Monday, June 30, 2014

Carolina Randoms

Random shareworthies from our Carolina trip:

* I am now obsessed with sugar bacon. Crisp bacon with a solid, clear (not brûléed) sugar coating. Not maple, either. (I have a bizarre maple aversion. Bleck! I want NOTHING maple. :-P) Just clear sugar. And it's pure heaven, seen here a la BrickTop's in Charlotte with equally divine deviled eggs:
(There was a lot more on the plate before I got around to snapping this smiley pic. ;-))

* I am also now obsessed with barkTHINS snacking chocolate, specifically the Blueberry Quinoa a la Costco, although I'd be thrilled to try the pumpkin seed, too.

* Talk about making it a priority to see friends: a mutual friend of both mine & my mom knew I was in town. Long story short, she was at a wedding last weekend, needed makeup, & purposely bought Estée Lauder so that she could get the free Lilly Pulitzer tote bag gift for me!!! I mean, how sweet is that?!?! It was so nice to get to chat in person (we stay in touch on FB, but like with Marcus, it's extra special face-to-face) and hear all about her upcoming move to Raleigh. There aren't words for how lucky I feel to have people who think of me like this in my life, even when I haven't seen them in person in ages. ♥ (It had been two years.)

* I did actually Zumba while on vacay! I was so excited that my mom's neighbor wanted me to teach her my class a few times. What a blessing for both of us. :-D

* Speaking of Zumba, I worked on choreography for both Zumba & cheer on both airplane flights. :-D I'm sure the people across the aisles were a bit...curious ;-) but I now have the dance set that I'm going to teach all of the girls in the whole league at Cheer Camp, as well as the dance I'm going to teach all of the cheer coaches on our Coach Certification Day, and both songs edited & cut down to the requisite 2 minutes. Hello, wifi-less productivity!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Charleston & Barrier Island Eco Tour

We absolutely cannot visit Charlotte without driving down to Charleston for a day. It was our ultimate goal place to settle for so many years, and while we don't want to leave Texas now, our hearts are still full of love for that area.

Driving down:

We decided after several years of hearing nonstop hype over Husk that we had to finally try:
It was extremely high quality - amazing ingredients! Perfectly farm-to-table. The menu wasn't as innovative or as new as I would've hoped - no unique flavor profiles or funky combinations; very classic - but delicious.

We had our traditional walk through the Market after lunch, (Annelise got a cute chevron purse; I found amazing Jack’s Cosmic Sweet Potato Mustard; I regret not getting these pants,) and we stopped at the carriage tour lineup to talk to the horses:
Annelise is such an animal whisperer. ♥ And, as always, we experienced something wonderfully new: the carriages move up in line along the Market street every ~15 minutes; when they get to the front of the line, if they don't have a tour, they head back to the barn to water and cool the horse. This front carriage driver let us climb on board for a free ride just back to their barn - fabulous deal, b/c full carriage tours are $$$$$, this gave a short little taste, and we were going to walk back to their barn to see the horses, anyway! :-D

After Charleston, we drove through Mount Pleasant, grabbed barbeque dinner with sides to go from Charleston Bay Gourmet at the Mount Pleasant Farmer's Market, and headed to Isle of Palms for beach play + dinner in.

In the morning, we met our pontoon boat at Barrier Island Eco Tours for our Capers Wildlife Exploration: "a 3.5 hour boat excursion to Capers Island, one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands. We will cruise through winding tidal creeks to find diverse wildlife living in this salt marsh environment. Common sightings include bottlenose dolphin, osprey, pelicans, bald eagles, herons, egrets, and more. Along the way we'll employ various nets and habitat traps for an up-close look at some of the rarely seen marine creatures that thrive below the surface. As you arrive on Capers, you will have about an hour and a half to explore its pristine "Bone-yard Beach"... Capers provides excellent opportunities for shelling and bird watching."

We *did* see dolphins, blue & stone crabs, and have an amazing time exploring nature:

Before heading back to CLT, we stopped at Metto for freezes...and who could resist relishing a few sips up in the ancient tree that grows up through the deck?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Priority of Friendship

Connecting with old friends is the biggest blessing to me whenever we travel. We talk to our families often, and of course we love them so much...but if an old friend & I are in the same vicinity, it feels like an absolute sin to miss getting together. The more friends I get to see on a trip, the more worth it it feels!!!

I hadn't seen Marcus in person in 16 years, since he & JB graduated from our college. (He & JB were fraternity brothers & football teammates, and he & I became friends, even before I met JB! :-)) We've led completely opposite post-grad lives - he's taught English in South Korea, Vietnam, & Saudi Arabia - and we've talked over FB about our paths. I am living my absolute dream life...but I have (& always will have) a passion for international travel. He confided that when he sees our family football pics & youth football stories, he wonders if he's missing out on that aspect; I told him my heartstrings tug whenever he posts about his adventures abroad. We're both living the best lives for each of us, but we remind each other of dreams to not let go of. We met up at a Sbux in Charlotte and chatted for a few hours in person like no time had passed last Saturday:
Three days later, he was on a plane to Thailand for his next teaching assignment abroad; he'll probably be there for a couple years. I am *so grateful* our travel paths between Saudi Arabia, Texas, & Thailand intersected at the same time in CLT and that we made it a priority to share a few hours together, talking about what "home" is for us now.

I also got to meet-up with my middle & high school BFFs. I had an all-day yoga+shopping girls day with Wendy one Saturday - we took a yin yoga class, we found consignment Lilly Pulitzer, we scored Gelish nail polish deals at Sally, we tried on tons of clothes together, & we got to play each other's therapist all day ;-) without ever worrying that we "really should be getting back". I can't thank my parents enough for giving us that BFF time with no strings attached!!! Priceless. We also got our kids together with our BFF, Christa, & her kids one Sunday for a big supper + playtime together:
It thrilled me to pieces that our kids love playing with each other so much. Will & Annelise have always called Wendy's son, Alex, their cousin. (He is. I'll contradict anyone who says otherwise!) They really connected with Christa's children this time, too. Kynzie & Annelise bonded over cheer, tumbling, nail polish, and Polyvore, and Will & Carter are now Minecraft BFFs. I love that as our kids gets older, they can connect more & more on their own, too.

In this same "priority of friendship" vein, as soon as we got back to Texas Friday, my sweet yogi friend drove right over! She moved away to Phoenix a year ago and was only back here visiting through that night. She made it a priority not to miss me, even though we were only in the same place for a few hours, and now I have her beautiful henna design on my hand to keep her close for a couple weeks:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tweetsie Railroad 2014

We topped off our wondermous Wednesday after our Beanstalk Journey Zipline & Grandfather Mountain adventures with dinner at a family tradition: Makoto's Japanese Steak House. It's the very first teppanyaki ("cook on the table" ;-)) restaurant I ever visited as a child...and it was pure magic! Will & Annelise love these, as well, so it was special to take them to our family's *original* :-)

Thursday morning, we made it over to our beloved Tweetsie Railroad right as the park opened! We'd never made it for the 9 AM opening, before! (We usually just do a day trip from Charlotte, arriving after 10.) Will was THRILLED to make it for the first train of the day. (The entire 13-minute drive from the hotel to Tweetsie, both kids squealed: "I smell Tweetsie smoke!!! I smell it! Did you hear that??? Was that the whistle?" :-D) Of course, Tweetsie was as magical as always! Even more special: this year, my brother Andy & his son Matthew drove up to meet us there!!! It certainly added to the enchantment quotient to be sharing our Tweetsie wonder with them. ♥

I relished the opportunity to be "cool Aunt Susie" by taking Matthew on both the Ferris wheel and up & down the ski lift. Both Andy & my mom are terrified of heights (see, this bolsters my theory that I'm more afraid of ledges than heights, b/c I love the Ferris wheel & ski lift = I don't have to move my feet through them. My tummy does drop a little, but it's still fun for me, whereas Mom & Andy feel as if death is imminent) so I was beyond tickled to be able to do something memorable for Matthew...b/c he was begging to ride! (He seems to share Annelise's daredevil gene. ;-))

More cousin fun:

Thanks to our family friend who is the actual train engineer at Tweetsie, we get the secret privilege of riding up front in the actual engine cab of #190, and he often lets the kids "drive" on top of his hands...

...But *THIS* time, he got up & told *ME* to take his seat! Whaaat?!?! You know, no big deal to be in control of a 4,000 horsepower, 105 ton, USATC S118 Class, 2-8-2 coal-fired steam locomotive with 300 souls on board!!! OMIGOSH!!!!! :-D (FWIW, I rocked it! ;-))

It's hard to know we have to wait a whole nother year to get back, [we'd *loooove* to get back for the Ghost Train in the fall, (we went 4 years ago! look how tiny! :-D) but with football, we just can't travel from the end of July until Thanksgiving] but we're so thankful we have these deep connections that don't wane over time. :-)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Further to Grandfather Mountain

After our incredible Beanstalk Journey Zipline adventure Wednesday morning, we continued higher up into the NC mountains.

We stopped for a few minutes at the Brown Mountain overlook on NC 181:
Of course, it was daytime, so no hope of seeing the famous Brown Mountain Lights...but it's always been one of my favorite NC ghost stories!

Next stop: Linville Caverns. I hadn't been in at least 25 years...and it was exactly the same. :-) "Linville Caverns have been open for tours since the late 1930s and remain the only show caverns in North Carolina. The caverns were discovered in 1822 by local fishermen and since that time have been of interest to locals and travelers alike. Half hour guided tours escort visitors through the caverns with information about cavern history, resident creatures, and the formations... Formed in a deposit of Shady Dolomite at the base of Humpback Mountain, Linville Caverns offer an environment for the public to explore the subterranean world of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors hear the lore surrounding the caverns, including the tale of the Civil War deserters who used the caverns as a hideout, as well as the geology of the stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations found on the tour route."

For lunch, we couldn't pass up Famous Louise's...esp. since 3 of the 4 of us (read: not Will ;-)) have the middle name Louise! :-D (It's our family girl name thing. My mom couldn't break it; neither could I. :-P)
It's just good old Southern cooking. The vegetable beef soup tasted *exactly like* my favorite Cafe 230 back in south Georgia...which also reminded me of my Grandmommy's. ♥

Next stop: Grandfather Mountain. I had only been up there once before as a small child. [My dad thought it was ridiculous to pay to drive to the top of a mountain ;-) and we were all such scaredy cats re: heights, what was the point back then? :-D] It was stunning!!! The views were breathtaking...and I'm so proud of my children for really appreciating them!!! (So much more than my brother & I would have at that age! :-P) We stopped at the animal habitat and then drove up to the Mile High Swinging Bridge at the top. I was waaay too scared to cross it as a child, but they replaced the old rickety wooden bridge with a metal one about 15 years ago, so I marched right across like a champ, (perhaps also emboldened by my morning ziplining? ;-)) There was a storm to one side of the mountain, which provided the most glorious thunder rolls, and yet, we never got hit with the rain. Annelise had no fear: she walked right out to the edges...which made my stomach plummet. The kids & I hiked down the Bridge Trail, which goes under the Swinging Bridge and winds over huge boulders for half a mile down to a parking area, where my mom met us. We climbed Sphinx and Split Rocks on our way down, as well...

Next up: Tweetsie Railroad 2014