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California October 2022

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” — Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh

CALIFORNIA 2022 HIGHLIGHTS

Sometimes in life an opportunity so profound presents itself that despite fear, insecurity or debilitating uncertainty the only passage through it is forward.

Allow me to share some relevant back story…a few years ago, in my professional life as a Children’s Hospital Nurse Case Manager-I had the privilege of meeting Peter and Charlotte Wenham the CEO’s of pNeo  that would ultimately direct my life’s trajectory on a course I never would have imagined.

pNeo is a Greek word meaning “breath and life force”. Brilliantly fitting for this dynamic duo who have singlehandedly cultivated a talented team of visionaries bringing to life products formulated on simplicity, nurturance and infant building block innovation for the wellbeing of optimal growth and development for babies and beyond.

pNeo’s Amazing Products

Our paths connected in happenstance but remained due to the popularity of the creations generously donated to my hospital organization.

Unbeknownst to me I soon became the unofficial community ambassador for one of their most coveted commodities The Baby Shusher – Sound Machine for Babies – a simple portable sound machine device that offers comfort and soothing measures with therapeutic ingenuity. For 2 years, through promotion, advocacy and a venerated word of mouth, passionate grass roots campaign I sang Baby Shusher praise-an easy task due to the unprecedented success of this groundbreaking genius game changer.

The earlier mentioned opportunity was to accommodate Charlotte from pNeo to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Experience 2022 Exhibition and Conference in Anaheim, California AAP Experience: National Conference & Exhibition – October 2022 to help work the booth and share my valued experience with the Baby Shusher. She did not have to ask me twice. And so that is how and why A Girl Her Hubs and a Suitcase…. edellescipades.com landed in Anaheim October 7-10, 2022.

Day 1 Anaheim, California

First the work…

As the wheels screeched down on the Anaheim tarmac-humidity, heat and haze waved to me tauntingly from the American Airlines airplane window. Tampa, Florida’s oppressive humidity followed Hubs and I unwelcomely through 6 hours and 3 time zones.

Entering the Marriott, the atmosphere held a palpable worldly and cosmopolitan academic vitality, scholarly controlled frenzy, clusters of AAP badge holding registrants and families congregated in the spacious lobby.

We took an Uber to our hotel destination for the next 3 days to the Anaheim Disneyland Marriott. The traffic was strangely light: the driver discussion somewhat heavy yet entertaining filling us in on his astute views regarding electric cars, the current governor, the fuel crisis, rolling blackouts and the exuberant and obscene cost of taking his family of 6 to Disneyland.

ME…..SO EXCITED!

We checked in and soon after met up with Charlotte. This would be our first face to face meeting after 2 years of virtual correspondence. We met in the lobby, her tiny slender arms wrapped around me in a surprisingly firm hug. She presented petite and soft-spoken (cool New Zealand accent) with poised grace and composed strength. Her calming nature combined with humble confidence and soft finesse immediately put me at ease. Later, she would reveal compelling details of her life as a risk taking, adrenaline junkie, sky diving thrill seeker. Coupling her talents as a former ER Nurse and now a savvy driven business entrepreneur made her a true Renaissance woman.   

We went over a few key points and all indications suggested she believed in me, my representation and application of the products. Blind trust is not something taken lightly and in the next subsequent days I would learn I excel and thrive in self-governance and autonomy.

We disbanded, Hubs and I making our way to the 11th floor. Our room faced the shimmery pool, below the suburban mirage of beige boxy homogenous homes lined the quiet neighborhood with little signs of life. Off in the distance rising mountains surrounded the landscape from all angles.

We got settled and ready to participate in the courtyard food truck rally planned for this evening. But first I would need to get my registration for the exhibition. My sole focus for these 3 days was to completely immerse myself into the world of pNeo. I would not be participating in any sessions or lectures. My only purpose was to promote, support, educate, instruct, inform, and remain wholeheartedly engaged and present throughout the exhibition hours.

Just a convenient 2-minute walk to the Anaheim Convention Center entered the vast space, the same intellectual atmosphere prevailed. Pockets of intimidating credentialed physicians cross covering every demographic filled the room. I received my exhibitor badge, exhilaration, goosebumps and hyperkinetic butterflies infiltrated my overactive nervous system

Outside, a large stage held a rambunctious band signaling the start of the festivities. The queues for food snaked around the slightly claustrophobic fenced in area. A potpourri of pungent aromas wafted in the steamy air. An early 6 am flight, followed by a long day of travel and a 3-hour time change made this sensory overload amplified.

We chose to dine in the hotel bar/restaurant nFuse opting out wisely of the rowdy celebration outside. Hubs and I sat in the busy but quiet restaurant, baseball game on, Manchego queso and homemade chips, juicy burger and beer for Hubs providing a pleasant end to a hurry and wait kind of day.

Day 2 AAP Exhibition Experience Anaheim

Our stubborn bodies lingered on Eastern Standard time allowing sleep to come easy. My willful circadian rhythm refused to adjust to Pacific Standard Time. Awakening early, nervous anxious excitement and apprehension greeted me with the sunrise. I stood on the balcony, one lonely swimmer floated supine in the pool below. I thought about the days ahead of me, expectations for myself and Charlotte. This would be new territory for me-my maiden voyage doing something other than what I have done for more than half my adult life. I took a quick assessment of myself and realized I was born for this. Every day of my existence I am trying to sell an idea. Whether it’s lobbying a friend to run a 5K with me or petitioning Hubs for a new refrigerator-my approach is similar and centers on tapping into the needs and bridging relatability. I have placed myself in way more uncomfortable, out of my paygrade situations-some my faithful following can conjure up a few cringeworthy moments in previous A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase proudly documented in edellescipades.com        

Hubs and I returned to nFuse for breakfast. A long line of 40 or so hungry badge wielding hotel guests obviously had the same idea. While Hubs stood in line advancing every few minutes, I hit the gift shop. Through the glass window that divided us, he monitored my whereabouts sending me telepathic messages to “Behave.” Just a few knickknacks procured- a keepsake to memorialize these 3 days.    

A hearty bowl of oatmeal ignited my synapses, providing me with a surplus of buoyant reserve for the next 4 hours as I would be nonstop. Hubs and I disassembled as I made the short walk to the grand exhibition hall.

Entering the massive space, I immediately felt an intense temperature surge-a hot flash 2.0 rapid heat fired through my sweat ducts resulting in a perspiration mustache and clammy damp panic. I swiftly made my way through the 336 vendor stations-a who’s who of pediatric royalty- Abbott, Baxter, Kate Farms along with world class children’s hospitals, just to name a few. Like a rock band groupie, I swooned, sighed and yelped in glee as I speedily made my way to Charlotte and the pNeo booth.

She was there waiting for me, our organized space put together by her the night before. The products Baby Shusher, CLEARinse and Tumzee Tummy Time Pad showcased proudly on a glass tower shimmering under the severe, garish white light. We went through a quick tutorial, some Q&A-a cliff notes version followed by a much-needed tough love pitch a “you can do it” inspirational TED talk.

Almost immediately, packs of antsy attendees began to stream in. I watched in awe, as Charlotte described the products-her hypnotic Kiwi drawl mesmerizing, her audience spellbound as she assertively gripped the CLEARinse with authority illustrating the fine points of congestion suction. A gaggle of humans swarmed around us, a revolving door of inquisitive, curious Physicians “What’s this? How does it work, how can it help?” One by one, we volleyed the Baby Shusher back and forth like a baton in a race, spelling out the therapeutic benefits. Never before has a doctor been so focused on my responses.

WATCHING MAGIC HAPPEN

As the day progressed, I began to gain more courage eventually developing a rhythm, cadence and flow making the 4 hours fly by. Afterwards, tired bones, dehydrated, hungry, aching all over-I realized I have never felt happier and more alive. It was the first time in my professional life I had ever encountered this level of pure satisfaction involving contrasting qualities than my present role as a caregiver. Without my clinical expertise and decades of bedside nursing, I would never have been able to confidently speak to the products in the way that I did. It was evident that I needed to appreciate my past and present as it brought me to this joyful state today. All- in- all, the day was a complete success. I left exhilarated, euphoric and exhausted.

As I headed back, I realized I had not eaten since breakfast. Hangry and longing to share this magnanimous day’s events with Hubs an impulsive poor regretful dinner choice was made of overpriced, reflux inducing undercooked hotel pizza

He had kept himself busy exploring the hotel, watching football at the bar, grazing snacks, and resting. He listened as I deliriously rambled my day to him. I encountered so many people, from all demographics and ethnicities, I spoke with doctors from Peru, Belize, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, Canada and literally every state in the USA all from an impressive variety of specialties and practices. He listened, nodded, yawned and interjected when needed-but clearly and understandably was unable to muster the same enthusiasm that was busting out of me. Evan as the day turned into night, I continued to process all the encounters and marinate in the unfiltered joy and gratification I was feeling. As I laid my head on the pillow that night, I slept easily for the first time in a long time letting the element of purpose lead me into a blissful slumber.  

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz………

Day 3 AAP Exhibition Experience Anaheim

Today’s exhibition hours would be longer and start earlier. Lucky for me, I was still riding high from yesterday’s momentum. We had another enjoyable breakfast at nFuse and went our separate ways. Waiting at the booth were all new faces mainly representing the illuminati of CLEARinse-dare I say-the Mount Rushmore of nasal aspiration-Inventors Nurse Practitioner Jill and her husband Chris, a well-seasoned Pediatric ER Physician, CEO Steve, Engineer Matt and Project Manager-Liz. Together these nasal suction superstars are normalizing suckage, redefining sinus health and MAKING SUCTION GREAT AGAIN. Being amongst such brilliance was slightly intimidating, but this mastermind quintet despite their medical and business virtuoso were incredibly down to earth, friendly and funny. It was an honor to be amongst them I genuinely relished my short time with each one of the fab five.

Our booth was hopping and getting a lot of traffic, all 3 items were receiving a great deal of attention. Today’s turnout was more international, a United Nations of diversity and talents. The global attendance was astonishing and encouraging. This day proved more interactive, generating a lot of questions, demonstrations and an overall eager curiosity as the crowd maintained a feverish frenetic presence.

I did a speedy orbit around the exhibition visiting vendors, swapping stories and refreshing my brain. We remained steadily busy and went until the lights were turned off.

I quickly picked up Hubs for part II of this long day. Sporting Minnie ears and Winnie the Pooh shirt we Ubered for the short 6-minute drive to Disneyland to preserve slowly depleting energy. We had pre-purchased tickets and took advantage of the AAP discount offered which only amounted to $9 off per person. Nevertheless, it was an uncomfortable, unforgivable indulgence. We live 50 minutes from Disney World in Florida and have not been in over 20 years, which added to the lunacy of this extravagance.

Somehow in the planning, we lost sight that we were amateurs within the Disney realm. I had no knowledge of the significance of the Disneyland Mobile App (even though I downloaded it) and found ourselves lost in a sea of Halloween dressed teenagers, families on a mission and annual pass holders-all much savvier than us. The lines and wait times were staggering and futile. We dined at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed fresh, tasty taco salads. We made our way through the crowds only to notice, the later it got the more packed it became. Stores were impossible to get through. We did go on the The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean  

We laughed, screamed, oohed and ahh’d to the vivid colors and animated imagery as Disney childhood memories flooded back to both of us. In the end, the swelling push of riffraff and inability to combat the lines made it no longer “the happiest place on earth.”

Escaping the park on foot, we found ourselves at a Coldstone Creamery-no line there. We devoured our cold, creamy sugary concoction across from the park, the full white luminescent moon lighting up the dark sky. It was impossible purchasing Disney souvenirs in the park due to the long lines instead we went to Walgreens where I purchased a T-shirt and Minnie magnet-a fraction of the cost-however Minnie is missing an eye and does not look well.

We made it back to the hotel, tired after a long day but just as content if not more than the night before. Legs cramped, feet sore and belly full; dreams of Baby Shushers lulled me into a serene siesta.  

SNUG AS A BUG IN A RUG WITH A SHUSHER

Day 4 AAP Exhibition Experience Anaheim

Being our final day in Anaheim, we packed up, had a quick bite at nFuse and then Hubs and I went our separate directions. He went off to pick up the rental car for the remainder of our trip and went off to the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. (More to discuss on this-later)

Today would be the last day of the Exhibition and closing day with pNeo and Charlotte. Inspired by our time together, I learned so much and genuinely cherished the entire experience. Our product supply had been entirely drained with only samples left for us to demonstrate.

The spectators on this final day had an agenda. This crew clearly were the ones who had missed out or the “last chancers”. Free swag was flowing, people on the lookout for the last of the giveaways, seemingly tethered with multitudes of overflowing bags hanging from any accessible appendage as their stockpile of loot spilled out precariously.

On the flip side, we also connected with individuals the most interested, intrigued and invested. They were down to the wire, pressed for time, limited patience and permitting the bare minimum of bullet points. As the final hour approached, many vendors came by drawn to the Baby Shusher’s striking orange hue. Countless others popped by disclosing their positive firsthand accounts, emphatically grabbing the device that got Mom and baby through a challenging time. Dads’, grandparents and physicians all shared heartfelt proclamations revealing touching personal testimonials. As the show grew to a close, several hospital organization representatives visited to express their gratitude for having Baby Shushers provided to their patients already. One of which was my former employer that started my pNeo journey. They touted what I had known for so long that it provides comfort, security and soothing measures for numerous medical conditions that ultimately aid in recovery.

I witnessed a full circle moment for Charlotte when she was approached from an administrator from Children’s Egleston Hospital where Baby Shusher’s very own Nolan Moore a former open-heart patient credited his recovery to the Baby Shusher. His parents run an annual donation drive for Egleston to give back to those who can benefit the same way he did. Nolan is also the baby that was displayed on the large canvas in our booth. His knowing eyes seemed to acknowledge this sentimental affirming moment.

https://www.forsythnews.com/local/baby-shusher-helped-nolan-moore-while-hospital-heart-surgery-his-parents-want-give-one-every-baby-there/

Finally, after 3 days, thousands of conversations and 100% devotion to the cause-the exhibition was over. Charlotte and I transformed into a high-speed cataclysmic pit crew for exhibition breakdown. Together fueled by an almighty Herculean second win-we pieced apart, broke down, and manhandled a wooden shipping pallet with fierce ferocious fury resulting in a comical Mr. Bean outcome. Sweat puddled down my back, as we contorted our bodies maneuvering in record time. An hour sped by as our once lively booth was now contained in a complex jigsaw puzzle held together by industrial grade saran wrap and masking tape.

As the end drew near, I voiced my appreciation, gratitude and loyalty once again to Charlotte. To my elated surprise, she proposed further invitations-next year’s AAP in Washington DC and an international Trade fair in Cologne, Germany both registered for next Fall. With impassioned elation and desperate restraint, my heart sang in tachycardiac titillation while my mind raced with manic jubilation. What started out as a questioning inquisitiveness over a LinkedIn post turned into one of the most rewarding weekends of my life. We hugged and parted ways, knowing the work here may be done for now but my dedicated commitment to Shusher and pNeo will only continue to grow stronger.

Day 4 Part II-Continued-Riverside-October 2022

Now the fun…

Already packed up and checked out, Hubs and rental car waited for me patiently outside the hotel. Exiting the Marriott, we had so much to catch up on. He gave me the highlights version of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum excursion.

Highly endorsed by Hubs himself, the museum is situated on beautiful grounds a short distance from Anaheim. His analysis was very favorable- perks being uncrowded, senior discount provided and a bountiful of interesting presidential tidbits and historical facts. He was bursting with merriment rattling off the details of his solo expedition. In return, I provided a theatrical rendition of the day with the transcending conclusion.

We continued maneuvering through rush hour traffic enroute to Riverside California-shoutout my lifelong childhood friend Kristen and her lovely family who used to live there recommended this destination as a “must see” stop in the itinerary.

Off in the distinct horizon, the rounded opaque silhouette of mountains shadowed the fading sky. Riverside was a mere 37 miles away but felt worlds away from Disney. The main draw of this area is the iconic Mission Inn Riverside Historic Hotel. A one-night stay there would be a budget buster so instead, we chose a more reasonable option right down the street at the Hampton Inn Riverside Downtown-half the cost but conveniently offered stellar views of the historic landmark. We walked through the sedate downtown-autumn harvest embellishments adorned the charming window fronts of the now closed stores. The central square dating back to 1870 intertwines eclectic artesian gen Z with old world Spanish colonial revival.

Historic landmarks and celebrated figures sealed in antiquity create a promenade open-air walking museum of patinated statues-distinguished leaders including Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, and others.

Invasive emerald plush ivy and deep magenta bougainvillea fortified the iron ornate fence. Curved archways, majestic flying buttresses, lofty domes and spired towers competed for visual splendor. Fanciful palm trees royal and resilient flanked the entrance like soldiers safeguarding its fortress.

A baroque fountain displayed a tranquil water feature adjacent to a set of armored cannons followed by the famous Talking Parrots Josephine and Napoleon. The Nanjing Bell-enduring, unyielding and grand-the true symbol of the Mission Inn.

We eventually made our way to the hotel entrance. Black and white hexagon tile reflected off the opulent chandeliers. Thick dark wood beams the color of pumpernickel, strong and supportive crisscrossed the ceiling and vertical columns.

We made a reservation at the Mission Inn Restaurant-there are 4 diverse dining options but, on this evening, this was the only one that was open. We chose to eat inside-a regrettable decision after viewing the exquisite courtyard post dinner voted one of the Top 100 Best Outdoor Dining Restaurants in the Country.

Although quiet with few patrons, the space was invitingly captivating decorated in multicolored tiles, vaulted ceilings, ornate wall sconces and marble embellishments. The open state of the art kitchen was viewable from all vantage points for guests to witness the chefs preparing world class cuisine.

Hubs dined on Cioppino-a savory seasoned, and rich seafood stew. As a diaphoretic picante sweat exuded from his pores, he waved his empty water glass in spicy desperation. I chomped on my simple Caesar salad as his eyes teared, forehead erupted into a sweaty sheen, and cheeks flushed he fanned the white linen napkin in temporary relief and partial defeat.

As we walked back, we stumbled onto a melancholy guitarist strumming a stirring rendition of The Doors-Jim Morrison classics. A few twenty-somethinger’s gathered round in a hypnotic CBD induced trance. We stayed for a few songs swaying to the acoustic ballads. We walked the short distance back to the hotel in the cool darkness ready for some much-needed rest.

Day 5 Riverside-Big Bear Lake October 2022

We woke up refreshed and ready to make the most of our few hours left in Riverside. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and explored more of the downtown. We revisited what we saw last night but now in finer detail. We visited a few stores noticing that all the Halloween decorations were now replaced for Christmas (although only mid-October). We planned on going to the missioninnmuseum.org but in the Museum Store learned that it was closed for renovations. Instead, we participated in a walking tour led by trained docent-Nancy Gilroy.

She provided riveting details, commentary and facts about the history, art, artifacts and architecture of the Mission Inn. With only 2 others joining us, it was an intimate walking discovery highlighting the details of this fascinating time capsule. The tour lasted 90 minutes and was well worth the $15 (AAA discount used). By this time, checkout was approaching and at an astounding $23 a day for parking, it was time to go.

One last stop though must be made as we left Riverside. We stopped at Cupcakes and Curiosities for a final sweet treat. The lemony tart and tangy, cupcake secured from Riverside would sustain us as we made the 1.5-hour drive to our final destination-Big Bear Lake.

We entered the San Bernardino National Forest just as the sky turned a menacing shade of smokey grey and meteoric precipitation assaulted our vulnerable Hyundai Elantra.

SAN BERNANDINO MOUNTAINS

The winding roads were perilously slick as the rotund rain dollops transformed into missile like hail. The curving roadway became thick with icy slush as visibility diminished. This is not how I envisioned the start of our magical mountain retreat. The thermostat dipped instantly plummeting down to a raw 30 degrees. The Hubs unphased by the apocalyptic weather shift gripped the wheel with expert precision as the automobile hugged the glistening asphalt.

OUR SCENIC DRIVE INTO SAN BERNANDINO MOUNTAINS

We entered the City of Big Bear Lake as the last lingering remnants of drizzle dissipated.

We stocked up on food at vons buying painfully overpriced groceries-horrified by the exorbitant inflated food prices. Driving through the 5pm traffic of Big Bear we made our way to our Airbnb in Sugarloaf

Every home was distinctly unique, fairytale chalets and cozy cabins. Earthy autumn hues bounced off a kaleidoscope of gold dapple toned leaves as they daintily fell from deep crimson maple trees. We eventually made our way to our cozy Airbnb Cabin Sugarloaf California – our home for the next 5 days. Natalie and Ben were the owners of this beguiling 1980’s slate grey chalet with a sloped gambrel roof.

The check in process was exceptionally easy as we made our way into the spacious, homey living quarters. Stocked with everything one would need, we acclimated ourselves, turning on the electric fireplace and settling in. Chef worthy appliances, a swoon-worthy gas burner stove and high-end cookware fulfilled my farfetched culinary cooking fantasies. Hubs nestled in the comfy couch remote in hand- not any different from his usual home turf. I served up a love-filled homecooked meal followed by nail-biting Netflix scary thrillers and then ending the evening with a dreamy sleep in the warm, inviting master bedroom.  

Day 6 Big Bear Lake October 2022   

It is an odd feeling arising in a stranger’s home, but with the fireplace on, the monotonous hum of the bellowing heat fighting against the chilly outside air-emerging into wakefulness came easy. There were no dogs to walk, no job to go to-and best yet no morning commute to fight. I made Hubs a nice breakfast as we leisurely planned out our day.

We opted for an “easy” trail close by Alpine Pedal Path Trail – a 3.2 mile loop out and back around Big Bear Lake. This fully paved very popular blacktop path snaked around the placid lake thrill seeking cyclists on e-bikes (according to the signage “strictly prohibited”) whizzed by daringly leapfrogging around us. Minty woodsy juniper permeated the air. Pinecone grenades peppered the route haphazardly ejected from the from the transitions of a season’s ending. At the midway point, we munched waterside on packed goodies in silence as the sun waxed and waned with the looming threat of rain likely.  

We continued our walk passing a wooden bridge that led into a forest of spindly, gnarled trees and tall, swaying, slender pines. Striated, prehistoric tree formations fortified by stocky wide bases interlocked veiny strangled tentacle branches hyper-arched and absurdly bowed resembling an old woman’s knotty knuckles imbedded deep below the petrous earth. Above a cacophony of birds sang out a high-pitched repetitive native battle cry- a rhythmic warning call as the blue sky turned a somber ashy dusk. The stillness of the grounds changed abruptly, fighting forceful opposing winds we speedily headed back to the car. As we slammed the door, hurdling ourselves in the vehicle-literally, our shelter from the storm-a booming clap of thunder reverberated around us as the deluge of rain smacked against the window.   

Like everything with this trip, our timing was impeccable, an ongoing theme throughout the course of our time in California until and including to the very end. We preceded back to the house, a light dinner, some Hubby snuggles on the couch with more tantalizing Netflix thrillers filled out the remainder of our night.

Day 7 Big Bear Lake October 2022  

Each morning we rose later and later-no longer able to blame time zone confusion. Elevation, fresh air and sunshine were making us downright lazy, and I loved it.

MY MONKEY

Our sweet mountain Shangri-la was an idyllic slice of heaven with everything we needed -which in Airbnb world is not always the case. We tried to take advantage of every amenity offered including the E-bikes. Well, at least Hubs did. Yours truly not so brave these days as the insurance deductible has not been yet met.

Hubs in all his monkey cuteness, ventured out up the hill, down the hill over and over he passed by me as I sat on the deck warmed by the sun and chilled by the cold air simultaneously.

With the completion of the bike ride, we ventured to The Village at Big Bear Lake   initially to kill time before our pre-arranged anticipated and planned steam paddle boat tour on the lake. However, mid-way through our village romp, the captain called to cancel it. His 10 second dismissive call offered neither an explanation nor apology. Perhaps it was due to being the only 2 of 70 potential passengers signed up. We moseyed our way down the bucolic tree lined street, popping in and out of “bear everything” stores. Bear tchotchkes, baubles and doodads in every shape, size and price point-every store, every shelf, every nook and cranny.

In the end, after going from end to end, dragging the poor Hubs on a senseless and ultimately unsuccessful mission. We did pop in a few artesian shops offering more than just bear bric-a-brac acquiring some one-of-a-kind keepsakes for home.

Scavenging for useless, future dust collecting clutter is hard work that deserves a much-needed break and lunch. We stopped at Oakside Restaurant & Bar dined outside amongst a small growing crowd, tucked in an intimate corner we grazed on salad, fish and chips for Hubs.

OAKSIDE RESTAURANT

Our plans for the day had completely fallen apart to no fault of our own. A color coated detailed spreadsheet, a heavily researched, pre-paid boating excursion and an exhaustive search for the best rainbow trout collapsed in a matter of seconds due to the instantaneous decision to scrap the cruise by the surly captain with no regard. Shame on you-Miss Liberty Lake Tours – Pine Knot Marina – you could have received a nice review, an honorable mention in the highly popular widely sought-after travel blog A Girl Her Hubs and a Suitcase – Travel like the little girl in you once dreamed…. (edellescipades.com

Instead-we roamed the kitschy, alpine streets of Big Bear village on a pointless (but undeniably fun) hunt for treasured bear memorabilia. For a day that was promised a paddle steamboat cruise and a fancy waterfront dinner there was no lake sunset sail, no explanation nor apology, and sadly-resoundingly no trout for Hubs. Despite the best laid plans, it was not to be.

ME +MY MONKEY

Back at the B&B we ventured out into the chilly 34-degree weather into an inviting steamy hot tub. Like two bloated matzoh balls we percolated to peak ripeness under the imposing moon.

WHEN A GIRL AND HER HUBS BOIL IN A HOTTUB TOO LONG ….

The sky above us dark as black tar, dotted the evening sky with a twinkling electrified galaxy illuminating the onyx sky like Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

The pyretic thermal bath combined with the frigid, nippy air created a steamy vaporized science experiment as the H20 evaporated from our pruned, puffy fingertips. The pulsating jets shimmied our bits and pieces hidden by the shield of darkness. Mid bobble, meditation fully underway, a bright flood light popped on illuminating our situation.

It was at this time, I realized Hubs had entered the tub with thick, white socks on. Between the stadium lighting, the soppy soggy sad socks and an intense overwhelming desire to escape-the superfluous joy evaporated very much like the moisture collecting on my forehead. The blinding beam of harsh light helped serve as a guide to our now saturated clothes and unfortunate phone. We stumbled out into the arctic air as condensation formed creating an icicle affect. The slippery steps of the hot tub exited onto shrapnel shards of rock nuggets assaulting our tender, lubricated feet. Once inside the house, we sat fireside shivering in delirium. Warped, wet and cold with a semi functioning waterlogged phone, we dragged our weary selves to the warmth, comfort and safety of the cozy bed.

Day 8 Big Bear Lake October 2022  

As relaxing as this respite has been, the unfamiliar setting combined with no obligations made for a restless night of unremittable roaming. I binge watched reality garbage until dawn when exhaustion infiltrated my being. Crawling into bed, curling under the mound of covers, I succumbed to several hours of heavenly deep, hard, quality sleep.

When we did rise, we took our time as the final days of the trip were approaching. Hubs settled in for an important Yankees baseball game-an indulgent midday luxury. He swore and yelled as the innings wore on with them sadly losing.

YANKEE GAME (THEY LOST IN EXTRA INNINGS)

Then, we drove just a few minutes to the starting point for Sugarloaf to Sand Canyon Loop trail. It is an easy 2.8-mile trail full of rocks, a lot of them-so much so I felt like I was hiking through a quarry. There was very little shade and at times the sun bore straight down on us. There was not a clear-cut path, but AllTrails is amazing in course navigation.

Only 1 lonely jogger passed us on this otherwise solo trip. A myriad of native trees occupied the otherwise desolate area. We looped back completing our journey returning quickly as we had evening plans.

In our very early planning stages, we researched Big Bear for fun things to do. I stumbled upon Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest and knew we had to include this in our agenda. A great deal of preparation went into this one event. For Hubs he was outfitted in Traditional German lederhosen and a wool Bavarian hat. For me, I was adorned in a customary Bavarian Dirndl

It entailed a complete team effort from the two of us, buttoning, zipping, tucking, tying and clipping these foreign items onto us. Once we were fully transformed into our Bavarian personas, we took an Uber to Big Bear Lake Convention Center-the epicenter of this evening’s activity.

At arrival, a small line was present, all of which were identically decked out in Amazon’s finest Oktoberfest wears. The last minutes of daylight were disappearing into the horizon as we entered the lively hall decorated in full fall harvest meets lager meets country. It was a sort of mish-mosh of themes with strong German influences. A band was on stage signing Rolling Stones with a thick garbled German accent. A tuba player bellowed out thick bold harmonies with his massive instrument as German Mick Jagger thrusted his slender hips.

Long tables 50 people deep went from end to end, a vibrant sense of community and friendship echoed in the loud space. Clanging beer steins toasting “Prost”, dancing ladies with jiggling bosoms bounced around while children ran around with chicken hats. Due to Covid, Oktoberfest had been cancelled the last 2 years, so people were extra rowdy rejoicing in normalcy and the return of fun.

We went outside, the temperature dropping eventually to 35 degrees. However, heaters and alcohol kept the revelers toasty. A mechanical bull bucked and reared in slow exaggerated movements as drunk partiers grasped the reigns in desperate futility. Outside a country band crooned sappy cowboy melodies competing with the energetic German band inside.

We sat on a lone picnic bench warmed up by the heater, Hubs sipping his beer as we shared an enormous oversalty, overcooked and overpriced pretzel trying to enhance it with obscene gobs of yellow mustard.

We moved inside and sat at the end of a long table; a family joined us as all seats were occupied. A contest was in full swing for the ladies testing their beer hoisting endurance competencies-a skillset yours truly definitely lacks.

The band Frankenrebellen straight from Franconia-Bavaria Germany-played an eclectic array of Polka, Traditional German and for much of the evening good old karaoke favorites. If you have never heard Country Road by John Denver at Oktoberfest there might be a reason why.

COUNTRY ROAD

However, with the thick German accent, accordion, tuba accompaniment along with a rhythmic oompah-pah sound it’s an all-around crowd pleaser. Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline had everyone up out of their seats in a foot stomping, hand clapping frenzy all ending with the popular Zicke Zacke Hoi Hoi Hoi – translated means “the first official keg has been tapped and it’s party time now”.  

SWEET CAROLINE (BUM, BUM, BUM…..)
ZICKE ZACHE HOI HOI HOI

With the party in full swing, we feasted on beer cheese soup, dumplings and strudel. All items swimming in copious gravy and thick soupy sauce leaving me conflicted between mild repulsion and perplexed hankering.

All in all, Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest was enormous fun for A Girl and Her Hubs and it was everything we hoped it to be. Overstimulated, bloated, stuffed with the bitter taste of gravy repeating in reflux intervals, we took an Uber back home humming the Polka version “Friends in Low Places.”

I GOT FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES OKTOBERFEST VERSION

Day 9 Big Bear Lake October 2022   

Waking up on our last full day I felt bittersweet our wonderful time coming to an end. But grateful we still had today. On a complete whim, Hubs suggested Joshua Tree National Park – intrigued and knowing I would never likely have another opportunity I quickly obliged.

On our way, we saw some of the most sensational scenery. The San Bernardino Mountains were awe inspiring. The soaring rock shadowed our helixed twist and turns. The elevation began to level off and the mountains disappeared and all before us was just a long road with a flat horizon.  Grass and trees disappeared and all that lie in front of us was dusty, arid earth. The forecast called for major storms as we continued to make our way to the desert. We entered Yucca Valley passing warning signs for road flooding-a bit concerning as the radar showed ominous thunderstorms approaching. The blue promising sky and lack of clouds showed otherwise.

WILD WILD WEST

An hour and a half later we reached our destination-Joshua Tree. It was an odd, unearthly frankly foreign sight. Prickly, primal-looking cactus, scorched dry earth, clusters of bizarre rock formations-all unlike anything remotely close to anything in Florida. We stopped at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center -a very popular busy place with tourists coming and going. A park guide gave us a map, some information, valuable warnings regarding the park and the dangers of the uninhabitable desert. Here are some interesting facts about the park-it is made up of 2 distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado deserts.

It is the 15th largest national park, roughly the size of Rhode Island, composed of 800,000 acres and 191 miles of hiking trails. It has 813 plant species, 46 reptile, 57 mammal and 250 bird species.

Just as we entered the park, the sky darkened to a somber foreboding murky grey. There was no Wi-Fi within the park, but Hubs was able to keep his AllTrails app map going. Otherwise, navigation would be impossible as everything looked the same making it very easy to get turned around.

Mountain ranges transversed the region with tectonic fault lines concealed beneath the earth’s foundation. We passed nimble enthusiasts climbing mammoth boulders. Twisted, spiky highly distinctive Joshua Trees populated the parched desert ground.

We pulled over at Wall Street Mill 2 miles of a gritty, pebble crunching loop. Knowing our time was limited due to the oncoming storm, we followed a long stream of tourists that eventually dispersed. Jagged, slanted molten rock transformed by wind, erosion and environmental elements clustered in fortified stone constellations. The inexplicable rock gatherings scattered randomly in an otherworldly Dr. Seuss surreal Stonehenge mystery. Caves ensconced in multicolored layers of stratified granite, sandstone, and quartzite coated in ombre shades of purple, brown and beige hues camouflaged against the muted tawny earth. Scurrying back to the car just in the nick of time, peeking in the rearview mirror a coal-stained sky released a thunderous deluge upon us. Even though our adventure was short lived-interrupted by a dramatic weather system-we were able to fully absorb the baffling and extraordinary phenomenon of Joshua Tree National Park.

We drove back under the eerie desert sky, the desolate highway and stark endless horizon looked frighteningly apocalyptic. Arriving back in Big Bear, we realized we were hungry. This would be our final meal of the trip. There is no better way to conclude an unforgettable trip then with a rather forgettable meal. A true “greasy spoon” of a joint we dined at Thelma’s Family Restaurant

Hubs picked and poked in silent disappointment at the Chicken Pot Pie. I had an acceptable veggie burger. The waitress- rather casually took our order pulling up a barstool next to us-a little too chummy for my likes. There was a palpable feeling of informality and an overly excessive relaxed state, that frankly made me edgy. However, they changed the baseball game per request to the Yankees even though the rest of the restaurant was rooting for the Padres.

Outside it was dark, rainy and chilly. Returning to the Airbnb our trip was nearly over and only the hard part of returning remained. The rest of the night was reserved to packing and preparing for our reintroduction back to reality.

In the morning, we packed up our final things said goodbye to our Big Bear grey slate chalet and made our way back through the San Bernardino Mountains. Our departure from Big Bear could not have been more different than our initial arrival. The gloomy, rainy backdrop with limited visibility was far from the majestic scene now in front of us. The sky was bright and promising as sunshine poked through the mountains, slices of dappled light danced on the treetops. We were high above the floating, fluffy clouds- a sublime picturesque landscape. We pulled over, capturing the final grateful moments of this unexpected encore presentation- an exquisite conclusion to a memorable endeavor.  

Closing Thoughts….

Upon my return, I quickly began recounting my time in California. As one toe stayed deep in the pool of the sunny West Coast waters, the rest of me progressed forward back into the rapid-fire bullet train realness of everyday life. In less than 24 hours, I returned deep in the world of sick compromised children, solving sometimes insurmountable problems while still embracing the lessons and blessings of my trip. The respite of the mountains, fresh air and new surroundings always seem to replenish me-a reset button to what is most meaningful in my life. Reconnecting with Hubs away from the day-to-day responsibilities are treasured and cherished moments. Our trips have softened and changed over the years -having had to pivot like everyone else since Covid. Even though these adventures are a “kinder and gentler” version- these needed “time outs” allow me to see clearly the many gifts in my life. From the quiet still morning nature hikes to the goofy shenanigans of Lederhosen yodeling Hubs-California delivered in every way.

The “work” portion of this getaway tapped into a hidden reservoir of unrealized confidence, engaging fun and laser beamed focus determination. This new perspective has helped provide me with a roadmap to navigate where I will go next. My Baby Shusher crusade is certainly not over and will prevail as I work to marry both worlds harmoniously. The lesson in all this is as simple as the ingenuity of the Shusher. Follow your heart, enrich your soul and move beyond the distraction of discomfort- because what lies ahead on the other side is an endless sea of hope and meaningful purpose.

Come join me September 2023 as A Girl and Her Hubs go to Cologne, Germany.

Until then…

~B&F~

Shhhhhhhhhhhh………….
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Georgia Gratitude Getaway-Birthday Week March 2022


Middle age-that is what 51 years old used to be defined as. Two long years of Covid has unfortunately accelerated the aging process to make this old gal feel shall I say “vintage”. A bit worn for the wear, yearning for a reboot, rejuvenation. A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase through the last 24 months have evolved into a kinder, gentler travel experience. Last year as “yours truly” entered AARP status, we escaped to a North Carolina cabin for some good old-fashioned R&R. It was my version of eat, pray, love-significantly more boring and less exotic than the original story-for sure. 1 year prior as we drove home, 8 hours into the sojourn we passed a captivating area that stayed with me for 365 days. The blurred vision of beauty as we zoomed by at 80 miles an hour, I screen shotted in my mind writing it down in hopes that we could one day recapture the magic. Tallulah Falls- Tallulah Falls – Home of Tallulah Gorge (tallulahfallsga.gov) was the destination.

A couple new challenges have been added since last year’s getaway. These additions go by the name Lucy and Hank, 5-month-old energetic miniature dachshund siblings. They have rounded out the family if you are keeping track to a sausage party of 3-the OG Juliet remains the head of household. In an effort to enhance family bonding and embrace our new offspring an inaugural weenie wagon voyage was about to take place. This certainly added a unique nuance to travel, including managing 5 bladders in an overstuffed aging SUV.

We mapped out our quest and stopped at the halfway point in Ashburn, Georgia Home – City of Ashburn in a sleepy, truckers oasis motel settling in for the night. In the am, we packed up dogs, Hubs and our exploding caravan of goods and set off for the remainder of our travel. As we dodged the madness of Atlanta, the roads got curvier, and the geography shifted to wide open vistas. The ears began to pop as we made our way to Toccoa, Georgia-Toccoa | Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org final destination. Coming from Tampa, Florida, any elevation above sea level creates a stirring in the heart and a yearning in the soul. Being able to achieve this a little bit closer brings out the allure of Georgia. It takes 4 painful hours to exit Florida but from there-the Georgia options are endless. After decades of international travel, A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase continue to be inspired looking for creative ways to capture wanderlust without a passport. As mentioned in previous entries, Hubs retired last year. Covid and a year of impacting travel restrictions made downsizing life very easy. So, for now and perhaps-forever, domestic globetrotting it is. We are at peace with this decision and are grateful for what we continue to see and experience-right here in our glorious backyard-USA.  

As we made our way through the winding concourse of Toccoa, the many rapid turns and dips, catapulted our turbulent tummies into a buoyant roller coaster. We eventually made it to the Toccoa Lake House Airbnb Cardinal Cabin on the Lake – Cabins for Rent in Toccoa, Georgia, United States (airbnb.com) pulling into the driveway as Hank released a messy mound of puppy puke on my lap. A delightful welcoming after 6 hours trapped in the vehicle. As we unloaded, excited with glee and anticipation we plugged into the keypad the assigned code. I entered it 1, 2, 3 -10 times-no success. The dogs danced around our feet, leashes hogtieing us captive in a precarious hostage stance. Realizing in self-directed annoyance-I did not have the owner’s number, I went to the app in futility observing in frustration a complete lack of cell service. Unraveling ourselves as we snapped irritatingly at each other, an argument percolating in the wings of my negligence, we all piled back into the car. We made our way down through the swerving roads as I tenderly hushed Hank’s gurgling gut. As we crossed county lines, I willed my phone to indicate cell service. Eventually, a tiny bar emerged, and I was able to contact the owner and get the necessary corrected code.

We made our way back to the Lake House-Hank’s GI system cooperating this time, liberating my lap from further carnage. As we approached the precarious 45-degree down sloping driveway, the previously locked door was now wide open, the alarm discharging a high pitch piercing chirp screeched in an anxiety provoking tempo. Successfully disabling the alarm, we then exhausted the next 2 hours unloading 5 days’ worth of contents, while ensuring all 3 dogs did not escape into the vast wilderness beyond.

All the drama that precipitated our arrival was worth it as we checked out our luxurious accommodations. The Airbnb concept is relatively new for us but has created options that would have previously been impossible. Being able to explore off the grid and still have the comforts of home-transform a trip into an all-around ultimate experience. As preparations began many discussions were had with the always available owner Misty. Having that local connection to seek recommendations from was extremely helpful.

The Lake House is a welcoming presence nestled amidst infinite tall, bare native trees. They tower high into the sky creating a curtain of dappled light between the timber towers. The Georgian rusty soil earth lies beneath the thickly layered carpet of crunchy fallen auburn-colored leaves. The angled ground is imperfect perfection. Perched up in the graceful crevices of the alpine lumber shadowy stalks a cacophony of bird arias ricochet through the forest of trees signifying the stark winter’s end and the promise of spring. The silence at times was deafening presenting an echo of eerie noiselessness.

Bags unloaded; sibling puppies contained in their cage; we toured the house. It is a wooden wonderland of sophisticated, chic fabulousness with equal parts homey comfort and modern-day elegance. An open floor plan on the ground level that included a kitchen with chef level copper cookware, high end countertops and a farmhouse sink swoon worthy-all these amenities carry an intimidating element of use. A bio-fireplace embedded in the shared wall with a monolithic TV screen and high-end sound system provided hours of entertainment during our 5 days. A firestick contributed a plethora of viewing options-once we figured out how to use it-we spread out on the plush, spacious couch partaking in judge free binge-watching.

Making our way outside there was a wraparound deck facing down below the infinite Hartwell Lake-Lake Hartwell | Georgia | South Carolina – Community and Visitors Guide (mylakehartwell.com). Surrounded by a labyrinth of trees, the porch was a sanctuary of tranquility. Porch chairs and a firepit were a daily meeting spot for A Girl and Her Hubs while Little Green Sprout maintained a watchful guarded eye on the home. Later on, I would read in the Lake House welcome book that detailed Misty’s father-in-law outlining the labor of love that entailed securing Little Green Sprout to the porch.

Moved to curiosity, weeks later I texted Misty inquiring in further detail the meaning of Sprout. She volunteered personal insight on Sprout’s presence. He was there as a watchful protector resurrected out of love. This one small detail distinguished this Airbnb from others, offering a true connection from the owner. During our stay we would find many other similar examples that allowed us to feel like family instead of a stranger’s Airbnb.

Inside the house a wooden staircase leads the way to 2 spacious bedrooms. I did not realize until the final day when we left that both rooms had a TV. The bed was exceptionally comfortable. The bedroom was pretty sparce which is how I prefer it, with little opportunity for any kind of breakage.

We had gone food shopping at the local store-Ingles Store Location and Information (ingles-markets.com)-stocking up for a 5 day stay. I prepared a steak dinner while Hubs sat on the deck, drinking a beer taking in the view with the pups. We sat outside as the sun set on the lake’s horizon eating our dinner alfresco. As we took our final bites, the temperature steadily dropped. We made our way back into the welcoming heat of the warm fireplace.

We watched the President’s State of the Union with apprehension as the uncertainty of war was descending upon us. The comfort and solace of the Lake House helped to soften and mitigate the ever-present angst of an unsettled and unknowing world.

As accommodating as the bedroom was it lacked one thing an aging gal needs, a bathroom at night close by. Trudging down the steps at 3 am I stealthily snuck by the pups’ cage as they slept. A creek in the floor alerted them of my close proximity signaling their bladders as well. Back home, as a city dweller, our streets are lit up like a stadium. However, as the pups and I went into the pitch-dark night, the charcoal black sky speckled with Van Gogh starry night white flecks-I realized I am not in Downtown Tampa anymore. Flashlight in hand, I tiptoed cautiously in the driveway as my feet loudly pulverized the decaying leaves. I immediately heard savage howling reverberating in the cold night obscurity. Unable to distinguish how many and where-I darted the gaze of the flashlight like a weapon. At once, yards away-eyeballs met mine. I yelped grabbing all dogs, running with determination into the house. Fueled by fear, I screamed for Hubs.

Manic with terror, fight or flight activated-I rattled off my “wolf-like” encounter. Earlier in the day Hubs had also seen the beasts, roaming the driveway, stalking our puppies, terrorizing us with wagging tails. As city dogs, our pooches have never been off leashes outside. The site of wandering dogs conjured up Cujo-the killer dog-visions-slobbering, death jaw grip ferocious and feral-locked on my helpless brood.

Commissioned by my belligerent bellowing Hubs staggered haphazardly, pants on backwards, still asleep muttering. My fearless warrior grabbed a broom -yielding it straw forward in protective defense prepared for battle. We all ventured out, reattempting the dark night and task-the warning sounds of howling persisted. Hubs cloaked in the armor of a dusty sweeper in Mr. Clean guarded pose sheltered the clan as the puppies peed in unison. We retreated back to the safety and warmth of the couch dozing off the next several hours-the whole gang traumatized more from my antics than the rabid roaming dogs.

I laid on the couch pups molded under each arm, my eye shield ministering me in a blissful Shangri-la as my Peloton meditation app lulled me into a heavy slumber. I dreamt of devilish dachshunds and robust rainbows with no annoying alarm clock to disrupt my current utopian state. I lingered in this heightened hypnotic hiatus heated by the soothing synthetic embers of serenity. Abruptly, I was pulled back to reality by dachshund puppy breath and a scratchy tongue licking my face. In the cold air, the pups did their business as the first pink signs of the morning dawn merged with the lingering remnants of the still night.


Day 2In the morning (technically 4 hours later) I texted Misty-the owner-sharing my sad drama filled saga. She was alarmed, concerned and I believe mildly entertained. She posted an alert on the neighborhood Facebook page. The “wolves” never did stop their shenanigans -however, my fear and trepidation lessened as the days went on.

We slowly got ourselves together preparing for a day of hiking. We drove about 30 minutes to Tallulah Falls – Home of Tallulah Gorge (tallulahfallsga.gov). Tallulah Gorge State Park is 2,689-acres surrounding the 1,000-foot-deep Tallulah Gorge.

We stopped off in the visitor center, Hubs acquiring a sturdy walking stick. We then made our way onto the trail that consists of 1,099 steps-uniquely arranged on ascending and descending staircases that follow the perimeter of the gorge.

A bouncy wooden plank suspension bridge straddles the daunting gorge below. Meteorological conditions were top notch-sun bright, clear sky, cool air.

There were few people on the path, but all were friendly and visibly enjoying the stunning scenery and weather as well. The staircases circle around the rim so one gets a 360-degree view of the gorge and thunderous waterfalls.

Green calm waters below combined with white foamy falls signaling the changing of seasons. Tall, exposed trees, next to varying shades of green brush peppered the skyline. At the halfway point we sat on a bench enjoying a picnic of cold PB&J as we gazed out at the panoramic wonders. All in all, Tallulah Falls provided a dynamic day of hiking full of captivating visuals, phenomenal weather and longstanding memories.  

Back at the Lake House, we sat outside, I exuberantly swung in the hammock under the shadowing canopy of trees with not a care in the world.

We explored the grounds making our way down a rather dubious gradient to the lake below where the owner’s pontoon boat was docked. We approached wobbly legged, awkwardly balancing ourselves on the floating dock mystified by the foreign seascape, unlike a Florida water view we are accustomed to.

I made Hubs a fine salmon dinner, dining again outside as the last of daylight dissipated. We ended the evening lounging fireside watching mindless TV on the inviting couch.

Day 3-Another challenging night of restless sleep. But I promised Hubs I would not attempt another 3 am dog walk. In truth, the dogs were thriving in this environment. The fresh air, parental love 24/7 with no distractions-they had never behaved better. Which was fantastic because staying in someone else’s home does create a layer of anxiety that does not accompany a Holiday Inn stay.

We made our way to Toccoa Falls College-Toccoa Falls College – North Georgia Christian College (tfc.edu) which coincidentally is also the entrance to the Toccoa Falls. Founded in 1907 it is a Christian based college on a beautiful campus. The vibe is young, hip and academic. Once again, the sun was out and shining, the air was cool with a slight chill. There was an energetic atmosphere of youth and innocence that was palpable. We hit the coffee shop first-Odyssey Coffeehouse at TFC | Facebook– entering as it had just opened. An engaging hipster element with touches of Christian love sprinkled throughout. The friendly Barista provided an aromatic, robust French press delivered with a sweet smile and a bold sharpy handwritten blessing scribbled on the cup. We lounged in comfy chairs enjoying this unique campus.

We made our way to the colorful gift shop and with a $2 fee one is provided entry to the majestic falls. A gravel, whitewash path less than 100 yards takes you straight to a dazzling water display. 186 feet high of milky white aquatic ribbons cascaded down from the primordial sunbaked brown rock backdrop. A steady thundering stream emptied into the shimmering iridescent pool below. Gutsy, daredevil tourists took selfies climbing the stratified, slippery rock.

Hubs and I strolled along the path, pausing at a sign commemorating 39 individuals who tragically died in the early morning hours of November 6, 1977, when the Kelly Barnes Dam broke overtaking the college grounds. The dam was never rebuilt, and the financial damage was over 3 million dollars. The memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the flood and stands today as a symbol honoring the victims on that fateful day.

Our next stop-very close by in the tiny downtown of Toccoa was the Currahee Military Museum  Currahee (toccoahistory.com). The museum is situated in a renovated train depot where 5,000 men in July 1942 trained to be paratroopers.

These brave soldiers made up the newly formed Parachute Infantry Division and were known as the “Toccoa Men.”  The museum takes one on a historical journey through the training at Camp Toccoa HOME | camptoccoaatcurrahee  that ultimately prepared these courageous men in defending the free world from the German offensive that culminated to World War II. The museum includes an actual stable that housed the paratroopers before and after the war leading up to D-Day.

Nearby, in the Chattahoochee National Forest Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest – Home (usda.gov)-the soldiers would train at Currahee Mountain Currahee Mountain | Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org which was made famous by the series “Band of Brothers” Band of Brothers (TV Mini Series 2001) – IMDb . The soldiers ran up and down the 1,735-foot mountain coining the still widely used phrase “3 miles up, 3 miles down”.  At the time of our visit, there was virtually no one else there. Our self-guided tour was an information packed hour for a reasonable $5 entrée fee (with discount).

Currahee Mountain

We had worked up an appetite and after chatting with the friendly cashiers from the museum, they suggested X-Factor for a late lunch HOME | x-factorgrill (xfactorgrill.com). A diner like environment with a small-town local feel, an overly seasoned black beans and petrified rice veggie taco dish was painfully consumed. The owners were very friendly and deducted a dollar from the bill for using cash. Other than that, it is not worth mentioning and for me best forgotten.

 Conveniently, right next door and dually owned by X-Factor was the Cornerstone- Home | Cornerstone Antique & Craft Market (toccoaantiques.com) according to the Airbnb owner-a genuine Toccoa staple for antique shopping. We browsed the many miles of recycled bric-a-brac leaving me with the same burning reflux my lunch had unfortunately-which was good as no coins were spent. Hubs secured a few items spending less than $6 and thrilled with his new acquisitions. Weather wise-it was simply divine, so we strolled the bucolic main street. Interesting stores, boutiques and vintage shops lined the traffic-free quiet road. We popped in each store, touching and exploring with novelty infused curiosity. We ended the fine outing sedate on a bench in a sugar induced bliss courtesy of a ridiculously overpriced, exquisitely indulgent delectable dark chocolate truffle.

Back at the Lake House, dogs released, we sat outside, Hubs on the porch, I dozed off in the hammock as the tall trees creaked and moaned, caramel-colored leaves danced from above, daintily gliding their way down. Energetic squirrels played hide and seek, while birds flew gracefully above the soaring tree line. Mesmerized, I stayed in this trance, until I looked over and saw one of the beasts-the “howler” from the 3 am nightmare. In the light of day, this “mut” seemed slightly less primitive predator and more house pet Husky. Regardless, Hubs brandished the broom, as if a sword preparing for a dual-swinging it in the air, dust particles released from the ends as if a warning call. Eventually, bored by our antics-the killer canine left us in peace.


Day 4-March 4-MY BIRTHDAY!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Waking up with the main loves of my life on my 51st birthday in Toccoa, Georgia was truly all I could wish for. The day in the end, granted me more than I could have ever asked for. The sun was golden, the beginning of morning’s hope emerging into a day of promise and endless potential. Using the app All Trails AllTrails: Trail Guides & Maps for Hiking, Camping, and Running | AllTrails as a guide has revolutionized hiking for A Girl and Her Hubs. This electronic tool provides helpful tips, accurate levels of difficulty and a handy map for navigation.  This innovative addition has turned us from novice to hiker extraordinaire (in the “easy” category) and removed any guess work or surprises in our planned adventures. Hubs did research and designated the most perfect hike for my birthday activity. A beautifully serene drive 30 minutes from the Lake House brought us to Tugaloo State Park Tugaloo State Park | Department Of Natural Resources Division (gastateparks.org) located on the shore of Lake Hartwell in Franklin County, Georgia.

The enchanted wooded peninsula occupies 393 acres of majestic beauty. We positioned ourselves in front of the placid calm water of Lake Hartwell taking in the picturesque setting. Sassafras Loop Trail Sassafras Loop – Georgia | AllTrails is  3.6 miles that weaves in and out of the forest never straying far from the domineering lake.

The barren, leafless trees exposed visual opportunities and glimpses straight through to the gleaming aqua water. We stopped halfway, nourishing ourselves picnic style on packed snacks. Silence accompanied us as we refueled in the stillness of the quiet woodlands. We continued our trek, passing an RV park with bucket list worthy camper set ups. Eyeing the motor homes dreamily, sparked a frenzied monologue of ambitious fantasy future goal strategies that we both knew would remain sequestered in our imagination indefinitely. We wrapped around the lake, completing a full circle-2.5 hours of sublime enjoyment.

Back at the Airbnb, we lounged on the porch lazily tired from our hike, savoring the luxury of nothingness as the end of the day sun warmed our faces. The dogs planted at our feet, unused to this stress-free version of us, piggybacking off our obvious contentment. We dined outside again mimicking the previous 3 nights, savoring our last final days.  


Day 5Today was a gift. We were only booked until this day and then our long journey home was to begin. However, Misty the Airbnb owner, made a very generous offering of a complimentary additional night due to the code mishap on our arrival day. We were enjoying ourselves so much and embracing this much needed down time that we graciously accepted. Making the very most of our last day, Hubs planned out another hike for us. The temperature was transcending, the nicest we’ve had. Wanting to take full advantage of nature’s patronage, we set off early.

Traveling Northeast we headed into the bordering state South Carolina. The topography began to change subtly with curving winding roads flanked by high reaching stark pines. Lustering sunbeams of morning light penetrated the window creating a shifting mosaic of opaque shadow and brilliance as we snaked along the twisting two-lane highway.

As we were headed towards our hiking destination, we passed Chattooga Belle Farm Distillery Back Door Store Home | Chattooga (chattoogabellefarm.com) in Longcreek, South Carolina. The adorable hip country store/distillery stands out like a beacon in a sea of endless countryside. Upon entry we were immediately greeted by Evan-from behind the Whiskey lined bar. He confidently educated us on “the many spirits in this distillery makes it haunted”- appropriate whiskey humor.

I half listened distracted by the slanted sunrays bouncing off the amber liquor filled bottles anchored behind him. Aging wooden barrels stacked 2×2 of liquid happiness dominated the large open space. Country goods, provisions and distillery merchandise occupied the shelves in a rustic, uncluttered appealing display. Sauces, seasonal fruits, jams and other delights created a charming, welcoming experience. Evan offered a complimentary tasting-Moonshine, Whiskey, Vodka-name your poison. We both declined due to Hubs driving and yours truly gave it up many years ago. Instead, I was granted a ruby red, succulent apple. Evan eagerly shared Chattooga’s amenities-fruit picking events, camping on premises and encouraged us to dine at the popular bistro next door. He mentioned that it has limited hours and fills up quickly but is well worth it. We needed no more persuasion than that.

Piling back in the car, for the 100 yards distance, we arrived at Belle’s Bistro. We entered an imposing, stone and wooden barn structure. Once “inside” it opened to ethereal panoramic vistas of the sprawling vineyard and as far as the eye could see emerald-green lawn.

A small prop plane was taking off into the clear blue horizon, an enthusiastic gathering collected, necks craned up, eyes darted forward waving farewell in celebrated delight. We were unaware of who the pilot was and why we were all excited and waving with jubilation-but we joined in with shared passion.

The procedure for ordering food and eating were a bit odd. Orders were placed at a general store and then you were given a number and ushered out to wait. Pockets of people congregated amongst the expansive grounds. Adirondack chairs were scattered throughout all turned in various angles to capture the most perfect view. Every perspective was sensational, not a cloud in the sky, and not a bad way to kill time as our tummies grumbled.

The service was painfully slow, and we waited 45 minutes as the 2 waitresses ran around the many tables in a tandem rush. We noshed in silence concluding the memory of this moment centered more on the beautiful landscape vs a tasty meal. We departed Chattooga Belle Farm ready for the real mission of this drive-Sid’s Falls Sid’s Falls – South Carolina | AllTrails.

Just a short distance away with little to no cars passed-we reached our final hiking destination. No marking or indication signifying location-only a locked gate, two vehicles and a bizarre sign with step-by-step detailed instructions on how to “defecate properly” in the woods. Having memorized this important information, we progressed through the pine needle covered wide pathway.

The trail which is a 3 mile out and back innocently begins very easy with a generous clearance and no elevation although it is marked moderately challenging on All Trails and later, I would learn this the hard way.

At the halfway point the trail begins to narrow a bit, producing a limbo/mambo jig over/under sporadically dismantled fallen trees. As we continued the path began to tighten dramatically to the width of my being and then even less. Tenacious brush, branches and pointy thorns scrape my face and embedded stubbornly in my curls. Rapidly, all hell began to break loose the last 10 minutes as the path had become the Anaconda Jungle.

Sloping down a lunging 90 degrees full tilt I scrambled into life preservation mode clawing at anything my stumpy hands could death grip. I desperately clung to secured roots as I descended treacherously down this makeshift passage. My feet squished in the sloshy mud as I scrounged helplessly for steady footing. My eyes rapidly scanned in frantic futility for accessible limbs, rocks and other crucial protruding lifelines to help propel my pathetic plummet. I began to move quickly through the 5 stages of death and was left with only good old-fashioned prayer and bargaining. I am 100% convinced I was going to die-a slow painful death partially impaled by decaying vegetation, infested with poisonous ants causing me to lose my center of gravity eventually plunging me into the jagged rocks only to be swept away by the water’s deadly torrent and then ultimately submerged into a riptide of cold water laced with deadly flesh-eating bacteria. Meanwhile, Hubs with his “monkey-like” skill set and opposable orangutang thumbs had mastered the rain forest obstacle course waving eagerly “hey honey, come on down.” He was calmy planted firmly at the base, balanced boldly on a slippery rock, facing the splendor of the 50-foot rapturous falls. A few obligatory selfies were taken to document this magnanimous quest as now we had to make the return trip.

Emotionally traumatized by the near-death circumstances I had just encountered; I began to formulate my strategy for my ascent. PTSD began to settle in my already unsteady bones and my quivering appendages tried to retrace my mud laden steps. Having mastered the terror of the descent, I was bolstered with confidence to conquer the beast. I thrust out a hearty guttural call of the wild, digging my manicured nails into the saturated earth. I reached for the roots this time anticipating their placement. Without even a twig in my frizz, I reached the top victoriously.

We passed one young guy, college age, fit, spry and agile. He asked us-as he gazed at my scratched, dirty face, haggard eyes and disheveled self- “How was it?” I provided him with an abridged version of the horrors that awaited him. 10 minutes later he passed us, a slow jog as he sped by. We asked him “How was it?” ready to share war stories and bond like soldiers in battle. He nonchalantly said “No biggie. It was easy.” Shoulders slouched, defeated, fatigued and feeling all 51+1 day-years old-we sought comfort for our egos in some gluttonous, fat laden Dairy Queen.

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But first, we had a light dinner at Las Amigos Mexican Restaurant in Toccoa, GA | Mexican Restaurant Near Me | Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant (losamigostoccoa.com). We made our way back to the Lake House one final time to begin the daunting task of packing up for our departure early in the morning. It would be a long 10-hour drive no stops straight home.

As we packed the last item, locked the doors and headed down the winding streets of Toccoa and beyond, I reflected on this time together. The nature of our trips have certainly changed from Parisian Operas and 8 hour Louvre Museum marches to swinging on a hammock in South-Eastern USA. However, the gift of time, bonding and family love cannot be underrated. Shortly after we returned home, monumental life changing events took place. I can’t help but think emotionally about the treasured moments of nothingness combined with the lack of stress, big decisions and hard work.

Two big events occurred that would make the time we had together that much more precious. Juliet, our 5-year-old dachshund the following week while running with her siblings suffered a catastrophic injury rupturing her disc. She required emergency (very expensive) surgery. We were told she was paralyzed and may never be able to use her hind legs. Life as we knew it, with our most beloved “Juju” was forever changed. She spent several days in the ICU, while we processed all that occurred. She returned to us, certainly challenged and unable to do anything she used to do. But her spitfire determination and perseverance shined through, and she is slowly making a resounding recovery. We will most likely never have the girl we first took to Georgia, but we have our Juliet, and she is showing us what true strength looks like-way more than that silly climb down to the waterfall.

The other big life changer that occurred was I made the hard decision to resign from my job of 15 years. It was a major life event for me, a leap of faith, fear of the unknown and what was to come. If not for the time spent in Georgia -the much-needed rest, the joy and love experienced all together helped me to heal my mind, body and spirit-I know that without this I would not have been able to make the move so effortlessly. I have something new and exciting I am transitioning to. I am taking all my love, experience and now clear head with me to this new challenge. I embark on this rested and reassured-thankful for the momentary reprieve the Lake House and Georgia allowed me.

I end this trip journal on this one final note-not every vacation is a page turner, a spellbinding, bucket list adventure that includes a color coated itinerary with rest penciled in as optional. For A Girl and Her Hubs, we are continually learning this. Our simple Georgia retreat showed us that every destination has a purpose, time is more valuable than anything monetary in life and memories infused with love, light, waterfalls and mountain air can cure just about anything. I usually conclude with where to join us next-but for now-we have a blank slate, nothing on the horizon-but you never know where A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase will show up next…..

LOVE F&B

Nashville July 2017

Day 1 of 3 

As the late great Minnie Pearl once so eloquently said- How-dee and greetings from the rolling hills of Tennessee. Chances are if you didn’t grow up knowing Mr. Roper, that pesky short fella yelling “the plane, the plane” or memorized the lyrics to Laverne & Shirley, then you will not know the fancy jargon from Hee Haw or the famous catch phrase. But let’s move on. There is always Google, and you can catch up…

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 It’s been a while and for good reason. A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase abandoned the usual spring vacation this year in lieu of an aggressive campaign of fitness and health promotion. Well, hard work pays off and the Gods have been shining down on this girl -because the pounds have shed little by little and life is certainly looking up.

Before                                                                    Now

 Honoring the Hubs and this Girl’s 23-year union of love and the celebration of 5 years married- prompted a spontaneous domestic voyage to Nashville. For this seasoned pair-interestingly enough we have never been- and what better way to launch the renaissance of this new enriched life but a good ole country adventure.  

Leaving Florida at O’ dark thirty this diabolical duo set out for an easy 1 hour and 22-minute flight to the land of the Volunteers. 

The Nashville airport is quite unique. Trendy colorful stores and energetic bars tempt even the most focused traveler. Guitars and hokey country memorabilia lead the sojourn to baggage claim- as acoustically crooning amateurs, strum melodically inspired songs about heartbreak and a cowboy’s life.  

Our journey begins with a Tennessee native Uber driver serving as our chauffeur to the main hub of “the Gulch” http://www.explorethegulch.com – our residence for the next 3 days. His thick southern drawl and southern gentile manner was pleasing to the ears as his words dripped thick like honey. 

Gulch

A quick 20 minutes later we were at our destination The Thompson http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/nashville/thompson-nashville?utm_source=local&utm_campaign=gmb&utm_medium=organic. This trendy sleek architecturally sexy structure is an 18-floor boutique hotel chic in design, nestled strategically in a popular neighborhood with high price real estate restaurants and expensive stores.   

We were greeted with a “Nashvillian” friendliness that I soon became familiar with. The soothing smile and charm of the front desk attendant inquired the reason for our trip, and I informed him it is our 5-year anniversary. Well- later on – this benign comment and subtle nod would result in a surprise bottle of sparkling wine, fancy chocolate and an endearing card handwritten from the manager. This kind gesture was one of many details that separated this hotel from any other.

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 Due to early arrival our room was not ready. But the charming attendant graciously stored our bags, so we were left untethered to explore the city. The hubs suffering from caffeine withdrawal was in luck as a Starbucks was adjacent to the hotel. Working millennials and Victoria Secret model types in colorful spandex fresh from barre class steadily streamed in while the hubs energy began to perk up courtesy of Starbursts dark bold. 

After adequate coffee consumption, the plan was formulated. With a speedy Uber request, another car was waiting for us curbside. Once again, a lively conversation took place enroute to The Hermitage http://thehermitage.com.

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Day 1 of 3 

As the late great Minnie Pearl once so eloquently said- How-dee and greetings from the rolling hills of Tennessee. Chances are if you didn’t grow up knowing Mr. Roper, that pesky short fella yelling “the plane, the plane” or memorized the lyrics to Laverne & Shirley, then you will not know the fancy jargon from Hee- Haw or the famous catch phrase. But let’s move on. There is always Google, and you can catch up…

The Hermitage is the residence of former seventh President of the United States and General Andrew Jackson. This top-rated presidential site is a quick 20 minutes out of the city. Located on over 1,100 lush acres- it is a multi-layered informative experience. As one enters the calming plantation, unassuming deer lazily munch along the perimeter. The admission price offers the museum, which is chuck full of interesting facts, as well as a tour of the mansion and all the grounds. We were granted discounts (even though student discount specified 8-13 years old- I told you this fitness thing is really paying off for me…).  

The tour begins with a timeline of Jackson’s life. Orphaned at 13 years old, his accomplishments are nothing short of inspiring. He was a war hero and revered almost celebrity status. As he transitioned into Presidency, many of his practices that he instituted remain active and integral to the current system today. Regardless of what side of the political fence you reside, the love and admiration unanimously honored to this leader was refreshing. However, as one continues through the progression of his life, presidency and endeavors- he had his share of haters and adversaries as well.  

After touring museum, we made our way onto the grounds. The plush emerald, green lawn traversed as far as the eye could see. Dotted by cabins, workers quarters and the occasional horse drawn carriage (for an additional $11) we made our way exploring on foot. We eventually made our way to the mansion.  

Greeted by coquettish ladies in colonial garb, that frankly looked itchy and flammable- we were given strict instructions on what to do as well as what not to do, touch or disturb once in the mansion. Obviously, these rules are in place for good reason- to maintain the authenticity of the dwelling. Ironically, almost all rules were broken upon entry.  

As our group spilled out of the house, the sky opened up, black clouds released a monsoon like downpour. Hubs and your truly conveniently were perched on the covered porch for the deluge. Chomping on bootleg nuts pilfered from home, we watched the less fortunate run for cover.

 

As the sun dried the wet earth, we explored the grounds culminating the tour with an enchanting stroll through the garden. The flowers were in full blossom. The aromatic smells perfumed the air as bumble bees danced from bud to bud. Unfortunately, most of our experiences in gardens through the years have been less than impressive as it is commonly off season. Viewing anemic weeds struggling to envision their potential-because of this, we were even more appreciative of the rich, robust multisensory display. The Hermitage is a real “must see” if you have the time to explore outside the city. It was an entertaining afternoon well worth it.  

Fully satisfied and now Jackson experts we summoned our next Uber. On the journey back to the hotel, hot, tired and fueled only by nuts, we discussed dinner possibilities with our driver. He made a few recommendations- one of which we chose.  

Back at the hotel, we were able to access our beautiful room. The room was clean, comfortable and actually quite lovely. Ceiling to floor windows created a dramatic bird’s eye view of the hip restaurants below. Succumbing to exhaustion at this point, we allowed ourselves a brief indulgence of rest.  

From there, re-energized we walked down the 2 flights to the convenient hotel fitness center. An adequate offering of cardio machines flanked the walls. Fresh cucumber water, clean towels and tempting apples were available as well. We adapted our usual exercise regimen to our new setting allowing respite for future potential guilty pleasures later. 

After showering in the spa- like bathroom equipped with fluffy robes and heavenly towels we ventured out to Little Octopus https://www.littleoctopusnashville.com/ just steps from our hotel. If you recall this was at the recommendation of Uber driver #3 if you are keeping track. He neglected to leave out one minor detail –that the cuisine is Caribbean inspired. My palate is as refined as a toddler’s-finicky and feisty with a loathing for all things spicy.

This hipster establishment screams vegan snobbery combined with tiny plates that one feels obligated to “ooh and ahh” at. The limited menu is full of big words, but miniscule portions as they are tapa based. For me and my caloric restrictions this worked out perfect. Additionally, I am vegetarian so in theory this menu should have sufficed.  

I settled on a beet salad that was fresh, healthy with a hint of an undefinable earthiness and grit that settled in my canines. The hubs had a clam dish that prompted a hidden talent of puppetry as he played with the carcass shells serenading his wife through vantroloquist- like skills. The dish that followed still riles me up- as how does one ruin perfectly good broccolini? The chef made it so spicy that one is rendered speechless with numb lips, an inactive oral orifice and slightly traumatized with various stages of PTSD- by just the thought of red pepper flakes and pepper infused oil. No photographic evidence is available as the Hubs took advantage of my incoherent stupor and consumed the remainder of the vile vegetable. I admit I exaggerate a bit and in full disclosure-the Hubs disagrees with most of this bloated diatribe- but I stand by my keen and insightful analysis.

 After dinner, we did some harmless window shopping in stores frankly I had no business being in, displaying styles for a much younger, cooler and perhaps richer version of myself. From there, we returned back to the hotel, which was now in full throttle Friday night mating season mode. The hotel is apparently the meeting Mecca for all the “Cool Kids” these days.  

Entering on this Friday evening, the lobby is alive with action. An intimidating line coiled around the reception desk, all in an effort to get to the elevator to get to the 18th floor to get to La Jackson http://www.lajacksonbar.com/ – the rooftop bar which was our final destination as well… 

For some odd reason, I had this silly notion La Jackson would be quiet, romantic, with just the illumination of the moon twinkling in the Hub’s luminescent blue eyes. Soft music, candles and strangely the summer childhood scent of honey blossoms in the air. Well, get this image out of your head- because it was none of this. Now, granted the magnificent views from up above of the Nashville skyline were breathtaking. But, as we shoved our way through the 20 something crowd, self-involved phone scrolling monsters stared blankly at their phones. The combination of hundreds of conversations taking place at once whirled together into an over stimulating frenzy of sound. As we hugged the side of the glass partition, which separated us from death, we took in the stillness of the evening below. And for one moment of solitude- it was just Hubs and I and 23 years of glorious memories. The gravity of the time passed and the time ahead of us laid heavily in my heart-and for that split instant-no other people were on that glorious balcony with us.

 After that, we ventured down to our room for a good night’s slumber.    

Day 2 of 3 

Taking full advantage of the extra hour earned from Central Standard Time, I arose early and busted butt at the gym. All with a secondary gain of being in line early at Biscuit Love http://biscuitlove.com/.  Yesterday, in our room, we were highly entertained lazily eyeing the crowds outside our hotel, particularly on the steady, rather ridiculous line that remained all day long outside a rather indistinct, unimpressive restaurant- Biscuit Love. Well, we just had to find out what the hubbub was…It didn’t matter that I am carb restricted, gluten free and a biscuit would be my caloric capacity for the week. I had to know the deal- even through osmosis and living vicariously through the hubs.

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 So, after the gym, just as the sky turned black and rain began to pelt down, we took the long journey 50 feet away and joined the ever-growing cue. Now, just know if you go to this establishment there are rules. You must know in advance apparently what you are ordering, be prepared and don’t waste time. It is the equivalent of the famous Seinfeld soup Nazi-just replaced with Biscuits. 

After a rather short wait, we were urged to make our selection. I ordered a rather unmemorable omelet that lacked any character. Hubs had a version of eggs benedict with biscuits. Neither entrée overly excited us-which was good because the recovery phase of biscuit withdrawal cannot be pleasant. 

Evidently, the “bonuts” a hybrid somewhere between a donut and a biscuit are all the rage. I will say, for the entire 3 days, there was a steady, rambunctious line that only disappeared during closing times. 

We once again beckoned another Uber to Carl Van Vecten Gallery on the Fisk University Campus https://www.fisk.edu/services-resources/fisk-university-galleries/the-carl-van-vechten-gallery. A sprawling campus void of any activity, due to summer, early hours and rain felt a bit eerie. Some concern began to resonate as we were dropped off in a completely empty parking lot with little signs of life.  

We waited and waited and waited a bit more. Then, we started to concoct a plan B. At that precise moment an eager, short of breath gentleman came running towards us. It turns out he was flooded out of his house and he himself had to come by Uber. Apologizing profusely, he waived both entrance fees.  

We were the only ones in the museum. We leisurely perused the odd paintings consisting of most famously Georgia O’Keefe and some others from her era. All in all, there are probably 20 paintings and an exhibition in the basement. Nonetheless, we entertained ourselves and embraced having the whole place to ourselves.

 Guess what we did next? You guessed it! We requested an Uber. We were transported to the famous region Broadway.  When you think Nashville-this to me -is what it really is. Good old-fashioned grit, country music, honky-tonk. One area consists of music city, and it encapsulates entertainment of every venue. The common theme is a distinct feeling of wanting to hose oneself off after entering some of the establishments. Now, please understand –it is only 1100 AM in the morning at this point. Our first stop was the Johnny Cash Museum http://www.johnnycashmuseum.com/. We never made it past the gift shop. A little speed shopping performed; we got the gist of it but couldn’t commit to it- so we moved on. To be noted-The Patsy Cline Museum https://www.patsymuseum.com/  is on top of Johnny Cash… 

Leaving there we walked past barbeque restaurants boasting the best, most authentic and tastiest. Boot stores with penetrating hide aromatics pouring out onto the streets. The intense staccato of struggling musicians with pitiful desperation thick in every note echoed in the street. Powerful odors so offensive at times-breathing was painful permeated the humid air. This was a complete juxtaposition with the rambunctious cookie cutter bachelorette brigades with tacky sashes and hokey veils screaming in frantic euphoria. Goofy hashtag names and clone like bridal parties celebrating their final hours of independence by pedaling frenziedly 3 miles an hour through the traffic-all the while singing female empowerment songs at the top of their lungs. If nothing else, this served as incredible amusement. 

We continued to walk as the humidity hung over us like a thick blanket. Exhaustion and hunger began to settle in and anchor us down. It was at that moment we spotted Puckett’s https://puckettsgro.com/nashville/. This eatery is one of the highlights of this trip. The crowded establishment was teeming with eager patrons, very civilized anxiously waiting for a table. The smells, unlike the hideousness of Broadway were sweet, smoky, hickory and that indescribable essence of barbeque. 

Hubs had a brisket taco salad. Mine was a delicious black bean burger, unique and fulfilling in every way- which was accommodated over a small salad for me. Sadly, but wisely, the Hubs suppressed his desire for the cobbler-which he still regrets. If in Nashville- I really suggest you try to make it there. Apparently, we were lucky to get seated so quickly as its popularity is evident.

 Once again, another Uber escorted us to back to our hotel. After some rest, we prepared for the big event- The Grand Ole Opry https://www.opry.com/. Although, country music is not our forte we felt it essential to participate as this captures the true heart of Nashville. The Grand Ole Opry is situated on a massive campus with a hotel, a mall and a movie theater http://www.simon.com/mall/opry-mills. The original Grand Ole Opry was at the Ryman Theater https://www.ryman.com/. In the 1990’s it was moved. The Ryman still has performances and I regret on this trip not making it there. It is considered hallowed halls with country greats such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. 

The Uber dropped us off at the Opry Mall. The place was packed with eager shoppers on bargain hunts. No exception for yours truly. Some mindless browsing kept us busy momentarily. We made our way to the entrance to The Grand Ole Opry. It was a plethora of activity. A stellar octogenarian band belted out amazing tunes revving up the crowd.

 From there, we made our way to the auditorium. There truly is not a bad seat in the house. Spread out like a church with pews in a circular ring, it looped around the stage. As the curtain went up, the stage glowed indicating a live radio stage. Mics strategically placed like land mines creating an auditory symphonic delight.

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 The effort of maintaining the authenticity by honoring the tradition and maintaining the same format since its radio debut in 1974 is apparent. It is separated in 4 segments with numerous varied live music acts in each part. The wizardry of the guitar playing, the octave tiers demonstrated, and the true raw talent was really unbelievable. The commonality of each performer was their gratitude for being there, the symbolism of achievement and their genuine love for their craft. My favorite was from a band which I had never heard of before The Steel Woods http://thesteelwoods.com/- who played Straw in the Wood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJhFz9jaoM0 . All in all, the night was pretty darn incredible and an absolute must if in Nashville. 

Another Uber schlepped our butts back to The Gulch. We stopped across from our Hotel at Burger Republic http://burgerrepublic.com/the-gulch/. Some uninspiring pub fare provided lackluster nourishment as we finished the night out.

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 Day 3 of 3

Sleeping in just a bit in the comfortable womblike state of cozy room was luxurious. No alarm clock, no barking dog, no obligations. It really is the ultimate pleasure extracted from a vacation. However, this lazy lull was fleeting as we promptly made our last visit to the gym. After a good workout, we packed and prepared to depart from our wonderful stay at The Thompson. 

Some Starbucks had and final preparations for our last day. We were on a mission to find the Green Line https://www.metrotransit.org/metro-green-line- which is a free bus that loops around the city. Apparently, no one and I mean NO ONE knows where this thing is, what it is, where it goes and how often. We chased this elusive green mirage over and over, continually missing it just by seconds. Exasperated and ready to give, the green vision appeared before us. Hopping on in victory, we soon learned this bus really does not go anywhere of much use. The bus driver offered us helpful information and suggestions and eventually dropping us off at Bicentennial Park.     

The park displays Tennessee’s history including a revolving globe, a World War II Memorial, a 95-Bell Carillon playing energetic Tennessean songs and abundant Fountains. On the grounds as well is a thriving farmer’s market http://nashvillefarmersmarket.org/ -which is apparently a hotspot for the constant Hop on Hop off bus.

 An Uber once again took us to our lunch of choice. We refueled quickly at PF Chang’s growing sadly aware that our Nashville extravaganza was coming to an end. We crossed the busy intersection for our final destination-Centennial Park which includes the Parthenon   http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parthenon.aspx.

The park is situated directly across the street from the prestigious Vanderbilt College. Standing erect and center protecting its people is the Parthenon. It is a stunning re-creation of the same one from ancient Greece. It stands boldly as the centerpiece of Centennial Park. Inside the structure is a museum as well, which unfortunately time constraints did not allow for the viewing of these treasures.

We circled the structure and made our way on a path that snaked around the park. Trees shaded us as the sun smoldered in the sun heat. We made our way around a serene lake. We ended our walk in a sunken garden. Colorful flowers in bloom showed off their petals in a hue of flamboyant pride.  

Our final Uber ride delivered us to the hotel to retrieve our bags and head to the airport for our departure back home. Nashville was a true surprise. Having heard of its growing popularity over the years, I naively thought one needs to be a country music fan to appreciate. Many years ago, I dismissed its place in the world of culture, art, food and “my kind of entertainment”. Well, I now know how misguided I was.

Nashville is a renaissance town. It offers it all. Family friendly, raunchy drunk debauchery bachelorette “Nash-vegas” style hijinks, world class music, divvy bars, barbeque for days…Not to mention the versatility and diversity of Tennessee itself. With its origins deep in valor and President Andrew Jackson settling his roots close by it has always been a symbol for an altruistic spirit born in the concept of honor, pride and sacrifice in the form of volunteerism. As my plane embarked for the journey back home, and I viewed the Nashville skyline as the pink summer sun set, I had sadness in my heart of saying goodbye to Nashville. The people have a Southern calmness with a country western spirit. They are salt of the earth, good old fashioned values in a not too fancy way. You may wonder how I have this analysis in my short time…In every single one of those 13 Uber rides, a commonality existed-they were all local and native Nash-villians. Each Uber driver shared a piece of their life with us. They gave us advice, recommendations, and for just a brief moment in time-made us feel we were the only ones that mattered. They asked questions, listened and showed genuine interest. Most importantly, they represented their city with pride, love and loyalty. Thank you, Nashville, for a memorable 5-year anniversary- you have set the bar high!

Nashville TOP 5:

(5) The Thompson- amazing Hotel & The Gulch

(4) The Hermitage

(3) Puckett’s Lunch- Yum…

(2) Uber

(1) Grand Ole Opry

We will reunite at the end of September when The Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase travel to Copenhagen and Hamburg, Germany. And stay tuned for March 2018-hint: African Safari!

Love & Nashvillian sweet dreams,

~B&F~

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Casatelli-Anderson St. Petersburg Sophisticated Sunset Soiree November 2021

This blog takes on a different focus and goal as travel for This Girl and Her Hubs has all but dried up. I will continue to find ways to use language filtered love. But, in the meantime I am living my best life documenting a beautiful wedding. This is my gift to you both-Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. May the script on this page express the love, light and laughter that you both bring to others.

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Have you ever met someone who is the whole package-the real deal? A true lion-hearted “jack of all trades” luminary, crusader of courage, heroine for humanity? These traits are indeed a rare finding, but every now and then the planets align where fate and happenstance intervene converging the path for these extraordinary souls. On a chilly, Florida November evening I was lucky enough to witness the union between two such virtuosities.

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For me, the story goes back 5 years ago-first meeting Dr. Jennifer Casatelli. A firebomb of intellectual energy, medical knowhow equal parts fierce, feisty and fabulous all contained in a petite 5-foot 4-inch dynamic spitfire package. Her electrifying blue eyes, emulating the caerulean opaque oceanic abyss with camouflaged hues of mischief and mystery.

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In addition to her spellbinding beauty, she is a remarkable teacher, a patient practitioner and a medical maven mastermind. Her commitment is lovingly loyal, and her keen pediatric expertise and passion makes her a triple threat force to be reckoned with. It is important as well to note-the Casatelli “shoe game” which is on a whole different level. Footwear that makes one sigh, swoon, yelp, cry and gasp in half glee (partial pain) and jealousy. 10-12 hours her dainty tootsies endure phalangeal prison and confinement enclosed in trendy “on fleek” captivity. Elegantly, teetering on stilt-like fashion forward elevation, her heels glide with graceful ease as she sashays with medical majesty through the colorful halls of the Children’s Hospital.