Monday, November 7, 2016

Let the Good Times Roll

T.J. and I took a little jaunt to the Big Easy last month.  He was presenting research at a conference there and since the Army was covering his travel expenses it only made sense for me to book a flight and join him. I had never been to New Orleans before and was excited to visit a new place. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and were immediately reminded that Fall doesn't come down south until much later. We checked into our hotel in the French Quarter and took off some layers before setting out to do a little exploring.

First stop, Bourbon Street. I had some preconceived notions about this infamous street, I'd been to Beal Street before in Memphis and expected something a little bit like that.... but oh boy... it's a whole 'nother crazier beast. Even at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon it was wild and I can only imagine what this place looks like at Mardi Gras. The entire street is just bars, bars, and more bars, with the occasional fancy restaurant thrown in. You are immediately hit by a certain familiar scent of booze (and vomit), and out of no where someone pops a string of beads around you neck and then asks you for a tip. Um, okay?
 
We had dinner reservations so we didn't hang out too long before heading back to our hotel to get fancied up. T.J. had always wanted to go to Galatoire's so once our flights were booked the next thing we did was make reservations as far in advance as they allow. Galatoire's is an institution and totally classic New Orleans cuisine. We indulged on Crabmeat Masion (basically just a heaping helping of delicious fresh lump-meat crab with hollandaise) and then I had Etouffe for my main course because you have to!

The next day after T.J. wrapped up his presentation we hopped on the street car and headed to the Garden District.  We made our way first to the World War Two museum  where we spent a good chunk of time, it's really well done. We took the cable car deeper into the garden district and hopped off at the historic Lafayette Cemetery No.1. New Orleans sits below sea level so their cemeteries are huge labyrinths of above ground tombs. It's a bit eerie to wonder up and down the rows and pick out names and dates and quirky epitaphs.  
Leaving the cemetery we set off on foot down the cracked wonky stone sidewalks (beware in heels, or flats, really just beware) passing wrought iron fences protecting drop dead gorgeous homes. 
(This was T.J.'s favorite house, home of Archie Manning. Doesn't that look like the perfect front yard for throwing the football with Peyton and Eli?) 
We took the long way back to the French quarter and walked along the Mississippi river until we reached the green awning of Cafe du Monde. 
 

We grabbed an open table and a server appeared to take our order. The menu is simple (and cash only so come prepared) so we quickly ordered two plates of beignets and small chicory coffees. This place is a popular tourist spot but it is one hundred percent worth the hype. The beignets are hot and fresh (careful not to breathe in when taking a bite unless you want to inhale powdered sugar) and the coffee is perfect and I don't even really like coffee. 
 
 
Later that night we met up with one of the graduated residents from T.J.'s program. He's station back in the southeast so it was fun to reconnect and hear about life outside of residency (we can see the light!). We went to a local sports bar near Tulane and had oysters on the half shell and fried catfish and pulled pork. Then we headed back to the hotel bar to wait for another couple to arrive from the airport. This sweet friend, the wife of another graduated resident, is sorely missed back in Washington, and I was so excited to reconnect with her. I love that even though we only had a few short years together in Washington, the Army and medicine will hopefully keep bringing us excuses to see each other throughout the years.
On Friday we slept in for a bit and then T.J. and I picked up a rental car and hit the road. We realized we would only be a few hours away from his grandma and aunt in Mississippi and who knows when we'll be that close again so we took this opportunity to drop in on them for an early supper. It was an easy drive and sweet reunion.  
When we got back to New Orleans that evening we made our way through the crowds, stepping carefully around suspicious puddles until we ended up at Pat O'Briens. We grabbed a couple infamous hurricanes and took them to go so we could enjoy all the good people watching on the street.
The night wouldn't have been complete without a late night trip to Cafe du Monde, conveniently open 24 hours. Nothing like beignets at 2 am with your friends to cap off a perfectly fun/ feels like we're back in college kind of night. And the next day we made our way back to the west coast with fond memories and good intentions to come back in the future.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

why I deleted facebook

So I deleted Facbeook and Twitter from my phone and I signed out of both on my computer. It's better this way. I really want to like all my friends when this season is over. I also want to be able to sleep peacefully and to stay off blood pressure medication for at least a few more years.  I've ventured onto Facebook just one time since deleting the app, just for a second,  in and out as quick as possible. I tried to keep blinders on and avoid that side bar that shows "what's trending" a.k.a "what's important to my friends and the greater Facebook community these days." Inevitably my eyes wandered over to those attention grabbing click bait and those hot button words jumped off the screen and screamed: I am Important! 10 New Ways the World is in Trouble! Be Informed of the Latest Drama So You Can Better Pen the Perfect 120 Character Sarcastic Retort! And immediately I could feel my blood boiling and my bullhorn beckoning, and so quick as I could I x-ed out of all the windows, and closed my laptop and did some deep breathing exercises until I cooled off.

Since then it's like a weight off my mind. I have released myself from the obligation to be in the know of all the headlines, all the sound bites, all the spin. It's not up to me to track which side of the battlefield my friends stand and from there predict the outcome of the election. I also know that a pithy comment or comeback on a Facebook post isn't going to sway anyone to "my side."

In this election there are no winners. We're all losers here.  In the past I've always said that if you don't vote you can't complain about the outcome. But this is the one election where I've seriously considered not participating so I can raise my hands in the air and say I had nothing to do with this! I am not responsible!

But, even if I don't vote, Trump or Clinton will be elected. Even if I write in another candidate, or vote for a third party, Clinton or Trump will be elected. It's just the way this particularly stale and unappetizing cookie is going to crumble. I haven't exactly accepted it but I'm working on it.

How am I working on it? Well I deleted Facebook and Twitter for starters. But more than that I'm limiting the amount of news I watch because if I'm being honest it's way too much hate and negativity and too many reporters do a bad job of hiding their biases. That's not reporting, it's spouting opinions, but hey, journalists are humans to, can I blame them? Not really. But I can to choose take everything I hear with a grain of salt and formulate my opinions without their input.

Maybe you think I'm choosing to be ignorant, and uninformed, like I'm closing my eyes to the fire burning around me.  But these days most of the news has nothing to do with the issues, or the policies that whoever is elected will work to put into practice, policies that will shape and change our country and directly affect you and me. We've gotten distracted from what an election is supposed to be about. We're lost in the woods, in all the noise, the social media wars, and the character assassinations (just kidding, there is no character in this election).

So I did my very darnedest (I swear I really, really tried) to set aside my preconceived and influenced political beliefs and pretend like I hadn't seen the latest scandal or wikileak, and I forced myself to spend time on both candidates websites (Trump | Clinton). I went to their respective pages where they outlined as simply as possible, where they stood on national security, the economy, the second amendment, health care, abortion, immigration. I read through them all and I educated myself on each candidates vision for our country.

I believe it's the safest and most responsible way to chose who to vote for. This isn't a popularity contest to see who's prettier or more likeable (the answer is neither). I have to pick the policies that are most important to me, the issues that rank highest in my mind and then chose the candidate who's platform best lines up with those points.

To be honest it's unlikely their websites will really change your decision on who you're voting for. But maybe you'll learn something you didn't know about the candidates, something that you missed in the hullabaloo of election season. Maybe you'll be able to respect or at least understand your friends' choices more once this is all over and we're stuck with the president we've elected. You see I believe two people can have different opinions and still be friends, no name calling or eye rolling. Maybe not, but I'll at least be able to provide a more educated defense of my chosen candidate when I inevitably give up and log back onto Facebook.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Before summer is over.

It already feels like summer skipped out of town a couple weeks ago and we've been enjoying very mild temperatures with just a bit of a crisp in the air. And I'm loving it. But.... I never blogged about a special part of our summertime. So before it officially becomes fall I'm taking you back to South Carolina for one last fleeting taste of summer.

The whole excuse behind our trip to South Carolina this past August was for T.J. to attend an orthopedic conference on Kiawah Island. So after our week in the upstate we rented a car and drove to the low country just the two of us. We decided when we got married that we need to protect our limited vacation days and always make sure it includes time for us to reconnect as a couple. Our excitement for a real beach weekend together grew with each palmetto tree we passed. Of course we had to stop for a late lunch along the way....

And as we got closer to our destination we stopped again to grab more sunscreen and some breakfast fixings for our villa and we also had to check out the prettiest tree in the world, the Angel Oak.
Finally we were driving through a tunnel of Spanish moss and pulling through the gates at Kiawah Island. Kiawah is a private beach community so unless you're staying on the property or have a tee time at one of the golf courses you can't get on the island which makes it feel super fancy but also protects this little slice of heaven from hooligans. It's super family friendly, quiet, and utterly relaxing and within about five seconds of being there we were committing to coming back every summer thereafter.

We checked in to our villa then decided to check out The Sanctuary Hotel where T.J.'s conference would be taking place, aka the prettiest, most luxurious hotel I have ever been inside. Jaw dropped and wide eyed we meandered past the pool and then I hurriedly slipped off my sandals and ran to the surf. 

Our next stop was to rent beach cruisers for the weekend.It is the perfect way to get around the island and we rode around a bit before dark so we could get our bearings and take note of the best alligator hang outs. Still full from our lunch we opted to skip dinner and go straight to the ice cream parlor. We enjoyed our melting cones in Adirondack chairs with a symphony of cicadas serenading us.
 
The next morning T.J. left early for his conference and I hopped on my bike and headed down to the beach. I walked up and down the shoreline and called my folks and tried not to brag too much about the view with sparkling waves washing over my feet. Not too long after my old college roommate, who lives in Charleston, arrived to spend the day with us and T.J. came and met us for lunch at the poolside restaurant.  The rest of the day was spent on the beach catching up on each others' lives and working on going back to Washington with some semblance of a tan.

We parted with plans to see each other the next day as well, then T.J. and I freshened up and drove into Charleston to meet his med school buddy/groomsmen and his girl friend for rooftop cocktails followed by dinner at Cannon Green.
The next day T.J. played hooky from the conference seminars (this conference really just seemed like an excuse for all these overworked doctors to get away with their families) and we hit up the pool for most of the day. We enjoyed pina coladas and fish tacos and played on the water slides like we were kids and I only had to nag T.J. about reapplying sunscreen a couple times. We moved to the beach later in the day and played bocce ball and enjoyed the salty breeze. That night we went casual. We didn't bother with showering off the sand and sunscreen before we headed to Red's Ice House for some fried shrimp and our last waterside sunset in South Carolina.
T.J. and I are already planning to go back to Kiawah next summer and the summer after that...and you get the picture. I dream about us taking little ones here for family vacations, and it being our beach spot that we go to year after year. It was a perfect end to our vacation and we left feeling totally refreshed and totally reminded of why no matter where we live, or how far we roam, South Carolina will always feel like home.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

DIY Gravel Patio & Fire Pit

It may be after Labor Day but it's not officially Fall yet (chill out pumpkin spice fanatics) and I'm not one to wish away summer knowing that many gray rainy days are in my future. But.... I do love the changing seasons. It always reinvigorates me and feels like a chance to start over or to just start something new.

My father in law and T.J. built our wonderful deck last summer but, I'm ashamed to admit, we hardly ever use it. I do love the way it makes our backyard look more finished and purposeful but the rest of the yard is just blah.The grass is patchy or non-existent or full of dandelions. The "flower bed" along the fence line is undefined and the plants and bushes in there are just sad. Nothing but moss grows against the sides of the house and it's become a favorite place for Hunley to dig holes. Whenever I do sit out on our deck, that's all I see. I can't get past all the things that need to be done and I'm so overwhelmed by it. Where do I even begin?

I had a burst of energy last Monday and decided it was the perfect time to start digging up this wasted area that we decided was perfect for a gravel patio. I maybe should have done a bit more research but after a bit of time on Pinterest I felt confident I knew what I was doing. This post here gives pretty simple instructions and good overview of how I went about this. I roughly marked out the outline of the space and just started moving dirt little by little and attempting to make the ground level as I went.

This spot of the yard is right next to the deck barely gets any sun and the foundation of the house extends out underneath it for some reason, so the ground is super rocky and hard and nothing but moss grows there. We maybe could have just made our deck longer but I didn't want our whole yard to feel like one big wooden surface. I liked the idea of a pea gravel patio with a wood border because it felt more organic. It would be functional but still flow nicely into the rest of the yard, plus provide a place for more seating, and the perfect spot for that fire pit!

Here's my inspiration:
1 | 23
Tuesday I went to Lowes with my measurements and my shopping list thinking it would be a one trip sort of project. Do those even exist? Of course they couldn't cut the wood beams I needed in the store for me and I wouldn't have been able to fit the uncut beams in my car which meant I had to go to Home Depot instead because apparently they had the capability to make the cuts I needed. Also, the nice guy helping me thought I would only need 20 bags of pea gravel which seemed manageable for me and my jeep but after a closer look I needed more like 40 bags which sounded like a project for T.J.'s truck. And then the nice guy helping me said something like, you're not going to move all those bags by yourself are you? That's crazy." To which I lied and said "no I'll have help," but really I wont because I'm stubborn and too impatient to wait for T.J. to be home long enough to help me. 

Oh, and also, I'm a capable woman, thank you very much! 

I sometimes feel like maybe the employees and the other shoppers there with all their important projects are looking around wondering, who's this little girl pretending she knows what the heck she's doing? And where's her husband?

I digress...

I left the store with just the landscape fabric and stakes that I needed and went back to my slow and steady moving of dirt. Of course T.J. was going to be home for a bit on Saturday and could totally have helped but who wants to move gravel on their one day off. Plus by then I was pretty determined to do it without him, partly because I want us to be able to enjoy it already and partly because I can. Hashtag girl power!

On Wednesday I made my trip to Home Depot, got the beams cut and loaded in my car no problem (be sure to get pressure treated beams for outdoor use). Then I said screw it and arranged to have the gravel delivered on Friday instead of waiting for T.J to pick it up. Once I start a project I want it done now!
The hardest part of this project was all the digging, the ground was basically solid rock, and trying to get the area as level as possible was no joke. If you attempt this DIY I would recommend at least one other friend to help you out here to cut the time in half. I spent several hours after work each day that week moving dirt and raking and checking it with the level and moving more dirt. I ended up just doing the best I could and figured I could level it out more once I added gravel. But once that was done I laid down the landscape fabric, making sure to overlap each section.

My original plan had been to use rebar stakes to secure the beams to the ground but remember how the ground was basically all rocks? Yeah, it just wasn't going to happen.So I kind of just ignored that problem and eagerly awaited my gravel delivery.

I calculated the cubic feet I would need to cover and ordered 45 bags of pea gravel from Lowes and had it delivered on Friday. Turns out that guy who asked if I was going to move all the bags of gravel by myself wasn't being offensive, they're actually really flipping heavy! I could barely lift one bag and even with a wheel barrow I could only move two bags at a time. It was sloowww going moving all 45 bags from my driveway to the patio but then finally came the fun part- raking and spreading the gravel in the space.

Let me tell you, I slept well that night! Of course the second I let Hunley outside when I was finished he immediately knocked one of the beams out of place and I knew I'd have to find a better way to secure them. So the next day I went back to Lowes and picked up a couple brackets and a couple lag screws. I finally asked T.J. for help here and he ratcheted the screws through the corner pieces while I added brackets connecting the beams.  Finally I moved my Adirondack chairs into place and set up our new fire pit and then collapsed.
You know when you start one project a million more pop up? Well.... I want to aerate and over-seed the grass. I want to add stepping stones from the patio to the back gate. I want to add steps off the deck. I want to add mulch to the bed along the fence and I want to plant stuff. But for now I'm just going to enjoy this finished project that I successfully checked off my list.

I picture future little ones running around barefoot in the grass while we sit around the fire and roast marshmallows or sip a glass of wine. I love love love how it turned out and I can't wait to enjoy our yard more with this new extension of our living space.