On beaches and beach towns……

IMG_1113The idea of doing a series of posts on Florida’s gulf beaches and beach towns has been in the back of my mind for some time.  Each year, especially around this time, I get numerous requests from people asking me to recommend restaurants, resorts, beach houses, etc. for spring break and summer vacations, mostly along Hwy 30- A in Walton County, FL.  We’ve been vacationing at the beach since 1997, at various locations from Ft. Morgan, AL to Seacrest Beach, FL.  Our tastes & needs have changed and we have become much more knowledgeable about the area.  I’m happy to share what I know.  I base my opinions on years of traveling to and studying the areas mentioned.  For the first installment, let’s get to know the most popular beach communities from MS to FL.

IMG_1776cpyMISSISSIPPI:

BILOXI—I am often asked if Biloxi is good for a spring break trip or a short summer trip for those who are on a limited budget or have very little time to travel.  I like Biloxi, and it’s always a wonderful part of the trip when we reach the Gulfport/Biloxi area, because I swear the air changes and you start to feel those wonderful gulf breezes. I adore the people of this area — genuine, good-hearted, resilient — & I loved spending a week helping rebuild after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.  However, as beach vacations go, it’s not the best.  Being so close to the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, the water tends toward brown more than blue and the beaches are far from white sand.  Biloxi is where our daughter first put her toes in the sand and we had to be careful to avoid litter & sharp objects in the process.  Its beaches just aren’t too conducive to sand castles & bare feet.  However, I do like Biloxi and you won’t get a better meal than you will find at Mary Mahoney’s Restaurant.  The building the restaurant resides in was built as a private home in 1737 and became Mary’s restaurant in 1962.  It has survived many a storm and hurricane and has a HUGE live oak tree on the property.  It’s worth a stop, even if you’re just passing through.  For a short stay or quick get-a-way spring break trip, I can recommend the Hard Rock Hotel and the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino.  Both have wonderful pool areas and ocean views.  They’re a bit on the upscale side but you will appreciate the amenities they have to offer compared to other resorts.  If you’re wanting to spend days lying on the beach, skimming waves and swimming in clear blue waters, you might want to move on down the coast.

ALABAMA:

DAPHNE/FAIRHOPE—First, let me clarify that these are not beach towns.  They sit on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.  I’m going to include them because if you split your trip down to the Florida coast into two days, this is an excellent place to stop.  There are many wonderful accommodations.  I highly recommend the Homewood Suites in Daphne.  It’s very clean and has a nice outdoor pool for the kids to work off the pent-up energy from your car ride.  Daphne is located right on I-10 and there are many chain and local restaurants where you can grab an evening meal.  We usually try to eat at Guido’s/My Cousin Vinny’s for Italian or El Rancho for Mexican.  We miss the Nautilus, a wonderful seafood restaurant that had beautiful bay views and we wish someone would resurrect it!  Fairhope is further off the interstate but the quaint little town will reward you with a wonderful independent bookstore, galleries, a toy shop and numerous boutiques for shopping.  A trip down to the Fairhope Pier is a must.  If you have a nice budget to work with, spring for a night (or two!) at Marriott’s Grand Hotel, next to Fairhope in Point Clear, AL.  It’s located right on the bay and is a wonderful family resort with so many activities for the kids including swimming, tennis and even jet-skiing on the bay.

GULF SHORES/ORANGE BEACH/FT. MORGAN—We began our beach vacations by going to Seaside, FL in 1997.  We just had Ryder, who was a wonderful traveler and we took our time, meandering across the gulf on backroads and eating in local cafes and restaurants.  Along came the boys in 1999 and after taking a break from any vacations at all for a couple years, we were looking for somewhere that wasn’t quite so far.  For two years, we rented homes in Ft. Morgan & had a wonderful time.  Ft. Morgan sits out on the end of a peninsula and is quiet, non-commercial and just a peaceful place to spend a week with your family.  We always stayed in a neighborhood called The Dunes and rented through Meyer Real Estate, who I can wholeheartedly recommend.  We loved these vacations.  Being in the middle of the restaurants and stores was never a big deal for us so Ft. Morgan was perfect.  If you like to be near things, go out to dinner nightly and have a bit more of a party atmosphere on the beach, you might be happier in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.  The Beach Club and Martinique  are excellent places to stay when in this region of the gulf coast.  As for things to do in this area, you will find water sports, dolphin cruises, a water park, a large outlet mall in nearby Foley, and restaurants galore.  There are also charters that will take you for sunset sails or deep sea fishing.  The water here is bluer than MS but still far from the blue of the Emerald Coast of FL.  If you don’t like to be in a land of high-rise condo units & hotel chains, this might not be for you.

IMG_1816cpyFLORIDA:

PERDIDO KEY—I’ll make a confession right now:  I get very tired of people telling me I don’t need to go all the way to 30-A when there is Perdido Key.  Perdido Key is nice.  It’s located between Orange Beach, AL and Pensacola, FL.  Don’t get me wrong, it is nice, but it’s not 30-A.  It’s beaches are roughly 60% federal and state park land, which allows for a lot of unspoiled beauty.  It’s less crowded than it’s neighbors and the water is perhaps a tiny bit more blue here than it is to the west. But here’s the thing.  For me, it’s still a land of mainly condos and high rise condominium resorts and I’m just not into people stacked on top of people on my beach vacation.  If condos are your thing at the beach and you don’t want to go all the way to the Destin region of FL, this may be your pick.  It is a nice getaway and by going just a bit further east than the trio of beach towns discussed above, you will step it up a bit in terms of privacy and fewer tourist traps.  I miss all the fine dining and unique shopping on 30-A.

PENSACOLA—I have not spent much time here.  When we made our first trip with Ryder, in 1997, we stayed in a very old, retro hotel that was right on the beach.  It was destroyed in one of the hurricanes that tore through Pensacola since we made that journey.  The beaches are beautiful and something about the ocean currents makes the water so much nicer than the previous places mentioned. (Are you sensing a trend?  Travel east and the water gets bluer?)  Jimmy Buffett opened one of his Margaritaville Hotel and Resort complexes here and I kinda want to try it out just to see what it’s like but I have not done that yet.  I do know, from my visits, that you can find anything to rent in this area from a beach shack to a luxury home or condominium.  It’s a huge mish-mash of high rises, homes and commercial stuff and has just never really appealed to me.  If you do book in this area, be sure you know whether you are renting in Pensacola or Pensacola Beach because there is a difference.  Pensacola Beach is where the nice, blue water is.

NAVARRE BEACH—I’ve driven through Navarre Beach two times & it was so pretty we stopped to walk on the beach.  We have never stayed here.  It’s a gorgeous area with very little commercial development.  It’s further east than Pensacola Beach.  If you want to go somewhere with very little restaurant/tourism development around, go here.  It’s so quiet.   It’s perfect for families who are truly going to hang out at the beach day after day and like to cook meals in their condo.  It’s NOT for the family who needs to be entertained and fed by others, with the exception of a Stinky’s Fish Camp.  There you will find some good food!  The water is gorgeous, the people are friendly.  If you MUST seek out something commercial, there’s a bridge that will connect you to the mainland.  This beach is about as close to unspoiled as you will get.  Or it was the last time I was there.  It’s amazing the change that can happen in one season along the gulf.

FT. WALTON BEACH—I’m being honest here so Ft. Walton Beach is just not my thing.  I don’t really agree with the info in the link I posted.  I find it very congested and low on higher-end accommodations.  There is a Gulfarium Marine Park here that our kids enjoyed when they were wee ones.  Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it.IMG_1451

DESTIN– Destin has high rises for miles, but more of an upscale feel than Panama City.  This is a great place to stay if you don’t mind insanely tall high-rise condos and you want to be entertained almost 24/7.  There are tons of restaurants, both local and commercial, a huge water park, watersports galore, giant outlet mall, huge non-outlet outdoor mall, nightclubs, seafood shacks, boat charters, dolphin cruises, etc.  We used to make the trip back to Destin a couple of times a week when we would stay on 30-A.  Now we rarely go.  I think the kids have gotten older and require less to stay entertained.  I like to think they just enjoy simply hanging out more but probably not!  The traffic.  Ugh, the traffic.  We even bypass it on I-10 on our way now and avoid it altogether.  Sandestin is a resort within the town of Destin & is a little more private/exclusive.  I have eaten there and shopped there but never stayed overnight in Sandestin.

PANAMA CITY/PANAMA CITY BEACH—Aaaah, the original redneck Riviera.  Visit and you’ll see why!  I really wish I could be more positive about Panama City Beach/Panama City.  There are some places we go when we are staying in Seacrest that are in PCB – Thomas’ Donuts, Goofy Golf, Funland and sometimes, the new Pier Park, which was a huge attempt to salvage PCB’s redneck reputation and is a nice shopping/entertainment complex.  The problem with Pier Park is that it’s surrounded by a mix of new condo units,  dilapidated condo complexes and old, old hotels.  It’s quickly losing it’s appeal for me, plus I’m not too into shopping at mall stores on my beach vacation.  Tattoo parlors ABOUND in Panama City, along with the occasional sex shop.  More than one fugitive has been found hiding in the dilapidated infrastructure of Panama City Beach.  And yet, parts of it are charming.  In all honesty, I wish I could have visited in it’s heyday.  That would have been much cooler than visiting now.  We sometimes drive over to play miniature golf at Goofy Golf, the longest-running business on “the strip”.  (The fact that it has a “strip” will tell you it’s touristy!) Goofy Golf is a quirky, retro place to spend a couple hours after having dinner at Captain Anderson’s Restaurant, which, also rather retro in style, is a fine dining establishment that sits right on a harbor.  Glorious water views and good food.  It’s worth wading through the madness.  Funland is an old-fashioned dairy bar & arcade that has been in continuous operation since 1953.  Our daughter Ryder will no longer go there with us but the boys, Chuck, my dad and I love to go get some good dairy bar food and play a few games.  Thomas’ Donuts, on the western end of the PCB strip serves up wonderful breakfast food and donuts and has also been around for many, many years.  Get there early unless you want to stand in a long line.  Save for a few condo complexes off the beaten path, I don’t even want to discuss accommodations here.  HOWEVER, if a town being ultra clean & neat is not important to you, crowded beaches are ok and you want to be in the midst of constant activity, this might be your place.  You can always take a jaunt over to Shell Island, a pristine island with perfect sand, crystal-clear water and not one business, home or hotel.  Not one.  Unfortunately there is also no bathroom either,  so you’ll want to time your trip just right.  I highly recommend renting a pontoon and getting yourself there as opposed to going on the shuttle.  HIGHLY.  Unless you love to study tattoo art.IMG_1837cpy

SEASIDE/GRAYTON/WATERCOLOR/ROSEMARY BEACH/ALYS BEACH/WATERSOUND/SEACREST BEACH (ALSO KNOWN AS HWY. 30-A) —- You had to know I would save what I consider to be the best for last.  I will be the first to admit that if you are looking for a budget vacation, this might not be your best bet.  I’m sure there are ways to save like going in on accommodations and cooking all of your meals in but to really get a feel of this area, I don’t recommend that.  Highway 30-A is a county road in Walton County, FL that forms a 28.5 mile loop off of Florida Highway 98 dipping down several miles east of Destin and coming back up to Hwy. 98 just west of Panama City Beach, FL.  Seagrove Beach and Grayton Beach were the original beach communities on this stretch of highway and it was mostly an isolated stretch of beach until Robert Davis developed his vision of a perfect beach town, known famously now as Seaside, FL.  When we first began visiting 30-A, Seaside was just coming into it’s own & was nothing like it is now.  I remember after we visited we got constant information on the NEW communities of Watercolor and Rosemary Beach that were barely even under construction.  (Oh, how I wish we could have bought a home there in the early stages of development!  Hindsight’s 20/20!)  Long story short, since 1997, this area has exploded and I’ve heard naysayers condemn all the development.  I disagree, because it still provides a beach experience far above what I’ve had elsewhere.  There is only one tall high-rise on the beach and one semi-tall condo unit.  I think I speak for all 30-A fans when I say I wish they could be torn down and replaced with homes but what’s done is done.  Regulations stopped future high-rise development and so though you will find some condo complexes that have been around since the early days, it’s mainly a 28.5 mile stretch of beach homes ranging from 2-bedroom to 8-bedroom.  Although there is a Tom Thumb convenience store and a Publix supermarket along this road, the rest of the businesses are private establishments, mostly owned by people local to the area or those who have visited and been inspired to stay.  You’ll find an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, small businesses ranging from spas to a doctor’s office or two, bike rental facilities, etc.  You can seek out watersports such a parasailing, windsurfing and paddle boarding but they aren’t in-your-face as in most beach communities.  Everything is low-key here.  Bike riding is the favorite pastime.  Many of the towns have village squares where they host movie nights, farmer’s markets and mini-festivals.  As I said earlier, we used to go into Destin a couple times but now we rarely leave the community we are staying in.  We have personally stayed in Seaside, Watercolor, Seagrove and Seacrest Beach.  I’ll go more in-depth about these communities in a future post.  It’s insanely clean, very little need for police presence and the beaches are absolutely fantastic.  There’s a feeling about 30-A that you just can’t describe to someone who hasn’t been.  You’d have to be an awfully uptight person not to enjoy a vacation here.

I hope you found this helpful & I really hope you’ll plan a trip to the gulf coast.  It’s my happy place and I constantly encourage others to experience it.  In future entries, I hope to address restaurants, finding a perfect beach home, day trips, ways to save $ on your beach vacation, etc.  If you have any questions or topics you would like me to post on, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Golden Globe Glamour…….and not.

I always love live-tweeting awards shows with my friends and bonding via the mutual love of tearing down those who are insanely successfully and make more money than most of us will ever dream of.  Hey, whatever makes us feel good.  That said, this was a less-than stellar awards show in terms of fashion, in my opinion.  Now, I know it’s usually a little more casual than the Oscars, but for God’s sake people, please at least look like you weren’t startled out of bed.  I’ll start with my favorite attire of the night:

462073237_10_gallery_mainThis is a horrible picture of her gown but when Margot Robbie walked out on the stage to present in this she looked like absolute perfection.  She wore that low cut well.  And I liked the hair with the dress.

1389576217_olivia-wilde-lgI love Olivia Wilde and I know, I know……you think she’s intentionally channeling Angelina Jolie here.  Who cares?  She’s pregnant, elegant and I thought this was stunning on her.462081789_10_gallery_mainEvery single awards show, I love Kerry Washington.  This was a simple way to show off a baby bump.  Pure elegance.

462072717_10_gallery_mainMonica Potter.  I liked this.  I thought she mastered the art of simple yet stunning.  There wasn’t much of this on the red carpet tonight so I found this look refreshing.  A bit of gold, some simple black and perfect hair to go with it.

462081759_10_gallery_mainSosie Bacon, daughter of Kyra and Kevin looked so elegant and mature in her muted gown.  I thought she deserved a shout out for having such classy taste at a young age.

1389580693_julianna-marguiles-lgJulianna Margulies.  She can be hit or miss.  I was on the fence for awhile but I ultimately put her in the “win” category.  It’s elegant and a bit of Old World Hollywood, which is always refreshing to see on the carpet.  And she is just radiantly beautiful no matter what she has on.

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Robin Wright.  I know there was a moment during her speech where a little side boob was visible and at times it appeared to be a little loose but she has an incredible body for it and the back was stunning.  Wide open but so attractive on her.  And she just looked radiant and happy.  I like it “a lot”.  Isn’t she radiant in this close-up?

462133321_gallery_mainNow for the LOSERS!  Whew!  This was hard to narrow down to less than 25.  So much horrid fashion on the carpet this evening.  It wasn’t so much a lack of taste, though that was certainly present.  It was more like no one cared!  I mean, take Kaley Cuoco……

462133035_gallery_mainShe seriously looked as if she slept over at Courtney Love’s house and grabbed something off of Courtney’s closet floor after waking up horribly hungover.  Why???

1389575689_drew-barrymore-lgHolla, everyone!  It’s time to get those Valentine’s Day cards if you haven’t yet!  Just a friendly reminder from Drew Barrymore!

1389576278_sandra-bullock-lgNo.No.No.  This looked like something that would have been in a blister pack of Barbie clothing in the early 1980’s.  Complete with matching shoes.  And the hair looks like something you would wear for your kid’s soccer game, not an awards show.

1389577207_emma-watson-lgI don’t have a photo of the horrid back of Emma Watson’s frock but it looked like something that was more “running of the bulls” and less Golden Globes.  Ole!

1389576025_julia-roberts-lgNope, Julia.  You’re classy.  You have style.  You missed the mark here.  It looks as if she was late finishing her shift at Olive Garden (twins to support, you know!) and just slipped a gown on before taking off her white button-up shirt.  I mean, I don’t even understand why someone would design this dress let alone buy it.  I’m torn on her hair.  I like it and yet I think it looks a bit like her husband wanted her to dress up and play teacher.

1389575904_jennifer-lawrence-lgShe’s adorable.  America’s new sweetheart.  Rocking the pixie cut.  Not so much this dress.  It looked like perhaps at the last minute the following conversation took place:

J Law:  “Bye dad!  Heading to the Globes!”

J Law’s dad:  “Awww hon, you look beautiful, but that dress is missing something.”

J Law:  “What can we do to add interest??  I’m America’s sweetheart!”

J Law:  “Well, I’ve got some ‘lectrical tape in my toolbox.  Let’s see what we can do….”

Another one I don’t understand.

1389577069_amy-adams-lgI could handle this so much more if it was ALL the color of red that it is on the bottom.  As it is, it looks like it was designed for someone who couldn’t decide of they are an Alabama fan or an Arkansas fan.  And her boobs are way too small to pull this off.  Lord, Amy annoys me.  And yet she’s a hell of an actress.

462073645_gallery_mainI HATED this.  I thought it was Battlestar Galactica meets Britney Spears.  I thought it was horrid.  Too much of everything and not enough of something.  Show us a better side at the Oscars, Elisabeth Moss.

I could keep going.  But that’s enough of my snark.  I’m sitting here in ripped jeans and an old Fred Thompson for President sweatshirt so you might take my opinions with a grain of salt.  It did make my night to see Matthew McConaughey win.  Gotta love a man in green velvet.

Happy New Year…..and farewell to the holidays of 2013!

photo-21Well….I’m a bit relieved that it’s over and I’m ready to begin the new year.

I thought I would appreciate being home this Christmas after traveling to Colorado for a ski vacation last year during the holidays.  I was wrong.  I missed the mountains.  Don’t get me wrong — I loved decorating our tree and waking up in our house to open gifts on Christmas morning but I have to say, getting away from all the madness and holiday stresses (relatives) is a good thing! I really missed waking up each morning to the sound of ski boots crunching on the ground as people headed to the lifts.  Sigh….

I do love the fresh feeling of a new year beginning…an imaginary clean slate on which we write our good intentions.  I kinda like that. I know it’s hard to believe but I really do try to improve myself!   This year I’m doing two projects that are year-long and will require me to “attend” – to pay attention and be present, even if being present means I’m on my computer in the comfort of my own home, participating.  I have ALWAYS loved to read.  As a child, nothing excited me more than my dad announcing that we were making the 40-mile trip to the nearest bookstore, Readmore Books.  I realize now how small it was but when I walked in the door I was transported to a whole new world.  It’s odd that I’ve never taken part in a book club but I have not & this morning, the girls on one of my favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess, announced an online book club.  The first selection is The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.  I already had the book so that’s one reason I jumped right in.  I mentioned that I was taking part in this on Facebook and before I knew it several friends were searching for copies and committing to the book club as well.  I suggested we get together at a restaurant and discuss the monthly selections & that was well-received.  This takes the stress of having to host the club & clean and cook & find a place for your kids to go on the evening we meet, completely away.  I AM toying with the idea of hosting a final holiday get-together and using that as an impetus to actually complete the home improvement projects that I have on our agenda this year.  Sometimes I have to have things to hold me accountable, don’t you?

Jumping into something like the book club is very, very out of character for me, which brings me to the second project I am taking part in. I LOVE  Ali Edwards.  For a few years, I worked in the scrapbook industry and although I never met her, she quickly became one of my favorite designers and I love & admire the brilliance with which she built her brand.  She blogs about, well, LIFE.  And she makes you realize that documenting your life while you are here is not only a responsibility but a fun thing to do and with Ali at the helm, it can become a way of life if you follow her principles.  Obviously I find her very inspiring!  Every year since 2007, she has done a “One Little Word” online workshop.  You can read more about it by clicking the link but you just choose one word and in, Ali’s words, “You live with it. You invite it into your life. You let it speak to you. You might even follow where it leads. There are so many possibilities.”  Ali gives you monthly video and PDF prompts and at the end of the year you should have a journal that has helped you gain insight into how this word can work for you and change you for the better.  My word for 2014 is “TRY”.  In so many areas of my life, I could try harder – that’s one way I need to have this word in my life!  I’m also hesitant to try new things.  New foods, new hobbies, new ways to promote my business, new styles of photography, new ways of dealing with kid issues, etc.  I’m reluctant to TRY.  So that’s sorta what my journey is going to be about this year.  Not being lazy or reluctant and giving things my all.  I think it’s going to be so much fun & perhaps a little enlightening.

As far as resolutions, I prefer to do a bucket list for the year.  I’m still working on it.  I’ll share it as soon as I finish.

Many of my friends have started this new year by saying final goodbyes to the people they love the most, so as 2014 begins, I wish you good luck, much faith and happiness & someone to lean on when things get tough.

xoxoxo

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O, Christmas Tree!

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays.  I love the fact that you can have eight houses on a block that all decorate for the holidays differently.  Of those eight imaginary houses, there’s a good chance I’m going to like five or six or well, ALL of them!  When I was a child, Christmas was a time of wonderful celebration in our home.  Decorating the tree was an event and my dad loved to have lights outside.  I was always drawn to blue Christmas decorations and wrapping paper and I was completely mesmerized by homes that were decorated in solid blue lights.  My grandma, God bless her soul,  would never decorate with blue lights and discouraged me from buying blue foil wrapping paper because “That’s all for the Jewish people, honey.  Let’s leave that for them. We don’t celebrate Hanukkah.”  I’m not sure how she explained the fact that our town Christmas decor consisted of large blue tinsel arcs  with yellow lanterns attached to the light poles.  They lined Main St. & the main thoroughfare that ran through our small town, Highway 25.  Those blue decorations were beautiful in my young eyes and the one Jewish family in our town must have been especially proud.  Yes, one.  Needless to say, I now go overboard on  the blue paper and decor and we have a bubble light candolier that resembles a menorah to such a degree that it prompted Wyatt, at three years of age to ask with a very puzzled expression, “Mama, is we Jewish?”

We are putting our fraser fir tree in it’s stand tonight and hope to start decorating it tomorrow.  I’ve never been much on trees that look like they were decorated by a designer.  Ours is a hodgepodge of vintage Shiny Brite and polish ornaments, antique russian clip-ons, Old World Christmas birds, Christopher Radko ornaments that Chuck and the kids get me each year and my favorite, ornaments that we have picked up on vacations to other cities. Several years ago Target had beautiful, multicolored glass garlands and I bought several.  Those add a uniqueness to the tree & our finishing touch is an “angry” paper angel that Brooks, our youngest, made when he was about 4.  Hopefully by the end of the week I will have photos to post but until then, I thought I would share some lovely trees I found online.  They’re all different yet all festive and beautiful.  Enjoy and be inspired!

This is the most beautiful tree I’ve seen lately!  If you are not following Michael over at Inspired by Charm, you should be. This is just one of the beautiful trees in his gorgeous farmhouse.IMG_7633-687x1024A similar tree that just happens to be in the White House……love those glass balls!  Makes me happy just to look at it.  Almost Dr. Seuss-like!

8d99a42c35fe3d0569092f24bf8ea6a9This one has a coastal vibe & since I consider the beach my second home, I love it.  The unique blue-grey of the ornaments strikes a chord with me.fce2669b024019a8dbeb2d0f737bad0b

I absolutely love to get a heavy snowfall during the Christmas season.  Living in Arkansas, we are not always guaranteed one but when we do it’s neat to see outdoor trees sporting lights with a layer of snow on top.  They’re almost ethereal!cd59607141f5b4bdfddfaa10de9a3be0163b52095e3e1aced07c8e2f1bfbee46

Last year, there was a snow-covered tree outside our condo in Keystone, CO and I loved going down to the hot tub each night (soaking my torn ligament) & relaxing in the green glow.  (My grandma would have approved of their choice of green lights!)  Right across from the condo was this tall, heavily adorned tree.  We could go out on our balcony and enjoy it every day because it was right across from us!IMG_0247IMG_0239Someday I’d love to do a tree in shades of red, white and blue.  This is another tree from the White House and I love the way it seems to be dripping with ornaments. Isn’t it cool how they used red and silver and just put a few blue accent ornaments?

WHC08-EastRmTree_s3x4_lgThis tree reminds me of my youth.  Bubble lites & icicles, which were my dad’s favorite things.  My dad could adorn a tree with icicles better than anyone!6018360b63b27642cc665ae3b5004ea3This tree is very different and being a lover of color, I’m surprised it jumped out at me but I love the simplicity and the sense of calm this room has with the white tree. The marshmallow strands and the logs in the fireplace add to the feeling of coziness.7fd27ca294ade81167dde4173da89cd7Of course I love this tree.  It’s got a hefty dose of blue!  I love having a small tree or two in addition to the main tree and this one would be perfect in an entryway or the corner of a kitchen.  I think it’s so creative that they used a silver punch bowl to stand it in!eea3c0194bb45d78ead1fc31d2909955Soon I will post photos of our tree(s).  What’s your favorite color scheme for bringing your tree to life?

Prayers…and Thanksgiving!

When I talk about my life, people often say, “You should write a book!”  My usual response is, “I’m waiting until some people (99% of our relatives) have passed so I don’t make them angry.”  I care less and less about that as I age because life is what it is.  When I have no family left that speak to me, you, my fair readers, can feed me on holidays.  I’ll be right at home in your laundry room, using the washer as a table.  Just save me some rolls & slip me a glass or two of wine. White, please.  A nice Pinot Grigio.  Speaking of holidays, this Thanksgiving provided me with a classic “relative” moment to share & brought similar holiday moments of the past to mind.

Chuck invited me to move in with him after I graduated from college in May of 1992, one semester behind him.  It was TOTALLY his idea, regardless of what you might have heard when his mother stood up in front of her Baptist church congregation and asked that we be prayed for because we were “living in sin.”  I appreciated those prayers, and felt them working deeply as I was swinging naked from our cheap brass light fixture, but NOT as much as I appreciated the calls from friends saying, “Holy SHIT, Chuck’s mom told the entire church congregation you were living together!”  Those, I appreciated.  So……I took him up on his offer & my dad helped me move from Springfield to Kansas City. I had a lot of t-shirts, a cheap O’Sullivan coffee table & an end table that was made to look like a dalmatian.  It was an easy move.

My dad is the sort of man whose train of thought goes something like this:  “She’s moving IN with him?  Before marriage?  Well, at least she’s not pregnant and I didn’t have to pay for a dime of her college expenses and she’s never given me an ounce of trouble and HOT DAMN!  That boy is willing to take this hot mess on? Where do I sign?”  That’s my dad.  He wasn’t overly upset and as my former college roommate likes to point out, my grandma was likely sure I was sleeping on the sofa because I was such a good girl.  God LOVE that woman – I do miss her.

Our apartment was in a really nice, new complex in Overland Park, KS, the most vanilla, suburban city in which one could lay down roots.  I longed to live near downtown Kansas City, which was undergoing extensive urban renewal at the time but Chuck liked to be literally five minutes or less from his office.  The apartment was 762 square feet and had one bedroom, one bath, a living/dining area and a small kitchen.  It sat right next to a major four-lane highway.  I loved the traffic noise & Chuck hated it.  Furnishings were sparse. Our used microwave oven was so old and heavy that when it quit, we had to disassemble it and carry it to the dumpster in pieces. Amana Radarange, baby!  We were living the life!  Remember those old sofas from the 60’s and 70’s that were made of a knotty, plaid fabric woven in a lovely array of fall colors?  Had one!  Chuck’s grandparents had donated it to him for his first apartment.  We were very happy and really proud of our first home, despite it’s shortcomings.

We hadn’t made a lot of friends yet and didn’t entertain much (or at all), but Chuck had relatives who also lived in Overland Park and once when several members of his extended family were in town, he invited everyone over.  If I remember correctly, in that tiny apartment were Chuck, two aunts, two uncles, a cousin or two and his grandparents, who (bonus!) got to reminisce about their old sofa!  Chuck decided it would be nice to give everyone a tour of our place, which, had he thought, could have been accomplished by letting people stand beside the kitchen (card) table and spin in a circle while he yelled out the room names. Now remember, these people are all very, very uncomfortable with the idea of us living together because history will tell you that living with your future mate is bad.  Charles Manson and all of his followers?  Lived with their mates before marriage.  John Wilkes Booth?  Assassin and co-habitator.  Healthcare.gov website developers?  ALL CO-HABITATORS.  So you can see why the worrying was rampant.  Chuck wanted his relatives to really experience our place and file through all four rooms.  He led them just like a realtor needing one more sale to wrap up a good month and when he got to our bedroom, they would not go in.  WOULD.NOT.GO.IN.  A team of sled dogs couldn’t have pulled them across that threshold.  Poor Chuck was all the way in the room pointing out the lovely features (“This is where Noelle was stricken with her first kidney stone!”) and some of them didn’t even go near the open door while others peeked in like one might peek into a room fully expecting to see a dead body but hoping like hell not to.  I hurried to look in there thinking, “Have I left a teddy on the bedpost? Panties on the ceiling fan?  K-Y Jelly on the dresser?  IS THERE A LARGE SPIDER?”  Nope. Nothing.  I  sat back down, as did Chuck, eventually, and the circle of visitors had taken on the look of a gathering of relatives waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them if their loved one survived a harrowing surgical procedure.  Apparently just thinking about the sex that went on in that 9×9 room had them all entirely discombobulated.  After a few attempts at conversation – “How ’bout a game of Monopoly?” “How ’bout those Chiefs?”  “Isn’t that George Brett somethin’?” – the party was clearly over and everyone left.  Chuck walked them out and came back inside.  He looked at me with an odd expression and said, “Did they think a giant condom was going to attack them if they went in our room?”  We still laugh about it today because it was just so…….INANE!

A few weeks later we were (surprisingly) invited over to his aunt and uncle’s house for Sunday dinner and his uncle’s sweet, elderly mother, who is no relation to Chuck, was there for a visit.  We were all sitting at the nicely appointed dining room table eating dinner when the woman blurted out, in the clueless manner of Aunt Clara on Bewitched,  “DO THEY PAY RENT???” You can’t buy these moments, people.   We still laugh about it because our assumption is that she was so absent-minded she thought we lived in the basement or another part of the house & had just come up to dinner.  I wanted to yell back, “NO! We live in sin over on 103rd!”

By now, my hope is that you’re getting an idea of why I cringe when holidays roll-around.  One year, I walked into Chuck’s grandmother’s house and she greeted me with, “Wow, you’ve really been a-putting it on ain’tcha?  You used to not be that big!”  I wanted to say, “Yes, Chuck looked into moving me up the Mississippi on a barge but in the long run it was cheaper to just rub Crisco all over me and shove me in the car.”  Instead, I turned to Chuck and said, “WHAT THE HELL?” At a previous holiday dinner, she had accused me of not eating enough.  I was pregnant and she said, “You’re gonna kill that baby!”  I walked out that time and drove to my own grandma’s house.  THIS IS WHAT I ENDURE.  All out of respect for Chuck.  Well, this grandmother is 89 now and still going strong.

Last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, we had dinner with some extended relatives on Chuck’s mother’s side and you guessed it, she was there (although she’s on his dad’s side).  Being the nice person that I am, I walked into the living room where she was sitting with Chuck and sat down on the couch.  Wyatt was in the recliner across from us, watching TV.  The woman looked at me, flung her hand toward Wyatt and said, and I am not EVEN kidding, “That one there, he goes to a school for special kids, don’t he?”

Who SAYS that??  “Special needs or not!  Who SAYS that?? A special school?  NO. No, he doesn’t.  He’s been in the family for 14 freaking years.  He’s perfectly normal, if not extremely intelligent and how many……I literally have no words, except NO, he does not go to a “special” school! Now before you sensitive readers freak, I have nothing against children with special needs, obviously, but if your child does NOT have special needs, you don’t want people to say that they do and you certainly don’t want a grandparent who has known the child for over a decade to be telling people that your child has special needs when they don’t!  I took a deep breath, counted to 10 and said, “He and his brother go to a private school.  His sister went to a public school.  They’re both great schools.”  How do you even answer that? Thankfully, we don’t think HE heard her asinine question.  We’re trying to laugh about it now but I have to tell you that one has just left me shaking my head.

All I know, is at this point in my life, all bets are off as to how I respond. To any relative.  About anything.  And all of this is happening to me because I CO-HABITATED, right?

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Quiet

I recently purchased Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I know. I know.  You’re thinking “HER??? QUIET???”  And for the most part you would be right.  I wasn’t always as bold and talkative as I am now.  As a child I was, for the most part, shy, quiet, unassuming & perfectly content to be alone reading, drawing or watching tv.  Then, and very much now, I found myself in situations where I was surrounded by people and noise & just wanted so desperately to find a pathway out that no one noticed so that I could be back in my little world of solitude and quiet.

Right now, I’m sitting alone in my home & although I do love the times when I’m surrounded by my family, I am, in this moment, incredibly happy and content.  In the seventies and eighties, when you were asked to do things that made you feel uncomfortable by teachers, parents or even friends, there was much more of a sense that you should do it because it was the appropriate and mannerly thing to do.  I regularly found myself suspending the “introverted Noelle” and trying out for plays, being in school programs where I was required to SING, which mortified (& still mortifies) me & raising my hand in class to participate.  I have vivid memories of being scared that I would be called on.  Anyone but me, anyone!  Outward appearances clearly showed that I wanted to be a part of things.  I went to school dances and danced.  Dancing is as bad as singing for me.  It requires some liquid courage.  Chuck gets frustrated that I let people take advantage of me in my business because often this closet shyness prevents me from standing up for myself.  Self-promotion?  Horrifying to me.  I have always been overly concerned with what people think of me, though as I age that seems to be rapidly dissipating.  If you’ve seen me at Kroger, I’m sure you’re nodding your head.

The challenge I face now is having a child who is even MORE introverted than I ever was.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, yet I don’t want him to miss out on life.  Looking back, I’m glad there was that sense of unintentional pressure to participate.  I have lots of happy and funny memories I wouldn’t otherwise have. I want him to have them too.  He seems to share the mechanism of lifting his introverted ways to do things he REALLY wants to do like pitch a baseball game.  I’ve asked a million times if he’s doing it for him or for us.  He loves the game so he does what it takes.  He is very, very comfortable around his best friend’s family & isn’t at all shy around them.  It’s a comfort zone for him.  A safe place. Kids like that need those.

Today, I’m picking the kids up early for doctor appointments & they’ll miss math.  I e-mailed the teachers and made them aware so that they could be sure & let the boys know what they’re missing.  One teacher responded that she would love for Brooks to come to her room at noon so she can keep him up to speed on the lesson.  Of course, my introvert.  He was mortified.  He said he wasn’t going.  I let it go, mainly because I was not with him when he got the news that she wanted him to come.  His dad was. His dad who isn’t shy, who teaches classes to rooms full of consultants and law students, who speaks publicly OFTEN and manages an entire region of the US for his company.  If his dad is shy, he suspends it ALOT.  He emails the teacher and tells her Brooks might not show.  The teacher asks the assistant principal to page him to her classroom at lunchtime.  He’s going to be appalled.  It’s a small thing, really, but not to him.  Should we be doing things like this more?  I don’t know.  Maybe the book will help.  I’ve always been a parent who just made their kid do what *I* thought he/she should do, with the exception of sports. (In this house, you only play if you want to play. That’s another entry in itself!)  I truly believe that one of the best qualities anyone can have is the ability to be alone & be content. I like to think that right now we are giving him opportunities to do just that, yet encouraging him to branch out in some social arenas so he won’t be branded a loner or rude or anti-social.  None of those accurately describe him.

What do you have to offer?  Do you have an introvert?

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My Heart….

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

I never remember a time in my pre-adult life when I saw myself without children.  I loved playing house.  I loved being nurturing to my baby Mary and my Baby That-A-Way.  I had names for my future offspring.  At various stages in my childhood,  I couldn’t wait to birth Marcia (Brady Bunch, anyone?), Samantha and Tabitha (Bewitched?), Kelly and Sabrina (Hello…..Charlie’s Angels!).  In the latter years of elementary school, my best friend, Lana, and I cut a jillion people out of magazines and pasted them in giant sketchbooks, making our imaginary families.  Then we would include blueprints of their home, which we drew ourselves, often drawing inspiration from blueprint magazines that we would walk four blocks to our local grocer’s and buy, along with Lay’s Chips, Pepsi and Spree.  Those were the days.  Families with characteristics, careers and personality traits we assigned. We even cut out cars and matched them to our families.  Little did we know, at that time, we didn’t know jack about parenting & families.  Boy, have we since learned!  (I didn’t come away from those experiences empty-handed though.  I still don’t like to see a house plan where a hallway ends abruptly with a wall…..)

Lana was a year older than I was and started her family much earlier than I did.  I remember her saying, when we were forming our imaginary families, that she just didn’t want kids with red hair.  I thought she was crazy for even thinking that might happen.  She was blond and her boyfriend (who later became her husband) had a thick mane of dark brown hair.  Lana had a maternal drive and instinct like no one I knew.  She ached to have kids someday.  And she did.  Two beautiful carrot-top redheads that she loves with all her heart, hair and all.  God does have a sense of humor.  That should have been our first clue that no book, television show or doctor could even come close to telling you what to expect once you’re a parent.

I took a longer route to having kids and Lana was one of the first people I called when we got the unexpected but thrilling news, in autumn of 1994, that we were having a baby.  Chuck, my husband, and I had talked about getting pregnant and figured that it would take a while and we would be announcing our pregnancy in autumn of 1995.  Needless to say, fertility is my strong suit.  I got pregnant immediately and we set about making plans to welcome our first child into our Colorado home, which we purchased in the spring of 1995.  It was a girl, which thrilled me & we named her Ryder.  Wyatt followed four years later in 1999 and Brooks, our third and final, came along in 2001.  Having been around the block now as parents, I still bang my head against the wall wondering WHY no one warns you how hard it is.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in my ability to handle the difficult times and it certainly would not have deterred me from becoming a parent.  The good outweighs the bad on most days.  A warning would have been nice, simply from the point of knowing that you were not the first parent to find it extremely difficult.  I might have liked to know that going through hell on some days is perfectly and painfully normal.

I had an unusual childhood, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, because I was raised by my dad and that wasn’t nearly as common as it is now.  We were close.  He loved me unconditionally but I think that unconditional love came easy because I never defied him or spoke out in disrespect.  I was shy, not at all rebellious and an only child, which is simply not as difficult as having more than one kid to parent.  You don’t have the competition between children for attention, the multiple activities to cover and in my case, I was just content to be by myself & generally occupied with some book, tv show or art project.  My dad didn’t have to mediate fighting,  dole out multiple allowances, choose which activities to attend, etc.  It was just me & him against the world.  And I had all the respect a child can muster for him.  I still do.  I always thought I’d be a great parent like him and although I go through stages of feeling like a total failure at that, I now realize comparing my parenting to his is not at all fair.  Different situation, different time in history, different personalities in my own children.

I put the quote by Elizabeth Stone at the top of this entry because although I realize what Ms. Stone meant, I think there’s more to our hearts than this quote reveals.  Our children are a part of us, yes.  They have our DNA.  We feel linked to them even when they are across town, or in the case of my oldest, in another state.  But what the quote fails to convey is that our hearts are very much still within our own bodies and subject to intense heartache and pain when our children defy us, disrespect us & lash out. Patience is not one of my strongest personality traits.  My clients say I’m insanely patient when photographing their kids and I honestly don’t know where that comes from except that under those circumstances,  I’m being paid to produce and in many cases I just can’t unless I wait patiently for the children to co-operate.  I wish I had this patience at home and I try so hard but I expect so much from my kids & I react, often negatively, when they fail to produce.

My daughter is sick this week. She lives in Texas so I can’t be there.  One of her traits is to always have an ache or pain so I’ve gotten to the point that quite honestly I tune her out.  I’ve explained to her that it’s kinda like the “boy who cried wolf” parable.  I fear one day it will be something really serious and I’ll blow her off.  Today she texted from the doctor and to spare you the details and respect her privacy, things went downhill fast.  Apparently she has severe bronchitis & I tried very hard to be sympathetic at first.  I do feel bad that she is sick so far from home but there’s honestly little I can do.  I can never do anything right in most cases anyway, so I ended up losing it after she disrespected me by calling me a name.  After dealing with the boys not turning in homework this week and fighting like a couple of wild dogs, I had nothing left in me. Nothing.  I’m spent.  I’m not a perfect parent and I never will be. But lately I’ve gotten tougher.  I’m stronger about imposing sanctions and implementing discipline.   They may hate me now but I have to believe when they’re older they’ll look back and realize we did them a favor.  I love them more than they will understand (until they have their own children) but when I ask them to do something because it’s important to me, I expect that it will happen.  And it will happen with a smile on their faces, even if it’s fake. I certainly do enough for them that they should return that favor.  So, back to that quote.  My heart is still inside me and it’s very vulnerable.  Parenting is not always the bastion of unbridled joy that our culture tends to make it out to be.  It can be ugly, tear-jerking, and brutal at times.  We will survive.  Most parents do.  We’re in this battle together and sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to hear that someone else is deep in the trenches of combat as well.  They will love us & look to us for help and advice someday.  I just hope I’m one of the survivors.

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Ten Instagram Feeds That Make Me Happy!

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Are you on Instagram?  It serves as a mini-scrapbook of my life.  And my phone is always with me so it’s easy to capture the little things in life.  The picture above is the first photo I ever took using my Instagram app.  It’s a still life of my dresser at the time.  I love it because it says a lot about me.  My style is revealed in the sunglasses and jewelry box.  It shows that I love the color green and the scent of a good candle.  I also made the framed linen piece in the background to hang my jewelry on, so it reminds me that I am creative when I want to be.  I just love this picture.  You will find an entire community of creative people on Instagram from all parts of the world.  Here are ten of my favorites to follow!

1)  Christie Brinkley (username:  christiebrinkley) – I know. I know.  She’s a former supermodel.  Someone recommended her feed and I was skeptical too.  But she’s a darn good Instagram photographer.  Her shots of NYC are STUNNING.  She travels (most recently to Africa to take up the cause of saving elephants from harm and exploitation) and takes photos that are truly captivating.  She includes her personal life in her feed too.  And she draws some wonderful designs in her morning coffee.   I haven’t regretted following her at all.  She’ll fill your feed with beautiful things.

2)  Aerin Lauder (username: aerin):  If I could vote Aerin most beautiful Instagram feed, I would.  She’s near the top of my list of style icons.  The granddaughter of the late cosmetics tycoon, Esteé Lauder and daughter of Ronald Lauder, Aerin recently launched her own line of cosmetics and furniture & accessories for the home.  She is also the subject of a gorgeous coffee table book that should be arriving on my doorstep any moment!  Her posts tend to be beautiful still life images shot around her home & office.  Always exquisitely styled and timeless.

3)  The Recapturist (username:  recapturist) –  “Photography, preservation and micro-history of vintage America”.  That what his feed consists of.  Gorgeous photos of hotel and restaurant signage from an earlier era.  If you like old stuff, you’ll love this feed.

4)  BeachBungalow8 (username:  beachbungalow8) – She’s a creative girl who loves design, both retro and current.  She blogs at http://www.beachbungalow8.blogspot.com.  I find stuff on here ALL the time that inspires me.  Excellent feed.

5)  Plum Collective (username: plumcollective) –  If you love mid-20th century design, you will love this feed.  All kinds of mid- century furniture, lighting and design on this one.  Check it out.

6)  Kelly GoLightly  (username: kellygolightly) – In her words, it’s a “style guide for the modern-day Audrey Hepburns of the world.”  She’s gorgeous, has great style and reeks of vintage style.  She travels often and posts great pics from places like Palm Springs, Beverly Hills and Marfa, TX.  I swoon over her fashion sense & she knows how to throw a party!

7)  Adored Vintage (username:  adoredvintage)  Like vintage dresses & style?  Look no further.  You must follow Adored Vintage.  Sometimes she posts other things but the focus is vintage dresses.

8)  Liljeberg (username: liljeberg) – A Swedish feed that captivates you with letters and numbers, all photographed beautifully.

9)  Mrs. Lilien (username: mrslilien) –  One of my very favorite feeds!  I could honestly ask myself every day, “What would Mrs. Lilien do?”  I love her.  Her style, her love of old things, her appreciation of a good font; the list goes on.  And on.  She blogs at www.blog.mrslilen.com.

10)  Donald Robertson (username:  donalddrawbertson) –  Doodling, drawing, painting – he does it all.  The creative director for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics has one of my favorite Instagram feeds.  I’m wildly inspired by this guy.  He frequently shares photos of his wife, kids and home but most of his posts are his stunning artwork, often done with gaffer tape or just a few strokes of a magic marker.  He’s unbelievable.  Hard for me to go a day without looking at something he posts!

I hope you found at least two or three new people to follow after reading these.  I hope to make this a regular feature on my blog and I hope you’ll keep checking back to find more new good stuff!

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Angels & Witches

photo-20This has been my relief for the past week. A step back into my past that takes me back to a simpler time, both in my life and the world.  I’ll be honest. One reason I’m watching them is that  I screwed up the tv and can only figure out how to use it with a DVD in.  Remember when all we had was a knob and maybe three channels?  For a while where I grew up, your options were 6 (NBC) and 12 (CBS).  If you lived in certain spots in town that “got the signal”, you might have 8 (ABC).  Now very few televisions are operational without at LEAST two remote controls that together have about 100 buttons.  And MODES!  Is it in DVD mode? HDMI mode?  Goodness!  Shout out to my oldest son who bought a VCR and video tape collection at the thrift store and is in heaven with his retro technology.  Love that kid.  I digress.

This week has been one of continuing back pain, oral surgery for my daughter who was home from TCU on fall break, issues with turning homework in, gripey carpool teachers, gripey neighbors, gripey Facebook friends, a traveling husband and my favorite baseball team is stinkin’ it up somewhat in the World Series. I definitely needed a little escape and since a trip is out of the question at the moment, I just settled for a trip back to my childhood when watching Bewitched with my best friend or watching Charlie’s Angels snuggled up on my dad’s lap was my idea of heaven.  It’s been fun.  I love the retro fashion in both shows.  Most of it would be back in style right now and I find myself swooning over dresses and furniture and homes in these shows.  I still have a part of me that longs to twitch my nose and get things to work out for me.  So far, it’s not working.

I try hard, when things are bugging me, to focus on the positive, so I have been.  I’ve worked with great clients this week, had a healthy family (other than the back issues), done my best to help a friend out from afar, helped a neighbor, had a kid ace a Spanish test and essay, done some Christmas shopping, cheered for the Cardinals with Chuck and almost finished the huge stitching project I’ve been working on. And the Christmas cards I ordered earlier than ever arrived and I love them!  There’s always something to be thankful for!  Hope things are going well with all of you.

As long as we’re on the subject, what shows take you back to your childhood?

10 Things To Do In Ft. Worth, Texas

My daughter is now a college freshman at TCU in Ft. Worth, TX so I have found myself in this city quite a bit lately.  It’s coming full circle for me since my parents lived there when my mother was pregnant.  Until we went to check out TCU this past February, I had not been back.  I’ve now been 6 times in as many months and I love it more each time I go.  I’ve always been a lover of and frequent traveler to Dallas but I encourage you, if you find yourself in the DFW Metroplex, to give Ft. Worth a try as well.  You’ll be glad you did.

1)  I could do an entire list on Ft. Worth’s art scene alone.  Museums and galleries abound in “Cowtown”!  Exceptional ones.  World-class stuff, people.  But for this list I’m going to tell you to go to the Museum of Modern Art.  It’s an absolutely incredible place. Museum of Modern Art - Ft. WorthThe museum is surrounded by a crystal-clear reflecting pool that is stunning.  Peaceful.  Gorgeous, really.  And to reach it, you really need to pass through the museum restaurant, The Modern Grill.  The mid-century architecture makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time.  I’ve heard the food is great but haven’t had a chance to sample it myself.  You should plan your visit to coincide with lunch.

The Modern GrillThis is one of my favorite installations at the museum & your children will be fascinated at every turn. These bands of letters move constantly and as you can see, the installation looks out on the reflecting pool.

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You can actually plan a day of museum hopping without ever leaving a three-block area.  Right next to the Museum of Modern Art is The Kimbell Museum & the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

2)  Eat lunch or dinner at Joe T Garcia’s !  It’s a fabulous restaurant near the Stockyards.   Legend has it that it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Lone Star State.  Our daughter took us there recently on Family Weekend and we were impressed.  There are three choices on the menu:  Beef Fajitas, Chicken Fajitas and the “Family Dinner”.  Trust me, you don’t need anything else.  The chips and salsa are excellent and we had a pitcher of strawberry margaritas that disappeared almost as soon as our adorable, attentive waitress delivered it to our table.  Aside from the food, the outdoor seating area is HUGE and it’s like eating in a botanical garden!  Lush foliage, fountains and water features abound.  And we were even serenaded at our table.

Joe T Garcias

3)  The Coyote Drive-In.    Their slogan is “Fort Worth is bringing back the drive-in!”  That’s because people in Ft. Worth seem to have a wonderful pulse on what’s cool and seem well-versed on how to get things done.  One trip downtown will leave you with this incredible sense that you are in a progressive place that is at once aware of what it takes to move ahead and conscious of not letting go of the past.  You will find the Coyote Drive-In on the banks of the Trinity River on the edge of downtown.  There are 5 screens, a beer garden and I recently read that Ft. Worth’s first outdoor ice rink will be added.  Reviews are good.  They show kid’s movies too and what kid doesn’t need to experience a drive-in movie?  Read more about the Coyote here.

4) Check out the Ft. Worth Water Gardens, also downtown but on the opposite end from the Coyote.  I was staying at the downtown Sheraton in September and this is right across the street.  There are three distinct features:  a reflecting pool (huge!), a pool with fountains, called the “aeration” pool and a fountain that is like an inverted pyramid that you can actually climb down in.  It’s a fun place for kids to explore or, depending on which pool you choose and what time of day you’re there, a really peaceful place to hang out and enjoy a few moments alone.  These pictures show the three different features:

IMG_6090cpyAeration pool at water gardensreflecting pool from aboveReflecting pool at ground level

5)  In the fall, don some purple & catch a Texas Christian University “Horned Frog” football game at the recently renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium.  It’s impressive.  You might run into baseball great, Nolan Ryan watching the Frogs play.  The stadium was renovated completely between the 2010 and 2012 seasons, totally funded by donors with no bonds or debt.  Great care was taken to build the stadium into the ground so the Robert Carr Chapel spire would remain the tallest building on the TCU campus.  It’s a beautiful place.  Just learn the Horned Frog sign and school cheer before you go:

Rif Ram, Bah Zoo

Lickety, Lickety, Zoo, Zoo

Who, Wah, Wah, Who

Give Em Hell, TCU!

(It makes no sense to me either.  Just learn it.)

TCU stadium

6)  Catch a musical, play, symphony performance, concert……..SOMETHING, at Bass Performance Hall.  Just checking the current schedule, you can catch a variety of events/performers:  Clint Black, David Sedaris, Ft. Worth Symphony, Band of Heathens, Tony & Tina’s Wedding, the Doobie Brothers, Hungarian Folk Ensemble, etc.  The list goes on and the facility itself is blindingly beautiful inside as well as outside.  See?

Bass Performance HallMaybe before or after, you can enjoy a good meal at Ferre, an Italian chophouse right across the street!

7)  Buy yourself some real, leather cowboy boots.  One of my favorite western stores is Maverick Fine Western Wear & Saloon in the Stockyards.  You can find boots in any color or style, with stitching in myriad colors, in ostrich-skin, snakeskin, calfskin, etc. In Fort Worth, you can spend $300 on your boots or you can spend $5000.  I didn’t know that either but yes, you can.

Texas boots

8) Visit the Stockyards!  When I first began coming to Ft. Worth, I thought, “Why would I want my hotel to be beside the stockyards? I’m not a cattle farmer!”  Then on one of my many trips, my daughter and I decided to venture over that way because, after all,  JR and Jock Ewing traded cattle there.  Might as well see what the Stockyards look like.   I’ll admit that, yes, it’s a bit touristy.  But it’s just a really, really fun place to be.  There are lots of restaurants to choose from, a hotel or two (highly recommend the Hyatt Place – Stockyards), twice daily cattle drives, horseback rides, a weekend rodeo and should you so desire, on Sunday, you can attend Cowboy Church.  I could do an entire entry on the Stockyards and it’s such a great place to go with kids.  We actually stayed at the Hyatt I linked to above on our last trip and it was a wonderful experience.  Except I forgot my swimsuit and the pool is perfection.

Riscky's BBQ

Cattle Drive

Stockyards9) Enjoy a meal at Reata downtown in Sundance Square.  A Texas tornado destroyed the original location in 2000 but it’s back at 310 Houston St. and better than ever.  With four stories and 20,000 square feet plus a huge menu, you can’t help but leave satisfied.   The menu is inspired by real cowboy cooking and the Stacked Chicken Enchiladas will not disappoint.  Dine on the roof or at least go up for a drink before you leave to explore the rest of the Square.

Reata's Rooftop

10) Explore the West 7th Corridor!  This is one of my very favorite areas of Fort Worth!  It’s near the museum district so if you enjoy lunch at the Museum of Modern Art, you can have  a wonderful dinner here.  It’s walking distance.  (But should you drive —  there is plenty of parking in the parking structures.)  There’s even a Movie Tavern,  if you’d like to catch a movie and have a drink too.   Shop at WRARE, a unique home furnishings store.  I wanted so much of what they had to offer,  but Chuck was along too.  I did make it home with a very neat metal “B” to add to my collection.  There are sooo many restaurants, which you can see using the link above.  Be sure to end your night at Sweet Sammie’s, an ice cream shop where you can create your own giant ice cream cookie sandwich.  Yet another thing in Ft. Worth that your kids will thank you for.

I’m a firm believer that every city has a lot to offer if you look hard enough, but you won’t need to look long in Ft. Worth.  The dining scene is stellar.  The cultural district and the area surrounding TCU offers museums and a zoo plus too much shopping to even get started in a weekend!  Hotel rooms abound and I’ve scored some amazing deals on Priceline.  I look forward to each trip because I know I’m going to discover something new.  With our daughter living there for the next four years, you can expect more posts on “Cowtown” in the future.  In the meantime, take your family and check it out for yourself.

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