A Day In Barcelona

One day is not enough!

It really is not possible to experience Barcelona in just one day, but if you are okay with just getting a little taste of the highlights, you can almost do it.

We recently spent two nights and one day in this bursting city, and it was just enough to leave us wishing for more.

This stop was during a EuroTrip my husband and I took with my son and my mother, so chaos was already the name of the game. Why not throw more insanity in the pot?!?

We started our day with an early walk though Park Guell. This beautiful park is free to enter and, in addition to having beautiful artwork by Gaudi throughout the park, has spectacular views of the city. This is a must-see if you are visiting Barcelona, no matter how short your stay.

One of our favorite sights in Park Guell is the “cat and mouse” game played by the illegal street vendors and the local police. The vendors have blankets with jewelry, hats, sunglasses and other wares laid out on the ground. As soon as an officer gets close they all scoop up their blankets and scatter. We found this dance to be quite amusing.

http://www.parkguell.cat/en/

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

After leaving the park, we stopped to briefly admire the Segrada Familia, and then spent the afternoon wandering around Las Ramblas, the central boulevard in the center of the city. This seems to be the most happening place if you want to do any shopping, bar hopping or tapas tasting. You’ll also find plenty of souvenirs along this area, with artists selling paintings or charicatures, cheap gimicky toys, and all the typical wares you’ll find with the street vendors. Some of the vendors are legal, but many are the typical illegal vendors with goods on a blanket on the ground. These guys seemed to be more clever by holding strings that were tied to all 4 corners of the blankets for a faster getaway.

These guys were ready to run when the police came near

These guys were ready to run when the police approached!

About halfway down the Ramblas, there is an amazing food market, La Boqueria, for a meal or a snack while wandering around. Some of the food is raw meat and fish for cooking, but there are many booths with fruits and vegetables, as well as tons of booths to grab candy by the pound, sandwiches, smoothies, alcoholic beverages or hot meals.

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

La Boqueria – Check out the size of those prawns!

The Ramblas ends (or begins, depending on how you look at it) at Port Vell, a beautifully redone port with some impressive yachts and a pedestrian bridge (the Rambla de Mar) leading to some tourist attractions. The best tourist attraction is the Barcelona Aquarium, but I only say this from what I’ve read since I didn’t actually go there.

While in Barcelona the food you must have is Paella, and I think you can get this anywhere. I’ve read that you should get this outside of the city center if you want the best bang for your buck, but since we were limited on time we took a chance and enjoyed a nice Spanish meal of Paella and Sangria right in the middle of La Rambla. Even if we paid a little more than it was worth, we were not disappointed. In fact, I think we enjoyed it a little more because of the location, since the “people watching” there really is the best entertainment around. Dinner and a show!

Paella and Sangria, because Barcelona. Ole!

Paella and Sangria, because Barcelona. Ole!

We made the mistake of going to a Flamenco show in Barcelona. Don’t do it. We saw a fantastic Flamenco show when visiting Seville, Spain once and thought this would be fun in Barcelona. It was a much different thing here and definitely not a quality show. It was more of a diner atmosphere with dancers. Trust me, don’t do it. Even the venue smelled like a mix of urine and Pine Sol cleaner. The only other patrons in the place were relatives of the dancers and they didn’t even eat the awful looking food they were served. I should have read reviews before booking this and I would have known that this is not the place for a Flamenco show. Lesson learned!

The Barcelona version of a Flamenco show. No bueno.

The Barcelona version of a Flamenco show. No bueno.

After the show we went to a few different tapas places. We met a couple from Ohio and another couple from Ireland at the first place, then we went with them to a few other places. Such a fun night! My mom still keeps in touch with the couple from Ohio.

Isn’t it fun to make new friends in exotic places?

We may have only been there for about 36 hours, but we proved that a grand time can be had in such a short visit.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was watching my son bargain with the street vendors. Several times he tried to sell them things, like his leftover pizza or the raggedy shoes he was wearing. This kid is a trip!

One of my favorite parts of this trip was watching my son bargain with the street vendors. Several times he tried to sell them things, like his leftover pizza or the raggedy shoes he was wearing. This kid is a trip!

I’m Taking a Gap Year

I have been unemployed exactly one week now.

It’s not retirement. I’ve been calling it a “gap year”. College graduates often take a year off to travel and think about their next move, but I never had that chance since I was a single mom so young.

So this is my “gap year”. So far, I’ve spent the week traipsing around NYC and helping my husband out on his business trip. With all this running around, I’d say I’ve earned my keep, at least this week.

My Plan is to continue to be something of an assistant to B when I’m traveling the world with him, while catching up on some blog posts I’ve been putting off and thinking about what I want to do with my life.

I will return to the reality of having a job someday, of this I am sure, but I am in no hurry to jump back into that world. For now, I am perfectly content to enjoy the life my husband has been enjoying for a few years, while working part time (when I am home) to earn enough for my next adventures.

I never thought I would find myself in a position to enjoy this lifestyle, even temporarily, and I intend to enjoy every second of it!

This is my dash, I need to make it as full of life as possible.

Rex Porter, 30 is too young to die.

Yesterday we said goodbye to a wonderful young soul whose dash was much too short.

Rex Porter was killed on Sunday, August 23rd, in a tragic vehicle accident. After enjoying the company of friends on a Sunday afternoon, the weekend of his 30th birthday, he went home to check on his dog before his shift at the Windjammer. While driving to work, too fast for this narrow 2 lane road, he lost control of his vehicle on one of the curves and struck a tree, ending his too-short life and leaving a wake of broken-hearted friends and family.

Rex Stephen Porter was born on August 20, 1985 in Canton, Ohio. A Clemson graduate and fan, he has been working at the Windjammer for 8 years, which is where we met him. To know Rex was to love him, and there were so many lives and hearts he touched.

My heart always aches the most for the families, especially the mothers, who are left behind when a young person dies. In this case, my heart aches just as much for his precious dog, Joanna, who will never understand why her person hasn’t come home to her. She is a special dog and they had a special bond. We got to know her because she would often come to work with him in the slow winter season. She would just hang out behind the bar and follow him around. She will never know why she has been abandoned.

After the memorial service at the mortuary, friends and family gathered at the Windjammer to share stories and celebrate Rex’s life. There were so many people who came from near and far to share funny tales of this unforgettable young man. My words could never do justice to the character of this guy, but anyone who met him and spent any time with him came away with at least one memorable story. I don’t think anyone could ever say anything bag about Rex. He was that kind of incredible and positive guy.

I will share here our little story of Rex that Ben told on stage at the wake. One of the first summers we knew Rex was a summer Ben worked with him at the Windjammer. Rex drank too much at the end of his day shift and needed a place to sleep it off, so we took him to our place just 4 blocks away. After making sure he was comfortable on the living room futon with a pillow, blanket and bottle of water nearby, we returned to the Windjammer to enjoy the rest of our evening. When we returned home later that night Rex was gone! We thought maybe he woke up and had someone come get him and didn’t worry too much. But when I went into the bathroom I got a big laugh… he was curled up in the fetal position, just as cute as could be, sleeping in our bathtub! Oh, Rex. One day I will find the photo I snapped and post it here for the rest of the world to adore.

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. We love you and will miss you.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charleston/obituary.aspx?n=rex-stephen-porter&pid=175657216&fhid=23133

Ending a chapter

John Burroughs said, “Leap, and the net will appear”.

I’m putting my faith in that, as I gave my resignation letter to my employer today. After working for the City of Isle of Palms for 7 1/2 years, my last day of employment will be September 17th.

The Isle of Palms is a small, (mostly) quiet beach town. I love this city and I have loved being a part of the community. I have also loved being a part of the police and fire family, along with the other city offices. My decision to leave was not an easy one, especially since I regard so many of my coworkers with a familial respect and affection, but I feel this is the best decision for my personal growth, both personally and professionally.

My immediate plan is to take some time off and travel with Ben on his business trips. After all, someone needs to spend those miles he earns. I think I’m up to the task!

I don’t know what my next step will be. I’ll figure that out later. Life is for living. I’mma get out there and do that the best I can, while I can!

Scar Tissue on the Heart

Sometimes scar tissue hurts more than a fresh wound.

It has now been over a year since my dad passed away. I’ve been back to my parents’ house several times this past year, but this weekend was the most painful, by far. I felt his absence more than any other time.

Maybe the numbness has worn off, because I’m suddenly feeling more grief than I felt during the first month he was gone.

The purpose of this visit was to visit with my mom and to attend a baby shower for my childhood best friend. There were baby shower games, of course, and one of the games was “guess the name of the baby”. There was a monogram for the baby so we knew his initials were BGD.

The first name was guessed pretty quickly, and then the middle name was guessed. As people shouted out guesses, my friend looked at me as my dad’s name was called out. She gave me a smile as I realized what was happening and immediately began to “ugly face cry”. I’m pretty sure my mother was sobbing, too.

The baby’s middle name is Gregory, in honor of my father. We never expected that.

My friend spent a good deal of her adolescence and early adult years with my parents, who have always thought of her as a daughter. I feel so honored that she is showing her affection for my father in such a huge way. My dad would have been so tickled to have someone named after him.

Needless to say, after such an emotional weekend, I was a mess on my three hour drive home. It was a weekend full of strong memories of the incredible man who I was lucky enough to call “Dad”.

 

These two cant wait for their new bundle of love to arrive.

 

My friend and her daughter (my God-daughter).

 

Amsterdamage

Tagging along on one of my husband’s business trips, my mother, my son and I took full advantage of the super cool city of Amsterdam.

The first thing you absolutely must do when visiting Amsterdam is go on a canal tour. As touristy as it sounds, it is the best way to get a feel for the city, and it is also a relaxing way to enjoy the sights while recovering from a long flight if this is a first stop after crossing the Atlantic.

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Seeing the city from the comfort of a canal tour boat is a relaxing way to get acquainted with the city when you’re jetlagged.

If you enjoy both art and history museums, the Rijksmuseum is a good bet for you. This beautiful museum has tons of pieces of art and history, but the building itself is enough to impress you even if you don’t care for museums. We also visited the Van Gogh museum, but I didn’t care for it as much as the Picasso museum in Barcelona or the Escher museum in the Hague, about a 30 minute train ride from Amsterdam.

There are lots of museums and other tourist attractions that people rave about, but I am more of a fan of experiencing the city than seeing those sights. This is why I most recommend a stop at Café Hoppe for a drink in one of Amsterdam’s oldest bars. Café Hoppe has been on the Spui since 1670 and still seems to be a popular spot with both locals and tourists, alike.

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If there is one museum you visit while in Amsterdam, I recommend the Rijksmuseum.

We are fortunate enough to have a friend who lives in Amsterdam who is always willing to show us around when we are there. This was our 3rd visit to the city, and he once again graciously met us at Café Hoppe and gave a tour of the city. The tour he gave was exciting enough to please my 21yo son, and tame enough for my conservative mother to enjoy.

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We can't go to Amsterdam without visiting Café Hoppe at least once.

We can’t go to Amsterdam without visiting Café Hoppe at least once.

 

I’m a sucker for street markets. Seriously, I seek them out in every town I visit. I love the combination of delicious food stand smells mixed with the excitement of possibly finding a great bargain. If you’re a people watcher you’ll also enjoy street markets. Amsterdam has a great street market called the Albert Cuyp Market. This  is the largest street market in the Netherlands, with 260 stalls selling everything from meats and fresh produce to clothes, toiletries, bags, electronics accessories and cheap souvenirs.

My son was on a hunt for a watch. There were several jewelry vendors with lots of beautiful watches to choose from. We found lots of bargains!

My son was on a hunt for a watch. There were several jewelry vendors with lots of beautiful watches to choose from. We found lots of bargains!

Amsterdam is a great place to begin a European vacation. Everyone I’ve encountered there speaks English and the Dutch are all such friendly people. If you’re on the fence about going to Europe because of the “fear of the unknown”, start with a few days in Amsterdam to warm up to it. You’ll be glad you did.

Amsterdam Central Station

Amsterdam Central Station

Jump! The net will appear.

Change is scary! It is so easy to stay inside your comfort zone and miss out on all kinds of exciting things that life has to offer.

In 2003 I threw all caution to the wind and with a shout to the heavens of “what the hell”, I packed up my belongings, quit my job and moved to a new city where I knew no one. This may have been the most courageous thing I’ve ever done. Braver than learning to fly, even.

Actually, this sounds way more adventurous than it actually was. To tell the truth, there was a series of events that led up to this leap. I hated my job, my house finally sold after 2 years on the market, my son was out of school for the summer, I had a golden retriever and a Jeep. On top of all that, my boyfriend of two years and I broke up as I was packing up to move out of my house after it sold. I was devastated, but also primed to jump out of the rut I felt I was in and into the life I knew I could have. I knew there would never again be a time in my life when so many cards were up in the air that screamed for a big life change. I packed up my things and drove down to Charleston without a clue about what would happen next, without knowing a soul, and without a job. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew this was a leap I was going to take and that the net would appear.

That net did appear, but not before I hit rock bottom.

I struggled through several temporary jobs before hitting that bottom. From the bottom, the only place to look is up.

There was one particularly cold night in February where I slept in my dark living room on the floor by the fireplace, crying myself to sleep because my power had been turned off. My son had gone to live with his dad in our hometown because I could no longer provide for him, so I was all alone, with just my dog, whom I could only feed because of a generous dog food donation from a friend. I couldn’t even call anyone for help because my phone had also been turned off.

I spent almost a full year in a terrible, dark and lonely place and I realized I was doing all of this to myself. Self pity is a terrible thing. I was blaming heartbreak, but self pity was the real issue. I did a lot of deep digging in my soul that first year down here and I learned more about myself than I had ever though possible. I had been struggling with life for a very long time because I was trying to live up to perceived expectations from family and society; I had never really allowed myself to just be me. After a year of soul searching with the help of a lot of alcohol, I began to get a glimpse of who I really am and I learned to trust in myself. I also remembered that part of the reason I moved to Charleston was to change my life, which also meant my career. I had been trying to find a full time “respectable” job, but I realized that what I really wanted was a break from all of that reality. I decided to wait tables for a while, which was one of the other best decisions I’ve ever made. That made for a few fun and carefree years of living for the moment and making some really great friends.

I have often said that this worst year of my life was also the best year of my life. Maybe it was because of the extreme growth I experienced, or maybe it was just because I was living at the beach, but that year will always be a very important era in my life.

In October of 2005, around the time I really felt I was getting my life back together, I met my now husband, Ben. I cherish every step I took on that broken road. I became a mother while I was really still a child. Since I missed out on some major mental growth opportunities because of skipping college and growing up way too fast, those times were very necessary for me to become the person I am today. The person I am today is very happy to have been ready for the relationship that bloomed so beautifully into a wonderful marriage.

I’ve been toying with some changes in my life for the past couple of years. Recently, I decided to make a list of big scary steps to get me closer to some goals I have set (yes, I’m being vague on purpose). Step one was to find and buy a home that will require less maintenance so I can travel with my husband without worrying about our home. We just closed on our first home together, a modest condominium, on July 20th! My next few steps have also been set into motion, and will be revealed in a month or two.  Stay tuned…

Take that leap. The net will appear, even if it looks a lot like regret in the beginning. Just trust it.

Live your dash…. Jump!

 

 

Flying Business Class on the 747

My husband and I recently took a vacation with my mother and my son. This was a very special trip, so we splurged and practically depleted his frequent flyer miles to get us all on business class on the upper deck of a 747. Let me tell you, it was everything I dreamed it would be. I think I could have slept on this flight if only I hadn’t been so excited!

We wanted to surprise Mom and the kid with the business class part, a secret we successfully kept. Climbing up that staircase to the Business Class section and then seeing our seats was a fun way to begin the trip, and seeing the look on my mother’s face was worth keeping the secret!

The trip included Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Naples & Sorrento. Posts about our adventures in those cities will follow sometime soon.

 

747

I’ve never seen my mother more surprised!

 

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You could see the stress of the previous week melt away.

 

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The food in Business Class is so much better than in Coach.

 

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Cheers to making great new memories!

 

Dessert in Business Class: I'll have one of everything, thank you!

Dessert in Business Class: I’ll have one of everything, thank you!

Winds of change

Leaving the island…

  

After living on Isle of Palms for almost 11 years, we have moved 1 mile across the Causeway to Mount Pleasant. While this may not seem like much of a move to most people, this was incredibly difficult for us, emotionally. We have grown accustomed to being able to walk to our favorite beach bars and to hearing the sound of the ocean from our front porch.

Another reason leaving the island hurts is that I still feel the presence of my recently deceased dog when I’m on the island. A part of me feels like I’m leaving her behind, silly as that sounds.

Moving to Mount Pleasant has it’s benefits, though. We could not have afforded to own a home on the island at this point in our lives, but we have bought our own home together in Mount Pleasant. And though it is only a modest condominium, it is all ours! The location is ideal, too. We are still within walking distance of many great bars and restaurants, we have a pool right across the parking lot, the complex has a gym, and we are only a 10 minute drive to our old stomping grounds.

So, while we grieve for the loss of our previous (spoiled) life, we are trying to keep one eye on the bright side. There may be some moaning and groaning coming from me in the meantime.

Here are a few photos of my precious island.

Kite-boarding is a popular sport among the super-fit adventurous folks.

  

We have had kayaks for about 8 years, but we’ve only put them in the water a handful of times. I regret that a bit now. So fun!

I will miss walking home from work on the beach Summer mornings as the sun rises. Dawn is a magical time on the beach.

Saying goodbye

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Isn’t it interesting how quickly our priorities change when a loved one is sick.

I said goodbye to my best friend and companion this week. There have been some small indications here and there that told us she hasn’t been feeling all that well, but mostly she seemed just fine. She even had a great run on the beach the night before she became sick.

Piper was a birthday gift to me (and my son) in 2003. I have never received a more precious or meaningful gift and I will forever be grateful to the person who gave her to me. In our 12.5 years together, she has comforted, consoled, cheered and entertained me, all the while making me feel like I need to be the best person I can be for her. She was, in so many ways, my soul mate.

This amazing dog and faithful companion has been the most unique creature I have ever met, and having her in my life has been one of my greatest pleasures. I never could have imagined that it would be possible to be so in love with an animal, but that is the only way to describe the depth of my feelings for her. I think she knew it, too, because I constantly smothered her with love. I think anyone who knew me had a good idea of special my relationship with her.

It’s the little things that really set me off. The missing sounds, mostly. Before, there was always a sound of some sort in the house; Clicking nails on the wood floor, the heavy sigh as she plopped down after following me from room to room, “talking” to me when she wanted my attention, and my favorite – the grumbling as she did her full body “rub” on the couch. In the mornings she would click her way to my side of the bed and lean against the bed with her face near mine for her morning ear scratch. Then she would stand there, thumping her tail on the bed. If she slept a little later than me she would come out of the room with slow, sleepy blinks and a low wagging tail as she slowly came to life and shed the sleepy veil. These are the little things that I miss the most. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ll miss her when I swim in the ocean for the first time in 13 years without her. God, I miss her.

While in the waiting room at the emergency vet I met a woman who was there with her 10yo Golden. She was alone. I cannot imagine going through this alone and I am so glad that my husband Ben was in town for this incredibly sad moment. My son, Justin, was also able to be with us as we gave her a last supper double hamburger and to hold her head in our hands as she drifted to sleep, and then took her last breath. There is a hole in my heart that will never be filled, but will be forever occupied by the memories of our time together. I’m sure it will get easier as time goes on, but I can’t imagine that time yet. Right now, I can barely mention her name without sobbing. Leaving her at the animal hospital felt like leaving my 12yo child, and coming home to an empty house was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My house is not a home without her.

Rest in peace, my precious golden friend. You will not be forgotten.

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