What I’ve been reading – May edition

teddy bear reading

Have you heard of the blog Modern Mrs Darcy? Anne’s blog is one of my favorites – if you’re an avid reader like me, you’ll love her! I’ve participated in her annual reading challenge for the last few years, and have enjoyed expanding my reading repertoire.  Anne writes a “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” series and I always look forward to her list, so thought I’d write a similar post for all of you! Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading this spring.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This novel is classified as science fiction/Post-Apocalyptic fiction, which made me hesitate, as I don’t normally read this genre. But Anne recommended it, so I gave it a shot, and loved it! A National Book Award Finalist in 2014, it tells the story of a traveling theatre troupe in the Great Lakes area after most of the world’s population has been wiped out. I became completely wrapped up in the characters, and had a moment of panic when my Kindle library loan expired as I was 76% of the way through the book. Luckily, I was able to re-borrow it 30 minutes later (I can hear the collective sigh of relief from all of you) and finished it that night! I totally could have binge-read this book…that’s how good it was.

The Century Trilogy by Petra Durst Benning – I read this series for the “Book in Translation” category of this year’s reading challenge. Each of the three books (While the World is Asleep, The Champagne Queen, and Queen of Beauty) tells the story of one of three childhood friends from Berlin. Set between the years of 1890-1920, each of the female characters is a strong, independent woman making her way through the trials and joys of life. I love historical fiction and this series did not fail me (it is available on Kindle Unlimited for those of you with a monthly subscription). The author also wrote The Glassblower Trilogy, another series I adored. 

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I read this for the “A book longer than 500 pages” category of the reading challenge. It’s the first in the Kingkiller Chronicles, and is considered fantasy/heroic fiction. Again, not my usual choice of genre, but my son said he thought I’d like it, and he was quite correct. At 736 pages in the paperback, this one took a long time to read, and I found I really needed to read it in larger chunks of time rather than a few pages before bed each night. I had a hard time getting interested in this one at first, but am so glad I persisted; by about page 100, I was hooked. It’s a coming of age “story within a story”.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey – Currey has compiled short descriptions of how 161 artists structure their days. I’m about halfway through this one, and find myself skimming the descriptions until I find one that interests me. It’s kind of fun to read that Agatha Christie, even after publishing ten books, still didn’t consider herself a writer and put her occupation down as “married woman”; or that Carson McCullers snuck a thermos of sherry into the library with her while she wrote; but overall it has not held my interest so I probably won’t finish it.

2018 planner

Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99U, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei – This book has been SUPER helpful as I’ve been trying to figure out how to carve out time to write and make my blog a priority. With essays by many different authors, I’ve found great nuggets of wisdom to help me structure my days. If you’re struggling with time management like I am, I highly recommend this book! Also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I found this while searching for an audiobook to listen to as I painted the trim in my son’s dining room (THREE coats of white paint, people!) and ended up using it to fulfill the “a book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection” category of the reading challenge. Hearing the African American author’s voice as she described her childhood growing up in 1960’s Ohio, South Carolina, and New York City brought the verse to life. A National Book Award and Coretta Scott King award winner.

**You may be wondering about my goal to discontinue my kindle unlimited membership…I’ve been trying to get caught up with all the books I had borrowed – and I’ve been enjoying them so much I’m considering keeping the membership! I’ll keep you posted on the final decision**

Have you read anything good lately? Send your recommendations my way…I’m always adding to my TBR (To Be Read) List! Up next for me – Ready Player One (Do I need to read the book before I see the movie?), Three Junes, The Nightingale and Being Polite to Hitler…check back in at the end of June for another update!

book pile

Mother’s Day gift ideas for someone who has recently lost her mom

anastasia-zhenina-66931-unsplash

Mother’s Day is not the same for me since my mom died seven and a half years ago. The first year after she died, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I no longer had a mother with whom to celebrate (obviously, I still celebrate the fact that I HAD a mother, but her death left a gaping hole which I particularly feel on Mother’s Day), and the weeks of commercials leading up to the day only intensified my feelings of loss. That first year, I spent the Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day in bed, crying. The actual day itself, however, turned out surprisingly well, because my husband and my three kids were sensitive to my grief and were so very sweet to me.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day with someone who has recently lost their mother. Should I talk about her mom? Will I make her sad if I do? Should we even celebrate Mother’s Day? All these questions circle in the brain – but the answer is YES, you should talk about her mom and acknowledge Mother’s Day! I asked a few friends what gifts and gestures they most appreciated the first year after their mom died. In honor of the upcoming day on Sunday (in the USA at least), here are some gift ideas for any woman who has recently lost her mom.

A Mother’s Day card with a twist – One of my most treasured Mother’s Day cards from my husband is the one he gave me that first year after my mom died, in which he listed all of my mom’s best qualities and how he saw them continuing on in me. I’m actually tearing up as I write this, because taking the time to think about the things he loved the best about my mom and then write them down for me was such a perceptive, sensitive and loving thing to do. If you know someone who has recently lost her mom, and you knew her mom, a card or even just a phone call to say “I really loved this about your mom, and I see the very same quality in you” will make her so very happy!

greeting-card-2478787_1920

Stories about her mom – So often we don’t speak of the loved one for fear of making the grief worse. Yet, all of my friends said that they loved hearing stories about their mom from people who knew her. One of my friends said, “Recognizing she’s no longer here is important to me.  Ignoring her absence hurts.” So a short note or a phone call sharing your favorite memory or a funny story about her mom would be a treasured gift!

hikers-2713335_1920

Gift of your time – Now that my kids are grown and scattered, time with my kids is precious to me. I don’t usually get to see them on Mother’s Day, but I love when they call or FaceTime with me on the actual day. That first Mother’s Day, my children (who were in middle and high school at the time) spent the entire day with me – they made me breakfast in bed, helped me plant in my yard and played some of my favorite games after dinner. I also love to hike – there is something about being out in nature that is healing, so taking her for a hike might be just the thing! Your time can be particularly important if she doesn’t have kids of her own with whom to spend the day. Sharing a few moments, either in person or long distance, with siblings who share the loss can also be very meaningful. One friend stated that “Talking to and texting my sister on Mother’s Day are also part of my post-Mom ritual.  We both lost our mother and we’re linked by shared history since our births.” This is something I wish I’d been better at those first few years…I’m going to make it a point to call or text my brother and sister on Mother’s Day from now on!

Mom and Dad

A photo of her mom – Find a great photo of her mom, or the two of them, and frame it for her. Another friend, whose mom worked her entire life with preschool children, said she loved getting a picture of her mom reading to a circle of children.  I asked my dad for a copy of their wedding picture, and have it on my bedside table. I also have a fantastic picture of my mom and dad, on their last vacation before her cancer diagnosis, which I keep in my living room.  I love seeing her beautiful smile when I walk past her photos.

aaron-burden-133359-unsplash

Time to be alone – she may not be up for a big celebration this year, so let her make that call. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is time alone to rest, recharge and feel sad. My friend said it best…”Feeling sad is healthy – where there is great love, there is great grief.  I don’t want my family to try to jolly me out of this necessary, though brief, poignant sadness.” If she wants to be alone, you can send a text (with no answer required), drop a card with a treat or flowers on her porch, or send a short email to let her know you are thinking of her.

A gift of service – Is there a project with which she could use help? Maybe one she started before her mom died which has been laid to the side? Offer to help her work on it! I am always so grateful when my kids and husband help me with planting – I love my garden, but it’s time consuming to plant every spring, and the fact that they willingly pitch in, despite the fact that they don’t enjoy it, is so very appreciated!

A quilt made from her mom’s favorite clothes – One of my friends, who is a quilter, received a quilt made of fabrics from her mom’s closet. What a thoughtful, personal gesture! I have a piece of my mom’s wedding dress, which I will frame in a shadowbox with my mom and dad’s wedding photo. Another idea would be to stretch the front of a favorite souvenir t-shirt (especially if it’s from a trip she took with her mom) over canvas to be hung.

rod-long-472797-unsplash

Her favorite flowers – As long as she’s not allergic to flowers (my grandma had such bad allergies that we could never give her flowers) a bouquet of her favorite flowers is always a good idea. If her mom had a favorite flower, include some of those in the bouquet as well. Yellow roses were my mom’s favorite, and every time I see them, I think of her. I would love to receive some yellow roses on Mother’s Day in remembrance of my mom.

This year, I am spending the Saturday before Mother’s Day with my aunt, cousins, and sister. I’m so excited to get together with these incredible women, with whom I have a shared history and all of whom have lost our mothers. We are going to celebrate having (and being) bad ass moms, and we’ll probably tell lots of funny stories about my mom, aunt and grandma. Sunday I’ll get to see my youngest son and a young man who is like a son to me, and then on Monday, on my drive home, I’ll stop by Arlington Cemetery to say hi to my mom (as a 20-year Navy Wife, she’s in the columbarium there). I’ll tell her how my kids are doing and about my husband’s job search, catch her up on the extended family news, leave her a yellow rose, and somewhere up there, I hope she’ll know I’m thinking of her.

7 Great things about Rochester, NY

eastman Quad at UR

Before my son started graduate school at the University of Rochester, I had never visited the city. Now, it almost feels like my second home (well, at least in the late spring/summer/fall; Miami, where my daughter lives, is my winter/early spring second home – aren’t I a lucky woman to have so many climates from which to choose?). I just spent a week in Rochester helping my son unpack in his new house, and thought I’d write a post on the things I love about this city in western NY.

Letchworth State Park

Autumn – beyond anything else, I love fall in western New York! The reds, oranges and yellows of the trees are amazing and there are SO many spectacular places to hike not far from Rochester (Letchworth State Park is about an hour away if you want a truly beautiful hike through a gorge with several waterfalls). Orchards for apple picking abound in the area – we enjoy tasting “new to us” varieties and making apple pie with our loot!

The Genesee Riverway Trail – a 24 mile paved trail that runs from the Erie Canal on the south side of Rochester up through downtown, ending at Lake Ontario. The trail runs right by the campus of UR, so we’ve walked the trail from there up to High Falls just north of downtown Rochester. This trail connects to the Erie Canal Heritage Trail just south of campus, in Genesee Valley Park.

Erie canal heritage Trail

Erie Canal Heritage Trail  Part of the 365 mile long Erie Canalway Trail, the Heritage Trail is itself 86 miles long. One of my absolute favorite things to do in Rochester is to rent a bike from Towpath Bike in Pittsford and ride along the canal. It’s a scenic, mostly level ride, and absolutely spectacular in the fall!

Pittsford dairy

Pittsford Farms Dairy – Pittsford itself is an adorable town, particularly Schoen Place along the canal where Towpath Bike is located. But Pittsford Farms Dairy deserves a special mention – it’s a dairy, bakery, ice cream parlor and retail store, all in one. The ice cream is to die for, and they carry all kinds of baked goods and dairy products, as well as locally made jams, sauces, etc. We try to stop by every time I visit (alas, during my most recent visit we were so focused on unpacking that we didn’t make an ice cream run – next time!)

lilac bush

The Rochester Lilac Festival – For 120 years (it started in 1898!!), Rochester has celebrated the arrival of spring with a free festival in Highland Park, where thousands of lilacs bloom. Highland Park is beautiful all year, but during the festival there are concerts, art shows, booths selling hand-crafted soaps, lotions, and other wares, as well as 5K and 10K runs and many other special events, drawing over 500,000 visitors each year. Last year, I was able to run about 4 miles of the 10K, so my goal is to make it back in a year or two and run the entire 6.2! This year, it runs from May 11-20, so if you’re in the area, I highly recommend you stop by!

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra – My husband introduced me to the joys of the symphony when we were in college. Now, it’s fun to watch our son enjoying the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra! Luckily for us, the RPO had a concert while we were in town last week, so all three of us were able to attend A Night of Symphonic Rock. The orchestra played classic rock and tunes from Broadway musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, then a classic rock cover band played the second half of the show. RPO has tons of special events, including movie nights – the orchestra will play the soundtrack as they show Ghostbusters and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets later this year, among others! And as a bonus, they sell student tickets at a steep discount – some shows cost as little as $15 if you are a college student!

eletrical box art

Electrical box art  – this may seem like a small thing, but I love how the city of Rochester has turned the street corner electrical boxes into art! Each one is painted differently, but it’s a simple way to beautify a utilitarian item. My Scooby tried really hard to blend in with this one!

So there’s my completely random collection of things I love about Rochester…I’m sure there are tons of other things I haven’t discovered yet! If you’ve been, what are some of your favorite places or events???

Living in Limboland (aka dealing with uncertainty)

joey-csunyo-512458-unsplash

Fun fact: I have moved 20 times in my life. I have lived in my current house for 5 years and 9 months, which is precisely three months longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. After 20 moves, I am in the first house I’ve ever really loved. My house and my yard bring me such joy; some of my happiest moments of the last five years and nine months have been spent on my front porch. I love Winston Salem – it’s the perfect size for me, there’s a great sense of community, and there are always fun things to do. And my friends here in Winston Salem bring me even more joy than my house!

IMG_3179

Not so fun fact: We will, most likely, be moving again in the not too distant future. My husband has been between jobs for a year, and may be getting a job offer (or two, or maybe even three, if we’re really lucky) in other cities during the next month or so. Now I know some of you might be out there thinking that he should just try to get a job here so we can stay in Winston Salem, since we like it so much.  And he has…but what he does is somewhat specialized, and one of the downfalls of living in a smaller city is that opportunities for him are not plentiful. I work very part time, so his job has a huge influence on where we live at this stage of our lives. I am, however, an integral part of the discussion and decision on which job and location is the best balance between his career goals and the needs of our family. And our long term plan is to come back here at some point for retirement, so it’s not like we’ll be leaving forever. 

**I hope I’m not jinxing the process by writing this post – if you’re paying attention, Fate, I didn’t write that he IS going to get a job offer, just that he MIGHT get a job offer**

Since last year, I’ve known the possibility of another move is in our future. And while I’ve tried not to worry about it, I have to say that the uncertainty has affected me. I’ve basically been living in Limboland for the last year, which equates to constant low level stress. For those of you who move frequently, the following situations may sound familiar to you. Or you may have experienced other worries. Here are some of the ways uncertainty has affected my life this past year, and how I’m dealing with it.

annie-spratt-66432-unsplash

Being afraid to make long term commitments – Last August, I was feeling drawn to a volunteer project that required a commitment for the entire school year. But it didn’t feel ethical taking on that obligation when I knew there was a chance we might move before the school year ended, so I didn’t volunteer. Now, of course, it’s almost the end of the school year, so I could have safely signed up – but I didn’t know that last August, now did I? Even something as simple as a dental cleaning caused stress – should I make the next six-month appointment? What if we move and I forget to cancel it before leaving? Should we buy the new couch we desperately need for our current house, or should we wait because our next living room may be completely different? Anything requiring a commitment more than a month out began a cycle of “what if” that drove me crazy.

christin-hume-588782-unsplash

Anticipatory grief – Because I love where I currently live, I’ve been sad off and on this past year, knowing that I will most likely have to say goodbye to my house, my town, and my friends. Starting all over again in a new city entails so much emotional work – we’ll have to find a place to live (should we buy or rent? live close to work or farther away? can we even FIND a house we’ll both like?), new doctors (not just a Primary Care doctor, but a new dentist, GYN, a new dermatologist, etc.), a new hair salon (this is super hard for women), a new dog sitter, and a new place to workout (will there be a YMCA close to my new house? will it be a nice facility? will they have the classes I like? will there be any long bike trails to train for my ride in September?), along with a myriad other details I haven’t even thought of at this point. I’ve also been remembering how very lonely I was when we first moved here, and am dreading a repeat of that experience. And what if we end up moving somewhere I don’t like? You never really know for sure if you’re going to enjoy the next place until you’re actually there!

Excitement – I know you’re probably thinking “This woman just said she’s dreading saying goodbye – how can she be excited, for pete’s sake?!” It sounds contradictory, but along with my inability to make long term commitments and my dread of being lonely, there is a little fissure of excitement at the opportunity to explore a new part of the country. I inherited my love of travel from my dad (a career Navy man who traveled the world on submarines and aircraft carriers and loved every second), so there is a part of me that is drooling at the chance to share new adventures with my husband. I’m also excited about sharing my excursions with all of you here on the blog!

IMG_4322 (1)

Acceptance – One of my mentors from grad school told me “Life is never 100 percent; it’s always 60/40. As long as the 60 percent is the good stuff, you’re doing okay.” Every place has good and bad. I’ve found that focusing on the good and minimizing the bad to the best of my ability leads to an easier adjustment, so I’ve started making lists of the good things about our potential locations as a way to mentally prepare. Even my least favorite possibility has several good things about it, so no matter where I end up, I’ll be good, and my husband and I will be together, which is hugely important to me. We’ve shared many adventures through the years, and hopefully we have many more to come. Stay tuned for more news as things develop! 

An April goals update…

IMG_9258

Happy Saturday everyone!

Back in March, I wrote about my ideal day and my “feeling goals”, and said I would post an update in April.  I’m at a family wedding this weekend so am sharing this quick update today in lieu of a travel-related post.

If you remember, I described my ideal day as calm yet energetic, filled with fresh air and sunshine, something productive, something fun, something active, quality food to fuel my body, and a good night’s sleep. Using this scenario as a guideline, I chose the following Feeling goals: energetic, productive, happy, well-rested, and active.

How did I do?

alexandra-gorn-325610-unsplash

Doing one small task before my morning coffee – I accomplished this about half the time in the last few weeks, and definitely notice an improvement in how energetic I feel when I get one small (even tiny) task done upon first waking. Even something simple like drinking 16 ounces of water or making the bed makes a big difference! My goal for April is to create a list of simple tasks that I can tackle upon awakening (my brain can’t handle anything too complex before coffee lol) and then improve my percentages in May.

Blocking out time to work on my blog – I’m still struggling with time management and carving out time to work on the blog. I’ve recently been introduced to Google calendar by a friend, and I am currently playing around with the app to create reminders and goals. I’ve set a goal of working on my blog three times a week, for two hours at a stretch, in the afternoons. Google calendar looks through my events and finds a good time to squeeze it in, which is very helpful. Once it’s on my calendar, I can rearrange if needed, but I am much more likely to keep the time sacred once it’s blocked out.

kari-shea-189168-unsplash

Trying three different coffee shops – I tried two coffee shops in March, and realized that I am not a fan of working at Starbucks, as the loud music doesn’t allow for the concentration I need when writing. I am currently researching independent coffee shops in Winston Salem for a blog post, so am making some good progress on this goal in April.

jessica-knowlden-588290-unsplash

Going to bed earlier and disconnecting from electronics by 8 PM – complete and utter fail! In the last five weeks, I have only been asleep before midnight 11 times, and asleep by 11:30 PM FIVE times! So I am really missing the boat on this one. I have done a bit better turning electronics off early, but it’s really more like 9 or 9:30 rather than 8 PM that they go off. I feel most energetic when I wake up between 8 and 8:30 am, so I’d like to be asleep by 11:30. I’d be very interested in hearing your tips on getting into good sleep patterns!

ayo-ogunseinde-493903-unsplash

Exercise – this is one goal where I’m doing great! My goal was 20 workouts in March, and I did 24. I checked off my “fresh air and sunshine” goal on 27 of the last 30 days as well, so I am rocking and rolling on the exercise front! My April and May goals are to do 20 workouts per month and one minute of planks five days each week. I find that when I do planks consistently, I feel stronger and it only takes a minute out of my day, so it’s a win-win.

brenda-godinez-373449-unsplash

Breakfast – you are my downfall! After my morning latte, I’m not usually hungry, so I forget to eat until lunchtime, which is often when I end up having my fruit smoothie. I keep reading about the importance of fueling your body in the morning, so might try prepping “smoothie bags” on Sunday to make it easier for my morning brain – I could just dump the contents into the blender, add almond milk, and voila – breakfast! I’ll likely add a column to my chart for eating SOMETHING in the am, even if it’s just a banana or a hard-boiled egg. Look for my May update to see how I do!

IMG_8807

Something fun – While I only did one full day outing in March (my overnight to Macon, Georgia), I did go to the opera with my husband, meet friends for lunch, schedule coffee dates, and have lots of exercise dates with friends, so am definitely feeling happy with this category. I’ve also read several good books lately and traveled for family events (two weddings in April) which has been fun. I’ve got some fun trips planned in the next few weeks as well, so watch for some new posts in my Wednesday Wanderings series! And let me know if you’d like to hear what I’ve been reading.

**I’d really love to hear your tips for better sleep and time management! Leave a comment below if you have any advice!**

48 Hours in Austin, Texas

IMG_9079

As they say in Texas, “Howdy”! This edition of Wednesday Wanderings is all about Austin, Texas! My nephew got married there recently, and my mother-in-law asked me to fly in a few days early and play “Tour Guide Barbie” for her and a friend.  They wanted to visit some tourist sights in Austin, and left it completely up to me to plan the itinerary.

Austin has so many amazing activities, it was really hard to narrow down my list, but I tried to think of what my mother-in-law and Sister Fran would enjoy the most. I also threw in a few things I wasn’t sure they would like, but which to me are quintessential Austin experiences (food trucks, tacos and street art). Luckily for me, they enjoyed every adventure I threw their way!

Here’s what we ended up doing…

Austin Ducks – I wanted to start with a Duck tour to give Mom and Sister Fran a good overview of the city, and see if they were intrigued by anything special that I could then add into the itinerary. We got distracted by Shipley Donuts on our drive down from Dallas, so missed the tour time I had targeted for Thursday afternoon. Rearranging on the fly, we decided to tour the Texas State Capitol instead, and made a reservation for the Duck tour on Friday morning. Duck tours use amphibious vehicles left over from World War II; we drove through historic old Austin, down Sixth Street, past the Texas State Capitol building, then splashed down into Lake Austin for a different view of the city. Our driver was hilarious, told tons of cheesy jokes, and even played some 50’s music during the tour (Mom was jamming to “Splish Splash” as we splashed down into the lake) and we had a great time. Some of those waterfront houses along Lake Austin are SPIFFY!!!

IMG_9033

Texas State Capitol – We did a couple of laps around the Capitol before finding the parking garage, so we saw it from several different angles as we approached (it used to be the tallest building in Austin, but is now surrounded by skyscrapers). Once we parked, we walked a block over to the Capitol and waited about ten minutes to join the free 30-minute guided tour (they do have a self-guided tour pamphlet if you don’t want to do a Guided Tour, but our guide pointed out a few things I missed on my own, so I recommend the guided version).

FullSizeRender 23

I particularly enjoyed the chandeliers in the Senate and House chambers (the lightbulbs spell out TEXAS) and the 130 year old elaborate door hinges. In the floor of the Rotunda, there is a huge mosaic depicting the seals of the six flags under which Texas has flown, which is beautiful. Portraits of every Texas governor hang in the Rotunda (each time a new governor is elected, they shuffle EVERY PORTRAIT to keep them in chronological order with the newly elected Governor’s portrait in the right spot!

IMG_8950 2

After the tour, we walked over to the Capitol Visitors Center, which has a gift shop and exhibits about the history of the Capitol, the XIT Ranch (Texas ingenuity at work…instead of paying for the Capitol building themselves, the Texas state government sold thousands of acres in West Texas to a group of businessmen from Chicago and used that money to build the Capitol), and a little bit of Texas history. Sister Fran was excited to see a small exhibit about O. Henry, as she is a big fan of his writing. We wandered the Capitol grounds, which are open to the public as a free city park, and enjoyed watching some big black birds put on a mating show for the females hanging about.

IMG_8985

For dinner that night, I took Sister Fran and Mom to a food truck area on Burnet Road, where several food trucks are parked, so they’d have lots of choices. It was their first time experiencing food trucks, and I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy the food truck scene, but they both LOVED the adventure! We ordered from three different food trucks and shared everything so we could taste a variety of foods. For dessert, we ate doughnuts from Gourdough’s -they were HUGE and so good! We tried the Dirty Berry and the Son of a Peach – both were delicious and we rolled back to our car when finished.

IMG_8996

Friday morning, we started with the Duck tour, then stood in a long line at Torchy’s Tacos for lunch. Torchy’s is a local chain which started as a food truck, and they have TONS of different kinds of tacos. The owner experimented a lot when he first opened, and whenever he heard a customer say “Those are da** good tacos”, he would add that experiment to the menu! Torchy’s now has locations in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, so if you get the chance, do go enjoy!

FullSizeRender 22

After lunch, we headed to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. There is an IMAX theater, an interactive film about the early days of Texas and tons of exhibits. My favorites were “The Texas Cowboy in Hollywood”, the clips of musicians who have played at Austin City Limits (from the beginning all the way to current times), and the replica of the facade of the Alamo after the famous 1836 battle. A particularly evocative touch were the artifacts embedded into the floor in front of the facade in the exact spots in which the originals were found after the battle in March 1836. They also have the original statue from the Capitol Dome.

FullSizeRender 24

After the museum closed, we made a beeline to the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery. It’s the only paint park of its kind in the entire USA, which over the last seven years has become a popular space for Street Artists and Muralists to showcase their large scale art. Unbeknownst to me, Sister Fran is a big fan of street art, so she took loads of photos! We were lucky to see several artists at work while we were there and had fun picking out our favorites from the layers of art.

FullSizeRender 26

**If you want to see the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in it’s original location at 11th and Baylor Streets, visit before June 2018, when it will be demolished. The gallery moves at the end of 2018 to a new location at Carson Creek Ranch, 30 minutes east of the city, where it will occupy a six acre site and offer art classes.**

FullSizeRender 25

Once we‘d had our fill of street art, we ran by the airport to grab some other family members, then headed to Hopdoddy Burger Bar for dinner, where we had amazing burgers and were impressed by the servers’ ability to layer multiple plates upon their arms and wind through the crowd without spilling! (If you’re getting the impression that we mostly ate our way through Austin, you’d be absolutely correct – the food there is SO GOOD!)

FullSizeRender 28

That’s how we spent our 48 hours in Austin – we had a blast! Mom and Sister Fran kept saying they felt like they were on vacation…I reminded them that they WERE on vacation. Personally, I am still waiting to see the world’s largest urban bat colony at Congress Avenue Bridge. It wasn’t the right time of year for the bats, so I’ll just have to go back – my brother and my godson both live in Austin so I have plenty of reasons to visit!

What are your favorite things to do in Austin?? I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!

  

24 hours in Macon, Georgia

IMG_8828

Spring has sprung in the South! April is one of my favorite months in the South; the spring-flowering trees are blooming and gorgeous flowers are everywhere, plus it’s generally sunny and warm while not yet hot. Last week I was feeling antsy and wanted to explore somewhere new. I read online that Macon has over 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees (more than Washington DC, the article said), so I took a spur of the moment trip and went chasing cherry blossoms!

I only had two days free, so chose to do a quick one nighter. It was a six hour drive each way, so I ended up with a little less than 24 hours in Macon. Driving on the back roads in Georgia led me through some quaint small towns, and it was peak azalea season, so it was a gorgeous drive.

**lesson learned: in the future, if I just go for one night, I’m going to keep my destination to somewhere within a four hour drive or less…I am not someone who loves getting up super early up, so I like a full day for sightseeing rather than having to leave by mid-afternoon to get home at a decent hour.**

IMG_8833

Beautiful cherry trees in historic downtown Macon!

Despite not having enough time (I’ll just have to go back with my husband for a weekend at some point), I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this charming southern city. I arrived in the early evening, and after checking in at my hotel, asked the front desk staff to recommend a local restaurant for dinner. They suggested either The Rookery or H&H Restaurant, depending on whether I wanted a burger or soul food. A burger and milkshake sounded delicious, so I chose The Rookery and requested an outside table so I could absorb the late evening sun and warm weather (it’s been an exceptionally late spring this year and we haven’t had many days warm enough to eat outside yet). Downtown Macon is a delight; it’s a compact, walkable area with pedestrian-friendly streets, some of which have small urban parks (with cherry trees!) stretching down the middle between the traffic lanes. Street musicians were playing, which added to the ambiance as I sat enjoying my “Georgia Peach” milkshake.  I ordered the Walden Greenback Burger, which was marked as one of their specialties, and it did not disappoint; the fried green tomato, bacon and goat cheese were superbly yummy. The fries were delicious and my server  kindly brought me a side of ranch for dipping (one thing I learned while living in Texas – in the South EVERYTHING can be dipped in ranch dressing)!!

FullSizeRender 16

The water in this fountain was pink for the Cherry Blossom festival!

After dinner, I walked around downtown for a few minutes, then headed back to the hotel, where the front desk staff had a copy of the Macon Visitor’s Guide waiting for me. They also suggested Amerson River Park for a morning run. I spent a little time organizing my itinerary for the next day then went to bed, with my alarm set for 8 AM, fully intending to get up and run.

IMG_8745

 The Ocmulgee River at Amerson River Park

Part of the fun of going away by myself is that I can choose how to spend my time and whether to keep to whatever schedule I have put together. Upon waking, I realized that my body did not need a run, rather it needed some yoga to work out the kinks from being in the car the day before. So I did a yoga video in the room then headed to Amerson River Park to look around, hoping I’d find some cherry trees. While there were no cherry trees, I did find a peaceful, stunning area with lots of walking paths, stone pavilions, and the Ocmulgee river. I played around with the timer on my iPhone camera (my first time using it…my photography skills definitely need work), and then just walked for a bit.

FullSizeRender 17

First time using the timer on my iPhone camera!

My next stop was the Ingleside area – the hotel staff had recommended this area for some shopping and the beautiful homes and gardens, so I headed there on my way back towards downtown (my hotel was a few miles outside of town along I-75). Ingleside is an area with smaller shops, which makes for a pleasant ramble, and there are indeed some beautiful gardens…I saw cherry trees, redbuds, and LOTS of azaleas! I drove around aimlessly for a bit, just enjoying the spring blooms, stopping in at one store to buy a cherry blossom wreath for my front door.

As I headed downtown, I drove through a neighborhood with some historic mansions, and pulled over to take some photos. As I turned back toward my car, I chanced upon a life-size Tardis! I went to get a closer look and realized that the Tardis was a Little Free Library – my kids and husband are huge Dr. Who fans, and we all love to read, so I snapped a pic and immediately sent it off to my family!

IMG_8807

I want one!

My plan for the rest of the day was to visit Hay House, stop in at St Joseph’s Catholic church, and take a bike ride on the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail along the Ocmulgee river. Alas, it was not to be…my timing was off just enough that I missed the 1 PM tour at Hay House, and I had to choose between doing the 2 PM tour or my planned bike ride along the river. So I headed to St Joseph’s, which was supposed to be open to visitors daily between 8:30-4, but all the doors were locked up tight (I’m guessing that the church was being prepped for Holy Thursday services that evening). I took some photos of the outside and then stopped for a quick bite at Spud Dog’s, a hot dog and baked potato place in the downtown historic district of Macon. Spud Dog’s is the quintessential small town kind of place where everyone who comes in is greeted by name with a warm smile and a brief chat before any ordering is done. After eating, I meandered over to Spring Street Landing, where my research indicated a Zagster bike share station was located. However, when I arrived, not a single bike was at the station! I’m not quite sure why they were all gone; only three other cars were in the parking lot, so it didn’t seem like they would all be out, but there certainly weren’t any bikes available! This was strike three for the day, so I decided to cut my losses and head home, with a quick stop at Ocmulgee National Monument on my way out.The mounds were built hundreds of years ago by the Mississippian Native Americans, and were built by hand, one bucket of dirt at a time. Erected on top of the mounds were temples and other important buildings, as well as the homes of the highest-ranking individuals in the village (chieftains and shamans, usually).

FullSizeRender 19

The empty bike sharing station – strike three!

Did I enjoy my trip? Absolutely! Will I go back again? Absolutely! However, I was a bit disappointed in the cherry trees. From the article I read stating there were more cherry trees than DC, I was expecting some sort of park or riverside esplanade with a large number of trees all in one place (similar to the Tidal Basin). I never found that kind of grouping, but still enjoyed the blooms I saw around the city!

**which, in all honesty, I could have done in Winston Salem without the six hour drive – we have tons of beautiful cherry trees as well! I was really looking for the Washington DC type of experience, which it was not**

Macon does have a big Cherry Blossom Festival every March, so it’d be fun to go back sometime during the Festival and see what I missed. I’m definitely going to go back with my husband at some point…there’s so much I didn’t get to see (the Allman Brothers Museum, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Tubman Museum, not to mention Hay House and St. Joseph’s).

Well that’s it for today’s Wednesday Wanderings! Have you ever been to Macon? What else did I miss? I hope you’re enjoying some pretty spring weather wherever you are, and as always, thank you for reading!!

Steps I take every day to stay healthy

wooden bridge yoga

What an ideal place to practice yoga! Photo by CATHY PHAM on Unsplash

A few years ago, after my mom died of cancer, I decided to make my efforts to stay healthy more intentional. I thought long and hard about the positive steps I need to take every day to be healthy, both mentally and physically, and have tweaked a few over the years.  I’m not sure anyone will be interested, but I thought I’d share them with you today, as I feel so much healthier and more energetic when I do these things consistently! I make a chart each week and tape it to my refrigerator so I can keep track and check each item off as I complete it. I tend to get distracted easily, so it really helps me to keep my chart where I can see it constantly.

**Of course, I’m not a doctor, so just because these steps seem to be working for me, please consult with your doctor before taking any supplements or making any other significant health changes!**

water with mint.jpg

Who says water has to be boring? Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

Drinking lots of water has so many benefits – it helps prevent UTI’s, benefits your circulatory system, hydrates your skin and body, AND I’ve noticed that I have fewer hot flashes when I drink 10-12 cups of water a day.  10-12 cups is a LOT of water….I try to drink 16 oz. before my morning coffee, and to finish most of it by dinner time so I’m not up all night trekking back and forth to the bathroom. I also jazz it up sometimes with mint, slices of fruit, etc. Strawberry/mint is one of my favorite combos!

blueberries

I can never get enough blueberries! Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Five to seven servings of fruits and veggies per day – I love fresh fruit, but have never been a big fan of veggies, so I’ve really struggled with this one. I don’t worry too much about how many servings of each; rather I lump them together and just try to make sure I include one or the other (or both!) at most meals.

Vitamins – I take a multivitamin plus other types of supplements, mostly ones that are recommended by my doctors (Vitamin D3, evening primrose oil for my eyes, black cohosh for hot flashes). I also take allergy and asthma medications. I parcel my vitamins out between breakfast and dinner, and check off on my chart to make sure I take them each day.

dog sleeping

I’ve been known to sleep like this! Photo by Lauren Kay on Unsplash

Sleep – Oh my gosh this one makes SUCH a difference! When I get a great night’s sleep, I feel like I can take on the world; I have lots of energy and I am more active and productive during the day. And yet it seems to be the goal that is the most elusive of them all. As I’ve mentioned before, I need a good eight to nine hours of sleep to function optimally.  I am not always good at making sure I turn my electronics off several hours before I go to bed, even though I realize this makes it much easier for my brain to quiet so I can sleep well. I stay away from caffeine after 1 PM, and generally try to go upstairs an hour before I want to be asleep, and after washing my face, I relax in bed with a good book to wind down. I also find that taking a few milligrams of melatonin helps, but if I take it too late at night, I’m sluggish the next morning, so timing is everything!

cycle route.jpg

Czech republic, here we come! Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Exercise – To feel my optimal best, I need to do some kind of activity during the day. I’m currently training for my next bike trip (cycling the Czech Republic in September with two friends) so my current routine includes at least one spin class each week. I also try to get in two barre classes (I love barre – it’s strength training but without the bear crawls, burpees, and mountain climbers that I hated in boot camp!) and I fill in the other days with walks in the fresh air and sunshine, some run/walk intervals, or an occasional yoga class.  As our bike trip gets closer, we will start doing some longer rides to get our bums used to being in the saddle for hours on end.

Strength Training and Flexibility – This is a recent tweak – I stopped doing boot camp about a year and a half ago, and recently noticed that my body just doesn’t move as well anymore.  I am so excited that I found barre as it nicely fits into this category.  I also include yoga here, and some days I just do a few minutes of strength training or stretching at home.  I shoot for two barre classes a week plus two-three at home sessions.  I’ve decided to try some “yoga for beginners” videos on YouTube – I tried Yoga with Adriene last week and loved her beginner video!

Headspace – Another recent addition; I use the Headspace app for meditation, and while some days I’m able to get into the groove better than others, I am really appreciating the sense of calm that pervades my days when I make the effort to include 5-10 minutes of mediation. I also find that I’m more able to identify when I’m feeling stressed  (I’m looking at you, New York State Real Estate that doesn’t set a closing date on a home purchase until a week before closing – what is up with that nonsense???) and work to release the stress so it doesn’t set off a ripple effect through my day. 

sunshine and yellow flowers

I love being outside on a sunny spring day! Photo by Crawford Ifland on Unsplash

Fresh Air and Sunshine – This category I added last fall, when the days were starting to shorten and we had a week of gray, yucky days. I was suffering from a case of the doldrums, then took a walk on the first nice day we experienced, and had an “AHA” moment! Fresh air and sunshine make a dramatic difference in my mood – even if I just sit on my front porch to read or meditate, my happiness level rises noticeably. One of the things I’ve become most appreciative of is the amount of sunshine we receive here in North Carolina…it’s truly a game changer for me!

What do you do every day to stay healthy?? I’d love to hear your tips!

 

My Travel Bucket List

Rome Pantheon

Pantheon in Rome – Photo by Evan Qu on Unsplash

Hello! I don’t know if everyone has a travel bucket list, but I definitely do. It seems the more I travel, the longer my list gets…does this happen to anyone else?  I meet other travelers, and they tell me about cool places they’ve visited, and wham, another place goes on my list! 

I thought I’d share mine today…I’d love to hear about yours as well!

Watch snow fall through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome – This one comes straight from the book Four Seasons in Rome, a travel memoir written by Anthony Doerr. As it only snows in Rome about once every four years, this one will be tricky to accomplish – I’d have to basically watch the weather forecast and then grab a last minute flight! Starting to save my pennies now…as it snowed in Rome last month, I should have a few years to save up. **Alas, I was woefully unprepared last month to take a last minute trip – you can bet I won’t miss that chance next time!**

Ride bikes along the Danube in Austria with my daughter – I did this trip two years ago, with two girlfriends, and I’m super excited to return and share the adventure with my daughter!  I took lots of notes about the towns I liked and didn’t like, so the second ride should be even better logistically, and I love spending one on one time with my girl.

jokulsarlon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Drive Iceland’s Ring Road with my husband and two sons – My daughter and I went to Iceland a few years ago, and I kept thinking how much my husband and sons would like it! I would love to go back with my men and explore even more of Iceland by driving the Ring Road all the way around the country.

Rent an apartment in Paris by myself for two weeks – I love Paris, I’ve been to Paris a few times, and want to go by myself next year. I want to explore at my own pace, on my own schedule, and sit in a cafe and read for six hours without worrying that my companion is bored. 

Take a summer road trip entirely planned around library book sales – my family and I are total book lovers.  We can spend days in used book stores. Last summer we were visiting our oldest son in Upstate New York and found a library used book sale. We happily spent a couple of hours browsing and went home with two boxes full of books. At some point on the drive home, we said “Wouldn’t it be fun to plan an entire road trip and just go from one library sale to another?” So one of these years, the Debrecht Family Library Book Sale Road Trip will happen – though I’m afraid we would have to rent a moving truck to haul our purchases home!

Explore Slovenia – It’s been on my list for years, but I haven’t made it yet! I keep seeing photos which make me long to go explore – I don’t think 2018 will be the year, but who knows!

Visit a Southern Living Idea House – every year, Southern Living magazine features their idea house. These houses always look so beautiful, and I’d love to actually visit one at some point. Maybe this year, since I live in the South right now?

Great Wall.jpg

See all those people? That’s what I want to avoid! Photo by Melissa on Unsplash

Hike an uncrowded section of the Great Wall of China – I’ve never been to Asia, but would love at some point to hike the wall where there are not ten million tourists all walking at the same time…surely, with thousands of miles of wall, I should be able to accomplish this, right?? There’s even one section lit up at night for a night hike!

Spend Christmas in Europe – I’d love to travel with my family to Europe for Christmas one year – wander the Christmas markets, enjoy ice skating and holiday decorations, and experience how other countries celebrate the holiday. I don’t have a particular destination in mind and would be happy to let my family choose! **Hubby, if you’re reading this, I think Christmas of 2019 would be perfect!**

Delicate Arch Utah.jpg

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah – Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

Visit the six states I haven’t seen – Courtesy of my 20 moves and love of travel, I’ve visited 44 of the 50 United States. I’m only missing Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Vermont (I know, Vermont’s the outlier here – somehow, despite the fact we lived in Connecticut for five years, we never made it to Vermont). At some point, I’ll make it to these six and will be able to say I’ve seen all 50 of our beautiful states! I still remember the huge argument I had with a Texan when I was in college…he said that Texas had the most interesting history of any state, and I argued that each state had its own unique story and that they were all fascinating. Can’t wait to explore the last six and learn their stories!

What places and experiences are on your travel bucket list??? Maybe I’ll add a few more to mine….

As always, thanks so much for reading and have a great weekend!

 

A Quick Life Update…and how I want to be remembered

quentin-rey-8846-unsplash

Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope you all had a lovely St Patrick’s Day weekend! My husband and I ended up driving to St Louis for his uncle’s funeral; it somehow seems fitting than an Irishman should be buried on St. Patrick’s Day, doesn’t it? I had a post almost completed on the steps I take every day to stay healthy (it will be up later this week), but then something the priest said during the homily turned my thoughts in a completely different direction. He said that Uncle Bill could be summed up in the following three statements: “He loved his family, he loved his country, and he loved God”. My brain started swirling…how do I want my life to be summed up after I’m gone? And does the way I live line up with how I want to be remembered?

After much thought, I’ve settled on four statements: I want to be remembered as someone who had a fierce love of family and friends; who was kind, caring and looked for the good in people; who had an adventurous spirit and loved exploring this big wide world; who loved her country with her whole heart and was dedicated to making it better.

Does the way I live line up with these goals?  It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day minutiae of life and forget about the big picture. We all have times when we barely manage to put one foot in front of the other to make it through the day. But I think it’s important to step back now and then to ensure that our daily actions are leading us toward our bigger goals and dreams. I love to get away for an entire day two or three times a year for just this purpose, but sometimes I just quietly spend an hour alone at a local coffee shop for a short refresher.

christiana-rivers-466086-unsplash

So here’s a quick update on the four areas and where I think I can be doing better…

Fierce love of family and friends – there is no doubt that I dearly love my family and friends, but I’m not always careful with my tone of voice, and I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been a bit grumpy with my husband. He is one of the most important people in my world, so he should get the best of me rather than the worst. I know that the people with whom we feel safest are the ones we dump on, because we are secure that they will love us anyway, but shouldn’t he deserve my best efforts to be caring? I am going to be more intentional about speaking kindly to this amazing man of mine.

Kind, caring and looking for the good in people – honestly, can’t we all use a bit of improvement here?? While I do think in general this describes me, I have to admit that 2017 was a challenge. I spent a lot of time angry at the current political climate and falling into the political divide of judging people who voted differently than I. But no more. Being judgmental benefits no one, and builds no bridges. Instead, I’m going to be curious, and look for the things we have in common. I’m going to look for good in everyone I meet, and more actively cultivate compassion and kindness, especially in the little everyday moments.

eddy-lackmann-57741-unsplashAn adventurous spirit and love of exploring this great big world – this has been a big focus lately, with the start up of this blog. Travel has always been my passion, and I’m having so much fun sharing my travels with you all! I’m based in North Carolina, so if there are any places in the South that you’d like to read about, let me know and I’ll happily explore and share what I find. North Carolina is beautiful in the spring, so I’m planning on searching out some botanical gardens for you, among other adventures. My outdoor training bike rides will be starting up soon as well, so you’ll probably see reviews of long distance bike trails in the Carolinas and Virginia – I have the Neuse River Greenway Trail and the New River Trail on my list for April!

Love of my country and dedication to making it better – As I previously stated, I spent much of 2017 angry. While I’m still angry at the current administration, I’ve decided to focus my efforts on making my community better and positive political action rather than just being angry all the time. So I’ve taken concrete action to make a difference in my community. I’ve started volunteering and I’ve committed to help get out the votes in my precinct. These actions are a better use of my time than just sitting around being angry, and have the power to make a difference in a positive direction.

So there’s my quick update! How often do you get away to reflect? Do you have any favorite places to go for a day or an overnight? As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great week!