Aiken for a Break

I am just back from two nights at the Willcox Inn in Aiken, South Carolina. Our 27th anniversary was nearly a month ago but it is this week that our youngest is at camp so we waited until now to officially celebrate making it to number 27. My husband, Jeff, was in Aiken on business several weeks back and noted the stately inn and quaint town. We needed somewhere not too far from home for getting away and doing absolutely nothing and the Willcox fit the bill.  It is crazy to think that we paid money to stay there two nights while we left our house empty but we have seen the benefits many times of getting away to other scenery and away from the routine and projects facing us at home.  I got nothing done WITHOUT the guilt, thank you very much.

The Willcox Inn was built during an era when Aiken was seen as a winter colony for the well-to-do.  It boasts a guest list that includes the Vanderbilts, FDR, and Winston Churchill and now Jeff and Theresa Beach! The inn has stately white columns out front and a woodsy lobby complete with stone fireplaces on both ends. My appetite for architecture, interior design, and furnishings was well satisfied with plenty of stimuli around every corner.

We had dropped our son off at camp in Greenville and then drove directly to Aiken. Well, actually you can’t drive directly to Aiken from Greenville so we saw places in our home state that we have never seen before.  There are lots of trees in our home state. We have never been more sure of this. Over two hours later, we arrived at the beautiful inn, checked in, and settled in.  

 This rail hit about mid-thigh. We had to reach down to turn the doorknobs inside the suite.  I felt really tall at times.

This rail hit about mid-thigh. We had to reach down to turn the doorknobs inside the suite.  I felt really tall at times.

 I like the way they dealt with this step and I love drop-leaf tables!

I like the way they dealt with this step and I love drop-leaf tables!

 An adorable way to leave an old-world sewing kit on the mantle for guests

An adorable way to leave an old-world sewing kit on the mantle for guests

After a little rest, we were finally hungry enough for dinner.  While we were still in our church clothes, we decided it would be the best time for our fancy meal of the trip so we went downstairs to the inn’s restaurant and were delighted at every turn.  We got a corner window table and enjoyed the view of each other. The butter for the bread was served on a chilled piece of slate and sprinkled with coarse salt. Jeff’s appetizer of ravioli was beautiful and tasty and something I think I could replicate at home: four ravioli topped with arugula, roasted red peppers, shaved parmesan, and malt vinegar. The colors would be perfect at Christmas. Our filets were spot on and accompanied by a mix of green vegetables. Jeff’s dessert was an espresso mousse sprinkled with what they called “honeycomb” which was like honey brittle. My dessert was a peach and blackberry cardamom sponge cake pudding. We approved.

I like the way this hotel and many others dress their beds.  Our king bed had a fluffy mattress topper and four soft pillows.  The linens were all white and they layer a warm but thin blanket between two flat sheets.  There is a patterned coverlet on top that you can pull up and then a fat duvet which I’m sure comes in handy when it is not July. This bed was quite a bit taller than our bed at home so it took a little getting used to getting out of bed (or I should say getting down from bed) without breaking our necks. There was a little step by the bed but it only complicated matters. 

After a very good night’s rest, Jeff got ready and went to the lobby to drink coffee and read while I enjoyed some self-pampering.  When I finally emerged, we went to the breakfast room in the hotel. They had pastries and menu items that were complimentary; you paid only if you ordered certain items like bacon, so it was nice to have complimentary Mixed Berry French Toast.  I nearly coveted the buffet from which they served the beverages.  It had storage and was plenty long and I have a wall in my dining room waiting for it.  

 A beautiful marriage of modern and old-fashioned. That applies to the bathroom as well.

A beautiful marriage of modern and old-fashioned. That applies to the bathroom as well.

The waitress who served us at breakfast noticed how genteel my husband is and asked, “Is he always so sweet to you?” I replied, "I'm afraid so."  I know how good I have it but every now and again I realize how VERY good I have it.  Our marriage is not without problems, but I am very blessed to be married to a man of integrity who treats me like a queen and more and more as we learn to love each other better.  I guess I made a good bet 27 years ago.

After breakfast we went outside to look at the pool and then for a walk downtown.  Aiken has many one way streets divided by wide medians which create parking spaces on each side or park areas.  It gives a spacious feel to the town and creates a lot of buffer zones. We went into the antique mall and enjoyed commenting on different items to each other. Back on the street, I saw a life-size replica of a horse painted as an American flag and, instantly thinking political party, I said, “Look at that donkey!” My companion got a great laugh out of that and we continued to note the “donkeys” throughout the town, painted with different scenes.

You do not have to be in Aiken long to realize that it is big on horses. There were horse items everywhere although we never saw an actual live horse. The inn and the antique mall were full of horse gear and old pictures of people riding and there are annual events for horse lovers. It’s an equestrian town for sure.

 You know you are in an equestrian town when there is a boot jack in your closet.  It even looks like a horse.

You know you are in an equestrian town when there is a boot jack in your closet.  It even looks like a horse.

 Even their leaves look like horses!

Even their leaves look like horses!

After an afternoon of cooling off and resting, we walked to a mid-afternoon lupper at The Pizza Joint.  Our Greek salad was delicious and, when it was all over, we left about half a pizza on the table.  

We decided to enjoy the room for the rest of the evening so we took another nap and called room service to deliver those same two desserts we had the night before.  It tastes better wearing a bath robe. Then Hubby indulged me and watched "The Coffee Shop” movie with me.  By this point I can’t remember what day it is. It is nice every once in a long while to have a day of not looking at the clock but eating when you are hungry and sleeping when you are tired.  I should put tired in quotation marks; “tired” from being lazy!

On our final morning there, we duplicated the previous morning and then headed out to Betsy’s on the Corner, a local diner that was heralded in an article I read of great restaurants in South Carolina.  We had noticed on the website that they serve breakfast on Saturdays until 11am so we figured they must stop serving it earlier on other days. Nope. It meant they serve breakfast ONLY on Saturdays. This town’s business hours were somewhat surprising if not inconvenient. We went just a bit down the road to What’s Cookin’ and had breakfast there.  The grits were substantial and full of herbs.  The rest was so-so and the waitress needed our help to know what to do, bless her heart. But, hey, the local experience is part of the adventure when you travel so we still enjoyed ourselves.

It really seemed like a much longer trip than it was, seeing we were there not even 48 hours. Even a short break can give much refreshment and you will be “chomping at the bit” to get back to your routine with renewed vigor. All those times that I needed a break during the busiest days of my life make me truly thankful for these luxurious getaways. Even at a much more modest price, I am convinced that they are absolutely necessary for the health of a marriage. There is something about removing the usual distractions and cares so that you can be absorbed in one another and interested in every little thought and interest of your spouse. And then there’s THOSE PEOPLE we try not to mention because we are on a MARRIAGE trip and not a PARENT trip…but end up smiling and laughing as we talk about our children anyway. Now we feel all affirmed and relaxed. Time to get back to our lives as we smile and remember a wonderful celebration of our marriage.

Five Days in New York City (Part 2)

Day 3

Mercy. Please. Have mercy on us, Colton! We had seen many of the things we wanted to see already and were glad to have a more sparse itinerary for the rest of the trip.  Colton said that he was going at a slow pace with us and that his usual pace keeps him from spending so much time in the bad smells and heat. Young people these days: so resilient and resourceful.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning with breakfast in the room and had a late morning start to the day.

Our guide came to our room and took us to Brooklyn.  We took some pictures of the bridges and headed to Colton's favorite burger joint Shake Shack.  We hit it just before the rush and managed to get a table.  Yummy!

The Empire State Building in New York framed by the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn. This area is called DUMBO: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  Without the Overpass, it would just be DUMB.

My photographer captured the city's reflection in the window behind me.

We took the train to Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown near Rockefeller Center. The architecture is stunning. We sat and took it in. We have a weakness for stained glass and had plenty to look at. The awe and reverence in a church like that is something missing from the structures we meet in today. We have the "relationship" idea down but we would do well to remember that He is GOD.

We walked down 5th Avenue and Colton took us into Ralph Lauren.  I asked him tongue-in-cheek if he wanted to do a little back-to-school shopping.  He looked at the $160 price tag on a pair of sweat pants and said that he didn't need anything today. We took the elevator to the women's section (?) and, tucked in the corner, was a beautiful little pristine coffee shop, little known and hidden from the crowds.  Sit. Air Conditioning. Liquids.

Time to put the adults down for their naps.

Another date night ensued. A little dressier this time.  We took a taxi to Azalea's which proved to be a romantic venue.  The restaurants near Broadway always ask when seating you if you are attending a show.  They have always brought our food promptly and gotten us on our way in plenty of time. 

I had an excellent view. Tip: if you are ever waiting tables and there's a bottle of sparkling water on the table, be aware that one of the diners may be drinking plain water before you top them both off.

We had a short walk around the corner to the Broadway Theatre, one of the few theatres that is actually ON Broadway.  Our show of choice was "Fiddler on the Roof" and it did not disappoint. There were a couple of dance numbers that were all men and they were incredible.  It was so athletic and energetic: it gave me extended moments of childlike delight. One number was of five guys dancing with bottles balanced on their heads.  It was amazing but I was relieved when it was done that no one had dropped his bottle. What a delightful end to a delightful day!

Day 4

Day 4 was Sunday and Colton's church meets in the afternoon.  We met late morning for bacon, egg, and cheese bagels at Brooklyn Bagel and then coffee at Bean and Bean which is on the corner up from the church. Colton instructed us to sit near the only window unit air conditioner at Manor Community Church.  He played the piano for the service which was the most thrilling and moving performance I had heard all week. The people were very friendly. Some come to receive the free food given after the service, meal, and prayer time so there were a variety of social statuses represented. New York is a collection of nationalities and it gives a true sense of being "the church" when you worship with a variety of races.  I was very blessed to sing, worship, and eat with the folks there.  The pastor was sick that day so the interns ran the service and did a fantastic job.  After the song service, Colton had to go change his clothes: he was drenched with sweat.

After church, we had a good chat over some Argo Tea a few blocks away and then parted ways for the day. Time for the old folks to rest again.

It was nearly 8pm when we decided we needed dinner. Jeff looked online for something within walking distance.  I didn't want anything spicy that late so we opted for the steakhouse around the corner.  We decided on Jack's Steakhouse without even looking at the menu. It sounded straightforward enough.  Looking at the menu is always a good idea in NYC because you may not realize that the least expensive item on the menu is $45 and that everything is à la carte.  Once we were there and saw the menu, we decided to stay and make a nice meal of it.  Plus we were too tired to walk anywhere else. Just kidding. The filet mignon was delicious and we followed up with cheesecake and apple strudel, beautifully presented.

Day 5

Our final day had arrived so we ate breakfast in the hotel and packed our bags.  Our flight was not until 8pm (so we thought) so the hotel stored our bags until we came back for them that evening.  We put things we wanted for the flight in the outside pockets of our suitcases so we could get them before checking our bags at the airport.

Jeff used an app to find our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is located on the east side of Central Park.  The subway we took got us to the west side and then we took a bus across the park. This museum is beyond huge and beyond amazing.  I already knew that we would only get a sampling of it this day.  I read a New Yorker's comment that she had been over 30 times and sees new things every time she goes. Jeff wanted most to see the modern art and I the impressionists.  That is a little insight into our personalities.  We each enjoyed all of it.  I saw a few things I wouldn't mind having for the house but I didn't see any price tags. We enjoyed a delightful déjeuner at one of the museum's restaurants.  The corn soup was delicious and the $18 chicken sandwich was plenty for two. 

Monet

Degas

We met Colton and walked to Eclair, a pastry shop. We took our purchase to a coffee shop near Grand Central called Ground Central. It was loud and crowded but a kind young lady gave up her couch so the three of us could sit together in the cozy, dimly lit back room decorated like a private library. I enjoyed my cheesecake eclair there. 

When we came out of the subway, it was raining so we stepped inside the Bank of America building until it subsided.  My husband felt we had the right since he works for the company and apparently owns the building. We finally made it to the NY Public Library and, after doing our thigh-burning stair climbers for the day, enjoyed sitting in a large air-conditioned room to look for dinner options now that we were getting notifications of our delayed flight due to storms in the area. We decided on a barbecue place that Colton liked near our hotel but it was pouring when we tried to leave Penn Station so we just went to their food court in the subway and ate pizza. 

The rain was down to a drizzle now so we enjoyed the cool mist as we walked to our hotel lobby.  We got our bags and hung out for a while in the beautiful lobby while listening to a mom absolutely yelling and swearing at her children.  It obviously was not worth it to take them to Queens from the Bronx at that hour and then have to go back and get them tonight so she wanted to take them tomorrow but they just didn't understand why that was better. This was pleasant. She finally stormed out. I had seen another short-tempered mom on the subway who snapped and jerked from the children when they were doing nothing wrong.  I saw many nannies with children who treated them well.  I know these were isolated incidents but I saw that maybe it is better for a nanny to be with the children all day if there are moms who would treat them cruelly.

Colton walked us down to the taxi stand in front of Penn Station and sent us off to the airport. We saw a complete rainbow beginning to end as we went and got more flight delay notifications along the way.  Our 8pm flight departed at 11:45pm.  Even after seeing how he is thriving there and knowing that he is a 22 year old man, my heart was tugged as we flew out of the city, farther and farther away from our son.  He will be home in three weeks.  That helps.

GertRUDE sat in front of me on the plane, making fun of the flight attendant with her friend. Grow up, Gertrude.

We drove our own van out of the airport garage at 2am on the empty, silent streets. The silence made me feel that my ears were clogged but they weren't.  We wisely had planned for the day after the trip to be a rest day. And it definitely was.

We knew we wanted to experience new things in New York this trip but also knew that there is no way to see it all in one visit. We will take little nibbles of that Big Apple each trip and do it at an enjoyable, unfrenzied pace, seeing new things each time and revisiting our favorites. We had other uses for the money we spent but sometimes it is just TIME TO GO. Travel matures you and opens your eyes and mind.  Things are very different in other places.  This can make you thankful for what you have and give you ideas on how to improve it. It is good to experience other cultures and flavors and sights. It is amazing to see the God-given abilities people have and what they have done with the raw materials God provided in the earth. It all leaves me in more awe of God than before. 


Long before I started blogging, I wrote of our 2010 trip in a Facebook note.  I read it this week and then managed to delete it 😳 but the ending was so poignant.  I wrote that we took Colton on the trip when he was sixteen to expose him to other places, to encourage him to follow his dreams, and to show him that he was big stuff with us and that we wanted to celebrate him in a big way.  I do not know if it is ironic or providential that he now wants to live in NYC. He IS following his dream and pursuing the direction of God's calling on his life. I've been viewing the tapestry from the back all his life and now am getting glimpses of the front.

New York City is an amazing place.  I saw many impressive scenes there but I was most impressed with my two men.  When I look to my left or right, that same man is always by my side wherever life takes me.  He's there with an outstretched hand to help me up and help me out and that hand is constantly reaching for mine so that we can go together. He's there to stand between me and any threat and is clearing the way and bearing the load.  He's mighty handy to have around and I think my identity as a lady comes largely from the fact that I am so well-treated by this true gentleman.  New York City was marvelous but it only served as another backdrop for watching this lifelong marvel that I observe daily in my husband. After the tea and lipstick are gone, he will be the souvenir from my trip that I get to 🐝keep.

The other marvel I observed in New York is a little boy whose legs have now grown long and whose hand no longer needs to reach for mine.  I recognize him simultaneously as child and man and simultaneously shudder and cheer to see him roaming freely around New York. This man's unending energy is a great partner to his unquenchable infatuation with the city that never sleeps.  He has a way of coming to right conclusions and seeing through to the heart of a matter.  He so quickly volunteers to serve, whether it is filling our hotel ice bucket or giving food to the poor. To see him respect and serve all people makes this mom mighty proud. He lives by faith believing that God will guide his steps to work out the purpose for which he was designed and willing to do today whatever the Lord has led him to at this point.

I enjoy many elements of my life including travel. However, nothing I saw in NYC trumps the consistent joy that results from being a Christian, a wife, and a mother. That goes with me everywhere. You may never see New York in person or be a wife or a mother, but we can all have Jesus and that is joy enough for this life and the next.

Five Days in New York City (Part 1)

Our son Colton is spending his second summer in New York City so, when our younger two children decided to go to camp for the same two weeks, we decided to go during that time to visit our eldest.  We wanted to be able to spend time with him and to also have some time as a couple while we were there.  He served as an excellent personal tour guide.  He has learned the subway system and has found lots of wonderful, air-conditioned coffee shops.  

We had taken him to NYC for his sixteenth birthday trip in January of 2010, so now we have been there together through the cold of winter and the heat of summer.  It gets much colder there in the winter than here in the south and nearly as hot in the summer but the great difference in impact is that you are out in it up there walking from place to place.  Here we walk from the car to the building or never even get out in the weather with a garage at home and at work.

We managed to buy my husband's airline ticket with Skymiles and mine with VISA points so our only cost for flying was the $25 baggage fee per checked bag per way.  We got direct flights and were slated to be in NYC by 9:15am. Our returning flight was to leave at 8pm so we would be getting our full money's worth out of the hotel for those days by having a full day on both ends of the trip. Our flight ended up being delayed so we arrived in NYC about noon. This confirmed the lesson I learned the last time we went there and that is to not have firm plans the day of your arrival--nothing you have tickets for or that starts at a certain time.  Between flight delays and travel exhaustion, your plans need to be flexible on arrival day.

First glimpse flying in

We walked to the baggage claim and my suitcase was the first one out and arrived just as we did.  My husband's followed soon after and we were out the door. Jeff had arranged for a driver to take us to our hotel.  Mario was polite to play his music softly but I do need to teach him some driving etiquette. All in all, a smooth trip...for NYC.

View from hotel rooftop

We checked in to the hotel and I became puzzled when Colton called and asked if we were almost to the hotel where he was waiting for us. It didn't take long for us to realize that we booked a different Fairfield Inn than the one we spent much time choosing on TripAdvisor.  Come to find out, there are three Fairfield Inns in midtown.  The front desk was gracious to allow us to spend just the first night there and then switch over to the hotel we had intended to book.  They actually made the arrangements for us.

Colton finally found us and showed us the way to Lemony, a Greek place he likes for their French-fry-laden yeeros (and, yes, that's how they spell it).  On our way there, I saw many flower shops. They put tons of plants and flowers out on the sidewalk every day and create walkways through them.  How I would love to live near such a place and make fresh arrangements with their unusual flowers! There were fabric shop windows that gave me similar longings. No sooner did I get past the wonderful smell of flowers than I saw a homeless couple fast asleep on the sidewalk.  That's how it is in the big city:  something wonderful followed by someone's horrible reality in constant sequence. For the next four days when we were walking the streets, I would breathe in a different smell with each breath: flowers, coffee, urine, laundry soap, B.O., perfume, trash, cinnamon, exhaust, etc. The same with sounds and sights. It trains you to expect anything next.

We then made our way to Stumptown Coffee.  I do not drink coffee but my men said that it was good stuff.  It was a very hipster hangout with a large back room where people were talking and working on laptops.

This may be where we took our first subway ride of the week. We each had a 7-day unlimited ride ticket that cost $32. We used it a lot while there and got our money's worth. Houston Street is pronounced House-ton.  Just so you know.

Off to Battery Park we went where we saw Lady Liberty in the distance.

We continued on around until we found a shady place to sit and talk.  We then made our way to the 9/11 Memorial where we saw the two fountains memorializing the victims of 9/11.  

They are waterfall fountains built in the footprints of the twin towers.  The sound of the constant water creates a peaceful, serene atmosphere.  People would talk but no one was being loud.  I wasn't prepared for the tears that came.  This was the WHERE. I know the WHAT, the HOW, the WHY, and the WHEN, but it was the overwhelming WHO that was too much to consider: the thousands that died undeservedly and unexpectedly and the families and friends who still mourn them. We all mourn them. It was beautiful to see every name carved in the memorial. Every life matters. The new One World Trade Center tower stands tall and represents resilience but the theme of respect rang loud and clear to me.  

The trees planted on the grounds are from the states that endured the attacks on 9/11 and it was neat to see the survivor tree--the only tree that withstood everything that went on in that place in 2001. 

We then went to see the Oculus, a new subway station still under construction that costs $4 billion.

It is massive.  It connects directly to Brookfield Place. This is a very beautiful, new, expensive mall (unless $1200 shoes is your norm). There is a gourmet food court on the second level where I shared a fantastic barbecue sandwich and Dirty Fries with Colton from Mighty Quinn's Barbecue.  We realized we never bought the phone charger we needed that day so Colton took off to SoHo to get one.  Jeff and I wandered around Le District downstairs, a French market.  There we found many wonderful pastries and chocolates.  I bought a variety box of teas. We enjoyed some of the pastries and graciously left a bite of each for Colton. We wandered outside and rested while watching people walk, jog, skateboard, and ride bikes along the battery. It was a beautiful evening.  

When Colton returned, he showed us the way by subway to go to Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson.  It was dark by then and we sat in the park and gazed at the beautiful city lights of New York. Colton pointed out the areas of town from top to bottom: uptown, midtown, the villages, and FiDi (the Financial District).  Times Square was recognized by how it lit up the sky above it. We made our way back to our hotel and slept hard after a day of over 13,000 steps in temperatures in the upper 90's.

Day 2

I awoke to construction noise and distant honking car horns. Mr. Wonderful got up and got dressed to go get the hotel breakfast for me.  I felt like I could rest a long while more.  Comfortable shoes are a must when pounding the pavement of a big city.  My lack of energy would require a slower pace today. Alternating indoor (air conditioned) and outdoor activities and sitting and standing activities is also a good idea.

Our first item of the day was to switch to the right hotel. We walked it, thankful for suitcases with wheels. The new hotel was a great improvement: beside Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, bigger, nicer, newer.  There was actually space to put our suitcases on the floor of our room!

Next we went to the original Joe's Pizza and ate it in Washington Square Park near the huge arch and watched children play in the fountain and listened to a bluegrass group.  Shade was high in demand. We made the mistake of ordering a smoothie from a food truck without asking the price first.  Our guide clued us in on how to do better next time.

We took the bus (which also used our metro card) to our next destination. It was an overall good experience to travel through town and see the sights seated and in air conditioning.  At one point the driver had to slam on brakes because a vendor's cart got away from him and went into the street.  My husband hurt his arm against the rail in front of him but it did not cause any ongoing problem. We walked through Little Italy and had some refreshing Greek yogurt at Greecologies.  There are lights strung between the buildings and, as in many cases throughout the week, I wish I could have seen it at night although I usually was longing to nest in my bed with a cup of tea in the evenings. Little Italy was quaint and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street! Colton had told me about a coffee shop called Maman he thought I would like. It was French and used blue and white china.  He took us there and he was right:  I loved it!  Their paper cups were printed in the pattern also. I'm going to try to replicate a quinoa dish I saw at a glance there.  

Next up was Grand Central Station.  The architecture is beautiful with thick mouldings and constellations painted on the ceiling.  Colton told us how valuable each of the four faces of the clock are and how amazing it is that they weren't stolen back when the station fell into disrepair. Grand Central is the station that takes trains to Connecticut while Penn Station takes trains to New Jersey.

My men indulged me to look in Sephora on 5th Avenue. I have been watching a small makeup company named Besamé and the Sephora in our mall at home carries only two of their lipsticks.  I was sure this NYC Sephora would carry the whole line but was disappointed to find that they carried the same two shades and nothing more.  I bought the Red Velvet with some of my birthday money. Thanks, Mom and Dad! 💋

Colton had plans with friends for the evening so he took us to our room and gave instructions for taking the subway to our evening plans.  We rested and freshened up, a little nervous to try the subway system without our guide. We learned quickly that it is not enough to know which train to take; you first have to know how to interpret the signs in the subway to FIND the train.  It is important to know that there are layers of trains.  There can be up to five levels of trains, over and below each other under the ground.  This requires taking stairs or elevators or escalators to the other levels.  After thinking hard and sending pictures of the signs to Colton, we finally got a "Yes" and got the right train on the first try. We had chosen a restaurant within walking distance from our event so we now could relax.

Rosa Mexicano had good reviews and turned out to be an excellent choice.  We had reservations and were seated immediately.  The two-story wall beside the stairs had water trickling down it and there must have been 200 little diving men mounted on it in varying stages of their dive. It was a large restaurant with a portable cart used to make guacamole tableside. I learned a new way to peel an avocado. The service was excellent and the food was very good. It was nice to have a little smaller portion so that we had room for dessert: warm churros (Mexican doughnuts) with chocolate and raspberry sauces. Yes, indeed!

Next we headed a few blocks over to the Lincoln Center for a free Mostly Mozart outdoor concert. We walked two sides of the block to get to the end of the line for admission (bag check) but it moved fairly quickly and we were in our seats in plenty of time. It was slightly sweltering but the sun was setting and there was an occasional welcome breeze. The violin concerto was remarkable and "Jupiter" was delightful as always.  A ten-year-old (I'm guessing) ballerina took it upon herself to dance throughout the entire concert up and down the side of our section.  Some of the older folks found her enchanting and some video-taped her. I wondered where her parents were.  We hadn't chosen an evening of amateur ballet but of music.  If everybody did.... That's the drawback of a free concert. Fortunately, I was at an angle to block her out and enjoy the orchestra. Now for the subway.

We did fine and met Colton at his favorite gelato shop called Amorino's.  He has taken many guests there including missions teams so the owner greets him and calls him the Boss when he comes in.  They even put a free macaroon on his gelato. That's good business.  That owner works it and it shows. When you order a cone, they use two flavors and arrange the slabs to make a rose. So pretty and refreshing.

And that is the end of a 15,000 step day. 

[See Part 2]

 

A Long Weekend in Charlotte, NC

My family recently went on a short vacation to Charlotte, NC.  We have taken different types of vacations over the years with the commonality of fitting it to our budget, interests, and ages. This one was certainly based on those qualifications. Hopefully you can gain some ideas by reading this travelogue. I'm sorry it is so long. Feel free to skim for the parts that grab your interest.

Our eldest child plans to spend the summer in New York so the four days that his spring break overlapped our other children's spring break turned out to be our only chance to do something as a family this year.  Even with that, he was going to spend two of those days in New York and needed to fly out of Charlotte, NC, so we decided to spend the weekend there.  Since our time was so short, we splurged a little to make things nice.  We decided to use part of our vacation money for a shopping spree so that we all had things to show for the weekend after it was over.  It would have been close to the amount we would have spent on inexpensive flights. That would have been fun but we met some clothing needs with that amount and had fun doing it.

We left home Friday morning and went straight to Concord Mills Mall in the northern part of Charlotte.  The natural division turned out to be the girls (my daughter Evy and me), the boys (my two sons Colton and Capers who are different shapes but wear the same size), and Dad (aka my husband Jeff).  We all had the same amount to spend and our budgeting and wardrobe skills were put to use. The three groups went our own ways and met at the food court for lunch.  We all arrived at slightly different times and ended up all choosing the same restaurant.  If we had known beforehand that the Japanese place had a punch card for a free meal after four punches, one of us could have eaten for free.  It worked fine anyway since I have learned that it doesn't take much to fill me up and the kids usually have leftover food.  I just took a little from a couple of them and was fine.

Something I have learned from being on previous vacations is that I have a hard time being hungry enough to eat when it is time to eat again.  This vacation we ate just two meals per day and it worked great.  By the time some sleep in, you have a later breakfast than usual and then you're not ready for lunch at lunchtime.  That puts you ready for a meal mid to late afternoon which also helps you beat the crowd.  You could have a snack in the afternoon and push dinner later or have the afternoon lupper and have the snack in the evening.  Vacation meals are usually bigger than  typical meals so you stay full longer and you aren't working off the food. The food was one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip so it was good that we set ourselves up to be hungry enough to enjoy it.  We spent about one-fifth of our money on food.  There are usually sweet treats you allow yourself to partake of on vacation, too, so the two-meal per day plan allows for that.

After lunch at the mall and sending our packages out to the van, we divided back up to shop for about three more hours before we met at the mall's movie theatre.  It was great to sit in comfortable chairs after doing all that walking.  We saw "Miracles From Heaven" and there were few if any dry eyes among us.  It was a great film that left us all thankful for our health, for each other, and for our faithful God.

Throughout the shopping experience, I was thrilled to see my children make decisions based on price, quality, and usefulness. Our eldest doesn't shop often but knew what he needed, shopped the mall for the best deals, and then went back to purchase his items at the winning stores.  He managed to get a lot for his money. Evy is hard core when it comes to spending money.  She knows what she needs and will not spend a lot for it. Capers is learning but was allowed to buy some fads since he is nearly fifteen and still growing.  I won't have to look at them long.  I let him wear the hula girl socks twice before I threw them away. No.

After a few more purchases, we checked into the Ballentyne Hotel on the south side of Charlotte.  It turned out to be a great choice and left me wanting to go back.  It is conveniently located just off 485 so we were in and out very quickly each time we went somewhere.  The whole area there is new and has plenty of nice shops, restaurants, and housing.  I loved the colorful art by Thomas Vieth of Charlotte venues including the Ballentyne Hotel.

One doesn't just get a hotel room for a family of five.  One must have two rooms.  Ca-ching ca-ching. Fortunately they were able to give us adjoining rooms which worked beautifully for our three-night stay.

We rested and freshened up a bit and then took off for the Cheesecake Factory at SouthPark Mall.  They said the wait was one and a half to two hours.  I doubted that and ended up being right.  It was fifty minutes.  We old people waited outside on their comfy sectionals while the kids explored the mall.  Walking in a mall didn't appeal to me at that moment for some reason.  It was getting on to nine o'clock by the time we were seated and I was beginning to turn into a pumpkin.  The food was very good but I think I filled up too much on strawberry lemonade and mashed potatoes to finish my delicious salmon.  Such a shame.  The combo of being full and tired made me not feel so well so I was ready to hit the hay.  The rest of the family ordered cheesecake to go and we headed back to the hotel. 

The next morning, we all headed to the hotel dining room for a wonderful breakfast.  Capers said that his pancakes were so good that he wanted to cry.  My Crab Cakes Benedict was out of this world also.  The decor in the dining room was mostly modern but definitely eclectic.  The moulding was spotlighted and so unusual. The floors were photo-worthy and will show up as a background on this blog one day no doubt.

We roamed around the hotel for photo-ops after breakfast. 

We then headed downtown to roam around there.  I'm not much for roaming so I was working hard to be a team player.  We did go straight to the Levine Museum of the New South which I had researched so I was fine with that. It was very interesting with lots of hands-on exhibits.  It depicted the changes that have taken place in the South since the Civil War.  I take my history with a grain of salt so I was a little skeptical but I think they tried to be truthful.  I hesitate to believe that all of the facts have been preserved without a slant or that things were as wide-spread as whatever was documented.  I also know that the public is not privy to all the confidential information that leaders have when forced to make decisions. There were many issues represented and they prompted opportunities for discussion within our family. That is as close to political as you will ever see me get. I do not enjoy conflict, especially handled wrongly.

We ducked in for some beverages at the 7th Street Public Market which was at the north end of the line for the LYNX train. It was a large open room that housed several counters from different businesses.  There were also aisles of groceries.  This was a neat place.  Most of us ordered hot drinks and managed to find a table big enough in the back corner.  All of the drinks were very good but my hot tea press was the envy of all.  I had Turmeric Ginger hot tea and it was perfect on that chilly, rainy day.

The kids wanted to ride the train so we bought tickets and rode all the way to the other end of Charlotte and back.  It was a neat way to see the city. 

Then the wanderlust continued but it was thankfully short-lived.  "Just wandering around to see what we find" ended up being finding a bathroom and our van.  After a quick refresh at the hotel, we went just five minutes down the road to Midwood Smokehouse.  This turned out to be everyone's favorite meal of the trip.  We walked around in the nearby shopping area while we waited for our table. It was worth the wait.  The barbecue was excellent and the sides were, too.  I recommend the baked beans.  They were the most flavorful I have ever had.  Capers ordered ribs and said that all the meat came off each rib with the first bite.  Needless to say, we will be back first chance.

Back at the hotel, the two younger kids took a dip in the indoor pool while my husband and I chatted with Colton.  He was headed out to NYC the next morning for a quick two-day trip to finish up his spring break.  He got there just in time to practice thirty minutes and then play for the church service at New York Gospel Mission where he interned last summer.  Then he was off to two Broadway plays.  He spent the night with a gracious friend and then auditioned Broadway performers with his dean for his senior Theatre Arts project coming up in November.

The rest of us got up Sunday morning and went down for another beautiful breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  I had the pancakes this time and Capers was right: excellence with honey butter on top. We headed off to Matthews, NC, nearby for the Easter service at Bible Baptist Church.  We saw several people we knew and enjoyed the service very much.

We were so full from that big, late breakfast that we had no interest in lunch.  We went to the Mint Museum only to find an empty parking lot and a sign that said they were closed on major holidays. We used the beautiful lawn for some family pictures and then went back to the hotel.  We lounged in our hotel rooms for the afternoon and then headed out to a restaurant called 131 Main.  Here we introduced our children to prime rib.  It was served with a gentle horseradish sauce that was just perfect.  Evy and I also had the clam chowder.  That turned out to be one of my food favorites from the trip.  We laughed a lot at that meal, partly at the kids making up lame jokes and partly at the fact that it seemed that a different person came to our table for every different thing.  They must have a huge wait staff.  One seated us, one got our drink order, one brought the drinks, one took our order, another brought the appetizers, and on and on.  We added a brownie a la mode at the end and we paid more for that meal than any other of the weekend and there were only four of us instead of five.  It was very good and I'd go back just for the clam chowder. It would also be nice to sit around the fire pit on a non-rainy day.

image.jpeg

Obviously tired of coming up with poses. "Capers, put your knee up."

Jeff and Evy went out for a date after dropping Capers and me off at the hotel.  I watched some HGTV while Capers enjoyed the gym (as he did each day we were there) and flirted with the spa staff. He and Evy were back in the pool before bed.

Monday morning we ordered room service for breakfast.  It was nice to eat in the room and be able to sample many different things.  The grits were so creamy.  I must learn how.  This is another benefit of vacationing in the South.  After I ate, I took off to my favorite store, the Talbots Outlet.  There is a new outlet mall on the west side of town.  I had spent only one-third of my spree money on Friday so I was prepared to finish my task. If you want to know my style, it is Talbots.  100%.  I didn't know until I got back and did some math that I managed to spend the exact amount to the dollar I had remaining without even knowing what it was. I went back to the hotel, and we packed up and headed out to enjoy our last, and only beautiful day, in Charlotte.

For the afternoon, we went to the Carolinas Aviation Museum at the airport.  They have quite a few old planes.  You can sit in one of them and have a conversation with a very knowledgeable tour guide.  The centerpiece of the museum is the plane that landed in the Hudson River in 2009 as it left New York City headed for Charlotte, NC.  The plane is sitting right there in the indoor museum with artifacts, pictures, and narrative all around it.  The NYC skyline is projected onto the wall and there are waves projected onto the floor. Very nicely done.  They have an area to watch the short documentary movie "Miracle on the Hudson" so we sat and watched it.  Just what a mother wants to see just a few hours before her son leaves NYC for Charlotte. I found it interesting that the movie is called "Miracle on the Hudson" but one place on the narrative said that it wasn't a miracle at all but the genius of the pilots and a bit of luck.  The pilots were smart and experienced but they needed more than luck for everything to happen as it did. Some people just won't give God the credit He deserves.

Before leaving town, we went to a restaurant called Mac's Speed Shop.  We had been here once before and enjoyed it very much.  They have barbecue and sides plus burgers and other things.  It has a bike shop decor.  The music was not my cup of tea and I don't think I would like the atmosphere it probably has at night, but it was good each time we have gone.  The menu said that there are three NC locations and one in Greenville, SC.

Southern Loop Burger and Creamed Corn 

We arrived safely at home at a decent hour and our son flew into Charlotte and drove safely to school that night.  A four-day vacation was long enough without being too long.  It wasn't a tropical island, a trip to Europe, or a week on the slopes, but we had a fun time doing things we enjoy without spending a lot of time traveling.  Best of all, we showed our family that spending time together is a priority.

We never felt rushed or like we were not cramming enough in.  Our goal was to be together and do things at a relaxed pace.  We hate coming home from a vacation tired so we have come to accept that we will not be able to do and see all that is there.  We did and saw plenty but never got worked up about it.

You can know that I have added to my must see, must eat, must stay list for Charlotte.  I did not manage to take afternoon tea at the hotel this trip, nor did I visit the spa.  But if the opportunity arises, I know where to go.

Now, back to reality, which isn't half bad either.