Hints of Spring

Hints of Spring

I find it funny that I chose root as my word of the year and the first two months felt  anything but rooted.  Not only were there two trips (one that catapulted me across the country and another that catapulted me right back to my couch to recover) but a winter cold knocked me out not once, not twice but three times.  And then we made the decision to adopt this little guy.

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Schedules be damned.  Who cares about sleep?  Living rooms are meant to have small wooly pink pigs and green frogs dotted amongst twigs and leaves picked up from endless trips outside, right?  Because he has these eyes that get teary when he’s tired and squinty when he’s mad and they make me answer yes.

We named him Reese after Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  He has wrinkles on his forehead and lips, black tipped ears and a gray and white chest.  The pads on his paws are all black except for one, which is half pink.  His tail has a little kink at its tip.  The vet looked him over and said ??? about his breed.  He likes to be held when he’s tired and gives me a soft little tap with his nose when I tell him to be “oh so gentle.”

But he also only sleeps a few hours at a time.  He pitches a fit when it’s time for bed.  He swears he doesn’t have to go potty when he’s shivering pitifully outside and then decides otherwise once back in the warm house.  He bites ev-er-y-thiiiiing…plants, cords, blankets, us, Fisher’s tail, his leash, his shadow, the air.  The three of us look at him beleaguered but understanding.

After six days at home (but who’s counting), I snuck out for a few hours on Thursday and soaked up the March issue of Southern Living while getting a pedicure.  I popped in the coffee shop for a chai tea latte and sipped my way through Target before picking up two new pillows for the front porch.  I came home feeling like a new person.  Getting out of the house is good.  And so, in that spirit, we took Reese for his first country drive yesterday.

We drove familiar narrow roads, passed mended fences, baby cows and old barns before getting to my favorite covered bridge.  It was surrounded by white blossoms and slanted sunlight. We walked around the field.  Camellias, all different shades of pink, were just starting to bloom and a small waterfall tumbled across flat rocks into the creek after a few days of rain.  We stopped for a kiss underneath the covered bridge before walking back to the car.  Reese bunny hopped between us, delighted as we were at the first hints of spring. I stopped for a moment and turned back to look again before looking down at our new boy, for it’s in moments like these I realize that even the youngest (and bite-y) of roots nourish.

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The Deer in Headlights Guide to Disney World

The Deer in Headlights Guide to Disney World

I had never been to Disney World and had always wanted to go but needed to overcome my two main fears:  1) Florida’s heat and 2) amusement park crowds.  What better time to go than late January? It’d be after the MLK holiday but before President’s Day weekend, no school holidays that I knew of, temps in the 70s and the second slowest week of the parks!  We were in!  And then we got there…

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The “second slowest week” at Disney World still is a literal 8 out of 10 on the crowd scale.  It turns out that just because American schools don’t have holidays, it’s summer break in the whole southern hemisphere!  Forgot about that!  Oopsie. Turns out, there is no slow time at Disney World! Surprise!

We stood in line waiting for the bus to take us to the park.  Stood in line at the park so they could check our bag.  Another line to check our tickets. Then in line again for breakfast.  We had been in lines for over an hour and hadn’t even made it on a ride yet.

My spirits started to sag early but then we got to the Haunted Mansion and the magic started coming back.  Our stomachs dropped on the Tower of Terror, hair blew back on the Rockin’ Rollercoaster and ice cubes glowed in the Sci-Fi Dine in Theater.  It was a great trip but here are some things I’ll remember for next time.

#1: The Disney Pace

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There are blogs and blogs and blogs devoted to Disney’s food, rides, souvenirs, and anything else you can think of.  When I started planning I was nothing but overwhelmed.  I ended up getting some help from a travel agent but even that didn’t prepare me for the pace.

There are A LOT of people everywhere and all are in various stages of crabby.  We walked almost 10 miles every day, were up before 7 a.m. and stumbled into the hotel a little before 10 p.m. each night.  We saw a fight, got soaked when the sky opened up, met a racist bus driver and by the end of it became immune to kids melting down. When we got home to Georgia we didn’t move for two days.

#2: Fast Passes

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The line for Avatar Flights of Passage was over 3 hours long and rarely got below that.  It is one of the newest rides and illustrated the need for Fast Passes if you didn’t want to wait.  If you stay at a Disney resort you get to reserve Fast Passes 60 days in advance of your trip.  You get three per day but once you use all three you can use the app at the park and see what others may be available.  The Fast Pass gives you an hour window to show up at the ride and you move straight to the front of the line.  Here are a few more things to know:

  1. Choose the most popular rides first regardless of the day you plan on being at the park.  Most people plan their park visits day by day but by the time they’d get to the day they wanted to be at Animal Kingdom the Fast Passes would be gone for Avatar.  So start with the most popular ride the moment Fast Passes become available and work backwards from there.
  2. Stack Fast Passes for the mornings so that way you can scan for others in the afternoon and evenings.   Since you can’t start reserving other Fast Passes until you’ve used all three, loading them up before lunch gives you a chance to look for others into the afternoon and evenings.  We were able to ride Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Rollercoaster three times this way.
  3. But don’t stack them too early.  Once the park opens you can bomb straight to a couple of the popular rides (think Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Expedition Everest…or basically any ride but Avatar and Mine Train currently) and there is hardly a wait.

#3 Dinner Reservations

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With the (what feels like) two million restaurant options at the four parks, one (namely me) would think that it wouldn’t be a big deal to waltz in and have your pick whenever you were ready.  One (again, me) would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully I had a travel agent that knew better.  Dinner reservations are necessary.  We’d just grab Starbucks in the morning and one of the “quick dining” options for lunch but had reservations each night for dinner.

#4: Stick to What’s Important to You

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This is actually my advice for every vacation, but it somehow holds even more true at somewhere like Disney World.  The park and resorts move you through them in a way that can be hard to deviate from.  A nice dinner or two are my “must dos” on vacation and Stephen had been waiting to ride Tower of Terror for 25 years (the last time he was at Disney World, he saw signs advertising the ride the whole trip from Georgia to Florida only to get to the park and realize the ride opened the day AFTER they were leaving).  To make up for lost time we rode Tower of Terror three times (it was so fun!) and I got my afternoon tea at The Grand Floridian and a private safari with a four course meal.  They were by far some of our favorite memories.

Will we go again?  Yes.  Will it be soon and will we wear matching Disney shirts and lanyards full of pins?  No. Was it exhausting?  Yes.  Was it magical?  Absolutely.

(I’ll post more next week about the restaurants and rides we liked.) 

Punta de Mita, Mexico

Punta de Mita, Mexico

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So there I was.  November. Portland. Coming out of a meeting I turned my phone on and blinked at the number of text messages. 70.  SEVEN-ZERO messages came in between 10 and 11:00 a.m.  I braced myself for bad news until I saw the final message on a group text “Beck, are you IN or what??!!”

In the span of an hour, four friends had all but booked a long weekend in Mexico and were waiting on me.

I sat staring at my phone.  I had been to Arizona in August, Savannah in September, Minneapolis in October, Portland in November. We were on our way to New York in December and had a Florida trip planned at the end of January.  Not to mention the new sod that would be going in the front yard, Christmas, and the fact I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in so long my skin was translucent.  I did the math, carried the one, figured eating Top Ramen for a month would just make me more buoyant and typed,  “I’m in!”

I packed a few dresses and got a spray tan that did nothing but turn my feet such a ridiculous shade I started calling myself “Trump Toes.” And that, my friends, is how my orange feet and I flew into Puerta Vallerta over Martin Luther King weekend.

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After a 45 minute drive where I was able to slip back into the Spanish I’m surprised I still remember, I found myself here. The W Hotel in Punta de Mita, a small resort town.

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And um…I had no trouble settling in.

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I was worried about getting bored, but it turns out I am absoluely 100% made for inhaling books while sitting under a cabana and listening to the ocean.

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It also turns out when you put the lime in the coconut you really do feel better. (PSA, the more you know, etc.)

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We scraped ourselves off the chaise lounges just long enough to eat every shrimp taco they had or red AND green chilaquiles because who wants to pick just one?

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We also managed to get ourselves off the property to go to a colorful little beach town (Sayulita) and eat paletas (popscicles) so good no one minded wearing mango stained lips for a while.  They matched my toes!

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And just when I thought snorkeling in the Pacific couldn’t  get more magical…

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…a baby humpback whale with its parents, just 20 feet off the side of our boat, brought me to tears.

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And so while my answer originally was “I’m in,” it has changed since coming home.  Now I say vamanos.  Let’s go.  Over and over again.

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Finding January

Finding January

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Parts of the lake across the street are frozen.  This week’s weather means an iced over bird bath, chapped lips and an irrepressible urge to get out of the house only to want to come right back in again.  I eat bright clementines and scoop honey from Stephen’s family’s bees to drop in my green smoothie with enough fresh ginger to make my lips tingle.

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Light floods in now that the trees have lost their leaves.  I’m mid office makeover and eagerly await a new rug delivered by our beleaguered UPS guy that even still, post holiday, doesn’t get here until after 6 p.m. I knit this wrap from Purl Soho and wait, pondering what to hang on the walls.

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Stephen makes me laugh by talking in the clipped British accent of the Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life narrator as I listen to the secrets of the universe locked inside a kernel of popcorn.  He makes soup with cornbread one night and chicken fettuccini alfredo another.  Stick to your ribs food that make walks even more necessary.  We strike out, bundled up in hats and coats.  Fisher is so energetic we have to take her to the baseball field so she can literally run circles around us.  She blinks, looking into the sun, tail wagging, panting hard, tongue hanging out of her mouth before running towards us, every step saying “isn’t this AMAZING?!”

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She may be right.  January has never been a favorite, but just like that humble kernel of popcorn I think we’re starting to unlock her secrets.

One Little Word

One Little Word

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As we move into the new year I’ve been giving some thought to  “One Little Word”  and what word I would choose.

The last couple of years have felt like my feet haven’t been on the ground.  There was falling in love; the roller coaster of loss; and the combined love and loss that stem from moving to a place where breakfast burritos are no longer stuffed with bacon, egg, cheese and potatoes but with fried chicken.

Things are starting to feel more settled.  Stephen is in the kitchen browning beef for a rich ragu we’ll serve tonight as we ring in the new year with a small group of friends. Fisher is passed out from her morning routine of running after the backyard squirrels, and I look at the Bobcat in the front yard with high hopes of lush grass in the spring when my hostas and hydrangeas will, fingers crossed, come back alongside the sod that goes in next week.

I hear a quiet whisper.  My word begins to form.

Every day I think about people, from strangers to those closest to me.  I think of lessons from the past and how those lessons inform our progress.  My heart goes out to the innocent and the guilty too; for while I believe strongly in justice, I believe just as strongly in compassion.

I think about this gorgeous planet and all of its inhabitants–animal, vegetable, mineral.  I think of those with nothing and those with seemingly everything.  And I think about the beliefs and stories of groups of people–those in countries, cities, churches, businesses and government–those who love and research and risk themselves to live the truth of their stories, for better or worse.

The whisper gets louder, it senses my doubt.

What am I taking from this world and what am I giving?  I fear doing harm–hurting people with my words, my beliefs, my lack of expertise in…basically all areas but the beauty of power naps and cookies…but I worry my silence is doing just that, hurting those who need my support.

And I finally hear my word…root.

Root, quiet and strong.

Root deeply. Take just what is essential and grow so that others may have that which they need now and long after I leave.

I don’t know what will come, or even exactly where I’m headed, but I will place my feet on the ground and begin.

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

I realize as I look back over my Christmases that, depending on the year, they have been busy, quiet, stressful, indulgent, hilarious, sad, happy or peaceful.  I’ve learned, as with most things, to embrace and appreciate what is and quietly work to change what I wish were different.

I’ve carved out my own cozy traditions over the years–a little space for the things I enjoy, that recharge my batteries and that I look forward to each year.  I’d love to hear about your traditions too if you’d like to share.

Christmas Baking

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I usually choose one or two things to make each season.  I’ve made marshmallows and cinnamon rolls, Chex Mix and pretzels, and frosted sugar cookies among others.  This year I was feeling humble and homey.  So soft, chewy ginger cookies and cinnamon sugar rolled donut muffins it is.

A New Ornament

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Every year I look for a few new ornaments to reflect major events or places I’ve been.  It’s so fun to pull them out each year and remember where I was when I bought them. I have a little copper pot from a small shop in Tuscany since I ate my weight in ribollita (an amazing Italian soup) while there, a pair of rain boots from my move to Portland and a cute front door ornament from Stephen to celebrate our big move this year.

Christmas Movies

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Some days require a mug of hot cocoa, cuddles with my puppy and a string of sweet and sappy movies.  I love The Sound of Music at this time of year and my DVR is about to explode with the cheesy Lifetime and Hallmark movies that are basically a riff on three different themes. Bonus points if snow, cute small towns and/or bakeries are involved.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a very happy holiday season.

xo,
Becky

Weekend in New York

Weekend in New York

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In one of my favorite books, 84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff wrote: “I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said: “It’s there.”

I could say the same thing about New York City.

I was 13 the first time I went to Manhattan.  I had hardly been out of suburban San Diego, was VERY into hairspray, Esprit bags, Guess jeans and riding horses.  We climbed up to the Statue of Liberty’s crown, watched the Macy’s Day Parade floats being blown up the night before, looked out from the top of the Empire State Building and ate pretzels from a street vendor before shopping on 5th Avenue.

I fell in love with the city.

I’ve been back multiple times with friends and on my own.  I ran around the market floor of the New York Stock Exchange and met the trader for Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway stock.  (His advice?  Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something and always be nice to people.)

Over the years I found a favorite restaurant in Greenwich Village that had the most amazing mac & cheese and chocolate pudding; watched someone hit for the cycle at a Mets game; wandered aimlessly through museums; had a champagne lunch before walking the leafy streets of the Upper East Side; and on the way to the airport talked on the phone to a cab driver’s sister just because he thought we could friends.

It felt so good being back in the city, holding hands with Stephen and striking out to new-to-us places.  We walked over 15 miles, watched snow fall over Central Park, found the perfect Christmas tree ornament and are already talking about when we’re headed back.

Here’s a list of where we stayed, ate and played while we were there last weekend.

Where We Stayed

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We stayed in an Airbnb on 5th Avenue near Union Square and it was a little jewel.  It was less than $200/night, on the 20th floor with a terrace and had one of the kindest hosts we’ve met in our Airbnb experiences.  We got to come back to this view every night:

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Where We Ate

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(East Village photo courtesy of Stephen)

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Our hands down favorite meal was on our last night in the city.  It had been snowing all day and we were exhausted.  We hopped in an Uber to the Lower East Side and walked into the tiniest Indian restaurant you can imagine.  We were greeted by a gracious host, wedged ourselves into a small table by the kitchen and settled into some of the best food I’ve had in a while.  Crisp samosas topped with chickpeas, chutney, yogurt and mint.  Spicy lamb vindaloo.  Bright basil chicken tucked into soft garlic naan.  We finished off the evening with warm chai tea and homemade pistachio ice cream.  It was all so good, highly highly recommend.

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Toby’s Estate Coffee 

My other favorite was the cutest little coffee shop, Toby’s Estate Coffee on 5th.  It was basically like sipping coffee in my dream kitchen and also happened to be located right next to the Strand Bookstore.

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Cafe Cluny

My favorite little restaurant in Greenwich Village, Home, closed and I was so bummed!  We tried Cafe Cluny and while it wasn’t my Home, it was delicious.  I had a great kale salad and pappardelle pasta and Stephen had tomato soup and short ribs.  We ended the meal with a cheese tray as frankly all great meals should end.

We also had solid dim sum at Nom Wah’s Tea Parlor and pickles, matzo ball soup and pastrami at Fine & Shapiro.

(We tried a couple of “famous” spots for bagels and pizza but both of us found them just meh.  Murray’s Bagels and Joe’s Pizza if you’re curious.)

What We Did

Rockefeller Center

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The first time I went to the city was for Thanksgiving.  I had always wanted to go back for Christmas.  Stephen and I had both watched the tree lighting every year so it was really cool to be able to see it in person, but I don’t know that either one of us wants to do it again any time soon.  There were SO MANY PEOPLE.  We went and saw a show, Wicked at the Gershwin Theater, which was wonderful.  That gave us just enough time to catch the tree, a few of the shop windows and see Saks 5th Avenue’s crazy light show.  As a friend of a friend used to say, “good to do.  Good to have done.”

Central Park

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Central Park is a favorite any time of year, but this was the first time I had seen it covered in snow.  It was so peaceful, stunningly beautiful and after we bought me a hat, decidedly less wet.  Strolling through holding hands is one of our favorite memories of the trip and something I’ll always remember.

Lower Manhattan

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I hadn’t been to the September 11th Memorial before and immediately started crying the moment we set foot near the pools.  I couldn’t bear to go in the museum, but next time I’d like to.  I still get choked up looking at this picture and probably always will.

Stephen remembered St. Paul’s Chapel from when he visited the city in high school and I had never seen it, so we walked over.

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The gravestones are so old, they no longer have the names and dates of those buried.  The church was built in 1766 and was once the tallest building in Manhattan.  More recently it has become known as “The Little Chapel that Stood.”  The chapel had no damage from September 11th and became a haven for rescue workers.

Staten Island Ferry

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In all my years of going to the city, I had never taken the free Staten Island Ferry!  We were so close, so we ran down and hopped on for the 25 minute ride.  It was a great (cold!) way to view the skyline and Statue of Liberty.  Bonus was the mix of people that ride it.  Tourists, residents and random dudes with huge, deep, knife scars on their face.  Welcome to New York!

Dim Sum in Chinatown

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I loved the narrow, small streets of Chinatown.  We had to direct our cab driver to the restaurant as it was tucked away on a tiny street he had never heard of.  We saddled up family style to busy tables as plates of noodles, dumplings and egg rolls were set in front of us one right after the other.

Museum of Natural History

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One of my favorite stories of Stephen’s is when his former kindergartner teacher (Miss May, who we still see up at the local barbecue place her son owns) asked if he would come and talk about dinosaurs to her class.  He loved and studied them so much, she thought the kids in her class would benefit.  “What grade were you in?” I asked him, thinking he had put in years of elementary school research.  “First.”

I had the best time watching kids at the museum.  The looks on their faces as they took in the massive size of the fossils was priceless.  Knowing Stephen was just as enamored was another highlight of the trip.  He kept it in a little better, but I could still see it.

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