Upper Shirley Vineyards

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season.  Crisp mornings, warm sunny days, the changing colors of the leaves and that gorgeous golden glow of the sun that casts a beautiful spell everywhere as it sets.   Typically I make my annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway at this time.  But, this year, I was deep into my radiation treatments and driving that far seemed a touch daunting.  I still wanted to take a drive out into the country so my mother, Heather and I headed to Upper Shirley Vineyards last Sunday afternoon.  It was a gorgeous fall sunny day and along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea, we arrived at the Vineyards ready to indulge.

20171022_170751The building itself is impressive and as someone who is a lover of fine porches, I’m in awe!  It’s interesting that the design is definitely modern given its location in a very historic corridor amongst the plantations that line the James River.  I don’t know what the design concept was intended to be, but it sure feels like a breath of fresh air with its clean lines and relative simplicity.

The hostess informed us that there was an hour and a half wait for lunch but that there was wine being sold outside and they would call us when our table was ready.  We had all been here previously, so opted out of doing the wine tasting again.  It’s definitely worth doing though!  When we were last here, we were a party of 12 and occupied a huge table in the center of the room and ordered the tasting along with two servings of every appetizer.  It was divine and we had been looking forward to returning.

As instructed, we headed outside to sit by the river for a while.  We decided on a bottle of their excellent Viognier and found a spot under a tree.  It was an absolutely perfect day; clear sunny skies and about sixty-five degrees.  Having worked hard the day before, catering a wedding, we all just enjoyed relaxing outside.  There was great people-watching that day;  groups of friends, couples, all enjoying this lovely place.

We were surprised, not even half an hour later, to be called for our table.  Seated inside, we enjoyed excellent service by Chris, our waiter, who was happy to make some great recommendations.  I really like the wine here, but I REALLY like the food.  We opted for 5 appetizers and another bottle of Viognier.

First up were 6 of the plumpest fried oysters I’ve ever had.  Perfectly fried and served with a Collard Green & Sweet Potato Slaw with Virginia Ham & Smoked Tomato Aioli.  Simply divine.

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The next recommendation made was the Crispy Brussels & Pork Belly tossed in Sweet Chili Sauce with Japones Chilis.  It’s so funny how this often maligned vegetable has made such a comeback in the last few years.  Flash-fried and tossed in the sauce, these were ridiculously good!  I abandoned my plant based diet for the day and savored the way the Pork belly just took this dish to a new level with its saltiness complementing the sweetness of the sauce.

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At a winery, you have to have some cheese, right?  I’m not kidding when I say I was prepared to abandon the vegan lifestyle for the day….  Warm Brie with Apple Walnut Compote with Crostini provided a subtle and comforting addition to our table.  Lovely soft, fall flavor and well balanced with the crispness of the crostini.

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The three of us are lovers of French Fries, so when they involve truffle oil and Parmesan and Garlic Aioli…..we are ALL about it.  Decadency at its best and to hell with the calories.  Just best not to eat them every day!

20171022_184525So, with all this richness, we had to counteract with a fresh green salad.  And wow, it was the best I’ve had in a long, long time.  Beautifully fresh lettuces ever so lightly dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.  Exquisite.

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There was absolutely no room for dessert but we all marveled at the glorious food, the setting and our impulse decision to come out here on such a beautiful day.  We still had wine left so we headed outside once again to lay in the grass and relax, and enjoy the start of that warm glow of the autumn sun setting.  Thank you, Chef Bannister, for allowing us to slip into a lovely food coma, in such a lovely location.  And thank you to all those responsible for this gem just a short drive from the Tri-cities, Williamsburg and Richmond.  We will be back, a lot.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Love in New England

 

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I don’t really need an excuse to go to New England for a weekend, but a lovely wedding is the best kind.  Three weeks ago, I squeezed in my 10th radiation treatment before heading to RIC.  Thankfully I was feeling great!  I always get a thrill arriving at Richmond Airport to go somewhere, but when the destination is Boston, I’m particularly tickled.   Somehow I’ve always arrived there on a clear beautiful day regardless of the season and September 29th was no exception.  I was heading up for Steve’s cousin Tim’s wedding in Dover, NH.

My mother encouraged me to go, and kindly took over teenager and puppy duty for the weekend so that I could join Polly for all the festivities.  I caught the S&J bus service from Boston Airport to Dover, fantastic!  Polly picked me up, we checked in to the Hampton Inn and before we knew it we were invited to a fun dinner with the Nordahl clan.  I sat next to Yuri who had much in common with me and we had a great conversation.

 

Breakfast the next morning saw us reunited and newly acquainted with family and friends.  Whilst we should have rushed out to see the delights that I’m sure Dover has to offer, chilling in our room on a drizzly day was a lovely alternative.  Once primped and ready, we headed over to St. Joseph Catholic Church.  It’s always lovely to arrive at a wedding where you know you are getting ready to see a whole load of people you love and eagerly anticipate the nuptials of two of them.

Catherine and Tim are one of those couples that just fit.  Even the Priest affirmed this when he said that upon meeting them in preparation for marriage he knew it was for real because Tim wouldn’t stop looking at Catherine.  They are both in caring professions, he’s a Physical Therapist and she’s a School Psychologist.  Both are the sweetest, mildest-mannered people you could ever meet.

I don’t like to take photos during a wedding ceremony so there won’t be any in here, but I’ve seen some lovely ones!   Needless to say the bride was radiant, the groom was handsome and we were all thrilled to bits for their union.  I’ve been to many a wedding and worked many more than that and this was the real deal.

Transportation was provided from the hotels to the Reception and I couldn’t have been more thrilled that it was a yellow school bus!  A first for this Brit!  We wound our way through the New Hampshire countryside that was starting to show the telltale signs of Fall, before arriving at the lovely Lodge at Parker Mountain. Catherine’s uncles own the beautiful property in Strafford and, despite the overcast skies, it’s a stunningly gorgeous place.  A cabin overlooking a pond, between which a huge tent was pitched.  As it was a chilly day, guests were drawn to the inside, next to the roaring fire.  I believe this is typically rented out as an Airbnb, what a treat that would be!

 

With a bar stocking signature cocktails, beer and wine, the party got started!  A delicious array of hors d’oeuvres were laid out on the porch for us all to enjoy while watching the official photos being taken down by the pond.  The weather was overcast but the mood was most definitely sunny!  Also, let’s face it, the photos are usually better in this lighting too.  An important detail to add at this point is that the porch was decorated with strings of origami cranes, ONE THOUSAND of them!  Marie and Caitlin had painstakingly made them over a period of several months, a symbolic gift to Tim and Catherine for good fortune.

 

After the cocktail hour, we were ushered to the tent to find our assigned seating.  The wedding party was introduced to much applause and Tim and Catherine took their first dance.  Just lovely, followed by Catherine dancing with her father and Tim with his mother, Marie.  Justifiably proud and happy parents.

 

I particularly love this photo as it shows the joy we all felt!

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So while the focus is of course on the couple, we do have to talk about the food too, right?  They opted for the newly popular family style service of dinner.  Something I love!  No long lines for a buffet and no being confined to one set plate of food.  Instead, delicious platters and bowls of food that included all food groups and diets.  I’ve already talked about platters of food in this blog, but I’ll say it again: it promotes and celebrates the shared experience of enjoying food.  They chose well; sliced beef, chicken, a veggie pasta dish, roasted rosemary potatoes and haricots verts.  It’s always great when there’s wine on the table too!  Kudos to the excellent catering staff, diligently working out of a truck and a tent.  As someone who caters weddings, I know the challenges.

 

Tim’s best man, his brother Patrick, made a lovely speech before raising a toast to the newlyweds.  Heartfelt and loving from what I know is a close relationship.  And then it was time to dance!!  And yes, we did!  So much fun!  Here’s a selection of photos to show the rest of this lovely celebration:

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The school buses returned to pick us up in shifts and Polly and I took the second one.  We were given treat bags for the ride home; a freshly baked cookie, a bottle of water and an apple.  What a lovely touch and the perfect end to a most beautiful day!

So, did Polly and I party on upon our return to Dover?  Ummm…nope.  Went to bed!  Slept beautifully and then enjoyed a lively breakfast catching up with everyone the “morning after”.  It was great to chat and laugh and have one last chance to hear about how everyone’s lives were going.  I sat next to Caitlin and Cliff who had traveled from Nairobi for the wedding and our conversation ended up with an invitation for the boys and I to go and visit them and they offered to help book a safari….uh oh.  Don’t have to ask me twice to go pretty much anywhere!  But the thought of a safari with my boys next summer had me racing to look at fares and guide books.  Fingers crossed I’ll be blogging from our Kenyan adventure next August!

The one thing I always have to do when I go to New England is, of course, to eat lobster.  I had let Polly know that and on Sunday morning, asked her how far we were from York, Maine.  Less than 30 minutes!!  My request to pay a visit down memory lane was instantly granted and after saying our goodbyes, we took the back roads to York.  It was a perfect New England fall day and we wound our way through lovely countryside to the place that Polly and Ed used to call home and a place I had adopted as a favorite, chock full of memories.  I first met Ed and Polly there, Steve and I drove all night from Virginia when I was just 20 years old.  We had many Thanksgivings there, always taking a frigidly cold walk by the beach before indulging in pie.  Ed and Polly threw us an engagement party there.  We brought our boys up here pretty much every summer.  The last time I had visited, 3 years ago, we came up to let Ed and Polly know that we had reached what would turn out to be an insurmountable issue in our marriage, not a happy time.  However, on this day, with Ed surely looking down on us and smiling, we drove to all our favorite spots and had the most lovely day.  Time does, and can, heal.

 

Lunch just had to be at Chauncey Creek.  An absolute favorite.  My grandparents went there, many friends from Virginia were taken here.  My boys tried lobster for the first time in high chairs here. So here we were, just the two of us this time, enjoying a perfect sunny day, sipping wine and eating pound-and-a-quarter lobsters and steamers, whilst enjoying each other’s company.   Polly had been on the road for 5 months cross country and around Canada visiting National Parks, mostly by herself, processing her grief at the loss of her beloved Ed.  When describing the experience, she concluded that it had made her realize and believe that she “could do anything by herself”.  Music to my ears.  It’s a powerful thing to discover about yourself  and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.  It would have been easy for her to have stayed home and mourn, but she hit the road and 15,000 miles later, had stories and experiences that will propel her into this new chapter.  Pretty awesome.

 

We hated to leave but it was time for me to get myself to Boston Airport, using the shuttle once again, this time from Portsmouth.  What a beautiful weekend celebrating the start of marriage for a truly lovely couple, as well as a gorgeous trip down memory lane.

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Dutch & Company

I love to cook.  But what I really love, is to eat food prepared by people who have dedicated their lives to culinary artistry.  Cooking really is an art and when done well it’s the ultimate feast for ALL the senses.  I should also add that I really appreciate a man, or indeed anyone, who understands that about me and researches and makes reservations in advance, at a place they think I’d enjoy.  Andy did just that last night, picking Dutch & Company in Church Hill for a early dinner.  My first visit and definitely not my last.

While I sipped on a glass of Rose at our corner table by the window, I perused the menu and knew we were in for a treat.  When visiting a restaurant for the first time, I like to try and eat a variety of small plates so that I can get a feel for what the place does well and what style of food they are presenting.  I rarely eat meat now so I was happy to see a number of vegetarian and seafood options here.  We made our selections and so began our little culinary journey…

The presentation of the bread was a great start, delicious grainy wholewheat bread wrapped like a parcel in a linen napkin held together with a clothes peg.  Gorgeous!

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Next up were half a dozen Ruby Salts, already dressed with a dot of mignonette and a tiny slice of chive.  I love it when a chef is essentially telling you how to eat your oysters, as creatures of habit, people tend to eat them the same way each time.  Here, you are eating them in the way the kitchen wants you to experience them.  Briny, plump oysters with the slight sharpness of the dot of mignonette and a cool chive.  Just lovely.

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Our excellent server suggested enjoying the small plates two at a time.  She was right, the flavors might have been too overwhelming otherwise.  The Smoked Salmon Rillette was served with warm Salmon Skin Blinis and the saltiness of the fish was perfectly cut by the cool Chive Yoghurt served with it.

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I eat a lot of Almond butter these days so the next dish caught my attention right away.  Figs with Marcona Almond, Chili Threads, Lemon Curd, Smoked Almond Butter and Smoked Salt.  It was fascinating.  It was, in my opinion, essentially figs with a deconstructed Peanut Sauce.  I loved it and I particularly loved the presentation.  The chili threads were a beautiful touch in both taste and looks.

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Our next duo included what I believe is a signature dish here, “The Perfect Egg”.  Rye Crusted Cured Salmon, Herbs, Sprouted Quinoa, Braised Cabbage, Cumin Yogurt.  So much texture, color and flavor in one dish.  It was beautiful.  The egg was encased in breading which, when punctured, caused the yolk to pour out onto the plate.  They’re right, it is the perfect egg.

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Our other plate consisted of Fried Cauliflour with Chili Sauce, Cucumber, Sesame, Basil and Scallions.  Yet another lovely combination of color, texture and flavor.  I was delighted.

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I don’t always order dessert but this is the kind of place that you really have to, and I’m glad we did!  Chocolate Semifreddo with balsamic soaked blackberries, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Heavenly.  The richness didn’t come from the flavor of chocolate but more from the creamy texture and the addition of olive oil.  It was a spectacular marriage of flavors.

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This is not the kind of place for people who must have ice in their water, request endless substitutions or insist on food being prepared in a particular way.  It’s a place to challenge your tastebuds and enjoy a mini-adventure, throw caution to the wind and trust that you will be well fed.  Definitely my kind of place.

Next time I go, I’ll likely take others and enjoy their $29 three-course prix-fixe dinner.  It would be fun for everyone to order different dishes to allow more opportunity for tasting.  It looks like they have great craft cocktails too.  The decor has a very RVA vibe to it, being located in a historic neighborhood.  It’s comfortable, not pretentious but at the same time possesses a subtley high level of sophistication.    The service was flawless, as was every bite.  There is some serious artistry going on in that kitchen and I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy such a fabulous experience there.  I’m ready to go back anytime!

Quebec! Je me souviens

It was around Thanksgiving of 2015 that I looked at my calendar and realized that I wouldn’t have the boys from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day and that I also had the week off work.  Maybe I should take a trip somewhere, I asked myself.  By myself. Yes, that’s exactly what I needed to do.  It had been a really difficult year and why not end it in a fabulous way?

I decided that a bucket list trip was needed.  Quebec.  I could practice my French (I have a degree in it), eat fabulous food and enjoy the architecture and culture.  I booked a flight to Montreal, then a train to Quebec City and a flight back to Richmond.  Six days, on my own, in a place where I didn’t know a soul and I could wander the streets anonymously, with my camera in hand and no specific agenda.  In freezing cold weather.  I ordered a long thick coat from Land’s End.

I was a little nervous when it came to leave for the airport but little did I know that I was about to embark on a magical 6 days of discovery.  After touching down in Montreal, I got a taxi to my hotel which was tucked behind the Notre Dame Basilica.  The Hotel Saint-Sulpice is located in Old Montreal.  Despite the historic location, the interior is modern, the rooms accented with pops of red amongst the predominantly black and brown decor.  After getting settled, I decided to venture out into the cold and take a walk.  It was late but I didn’t care.  I rounded a corner and there stood the Basilica which momentarily took my breath away, little did I know that the interior would have me in tears the next day.

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It was a Sunday the next day and I decided to attend Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica.  I joined the crowds of regular worshippers as well as fellow tourists and entered what has to be one of the most beautiful buildings that I have ever seen.  I was born and raised in the Catholic faith but lost my way as a teenager and never quite found my way back to it.  However, the Cathedrals, churches and rituals never fail to draw me in and bring me peace.  Mass was said in French, with a brief welcome in English from the Bishop.  There was a full choir with the organ and I was moved to tears.  The indescribable beauty, the sound of the music, the haven of warmth from the frigid outdoors, the feeling of being somewhere so very safe….I’ll always carry that from this experience.

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Thoroughly moved by my experience here, I left the rich warmth for the frigid grey outdoors and made my way to Restaurant Holder for a classic Bistro brunch of Eggs Benedict and a Kir Royale.  Perfect.  The afternoon was spent exploring Old Montreal, admiring the buildings, people-watching, and eventually finding myself in another place of worship, the Chappelle Notre Dame de Bonsecours, also known as the Sailors’ Church, a gorgeous church right by the river.

Without a doubt, one of the goals of this trip was to learn to happily be alone, to enjoy my own company and be comfortable with that.  As a lover of food, that meant learning to walk into a restaurant and asking for a table for one.  It’s not easy when you start out but now I have no problem with it.  That evening, I just decided to go for it.  I didn’t just go into a casual restaurant, I booked a six-course tasting dinner at the highly rated Bonaparte in Old Montreal.  I was pretty nervous as it was quite posh and I was to be the only solo diner there.  However, they put me at a lovely table beside a wall with a view of the window overlooking the street.  It’s astonishing to me that I have no pictures of that evening nor can I remember what exactly I ate.  But boy do I remember how I felt.  I knew that the waiter had warmed to me when he found out I wanted the full hit of courses and asked him to pick wines to go with them.  I had swiped the pad of paper from my hotel room along with a pen and wrote notes, not about the food, but about future plans, goals for my boys, catering ideas…I think everyone there thought I was a restaurant critic because I received the best service ever!  The delicious wine and food relaxed me and I found myself lost in my own thoughts and pleasure, pretty much oblivious to the surrounding diners.  Mission accomplished.

On a daily basis, I posted pictures on Facebook and got such great feedback that it really helped push myself out of my comfort zone.  My people needed stories!  They had signed up for the experience and each morning, it helped me to get out of bed and go in search of adventure so that I’d have something to report at the end of the day.  This particular day was frigidly cold and I walked to the Plateau Mont-Royal, the famous park overlooking the city.  I have never been so cold but also have never needed such a long walk, “miles and miles of therapy” I believe my friend Tina commented.  The walk took me through the more business part of the city and once again, I found myself ducking into a Cathedral nestled amongst the modern buildings, this time the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, a smaller version of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

It’s a steep walk up Mont-Royale and particularly tough in such cold temperatures and ice.  The steps to the viewing area were cordoned off due to the ice but most people decided to ignore that and take them anyway.  Being by myself, I decided to not risk falling and literally take the road less travelled.  And I’m glad I did.  The road gently wound up and around and I was able to take in lovely views with no crowds.  By the time I reached the top, I was absolutely freezing but the view and sense of accomplishment was worth it.

I walked about 10 miles that day and didn’t eat until 4, I remember collapsing into a small Bistro, ordering Lamb Shank and red wine and devouring it like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.  What a day, one I’ll never forget.

A snowstorm hit that night and I woke up to a very white Montreal.  It was the day I was catching a train to Quebec City, but unlike other places in the world, the train left right on time!

For only about $40 more than Coach, I treated myself to a Business Class ticket.  A great value.  While we hurtled through the Province, I was served drinks from the bar and a hot lunch by the most charming staff you can imagine.  The Canadians really are lovely.  There was a full blown blizzard going on outside but the warmth and camaraderie inside the train served as a lovely contrast.  A delightful way to spend three or four hours.

Arriving in Quebec City was almost comical.  Almost.  The blizzard conditions were such that the snow and wind were pounding me horizontally as I left the station.  I couldn’t see beyond about 2 ft.  My hotel was just 500 ft from the station but I went in the wrong direction at first.  It was one of those “what the f$&@ was I thinking?!” moments but I eventually made it to the lovely Hotel des Coutellier where the receptionist happily didn’t laugh at my completely disheveled appearance.  I checked in to my delightful room and congratulated myself on not only making it there but also having booked a bar seat in the restaurant, Legende, attached to the hotel.  Upon entering the restaurant, my best French came out all of a sudden, finally!  The Maitre D’ replied to me so fast that I lost it immediately and he switched to English saying, “Oh, I thought you were French”.  I could have kissed him.

I was led to my spot at the bar, seated between a lovely Midwestern American couple and a charming young couple from Montreal.  They immediately started chatting with me and making recommendations.  The bartender was a total foodie, in fact I was surrounded by people who were all about the menu.  Paradise!  I proceeded to have one of the best culinary experiences of my life:  Oysters and champagne, a Smoked Artic Char Brussels Caesar then Bison.  I finished off with the strangest dessert; a parsley and cilantro sorbet with meringue, herb cake and maple cream.  It worked.

I slept well that night and woke up to my continental breakfast hanging in a bag on the door handle.  I opted to spend my mornings leisurely, usually ready for a late morning walk, a search for lunch, then happily meandering through this lovely walled city.  Montreal was fabulous, but Quebec City stole my heart.  There was something about the unploughed narrow streets, the Christmas lights, the little shops and restaurants.  I loved all of it!  Of course, you can’t forget the imposing presence of the Chateau Frontenac.  I will stay there one day, I really will.

The contrast between the grey and white outside with the rich colors and warmth inside, did not escape me.  I loved it, in fact.  The colors and textures in the food and inside churches and shops were so rich and made for even more of a sensory experience.  I took a food tour one day that was so much fun.  I tasted cheese at the Chateau Frontenac, sampled chocolate at La Fudgerie, toasted marshmallows on a patio and visited the big indoor market near my hotel.

At night, the city became even more magical with the snow and the lights.  I would eat out early so as to not to have to walk back to the hotel by myself late at night.  A particularly memorable dinner was at a restaurant close to the hotel, I forget the name of it, but I had a blind tasting menu.  It was fabulous!

New Year’s Eve was my last full day.  I had read about a restaurant called Le Clocher Penche in an neighborhood that was more local than touristy.  They served brunch that day and it was absolutely worth the half hour trudge through the snow to get there.  My Eggs Benedict with the twist of Duck Rillettes and a Blueberry Sauce was a culinary masterpiece.  Topped with the freshest greens imaginable, I was in heaven.

IMG_0032After the countless calories I had consumed, a hearty walk to the Musee des Beaux Arts was much needed.  On the map it was a straight shot.  In reality, it was a steep climb which resulted in my scariest experience of the trip.  Climbing a seemingly endless flight of steps.  I hate heights and I detest steep steps.  But, this trip was all about conquering fear so up I went.  Heart pounding, knees shaking, I froze half way up but ultimately kept going.  The relief at reaching the top of this ascent of terror, was overwhelming.  When I looked back down, I felt pretty proud of myself.

Whilst I can’t claim to be an art expert, I love and appreciate it in my own way.  I spent a blissful couple of hours at the museum.  When I came across two paintings side by side, one red and one white, I sighed.  I’ve just never taken the time to understand it.  Then I read the description and lo and behold, I had a revelation.  It wasn’t just a canvas with some white paint slapped on it…. moving closer to the painting I saw different shades, varying textures.  Wow.  Now I get it, albeit in my own special way.

When I left the museum, it was dark outside and time to trek back “home”, with dinner on the way there.  I passed by a street near the museum that has carried the artwork outside, in the form of giant lanterns.  Such a great idea that brought a wonderful character to the street.

My journey back took me through where all the festivities would occur for the countdown to midnight and the New Year.  I loved seeing all the lights, the outside ice bars being set up, the Ferris Wheel in the Centre, all so festive.  One thing I knew for sure was that I would be tucked up in bed by midnight!

I stopped off at Le Cochon Dingue for a Steak Frites dinner which was just what I wanted.  I also enjoyed the lovely views in around the Chateau.  I vowed I’d be back to this lovely city and couldn’t believe it was almost time to go home.  When I got back to the hotel, I popped open a bottle of Québécois bubbly and watched the festivities on the television.

After 6 days of grey, I woke up to sunshine on New Year’s Day.  I like to think it was symbolic of a new era.

I wanted to both end this trip and start 2016 with a bang.  My flight home didn’t leave until late afternoon so I made a reservation for one at Le Bistro Sam at the Chateau Frontenac, for a very long lunch.  Pure pleasure.  I ordered one of their cocktails, an amazing apple martini, that had steam coming from it!  Gorgeous presentation and a hefty price tag.  I ordered the cheese and charcuterie board which consisted of local cheeses and house cured meats.  For the next couple of hours I just picked away at this plethora of goodness, soaking in the luxurious atmosphere and rejoicing in the memories of a most fabulous week.

It’s been interesting writing this piece over 18 months later as life is quite different now, in a good way.  I will always remember this trip as being a springboard to my new, more independent life.  I would be fine by myself.  I enjoyed the time alone.  I planned this trip only 5 weeks before I took it and I loved every second.  Traveling solo is eye opening.  I think it heightens your senses and liberates you to soak in the experience catering for you, and you alone.  You get to create and enjoy an experience that is wholly yours.  Is it better to have someone by your side saying “hey, look at that”?  Sure.  That’s nice too.  But, I’d travel by myself again anytime.  And as for Quebec?  I’d go back in a heartbeat.

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Weekend in Wintergreen

I have had the fortune to have traveled to many countries all over the world and have seen a multitude of stunningly beautiful places.  But, few have captured my heart quite like the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  After a week that involved surgery recovery, often a bit of a blur thanks to painkillers, a weekend in the mountains was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s one of my happy places, for sure, and the closer I get to them, the calmer I am.  I took this photo on my phone near Charlottesville, the first glimpse of the mountains was accompanied by the sunset….just lovely.

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Before heading up the mountain to Wintergreen, Andy and I stopped in Charlottesville for dinner at Bella’s, a delightful Italian restaurant downtown.  A Limoncello Martini seemed like a great way to start and then it didn’t take long to decide on Gorgonzola Grilled Salad (grilled romaine hearts topped with Gorgonzola dressing, tomatoes, pancetta and scallions with a balsamic drizzle) and Arancini (fresh mozzarella stuffed inside lemon risotto, breaded and fried).  We followed this with Zuppa Di Pesce, a mound of fettuccine with fennel scented tomato sauce with all kinds of seafood.  Heavenly.  I clearly decided to eschew my newly adopted mostly plant-based diet, just for the weekend.  Every bite was fabulous and I loved the setting, exposed brick in a likely 19th century building.  It’s clearly a popular place and you can tell the staff enjoy it as much as the customers.

With a Tiramisu “to go”, we headed up the mountain to the condo that had very kindly been lent to us for the weekend.  Sitting on the deck in about 65 degrees under a clear starry sky was just perfect and a much needed respite from the almost triple digit temperatures back in Petersburg.

I woke up early the next morning, it’s a bit of a struggle to sleep comfortably as I’m still sore from the surgery.  I was rewarded with seeing the latter part of the sunrise over the mountains.  A spectacular sight given the amazing vantage point from the deck.  It was so quiet and apparently the only living things up this early were me, and a groundhog having its breakfast.  I think living in an urban area intensifies my appreciation of beautiful rural spaces.

First up on the schedule was Wimbledon, of course.  No way I’m missing the finals!  Afterwards, a decision was made to go to Devils Grill, the Golf clubhouse restaurant that has a gorgeous porch overlooking the 18th hole where we scored a great corner table with an uninterrupted view.  We watched as deer and golfers enjoyed the stunning course while we ate a delightful lunch of Salmon Sliders and a Lamb Meatball Naan with Tsatsiki.  Yum.  To be able to sit on a porch in July in Virginia, with a cool breeze and the absence of bugs, was a veritable treat.  I could have sat there all afternoon!

Just to prepare for the unlikely chance I might win the lottery one day and be able to buy a second home here, we stopped by an Open House and then the Realty office.  I represent the opposite of the average Wintergreen homeowner as I’d want to be there anytime other than the ski season.  The Open House was a fully refurbished 3 bedroom condo with SPECTACULAR views but for some bizarre reason they only built a tiny deck which would barely fit two bistro chairs.  Simply not good enough for this porch lover.  And neither was the $360,000 listing price.  But a girl can dream, right?

I hadn’t been to Afton Mountain Vineyard in almost 20 years and wow has it changed since then!  I remember a small tasting room with a selection of cheeses and snacks in a refrigerator that could be enjoyed outside with a glass or bottle of their wine.  The basic concept is still there but it’s all grown up now.  A “terrace room” provides a weather resistant tasting space, and I presume a private event venue.  A lovely porch surrounds the actual tasting room with lots of seating.  We were greeted at the door and informed there was a wait for our tasting.  The offerings were quite lovely and being a fairly hot day, we picked the crisp and delicious Rose to take outside.  Here we were entertained by two women, a few glasses in, gossiping about the antics of their friends.  Then, a bachelorette party arrived and the delightful civility of the setting was momentarily and hilariously interrupted by the bride and her very enthusiastic group of bridesmaids.  It would be a fair guess to say that they were probably on about their fifth vineyard of the day. One of them was practically begging for someone to ask her to take her top off…..  Despite the distractions, the setting is lovely and surely there are few better ways to spend an afternoon?

Bold Rock Cider was on our way “home” and what an impressive place it is!  And clearly very popular especially with younger folks.  I was a cider drinker back in the day in England so it’s great to see this delicious drink being taken a lot more seriously over here now.  We took the free tasting of two of their signature ciders and then purchased their 4 cider flight.  We carried our little trays outside onto the deck  and sipped on some seriously good cider.  A great visit to an impressive place.

We decided to have dinner up at The Copper Mine, the main restaurant at The Mountain Inn up at Wintergreen.  No culinary boundaries were smashed through and the service was a little painful but we really did enjoy the food, opting for a flatbread, great honey balsalmic chicken wings, asparagus, a gorgeous watermelon and feta salad and shrimp cocktail.  Tapas style, always a favorite way to eat.

I didn’t quite wake up early enough for the full sunrise again on Sunday but almost did… it was stunning regardless.  I love the peace that emanates from the view, the silence except for birdsong, and the endless waves of shades of blue.  Just beautiful.

Another lazy morning included watching Federer make Wimbledon history by claiming yet another title, he’s amazing!  Watching him play is like poetry in motion. Unfortunately it was time to leave this lovely place so we packed up and drove to one more stop before heading back home.  Veritas Winery is a favorite, not only is their wine great, but they also have a gourmet snack bar now.  So, we enjoyed a Goat  Cheese and Fig Panini and a Pear and Arugula Salad along with their Sauvignon Blanc whilst sitting on the large covered porch overlooking the Vineyard.

It was a perfect end to a fabulous weekend.  The goal having been to relax, recuperate and enjoy this gorgeous area.  The fact that I felt thoroughly peaceful and pampered, was the icing on the cake.

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Portrait of a Lumpectomy

I can highly recommend going on vacation just before a surgery.  Just four days after returning from one of the most relaxing weeks ever, I did just that.  Of course, I felt a tad stupid going in for cancer surgery with a serious tan….but I really did inherit my father’s dark complexion….and I do tan very easily….excuses, excuses.  My mother and Heather showed up at my door at 8:30am on Friday, 7th July and I certainly appreciated the civility of the time that I had to show up despite the fact that I was starving and oh so thirsty especially as it was about a gazillion degrees that day.  Chin up, buttercup.  Time to get this tumor out.

It’s quite the rollercoaster getting diagnosed with cancer although I’ve now definitely got used to the idea and quickly realized that it wasn’t necessarily a death sentence.  I’ve heard from so many people with similar, very encouraging stories, with great outcomes.  I’ve also noticed that on my Facebook newsfeed, I’m inundated now with cancer center ads and articles about the subject.  There’s so much research and new findings that you can’t help but question how you should be treating it.  There’s talk of freezing out tumors like mine, or even leaving them alone.  When I was in my serious 48 hour period of perhaps believing I should go a more holistic route, I was snapped out of it by sister-in-law Heather who said “get it out and treat it conventionally and THEN start your plant-based diet and more healthy lifestyle”.  My longtime best friend Alex, a doctor in England, agreed.  As did a Surgeon friend of my brother’s who has also had breast cancer.  I think it’s healthy to question it all and there are doubtless many merits to all of it.  I just decided to go ahead with convention and then sharpen up my lifestyle big time.

We arrived at the Surgery Center at Johnston Willis, early.  There’s a nice big airy waiting room where the seating is arranged in groupings so that families and friends can wait comfortably.  My mother and Heather settled in at a table by a big window, equipped with iPads and magazines, ready for a several hours-long wait.  They have a shared love/addiction/fascination with The Daily Mail app (oops, they may kill me for revealing that…) so I hoped there would be plenty of celebrity gossip to keep them entertained!  A nice tea/coffee volunteer came by, saw my wristband and lamented the fact that she couldn’t serve me.  I would have given anything for a nice cuppa….but I was soon called back by a very nice nurse and my vitals were taken.  I had come in two days beforehand for pre-admission testing so didn’t need much done initially.

My next stop was the Nuclear Medicine department….yikes, that sounds really intimidating, doesn’t it?  I was accompanied there by a hospital volunteer who was a delightful retired elementary school teacher.  I asked her why she did this and she told me that she had spent 18 months at home after retiring before deciding to volunteer, and had now been doing so for 6 years.  She enjoys helping out and meeting people.  I’ve always been a little fascinated by hospital volunteers and think it’s pretty darn awesome that people choose to do it.  There’s something quite charming and calming about being taken care of by someone who has chosen to be there rather than being paid to be there.  The waiting room in this particular department was small and overseen by another volunteer who fascinated me.  He sat at his little desk with his Reader’s Digest in the corner, but meticulously dealt with and organized my file.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he did as a career and wished I had asked him.  When the tea and coffee volunteer lady came by, I could swear that she was flirting with him.  Love it.  My companions in this very small waiting room consisted of a man who looked like he had just stepped out of Margaritaville, obviously waiting for his wife, but passing the time talking to another patient about fishing.  On my row, there was a man whose skin was yellow and when called back, it was agonizing to watch him try and get up and shuffle back there.  Right next to me, was a man with such a pronounced stoop who was taking a snooze while holding on to his wife’s wheelchair, who was also doubled over.  They both had to be in their late eighties or nineties. While they both looked like they could be patients, she was the one on this day and despite being faced away from him she instinctively knew he was asleep.  “Jimmy, stay awake until I’m done, please”, he immediately stirred and responded “yes, yes, of course I will”.  For the few minutes that I was there, I couldn’t help but feel completely humbled by them.  They were once young, healthy, vibrant people but yet in their latter and clearly toughest health years, remain utterly devoted to one another.  I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, I truly find it heartening.  When it was time for me to be called back, I was there for just minutes.  The first of many needles that day was poked into me, this one injecting blue dye into the side of my breast.  Ouch.

I had to find Mammography myself,  it wasn’t difficult and it was kind of nice to have a bit of freedom and a walk for a few minutes.  I was ushered straight in and given one of the lovely soft gowns to change into and then waited my turn.  I was distinct in the fact that I had no make-up on, everyone else was there for a regular Mammogram, just as I had been just a few short weeks ago.  An HGTV program was on the TV, about a couple trying to decide on their second home in the Caribbean.  My heart bleeds…. they had a budget of $650,000.  I both reveled in the fantasy and abhorred the first world problems of a pool feeling a “little crowded by the walls around it”, while sitting waiting to deal with this annoying disease.

They warned me it wouldn’t exactly be pleasant.  But it wasn’t as bad as the original biopsy.  This time they injected a metal wire into my breast, down to the tumor which already had a marker from the biopsy.  They tried to do it from the side, but it just wasn’t working.  My tumor was really deep and far back.  So they went from above, I should also mention that my boob was squished into that bloody contraption again.  “Wow, what a great patient you are”, said the Radiologist.  “Yes, she’s great” said the technicians.  “Definitely wouldn’t have found this without a Mammogram, would I?” I replied. “It would have taken a few years before it was big enough to feel, most likely”, they responded.  I did see the original Nurse Navigator in the distance at one point who gave me a thumbs up and asked if I was ready to get it done.  “YESSS….I am”!!!

With the wire finally inserted, my transportation changed to a wheelchair with warm towels and a trip to my pre-surgery room.  The anesthesiologist met with me and then a series of three nurses attempted to insert the IV needle in me.  I think this was the most stressful part of the day.  As someone who takes blood thinners all the time, and who has had three DVTs, I take my blood management seriously!  The first attempt resulted in hitting a valve, the second, something that caused blood to spurt all over the floor (sorry!) and then a warning to my posse, at this point, Cherry, Heather and Cindy, that if anyone was going to faint, we didn’t need any trips to the Neurology Department today…. The third nurse was the winner and finally I was ready.

During all of this, we were informed that Dr. Cox was running late, luckily enough, at which point Cindy started to worry that she wouldn’t have had time to eat lunch which wasn’t good if she was going to perform surgery!  When Dr. Cox arrived at around 1:00, Cindy, never one to hold back, asked if she had eaten lunch because it was important to do so before operating on me.  “Um, I had breakfast?” she responded.  Cindy replied, “Well I have a granola bar in my purse if you need a snack”.  I love me some Cindy.  Dr. Cox explained what was going to happen and put us at ease, then told us she was going to get changed and get started, gesturing to Cindy that she would eat something too.

When the anesthesia nurse arrived, we joked that a glass of wine would do, and she let me know that she was about to give me a double pour of a top shelf Cabernet that I would feel instantly.  A quick farewell to my posse was followed by my feeling the hit before I had even fully been wheeled out of the room.  “Whoa!!!!” I loudly exclaimed.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel awesome.  I remember reaching the operating theater and moving onto the table and that’s it.

I came to, in the recovery area, drugged up to the nines.  It was 3:10 and I was so thirsty.  Thankfully I was eventually offered a ginger ale which tasted like the best drink ever.  When I was considered stable, and after having taken up the offer of the remaining pain medication in the syringe, I was moved to outpatient recovery where  my mother and Heather were able to come and see me.  Dr. Cox had visited with them right after surgery and declared it a great success, that she had only had to make one incision to get the tumor AND a couple of lymph nodes and that the nodes had absorbed so much dye that it was looking like cancer was unlikely to be in them.  Fingers crossed!

Armed with pain meds, I was discharged and wheeled out to the car, just as loopy as I could be, and starving.  They had a leftover cookie from the delicious lunch that Cindy had kindly toted to them, and I devoured it.  We were home by 5:00 and I sat on my porch immediately.  Cheese and fruit were produced, friends arrived and I sipped on chilled water in a wine glass while everyone else enjoyed stronger libations.

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The following couple of days were a bit of a blur, part of my boob was electric blue, as was my pee which was both alarming and amusing!  I took the pain meds and rested but really made an effort to walk around the circle to get my blood circulating, accompanied by a string of lovely friends.  It’s amazing how walking one circle can seem like the biggest challenge….but check out the sights….the huge crepe myrtles are in bloom and are just lovely.

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And who couldn’t be cheered up by a visit from the cutest twins around??!

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Wanting to spare my own boys seeing me groggy and incoherent, they went and spent the surgery day and subsequent weekend with Steve, although I was thrilled to have a visit from them all on Sunday as I know they were anxious to see for themselves that I was fine.

For some reason I had googled “recovery time from a lumpectomy” at some point and read about a woman who went grocery shopping straight after hers and I stupidly stuck that in my head.  Guess what?  It takes a couple of days just to get over anesthesia.  Then you really have to be off pain meds for a couple of days too.  My recovery was rudely interrupted at about day 3 with the worst case of sciatica I’ve ever had.  I imagine it must have been from the twisting and overcompensating I had been doing with the other side of my body.  It hurt like hell and suddenly my incision seemed like nothing.  I graduated to Oxycodone which thankfully I only needed for a couple of days.  I will also be eternally grateful for the arrival of Silvia, one of my yoga teacher friends who rescued me by showing me some great pain alleviating poses.  In fact I think she’s checked up on me on a daily basis.  I remember one morning her sitting on my bed getting teary-eyed, talking about how hard this must be to go through alone.  Agreed.  I may not have a spouse at home anymore but I’ve got an army of support that can deploy within minutes!

So how do I feel now?  Extraordinarily lucky to be surrounded by so many of the best kind of people you can imagine.  Happy to have got through this big first step.  Suddenly intimidated by the likely 33 days of radiation that seemed like nothing at diagnosis.  But, also revitalized by my newly adopted “mostly” plant based diet.  Ready to get this over with.  Ready to pre-order the new Lonely Planet Morocco Guide available on Amazon on August 15th.  Ready to practice yoga again.  Ready to be able to lift more than 10lbs.  Ready to go back to the Y.  Ready to be something other than a cancer patient.

To end this on a funny note, I have to report that I was happy to discover that my 3 inch incision was thankfully under my arm, or so I thought….take my bra off and it’s a wee bit lower than that.  Darn gravity.  I’ll spare you the photographic evidence.

 

 

Canaveral National Seashore

The last time the boys and I were down here in Florida, was for Ed’s Memorial Service.  Today’s adventure was a trip to the Canaveral National Seashore, a beautiful protected area with a gorgeous beach.  The Canaveral National Cemetery is just north of this area so we decided to go and pay a visit to “Grandpa Ed”.  We had no idea where his marker was located but the two veterans manning the entrance couldn’t have been nicer and told us exactly where to go.  They even sent someone to check on us in a golf cart.  It was nice to see the marker and I love the simplicity, but ultimately the depth of how he is described.  Those descriptors carry a lot of meaning over a period of 80 years.

 

After our visit, we headed for a trip down memory lane by carrying out the tradition of stopping at The Moonlight Diner in Titusville for burgers before heading to the Seashore.  Like many families; ritual, tradition and familiarity are important to us, along with a healthy dose of new experiences.  Doing things you used to do with someone who has passed away, helps keep them alive in your memory, it’s comforting.  Well, in my humble opinion anyway.

 

The Canaveral National Seashore sits adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center, the combination of NASA and a beautiful beach in its shadow was enough to make Kerry’s day, if not her week!  The sand is almost white and the sea, varying shades of rich blues and turquoise.  Due to the heat, our stay only lasted an hour or two but we had a blast swimming and playing in the crashing waves.

 

 

We drove back home with dramatic views of storm clouds gathering and visible rain in the distance.

 

We finished the day reuniting with family at Fishlips, so nice to see everyone!

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Kennedy Space Center

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This morning we achieved the previously impossible task of all being up, ready, dressed and out the door by 9:00 am.  Our previous record for this week was noon I believe.  Our mission today?  To visit The Kennedy Space Center.  My last visit there was 30 years ago, my boys went with Steve, Ed and Polly 18 months ago, and for Kerry and JV, this was a first.  In fact, this has always been on Kerry’s bucket list so it was an exciting day for her!  We are so fortunate to be staying just 20 minutes away, so getting an early start would allow us pool time later on.

The Space Center is located out by itself surrounded by the Merrit Island Wild Life Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore.  Prime real estate that protects both the natural habitat and hosts the place where NASA is on a constant quest to break even more barriers in Space.

Upon arrival, we were happy to see that the place was not mobbed.  We headed for the bus tour first, getting straight on the first one.  We were taken out to the NASA Space Center where we saw launch pads and the iconic Vehicule Assembly Building building, with the world’s largest doors.  Most people know that I’m not exactly one to remember or retain many historical or scientific facts, but what I can tell you is the astronauts ate hearty breakfasts before launches, including steak and eggs!

 

We were dropped off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center where our visit began with a presentation about the Apollo 8 shuttle launch.  It was a very cool experience that had Kerry and I in tears at the end of it.

 

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On exiting the presentation, we entered the Saturn V hall, the largest rocket ever flown and there it was, suspended from the ceiling.  An awesome sight!

 

Kerry just had to visit the gift shop and now she’s the proud owner of a NASA T-shirt.   And a Shuttle pendant.  An avid reader regardless, she has read several books to do with NASA and the space program so she was fascinated by it all.  It’s always a great feeling to cross something off your bucket list.

We returned to the Visitor’s Center complex and ate some overpriced forgettable food which at least gave us fuel to finish up our visit.  We visited the Atlantis exhibit which was spectacular as it starts with a film about it and then the doors open and there it is!

A visit to the Journey to Mars exhibit was the last thing on our list before ice-cream and a walk through the Rocket Garden.  At 50 bucks a piece, it’s not a cheap day out but we all loved it and we’re definitely glad to have made the trip out here.

 

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After our space adventure, it was time to relax by the pool and cool off.  It felt great and was the perfect end to a fabulous day.  Hungry for good food, we decided to get take-out from the local restaurant Flavors of India.  We ordered Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Biryani, Tandoori Shrimp, Mango Chutney and Raita.  Kerry and I went to pick it up and loved the amazing aroma as soon as we walked in.  We couldn’t wait to try it.  It was really good.  I miss having easy access to great Indian food so it was a real treat.  Everything was great until Rory suddenly declared that his throat was starting to itch….with not a single Benadryl dose to be found, I rushed round to the 7 Eleven to get some, dodging some interesting after-dark characters on my way.  All was well and his condition didn’t worsen thankfully, just all part of the adventure.  What a day!

Sunny Florida

Once again we drove through some torrential rain during the journey from Savannah to Cape Canaveral but our reward was the welcoming familiarity of Polly’s  home, albeit without her being here to greet us.  The three boys were happy to plug in devices and chill out while Kerry and I made a beeline for the beach.  The walk was just what we needed after a couple of days driving.  One of the nice things about Cape Canaveral Beach is that it’s predominantly residential which means it’s not super packed and as it was the end of the day anyway, it was pretty deserted.

Before collapsing with a cocktail, we hit the local Publix for essential supplies for the week.  An older lady insisted on helping us out with our cart and on the way to the car asked us where we were from.  When we told her that we were from Petersburg, VA, she said “Oh, I know that area, great strip clubs”.  Kerry and I tried to contain our surprise at her response and then she went on to say “Yeah, a place called Pure Pleasure.  I loved it.  Can’t find a decent Club around here though, you have to go all the way to Miami to find good looking men.”  Well, that’s some interesting advice.  “I lived in Sandston, near the airport.  Then I moved down here with my husband but he died three years ago.  Publix is my family now.”  Wow, I’m glad she has a sense of family at her work.  Must be so hard to move somewhere without that kind of support.

We came back to the condo and mixed up a dirty martini for Kerry and Vodka Tonic for me.  The boys were thrilled to bits that we had actually followed through with their requests for candy and sugar in various forms.  Time to relax.  That’s what this week is all about.

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We all slept in late.  It was going to be a “let’s do nothing” kind of day.  I was determined to write my blog piece “Kindness” but was struggling with it.  I spent most of the day trying to write it.   The boys and Kerry enjoyed some pool time and by the time I was ready for some too, it was pouring with rain.  Eventually we found ourselves at the port for dinner at Fishlips.  The boys’ favorite place to eat.  It was Margarita time and we enjoyed a casual dinner of mussels, salad, fish tacos, calamari and wings.  JV and Ben, not to be outdone by one another, asked for the hottest sauce with their wings which pretty much ruined their dinner.  Boys will be boys…

We stayed up late that night.  I suddenly decided that I was heading the wrong way with my Kindness blog piece and scrapped the first draft realizing the direction it really had to go in.  I woke up early the next morning and hit the beach for a four mile walk to get my mind straight.  There are few things more restorative than an early morning stroll on the beach, especially alone.  Thanks to some cloud cover, the sun wasn’t too harsh.  I’ve walked this same walk numerous times over the last few years and each time was different due to what was on my mind.  Today I found a sense of peace and a respite from all the “noise”.  It was lovely and just what I needed.

I returned to the house to find everyone slowly emerging from their beds.  With a cup of tea by my side, I finally finished writing the piece.  It had been hard work, especially emotionally,  but a really good challenge.

We decided that today was the day that we should go in search of alligators so we hit the road for a place that does Air Boat rides.  It also has a restaurant called the “Lone Cabbage” that Kerry instantly fell in love with.  When purchasing our tickets they advised us that we were welcome to purchase a drink at the bar to take on the ride.  Sold!  I had to snap this photo, the guy sitting on the left in the booth was such a character.

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Two margaritas and three cokes accompanied us on the ride and Kerry declared that she had never needed a drink more than then when the boat got going!   Most of the time we traveled at high speed, twisting and turning dramatically until an alligator was spotted ahead and suddenly we would slow to a stop.  Somehow I ended up on the side of the boat which meant that I was within a couple of feet of the water which for this non-reptile lover, added a certain level of terror to the ride.  A couple of times we stopped for what seemed like forever and I sat paralyzed, praying that a gator wouldn’t suddenly spring from the water…..it was an awesome ride and for Kerry and I, FAR more fun than any amusement park ride.  After all, we got to drink a margarita at the same time…..

And yes, we saw what we came looking for:

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Despite it being just a flat swamp landscape, it was pretty especially with the interesting cloud formations, birds and even some beef cattle.

When the ride was over, we simply had to eat in the Lone Cabbage and ordered burgers except for me, I picked a Mahi sandwich.  This meat lover has been unable to eat beef since my diagnosis.  It was delicious and we loved the place!

JV really needed some flip flops so we decided to pay a visit to Ron Jon Surf Shop on our way.  A first for all of us, what a place!

Once back at the Condo it was time for a swim and then drinks, snacks and relaxation.  We’re loving this lifestyle.

 

 

A quick stop in Savannah

We had planned this vacation time perfectly when we got out our calendars months ago.  We just didn’t know it back then.  My Surgeon was happy to let me keep my plans and felt that it was a great idea to have some downtime with my boys before my lumpectomy on July 7th.  When Nelson suddenly and tragically passed away 2 weeks ago, Kerry got caught up in a whirlwind of activity and hadn’t had a minute to even think since then.  So, on Saturday night we both, in our respective houses, threw a bunch of clothes in a suitcase and along with JV, loaded up the car and hit I-95 early on Sunday morning.  With Bart heading to Portland to be with his family, we were ready and able to keep our plans.  While leaving town doesn’t change a diagnosis or relieve the burden of grief, it does somehow allow a small respite.  As we headed south, we slowly but surely started to decompress.  As my boys were just finishing up a week with Steve in South Carolina, we had agreed to meet just north of Charleston to pick them up.  At about hour 3, I suggested to Kerry that we play a CD after we had talked non stop, rehashing the events of the last few weeks.  I reached to press “play” and she said, “did you bring Adele?”  It was exactly what I was about to play.  I think it took two songs before Kerry started to sob.  A much needed release of emotion that lasted for the entire CD.  I think we actually listened to it twice.

After about 5 hours of driving, we met up with Steve, Rory and Ben and they regaled us with stories of their travels over the last few days….a night at South of the Border, Columbia, Congaree and Charleston.  We ate lunch at McDonalds and then hit the road again, driving into torrential rain.  Not exactly the way you want to approach the beautiful city of Savannah but oh well…. we had booked our hotel just an hour beforehand, something that is most unlike me!  Kerry jokes about trying to make me a more spontaneous traveler, and she succeeds a lot of the time!  We ended up getting a great rate at The Embassy Suites, a favorite chain of the boys and I as it’s ridiculously good value.  The fact that all 5 of us could stay comfortably in a two-room suite with a free cocktail hour and full breakfast, is awesome!  It’s a relatively new hotel and located right on the edge of the historic district but still walkable.

Naturally the boys would have been perfectly content to stay in the room the entire time, well at least JV and Ben anyway.  However being the horrible Mothers that we are, we forced them out of their comfort zones and on to a trolley that would give us a 90 minute tour of Savannah.  These two photos sum up perfectly how they felt about it:

As this was Kerry’s first trip to Savannah and we were here just overnight, it gave her a great, quick overview of this lovely city.  I have to say, Rory did enjoy the tour too.  Our two thirteen year olds?  Not so much…..until half a dozen drunk girls in their twenties boarded our trolley and thanks to seating themselves right by the boys, provided them with quite the education which was in no way historical, and pure entertainment.  Wow.

By the time the tour had ended, it was raining again and we were exhausted!  While it seems criminal not to go out during our one night here, we were happy to let the boys scurry back to the room while we enjoyed the free Manager’s Reception where we sipped on a couple of Vodka and Tonics and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the hotel bar.

We were happy that the hotel restaurant which was a French-style bistro, provided the room service.  We ordered up a Duck Confit Sandwich, a Chicken Caesar Salad and 3 cheeseburgers for the boys.  We have brought a plentiful supply of wine with us.  It seemed like the most lovely luxury to eat in our pajamas then finally crash for the night.

We slept soundly and slept in.  But we did make it for the big breakfast buffet.  After breakfast, as the rain had finally stopped and the sun was out, Kerry and I headed out to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Having been raised in the Catholic faith, I’m always drawn to Catholic Cathedrals and this one was no exception.  Kerry also grew up in a Catholic family.

We gasped as we entered the Cathedral and wandered around soaking up all the beautiful details in the architecture, art and artifacts.  It’s simply stunning.

Kerry was so moved by being here that the tears flowed again and she lit a candle for Nelson.

We took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, wandering through some of the lovely Squares and enjoying the architecture and lush vegetation and gardens.  It was sticky and humid which somehow felt appropriate for a truly Southern experience.  One of my favorite things to do when visiting a city, is to wander around taking pictures and so I did.

We both regretted that we couldn’t stay longer in this gorgeous place but we are determined to return!  We headed back to the hotel, loaded the car with luggage and teenagers and hit the road for Florida!