Adventure: DC

Adventure: DC

Husband and I set off on a little adventure last weekend–nothing earth shattering, but a sweet 36 hours away from home. Above all, it is good to see family. The heartbreak of the past few months has made this even more precious to us.

Just being able to say hello in person, give a hug, laugh together, and, at times, cry together, is a balm. After our loss last fall, even DC, a mere 3.5 hours from us, seems too far away. The little ones, all 5 and under, are beautiful reminders of the hope and life that is yet to come. And quiet “adult” time is a solace.

Husband’s sister and brother-in-law are delightful people, generous to a fault, and beyond supportive. Together, we spent a treasured evening sharing tapas and paella at Jaleo, a restaurant by Jose Andres–a real treat for my food-loving Husband. I even got to try some foods I’d never had before and it was all amazing (especially the Endibias Con Queso De Cabra Y Naranjas, if you’re ever there, try it–seriously).

Tapas

We were spoiled to have a gas fireplace in the basement/guest room where we stayed…true, it wasn’t wood-burning, which is what I’ve been craving. But it was warm and the flames deliciously orange. Oh, how I’ve missed the calming solace of a good warm fire…someday we’ll have our own fireplace, someday.

Fireplace.

On Sunday, we intended to have a leisurely day with Husband’s other DC sister, but as the day went on we got more and more inspired. We first went to Great Falls Park and hiked along the top ridge of Mather Gorge. Great Falls is a little strange…only a few minutes outside of Alexandria and within a stone’s throw of Washington DC, and yet it feels like the middle of Montana…

The views of the gorge are just incredible, almost hard to believe this is the same Potomac River that runs so placidly to the Chesapeake Bay.

Great Falls on the Potomac River.

The gorge.

Resting and watching the Potomac.

Husband and I at Great Falls Park.

After a nice hike in the chilly but incredibly sunny great outdoors, we headed inside for Pho (Vietnamese soup…although I actually ended up getting lemongrass beef with vermicelli, yum!). From there we headed over to this great hole-in-the-wall Asian store where we bought beef jerky, dried mango and Thai iced tea. I would definitely recommend anyone going to the Great Falls area check out Eden Center and explore some of these wonderful Asian restaurants and shops.

Food from the Asian store.

From there we headed into DC to meet my brother near his apartment in China Town. We visited over coffee and chai at Busboys and Poets. It was a pretty happening place, with a good menu, lots of fair trade items available, and books for sale. And the apple pie was delicious! The only drawback had to be the loud music, it made our conversation a little hard to hear. In spite of that, though, we got to talk–just talk, for the first time in a long, long time.

I saw my brother back in December for the first time in over a year, did I tell you then that he lives a mere 3.5 hours from me? So, so sad that I haven’t gotten to see him much. But we made it happen, and that makes me happy.

He’s slaving away at law school, busier than ever. I’m so proud of him, and loved getting to hear him talk about what he’s doing and what he hopes to do in the future. It’s so good to be able to support someone’s dreams, to believe in them. And I do. I believe he can do anything. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being the little sister–you believe your big bros are larger than life.

In all, aside from a mild case of food poisoning (first time in my life) and a few closed bridge-tunnels on our way home (do you know how hard it can be to get to Va Beach when both the HRBT and the Monitor-Merrimac are closed? We had to take the James River Bridge…talk about taking the long way home), it was a great little getaway.

Now, if I can just get some laundry done…

Adventure: Maymont Mansion

Adventure: Maymont Mansion

I have lived in Virginia for more than three years now, and I’ve driven around Richmond many times, but I had not yet actually visited the capital of this fine state, or commonwealth if you want to get technical. Last week, Husband and I had the opportunity to spend about 24 hours in Richmond. Aside from our business there, we found a few fun things to do. The best was most definitely our visit to Maymont Mansion.

I had never heard of Maymont before traveling to Richmond, but as I was doing research on things to do in the city, it kept popping up in top 10 lists everywhere. The fact that entrance to the grounds is absolutely free and tours of the 33-room house were a suggested donation of $5, I realized that this was the perfect spot for us to begin our Richmond adventure. It doesn’t hurt that we both love gardens and history.

What follows is far short of the glory of this lovely park, complete with both Japanese and Italian gardens, wildlife exhibits, carriages, horticulture exhibits, historical artifacts and so, so much more. The house is a great example of Victorian life and the family history is interesting too. Please (I’m begging you) visit this place! You can learn more about it on their website.

Maymont stone barn.

Bench

Gate

Gazebo ceiling

Stone carving

View of the Japanese garden.

Italian garden.

Stepping stones.

Crazy staircase

Up hill.

PS. We also visited a great little used bookstore on Cary St. called Chop Suey and a fun eclectic place just across the street from there called Mongrel. Check them out if you’re ever in Richmond!

Adventure: Florida Part 6 (Heading Home)

Adventure: Florida Part 6 (Heading Home)

We arrived late to Columbia, SC, and quietly sneaked into a friend’s house and crashed in her guest room. The following day, we met up for breakfast–a time too short for the best kind of conversation, but at least the overlap will tide us over until the next time.

Then Husband and I headed to Charleston where he wanted to have a good meal and I wanted to admire the architecture. We could see ourselves living here someday…or maybe just having a “city home” here, with a cabin in WV and a few other places scattered about. Regardless, we love the history and architecture of this city.

Public bench in Charleston.

Fountains and architecture in Charleston.

Harbor in Charleston.

Eventually, we had to head home, and it was good. Even if we weren’t ready to leave behind the loveliness of vacation, we were ready to greet our enthusiastic pup and sleep in our own bed and enjoy the comforts of home.

Adventure: Florida Part 1
Adventure: Florida Part 2
Adventure: Florida Part 3
Adventure: Florida Part 4
Adventure: Florida Part 5

Adventure: Florida Part 5 (Final Days)

Adventure: Florida Part 5 (Final Days)

We’re leaving Florida with mixed feelings. We knew we would. I’m already missing A. and the void that she so easily fills in my life. And Husband is missing palm trees and sunshine. It’s hard to leave behind something that we had been anticipating and planning for for so long. Perhaps when we get home I should start working on our next road trip, just to keep hope alive.

Flora and fauna.

We woke up Thursday morning to drenching rain on our campsite. Instead of making breakfast, we waited for a lull in the rain and made a break for the truck and headed to Big Pine Key where we found a great local dive for breakfast. Eventually we headed back to camp and packed up our soggy tent and wet belongings and headed out for Miami.

Palms

Husband and I had a great dinner with L., we walked Lincoln Road and just talked for good four hours. L. brings a good perspective into our lives, and we love the opportunity to encourage her in hers. Husband particularly was loathe to leave South Beach. And when we finally tore ourselves away, we ran into a severe cold front with serious winds, causing some concern about the canoe and a few pit stops to adjust ropes and add extra straps. We pulled into Vero Beach late, had a little chat and headed to bed.

We slept in late Friday, much later than I’ve slept in a very long time. Then Husband and I spent Friday relaxing. We went out to breakfast, did some laundry, dried out our camping gear, visited the botanical gardens and did a little shopping.

Visiting botanical gardens in Vero Beach

Old trees and spanish moss in Florida.

Tropical flowers in Florida.

Florida botanical gardens.

We had a great dinner with A. and her husband, the boys cooked while we girls chatted about all things pregnancy and baby related. I love seeing A. so intent on the life of her unborn child.

And, of course, A. did my nails one more time, just for fun.

Swirly manicure.

Today we headed back to the farmers’ market to pick up another painting like the one we purchased before. Then we meandered back to the condo to pack up and relax. It was kind of surreal as A. and I sat there on the couch chatting and sipping hot chocolate. It was like we do this every day, and we used to. Back when we were single and both living in Ohio. And I miss it terribly.

Saying goodbye was hard, but hopefully I’ll get to come back after A. has the baby, and that thought comforts me.

Best Friends.

Best friends take 2.

Now we’re on our way to South Carolina. Halfway home. Another visit with another friend. Something to look forward to as we bid farewell to Florida.

Adventure: Florida Part 1
Adventure: Florida Part 2
Adventure: Florida Part 3
Adventure: Florida Part 4

Adventure: Florida Part 4 (Camping)

Adventure: Florida Part 4 (Camping)

When we reached our southmost destination, we set up camp for a few days to enjoy the warmth and beauty of the Florida Keys…

After sleeping in in our cushy guest bed (the room was exactly what you would hope for in a Florida guest room, white walls and tall ceilings, bright white linens, everything over-sized and cushy), we were treated to a delectable breakfast by our host and stayed to chat long past what we had planned.

We finally hit the road with a few hiccups here and there. It was a long drive to get to the lower Keys, but we enjoyed looking at all the little shops and marinas as we drove through key after key on Rt 1. Eventually, we made it to Bahia Honda.

Driving down Rt. 1 to Bahia Honda Key.

Unfortunately, to make it to our campsite, we had to go under Rt 1, a very low bridge and an even lower water main. Which meant taking the canoe off the truck. Husband thought we could make it, I wasn’t willing to risk it and I was driving, so the canoe came off. Oh well, at least we got a little practice in taking it off and putting it back on. Husband says I need to work on my muscles so I can be of more help, but I’ve gotta tell you, flipping a canoe up over your head is not an easy feat… Maybe something to aspire to.

Our campsite is lovely and cozy (and by cozy, I mean tiny). Above all, it is beautiful. Our view looks out over a little bay along the northern side of the key and our neighbors are obscured by thick foliage. The only things I would change are the somewhat rocky sand (I have a feeling it’s going to be a mite uncomfortable tonight) and the road noise (Rt 1 is directly behind us). I just hope the traffic slows down as it gets late.

Sunset in Bahia Honda

It’s dark here now, in fact we arrived with just enough time to set up camp in the dusk (not that we can’t do it at night, we’ve had enough practice at that). There was a storm cloud above us then, spitting droplets of rain down just to threaten us, but it has since moved on. And now the stars are out bright as can be, no clouds to veil them. The moon is a sliver, shining bright white against the dark sky. There is a small lapping of water coming from the little bay and the sound of burgers sizzling on the grill, the smell of charcoal ensuring me that we really are camping. A breeze keeps the mosquitoes away and keeps us cool in spite of the warm temps. It’s about as pleasant an experience as it can be.

I don’t think I slow down enough in day to day life, not really. Not enough to become reflective. I find when I’m camping that it hits me all at once–both the desire to be reflective and the reflections themselves. There’s something about the great outdoors, something about being slow, being still, that brings it out. I need more of that, or perhaps I just need more camping.

The last time we were supposed to go camping was the weekend Michael passed. I’m so sorry for that memory and that association, it is good to replace it with something new. For husband, the last time he went camping was with Michael, and the last time I went was with the whole Combs Clan. There are bittersweet memories there, and it is good to make simply sweet ones as the freshest.

Florida Keys

At the beach together

We’ve hardly been in the great outdoors for 24 hours and I already can’t count the number of bug bites I have. (Seriously, I tried to count them and gave up somewhere around 79.) And this is Florida, so it’s not just the normal mosquitoes, but also no-see-ums and fire ants. Yep, fire ants.

Beach

But in spite of looking like I’m coming down with mumps, measles or leprosy, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. Our day perhaps didn’t go as planned, but it went, and it went beautifully. The snorkeling trip we were scheduled to go on was warning of 2-3 foot swells…enough to make anyone sea sick and any novice snorkeler a little skeptical. So instead we stayed around here, snorkeling the beaches of Bahia Honda. We saw fish and coral and such, not as clear or abundant as Hawaii, but then again, that’s Hawaii–what could compare?

Snorkeling

Tropical fish

We saw the famed Key deer, tiny little things the size of dogs. And we saw alligators, which is always fun. We even took the canoe out for a paddle. Amazingly, I only burned on the tops of my hands (yep, the tops, that’s what happens when you dutifully wash your hands regularly).

Canoeing together

Canoeing

So now I’m sitting in the dark, or mostly dark, husband has a few candles burning that are actually giving off some pretty good light. We’re waiting for the hobo packs to cook in the coals and discussing the plan for tomorrow.

We don’t want to leave–that’s always the quandary, isn’t it? We go traveling with such excitement to reach our destination, and then, inevitably, we have to go home. So why do we even do it to ourselves? I suppose because in the moment we enjoy it, in the moment we find rest and relaxation, and we receive joy. And even in the planning for it, we find motivation, anticipation and, yes, joy.

And the truth is, it is good to go home. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to, we aren’t looking forward to it, but when the time comes it will be good too.

Meanwhile, we’ve planned our trip so we have just as much fun on our way back as we did on our way down. We’re headed up to Miami Beach to meet up with Luisa for an indulgent dinner tomorrow and on to A.’s where I feel most at home. We get a day to relax and another day to spend with good friends before we head on up to visit another dear friend of mine and finally see Charleston before we make the last journey home, a mere 7 hours at that point.

But right now, right this moment, I want nothing more than to spend a month here, perhaps the entire winter. It’s one of those delicious parts of traveling, where every place seems better than the last. Where each one becomes special and sacred. But I must go home, all must. We have jobs, responsibilities, relations, lives to return to. So I think the best thing any of us can do is to take a little piece of that place home. Maybe not physically (although souvenirs are great too!), but mentally, even spiritually.

Sunset in the Florida Keys

From the Keys I can take home the restful pace of life, from Vero Beach the peace and fulfillment of dear friends, from Ft. Myers the pleasure of a little indulgence… Those are all things I can carry with me, things I don’t have to leave behind when I leave the warm sun and sand to head back to a rainy, dreary place. Metaphorically speaking, I can take some of that sun home with me.

When I’m refreshed and rejuvenated with an elusive peace within my grasp, I can be a better person, a better friend, a better employee, and perhaps most important, I can bring those qualities to my home, for my husband and for all those who set foot in our house.

Adventure: Florida Part 1
Adventure: Florida Part 2
Adventure: Florida Part 3

Adventure: Florida Part 3 (Visits)

Adventure: Florida Part 3 (Visits)

The next portion of our Florida trip involved a whirlwind of visits…friends and family.

The past few days have been good, long but good. Sunday we were able to accompany A. and her husband to church, to see where she works and get a better vision of what here life is like in Vero. While Husband and I packed the truck back up, they made brunch and we sat down to break bread once more before we had to leave. Goodbyes weren’t as hard, knowing that we would be back the following weekend. In fact, it felt really good to say “see you next weekend” as I gave her a hug.

Tropical flowers.

We drove across the center of the state, it is lush with orange groves and cattle ranches. Husband and I dreamed of what it would be like to own one…in another lifetime.

Husband loves palm trees.

Our visit with my grandmother was good, but hard. She is nearing 90 and still lives on her own, that tells me she is an independent woman, like her granddaughter. But it’s hard to watch her health deteriorate as she so fiercely holds on to that independence. Her husband of 13 years is jovial most of the time, but struggles with Alzheimer’s and gets confused and at times difficult. It is so unlike his gentle nature that it’s hard to watch. But amid it all, he still treats my grandmother like a queen.

Visiting Husband’s extended family had its own difficulties too…reminders of Michael especially, and reminders that life is just plain harsh sometimes…

Ft. DeSoto beach walk.

But part of today was spent reminiscing, at least for me. The childhood memories of Ft. DeSoto and Treasure Island made vivid; I loved showing husband these places that meant so much to me. Maybe someday we will return to camp at Ft. DeSoto so he can truly experience the area.

Flower

This evening we spent in the company of a friend and former coworker of Husband’s. She wined and dined us–serving filet mignon and white wine while entertaining us with good conversation. It was a small escape from the struggle that marked the recent portion of our trip. A reminder that not all is woe. And it let Husband finally, really relax.

More palm trees.

We can’t wait to hit the road tomorrow and head down to the Keys. Some canoeing and snorkeling, and a little us time.

Adventure: Florida Part 1
Adventure: Florida Part 2

Adventure: Florida Part 2 (Arriving)

Adventure: Florida Part 2 (Arriving)

The continuing adventure…

It felt good to arrive. So far we have just journeyed–and there will be several journeys interspersed with arrivals on this trip. But this one is for me the most satisfying.

A. is just as I left her a year ago–tenacious, honest, real. She is amazing. A little older, a little wiser–growth is evident and she is blossoming with it.

A and her husband.

We arrived to pizza and good old fashioned conversation. The weather here is delightful, warm without being overbearing. I think January must be the loveliest month of all in Florida. I love getting to see A.’s home, where she does her living day in and day out. And not just see it, but feel it, become a part of it. It creates a connection where there was a void before.

Florida beach.

I can’t wait for morning, when we can explore this new world of theirs–the physical city in which they live, the lifestyle, and the new adventure on which they embark. A. pregnant is a woman to behold, every nuanced word and thought that comes from her is full to the brim with love and fierce protection for the one she carries. I always knew she would be a good mama.

We slept that first night with the doors to the balcony thrown open, a light breeze bringing fresh air into the room…the best kind of sleeping.

Today read like a bucket-list of items for Husband’s perfect day. We started with a farmers market with all the fresh fruits, veggies, BBQ, seafood, jams, paintings and jewelry you could want. We bought a water color for Husband’s bedside table, another little piece of our art collection. Then we headed to the beach–80 degrees and sunny meant surfing for Husband, a walk through the surf for me, and, of course, a requisite sunburn (not too bad though, thank goodness since we’re headed to the Keys!). The beach was followed by a great local ice cream place and finally “home” where we took a dip in the pool. I mean really, what better way to spend a January day?

Husband surfing Vero Beach.

Sharing BBQ

Beaching it with Husband.

This evening A. and I talked in depth while the boys cooked dinner. It was good to have girl time. Of course, a lot of it revolved around birthing and parenting and philosophies. I don’t mind, we’ll be there someday ourselves and so many of those I care about are facing the same questions right now. I love being able to support her though this new endeavor, I want her to always feel like she can talk things out with me.

As a throw back to the old days, A. painted my nails a bright blue with pale blue polka dots. It was good to feel like we were back into the same rhythm of things, even many moves/jobs/weddings/life changes later. It’s hard to believe it was just a few short years ago that we would stay up til 2am talking about our faith and the issues we faces as we hung out in our single-girl apartments living our single-girl lives…good times.

I go to bed tonight with my heart full to bursting with fellowship and community in some ways I lack in Virginia Beach. I wish so heartily that A. and I lived closer together. We could be more in each others lives, more present. I want to be present.

But for now I will will what I can get, and what I could get was one perfect day.

Husband and I in FL.

Adventure: Florida Part 1

Adventure: Florida Part 1 (aka Getting There)

Adventure: Florida Part 1 (aka Getting There)

We began talking about this road trip to Florida over a year ago, and last February we made our reservations at Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys, which means that our concrete planning had been going on for more than 11 months! It was high time to get on the road already.

Thursday evening we rushed home from work and barn to find that the plumber replacing the tub in our bathroom had discovered a pipe had burst under the house. Off to a great start, right? We packed up the last of our things and prayed the plumber could fix the leak, then bade farewell to our puppy and hit the road.

Husband and I.

A few thoughts of mine along the way…

After a water pipe break and emergency fix, we left around 6:30 last night, splitting up the nighttime drive and arriving at our hotel around midnight. The hotel seemed safe enough, although it was far from deluxe.

Around 3 am or so, this conversation happened:
Me: Move over, you’re on my pillow.
Husband (asleep): We’re sharing.
Me: No we’re not, I don’t have any pillow.

We got up around 6:30 this morning and after showers we got back on the road. Now we’re snacking, surfing radio stations and chatting our way through South Carolina and Georgia.

I loved just being on the road with Husband, together, no interruptions, no distractions. Just us being us.

Crossing the FL state line.

We’ve been passing signs for places that bring back vivid memories for me…Edisto Beach, Jekyll Island… More and more I am thankful that my parents saw fit to take us around the country to see all these beautiful places. It’s a treasure that I realize most of my peers don’t have. I look forward to revisiting some of these places, like Ft. DeSoto, and I am looking forward to making new memories, in places like Bahia Honda and Vero Beach.

We just stopped for a quick drive through Starbucks and we’re back on the road, fortified to continue our drive. Keystone Heights here we come! (Just in time for lunch too =).)

When we crossed the state line, we stopped at the visitor information center to take a picture of us with the “Welcome to Florida” sign (and post it to Facebook, of course). We’re such tourists!

We stopped for lunch with a friend’s parents in Keystone Heights. They served us a good hearty meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Husband was glorying in the fried chicken he’d been eyeing on billboards all day–I am married to a Southerner, through and through. Don chatted about all of his latest projects–lawn mowers with golf cart seats and refurbished fishing boats. Husband loved exploring everything stored on his property, dreaming of someday owning as many “toys”.

All loaded up with the canoe and surf boards.

Before long we had the canoe and surfboards lashed to the truck. That was a proceeds of trial and error and creativity. But two surfboards and the canoe sit atop my truck and we are on our way (with only a few hiccups to adjust padding and ropes). Now we continue on to Vero Beach and good friends. I can’t wait to get a good long hug from my bestie and hear her lovely laugh. It’s been more than a year since I’ve seen A., and it is long past due.

Adventure: Historic Smithfield Va.

Adventure: Historic Smithfield Va.

Smithfield home

As part of our anniversary celebration, Husband and I spent an overnight in historic Smithfield, Va. To be completely honest, I have to tell you that we utterly fell in love with this town.

The town dates from the 1700s, and includes architecture of all kinds–colonial, civil war, Victorian… It’s a beautiful mix, with surprising details around every corner. In short, this town is chock full of what we like to call character. The buildings are beautiful, many have been completely restored.

I’m sorry to say that I somehow neglected to take pictures of most of the buildings–I think I was too much in awe to think of photography. But you can see them all in chronological order here.

Historic home with character in Smithfield

Many of the homes are far more grandiose than we could ever afford, but we thought perhaps the building below would be more in our price range =). We took to calling it our “River Home for weekend getaways”.

Our River Home

(We did look up local real estate, surprised to find that there were adorable historic homes that are in fact quite affordable!)

We stayed a short walk away from the historic district, at Smithfield Station. The accommodations and the restaurant were both delightful, and we especially liked sitting on our balcony overlooking the Pagan River.

View of the Pagan River

Smithfield Virginia

Also within walking distance was Windsor Castle Park. There are several miles of trails, a historic farm, a kayak launch and much more. We enjoyed several walks along the trails and bridges, each with lovely views of the river and many canopied by large trees.

Windsor Castle Park

The Pagan River and tributaries run through Smithfield.

Cotton

We also went kayaking through the Pagan River, and enjoyed every minute–especially our up-close-and-personal inspections of nearby boathouses. We dream that perhaps one day we will be so lucky as to have a dock of our very own.

A dock and boathouse in Smithfield.

Sumi-e paintingWe also took a quick peak in the visitor’s center which doubles as an art gallery that houses local artists’ studios. There we came across an artist working on sumi-e painting, a style that comes from Japan. The artist, Roy Williams, took a few minutes to talk to us about his medium and we learned he is a local wine connoisseur and retired chemistry professor as well.

We have grand plans to return here often, a mere hour from home it is a reachable piece of heaven. And in our dreams, we believe we can someday live here too. Someday…