Last week, we re-charged our batteries. It was a family affair: 15 people, 1 house, on an island together for a week. Bliss.
I'd honestly planned to blog from the beach, but when the time came to seat myself in front of this screen, I couldn't do it. Between bike rides and sand dollar hunts and pretending to read on the beach while really just chatting about nothing and watching the waves, I couldn't bring myself to post. These days spent together are far too few not to take full advantage of time, on which we're all constantly running low. But at the beach, time is on your side, even if the days fly by.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina was a first for us, at least all together. Our family has been on the Delaware beach train (a train I'll always love) for many years. But sometimes, it's nice to branch out and see what it is everyone's been talking about, what we're "missing."
And it certainly was a different scene down south where the Spanish moss is plentiful; the beaches are as wide as football fields at noon and narrow down to a few meters by 5pm; and the ice cream shop closes at "tiiiin" instead of "ten." Although most places in our neighborhood, we discovered, closed closer to eight o'clock. Sometimes this made us stir-crazy, other times we relished in the nowhere-to-go feeling.
There were only a couple other groups on our strip of beach, meaning plenty of space to spread out and play games. Although the hard, tightly compacted sand makes for hard landings when the games get rough.
My favorite time of day on the beach is always the late afternoon, when the sun's rays subside and the shadows lengthen. The wind picks up, and with it, the waves bulge higher, each one trying to out-do the last. At a certain point, I'd resign myself to another beach day's end and stroll home, skin salty and brown and dotted with sand.
But we'd always get back down to the beach at night, long after dinner was over and card games had been played. We searched for turtle eggs to hatch so we could help the tiny creatures survive their perilous journey to the sea (of which we saw none). We also searched for shooting stars (of which we saw many). And one night, we got to see a fierce lightening storm far out in the ocean, shimmering reds and oranges between its frequent flashes of light.
I don't know where we'll decide to go next year, but as long as there are a few beach chairs and umbrellas by the ocean, I think we'll be all set.
Austin may not be a coastal city, but there's still plenty to do on the water. Although land-locked, Austin is bisected by the Colorado River, which forms reservoirs, or lakes, along it's winding route to Matagorda Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. Conveniently for Austin residents, these lakes - Lake Austin, Lake Travis, and Lady Bird Lake - are all in close proximity to the city, providing several options of where to cool off during these dog days of August.
Austin's iconic Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin
I've been lucky enough - thanks to my 2 outstanding bros! - to get out on the water a few times since arriving down here, and I have to say it is pretty nice. The water is just cool enough to be refreshing, and there is a great mix of good waterskiing/wakeboarding spots as well as quiet coves to anchor out and swim. Or so I thought. On a Tuesday, one cove we found had just two other boats. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, and there were more than 50 boats lined up in the same cove, each with at least half a dozen sunbathers lounging on the decks, and more bobbing up and down on noodles in the water. I don't know which was worse: the puke that floated by me at one point in the afternoon or the tiny lake leeches I found on my feet after walking around in the more shallow, muddy areas of the cove. Otherwise, it was a dream, although the opposite of quiet.
SUP-ing with Elaina on Lady Bird Lake
And then there's After Lake. Like Aprés Ski or After Beach, but After Lake involves docking at a pier-side restaurant - or often more a shack of sorts - and chowing down as you watch fellow watercraft whizz by, with or without a skier in tow. The best After Lake spot I've been to so far here in Austin is Ski Shores, where diners sit just on the edge of the dock as swans, fish and even turtles beg for leftover scraps. It's like a real-life aquarium!
Considering I've been in Austin for 2 months today, I'd say I'm doing pretty well in the get-on-the-water department. Now if only I could say the same for my get-a-job mission...
Last Friday, we joined friends for happy hour back in the 1800s. Or so it felt. A square, modest-looking place behind a 7-11 off of 24th Street in Austin. The student 'hood, based on it's proximity to UT. Prices may not have been lower, but the saloon-like ambiance certainly contrasted to the swanky, modern feel of many downtown establishments a few blocks south. And there was an offset smoker out back, industrial size:
As you can see, Freedmen's is serious about their BBQ. And rightfully so. In Austin, BBQ places are a dime a dozen - good BBQ isn't too hard to find. But melt-in-your-mouth BBQ? BBQ brisket thickly sliced, layered across homemade foccacia bread? The edges burnt just the right amount, the center succulent and tender? Not so common. I was literally in BBQ bliss. I wasn't even hungry! At $5, the Sammy sandwich was worth every happy-hour penny. And happy hour must involve drinks, of course. Of which Freedmen's does very well. I splurged on two of their artisan cocktails - the Smokin' Cactus and Plum something something. The perfect accompaniment to a meal in 90-degree heat. That's right - Freedmen's has no air conditioning*. Hence the time-warp. It doesn't sound like it would work, but somehow it does. Despite sweaty thighs stuck to brown leather chesterfield booths, I loved the transport to a slower era. The restaurant's activity seemed to adapt to a slower speed too, everyone lulled into a sweet, relaxed amble from the swelter. It took us probably six visits from our lovely waitress Tara before we actually ordered food. And, unlike the annoyance most restaurant staff would feel at such a pace, it was perfectly fine. There's also a beer garden if you'd prefer a slight breeze. Or like that smoke from the smoker to add some more flavor to your experience. But there's not much of a need for that. I had zero expectations walking in to Freedmen's, and was more than satisfied as I sauntered out, for once not feeling that shock as a wave of heat engulfs my body. I was already acclimated! Thank you Freedmen's for a one-of-a-kind BBQ experience - I'll be back soon. *Upon further investigation, it has come to light that this may be rather a matter of them having very weak air conditioners combined with all of the doors being open to the outdoors, creating the feeling of no air conditioning. To be confirmed upon my next visit there...
Everything really is bigger in Texas. Except for this poor little bat, that is, who was barely as long as the palm of my hand. His radar honing must have been off because he smacked straight into a window and fell to his fateful demise.
Did you know that Austin is home to the largest urban population of bats in the world? They're Mexican free-tailed bats, and they migrate from central Mexico each spring to roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge right downtown. At sunset, about 1.5 million bats and their pups soar out from under the bridge on the hunt for insects to gorge on (of which there are plenty in these parts). This hairy guy, though, was on another path and for some reason ended up west of the city and never made it back to that bridge.
Otherwise, though, things really are bigger down here. Just last night, I nearly stepped on a toad the size of my foot. Seriously. Lizards bask on every tree trunk. And giant cockroaches scurry away when light or movement threatens. No wonder they've been around for so long.
Locals raise Texas flags the size of tennis courts, waving proudly in the breeze. Food portions/containers are often ridiculously large (try finding a small jar of salsa). And the cars are too - or trucks I should say - lumbering along (or sometimes slightly over) that double yellow line, taking up way more space than their cargo occupies.
These and many more things about Texas will take some getting used to. In the meantime, I'll enjoy awing over these super-sizes - and hopefully there won't be anymore bat casualties in the process.
Books. They're just words printed on paper bound between a cover, right? If you've ever read a book, you know they're so much more than that. But what about the bookstores where these treasures are first discovered? There must be something to say for these special places that house endless spines piled, stacked, wedged along every open shelf, into every free corner. A leather armchair to lounge in, a ladder to reach high shelves, and a thousand titles to be leafed through in search of that perfect summer read.
backyard of The Annapolis Bookstore
At The Annapolis Bookstore, there is not a surface in sight without a stack of books to decorate it, each one with its own story - and history - to tell. Books sold at this charming establishment are in line with the shop's motto:
Used, new, rare, and always remarkable
Remarkable is the key word. Each book is remarkable in it's own right, waiting for a reader to happen upon it and fall in love, as every avid reader hopes to do with their next literary endeavor. At The Annapolis Bookstore, owners Janice Holmes and Mary Adams guide each person who passes through the door on their journey to find their perfect book, whatever that may be. Or for the solitare-seeking patron, they're happy for people to browse the rows for hours on their own quest.
An upright piano is nestled under the front window of the shop, its keys ready for any passerby so inclined to play. A cafe in the back serves organic coffee and sweet treats. And the backyard provides a quiet retreat, tucked away from the city happenings, complete with a miniature house made entirely of books.
NS' and my participation in The Annapolis Bookstore's 24-hour read-a-thon
There is literally nowhere in the world quite like The Annapolis Bookstore. The books, the people, the ambiance - they're all so special and create a place that I hope can continue for many years to come. It's the You've Got Mail story, but this time instead of Meg Ryan battling (and falling in love with) Tom Hanks over big bully Fox bookstore luring her clients, there are real people whose lives are invested in giving the community a gathering place, a quiet place, a place of discussion and ideas, a place for the young and the old, a place which we should support for Annapolis and its people.
Shop local is the catch-phrase of today, but it needs to be more than that. We must act on it. Instead of clicking that "Add to shopping bag" button, visit The Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Avenue. Leaf through their books. Interact with people. You never know what you'll discover when you venture out from behind your computer screen.
PS - they'll be showing the film To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow evening in the garden to celebrate Harper Lee's 2nd book being published, so even more reason to get over there!
What does it mean to drive down a long, straight road all day long? A road that extends forever in the same direction, and when you get to the point you've been waiting to reach, it only continues, on and on, teasing you with its endlessness? To drive this road, this taunting road, in a 16' UHaul truck full of the things you've collected your whole life? It means focus. A lot of focus and perhaps a bit of insanity. But we did have some fun along the way.
NS, my mom, and I set out from my parent's driveway at 7:45am on Monday, June 1. It seemed like a good day to begin a journey. An anxious caravan - Prius following UHaul - meandering down the 2-lane country roads of southern Maryland. A traffic hiccup in Virginia caused slight delays, but we reached our destination for the night - Seabrook Island, South Carolina - just before 8pm, where we were welcomed into the house of dear friends with warm meals and beds for not one but two nights. The comfort of visiting loved ones to break up a long journey is like no other. We were so thankful for beach wanderings and ball throwing; swimming in the turquoise-colored sea; and gathering together around a table late into the evenings. It was bliss and our imminent departure came too soon.
But the south was calling, luring us in with its Spanish moss draping the trees and its warm temperatures enveloping our bodies. I love the south. We chose a back-roads route through Georgia to break up the monotony - and danger - of Interstate 95. It was probably not the fastest way to go in the end, but we got to drive through some stunning countryside, where rolling fields close in on proud farmhouses perched beneath tall oaks and willows. It almost made being in the rumbling cabin of the truck peaceful. Interstate 10 cuts across the US at the ankles, from one coast to the other, and we were dumped onto it in the Florida Panhandle, where the trees are green and life is slow. (Thank you, slow life.)
The forest lakes we crossed over in Louisiana
In our search for accommodation that evening, we came upon a quaint, funky beach town called Grayton Beach*. There was very little there, but what was there was so perfectly wonderful and I decided that if we couldn't stay there that night (and even if we could), I would come back some day. And I will! As it turned out, Grayton Beach was not in the cards for us on this particular night. We continued up the coast - thankfully having gained an extra hour crossing to the Central time zone - and settled for a hotel along the highway in Miramar Beach. Our last full day of driving brought us through:
what little was left of the Panhandle
the squared-off tip of Alabama (pee break)
Mississippi (lunch at Diamondhead's Harbor House Steamer Yacht Club overlooking the St. Louis Bay)
Louisiana (gas refill/route- & meat-buying-advice from a local fueling his truck, open beer in hand)
and finally, the very start of Texas.
We passed only a handful of the 880 exits that span Texas along Interstate 10 before calling it quits for the night in Beaumont. After settling into a hotel, we found an authentic Cajun seafood and Texas steakhouse called Floyds. Floyds' sweet tea was sweet and its seafood gumbo was spicy. Most everything else was friiiiied.
One of many, many gas stops
Friday - glorious Friday - brought us to our destination by 1pm. Austin! We made it, finally, completely intact and a little bit worldlier in the ways of the south. I guess there's lots more of that to come now that we're Texas residents. Just have to find me some cowboy boots!
*Random fact: Grayton Beach's eastern neighbor is a town called Seaside, which is where The Truman Show was filmed. We didn't make it to Seaside this time.
I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland before heading north to study at Boston College. In 2007, I finished at BC with a degree in English & Communication; spent the summer living the dream in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and then moved to London to work various jobs for a year. Soon after, I got my "love visa" to Sweden, and have been in Stockholm for over 4 years now. I'm loving this city and life in the Scandinavian world!
the beach, raspberries, swimming in the Bay, swimming anywhere, the smell of laundry, dogs, wine and cheese, windy days, green, scavenger hunts, hot fudge sundaes, taking pictures, free samples, road trips, charades, bakeries, elephants, camping, the 4th of july, bonfires, sea glass, the sound of music, old photos, picnics, yard sales, boat hair, crunchy leaves, outdoor showers, letters