29 October 2009

Paradise, otherwise known as Bahia Honda State Park.

Is this actually where I was last week at this time?  It feels so surreal.

After we left Key West, mom and I headed up the overseas highway to Marathon Key, to a little hamlet in a cove called Bahia Honda State Park.  Wow.  It's been voted one of the top 5 beaches in the United States.  Can you see why?

I want to go sit on that palm trunk again and remember how the warm air felt on my face.  With the crystal-clear waters filled with silver-y tropical fish, and palm trees arching over the water to form a perfect bench, it seemed like a scene out of The Blue Lagoon.

It felt like it, too.

Even the area around the beach was filled with little treasures, like these adorable sea grasses that look like stars...

During our few hours at Bahia Honda, all we did was wade in the bathtub-temperature waters, swishing our arms back and forth, back and forth.  And wiggle our toes in the soft, white sand.

This was pretty much paradise to me.

28 October 2009

We temporarily interrupt this autumn programming...

Let's momentarily pause the visions of colorful autumn leaves and instead turn to palm trees arching over clear Gulf waters.  I just returned from another mother/daughter trip...this time to the Florida Keys and Sanibel Island!

We started the trip in Key West, which had its charms, mostly of the natural variety - massive palm trees teeming with coconuts, sunsets, green waters.  I could do without the trashy tshirt shops and Mardi Gras-esque feeling of over-indulgence.  Have you ever been to Key West?  Did you feel that too?  It seemed like a locale where old rich broads retire and walk their poodles everyday, while everyone else is still wearing cutoff stonewashed jean shorts and tshirts that say "I Heart Naked People" {case in point, see below}.

It was fun in its own quirky way.  Mom and I always seem to gravitate to the places of natural beauty though!

The night we arrived, we were greeted by this adorable scene on the front porch of the Frances Street Bottle Inn, where we promptly deposited our bags in our room and went straight outside to the sprawling wrap-around porch for a red wine nightcap.

The next day, we rented bikes {the way to get around in Key West, apparently} and began to explore...

We saw historic homes and fences overflowing with bougainvillea...

Creepy tree trunks that seemed to be dripping from the sky...

...and orchid-like flowers growing from trees all over the island.

We learned that the flowers were from the "Flamboyant Tree" and of course put them in our hair!

On the way to the beach, we passed this typical Key West street scene...

Admittedly, one of the best parts of Key West was discovering this organic restaurant, Help Yourself!, where we had organic chicken salad wraps on sprouted grain tortillas and peanut butter banana shakes using coconut water instead of milk!  They gather the coconuts themselves.  Are you kidding me?  We loved it so much for lunch that we went back for dinner and tried the homemade cashew coconut ice cream.  Delish.

Finally, we stopped moving, parked our bikes, and found a ledge by the ocean to sit and see one of Key West's famous sunsets.  Even the herons were ready for the show...

It was a truly stunning way to end our day before heading up the Keys in search of more adventure...

20 October 2009

For the love of autumn... (part 2: New Jersey/New York 2006)

"I've never known anyone yet who doesn't suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around...we're all eight years old again and anything is possible." 
~ Sue Grafton

Bleary-eyed and jet-lagging a day after I returned from Africa, I joined my husband and our dear friends Brad and Mary Herridge (and little Grant, who was in Mary's tummy at the time) for a trip to New York and New Jersey.  During those few days in early November 2006, we walked all over God's creation - probably 8-10 miles a day with barely a rest!  If I can be half as energetic as Mary was when I'm pregnant one day, I'll be happy.  What a trooper.

The scenes on this trip could not have been more of a contrast to those I had witnessed in Africa just a few days prior...the wild, lush beauty of Uganda vs. the urban landscape and busyness of New York City.  Million-dollar mansions in the New Jersey countryside vs. the slums of Kibera.  I spent many moments on the subway staring out the graffiti'd windows in a daze, the voices of the orphans singing still echoing in my head.  Hard to believe that such contrasts exist in the same world...

On this trip, autumn was experienced through one long walk after another.  The leaves were at their peak - firey reds, golden yellows, laying a carpet underneath our feet as we trekked from my parents' house into downtown Madison to board the train for the big city.

my street in madison

a neighbor's fence around the corner

In New York, we ate at some new favorites, all recommended by our virtual tour guide, Tara Leigh, who was just a phone call away...places like Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man, Spring Street Natural, and Think Coffee.  We camped inside Chelsea Market hoping for a Rachael Ray sighting (no luck) and strolled through Central Park where the curbs were scattered with leaves, and folks were already ice skating at the whimsical Wolman Rink.

It was jacket weather, and it was heavenly, of course.

Back in New Jersey, we spent an afternoon in the woods at Drew University where Brad and Steven sat on logs and smoked cigars, and Mary and I walked under the canopy marveling at the leaves.

Finally, our friends The Sullivans who live in New York came to the "country" to join us, and we set off to find a roadside pumpkin and apple stand just like it was in our idealized minds.  They do exist...just a short drive away, outside of Chester, NJ!  Here is Alstede Farms...

brad, steven, and david

shawna, mary, and me

Back at my parents' house, since we were all together, we had an early Thanksgiving meal.  This had to be one of my most memorable meals, ever.  It was the perfect fall day, and we borrowed our neighbor's picnic table to set up an outdoor feast featuring my mom's vintage cookery and dishes filled with already-prepared items from Whole Foods - roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, chewy Italian bread slathered with creamy butter, and of course, lots of red wine.

As I look back on these autumn moments, I know that there is hope for the stark winter days that seem to literally and figuratively suck the life out of us.  As long as there are seasons and color and leaves and shared meals and friends, it is going to be okay.

19 October 2009

Hometown beauty...

Wanted to share more photos from my dad on the beauty of my hometown right now during fall.  I just love these.  Have you seen the movie The Family Stone?  Remember the lovely Christmas scene where snow is falling and they're waking through a town square?  That's Madison.  Oh, how I miss it!

So here's a little tour...

downtown ~ waverly place with the millenium clock

main street

typical madison street scene...don't you just want to stroll along there with a latté in hand?

madison presbyterian church

lovely trees changing colors

this is where you board the train for new york city...

... and here is the lovely old restored train station, which is listed on the state register of historic places

view of downtown ~ waverly place from the train station

56 degree autumn day ~ perfect

16 October 2009

Well, hello Sun...

We flowers and vegetables sure are thankful for all the rain but it's nice to see you again!

11 October 2009

Early fall in New Jersey...

Today, my dad sent me this photo he just took of the family homestead in early fall.  Autumn has begun to break in New Jersey!  I love the tips of the trees beginning to blush with a rosy orange glow - looks like my favorite ash trees that tower above the house in the back yard have already started shedding leaves.  That means dad has already started to rake them into piles. If only there was someone to jump in them and make them scatter all over again.   Can't wait to be there in November - my first Thanksgiving in New Jersey since college!

06 October 2009

For the love of autumn... (part 1: Maine 2005)

"New England has a way of doing this to people; they can be homesick for it even if they have never seen it."
~ Mark Van Doren

It is now October, and autumn is in full swing.  Maybe not really yet here in Texas, but we did have our first 60-degree day on September 22nd, the autumnal equinox.  I took a solitary stroll through the neighborhood at lunchtime.  As I left for my walk, I snapped a small sprig of rosemary from a plant by the curb and held it between my fingers the whole way - a sniff here, a whiff there.  Nature's aromatherapy.

Autumn, to me, means destinations - adventure and discovery of new places.  For the last four years, the season has brought along beside it a trip to the northeast, the best place to spend the fall in my opinion.   I grew up there, you know, in New Jersey where in autumn we retrieved our J. Crew sweaters from hibernation and donned duck boots as we raked leaves in the front yard.

In celebration of the best season, I thought I'd share some of my favorite autumn experiences over the last four years.  2005 was when it began.  That September, I went on a mother-daughter trip to the glorious state of Maine.  Maine is where I officially fell in love with New England - lobster boats and all.  Sure, I had visited New England before as a child and teenager - Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Mystic, Connecticut; Newport, Rhode Island.  But Maine is in a league of its own.  Its anonymous cottages tucked in the woods, sparsely populated fishing towns, and hibernation-inducing winters simultaneously make Maine cozy/quaint and the material of ghost stories.  I understand now why Stephen King based so many of his novels there...

Our trip was spent in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, and it was a true New England experience.  Bales of hay and mums decorating the steps of general stores...restaurants on fishing piers...tea and popovers...tiny towns lit by street lamps and lanterns.  Here are some of my favorite photos from that trip...

only in maine...

roadside autumn

lobster boats in castine

a typical maine scene

general store in castine

fall breaking through acadia national park

stunning view where we had popovers and tea at jordan pond house restaurant

sunset in acadia national park

Stunning.  Restful.  Just how autumn should be. It's why everyone has a love affair with New England, even if they've yet to see it with their own eyes.