Home is Your Heart

If someone had told me that the only way I would be earning miles in 2020 was by taking steps around my neighborhood, I likely would’ve smiled and laughed it off. But, here we are. Sometimes smiling. Sometimes wincing. All the time wondering. A year and counting of no travel has been quite the adventure. I could’ve wasted time complaining about my first world problem, but that’s empty on some many levels. Instead I seized the opportunity to make the most of our global hardship. What’s life without some improvisation? My sky miles may have stalled, but my discovery desires did not. Come along with me in my little trip down 2020 Stay Home Lane.

My last trip of 2019 and first trip of 2020 were surprisingly to the same place…the bayou. I always say incessantly pursue your happy. A big part of my happy is in the Magnolia State. I’m even happier as “TT” to my bayou babies. I’ve reminisced about these trips so much over the past year. I’ve never been so excited to have another moment to eat Cheez-Its with a toddler! He shares with TT too!

Before the pandemic officially shut down the world, I stayed in a pretty amazing Airbnb for an abbreviated sorority conference. Our favorite part was the porch. Too much fun was had! We literally had no idea that all of our #roomiesforlife antics would vanish for a while. However, service and sisterhood persists.

Then, it got real. No movement unless it was to look out the window to confirm that for the first time since I’ve lived here, there was no noise from the streets. An occasional walk around the neighborhood to feel the sun on my face and get entranced by nature was the farthest I went for months. I slowly emerged in the safest ways possible…

I found a “Love” sign on a road trip with my mom to bring my dad supply reinforcements. Because…Navy life. Those care packages matter. Please support our troops in any way that you can.

I went daytrippin’ with my mom to a place we like in Annapolis. Because 2020…that same week I also found myself in the ER with an IV after a gastrointestinal episode that literally brought me to my knees. There was nothing fun about being in that room alone in the middle of the night while my mom waited in the car for hours. Again…pandemic. Facility restrictions. While I had great nurses and doctors taking care of me, it’s not a good feeling to only have strangers to lean on when you’re ill. I was more than grateful to be able to walk those cobblestone Annapolis streets with my bestie after all that.

I quieted my mind in a huge open field in a park. I also simultaneously lost my mind when I found a spider in my sandal. Nothing like a good scream after doing sun salutations guided by your extraordinary yogi sister.

Before the pandemic, I spent a good amount of time doing life with my cousin. She’s everything that I’m not; that makes our relationship one of the greatest things ever. While we avoided indoor meet-ups for a long while, that didn’t stop us from socially distanced backyard blasts. It was a lot of crab legs, charcuterie boards, and citronella (I made my own candles and spray! Woot!). When dusk rolled in, we pulled our chairs up to the fire to roast marshmallows on several occasions. You might recall from a previous post that everything was all good until she told me about the neighborhood bear. I’m officially adding extremely vigilant, marshmallow roaster to my resume!

I’d call myself a part-time oenophile (lover of wine) and full-time flora guardian. Wineries helped fulfill both of these roles. Family, friends, flowers, and fermented grapes. All wasn’t lost.

I went to OBX for the first time. I stayed in yet another superb Airbnb and did the coolest things with my mom and best friend’s family like ride bikes, conserve paper towel squares (haha), and let my nephew bury me in the sand. We even caught a rainbow. When I look back at that trip, all I can think about is how much happiness those days brought me. It was the scenery I didn’t know that I needed.

My trips to the city were few and far between over the course of the year. I still chuckle at that considering I used to make the short but extra long trek to the city via Metro several times a week. On the rare occasions when I visited in 2020, I was reminded of everything that the nation’s capital represents for democracy and culture. I didn’t realize how much I missed the monuments, the art, and the many symbols of life with streets abuzz with people, cars, buses, and scooters. Oddly enough, it was in this city that I took my Nana to her first theatre production at the top of the year having no idea that it would be an unknown amount of time before that could happen again. The name of the production was “The Amen Corner.” A powerful gift of song, expression, and truth. I shall never know when I’ll be able to see my Nana sing along to those gospel hymns in a theatre again. A blessing to count numerous times over. Amen.

As a native Virginian, I grew up hearing about the Shenandoah views. Though I’ve traveled many miles through and around the area, I never stopped to look around. I changed that with a day trip to check out the fall foliage. A park ranger that was directing the ridiculous traffic into the main park provided a tip of a lifetime. I skipped the dreadful line of cars and caught beautiful views with a minimal amount of people. An introvert’s dream!

A llama, or something that resembled a llama, was almost a passenger on my trip to the Zoofari with my cousin and godson. I have video footage. I will neverrrrr forget how hard I laughed and cussed. *shrug* Waffles the giraffe also photobombed us. That’s certainly a cherished moment since I recently learned that a zoo fire claimed Waffles’ life. Thank you for gracing our presence, Waffles. We shall always remember you. Rest peacefully.

Some COVID tests and extra masks later, I closed the year at my home away from home…Nana’s house! Apparently, Lenny Kravitz knew I’d be there. That was glee!

A few things I’ve learned on 2020 Stay Home Lane: Home is a place that I’m fortunate to have. Home is a place that I shall continue to embrace for its warmth, protection, and offering of stillness. Home is a place that you create whether you’re inside or out. Home shall forever be in the openness of your heart.

What’s in a Year?

What’s in a year? Usually more than what we remember. My way of recounting the year’s journey involves me scrolling through my photos. I chronicle my experiences through window seat, food, and selfie snaps. After all, it’s the digital age! Smartphones were a gift to photo lovers who made regular trips to the pharmacy or local camera shop to drop off film. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time I used to wait a couple days to see if my eyes were closed or the lighting was right in a picture! Sheesh…God smiled on our lives with iPhones and DSLRs! In my Tupac voice, “I ain’t mad at cha!” And I’m also not mad at myself for saying “yes” to going where I wanted to go this year and packing at the 99th hour for a few business trips. The bills don’t pay themselves!

So, what’s in a 2019 trip?

The blue bridge. 99 islands. Matcha…so much matcha. Shrines. A traditional kimono fitting (it’s layers on layers on layers). Ramen…oodles of ramen. Waterrrrrr. The largest stationery store I’ve ever been to in my entire life! I was lost in there for about 4 hours! It fulfilled ALL of my art supply dreams! Japan was my first trip of the year, and I shall never forget its natural, foodie, and penmanship wonders!

Oven grinders (think huge pizza in a bowl). Art. Colossal pancakes. Virgin Hotel hospitality with waterfall showers. And the Bean! I made it to the Bean…also known as Cloud Gate. It was raining so hard that night too. I posed anyway!

Rolling hills. Mountain tops. Fermented grapes. Clinking glasses. Did I mention fermented grapes? Sisterly love. I checked out a somewhat local winery with dusty pathways but serene views. So much for my car wash. But, grapes…fermented! ūüôā

Snowballs. Po’ boys. The cutest tiny tots. Fleur de lis. Cajun catches. Another baby for TT to spoil. I surprised my Bayou sister just after giving birth. One of these days she’s going to figure it out before my arrival. Louisiana holds my heart.

Cool closet quotes. Delectable fried chicken. Community murals. Dedicated doctors. It was another successful year for our national awards committee as we learned how our medical schools are making a difference in their communities in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Scores of yellow erratic taxis. Late night pizza. Mellie from Scandal sitting next to me on Acela (I understand the value of peace. I saved her the selfie inquiry.) Color wheels. Paintings. History. It had been a while since I was in NYC. It’s still the city that doesn’t sleep. There’s no shortage of culture and overstimulation.

Clean air. Picturesque mountain scenery that doesn’t end. Nature photography wins. Serenity. Major flight delays (all the private jets now make sense…I could see them all from my commercial flight that waited on the tarmac for far too long). Mountains and money all around me (emphasis on “around” because my pockets aren’t fit for the level of swank I encountered). Cool conference swag. That was Aspen. The place is breathtaking. I may have been there for a conference, but what I actually remember is the equanimity every time I looked up.

Childhood friend reunions. Acai bowls. Fireworks. Family ties. The longest I’ve ever waited for shrimp and grits at OLG. Trap. Makeup and music by my godsissy. Because forever I love Atlanta!

Big bus. The needle. Distilleries. A Niagara shower. Cute and cozy towns. Yup, fermented grape tours. Food tours too. Fun house. Street art. Escape room. Extra fancy celebratory birthday dinner. Visiting Canada has been on my list for a while. This year, nothing was going to stop me! The #Blackgirlglow crew hopped on a plane with me to Toronto!

Dinosaurs. Uber ride. Ocean creatures. Incredibly energetic kids. A butterfly garden. Lobster on a buttery roll for lunch. I sometimes take for granted that I live next door to a city with world-renowned museums. Thank you to the Smithsonian for the educational day.

Stacks on stacks of cha gio. THE yummiest pho made by the matriarch. Boisterous laughter. New friends. Special green drinks. Wine. Loving family. I took another local trip to the home of the woman responsible for my amazing nail designs. It was a Vietnamese immersion of love in so many ways. I treasure that invitation from her and her family.

Lily pads. Affirmations. Coffee chats. Lake views. Fermented grapes yet again…for some of us! Priceless memories. Highway overlooks. A road trip accompanied by a miracle baby. Frederick, Maryland. It represents love. And that’s why it made for the perfect day.

Cacti. Car snacks. Red rocks. PJ Morton. Medical education excellence. Dream catchers. Indigenous beauty. The vastness of God. Family dinners. The GRAND Canyon. Wrong trail directions. Naps. I worked an unknown amount of hours at our largest convening of the year in the name of tomorrow’s doctors, and then took a 6 a.m. road trip with friends through the peaks and valleys of Arizona. Beautiful! That state doesn’t owe me anything except sleep!

Baby giggles. Cranberry crostinis. “iPack” viewings as declared by my god baby. Meche’s. Surprise birthday cookouts. A Creole Thanksgiving. Cypress trees and leaps. Daiquiris. UL apparel updates. Presence. Po’ boys…always! I capped off my 2019 SkyMiles back in the Bayou. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s really no surprise. It’s my happy. It was the fitting travel wrap-up for this decade.

My life motto, “Joie de vivre,” is a nod to my Acadiana affection. It means “celebrate the joy of living.” And I surely did just that with my 2019 treks. So, I ask again, “what’s in a year?” Might I suggest it’s wherever you have the heart to go.

Here, There, and Somewhere

I may not have blogged too much in 2018, but I definitely took plenty of trips! ¬†I scrolled through my old photos this week and was quickly reminded that I didn’t sit still. ¬†I remember having a conversation with someone about my desire to travel internationally in 2019 (already done, so stay tuned!) since I didn’t at all last year. ¬†While I do enjoy globetrotting to other continents, my domestic trips are never without some level of allure. ¬†And judging by the hundreds of photos in my digital collection of landmarks, food, scenery, and people I love, last year’s travels are worth chronicling. ¬†Notable highlights included:

  • Getting a henna tattoo and enjoying a live belly dancing show during a Moroccan dinner at Epcot;
  • Snuggly CNN time with my cute godbaby genius, because cartoons don’t keep his attention;
  • Beignets, √©touff√©e, and po’ boys…enough said! ¬†My bayou adventures are never without all of my Creole faves;
  • A random outing on the Chesapeake Bay for crab cracking and boat watching with my momma;
  • Dining underneath the sunset by the beautiful seashore in Puerto Rico and later being mesmerized by the colorful murals throughout the capital city;
  • Blueberry birthday pie at my home away from home, because cake wasn’t on the menu and peaches were the appetizer;
  • Getting the scoop on all of the best Mexican eateries in San Antonio from my Uber driver’s well air-conditioned car…because Texas…in the summer;
  • Attending the Sisters of Flora art exhibit with stunning floral paintings by a New Orleans native;
  • Trying not to break an ankle on the graveled roads and ogling at the calves on the drive to my friend’s farm country wedding in Indiana;
  • Galavanting around Austin looking for the best spas and BBQ with the one who makes me laugh hysterically and supports my need for delectable foodie finds.

If I gain nothing else by traveling, it’s the pure essence of being comfortable with leaving behind what I know to experience the richness of what I don’t. ¬†That’s life. ¬†That’s wealth. ¬†That’s my happiness.

All the Places a Plane Goes

Last year, I crisscrossed the United States more than a few times and traveled overseas.¬† As my Nana would affectionately say, ‚ÄúGirl, you have a lot of miles on your butt!‚Ä̬† Much of my travel is attributed to my professional life, but whether I’m learning about new innovations at medical schools or enjoying time off, I look for the small beauties in new places and things.¬† That can be anything from ‚Äď

  • Exotic tree branches or flowers that collectively produce fragrant winds or shade under the California sun;
  • The fullness of the trees along the perimeter of Olympic Park in Georgia;
  • The perfectly aligned bales of hay along the South Dakotan flatlands;
  • The trio of sail boats slowly cruising along the river in Wisconsin;
  • The presence of the sun‚Äôs shadow as it radiates among Nevada‚Äôs popular skyscraper hotels;
  • The sensory jolt from the Cajun spice, vibrant jazz tunes, and boisterous locals in Louisiana; or
  • The smell of bread and pastry dough from Parisian or Italian cafes along narrow cobblestone streets.

I have definitely been fortunate in my ability to move about the world and explore the definition of life through someone else‚Äôs eyes.¬† In each of these places, I‚Äôve met enthused, indifferent, lively, subdued, and impolite people.¬† All with a story (perhaps some far too long for my typical abbreviated Uber rides).¬† All with a perspective.¬† And all with a personal connection to the geographic location in which I managed to temporarily house my suitcase and carefully organized work binder and fact books.¬† But, what I take away from all of my recent travels is the greatness of creation ‚Äď of things to look at, paths to trek, and conversations with other beings.¬† Because life is not about the number of places you can say that you‚Äôve been but the quality of the connections you make to your surroundings.¬† Hats off to a great year of discovery‚Ķand food!¬† Phenomenal food!

Holiday Honor

Community – a vivacious movement of influence that makes us aware and moves us forward

Over the course of my life, I’ve volunteered for many organizations and service projects and enjoyed those opportunities to bring goodness to others. ¬†But, my recent participation in National Wreaths Across America Day¬†was an experience that I’ll never forget. ¬†I’ve heard about it in the news and in conversation in the work social hub (that’s now the millennial version of the water cooler) these last few years, but I don’t think I truly understood the magnitude of preparation and labor involved. ¬†To be honest, I had never even been to Arlington National Cemetery despite my familial roots in the D.C. metropolitan area until a few weeks ago. ¬†In my quest to do more of what I’ve never done, give back, and explore what’s right in my backyard, I decided to donate and volunteer for National Wreaths Across America Day.

On a designated day in December, fresh wreaths are placed on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and other veterans cemeteries across the U.S. to honor those men and women who sacrificed for our freedom. ¬†This effort is organized by Wreaths Across America and completely funded by individual wreath sponsors, corporate donors,¬†and volunteer truckers who desire to pay tribute to¬†soldiers and their families. ¬†The 2015 event was held on December 12th, and there were literally thousands of volunteers lined up to receive the wreaths driven all the way from Maine by a convoy of trucks that would be placed on the headstones. ¬†Enough funds were raised for a wreath to be laid at every headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. ¬†That’s about 400,000 individual headstones! ¬†The cemetery is massive, which I soon discovered after walking about 10 minutes and still finding myself a long way off from the middle point¬†(oh man, my feet!). ¬†It’s huge! ¬†The even bigger moment for me was seeing all of the volunteers from places near and far gathered to share in this orderly act to simply say thank you. ¬†Everything from the smell of the evergreen to the kids innocently playing in the grass while¬†gripping small American flags in their hands was so moving. ¬†And then when you see the wreaths¬†with the prominent red holiday bow lined up on every row, it’s an image that just stays with you. ¬†Participating in this event reminded me of the vigor and grace of a united community. ¬†It made me even more proud to be an American and further appreciate the gentleness¬†of life and this memorial that I drive by every day on my commute to the city. ¬†It was also a delight and privilege to witness the regality of all the different branches of the U.S. military honoring their own.

Most days we probably don’t think about the cost of freedom unless it’s something that directly impacts our family or lives. ¬†But, this event made it very real for me and further demonstrated the priceless value of what we can do when we exercise the power of community. ¬†I extend¬†my sincerest gratitude to our fallen heroes, known and unknown, to their families and friends, to my grandpa and other relatives who have served, and to all those who serve in the armed forces today.

Desert Dreams

Have you ever dreamed you would ride a camel? ¬†I didn’t either. ¬†In fact, that thought had never crossed my mind until I found myself¬†sinking in the sand of the Dubai desert! ¬†I ventured to the United Arab Emirates in 2012 to visit my mom who spent a year overseas for work. ¬†Of course when she first proposed the idea of coming to Dubai I was elated! ¬†Then, after the plane ticket was purchased and I realized how many hours I’d be in flight, I was slightly anxious about how I would entertain myself for that long 30,000+ feet in the air. ¬†But, somehow you have a way of figuring things out when an opportunity arises that you just can’t let pass¬†you by.

I still rave about my trip to Dubai. ¬†It was one of the most best experiences of my life! ¬†My mom did everything she could to ensure that trip was amazing. ¬†You remember in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York when Kevin first walks into the Plaza Hotel and stands there in awe. ¬†That was me at the front door of the hotel we were staying at for the week. ¬†I honestly had never encountered splendor of that magnitude. ¬†Meanwhile it was almost midnight, and I’m wide awake and jet lagged trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I’m actually in the Middle East. ¬†The next week I found myself cruising the Dubai river, perusing gold souks, admiring the beauty of mosques, dune bashing, shopping, and even meeting a few new friends. ¬†That was also my first exposure to desert temperatures, so I learned a new meaning of hot! ¬†The funny thing about life is that sometimes you get opportunities you don’t even dream of. ¬†God is just that good. ¬†I’m a small town girl from a single-parent home. ¬†While I had my share of field trips to museums and local beaches, traveling internationally was not always in the family budget. ¬†So, I’m grateful to my mom for all the sacrifices that would ultimately place¬†us across the world for¬†this journey. ¬†The best part about this trip was not all¬†the glamor and opulence, because just like any other city, there is a certain level of disenfranchisement. ¬†Traveling to Dubai helped me learn how to dream bigger and expect greatness in all things, because no matter where I’ve been, there’s always something more to blow my mind.

Cousins in Catalonia

When I was in grade¬†school, I fell in love with the Spanish language. ¬†I’m still trying to determine if my admiration was a result of my ability to conjugate verbs quickly or if my teachers just brought in way too many Spanish dishes for the class to try. ¬†By the time I graduated, I had spent five years learning a foreign language and made it my goal¬†to one day travel to Spain to see one of the cathedrals from the books and indulge myself with authentic paella. ¬†Well, in 2012, I finally made it! ¬†By then, my Spanish skills were quite rusty, but I remembered enough to read signs, order food, and get directions. ¬†When I look back on that trip, I still can’t believe how much we were able to see and experience in such a short period of time. ¬†In fact, I was just laughing with my cousin the other day about how she had to buy another pair of shoes to save her feet from misery, lol. ¬†We stayed in Barcelona, but also took a day trip to two surrounding cities, including the birthplace of Salvador Dal√≠. ¬†As a lover of architectural design and eclectic style, I was truly amazed by the depth and detail of so many of the sites in these cities, particularly La Sagrada Familia (Just beautiful, and to this day, not finished!). ¬†And at some point, I lost count of the cups of gelato and caf√© sandwiches I consumed. ¬†This was¬†my first trip to Europe, and I’m grateful for all the fun and crazy memories with my cousin. ¬†We make good travel partners!