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, étouffée, 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, “Girl, you have a lot of miles on your butt!”  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 –

  • 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’s shadow as it radiates among Nevada’s 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’s eyes.  In each of these places, I’ve 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 – 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’ve been but the quality of the connections you make to your surroundings.  Hats off to a great year of discovery…and food!  Phenomenal food!

Basic & Proud

My mom always says that my kids are going to have to come to her house to eat the “bad” foods because the only things I ever have are carrots, crackers, and broccoli!  While there may be some truth to that, let it be known that the odds of me ever parting with French fries or chocolate chip cookies is pretty slim.  Therefore, I’m quite sure they won’t go their entire childhood without “bad” foods!  In my mom’s most recent attempt to IMG_2913jokingly point out my preference to buy healthy and sometimes organic foods, it inspired me to share my desire for the “good” stuff.

I am not that woman who buys EVERYthing organic and always remembers my reusable shopping bags.  I need my grocery budget to go the distance.  I don’t grind my own peanuts in the fancy machines to produce peanut butter on the spot nor do I always have the discipline to bypass the donuts on the way to the cash register.  But, I am the woman who loves food.  And I am the woman who has started investing more time and energy in reading labels and caring about what I eat.

The real reason I have less of the “bad” and more of the “good” in my pantry and fridge these days is because much of the food that’s available to us is made with ingredients I can’t even pronounce!  Have you ever picked up a loaf of bread and actually looked at the label?  First off, if it says “high fructose corn syrup” I’m definitely dropping it like it’s hot.  Most of the time if you keep reading, it’s a chemical alphabet soup.  I thought bread was supposed to be basic??  Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water?!  Of course the reason why all of these preservatives are in a typical loaf is to increase shelf life.  But, umm it’s bread.  And I like basic bread!  So, I spend the extra few bucks to get basic bread!  Oh, and let’s talk about oatmeal.  Again, I am that woman who has to take shortcuts sometimes, so I buy instant oatmeal packets.  I save the hearty oats in the canister for weekends.  #winning   There was a time when I never cared about the ingredients in these packets.  I just knew one packet was enough sustenance until lunch.  One day I flipped the box over and read the label.  Let’s just say I never bought those same packets again.  I switched to the organic oats because I wanted a basic and fast oatmeal breakfast.  You know…whole grain oats, sugar, and salt.  Why are we overcomplicating this?  And trust me when I tell you that the organic version tastes completely different than the regular one.  What a novel idea that real food tastes better.

Although I would love to spare my wallet a few dollars and get back the time I’ve spent trying to find healthier alternatives to the foods that I like, I’m becoming more invested in what I choose to consume.  I’ll spend 30 cents more on organic bananas and strawberries if it means less pesticides swirling around with the cells that constitute my anatomy.  And I’ll buy the organic chicken breasts for my stir fry if it means the pieces aren’t full of antibiotics and as big as a toddler’s arm!  The truth is that every day I’m learning more about “organic” versus “natural” and our country’s food standards.  I don’t ever intend to be a farm girl where I have more control over what I grow and eat.  But, for some things, give me the basics, because the overabundance of processed food and our contaminated environments are slowly deteriorating our bodies.

I can’t promise that I won’t eat an Oreo before the night is through or grab some waffle fries for my next lunch.  Let’s face it…I do like to indulge and be happy, so Mom can stash a few “bad” foods for me too when I come to visit.  However, I will balance it out with some foods that are whole and foods that should never be anything more than basic!

Eat, drink, and splurge on organic when you can, my friends!  It does your taste buds and body real good!

A Local Luxury

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some of my weekends scouting venues and attractions in my local area. Over the summer, I had a chance to tour Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, VA. This site has always been on my list of places to visit simply due to my affinity for flowers and landscapes, but my interest was further heightened after receiving my first DSLR camera a while back.  And due to my work in event planning, I also know that it’s a popular venue for weddings and other events, so I basically needed to get there!  I can confidently say this was a well spent afternoon marveling at nature, learning about the architecture for some of the exhibits, sharpening my photography skills, and simply taking some time to slow down and reflect. I even caught a glimpse of a photography session with an Indian couple that must have been for their engagement or wedding.  They looked amazing!  Don’t ever think you have to go far to find beauty.  It’s literally all around you!  Here are some of the photos I snapped.