Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Girl's Weekend


A few weeks ago one of my closest friends since junior high emailed to see if I would be interested in joining her on a girl's weekend to celebrate her birthday. 


In the Cayman Islands. 


My initial thought was "there is no way that is going to happen," but I told her I would think about it and at the very least discuss the possibility with Daniel.


The thing was, I was feeling really burned out. Most aspects of my life didn't really feel like they were in order. I was struggling with resentment and bitterness for where I was in life. I love Daniel and my kids, and have some really great friendships, but I was running on empty and wasn't really sure how to regain balance.


Surprisingly, Daniel was on board with me taking this trip. We agreed that it really couldn't be a yearly occurrence (not on the scale of leaving the country anyways), but that I shouldn't pass up the opportunity to catch up with a good friend I hadn't seen in five years.


As Kristalynne and I made plans, it dawned on me that we have been friends for twenty-five years. A quarter of a century had passed since we first struck up a friendship in the youth group at our church. A lot of living has happened in the last twenty-five years.


The last time we saw each other, she had just had first child and I was weeks away from becoming a mother myself. She didn't have a chance to meet Jack before she moved to Houston to start her career as a doctor. 


In our early months of embracing motherhood, there were phone calls to see how we were handling our new lives, and when we were sent to a Pediatric Neurologist to have Jack's big head checked out, she called and talked to me through that experience. Mostly we have kept in touch via Facebook, and her mom checks in on me from time-to-time as well.


Our friendship is one that can just pick up, as if no time had passed. There are no awkward moments, we just catch up on what we have missed and then move on to the present.


On the way to the Caymans, it worked out that we both had layovers in Charlotte, NC and would be on the same flight to our final destination. Thankfully the flight wasn't full and we were able to grab seats together.


The whole weekend was filled with relaxing, swimming, and a little adventure too. We swapped stories about our kids, and also funny travel experiences we have each experienced in different parts of the world. We laughed, we were serious, we talked about high school days and friends we wished could be with us. 


We were both grateful to step away from our normal lives for a few days. We could wake up when we wanted – with no expectations. Our meals weren't spent cutting up food for kids. We did grown-up activities. We missed our families, but we enjoyed the break.


I came home feeling renewed, grateful for the time to catch up with my old friend, but also grateful to be back with my own family. I feel like I have found the balance I was missing in my life. Taking time for myself for the first time in five years was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.


The Cayman Islands wasn't a bad place to do this!

Girl's Getaway Recap

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Biking the Tennessee Riverpark's Newest Section


The Tennessee Riverpark (also known as the Riverwalk) is one of our favorite places to bike in Chattanooga. With wide-open paved paths and great views, it is a fun ride that is relatively kid friendly.


The original path starts at the Chickamauga Dam and makes its way to downtown Chattanooga where you can cross the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge to North Shore and make your way around Coolidge and Renaissance Parks.


This original trail was 9 miles and last year an additional 3.5 miles was completed from Ross's Landing in downtown Chattanooga out to historic St. Elmo at the base of Lookout Mountain. We have been anxious to find time to bike the newer portion of the Riverwalk and finally had an opportunity on Monday.


Before Isaac was born, we regularly biked the original section of the Riverwalk with Jack in tow. Since Jack has gotten bigger and would rather ride his own bike than ride in a trailer, we have shied away from going back.


We had been unsure of how far Jack would be able ride on his own, and how well he would handle other bikers and pedestrians since the Riverwalk can be busy.


Daniel was off of work for President's Day so we thought it would be a good day to visit the Riverwalk again. Thankfully the weather was absolutely gorgeous.


We started with lunch at Milk & Honey in North Shore before parking at Coolidge Park and making our way across the Walnut Street Bridge. There was a brief section on sidewalk next to traffic in North Shore, and Jack did great listening to our instructions and not getting to close to the street.


We made our way across the river and then navigated our way down sidewalks to the Aquarium (walking our bikes down the really steep hill) then crossing the street to Ross's Landing. From Ross's Landing we followed the sidewalk passed the marina before the trail picked up again. It followed the river with great views of Lookout Mountain.


We discovered a picnic area and bathrooms at Blue Goose Hollow. There is also a free parking lot here that we would park at in the future. After taking a break for a snack, we continued on through the industrial area of town toward St. Elmo. Isaac took the opportunity to nap in the bike trailer.


There was one long hill that Jack biked all of the way up and we took another break. He said he was getting tired so we agreed to turn back. We made it back to the picnic tables for another break, and then Jack's pedal fell off his bike. Daniel said he had never seen that happen before! Thankfully it was an easy fix.


Our final stop was at the playground at Ross's Landing before making our way back under the bridges, then up the switchback sidewalk to the Hunter Museum of art, then across the glass bridge back to the Walnut Street Bridge and finally back to Coolidge Park where our car was parked.


Jack was thrilled that he biked all 7.5 miles and said it must be a world record for a 5-year-old! At the very least, it is a record for him. He really wanted ice cream, so we stopped at Wendy's for frosty's on the way home. We are looking forward to going back and making it all the way to St. Elmo.


From St. Elmo, you can bike up the Guild-Hardy Trail, an old rail trail that goes to the top of Lookout, then you can take a National Park Service trail to Covenant College. From Covenant, the city of Chattanooga is working to build a connector trail that will go to Lula Lake which then connects to Cloudland Canyon.


I keep hinting to Daniel that we could probably do some bike camping via these connector trails. We shall see!

Our route: 7.5 miles completed on this ride.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Breakfast Joints in Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to find the best breakfast joints in a particular local. Thankfully Daniel doesn't mind this tradition, and our boys are always down with more pancakes or scrambled eggs!


We typically manage the breakfast thing by having breakfast at our condo so the little ones (and Daniel) are not hangry, and then we grab breakfast for lunch. On our recent visit to Saint Augustine we didn't have enough time to make a grocery run so we actually went to breakfast for breakfast. Visiting the beach during the off season meant that we didn't have to worry about long waits, so it worked for us this time.


Our first full day at the beach, we found ourselves at Redfrog & McToad's, which is located in Saint Augustine Beach and rated as #11 for breakfast joints on Trip Advisor. We were surrounded by snowbirds and a couple at the booth next to us asked our boys if they were visiting grandparents. I guess that is the only reason to visit the beach in February!


Redfrog & McToad's had quick service and decent food that was reasonably priced. They were a little touristy with a huge wall-sized sign pointing to their location, and it was technically a bar that happened to serve breakfast, so the beer signs in the windows felt weird at 9am, but overall it was a good experience! The boys split a plate of pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage. Daniel had his go-to chocolate chip pancakes and I had my typical fried egg with country ham and a pancake.


On Sunday, we had plans to visit the Castillo de San Marcos fort with Daniel's dad and his wife. So they met us at our condo and then rode with us to the World Famous Oasis Restaurant as it was on the way to see the fort. This dive is also located in Saint Augustine Beach and rated as #9 for breakfast joints on Trip Advisor.


We joked with Daniel's dad that we were surrounded by q-tips, but the food and atmosphere were great. Again, a little touristy with the name and signs, but good food. We had to sit upstairs since the downstairs dining room was full. The only complaint about this for us was that upstairs only had counter height tables and stools. This was a little challenging with Isaac, but he handled it quite well.


The kids had a eggs, sausage, fruit and toast. I had eggs, fruit, a biscuit with a side of gravy, and sausage. It was good but not what I expected. The side of gravy wasn't super fresh and I was expecting sausage patties and received something more like kielbasa. I think Daniel stuck with his usual chocolate chip pancakes.


By far, my most favorite breakfast place for this particular trip came in at #5 for breakfast (#8 overall) in Saint Augustine Beach. Cafe Eleven is located in an old Seven-Eleven store that has been converted into a coffee shop/diner. The breakfast was amazing AND we had the luxury of sitting outside.


Daniel tried the biscuits and gravy, while I had the Cafe 11 Eggs Benedict (awesome!) and the boys split a breakfast plate. All of it was delicious and this place is certainly worth a visit.

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As honorable mentions, we had lunch on Saturday at Gas Full Service Restaurant (ranked #9 for all restaurants in the area). The name almost turned us off, but it was worth a visit. They had fresh, farm-to-table food that was quite delicious. Both Daniel and I had a fish sandwich (catch of the day) with homemade chips. Jack and Isaac split a cheeseburger.


They had the most amazing-sounding desserts, but we were too full to try them. Daniel and I were tempted to go back later but we ran out of time and they are closed on Sunday and Monday. I loved the atmosphere of this little restaurant.


Daniel and I had a great date night on Saturday but unfortunately a mediocre dinner. Sunday for lunch we were able to go to Columbia Restaurant (#34 for the area and one of the restaurants with a long wait on Saturday night). Daniel and I split tapas, his dad and his wife had amazing sandwiches and the kids split mac-n-cheese. The best part was the chunk of bread loaf each person received.


After Columbia, Jack and I popped into Tedi's Olde Tyme Ice Cream for a cone. Of course he picked blue!


Overall we had a really good dining experiences during this quick trip to Florida.

Grayson Highlands, 2017

I'm so thankful we were able to spend last weekend as a family, tucked away in the Virginia mountains, just the four of us. It was a ...