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!

Three-sentence book reviews

Playing catch-up on some of the books I've been reading. Below are some quick reviews:

1.) The Night Circus is magical and sensory. This book is one of the absolute favorites I've been lucky enough to pick up lately. Author Erin Morgenstern creates a lush world full of stories that will stay with you.

2.) Resonate is a communications tome by Nancy Duarte on putting together impactful presentations. Duarte's book helps you understand the structure of speeches and offers devices to hook viewers. It was so good that I'm moving on to her Slideology next.

3.) One Thousand Gifts is a book about spirituality and thankfulness. Sue Voskamp has reintroduced me, in some ways, to the God I'm excited about knowing. She has a knack for uncovering the constant conversation between us and God through all the little, everyday blessings we often fail to notice.

4.) The End of Your Life Book Club. Moving and intellectual, this book gave me tons of other titles for my reading list. It's a poignant story about sons and mothers and facing mortality with strength. It's also a love letter to reading, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.

5.) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a funny beach read by writer/comedian Mindy Kaling. She has a strong voice and an easy to digest style. This book is perfect for planes and vacations.

6.) The Cleft. Nobel prize winner for literature by Doris Lessing, this book is an alternative human origin story. This was a plodding mess, and it turned out to be a HUGE disappointment. My advice is avoid, avoid, avoid.

7.) The Stone Diaries is a wonderful, far-flung novel that traces the "ordinary" life of Daisy Goodwill Flett. Winner of the Pulitzer, the book examines all of the little ways our lives hold meaning through a variety of ensemble characters. No life is truly ordinary, is it?

8.) The Corrections. Focusing on a small Midwestern family, this book starts out slow but gains steam/pulls story lines together as it progresses. It's a well-written commentary on modern family life, changing societal expectations and human habit. By Jonathan Franzen, this was the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.

9.) I found Start With Why through a communications colleague. Like many business books, it could stand to lose 50-75 pages, but I like the basic premise. Author Simon Sinek is a bit Polyanna-ish about business success, but luckily for him, so am I.