another little restaurant for some al fresco wine, pasta and bread - clams, shrimp, and other seafood studded a plate of noodles in a light sauce. By this time, Laura and I were a bit toasted. We sang a quiet rendition of Bella Notte with harmony before paying our bill and taking our leave.

More history - We learned about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the area and peeped at some community gardens and wine cellars. We also practiced some basic Italian phrases.

We ended the evening at Barbusa, a lovely place with delightful staff. We managed to slip into three seats at the bar with no reservation, and we had more wine and a few desserts - the deconstructed cannoli and a creamy lemon confection. Bursting at the seams, we waddled back to the car, drove home, and hit the hay!

More to come . . .

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Sisters in San Diego

WOW! What a waffle!
Last year, my two sisters and I went on our first sisters' vacation, to San Francisco. Before it was even over, we'd already decided we'd travel together again. When the time came to plan an 2018 trip, we once again headed for beautiful California. But this time, San Diego.

I'd been to San Diego once before, on a family vacation with hubs and little man. We'd brunched on Coronado Island, visited the pandas in the zoo, built an awesome sand castle, toured the USS Midway and the Birch Aquarium, and kayaked out to sea lions in La Jolla. Since this was an adults-only trip, though, we planned a decidedly different flavor for it.

Day 1

My older sister Laura and I arrived first. We picked up our rental car at the airport and made our way to the cute, spacious Air BnB rental (a cute 2 bedroom, 2 bath house in the North Park area) that my younger sister Grace had reserved for us. We were about 30 minutes early, but the space had already been cleaned, so in we went! It was a great fit for us! Lots of room to spread out, a lovely kitchen, and a pretty little back patio for relaxing.

I loved the way the painter captured light in this piece at the
Timken. Seaport at Sunset, by Claude Joseph Vernet.
After unpacking a bit and cooling our heels, we headed out for dinner at Urban Solace, which was nearby. By the time we were seated, my younger sister Grace had arrived, straight from the airport. She found us in the al fresco dining area, and after hugs and kisses and exclamations, we settled down to the serious business of choosing our dinner.

We picked the cheddar-chive biscuits as a starter (delicious, and I preferred them with the orange-honey butter rather than the tomato jam). Then I got the duck confit (on the recommendation of our waiter - an excellent choice), Laura chose the meatloaf, and Grace got the Duckaroni (a doctored-up version of macaroni that featured duck, blue cheese, and bacon breadcrumbs). Soooo yummy! We ate as much as we could reasonably hold, with Grace getting a to-go box for some of the extras. Then, it was back home for an early night.

Laura and Grace in front of the iconic Botanical Building
Day 2

The next morning, we were up and at 'em early for breakfast at Wow Wow Waffle. We loved this charming little place! You order when you walk into the outdoor eatery, and then you find a seat at one of the shaded picnic tables. (A re-purposed Airstream serves as a bar of sorts, and upcycled stadium seating is clustered around picnic tables, too!) Then, a server comes out with your order on a simple, rectangular metal tray. The waffles are delicious! They are made with dough, not batter, and you can get them with all kinds of toppings! I chose the parfait (yogurt, fresh fruit, and raw honey), Laura got the health nut (almond butter, bananas, cinnamon, and coconut), and Grace got the number seven (bacon, avocado, and goat cheese). The waffles aren't huge, and you can eat a whole one without feeling overstuffed. Add a cup of coffee, and you have a perfect breakfast! In addition, prices are very reasonable.
Beautiful blooms at Balboa Park

After we'd sated our hunger, we headed for Balboa Park. We started with a stroll past the organ pavilion to admire the architecture. (We tried to poke our noses into the international cottages, but they were all closed.) Then, we stopped in the Timken Museum of Art. I'd missed this free little gem on my first visit to Balboa Park, so it was nice to spend some time appreciating its small, well-curated collection and taking in its elegant rooms.

Afterward, we set our sights on the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, where a street musician played as the orchids swayed. We admired all of the tropical plants in the building, snapped a few iconic photos, and strolled down to the large fountain at the east end of the park. Then, we crossed the pedestrian bridge to explore the desert and rose gardens, taking in some views.

By this time, we were growing hungry again. We made our way back to the car via the Alcazar Garden, then headed for Liberty Station, a mixed-use development in the Point Loma area. Laura had heard that there was a fun brew pub there, and she was itching to try it. We walked right into Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. We were almost immediately seated (the place is VAST) in the beer garden. We opted for several small plates that we could all share, choosing the tuna poke, the steak tartare, and the wild arugula and burrata salad. They were all excellent selections, and all very different. (I could have swum in the tartare. Velvety.) We finished by splitting the coffee and mascarpone mousse cake. While Laura and Grace both got beers, I'm not much of a beer drinker, so I settled for water.

Laura takes the wheel!
Worth noting: the service here is great - friendly, prompt, and knowledgeable about the menu and the beers. If you sit outside, expect to hear planes frequently flying above, as the airport is close by. Also - they have outdoor bocce ball courts! So fun! We really enjoyed our visit here.

After lunch, we explored Liberty Station more, peeking into some of the shops and art galleries. And then we found the Liberty Public Market. Oh. Em. Gee!! Think Chelsea Market in NYC, but on a smaller scale. I was frankly sick that we weren't hungrier, as I could have sampled something from each booth! As it was, we purchased some jewelry and souvenirs (as well as some ground coffee, since we were running low back at the house), and tearfully bid it adieu. (We kept trying to find our way back there to purchase picnic fixings during our trip, but could never seem to swing it. On the list for next time!)

Lazy sea lions on the pier!
Next, we headed towards the marina so we'd be close to the next item on our itinerary, a sunset cruise with Sail San Diego. We were still a little early, so we found a place to the park the car and laid on the grass near the ocean for a while. Quiet. Breezes blowing. Waves. Sunshine. Palm tree fronds against a blue, blue sky. Heaven.

Then, we ambled across the street and down the pier to meet up with our sailboat and captain. We'd booked the 3-hour sunset sail, and we sprung for an extra bottle of champagne. (The sail already comes with wine and snacks, as well.) On our boat, there was Captain Art, one other couple, and that was it! We had a great sail. The weather wavered between cloudy and sunny, so we didn't get too hot or too cold. Capt. Art showed us all around the bay, telling us about the history of San Diego, sharing tidbits about the navy, and pulling our legs with other interesting stories! We got great view of the Del from the water, waved to other sailboats, and had a great time. Capt. Art even let us try our hand at sailing the boat!

Grace and I at the front of our sail boat!
Toward the end of the sail, my stomach started tying itself in knots. Capt. Art took such good care of me, giving me an aromatic to dab behind my ears and showing me to the steadiest seat in the boat. The feeling passed quickly, and then, we were back on dry land!

By this time, it was 7 p.m., and we were starving! We scooted into Humpreys, a local eatery, to scare up some dinner. I inhaled the steak Diane, and Grace got the lobster risotto. Laura chose scallops. They were all yummy! Service was impeccable, and the dining room was elegant without being stuffy. As we'd been in the sun for a bit, we all gratefully gulped our water.

More to come . . .

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merrying in NYC! (cont.)

Bethesda Terrace in the snow
The next day, we headed for the New York Public Library, stopping for a quick breakfast near Bryant Park. We had our photos made in front of the glorious tree in the lobby, felt the hushed silence of the reading room, and poked through some of the free exhibits on display. Then, we went to Winter Village for lunch! The food here is varied and soooo yummy! We enjoyed hot apple cider, crepes, raclette, hot chocolate, and donuts, tucking away some macarons for later. 

The lobby tree at the NY Public Library
After a quick break at the hotel, we ventured back out that evening, taking in the windows at Bergdorf Goodman (a brilliant partnership with some of NYC's top attractions) and Tiffany's (small, glittering and exquisite). We also made the mistake of walking the extra couple of blocks to Barney's to see their windows. Won't be doing that again. I've tried it two years running, and I haven't liked their display either year. Off the list. 

Then, we caught a car to Broadway. We ate a quick (forgettable) bite in a nearby restaurant and then headed to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for Beautiful! I've been wanting to see this show for a while now, and it didn't disappoint! Wonderful music, a tender story, and solid performances. I loved how the plot was both about Carole King and her husband, but it was closely followed by another songwriting couple that "grew up" with them in the business. Lots of laughter, and when they sang "You've Got a Friend," the whole audience choked up. We took selfies in the lobby!

Tapping our toes at Beautiful on Broadway!
Jonesing for a bite on the way home, we stopped at a hotel bar/restaurant for a quick (and again, forgettable) nosh, then made our way back to the hotel.

The next morning, we awoke to snow! We walked the two blocks to Herald Square and had brunch at The Harold - benedicts, mimosas, and other lovelies. Then, we took a car to Central Park South. It was a winter wonderland! We strolled up past the Wollman Rink, stopping at the visitors' center and proceeding to the literary walk. Then, we made our way to Bethesda Terrace, where a choir was singing carols. The whole time, the snow was falling, and everything was covered in a blanket of white. Magical.

The Bethlehem Tree
We eventually cut further north, making our way to the street for easy access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Melanie wanted to see the Bethlehem Tree, so we ducked inside and unloaded our winter wear at the coat check.

We got a bite to eat in the cafeteria (all of the cafes were absolutely PACKED), and then we were ready to explore! We saw the Bethlehem Tree, the Egyptian collection, the Temple of Dendur, and some contemporary photography. (There were some really cool photography exhibits. A couple of them showed photo exchanges between two different artists. They'd each send one another a photo a day. Like an epistolary novel, but with photos, and happening now. Interesting to see the conversations they were having through images.) We also spent time in the sculpture courts and swung by the armory.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
By this time, our feet were aching! We took a car back to the hotel for a break. By dinnertime, though, we were anxious to venture out again. We slipped into Delmonico's for steak and wine. We both chose the steak frites, and I had a mushroom soup to start. We chatted with the owner and our server, who both asked questions about our accents. Before we knew it, the owner had sent a free baked Alaska to our table! We were already full, but I'm not gonna lie - we ate every bite! Turns out that baked Alaska was invented at Delmonico's! So, how on Earth could we turn it down! And it was delicious!

With full tummies, we waddled back to the hotel. The next morning, we had a light breakfast at the hotel and headed back to Rockefeller Center for Melanie's last NYC experience - the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, featuring the Rockettes! We showed our tickets, went through security, got our 3-D glasses, and found our seats. What fun! Just as wonderful as it was last year! We loved the show!

The Rockettes!
Afterward, we made our way back to the hotel. Melanie had a slightly earlier flight than I did, so she headed to the airport. I used my extra time for one last turn through Winter Village, purchasing a few last lovelies and eating amazing dumplings and chocolate chip brioche!

Then, it was pack-uber-flights-home! I so enjoyed spending some time this Christmas season and New York City, but most of all, I loved sharing it with Mel! Merry, merry!