a relaxing weekend in Connecticut and DC (alternate title – more adventures on the New Jersey Turnpike)

For my last morning in the Big Apple, I grabbed a breakfast wrap and latte from Starbucks and then hailed a cab to the parking deck where I had left my car for the past few days.  I paid the $52 I owed for 2 nights and plugged Alyssa’s address into the GPS and hit the road to Connecticut.

Surprisingly, I only missed 2 turns trying to get out of Manhattan.  I felt like a pro at this point, mastering navigation in the big city.  Once I made it out of New York, it was the easiest drive since I left North Carolina.  I got to Alyssa’s around noon and she drove me through the streets of Norwalk along the water.  It was overcast all afternoon but I still enjoyed seeing another small, quiet town.  They tend to be my favorite and after the bustle of DC and NYC, it was very soothing.  She took me to lunch at a precious French cafe in downtown Norwalk, called Chocopologie.  We devoured ham, apple and brie crepes and a piece of chili chocolate.  Then we wondered in and out of a few boutiques and gift shops.

I always value the time I get to spend with Alyssa.  She was the first new friend I made when we were studying abroad in Paris.  She was from a small private college in New York and we bonded immediately.  We were both trying to make a relationship work across an ocean and soon struggled, together, with finding balance between the new and the familiar.  Neither of our relationships lasted (to put it mildly), but our friendship has remained strong.  She even lived for a year or so in Winston Salem, so we took advantage of the time we were so close geographically.  Other than that, she’s managed to visit me a few times a year.  I’d never made the trip up north to see her, so I’m sure she thought it was long overdue.

A while later we went back to Alyssa’s so she could pack things up for her adorable doggy.  She and her fiance, Matt, were heading to North Carolina the next day after work for a week and her parents were going to dogsit for them.  I’ve never met her parents, but her mom bought us many dinners during our travels abroad and even for my birthday when Alyssa visited a few years ago.  It was so good to finally meet them both.  When we returned home, Alyssa made dinner.  Her family is Italian, so she can make a mean chicken parm, ziti and meatballs.

Mmmmm…the picture doesn’t do it justice.  I helped myself to seconds.  By then, Matt had gotten home and suggested we go for fro-yo.  I acquiesced.  Shocking, I know.

I piled on toppings – white chocolate for-yo, shredded coconut, strawberries, chocolate chips and vanilla yogurt chips.  Deeeelish.

The next day, Alyssa and Matt worked from home so we relaxed around the house and watched old reruns of Saved by the Bell.  I unpacked and repacked my bag and managed to remember to snap one final picture before I had to leave.

It’s never enough time with her, but I knew she and Matt would be staying with me the following Monday through Wednesday.  We said our “see you soons” and then I began the journey back to DC for the weekend.  I thought about driving straight home, but DC is halfway and I had already planned to be gone until Sunday.  I took advantage of one more visit with Kristin.  As if she couldn’t get enough of me…. 🙂

Before further tales in the capital, I will interject here with a story about New Jersey.  I wanted to be adventurous and avoid toll roads back to DC.  TERRIBLE IDEA.  It took me 4 hours to get halfway through Jersey along city streets when it would’ve taken about an hour or so had I taken 95 and just paid the darn tolls.  After hours of nearly bumper to bumper traffic, I finally said #*&@ this and found the quickest route to 95.  Four more hours later, I arrived at Kristin’s.

She and her Matt were enjoying drinks a few blocks away so I changed in my car (it was dark) and walked to meet them.  We all shared a quesadilla and a chimichanga and savoured a few drinks before walking back to their apartment.  I was exhausted from the drive, so it didn’t take long for me to pass out on an air mattress in the living room, soaking up the AC from the window unit.  The next day, Kristin and I agreed that we needed a girl day.  We had brunch and Starbucks mocha frappes and then indulged with mani/pedis.  The salon was packed and way more expensive than I expected, but when the girl asked if I wanted a longer foot massage I didn’t think twice.  $70 later we walked to Georgetown to see the matinee of “The 5 Year Engagement”.  We even split a gigantic popcorn….what rebels.  I love Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt and Alison Brie so I laughed quite a bit.  My only complaint was that it was just a bit too long.  Still a decent rom-com though.

Obviously, we love photo-ops.  We decided to swing by the Safeway grocery on the way home and get the everything we needed for tacos.  We also found some kind of amazing, mouth-watering 7 layer taco dip.  It was difficult walking the remaining 20 minutes without tearing into that dip.  About 22 minutes later, I did.

It probably looks like I have an eating problem, but I love me some good food.  And Kristin likes taking pictures of me eating….We tore up some tacos and then stayed up late talking and laughing and sharing stories.  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful two weeks.  The next morning, I packed up my bags for the last time, along with the memories and clarity I gained during my journey.  Little did I know, some major things would happen the following weeks after my return home (hence the reason it has taken me over a month to write about this little adventure of mine).  But that is another post for another day…

The drive home went by quickly and I sang along to my iPod the entire way.  I loved every minute of those 2 weeks, but I also loved pulling into my own driveway.

Final tally – 1,501.9 miles!!! Whew!  Hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did 😉

one bad mother runner at a barn sale

After a handful of hours behind the wheel (yet again) and only one wrong turn, I made it to DC.  My childhood best friend, Kristin, recently moved there from Charleston and was dying to have visitors in the big city!   Her friend, Shannon, another blogger and runner, also came down from Brooklyn.  We spent Friday night in DC enjoying a few quesadillas on the rooftop of a restaurant in Georgetown and then proceeded to Bourbon for drinks.

The second I tasted the delicious drink pictured above I promptly yelped, “This tastes like Asia!”  It was some kind of cucumber ginger martini that warmed both my throat and my heart.  It was so good that I of course had another.  After a few drinks (there might have even been a very strong mint julep in the mix) and lots of catching up, we made the lovely walk back to Kristin’s apartment.  We needed sleep before hitting the road Saturday morning for some barn sale-ing and half marathoning!

We began our beautiful Saturday with Bruegger’s bagels and iced coffees before hitting the road to VA.  An hour or so of driving later, out of the city and through the middle of nowhere, we arrived at the famed Lucketts Barn Sale (insert ahhhh here).

I don’t remember the last time I was that excited to pull up to a parking lot.  I could smell the food stands and see the rows and rows of vendors, like the famous Miss Mustard Seed.

There were so many inspirational pieces, which I of course took photos of to remind me to DIY later.  I even picked up the cute little metal stools above for $15 a pop!  I’m thinking they might need a little chalk paint job on the seat….but we’ll see.  Here are some of my inspiration finds:

Antique buffet turned bathroom vanity…

Precious Frenchie desk…

And it wouldn’t be a barn sale without a delicatessen or two.  I devoured the best crab cake sandy ever in about 90 seconds. You think I’m kidding?  Look-y here:

After filling our bellies, it was time to hit the road again to Fredericksburg, VA for the Marine Corps Half Marathon.  We visited the expo to get our runners packets and some other goodies.  My favorite?  A sticker that said, “one bad mother runner”.  Oh yeah, that’s going on my car.  I also got two car coasters that said “will run for wine” and “I sweat liquid awesome”.  I certainly channeled my inner Barney Stinson.  After the expo, we got our carb fix at Carabba’s, my pre half marathon tradition.  We checked into our hotel and had a pretty relaxed evening since we had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to drive to the lot to take a bus to the starting line.

Above is the pic of us post race (from left: me, Kristin, Shannon).  It was not my personal best by any means, but I was running with giant blisters on my soles and a swollen ankle so I’ll chalk it up to injury.  I typically run my races in the winter, so a May run was new to me.  There were a lot of hills and the heat got to me a little more than I expected.  It did feel the usual amazing to cross the finish line!

After the race we showered and headed to downtown F-burg for brunch and some sightseeing.  I was so excited to eat food and partake in some juicy mimosas.  A post brunch walk was perfect before the drive back to DC.  I even managed to snap a few pics while we walked.

The rest of the evening in DC was very low-key.  We settled for a little Georgetown shopping – ahem Lululemon – and a lovely Asian dinner on the patio before ending the day with a movie.  We saw “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and it was even cuter than I expected.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do.  Your significant other would even get a kick out of the Chris Rock daddy’s at the park montages interspersed throughout the film.

We were happy chill at dinner and a movie instead of trying to cram in some sightseeing before our next adventure.  Where’s that do you ask?  NYC baby!

Wine Tasting & Strawberry Picking

En route to Chapel Hill, home of many UNC grads like my dear friend Jessica, we stopped at Straw Valley Cafe & Wine Shop in Durham for a California wine tasting.  The Cafe is set along a busy intersection and only the facade is visible from the road.  When we pulled up a gravel drive to park, I kept wondering where in the world the wine tasting was. I had very low expectations.  Soon, I reprimanded myself for judging the book by its cover.

We entered the wine shop to pay our $8 tasting fee and then exited out of the back door, wine glasses in hand.  We walked through a beautifully tiled alley by the Straw Valley Craft House that is part of the cafe.  According to Jess, it was a prohibition era home that was built on land once used as a dairy farm. The home was used as both a studio and a shop by a pair of craftsmen who also displayed artwork in the outdoor courtyard.  Today, as part of the Straw Valley Cafe and adjoined Once & Again Consignment Shop, all of the furniture and art adorning the walls are for sale.  I liked how they juxtaposed a very dark, farmhouse with modern furniture and accents.

We walked through the house and out to the enormous courtyard for the tasting.  It had been a few too many hours since I’d eaten lunch, so my tummy was rumbling as the gentleman poured my first sample.  And I use the termsample loosely as it was actually an entire glass of wine.  I then helped myself to free bread and cheese they had on the hors d’oeuvre table.  You know how I love cheese, so many more visits to the food table ensued.

After a while it started raining, so we claimed a couch indoors and continued our sampling.  After we’d finished, the owner walked through and told us the tasting was over but they had an extra bottle of wine if we wanted it.  We responded with a resounding “Yes, please!”  Unfortunately, as we were enjoying that bottle, I proceeded to get so enthralled telling a story about nothing that I sloshed some of the very dark red Meritage out of my glass and onto my bright blue maxi skirt.  Welcome to a typical evening in the life of a clutz.

After we finished off the bottle, we went to a Members Only bar on Franklin Street downtown.  I don’t know how they get any members, because there is only a sketchy door stenciled in paint with 100A.  You have to knock and then they let you in and ask for your name.  One of Jess’s friends that we were with was a member so she got us in.  It was a small, dark space with a bar across one wall and then a long hightop table in the center of the room.  The was one piece of artwork on the wall and it was a very detailed sketch of a woman nude.  I had an overpriced extra dirty gin martini (go figure). They have a fairly short, limited menu of drinks and appetizers.  Typically, you pick out a liquor and chaser and you mix it to your liking.  Jess got a Jack and Coke, which translated to a tall glass of ice, half filled with Jack and a can of Coke.  The drinks were simple but expensive for the area.  If I lived there, I would not become a member, no matter how cool and elitist they are.

One overpriced drink later, we headed to a college dive for “dinner”.  It was 10 o’clock and we all got a beer and split a basket of fries and nachos.  I felt like I was back in college, unhealthy habits and all.  The food was delicious though. 😉

The next morning, Jess was very excited to take me strawberry picking. It was going to be my first berry picking experience.  I was starving for some breakfast, but she insisted we walk to the strawberry farm just down the road and pick strawberries to bring back because she was planning to make strawberry and chocolate crepes with her new crepe griddle.  I acquiesced, only because she claimed it was just down the road and she promised coffee on the way.  We leashed her pup Sir Charles, or Charlie, and began walking.  Half a mile later I grabbed a to-go cup of coffee for the road, which was a terrible idea as it constantly spilled out of the lid and onto my feet and it was about 90 degrees outside so hot coffee was not the way to go.  Oh, and what was just down the road was actually 3 miles along a busy road without a sidewalk then down an abandoned BFV road then a dirt drive.  What seemed like three hours later, grumpy and hungry, we arrived at the strawberry field.

I grabbed a bucket from the elderly and very country couple who own the farm and headed to the field.  It was a lot of fun picking big, juicy berries and I began to look forward to enjoying them in a gigantic crepe.  After I filled up my entire bucket and paid $5 for about a gallon of strawberries, we walked the long road back to Jess’s townhouse.  Fortunately, the crepes were well worth it.

After enjoying a crepe and a half, I loaded up my car once again for my next adventure.  Onwards and upwards to our Nation’s Capital!

bELONg

After a wonderful couple of days in Winston-Salem, I drove a little further north to my alma mater – Elon University.  It has been 4 years since I last visited so I thought I was due for a reunion.  I am convinced it is the most beautiful campus in the country and there is not a club nor extracurricular activity that they don’t offer.  When I was a student, I had my hands in a lot of different pots, so I was always busy.  I was a RA, Writing Center Tutor, assistant in the Multicultural Center, a member of Sigma Tau Delta, a writer for The Pendulum, and a sister of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Yes, I was a nerd, and yes, I loved every minute of it.   Somehow I even found a way to spend a semester in Paris.  It was magical.

I stayed with one of my favorite Elon grads, Gavin.  She has visited me quite a few times in the various places I have lived over the years so I knew I owed her one.  We have some fun memories from back in the day and reminisced over margaritas at a local Mexican dive.  She now works for the university and just graduated with her MBA from Elon.  I considered the margaritas celebratory.  When we got back to Gavin’s we digressed to college girls, painting our nails, jamming to Dispatch on her IPod and sharing the latest celeb gossip.  It was perfect.  I must admit, though, Pinterest did manage to dominate a portion of our conversation.  It was only inevitable as Gavin is just as obsessed as I am about DIY and home craftiness.  She has some great decor in her apartment and I definitely walked away with some new semi-stolen ideas.  Check out her digs:

She got the shutters from a salvaged antique shop in Greensboro and the hanging window that separates her dining room is from one of the old buildings at Elon.  Her kitchen is bright and fun, with some neat elements like the Staten and Ellis Island sign above the cabinets.  I made myself right at home in her art/guest room.  Don’t you just love the chalkboard wall?!  She even drew a cute headboard and wrote me a sweet welcome note.

The next day I met my grandlittle, Brittany, for lunch on campus.  I think the last time I had been there was actually when I had dinner with her before I graduated.  She is from LA and also works for the university now.  She’s been recruiting on the east coast but will be moving back out to LA this summer for a new position on the west coast.  It was fun catching up with her and hearing about all of the wonderful things happening in her life.  I will certainly be planning another trip out to LA in the near future…any excuse for me to travel, right?

After lunch I wandered around campus and almost didn’t recognize it.  They have added lots of new buildings and dining halls since I was last here.  The business building was completed my senior year and shows what amazing things they can do with a ton of bricks. The clock still stands in front of the library (left).  The archway of the library is still long and beautiful (right center).  And the Alpha Chi Omega house is as pretty as I left it (bottom right).  I spent a lot of time remembering what it was like as a freshman and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, how hard it was to leave.  Nobody tells you how difficult it is being in your twenties, stuck somewhere between trying to hold on to your youth and learning how to be a responsible adult.  It ain’t always roses.  So for that hour or so, I enjoyed pretending to be a college student again.

After a sweaty walk around campus I met another friend, Jessica, at some antique shops in downtown Burlington.  I wasn’t into the whole DIY and antiquing thing in college or else I would have blown all of my money at this place:

I purchased the stained glass windows to hang in front of the two small windows on either side of my fireplace.  I would have gotten the stool too except that you had to buy all four and the table.  Overall, there were great knickknacks to look through and I got some neat ideas for my own house. Like this silver desk:

And this hutch with a stenciled back:

Great ideas for future projects!  After Jessica had to literally drag me out the door because the shop was closing, I followed her to her place in Chapel Hill to begin the next phase of my travels. Needless to say, my visit to Elon and Burlington was a success!  Gotta love driving another thousand miles with fragile items in your trunk! 😉

 

Salem ain’t just for the Amish

The first leg of my adventure was a stop to see my best friend, Lacey, in good ole Winston Salem. We have been through 15 years of misadventures and we’re still just as silly as we were at 13.

I arrived around 8pm and we made some hummus and watched Best Ink before a few hours of nonstop girl chit chat. I haven’t been sleeping well due to anticipation for this trip so I slept like a rock. When we awoke, we enjoyed a delicious spinach smoothie before laughing our way through a Brazilian Butts video.

Lacey will probably kill me for posting that but that’s what best friends do…After we worked muscles I didn’t know I had, we headed to Old Salem. It’s the home of Salem College, Wachovia and Moravian cookies. Most of the shops are usually closed when I visit so I was excited to spend the afternoon wandering the cobblestone streets.

Isn’t it such a cute town? The weather was perfect and, as always, I enjoyed every minute playing with my BFF like we were 13 again. And of course we took a few fun ones of ourselves too:

And then some more…

Can’t you tell that we love being together?  After a few hours of frolicking, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at 6th and Vine downtown. Word on the street is Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler are filming a new movie close by and were spotted eating there a week ago. Unfortunately, no celeb spottings today. But the food was amazing. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

I left with a full belly and a happy heart. Best friends do that to you. Next stop – my alma mater, Elon!

13 days. 30 hours of driving. 8 cities. 5 states.

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. On this much needed vacation of mine, the journey begins with the first 100 miles of this 1500 mile road trip. Why would you ever drive that far, you ask? As someone who gets antsy and cranky in a car after 2 hours, I’ve asked myself the same question. When the initial planning began I was going to fly to DC, megabus it to NY, and drive to Boston with a friend, before flying back. Sounds simple enough, right? Well after seeing the price of a flight, I decided to save some cash (my little civic gets about 40 miles to the gallon) and add a few stops along the way. There are quite a few people from college and my time in Paris, and even a couple from childhood, that I could see along the way if I drove the long route to DC and NY (Boston got nixed. But don’t worry, it’ll happen soon.). When I mapped it all out and contacted everyone I wanted to see and they were all available, it was an easy decision.

After a few months of planning, I packed up my car…

Said goodbye to Susie…

Gassed up the civic…

And set out on the first leg of my trip. What can you expect from me for the next 2 weeks? Lots of photos, stories and new experiences. Stay tuned…

Another Inspiring Teacher

So, one of my guilty pleasures is the Ellen DeGeneres Show. I think she is one of the funniest, most inspiring celebs on tv. I also think if we met in real life we’d be BFF’s…for real. During her show she shares inspiring stories of everyday heroes. So yeah, I laugh hysterically and cry during her one hour show. She’s also been sharing stories about schools and teachers as part of the inspiring heroes segment. Yesterday she had the principal and a teacher from Eastway Elementary in Durham, NC, where 93% of the students are on free or reduced lunch and many have been or are currently homeless. During the video, I heard stories of teachers who used their own paychecks to purchase supplies for their classrooms because they don’t have enough funding. The teacher on Ellen, Sarah Myrick, even has a second phone line she calls her ‘homework hotline’ so students can call her anytime for help with their school work. What amazing dedication! Ellen awarded her with a $500 check for each teacher and a $100,000 grant for the school. One more reason to love Ellen – and Target! You can watch the segment here.

Ellen with teacher, Sarah Myrick, and principal, Kendral Flowers. (photo from ellen.warnerbros.com)

While I was watching this all teary-eyed, I thought about how many teachers there are in this country who go above and beyond like Sarah Myrick. I know all of us remember a teacher like that. I had an European History teacher in high school, Mrs. Benjamin, who would meet with us everyday after school during the spring semester until 6 p.m. or later to help us prepare for our AP test that May. Our class ended the fall semester in December, so we weren’t technically her students anymore, but she that didn’t bother her. She even used her own money to buy all five of us pizza. After we left, she would stay the rest of the evening to plan for her other classes the next day. Because of her love of teaching and her dedication to us, we all passed the AP test and most of us went to college with credits because of that exam. I know I went away to school (and Europe the following summer) with a passion for European history.

Not every teacher is a Mrs. Myrick or a Mrs. Benjamin. Regardless, it’s disappointing to me that the people who influence our kids the most and are teaching them how to be good citizens and responsible leaders are so poorly compensated. For a country that claims to value education, we have a long way to go to prove it. We pay teachers $25k or so a year, but we pay professional athletes millions?! That boggles me. To me that says that we value entertainment more. We can pay athletes to throw a ball and run up and down a field but we can’t afford to pay our teachers who mold our children’s minds and views of the world?! Over the past year in Charlotte, eleven schools had to close their doors. This has caused overflow and an increase in teacher deficits. The teachers that were let go because their schools closed did not stay in the Charlotte school system and now they don’t have enough teachers. How valuable or successful could classroom instruction be without enough teachers?

Students with their certificates in Guatemala

A few years ago, I visited a church in a little town in Guatemala just across the river from Mexico. There, they don’t lack teachers – they lack students. The town was devastated by hurricane Stan in 2005 and three years later it still looked like the hurricane had just hit. It was a poor community that couldn’t rebuild itself. The church where I was working at the time in the mountains of North Carolina had a partnership with the Guatemalan church, where we sponsored children to attend school through a scholarship fund. The trip was an opportunity for some of us to meet the students we were sending to school through our scholarship program. While we were there, we did some sightseeing around the country. At one place we visited, the guide asked us why we were there and we told him. He paused from the tour for a few minutes to tell us how much of a difference we were making for the children in his country. He told us that we were not only changing the lives of those children, but their children and their children’s children, and so forth. Most of the kids cannot afford to attend school so they drop out at a young age. Many have children as teenagers or young adults and have to work making very little. Then, their children must drop out of school because they cannot afford to attend…and the cycle continues. BUT if that child finished school they would most likely go to college or trade school. They would make more money at their job and most who can afford to go that route wait to have children and thus are better able to provide for them…and that cycle continues. Now, what he said wasn’t rocket science, but it’s not the way most of us typically look at it. What he said reminded me that education truly changes lives.

Doing the chicken dance with Guatemalan students (Just for laughs!)

Imagine a world where every child can afford to go to school and graduate, regardless of their family’s income, their race or gender…and imagine if every school had legitimately adequate funding and plenty of teachers. What a difference that would make, not only in our children’s lives but for the world. And what a different world that would be.