A Day Out at Fontevraud Abbey (Wednesday Wanderings)

F Abbey in arch

When we went to France in August, we had one day to fill between our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport and our stay in the Dordogne region (to read about our stay in the Dordogne, click here and here). I had just read a fascinating trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, so we decided to spend our free day at The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

**Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres – reading about a place before visiting brings it to life for me. Anyone else out there feel the same? What are some of the best historical fiction books you’ve read recently?**

We only booked our flights about three weeks out, so didn’t have great transportation options. We ended up taking the RER B from the airport to the St Michel-Notre Dame stop in central Paris, then (after a brief visit to Notre Dame, which was nearly empty at 8 am on a Saturday morning) we rode Line 4 of the Paris Metro from St Michel to Gare Montparnasse, after which we took the TGV train from Gare Montparnasse to Poitiers. In Poitiers, we rented a car and drove to our Chateau B&B near the Abbey. It sounds harder than it actually was, but it was still a multi-step process that took a good chunk of our arrival day, so we were ready to relax when we got to our B&B!

**If we had booked farther ahead, we could have taken the TGV directly from the airport (Terminal 2) to Tours, which is much closer to the Abbey than Poitiers.  However, the TGV was sold out from CDG and I couldn’t find an available rental car in Tours; one of the pitfalls of booking last minute!**

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We arrived at Château de la Roche Martel in the late afternoon, and were given a brief tour then shown to our room. The historic property was built in the early 1400’s and has an addition from the 1600’s. It’s a historically quirky place and the owners, a Viscount and Viscountess, are careful to share that it is not a luxury hotel (no A/C; does have private bathrooms) but rather a privately owned chateau where they are delighted to welcome guests. I spent a relaxing couple of hours enjoying the garden on a chaise with a good book, and found myself wishing we had booked more than one night. Next time!

view from chateau b&BThe view from the garden at Château de la Roche Martel

Our hostess offered to make us a dinner reservation nearby, and she recommended the Restaurant Le Montsorelli  on the terrace at the Hotel Le Bussy.

chateau montsoreau 3Our view during dinner at Le Montsorelli

Watching the sun set over the Loire River, next to the Chateau Montsoreau, while dining in the garden of the restaurant, was the perfect beginning to our French adventure!

loire sunsetSunset over the beautiful Loire River

 At breakfast the next morning (the food was AMAZING, wish I had taken a photo), my husband, son and I shared a fascinating discussion of US politics with our hostess, a retired couple from New Zealand and a young couple from Moscow (one of the best parts of staying at a B&B is the fellow guests that we meet).  After breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.

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Founded in the 1100’s and now the largest remaining monastic city of the Middle Ages in Europe, Fontevraud housed, in four separate priories, monks, nuns, women who retreated here after the deaths of their husbands (as did Eleanor of Aquitaine), and a hospital for lepers, all overseen by an Abbess.

Pretty flowers and gate F Abbey

Originally in an area of France belonging to the King of England, the English royals were great benefactors of the Abbey (hence the distinction The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud). Eleanor of Aquitaine, a complex and strong woman way ahead of her time, struggled with the constraints placed on her because of her sex. She was the heir to Aquitaine, but as women were thought unfit to rule by themselves, she was married off at age 13 to the future King Louis VII of France. After 15 years of marriage during which she only gave birth to two daughters, King Louis annulled their marriage and she then married King Henry II of England, who was eleven years her junior.  She had eight children with Henry, including King John and Richard the Lionheart. After Henry died, she spent the last 20 years of her life at the Abbey, and is buried there with Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, as well as King John’s second wife, Isabella of Angouleme.

Eleanor of AquitaneEleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, King Henry II of England

After the French Revolution of 1789, the monastery was dissolved and the last Abbess was evicted in 1792. Napoleon turned it into a prison in 1804, in which capacity it served until 1963, when the French Government restored it, opening the Abbey to the public in 1975.

Cloisters 2 F Abbey

As we wandered the grounds and explored the buildings, it was easy to imagine the life of the nuns, going about their daily routines of work and prayer in silence. Did you know they went to EIGHT services a day?? The cloisters still exude peace and serenity, and the crowds were minimal, despite it being the height of tourist season. The Abbey hosts cultural performances, exhibits and events throughout the year, and also serves as a conference center with an onsite hotel, a restaurant and casual cafes.

Best Cloister Garden F Abbey

We finally had to drag ourselves away from this fascinating place…but will be back to explore more of the Loire Valley at some point!

 

A Day Out on the Glen Burney Trail (Wednesday Wanderings series)

Glen Burney Trail

Happy Wednesday! My husband and I spent today hiking in the North Carolina mountains with our dog.  I love having these midweek adventures with him; it will be one of the things I miss most when he goes back to work!

Perfect pose!My favorite hiking buddies!

We chose the Glen Burney Trail because it showcases several waterfalls and was only about a 90 minute drive from Winston Salem. An extra bonus is that the trailhead is located a block from Main St in downtown Blowing Rock, so it would be super easy to add in some shopping, strolling and eating to round out your day! We didn’t spend any time downtown today, but I’ve loved my meals at The Speckled Trout in the past. And if you really want to indulge, Westglow Resort and Spa is just a few miles outside of Blowing Rock; my husband gave me a day package there for Mother’s Day, and it’s incredible!

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But today we just hiked and enjoyed the gorgeous sunny fall day. The trail is an out and back 3 mile route, which goes downhill on the way out and then heads straight back up. I was definitely glad I had my trekking poles with me. It wasn’t super strenuous by any means, but the poles take some of the pressure off my knees when going down steep steps. We had to scramble a little bit crossing the stream, as the bridge is washed out, but some kind soul laid a plank in exactly the right spot to help us out!

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my recent post about being a “river through the forest” kind of girl, so today’s trail was just what I love – we meandered through the woods beside the stream and passed several beautiful waterfalls.

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Scooby enjoyed exploring as well and happily posed for multitudes of photos (be sure to check out the last photo – I caught him mid-shake and it’s hilarious!) So much fun to hike with this cutie!

Can I jump?Can I jump, Mom?

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mid shake!

What are some of your favorite hikes in the Boone/Blowing Rock area? Let me know in the comments below!

 

7 reasons why women need friendships with other women

amigas with bikesThe Three Amigas – my biking buddies!

Happy National Women’s Friendship Day! I’m so glad there is a day to celebrate the friendships of women, because these are some of the strongest, most important relationships in a woman’s life. In honor of my amazing, incredible girlfriends, here are seven reasons why women need friendships with other women…

Emotional Support – Women are wired for emotional relationships, and we communicate differently than men. Men want to fix things; they see a problem and immediately start thinking of solutions.  Women think with logic AND emotion – sometimes, I just want someone to understand how angry/sad/confused/frustrated I am feeling. If I say “Can you believe this just happened?!”, I’ll immediately get an understanding and sympathetic “AARGH!” right back. And sometimes that’s all I need.

Honest feedback  True friends act as a sounding board and help us figure out how to deal with troubling situations. If I’m tangled up with emotion, my girlfriends can help me clarify WHY I’m feeling the way I am, whether my actions in response to those emotions are reasonable, and which actions might make more sense. And when needed, they’ll just give me the brutal, honest truth, whether it’s “That was a crap thing to do” or “You’re being unrealistic in your expectations”!

women's marchShared experiences led these dear friends and I to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, Jan 2017

Shared life experiences  There are some things that men and women just experience differently, and sometimes we need to tell our story to someone who can understand every step of the way.  Feminine health issues, childbirth, working in a male-dominated field, sexual harassment/assault, or figuring out how to deal with the children and men in our life are just a few examples. To quote one of my dearest friends, “We love each other’s children as if they are our own, and gladly cheer when they triumph and support them and each other when they stumble”. Men can certainly support us and talk about these things with us, but our shared experiences with other women bind us together in a unique way.

Stress relief – Women are nurturers – it’s what we do. We make meals for friends with new babies, have coffee dates where we vent about our current worries, and organize each other’s linen closets (making sure they’re stocked with toilet paper) without being asked. When life is exceptionally crazy, my women friends help take the load off, whether by helping me decorate for a holiday party, pulling me out for a coffee break, talking through my list to help me prioritize, or reminding me to make time for exercise, nutrition and sleep. 

Rellies!Some of my favorite shopping buddies – my family!!!

Common interests – While men and women might share any number of interests, I don’t have many men in my life who honestly love spending a day shopping, chatting and enjoying coffee. I, however, love spending time this way! I like romantic comedies and dramas; my husband and children (both my sons and my daughter) prefer action adventures and westerns. I like to read different kinds of books and do different kinds of workouts than my husband does. I could travel 200 days a year and be quite happy; my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. My husband will do these things with me, of course, because he loves me; and I do the same for him. But doing the things I love with other women who are having JUST AS MUCH FUN adds an extra layer of richness to my life. 

IMG_5070My daughter will forever be my partner in fun!!

Fun, laughter and mental health – To quote a wise friend of mine; “Spending time with girlfriends, laughing and having fun, can be like a retreat and reinvigorate you and make you a better parent/wife/partner, etc”. Women need social connections and to feel part of a larger community; taking the time to be silly, have adventures and laugh with our tribe is a vitally important piece of life. When we do this, we are re-energized and can jump back into our daily life with enthusiasm and patience. 

amy and I keukenhoffThis woman has shared my life since the day I broke down crying from stress in grad school – so many memories we’ve created over the last 30 years!

Self esteem and empowerment – we women are hard on ourselves! We deal with self-doubt and insecurities on a daily basis. My friends help me see my strengths instead of my weaknesses. They will be the first to cheer when I do something amazing, without feeling jealous or competitive. I have learned to be more accepting and compassionate toward myself when I make a mistake, and to appreciate all the powerful things my body can do (bike 240 miles through Austria? Done!) rather than criticizing the things I can’t do (pull ups? no way – and that’s okay!). My women friends know exactly how to build me up when I need a boost, and how to encourage me to reach for a goal that I may think is unattainable. And let me tell you this; if you’re hanging around with women who like to tear each other down, you need to ditch those women and make some new friends – you deserve better!

**Thanks to all the women in my tribe, wherever you are! I treasure your friendship – you have added immeasurable joy to my life!**

Ten Tips for a Successful Visit with Your College Student

IMG_E4599.jpgVisiting my son in Rome was the highlight of his first semester in college (For me, at least!)

Well, it’s that time of year…college students are settling in for the fall semester and freshmen parents are missing their kids ever so much! I’ve sent three kids off, and love visiting my kids at school! I’m not an expert by any means, but over the years I’ve come up with a few tips to make visits with my children smoother and more enjoyable for all of us. I’m sharing them here in hopes that they might help some of you – if you have any of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

**All of these tips are college student approved by my three adult children**

# 1 – Timing is everything.

Schedule your visit during a time that is convenient for your student and keep it to 2-3 days. Visiting during exam week won’t be fun for anyone!  Schedule your visit a week or so AFTER exams, however, and your daughter will be caught up on her sleep and happy to see you! Keeping your visit short also avoids disrupting classes, studying, extracurriculars, etc.

**If your student is studying abroad, the expense is far too great to go just for a weekend, so my recommendation here would be to arrive on a weekend, spend a couple of days with your student, then sightsee on your own midweek, meeting up for another couple of days before you head home.**

#2 – Be prepared to spend some time on your own.

Your daughter will be thrilled to see you, but she won’t have unlimited time…studying, club activities, socials, rehearsals, and other commitments may interrupt your visit. Be flexible and willing to spend time on your own while she’s in class. I’ve enjoyed many a peaceful hour in the gliders on the campus of University of Miami with a good book! I also once took a Segway tour of South Beach while my daughter was in rehearsal.

UM GlidersI spent many happy hours in these gliders while my daughter was in class!

#3 – Always let your student be the one to decide whether to invite friends to join the fun.

Don’t invite their friends along without checking with your student in private first. Sometimes they just want to be with you, and other times they’ll want to introduce you to friends or a new love interest.

eastman Quad at UREastman Quad at University of Rochester

#4 – Ask them to show you around campus.

My kids always loved showing me where they had their classes, the dining hall, their dorm, etc. I enjoyed getting that mental picture of where they spent their days.

#5 – Get a hotel room big enough for your student to stay with you (but don’t be offended if he chooses to stay on campus).

Sometimes your son will want to get away from the dorms or his roommate and stay at the hotel with you to chill; other times it may just be more convenient for him to stay on campus. Don’t take it personally. 

#6 – If your visit is for longer than one night, consider renting a place with a kitchen so you can cook some of their favorite foods.

During my oldest son’s first semester, we visited for a long weekend and rented a nearby cabin. All he wanted that weekend was home-cooked meals after two months of dining hall food!

# 7 – Take her on a Target run to stock up on snacks and supplies.

This is self-explanatory, but especially welcome if your student doesn’t have easy access to Target or her favorite stores. You’ll also win points if you bring her favorite homemade goodies (make sure to bring enough to share with her friends)!

# 8 – Family pets are always a welcome surprise if it’s feasible to bring Fido along!

Seriously…we visited our younger son when he was studying abroad, hosted nine of his friends for dinner, and they ALL said the thing they missed most was their pet (and Chick Fil A)!!

IMG_2544.JPGWho wouldn’t miss this face?

Tip #9 – DO tell their friends what to call you.

College is a tricky time; do they call you by your first name or by “Mrs. So and So”?  Your daughter’s friends will be much more comfortable if you tell them what you’d like to be called. The easiest way I’ve found is to say “You can call me Deanna” when my daughter introduces me as her mom.

Tip #10 – Leave some free time in the schedule to sleep and just hang out.

College students are so busy that they often don’t have enough time to rest and recharge. Go out for dinner, but then go back to your hotel and watch movies together in your pajamas. Or sleep in and have coffee and bagels in the hotel rather than going out to breakfast. Unscheduled time is a luxury for college students!

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Bonus tip: DON’T sleep through scheduled activities! Yep, been there, done that – I forgot to account for the extra noise of the hotel A/C unit and didn’t have my alarm loud enough…slept right through a scheduled breakfast with my son and his friends *Gulp* !

What tips do you have for great visits?? I’d love to hear them!

**Thoughts on Family Weekend**

There’s no right or wrong here. Some families love going to Family Weekend; some families don’t. My kids wanted us to visit when the campus was less crowded, hotels were less expensive, restaurants had shorter waits and we had more free time together. Other families love going to the football games, meeting the department heads, and all the other social activities that are planned. Ask your student and then decide together – some families only go freshman year, some families go all four years and it’s a fun annual event for them!

A Day Out in Baltimore

water-3199668Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’m adding a new post to my Wednesday Wanderings series today. For Mother’s Day weekend back in May, I traveled to Baltimore to spend time with my sister, aunt and cousins. All of our mothers are gone, so we spent Friday and Saturday that weekend celebrating the fact that we had, and are, kick ass moms. We laughed, shopped, chatted, ate and just generally celebrated being together for the first time in over a year. On Sunday, I met up with my son and a family friend in downtown Baltimore for a day of exploring. It was such a fun day!

me and boysMe and the boys!

We started late morning at Miss Shirley’s Cafe at the Inner Harbor for brunch. They don’t take reservations, and of course everyone was eating out for Mother’s Day, so we were told it would be a 90-110 minute wait. No worries! We walked a block over to Barnes and Noble, where we spent a lovely hour and a half browsing (and buying) books. I’ve read that due to Amazon, brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble are in danger, so was happy to do my part to keep B&N alive 🙂 Once our wait was over, we headed back over to the cafe.

Miss Shirley’s focuses on southern food, and does it extremely well. Their menu is extensive, which makes it so very hard to choose. I debated between breakfast and lunch; cinnamon danish waffles were calling my name, but I decided to go with a cup of vegetable crab soup and the jumbo lump crab & corn grilled cheese sandwich. I figured I was in Maryland, so I should enjoy the chance to have crab while I could! I also tried a Shirley’s Crush – the Orange Crush is a Baltimore alcoholic specialty and Miss Shirley’s version was oh so yummy! The service was great and our food was delish; we longingly eyed the dessert menu before deciding that we were just too full to order anything else. If you’re in Baltimore, I highly recommend a stop here for breakfast, brunch or lunch (Miss Shirley’s is open 7am-3 pm). They have three locations, but the Inner Harbor location is handy for exploring the waterfront after you eat!

water-3279614Fells Point – Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Afterward, we drove down to Fells Point and walked around, poking into some of the shops and enjoying the waterfront views. Fells Point is an area along the harbor which was first settled in the 1760’s by William Fell, a Quaker, who built a store here. After the ship yard was established, the neighborhood expanded to include homes, stores, and bars. The Fells Point Ship Yard produced over 800 ships, including the Continental Navy’s first frigates and the speedy “Baltimore Clippers”  (Click here for more details). The area was home to seamen, sailmakers, merchants and sea captains. Now a residential area, there is an open air market along the waterfront that has been operating since 1786. It was also the setting for Annie’s house and the pier where she sits along the water in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Fells point

One of my favorite activities when traveling is to find hidden, quirky places and things to see.  I dug around on Atlas Obscura and found quite a few in the Fells Point area, so the boys indulged me. “It’s Mother’s Day; we’ll go anywhere you’d like” were their exact words; what great people they are! We found the Fell Family Cemetery, tucked between two townhouses at 1609 Shakespeare St; the “Vote Against Prohibition” ghost sign painted on the side of a building at the corner of Shakespeare and South Broadway; and the Shot Tower, where lead shot was made by dropping molten lead from a platform at the top, forming perfect spheres as it fell into a vat of cold water at the bottom. Built in 1828, the 234 foot high shot tower was the tallest building in the United States until the Washington Monument was completed after the Civil War (for more details, click here)

**Fun fact: Back in the 1910’s-1940’s, companies would pay building owners for the use of their walls, and hired roving street artists, called “wall dogs”, to paint advertising signs on the walls. Now they are fading so have become known as “ghost signs” – there is actually a book titled Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America**

Fell Family Cemetery

Fell family cemetery 2The Fell Family Cemetery, 1609 Shakespeare St.

IMG_9878 2“Vote Against Prohibition” Ghost sign

shot towerThe Baltimore Shot Tower

That morning, my husband sent me a text, saying, “Tomorrow is our bulk trash pickup; is it okay if I put our living room out?” Yes, indeed, he put the entire living room into the bulk trash…the rug, sofa, two chairs and ottoman included! After our much-loved sectional succumbed to the effects of boy and dog jumping on it, we had cobbled together an old sofa from my dad and a couple of garage sale/discount store finds as a temporary measure while we hunted for new stuff.  Our “temporary” solution lasted four years; my husband decided that putting it all out in the trash would force us to finally get our behinds in motion and buy a new couch. So the boys and I even did a little couch shopping at Su Casa Furniture, a fun and inviting furniture store.

**Three months later, we still don’t have living room furniture, but we have bought a new rug – baby steps!**

old couch with dogThe “temporary” couch – dog approved, but not terribly pretty!

fort-2498672Fort McHenry – take the water taxi out and enjoy the history!  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Inner Harbor at Baltimore is a great destination – there are shops, restaurants, free music performances, a huge Barnes and Noble for book lovers, the Baltimore Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fells Point, etc.  A water taxi takes you to various points around the harbor and out to Fort McHenry, bombed by the British during the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key wrote our Star Spangled Banner; he watched the bombardment from a ship in the harbor. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles baseball) and M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens football) are very close to the Inner Harbor as well. History, entertainment, good food, sports and shopping; all in all, a fun city in which to enjoy a weekend!

baseball-3363346Camden Yards – home of the Baltimore Orioles.  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As always, thanks so very much for reading and let me know if there are any places you’d like me to explore and write about!

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

48 Hours in Austin, Texas

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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!!!

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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**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.**

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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!)

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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

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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.**

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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)!!

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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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).

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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!!

48 Hours in New York City

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Happy Wednesday! Spring has sprung in North Carolina…the daffodils and Tulip Poplars are blooming! I’m planning to explore some botanical gardens over the next few weeks, so watch for garden posts coming soon.

For this week’s edition of Wednesday Wanderings, I’m sharing details of our recent trip to New York City to see Hamilton.  New York City is a place I love to visit; every time I spend time in the city, I find new adventures and hidden spots. This trip was just a couple of days…a quick birthday getaway! 

Lodging:  We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, on 8th Avenue between West 48th and West 49th.  While I don’t usually like to stay in the Times Square area (it’s way too crowded most of the year), the location was brilliant for this visit. The hotel is diagonally across the street from the 50th Street subway stop (C and E lines) so it was super easy to get from La Guardia airport to our hotel by public transport (full blog post on how to do this coming soon), and since we went to several shows, it was a super quick walk to all of the theaters! Eighth Avenue, while just one block away from the craziness of Times Square, is much quieter, and we heard very little street noise at night. As a bonus, I used my Hilton Honors points so it was completely free! Read this post to find out more about how I choose hotels in NYC.

Ate: Restaurants in New York run the gamut from $3 pizza slices to $200 dinners; if you are on a tight budget, you can eat just as easily as if you have no spending limit. We usually choose to spend our money on experiences rather than food (although a great meal can absolutely be an experience), so on a day to day basis we tend to eat on the cheaper side. We had breakfast the first day at the Times Square Diner and Grill right across from the hotel. The food was very good diner fare, and they currently have a deal with the Hilton for a 10% discount for hotel guests. The next day, we had breakfast at the Blue Dog Kitchen Bar. A nice step up from the diner, and the food was delicious. It’s a small place, so I highly recommend reservations!

Our two dinners were at Serafina and Hurley’s Saloon. Serafina is an Italian restaurant with several locations around Manhattan; they have an extensive menu and delicious wood-fired thin crust pizza. The location near us was in the Time Hotel on West 49th Street…we started with the bruschetta, which was oh so yummy, then ordered the “pizza for the table” – a big square pizza.  It was very good, but if you have your heart set on the super thin crust, order the individual pizza as the pizza for the table had a thicker crust.

Hurley’s Saloon is a historic pub on West 48th Street that was established in 1892.  It’s a beautiful, atmospheric dark wood place with a huge bar, three floors, a beer garden, and rooftop dining when the weather is nice. We ate in a private booth in the Library Room and really enjoyed our meal. They also have a prix-fixe pre-theater meal for anyone heading to the theater afterward. I’d love to go back in nice weather and enjoy the beer garden!

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I love NYC in the snow – but it was NOT beer garden weather!

Saw: Our first night, we went to the TKTS booth and got last minute tickets to Avenue Q, which is a hilarious, slightly raunchy show using puppets (NOT appropriate for kids)! We are a theater family – our daughter has a degree in Theater Arts (she is a Stage Manager) so she educated us about technical aspects of the show that added to our enjoyment. 

**TKTS booth tips – TKTS has a website as well as an app – both list the current day’s ticket availability. You can also look and see which shows have been at the booth recently. If you want to see a play rather than a musical, there is a dedicated “Play only” line which moves more quickly. Tickets tend to be more plentiful on weekdays, although many shows are dark (no shows) on Monday**

The next day was my birthday; I found a BOGOF deal for the Downton Abbey exhibit, so my daughter and I headed there after breakfast, while the boys went to the Natural History Museum. The exhibit was awesome…entire rooms from the set have been brought over from England along with costumes, etc. I loved it as I had seen the entire series; if you haven’t seen the show, however, there are TONS of spoilers as each character has a section with their storyline summarized. If you’ve already seen the show and are a fan, go see the exhibit (it’s in NYC through April 2); if you haven’t yet but want to watch without knowing what’s going to happen, don’t go!

Hamilton, of course was the highlight of the trip! I bought our tickets way back last spring when a new block of tickets went on sale, so we waited ten months for our show date.  I listened to the soundtrack endlessly prior to our trip, which really added to my enjoyment of the show. I LOVED the show and would gladly see it over and over again, but my husband was a little surprised by the lack of dialogue. Most of the dialogue is singing; if you’ve heard the soundtrack, you’ve heard all but a few lines of the show. We made a beeline to the stage door after the show and met Michael Luwoye, aka Alexander Hamilton. If you want to get on the email list, click here and submit your email at the bottom of the page to join the revolution! For tips on other ways to get Hamilton tickets, read this article.

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Meeting Michael Luwoye at the stage door!

We also visited the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. They currently have an evocative exhibit about the 60’s which is quite interesting! The exhibit runs through the beginning of September.

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Guess who was a benefactor of the New York Public Library – Alexander Hamilton!

Shopping: The ONLY shopping we did this trip was a quick stop at Book-Off on East 49th Street – we love used bookstores and grabbed a few books from the $1 section to supplement our trip reading. It’s a very well organized store with a large selection of DVD’s and games as well as books.

So that was our quick 48 hours in Manhattan – what are your favorite things to do in New York City??? 

A Day out in Raleigh

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Happy Thursday all – here’s another post in my Wednesday Wanderings series (it’s a day late…we can pretend it’s Wednesday today, right)? Despite the fact that I’ve lived in NC for five years now, I’ve never visited any of the museums in Raleigh. So yesterday my husband and I decided to take a day trip and explore the North Carolina Museum of History.

We dropped our dog at doggie day care for the day and headed to a new Panera that was opening nearby. The first 500 guests received a travel mug and free coffee for two weeks, so we grabbed a bagel and our mugs, caught up with a friend for a bit, then got on the road with our mugs full of coffee for the drive.

Of course, we needed lunch as soon as we got to Raleigh (does anyone else set out for a day trip and get to your destination just in time for lunch?), so we stopped at the Flying Biscuit Cafe to fuel up for an afternoon of history. Every review mentioned the biscuits, which are brought out to your table before the food, and they were indeed delicious! I had the California Dreamer (avocado toast) and my husband had the Shrimp and Grits. We also tried the pimiento cheese fritters. Deep fried pimiento cheese – only in the South!

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Everything was scrumptious, including the fresh berries that came with my meal, and after rolling back to our car, we headed to the museum.

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Entering the exhibit…it was sobering to realize that men lived for months in these trenches

I don’t know what kind of museum people you all are, but we are the kind that like to read almost everything, so we can spend hours in museums! We started out in the permanent exhibit “The Story of North Carolina” but soon realized we wouldn’t have enough time to cover the entire museum (we arrived about 2:30 and they closed at 5 PM) so decided to leave that for our next visit and moved on to the time-sensitive exhibits. I enjoyed a look at fashions from the 1700’s to the 1960’s, then wandered upstairs for the immersive “North Carolina and World War I” exhibit – a fascinating look at trench warfare and the role of American soldiers in WWI. This exhibit is at the museum through January 6, 2019, so if you’re in Raleigh this year, I highly recommend it!

To go along with this exhibit, they have an entire hallway hung with WWI posters covering everything from enlistment ads to home front efforts. 

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I am so in love with public libraries….this poster made my heart sing!

There were so many good exhibits at the museum!  I loved the exhibit “Picturing Nam: US Military Photography of the Vietnam War” as well – the photos from military photographers stationed in Vietnam are incredible and elicited so many emotions. One of my favorites was a photo of a military chaplain holding mass on a scrubby hillside for a few soldiers while another soldier stood guard.  This exhibit is only at the museum through March 18, 2018, so you’ll have to hurry if you want to catch it! I may make another trip back to Raleigh before it leaves, it was that good.

**Admission to the North Carolina Museum of History is completely free…they do have donation boxes scattered throughout in case you want to donate**

It was a great day out – good food, good company, and great history! Can you recommend any other museums in North Carolina that I should explore??