Saturday, November 29, 2014

Page-turner

Been reading a good bit lately. A few of the highlights:

  • After finishing Simon Sinek's Start With Why, I moved on to his Leaders Eat Last. This is a better book than the first. There's more meat to it, and I found myself underlining more passages. Sinek's is a people-first management style - leaders take care of their people, and the rest of the business takes care of itself.
  • You can see that Sinek's philosophy echoes that of Max DePree in Leadership is an Art, first published in 1989. DePree instructs his reader to ask the right questions about a business so as to clarify identity and true objectives. He also contends that all businesses are truly in the people business. (DePree's book is famous, widely read, and I agree with much of what he wrote wholeheartedly. The problem then becomes - if we all agree this is the ideal, why do so few business actually operate on a people-first model? I'm going to have to find a few people to have that conversation with.)
  • A girl I worked with once has written and published a novel! It's called The Story of Land and Sea. It's a beautiful, glimmering book that tells the story of a Carolina family during the Revolutionary War and the years after. In some ways, the story is very much about women - young Helen, who falls in love with an ex-pirate-turned-soldier; her daughter, Tabitha, who yearns for adventure on the open water; Moll, a slave girl given to Helen as a birthday present. It's also very much about loss. Happiness is fleeting for all of the characters, none moreso than the female ones. This is not a happy book, but it's delicately and beautifully written.
  • My favorite book of the ones I've read recently is All the Light We Cannot See. Though the book is set in Europe before, during and after World War II, this book is really more about wanting something more for one's life and knowing oneself than it is about the war. The two main characters are Marie Laure, a young, blind girl whose father is the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Werner is a young German orphan obsessed with science and mechanics. The reader follows their paths as war tears the fabric of the world, knowing all along that at some point, they will meet. They do, and it's wonderful. I love the economy of author Anthony Doerr's prose. There's not a word wasted, but the novel is lushly descriptive. Loved, loved, loved this book.
  • And then, just to keep things fun, I read Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. This was a hoot! I enjoyed getting to know Harris better, and I thought the gimmick of the book was a fun throwback to my own childhood. Worth picking up for a fun read; this book would be legend - wait for it - ary as a beach read.

Adventures in scouting

We signed Clay up for Cub Scouts this year! They send flyers home from school, and since I was a Girl Scout until I graduated high school (and since the Boy Scouts have lately decided to be a bit more welcoming), I thought we'd check it out!

We headed to the informational meeting, asked lots of questions, got lots of answers, and decided to give it a whirl.

We've really enjoyed it so far! A lot of the boys in our den are either kids Clay knows from the neighborhood or boys he goes to school with. It's fun to get to know them and see the boys together. We participated in the car-washing fundraiser (Cars and boys got soaked!), learned how to use tools (The whole pack was surprised when I pulled my little multi-tool out of my purse!) and toured the police station. (When we toured the station, the officers put all the boys in the holding cell together. You could see all of the parents outside, exchanging glances, wondering if we had time to shut the door and make a run for it! Heh.)

We haven't been much for selling popcorn, and we didn't go on the first camp out (Work travel made timing difficult for that one.), but so far, we all enjoy scouting!

Playing dress up

Ready for Oz!
Clay and I had TWO opportunities to throw on costumes this fall!Not only did we get to dress up as super-ninjas for Halloween (more on that later), we also got to spend an evening in Oz for the fall festival at the Mississippi Children's Museum.

Clay has loved this museum since it opened. We have a family membership there, and we even held Clay's birthday party there earlier this year. When we heard their annual fall festival was going to be a big, costumed version of the Wizard of Oz, we were in! I threw on last year's witch costume, and with a little makeup, a floppy hat, and some hay, we turned Clay into a scarecrow.

We had a blast at the party, which offered food, special activities and Oz-themed crafts. We also loved seeing tons of other kids and parents in their costumes. A local high school was putting on The Wizard of Oz as a stage play in the next couple of weeks, and so their costumed cast (and, I'll bet, some of their cool painted backdrops) were throughout the museum. Just really, really fun and cool. We had a great time!

For Halloween this year, Clay wanted to be a ninja. No problem! (Ninja costumes are warm and
The Bradshaw ninjas . . .
comfortable, and since we had a cold snap right around Halloween - and bone-chilling wind that night - it turned out to be PERFECT!)

Halloween was really fun in our neighborhood this year! Our little crew carved two pumpkins and decorated to the hilt. As a neighborhood, we'd organized a bit ahead of time. Several houses hosted "attractions" for the kids!

. . . not so silent, not so deadly.
We had a beanbag toss, a family photo booth, one of those "put your hands in and guess the creepy thing you're touching" table, and I set up a table and handed out warm apple cider and Halloween snack mix. (We tried to get a neighborhood hayride, too, with no luck. Liability issues, I guess.) It was fun! We trick or treated with Clay and easily covered half the neighborhood before calling it a night. Our little ninja came home with an impressive haul (nearly half of which we sent to school the next Monday, just to reduce the diet carnage at our house).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

New eats in Jackson

During the past few months, I've tried a few new restaurants in the Jackson area with sharing.

1.) Saltine. This fun new oyster bar is located in Duling Hall, and you will love it! Both the woodfired and the fried oysters are delicious, as is their po' bao appetizer (inventive). You will LOVE their banoffee pie, and amazing combination of banana, coffee, caramelized sugar and whipped cream in a mason jar. Just get the banoffee pie. Trust me on this one.

2.) Caet is a little spot specializing in wine and small plates, perfect for dinner/drinks with a friend. (It, too, is located in Fondren, practically adjacent to Saltine.) We started with the chickpea appetizer, which is a really good value for the money (huge portion, and tasty to boot!). We also chose a fish small plate and a beef carpaccio small plate. Both were good. Service was speedy, and prices were reasonable. A fun, social spot!

3.) Lou's recently opened up in Belhaven, in the location of the old Basil's (adjacent to the old Jitney 14). In the past few weeks, I've eaten at a reception they catered, joined them for dinner, and taken a friend to lunch there. The food here is really, really good. Service is young and adorable. Prices are reasonable. And they have a cute side deck where you can eat in the open air. But, mainly, the food is really, really good. At lunch, I had the roasted chicken daily special. Amazing. When I went by for dinner, I chose the smoked salmon dip (which I would recommend to ANYONE. Delicious!!) and a side anti-Caesar salad (named so because Lou's uses anchovy-less dressing). Get over there. The food is really, really good. Just get over there.

Memphis!

Slides at Shelby Farms Park
At the end of the summer, hubs, little man, and I headed to Memphis for a weekend of fun! The three of us hadn't been in a few years, and we were anxious to hit a few of the spots we missed on the first go-round.

We headed up on a Friday after work, stopping for a quick Italian dinner in Grenada, Miss., at Carmella's Ristorante. I had the tasty Greek Goddess pizza, a Mediterranean-style pie, and Clay and I split some tiramisu for dessert. Then it was on to our hotel for the weekend. We'd booked a room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Memphis/East Galleria, largely due to their positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Once checked in, we cleaned up and bedded down for the night.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we headed straight to what many say is one of the best family attractions in Memphis - Shelby Farms Park. I cannot BELIEVE I'd never visited this place until recently. First of all, the park is HUGE - some 4,500 acres. Secondly, they have nearly everything you can possibly imagine - really cool/inventive play spaces, tons of trails, lakes with paddle boats, bike rentals, disc golf, horseback riding, and a freaking HERD OF BUFFALO. And lastly, to just show up and enjoy the trails and play spaces is completely FREE!

Climbing skillz
When we went, they were doing some renovations to one end of the park, near where the dog park/trails are. We parked near the welcome center, oriented ourselves, and headed to the nearby playgrounds. They were such fun concept spaces! A deep hole was lined with play mats and big, wide slides. Another area had complicated webbing that kids could climb on like spiders, with cables connecting tree houses, hammocks for swinging, and platforms from which you could survey your athletic achievement. They also had areas for water play. We loved this place, and we stayed there all morning. (A park staffer even came around at 11-ish, offering free bottled waters to guests. Now THAT'S customer service!)

At lunchtime, our stomachs started rumbling. A little Google mapping led us straight to The Elegant Farmer, another place new to us that had received great online reviews. (P.S. It appears that recently, they've dropped the word "elegant" from their name. FYI if you are in search of them while in town.) The restaurant serves what they call "elevated" comfort food, with ingredients locally sourced and sustainably grown.

This place was a find, and the food completely hit the spot! I had a gorgeous farmer salad and a plate of creamy macaroni and cheese. Clay had a PB&J, and hubs had an amazing patty melt. Service was quickish and friendly, and we really enjoyed our lunch here.

Lunch at The Elegant Farmer
After that, it was off to another main attraction - The Pink Palace Museum. I LOVED this place as a girl. (I can remember being captivated by the miniature circus and the shrunken head!) We hadn't brought Clay there on his previous trip, and I couldn't wait to show him all of my old favorites!

We started with an awesome temporary exhibit on tarantulas that Clay loved. Live tarantulas, tarantula facts, images of webs projected onto walls so you could pretend you were a giant spider, and one conspicuously EMPTY tarantula case! Fun! Then, we moved on to some of the permanent exhibits. (My darling circus is still there, but it's no longer animated, due to age and the delicacy of the figures. Clay thought the medical exhibit was particularly interesting. We looked at all the tools doctors use to get beans and buttons and other tiny objects out of the noses, ears, and throats of too-curious little boys!)

We stopped for a light dessert and drinks in the museum cafe, then headed toward the shrunken head. But when we got to that part of the museum, it was cordoned off. It looked as though a wedding reception were going to take place there. I couldn't figure out how to get us around the wedding and into the room where the shrunken head is housed, so down to the front desk we went to ask for directions.

The Pink Palace Museum!
Turns out, that WHOLE PART of the museum was booked for the private event. Including the shrunken head room! I bemoaned my situation to the sweet girl at the front desk. I explained that I'd been talking up this shrunken head for days. After a second, she asked me, "Was the event already started, or were the tables empty?" Empty. With a finger to her lips, she led us quickly back to the area, pushed aside the velvet rope, and gave us our own private audience with the shrunken head. Clay was pretty amazed. And so was I! (The hilarious thing about it is that, on the placard next to the head, they provide directions for making your own shrunken head. This leads you to believe that obtaining a decapitated human head is literally the only thing standing between you and a shrunken head of your very own.)

On the monorail at Mud Island
After that, we went back to our hotel for a rest before meeting up with one of my husband's college roommates and his girlfriend for dinner. We went to Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, a nice, open-plan restaurant with plenty of menu variety. I chose the kobe beef meatloaf, and both hubs and little man had steaks. The meatloaf was soooo good! It came with a rich mushroom sauce and parmesan mashed potatoes. I washed it down with a glass of red.

We had the best time talking and laughing with our dining companions! I hadn't spent much time with them (and had never event met the sweet girlfriend
Mud Island's scale river model
before), but they were quick and funny and smart and easy to spend time with. And Clay behaved very well and ate his veggies! Success!

The next morning, it was another quick breakfast at the hotel, then off to Mud Island! I hadn't been to Mud Island, a scale model of the lower Mississippi River that you can wade in and play on, since I was a child. As it was a gorgeous day, we didn't choose to visit the museum, opting instead to head straight for the monorail and the outdoor model.

We rode the red monorail car slowly out to the model and the Riverwalk, enjoying the views and the novelty. Then, it was off with our socks and into the water! Clay loved wading the whole length of the Mississippi! The model is very educational, with placards throughout explaining topography and history. They also have large bronze (?) aerial maps of the cities along the river, and we loved finding cities we knew!

Though we all really enjoyed this attraction, it could use some refurbishing. It's beginning to show its age. I don't know if they plan to do any repairing or sprucing up soon, but I hope they do.

I love this guy!
We were getting hungry for lunch by this time. Luckily, we were only blocks away from Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken! We just barely beat the major lunch rush. After a short wait, we were seated and digging into spicy, perfectly-fried yard bird.

Our tummies full, we headed for home. Until next time, Memphis!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

NYC in July, cont.

The famous Starry Night
On Wednesday, we were both flying out, but not until the afternoon. That meant we had some quality time to enjoy in the city on our last day.

We started with a delicious breakfast at Sarabeth's (Central Park South location). I'd eaten here on my last trip to NYC and really enjoyed it. Last time, I'd had the lemon ricotta pancakes. Anxious to sample something new, I chose the toasted coconut waffle on this occasion. Sweet, nutty, with a mango glaze, this dish was extremely filling and more like a dessert than breakfast. Atlee had the french toast, which she generously allowed me to try as well. Both were absolutely delicious! We enjoyed our breakfasts, Atlee sipping her four flowers juice while I downed my coffee in big, grateful gulps.

After eating, it was off to the Museum of Modern Art. I have to admit, I'm not much of a modern art fan. I often feel I'm being taken for a fool, just a *little* bit. But Atlee, who minored in art history, promised she'd talk me through anything I thought was bogus (so I wouldn't feel like such a chump), and in we went.

Wyeth's Christina's World
Much like the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the previous day, MoMA allows you to check your bags (and crutches) and check out free wheelchairs. So once again, we were able to wheel through the exhibits with ease. We started with the special exhibition on the work of Lygia Clark, a Brazilian whose work was very participatory. It was almost like performance art. She'd create these costumes or masks or installations, and then she'd have subjects put them on or interact with them and film it. So her art wasn't really complete until she immersed someone in it. (You could tell that half the folks in the videos were ragingly high, but that didn't make it any less interesting.)

We also strolled by plenty of Picassos, Pollocks, Kahlos and Warhols, in addition to spending a bit of time in front of Van Gogh's Starry Night, which I had never seen in person. One of my favorites from the day was Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. Gorgeous detail, and not a limited or depressing portrayal, at all, of a girl with restricted physical abilities.

Shakespeare in the park
After enjoying the museum for the morning and early afternoon, Atlee hopped in a cab to get to the airport. I was catching a slightly later flight, so I made my way to Central Park. It was a lovely, sunny day, and not too hot. Even though I've spent significant time in Central Park South, there were still a few areas that I'd missed.

Passing by beautiful Bethesda Fountain, I made my way to the mall and literary walk. I strolled along, taking pictures of the statues, appraising the work of the street artists, and people watching. Before long, I found myself at Conservatory Water. I took a close look at the Hans Christian Andersen statue, watched children sail their boats in the water, and climbed up to commune with Alice and Wonderland for a bit.

Curiouser and curiouser near Conservatory Water
By this time, the clock was ticking on my departure, so I caught a quick cab back to the hotel, and then to the airport. My flights back home were blessedly on time (and I even ran into a friend on the final leg, from D.C. to Jackson), and I was back home with my sweeties by that evening.

I so, so love New York City. What an amazing town! Can't wait to come back!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NYC in July, cont.

Charles James Collection at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sigh.
Tuesday morning found us cabbing it to Saint Ambroeus for breakfast. What a great little find! We were seated at an out-of-the-way table not too far from the door (just as I'd requested in my reservation). Our server whisked Atlee's crutches into a nearby nook for storage, and we got down to the business of breakfast! I chose the uova al tegamino con pancetta, two sunnyside up eggs with bacon, potatoes and toast. Delightful, and plenty to satisfy me. The food was delicious, service was quick, and the atmosphere of this place was warm and welcoming. This is not a cheap breakfast by any means, but it was yummy, charming and convenient to our next stop.

We'd decided to spend most of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Brian and I had visited here on our previous trip to New York City, and I remember nearly weeping when we left because I felt there was so much I'd missed! This trip provided an opportunity for me to swing back through this behemoth of a museum and catch some of the art I hadn't gotten to last time.

I loved her face.
The best part? The museum offers free wheelchairs that patrons can check out! So, we came in at the handicapped entrance, checked Atlee's crutches, and then checked out a wheelchair. We spent the rest of the morning (and the early part of the afternoon) wheeling around the museum to our hearts' content. Wonderful!

We started with one of their special exhibitions - a gorgeous collection of amazing dresses by Charles James. Atlee is an avid sewer and smocker, so she was particularly keen to check this out. And the minute I stepped into the exhibit space, so was I. Imagine dress after incredible dress, vivid colors and patterns, unbelievable architecture (full shaped skirts, whimsical bodices and collars, very structural work - all done in cloth), dramatically lit for display. Not only that, electronic equipment scanned the dresses as you watched accompanying screens, breaking down the pattern of the design and explaining all of the underpinnings that made the frock keep its fantastical shape. This was absolutely revolutionary for me. I don't know that I can look at a dress the same way, ever again.
One of the Vermeers I missed last time!

We also checked out some of the medieval art and one of the sculpture gardens. Then, we stopped in the on-site American Cafe for a light lunch. Afterwards, Atlee had a doctor's appointment to get to. I put her in a cab a spent some additional time at the museum. I checked out the Dutch/Flemish rooms (which had been closed on my previous visit), the armor, and the musical instruments.

By this time, my dogs were barking! And when I stepped outside the museum, I saw that it was pouring down rain! Luckily, I'd brought my umbrella. A little energetic waving landed me a cab, which deposited me, safe and dry, back at the Bentley.

Atlee's doctor's appointment ran long, so I relaxed that afternoon, showering and gussying up for the evening's entertainments. We met back up for dinner at Pigalle, a little brasserie that you often see advertised in Playbills. I'd discovered it on my last trip to NYC and loved it. I had a creamy bowl of porcini ravioli, followed by a bright apple tart. Full and happy, we only had to round the corner to arrive at our next destination.

Live theatre ROCKS!
Determined to catch at least ONE of this year's Tony winners while I was in town, so I'd booked us tickets in advance for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. What a HOOT! Young Monty, upon the death of his mother, discovers that he's actually a member of the lordly Dysquith family. In fact, there are only some 8 living Dysquiths between him and an earldom. Learning that his poor mother was disowned and rejected by the family, leading to her sorrowful death, he decides to exact revenge on the family and move himself closer to a title in the process. An expertly-staged musical farce, this production had us rolling in the aisles! There was no weak link in the cast, but the clear star of the show is Jefferson Mays, who plays most of the members of the snobbish Dysquith family. Songs are hilarious and delivered with remarkable talent, personality and vocal control. There is a reason this show won the 2014 Tony Award for best musical. Not to be missed!!

After the show, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel and slept soundly.

More to come . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2014

NYC in July!

The Swan Lake bathroom.
Now, you know how I love New York City. I've been a few times now, both for work and for fun. When I go, I hit tourist destinations and haunt Broadway. It's my kinda town.

A few weeks ago, Atlee, a friend of mine, was visiting NYC for a few days for medical reasons. She was going to be in the city alone, and she asked if I'd like to tag along. It took me about half a second to agree! She was going up on a Monday, but I hopped up one day early to try and catch some extra shows. (I would have gone up TWO days early, but I had previous commitments that Saturday.)

I made it to the city on time, right around lunch. First off, I checked into my hotel - Bryant Park Hotel. I'd never stayed there before, but I booked it because it was located right on Bryant Park (which I love) and it got great reviews on TripAdvisor. (Plus, it's only a few blocks to the TKTS booth. Priorities, people.)

Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien!
At check in, the incredibly friendly desk clerk notified me that I'd been upgraded to the board room suite. That meant that I had a gorgeous boardroom all to myself. (You know, for my bidness.) Past the board room (which I didn't use, by the way) was a very spacious bedroom and a HUGE bath. (Huge for NYC, anyway. I've been in hotels where you could barely turn around in the bathroom. I could've staged Swan Lake in mine.)

After check in, my stomach was rumbling. I hopped next door to Le Pain Quotidien and grabbed a quick lunch to go, decamping to a bistro table in the park. I chose a grilled chicken and mozzarella tartine and a summery raspberry lemonade. (Delicious, seasonal, and not too heavy!) As I enjoyed my lunch under the leaves, I chatted with park-goers at neighboring tables.

Probably my fave show of the trip!
After that, I made a beeline to the TKTS booth. I still had time to catch a Sunday matinee! I ended up scoring a center orchestra ticket for Once at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. I'd watched the movie, of course, with the rest of America. I'd also bought the movie soundtrack, so I knew and loved many of the songs. I made my way to the theatre with time to spare, so I stopped for a quick coffee and a piece of chocolate cake in a nearby Italian cafe. Then, it was into the theatre.

I am so, so glad that I saw this show. It's won a boatload of awards, and I totally understand why. The way it was adapted for the stage is brilliant, with a tight ensemble cast serving as chorus, band and a crew of lovable characters. The production does a brilliant job of showing how music crosses all of our boundaries and connects us all. Incredibly romantic and soulfully performed. Out of all the shows I saw while I was in NYC this trip, I think this one was my favorite. Just a beautiful, beautiful experience.

After the show, I had some dinner reservations at Tony's di Napoli, near Times Square. I'd heard it was great for fast, unpretentious Italian on a budget. I wasn't disappointed! I had a big plate of linguine with clams, washed down with a glass of wine and accompanied by big chunks of crusty bread. The place was completely packed! Though some parties were taking their time eating, the waiters were turning tables at an unbelievable pace for those with theatre tickets for later that night. The food was good, and there was plenty of it. I was in and out of there for about $35, including tip.

Mmmmm! Clam linguine at Tony's
After dinner, I didn't really have any plans. So, I ambled back to the TKTS booth to see what was on offer for Sunday night. I was surprised to find that several shows had Sunday night performances, and quite a few good tickets were still available. On a lark, I bought a front center ticket for Motown.

I ended up sitting on the third row with a few big groups of folks out to have a good time. What fun! We chatted before curtain and during intermission, and during the show, we clapped and hooted and sang along. The woman right in front of me, who I had of course befriended, got called up on stage to sing "Reach out and touch somebody's hand" with the show's Diana Ross! Big fun.

Two-tapping tunes
For me, standouts in the cast included Eric Lajuan Summers (who danced like a madman and brought incredible energy to every scene he was in; you just COULD NOT stop watching him), Krystal Joy Brown (who channeled Diana Ross like no one I have ever seen; she had it DOWN), and Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson. All of the songs were great, and some of them made you smile and laugh just hearing them performed live again. Costumes were a hoot, too!

Overall, though, I thought this show was a bit long. It was as though those who put the musical together wanted to include ALL of the big hits from Motown, and there were just too many. Add on a book that could be uneven at times, and it tended to drag. You could probably cut a good thirty minutes out of this show and have something that is paced better.

After Motown, I was beat! It was back to the hotel room and to bed!

The next morning, I awoke early and enjoyed pastry, fruit and coffee from Le Pain Quotidien in the park. Then, it was off to walk the High Line. I'd tried to make it by the High Line during previous trips to NYC, but I hadn't found the time. I figured this cool, cloudy morning alone was the perfect time to seek it out. I walked to the nearest point on the High Line from my hotel, then it was up, up, up for great views of NYC and NO TRAFFIC! I enjoyed the plantings, the public art, the convenient benches and the other visitors. Without having to wait for lights, you can make your way through NYC remarkably quickly on foot.

Public art on the High Line
I walked the High Line all the way to Chelsea Market, another spot I'd never been. I decided to take the stairs down and see what all the fuss was about. Oh. My. Goodness. Chelsea Market is a vast gourmet food mall. It's all inside, all air-conditioned, and practically designed for someone like me. There's even a book store and a kitchen goods store. I was in HEAVEN. I walked the length of it, stopping in the non-food shops to browse handmade goods, purses and books. I was also scoping out what food was on offer, because by this time, it was almost lunch. I was getting hungry, and I can't imagine a better place to get hungry than Chelsea Market.

I started with a beautiful cup of clam chowder at Lobster Place. It was a creamy concoction that I'm sure was half butter. You could practically spoon in on your cracker as a solid. It was divine. Feeling the need for more dairy, I had a fig jam and prairie breeze cheddar grilled cheese sandwich at Lucy's Whey. Crispy and thin and cheesy and sweet. And because I can't leave well enough alone, I finished up with a wonderful cone from L'Arte del Gelato, its cool, sweet smoothness slipping down my throat as I walked the High Line back to my hotel.

Gelato at Chelsea Market
After lunch, I cooled my heels for a bit (It had been a long morning of walking, after all!) before cutting through the park to check out the New York Public Library. Brian and I had come here on our last trip to NYC together (and I was really glad we had, because the Reading Room was closed this time), but I hadn't been back since. This trip, they had a really fun, inventive exhibit on children's literature called The ABC of It. It was a whimsical delight, and I was so glad I made time for a stop! I got to step into the pages of Good Night, Moon, watch Alice's neck stretch out in Wonderland and pretend I was Max from Where the Wild Things Are! And it was completely FREE!

By this time, Atlee had made it into town. A quick text confirmed she was all checked into what would be my second hotel of the trip, the Bentley Hotel, near the East River. I bid goodbye to those who'd become my fast friends at the Bryant Park Hotel. (Honestly, the next time I come to NYC, this is where I'm staying. Quiet, roomy, with a location that cannot be beat. AND it was very reasonably priced. A winner!) A quick cab ride later, I was settling in at the Bentley myself.

Since Monday is a largely dark night for Broadway, I'd prepared a special treat for the two of us. We started with an indulgent dinner at Bar Boulud. (Atlee is a big fan of Daniel Boulud's cooking. After eating at this place, so am I!) We started with a duck and fig pate, and then I moved on to a giant, steaming portion of mussels with a heaping side of fries. We sipped wine, laughed and enjoyed every sensory bite. Food was amazing. Service was polished and timely. Prices were spendy, but you felt so utterly satisfied, so full and happy, that you might as well have been at Disney World.
Atlee and I, enjoying Jazz at Lincoln Center

After dinner, we took a quick cab (Atlee was on crutches, the poor dear.) to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue our evening. We had reservations to see the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, a rocking 16-piece band (with a singer who can blow the doors off Georgia On My Mind). This particular performance was taking place at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, a very intimate venue that also serves food and drinks. We were seated at a small cafe table, and we ordered a few libations to help the music do its magic.

I really loved this venue. It was small and cozy, with gorgeous views of the NYC skyline. As the musicians played (and boy, could they play! Igor Butman, who leads the troupe, looks like an accountant. But he plays like a black man from the Mississippi Delta.), the sun went down, and the skyline lit up. We sipped our drinks, let the tenor sax wash over us, and thanked God that we were lucky enough to be alive and in New York City. Amazing.

Add caption
After the show was over, we lingered a bit so as to let others leave and ease Atlee's navigation out the door with the crutches. We were in luck! The band started showing up at the bar to wet their whistles. I made time to tell Mr. Butman how much I had enjoyed my evening, and he gave me a hug and a sweet kiss on the cheek! Such a fun, fun night!!

More to come . . .



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Babies and beer in the Pacific Northwest (cont.)

Beer and babies at the Oregon Public House
The next day, we slept in. (Well, as much as you *can* sleep in with a 2-month-old!) Once the baby was fed and snuggled into Laura's arms, Grace and I walked about a block and a half from her house to pick up coffee and bagels at a local shop.

We had a lazy morning, then made our way into town to browse the antique shops. There were so many fun little stores to poke around in! We found ancient curling irons (The shop owner said women routinely burned their hair clean off using them.), little metal cases for everything from cosmetics to bobby pins, TONS of beautiful old cameras, even some old glass insulators! It was so tempting to buy things, but I didn't want the hassle of packing anything all the way back home!

When we found ourselves hungry around lunch time, we headed to the Oregon Public Housethe world's first non-profit pub. First, you select from a menu of charities. Then, you order off the menu. The profits that the pub normally would have made off your order are donated to the charity you picked out. It's #aletruism, and it's actually kind of brilliant. I chose the OPH nachos (delicious, and a BIG serving), washed down with a tall glass of hard cider.
Pie, my friends. PIE.

As we were finishing our snacks at the pub, the server there told us we HAD to go to a nearby pie shop for dessert. Such a fervent rec had us looking for the place straightaway.

She wasn't wrong. The Random Order Cafe serves big, beautiful pies of all kinds, from sweet to savory. They also pour delicious specialty coffees and cocktails. I had a GIANT slice of cherry pie with a huge mound of real whipped cream on top, alongside a hefty cup of coffee with cream. We all had fun trying each other's pies (and drinks - Laura got a nudge - coffee with liquor in it). I had so much fun at this place that I nearly had my mail forwarded.

A fire dancer. Just another
random night in Portland.
Full from the pub grub and pie, we opted to return home for a well-deserved nap! We'd been so busy since we'd arrived that we were pooped! We lazed around until evening, when Ryan and I decided to go out for a bit. The first place we went to pick up dinner was closed for remodeling. (And, boy, did they mean it. We peeped in through the back door, and there literally was NO FLOOR in the place.) Ryan was starving, so we ended up just parking the car and walking into the Mac! Mac and Cheesery. It was just the ticket! The menu is about a million takes on mac and cheese, plus a few sandwiches and salads, and of course, a full bar. We each got a drink and a giant plate of mac. I chose the truffle variety, studded with peas, mushrooms, truffle oil and prosciutto. (I ate one plate there, and got another to go for Laura and Grace back home! Yummmm!)

After we were finished, we thought we might head over to Salt and Straw for some ice cream. We ended up having to park about a couple of blocks away because the whole street was closed off for a festival. We watched a fire dancer perform for a bit (just another random night in Portland, you know?) before realizing that, due in part to the festival, the line for Salt and Straw was impossibly LONG! Giving up on our bum luck, we headed back to the house.

The Portland Museum of Art has an impressive collection!
The next morning, on our last day in Portland, we visited the Portland Museum of Art. We had a quick pastry and some coffee in their on-site cafe, and then headed for the art! I really enjoyed this museum. It's plenty big enough to keep you occupied, but small enough that you can cover it in a day. A gorgeous and varied collection, everything from Asian art to classical European paintings to a really impressive exhibit on Native American art and culture. I even enjoyed their modern collection, and I'm normally not a fan of modern art.

The Native American exhibit is particularly notable.
We stayed at the museum until fairly late in the afternoon. Now, there was a place we'd been driving by nearly every day that I'd wanted to stop at. It was called Sausage Kitchen, and it had a big red and white sign with a pig on it. (I knew immediately that these were my kind of people.) All week, Grace had been driving right by it. I FINALLY convinced her to stop for some food to go! As soon as I walked in, I knew we'd made a good choice. They smoke their own meats, and they also do a lot of processing. The veryvery old lady behind the counter fixed us up with several different kinds of delicious sandwiches, a few bags of chips, and a few neat specialty sodas to try. What fun! We headed home and ate. It. UP!

That night, our last night in Portland, Laura and I kept that sweet little baby while Grace and Ryan went out. I loved on all of his sweet baby softness. I gave that little munchkin a bath. (So much fun! He's such a cute little feller, and it made me remember when I used to bathe Clay, when he was a baby!) We fed him a bottle, burped him, gave him lots of kisses, and rocked him to sleep. It was so, so precious to be with him.

Baby Owen! What a sweetie!
We were up EARLY the next morning to head home. I was so THRILLED that we got a chance to see Grace and Ryan, and especially little Owen! I cannot WAIT until I get to hold that baby in my arms again! What a heartbreaker!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Babies and beer in the Pacific Northwest (cont.)

Santiam River
On Monday, Grace and Ryan had plans for us. We ALL loaded into the Jeep (and I mean all of us, even the dogs) and hit the road. We drove for an hour (hour and a half?) down some pretty winding mountain roads. The day was gorgeous, sunny and clear, and the scenery was beautiful.

Then we parked at a trail head, and everyone shrugged on a pack with some of what we'd need for the day. (Grace took Owen, of course, in the baby carrier, and some of his stuff. I packed in towels and food. Laura had a big cooler of drinks, and Ryan packed in a small tent and some other snacks/baby gear.)

We took a 10-minute hike through a beautiful old-growth forest. Trees were massive, and the sunlight filtered through leaves, making everything look even greener. I'd never seen the two dogs any happier. They were running ahead, sniffing everything, scooting back to check on us, and then taking off again down the trail. As we walked further down the trail, we could hear the sound of water.

After a bit of walking, there was a punch-through on the trail that led down to the Santiam River. A set of huge boulders jutted out into the river there. On one side of them was a short waterfall, and on the other side, the river wound through tall stands of trees. The rocks offered the perfect perch for one to sun and from which to jump into the river for a quick swim.

Mr. Pittock himself!
We unpacked, setting up the tent on the soft forest floor (in the shade) at the base of the rocks, spreading out our picnic gear for lunch, and stripping down to our swimsuits. We enjoyed our sandwiches, chips and fruit, and then it was time to give ourselves over to the river. I was the first to jump in.

That shit was cold. I mean COLD. Like, glacial. (And the river probably is glacial melt.) I swear, two degrees colder, and that water would have been solid. Here's what you do. You sit on the rock. You get hot. You jump in the river to cool off, IMMEDIATELY getting out. (Otherwise, you'll probably get hypothermia.) Then, you sit back on the rock again. This method allows for maximum outdoor enjoyment in Oregon in the summer.

Two of Grace's friends joined us, and we had a wonderful day out there. It's so pretty out there, with the river and all the trees and the mountains. We took turns holding Owen, and he napped obligingly in his tent for a while. After a bit, Laura and I decided to take a further hike down the trail to see what there was to see.

By late afternoon, we were beat. We piled back into the Jeep and headed home, stopping at a fruit stand along the way to buy fresh cherries. We ordered gourmet pizzas that night for dinner from Mi Famiglia. We got a couple of orders of steamer clams (YUM!) and three pies: the holy trinity (pepperoni and sausage with mushrooms), the fig and prosciutto (Oh. Em. Geeee!), and the wild mushroom and gorgonzola. Maybe it was because we were so hungry, but we LOVED this food! They had such inventive pizzas to choose from, and they were all so, so good. So well thought-out and made. We ate on the back patio again, washing down our slices with glasses of red.
The beautiful music room at Pittock Mansion

The next morning, we decided to take a trip into the city. We started with a quick breakfast at Singer Hill Cafe, a darling spot with a room full of vertical gardens and local art on display. I had a bagel with fruit, and Laura and Grace got delicious pieces of quiche. I really liked how the restaurant can almost be completely opened up to the outdoors on pretty days. Clever.

Laura wanted some time alone, so we dropped her off at the Chinese Classical Garden, and then Grace, Owen, and I headed for Pittock Mansion. I'd never been to Pittock Mansion, and I was anxious to see the home of one of Portland's first and most influential families.

From their website (edited for length):
English-born Henry Lewis Pittock journeyed on a wagon train from Pennsylvania to Oregon in 1853 where, at the young age of 19, and in his own words, “barefoot and penniless,” he began working for Thomas Jefferson Dryer’s Weekly Oregonian newspaper. In 1860, at the age of 26, he married 15-year-old Georgiana Martin Burton of Missouri. Together, Henry and Georgiana began a long life of work, community service, and devotion to family, which would last 58 years and celebrate six children and eighteen grandchildren. A consummate businessman, Henry Pittock took ownership of the Weekly Oregonian in 1860. He went on to build an empire incorporating real estate, banking, railroads, steamboats, sheep ranching, silver mining, and the pulp and paper industry.
Pittock Mansion gardens
Pittock started as a newspaper man, but soon he and his family had their fingers in every pie in Portland. The whole family loved the mountains, founding mountaineering clubs. Many of the Pittock women were avid gardeners, cranking up local garden clubs and rose associations. The home is massive and perched carefully to take advantage of sweeping views of the mountains. Careful gardens and footpaths at the base of the house maximize views, as do the large windows throughout the house. (Even the pantry had a window in it.) All in all, it was good to be a Pittock!

After touring the mansion, Grace, Owen and I picked Laura back up. We all headed for the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City. I loved this museum! It's several adjacent buildings of artifacts and interactive displays, and each one has a big wagon cover frame over the top of it. You start in a spacious gift shop, where you can buy tickets, souvenirs and other items, then head into the first building. As you move through the exhibits, you do so in sequential order as travelers on the Oregon trail. First, you go to a mercantile and pack your wagon. There, you also learn about the types of lives the pioneers would have been leaving behind - more developed social networks, better schools, less cholera. You see some of the promotional materials that would have enticed travelers to hit the trail. You also watch a very moving video that tells the story of several trail riders in their own words, dramatized from actual accounts. It's very well done.
End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Then, you trace your path along the trail, learning more about the flora and fauna of the region and finding out how many of the travelers fared on their journey. (The answer? Touch and go. It was unimaginably difficult to survive such a trek. Sickness, injury, accidents, bitter weather - all contributed to kill you off before you finally made it to Oregon City.) Finally, you end at another general store, where you basically thank God that you survived and stock up for making your life in a new place.

This was a really interesting place to learn about the kind of moxie it took to head for Oregon and the kind of physical toughness required to survive the trip. They have some outdoor exhibit space, too. I'm very glad we got the chance to stop by!

By this time, we were pooped! We headed back to the house for a rest, as we had big plans for dinner.
I made it!

That night, Ryan kept Owen while Grace, Laura and I went out to a fancy dinner at Paley's Place. This is one of those gourmet, organic restaurants that sources their ingredients locally and is run by an award-winning chef. Prices are crazy, but the food and service is absolutely fantastic. Definitely a splurge, but one we decided was well worth it.

We started with the steak tartare and the taste of all charcuterie platter. Oh dear Lord. These were both amazing. The tartare comes with a golden yellow egg yolk on top, and you mix it into the velvety meat with all of the other goodies. Then, you spread it on little toasts and eat. It. UP!! The charcuterie platter offered endless tastes of this and that, comparing with your dining companions about your favorites and what nibble tastes best on which type of bread. (The chicken liver pate and the pork and green garlic rillete were our top picks.) Then, we ordered entrees. I chose the salmon, a delicious pile of fish, asparagus and fruit compote. For dessert, I couldn't resist the summer flight, offering tastes of three different sweet confections.

The food is magical here. Well worth a visit!

More to come . . .

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Babies and beer in the Pacific Northwest

Note the ingratiating onesie!
A few months ago, my sweet little sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! (You may remember my earlier blog post about her reveal party in Jackson over the Christmas holidays. So fun!) Precious little Owen was born in early May. But because my adorable bundle was aaaaall the way in Portland, Ore., I didn't get a chance to hold him until late June!!

My older sister, Laura, and I headed up there for a week of baby love when the little sweetie was about two months old. Due to flight delays galore (Houston is like the purgatory of airports.), we didn't get into Portland until something like 1 a.m. Owen was already asleep that first night, so I didn't even get to love on him until the following morning!

Laura and I slept in a bit the next morning before waking up to love on some baby! Oooooh, he's so cute! Little fingers! Itty bitty toes! The sweetest little bow mouth, especially when he yawns! He's got dark hair and eyes and he's a very chilled-out little guy.

We all piled into the car for a celebratory breakfast at La Provence. Now, back when I visited Portland for the first time, Grace and I sought this place out. (Delicious!) Since then, they've moved up in the world, opening multiple locations in the Portland area. I'm pleased to say they are just as good now, if not better, than they were when I first dined with them back in 2008. It was late on a Sunday morning, so our group of 4 1/2 had to wait a bit for a table. We sipped coffee until it was our turn to be seated, and then the feasting began!

Powell's rocks!
We started with mimosas and bloody marys all around, and then ordered four amazing (and huge) dishes for breakfast. Laura had the salmon hash, a gorgeous concoction of salmon, leeks, eggs, potatoes and lemon dill sauce. I chose the meurette benedict, two eggs poached in a Burgundy reduction and served atop a croissant with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon. Everything was absolutely delicious, and portions were LARGE. As further evidence that this place isn't playing around when it comes to breakfast, they put the egg wash on their countless giant pans of croissants with a paint sprayer. Yep, like what you buy at Home Depot. No joke.

Prices at Le Provence are definitely spendy, but the food is so good, and you are honestly so full and deliriously happy when you leave, that you don't care. In fact, we bought a big box of pastries and a loaf of bread on our way out, for later.

After brunch, my brother-in-law had some errands to run. My younger sister, stir crazy after being home alone with an infant for two months, was giddy at the prospect of being able to get out and about. (It's a little less daunting to take a baby all over town when you've got two other moms with you who can carry stuff and help with the very small people.) The three of us, plus sweet Owen in the baby carrier, decided to stop by Powell's Books. Laura had never been before, and it was on her list. This is a store for book lovers. First of all, it's massive, taking up at least a city block. It's well organized, and there are opinionated notes in the stacks from staffers regarding all kinds of titles. They buy back used books from customers and then re-sell them, offering buyers a significant selection of reduced-price tomes. And, they offer books like Dancing with Jesus, which had a hologram for a cover. (See photo. Awesomesauce.) I kid you not. I love this place.

View on my evening stroll
After Powell's, we headed over to Saturday Market. Again, Laura had never been, so we were checking some items off for her. While Grace and Owen relaxed on the grass near a fountain, Laura and I investigated all of the booths, looking at original art, jewelry and other goodies. After a while, we reconnected with Grace and Owen and headed back to the house for a rest.

Once we'd recharged, Laura and I went with Ryan to a nearby grocery store, where we loaded up on food for dinner, snacks and general noshing for the week. That night, we made gorgeous bruschetta (with our Le Provence bread. mmmmmmm!), along with a plate of cheese, fruit, olives, nuts and other nibbles. We enjoyed all with big glasses of wine on their beautiful back patio for dinner.

Since it stayed light until late, I decided to go for a quick walk after eating. There's a pretty riverside trail within a couple of blocks of Grace's house, and I had the nicest, most peaceful stroll along there as the shadows got long. Then, it was back home and to bed, to bed!

More to come . . .

Monday, July 21, 2014

Noshing in New Orleans

I'm in New Orleans a good bit for business, and I thought I'd weigh in on a few restaurants that are worth a stop.

1.) Oceana Grill. One night, a group of us hit this casual (but yummy) spot in the French Quarter for dinner. There was a line out the door, so we knew the food would be good! I had the Redfish Oceana, which was delicious, and a cocktail or two from the bar. Service was quick and friendly, and the place has a lively, slightly clubby atmosphere. Prices are reasonable. We all enjoyed this spot!

2.) Kingfish. Another group dinner. Here, I had the "Every Man A King" fish, because I obviously believe in ordering whatever dish the restaurant chooses to give its own name to! It arrived on a giant brick of Himalayan salt, and I ate. It. UP! Delicious, delicious. One of my dining companions got the "Junky Chick" chicken, and I nearly speared a bite or two off her plate without permission. Our party also ordered a few of the small plates/sides to sample, including the golden beet salad and the cheese grits. This is an upscale restaurant, with prices to boot. Service was great, and they also had a fun, inventive cocktail menu.

3.) Elizabeth's. On our way out of the city one morning, a friend and I went out to the bywater to have breakfast at Elizabeth's. Why, you ask, especially when there are so many other delicious choices closer to the quarter? Two words. Praline. Bacon. We'd heard people gush over it, and we had to try it ourselves! I must tell you, it's absolutely as good as they say it is! I had a GIANT veggie omelet with a side of the heavenly bacon, and I was full nearly until dinner! Worth searching out.

4.) Borgne. This John Besh restaurant is literally in the lobby of the Hyatt that I stay in when I visit New Orleans, and I couldn't be happier about it. I've had several things off their menu, and all of them have been delicious! The black drum a la plancha is delicious, as is the fish in a bag. The deconstructed key lime ice box pie is an unexpected take on a classic, and the rum ice cream totally makes it. Recommended.

5.) Allegro. This quiet little white tablecloth bistro is practically across the street from Borgne. I love popping in here for fresh fried oysters, a cup of coup or bisque, or a nice salad. Service is quick, and the location is incredibly convenient for me when I'm in the city.

6.) Cochon. I finally got the chance to try this place a few weeks ago! Three of us stopped by for lunch one day and had a ball trying several different small plates: wood fired oysters, fried chicken livers, crawfish pie, crawfish and green tomato casserole, everything we had was good! I am not a fried livers kind of person, and I almost fought some of the other people at the table for them! Atmosphere was casual, food and service was great, and prices, though not cheap, were definitely reasonable for the quality of food we enjoyed.

7.) Peche. A sister restaurant to Cochon, I went to Peche for dinner one night with two friends local to New Orleans. What a find! We'd reserved a table for an early meal, and I was really glad we had. The restaurant filled up quickly (and completely) within 30 minutes of our arrival. Much like Cochon, we chose several different items to share. We started with the smoked tuna dip and moved on to the shrimp roll, the fish sticks, the white beans with bacon, and more. So, sooooo good!! Both Cochon and Peche are great for groups. The small plate menus encourage ordering something other than the usual and sharing with the table. Recommended.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back to the beach

At the beach behind Shaggy's restaurant
In mid-May, hubs went up to Tennessee for his twice-annual video game weekend with college buddies. (It's completely adorable. He games live with these folks over the Internet, and then a couple of times a year, they meet up and play Call of Duty all weekend long, with a trip or two to a Brazilian steakhouse thrown in for good measure. He loves it and gets so psyched getting ready for it! He's like a nerdy nerd on Nerdmas morning!)

Realizing that we'd be left to our own devices for a few days, Clay and I looked at each other and said, "Why don't *we* go do something fun?" That's how we ended up in Biloxi! That Friday after work, we drove down and checked into the Hampton Inn Biloxi. We'd never stayed there before, but we wanted something close to the beach and easy on the pocketbook. This place fit the bill!

Tummies rumbling, we headed straight for Shaggy's, our perennial beachside dinner destination. After a very short wait, we got a great table on the back deck. Clay munched on his sliders, while I had the fish of the day. (There was a very enterprising seagull on the back deck. He'd swoop in, steal packets of mayo, and then perch at a safe distance to peck at them and drain their contents. One of the employees at Shaggy's stood guard with a water gun to dissuade him, and Clay got to help. He was very proud of himself!) After Clay was finished with his dinner, the waiter brought out a FREE "cookie monster," a concoction of cookies, whipped cream and maraschino cherries, just for him. Clay thought he was the biggest deal ever.

After we ate, we enjoyed the beach a bit before returning to the hotel, running little people through the tub, and bedding down for the night.
If your kid is bouncing off the walls,
remove the walls!

The next morning, we woke to a rather uninspiring breakfast at the hotel. I tried to give it a chance, honestly, and there was quite a bit of variety. However, nothing tasted really GOOD. We picked at our food and headed out to the beach.

The hotel is right across the street from the water, and while crossing the busy roads can be tricky, it's a quick process. We walked down to the Biloxi lighthouse and its nearby pier, finding treasures that had washed ashore the previous night. Clay brought a ball, and we kicked it all along the shore. We also spent a bit of time by the pool at the hotel, sunning, swimming, and reading.

By lunchtime, we felt like getting in the car, so we headed to the Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi. It's only a hop and a skip from the hotel, and it's one of my favorite places to eat when I'm on the coast. I had a big plate of Royal Reds (deliciously meaty and sweet, with melted butter for dipping), and Clay scarfed down chicken strips and broccoli. After lunch, we cruised back to the hotel for a nap.

When we awoke, we decided to take a drive to Ocean Springs and stroll the sweet little downtown area. It's full of shops and restaurants. (We also wanted to scope out Tat-O-Nut for the following morning. We'd heard that this place was a legend on the coast, but we'd never been there.) The area was so bustling that we almost couldn't find a place to park! In the end, we decided to dinner at Government Street Grocery, so we parked our car in their (tiny) lot.

This actually ended up being a great choice. We got to eat outside, and the weather was so nice! I gobbled a shrimp po-boy, and Clay had a PB&J off the kids' menu. We took our time, talking and laughing. (And also eavesdropping. A nearby table was discussing the benefits of exercise. One woman noted, "I like to walk, and then run, and then walk, and then run." Another woman responded, "I like to walk, and then stand. And then walk, and then stand." I couldn't resist a sly chuckle at that one!)

Afterwards, we strolled the downtown area (finding, sadly, that Tat-O-Nut would be closed in the morning due to an equipment issue). We tried to hunt up some ice cream, but came up empty at the late-ish hour. In the end, we drove slowly home, the top of the convertible down so we could take in the sea air.

Treasure hunting
In the morning, we were meeting my sweet sister-in-law and her son for a late breakfast. We lazed around the hotel and took one last turn on the beach before checking out. Now, usually, we all get together at McElroy's for breakfast on the coast. There are two locations close by, and both have water views (one of the ocean, and one of the bay). But you know me. I *had* to try something new. I did some checking online, and we headed for In and Out Breakfast. It's a tiny place, owned and run by a local couple. There's a drive through window if you can't land one of the four tables. Portions are huge, and prices are cheap, but I didn't think the food was all that good. And service was really slow. I probably won't return to this spot. At least the company was wonderful! We caught up with family, and I promised that McElroy's would get NO COMPLAINT from me on our next trip!

Before Clay and I hit the road, I knew I had to stop at Le Bakery for goodies to take home. The last time, I hadn't bought enough, and I literally had to FIGHT my family to get any pastries! So this time, I loaded up. Two boxes of buttery, flaky goodness later, we were on the road. On the way home, we stopped once at a beautiful little fruit and vegetable market on Highway 49 for fresh food and a little ice cream for Clay. Then, we coasted back to Jackson!

Clay and I had fun on our weekend date at the beach! Hmmmmm . . . where will we go the next time hubs has a video game weekend?! ;-)

Wine, sun, and the sea

Toe-tickling waves
In mid-April, I had the delicious opportunity to pop in on the SanDestin Wine Festival with a group of girlfriends. What a fun trip!

I drove down to Florida from New Orleans (where I'd been on business) on Friday evening. The weather was absolutely glorious, so I put the top down on the convertible and enjoyed the ride! Once I arrived, I checked in to the beautiful SanDestin Golf and Beach Resort. (We'd all been there before during an industry conference back in 2012.) We'd booked two double rooms for our party of four.

After settling down a bit, it was out to the resort for dinner at Acme Oyster House. A dozen oysters later, we legged it around Baytowne Wharf before bed. The next morning, after a quick coffee and bagel at Cafe Siena, we headed to the beach. The day was warm, even if the water was a bit chilly. I walked along the water's edge and let the surf tickle my toes. Something about being near the ocean always washes me out inside. It's as if everything I've been worrying about is small and temporary next to something so old and vast.

I love these ladies!
By this time, the wine festival itself was in full swing. We popped around to most of the booths (and there must have been one or two hundred, honestly),  sampling every type of wine and champagne imaginable. A couple of the booths had little snacks/appetizers (merlot chocolate cupcakes. mmmmmmmm.), coupons for shopping in local stores, and other freebies on offer as well. There was live music, tons of wine enthusiasts and just a general celebratory atmosphere.

Feeling a little woozy, we grabbed some lunch back at Baytowne Wharf, at the Lazy Gecko Deck Bar (I don't know if I'd label their fish tacos the "world's best," as they do, but they were quite yummy!), followed by a smidge of ice cream at Moo La-La's. Then, we did a little shopping. (One member of our party bought a KILLER dress at one of the on-site boutiques. I'm usually not a fan of paying inflated prices to do such shopping, but it was on sale, completely classic, and she looked absolutely fantastic in it.)

On the back deck at Pompano Joe's
After such a marathon day, it was back to the hotel room to rest and freshen up before dinner.

In our group of four, two of us wanted to stay on property for Italian that night, and two of us were jonesing for seafood with a beach view. We split up, and Sandi and I headed to Pompano Joe's, in Destin. We got a gorgeous table on the back deck, where we watched the sun set and nibbled on our grilled fish. Kids played in the waning light, and after darkness fell, we watched families creep out with their flashlights to observe tiny crabs skittering across the sand. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Late that night, we met up again at the hot tub, dipping our feet in the bubbly waters in the dark, talking, and laughing as the moon hung suspended overhead.

The beach at sunset. Aaaaaahhh!
In the morning, it was breakfast at the Destin Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe. This place is very popular, so expect a wait on weekend mornings. Our party of four was seated after a short wait, and then we ordered giant plates of breakfast deliciousness. I chose the Texas sweet potato pancakes with praline sauce. Oh. Em. Gee!! I ate until I couldn't hold any more, then waddled back out to the car, put the top down, cranked the radio, and headed back home.

If you are considering the SanDestin Wine Festival as a girls' trip, I can't recommend it highly enough! We loved our trip!