Sunday, September 1, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2013

Did you ever have to write an essay about your summer?  The first homework assignment of the new school year.  I always wondered if my middle school teachers ever really read them.  What am I talking about -- of course they did!  I would have enjoyed it more if I could have done it in blog form with photos sprinkled in.  However, since I was in middle school in the Dark Ages, before computers, when only paper and pen existed as writing utensils for kids, that was not an option.  So, here is my modern-day version, with beaucoup de photos.  
(I realize that I am very lucky to have been able to do as many things this summer as I did.  This was the first summer in a long time that I did not have a summer job, tying me down to Durham.  I write this blog for my own personal enjoyment.  I am thrilled that there are readers out there who come along for the ride with me.  I do not receive any money or kickbacks from the books, movies, restaurants or anyone that I mention in my stories.  I have made some great friends, though, and that's the best I could ever hope for!)

The first weekend of vacation, I went to Wrightsville Beach with Mama Mildred, Moo, and Best Niece.  We made a stop at Duplin Wine Cellars on the way.  I knew they would like that and I was curious.  It's the oldest and largest of the 119 wineries in my state.

We toured and tasted.  And shopped in their cute shop.
While in Rose Hill, we saw a sign for the World's Largest Frying Pan.  Well, you don't come across something like that everyday, so we had to check it out.

They actually cook in it for community food festivals.
We spent a lovely weekend watching the waves and strolling on the beach.  The mountain girls do not get to the beach very often.  North Carolina is a long state.  My Frenchie friends can be in Italy in the time it takes me to get to Spruce Pine.

We explored downtown Wilmington (I checked out the restaurant where Son #2 was working.  He spent the summer in Wilmington working and interning.)
We had dinner at Elijah's on the riverfront.  We shared a very good appetizer of French bread, baby shrimp and cheese.

Next up was an impromptu trip to New York City for the Ex-Ex and me.  I decided to use some of my Hershey Faculty Award prize money and frequent flyer miles to take the trip.  He had never been there and I had only been once, about 22 years ago.  We had a great time.  We stayed at the Herald Square Hotel in mid-town Manhattan.

It is only a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building and very convenient for walking.  I highly recommend buying a New York CityPass.  We bought ours at the Empire State Building and used it to go to the front of the line at all of the attractions.  
We took a ride through Central Park with a native New Yorker pedaling us around and making a few stops.

**Added note:  This is after the Times Square Hot Dog Fiasco.  (Notice I wear black for a reason.)  First thing we did was buy hot dogs from a street vendor.  Haven't you always wanted to do this?  Be honest.  I got mine all loaded up with mustard, ketchup and relish.  And then, trying to get settled to sit and enjoy it while people-watching, I dropped the #@!* thing.  Yes, I did.  Mustard, bright yellow to match the Ex-Ex's shirt, went everywhere.  It is the reason I am not wearing my cute pink scarf in the photo above.  I did not snap a photo.  And I am ashamed to admit that I left that hotdog for the pigeons instead of picking it up off the ground.  I was not a happy camper.  The Ex-Ex did not appreciate mustard all over his new tennis shoes, but he didn't grumble too much.  So much for my reputation as a suave world-traveler, huh.  
I did a Skitch drawing when I got back entitled Times Square Hot Dog Disaster.

I discovered that Strawberry Fields is a real place!  Better late than never, I suppose.  Sorry, John.

We had magnificent views from the top of the Empire State Building and The Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center).

We went to the 9/11 Memorial, a very moving visit for us.  It was incredible to think that we were standing in the midst of what was the scene of such horrific death and destruction twelve years ago.

We took a cruise around the island and got as close as possible to Lady Liberty.  She reopened on July 4, a couple of weeks after our trip, so we couldn't visit.  Repairs from Hurricane Sandy were still underway.  Just getting this close to her was a major thrill for me.  Merci, les Frenchies!

At the Museum of Modern Art, I visited with some of my favorite "friends"...

Vincent Van Gogh

Claude Monet

Henri Matisse

Pablo Picasso

 and Auguste Rodin.

We went to a taping of the Letterman Show in the Ed Sullivan Theater.

After we got our tickets, we were herded into a bar called The Three Monkeys to wait until we were called.  Good old Dave has to have a stake in this place.  We had a couple of drinks (it wasn't quite Happy Hour, unfortunately) and chatted with some other Letterman fans while we waited for an hour or two.

No photos are allowed during the taping.  We saw Justin Rose (had just won the U.S. Open), Don Rickles (at least 100 years old but as funny as ever) and Nick Cannon (wears really cute socks).  

We roamed around a lot, checked out various shops and ate a few pastries (French and American) along the way.

The Cake Boss

Magnolia Bakery


We had dinner at The Library at the Public where our friend Zach Faulisi, former chef at Bull City Burger and Brewery, is cooking up deliciousness.  He made a dish that he knows I love-- orecchiette pasta, peas and Parmesan.  

Thank you, Zach!!  You sent so many great things our way!

We ran into a former student, basketball player and colleague at Laguardia on the way home!

Back home, I celebrated with Iron Woman on her accomplishment in Kona

and with Science Teacher at the birth of her first grandbaby.  Too cute!

I commiserated with Arles Lucy over the destruction of her beautiful home.  The limb (as big as most trees) broke off one evening while she was not at home and crashed right into her roof.

I mourned with my BFF over the loss of her brother.

Life and death happens.   It is what it is.  Ben is in heaven with Helen now.  I was never lucky enough to know her dad.  But he's there, too, and they are having some fun.

I watched my lavender grow.

And photographed it.

The Ex-Ex and I made a quick trip down to Washington, NC to check on his parents.  Mom had a nasty case of shingles and dad hadn't felt too great either, but they were both on the mend, thank goodness.  We went to the farmers market downtown on the Pamlico River and just took a long drive around Beaufort county checking out farms and the scenery.

I played a lot of 7 Petits Mots on my iPad.  Maybe my French vocabulary has improved?  Educational?  Professional development?  Mais oui!

We went to Sunset Beach for our annual family vacation.  We didn't get much time with Son #2 but we had a whole week with Son #1.  That was a great treat for us since he left the nest a few years ago and is on his own.

They have a lot of fun together (and I get fussed at for taking too many photos...  Who cares?  I am the mom, after all.)

Son #1 throws the football

and Son #2 attempts to catch it.

Sunrises, sunsets and full moons.

I celebrated my birthday with house made ice cream at Bull City Burger and Brewery.

Son #2 and I went to Washington, DC.  I used it as an excuse to scout out places for the annual 7th grade trip and to spend one-on-one time with the Boy.  That doesn't happen very often anymore.  He even let me take one picture!

We spent a couple of hours at the Newseum with Arles Betty's wonderful son.  We had margaritas and guacamole with him and just chatted for a while before he had to dash off.

We went to see a Nationals baseball game.  This is our second professional baseball game together (Boston was the first).

We had a personal tour of the Capitol with an intern from Sen. Richard Burr's office.  (Son #2 interned in his Wilmington office this summer... yep, I somehow managed to raise a Republican.)

I love the statues.  Each state has two in the building.

We walked to the MLK, Jr. Memorial since Son #2 hadn't seen it yet.

It was a great trip.  Such fun to spend time with my grown up boys. 

We spent a couple of days in Brevard with the Best Sister-in-law, Best Brother-in-law and Nephew (they also came down and spent some time with us at the beach! This is brother-in-law assisting me by de-veining shrimp with my new truc).

We watched the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de France with them.  Brother-in-law and Nephew are cyclers.

I baked up cakes, muffins, clafoutis and scones with the abundant summer blueberries.

I had fun making Eiffel Towers out of sugar cookie dough and chocolate, thanks to the gifts from Iron Woman.

I read some great books.  Here are a few.

The Perfect Meal by John Baxter-- a great story about food in France.

The Promise of Provence by Patricia Sands-- do you see a theme here?  Living in France...

Opposites Attack by Jo Maeder-- an added bonus!!  Jo and I have become friends since I read her book.  We met here in Durham for a glass of wine and a chat about books.  What a funny, talented woman.  I look forward to getting to know her better and to reading more of her work.  Keep writing, Jo!

Stand Up That Mountain by Jay Leutze-- I am going to the Chapel Hill Public Library next week to hear him read from it.  It is a true story about the fight to save one of my beloved Appalachian Mountains.

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand-- I've already blogged about this!

Bon Courage by Ken McAdams-- if only I could buy a house in France...

Even You Can Be Healthy! by my friend Ann Prospero-- I missed her reading at The Regulator last week.

French Fried by Chris Dolley-- funny true adventure of moving to France

I watched a couple of movies to prepare for lessons on WWII in France and the Holocaust.

I watched a movie with my fellow faculty members, American Promise, a documentary done by African American parents as their son and one of his friends enter a mostly white private independent school in NYC.  Amazing and eye-opening.  We were lucky enough to have the film makers for a Q&A session after the film.

I took an on-line course about the European Union through UNC and the Center for European Studies.  I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.  (I haven't quite finished my final project, though.  Shame on me.)

And last but certainly not least, I headed up the mountain to visit the family in Spruce Pine.  Moo and I wandered around town.

We all went out to dinner at a new place on Lower Street called Heff's for pizza AND beer. Yes, beer is now legal in Mitchell County. (Shhh... There is even an ABC store and wine for sale at Ingle's grocery store.  Mama Mildred works in the one in SP.)

The Childhood Friend (and guest storyteller) drove over from Asheville and we caught up on what's been happening in the 17 years since we last saw each other.  Not that I want him to have bad dates, but I hope that he will supply me with some more stories of bachelorhood...)
We swam in Moo's pool with the Great Nephew.

He also served as assistant to making lime cupcakes and blueberry scones.  (We ate more blueberries than we baked, I think, though.)
Elvis is alive and well, living in Spruce Pine, as you can see from the photo I took.  Just don't touch him.  He doesn't like that, I guess.

And I self-improved.  Inspired by Ann Prospero's book and not too happy with photos of moi taken in NYC, I decided to clean up my eating habits and get more exercise.  I am happy to report that I have lost 5.45 kilos or 12 pounds or 2 1/2 bags of sugar.  I sincerely hope that I do not find them again.  I am halfway to my goal (the amount I weighed upon my return from the 2008 sabbatical in France-- amazing how I ate so incredibly well there and gained no weight at all... lessons to be learned here, people).  I have discovered Jay Robb's vanilla protein whey powder and the magic of smoothies for breakfast.  A scoop of the powder, 8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup Quaker old-fashioned oats, and fresh or frozen fruit thrown into my little blender and voilà - a 340 calorie breakfast of deliciousness.  I met with a nutritionist to go over my typical daily meals, I made a visit to my endocrinologist to discuss my not-quite-up-to-speed thyroid, stopped skipping meals, used an app on my iPhone and iPad called My Net Diary to track food and exercise, started moving more (but not nearly enough yet), and made a point of getting more sleep.  Go me!!  I will not have to resort to wearing muumuus because I can once again fit into some of the things hanging in my closet.  Not that there is a thing wrong with muumuus.  If I had one with Eiffel Towers on it, I would indeed wear it.  Homer rocks this one, don't you think?.

If you have stuck with me this long, merci beaucoup.  I will reward you with what might look like a bizarre recipe.  I got an email a little while back from the BFF with "I will pay you to make these" in the subject line.  After reading the recipe, I couldn't decide if she was being a smarty-pants or if she was serious.  She was serious.  And they are good!  I am making another batch this afternoon.  I think Ann would be proud!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites (the official name)
or  Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies  (might scare some)
makes about 14 1-1/2 inch cookies

1-1/4 cups canned chickpeas, well-rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel  (if you throw in the whole 15.5 oz. can, it will turn out just fine- I hate to waste any)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter (supposedly if you use regular peanut butter the cookies will turn out too oily) or almond butter
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt (if you use unsalted peanut butter-- check the label)
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350˚F. 
Combine all ingredients, except chocolate chips, in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Make sure to scrape sides and top to get the little chunks of chickpeas and process again until they are combined.
Put in the chocolate chips and stir.  The mixture will be very thick and sticky.
With wet hands, form into 1-1/2 inch balls.  Place onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  You can press down lightly on the cookies to make them into a flatter shape, if you wish.  They do not rise much.
Bake for about 10 minutes.

Bon appétit and Happy Labor Day!  Summer is over.  Bring on fall!

1 comment:

Mary Blevins said...

Best summer report I've read in a long time, neighbor :-) See if you can put a share link or Like link to Facebook on here so we can make you more available? Hugs!!