Catching up with a friend in Austin

IMG_3465Leaving the fun and frivolity of NOLA behind me, I started the long drive west towards Texas. The summer has proved to be extremely hot, and I was grateful to be driving with the sun behind me. I drove through the swampy terrain of western Louisiana, and as the roads became flatter and the sky appeared larger and larger, I finally entered the country’s second largest state. I passed through Houston at the height of rush hour in a short but intense thunderstorm, and after an hour turned north to make the final push on the backroads of State route 71 towards Austin. Thankfully the rest of the drive was quite beautiful. This part of the state has some beautiful rolling hills and trees and I passed ranch after ranch with long horned steers!

I arrived in Austin a bit after 7:30 and parked in front of my friend Pat’s apartment in a nice gated complex. Not five minutes later he drove up and I tightly hugged yet another one of my University of Iowa colleagues. Pat showed me around his place and introduced me to his handsome sweet cat Henry. After the 7 hour drive I was looking forward to a cold adult beverage, so I stashed my bags and we headed off in search of a decent beer. (Oh, my did I just sound like a beer snob?). Pat pulled up in front of a local pizza and beer place called The Pour House, and we took a seat in the spacious patio area. I was thrilled to see an excellent selection of beer and accepted the server’s recommendation of the pecan stout. We ordered a delicious pizza pie and enjoyed the warm breezy evening as we caught up on each other’s lives.

Pecan Stout!

Pecan Stout!

The next morning Pat headed off for an appointment as I caught up on blogging and listened to some fantastic horn ensemble pieces that Pat had composed. When he returned, we headed out for our day. We picked up his daughters, 14-year old Sophie and 12-year old Elsa. Not only are they beautiful, smart and sociable, they are also brass players (trumpet and french horn, respectively) Their day had started with chores around the house, and then we piled into the car and headed off for short trip to the orthodontist followed by lunch. After that, I was in for a treat. We were headed to Barton Springs Pool, which the girls warned me was lovely but incredibly cold! Barton Springs Pool is a man made recreational swimming pool in Zilker Park, and maintains a year round temperature of about 70 degrees. We got there and I was thrilled to see that it was almost identical to Centennial Beach in Naperville, where I’d spent most of every summer of my childhood. Pat jumped right in the cold clear water as the girls observed. I gingerly walked down the stone stairs into about waist deep water, and despite the 100 degree heat couldn’t take the cold water and retreated to dry land. Pat continued to enjoy the cold water and I finally challenged myself to take the plunge! It’s the coldest water I’ve ever been in! Sophie never did join us, but Elsa made it in to about chest level!

Barton Springs Pool!

Barton Springs Pool!

The girls were hankering for some snow cones, which Pat described to me as much better than the snow cones of our childhood. We drove a short distance to a little area of about three food trucks, one of which sported a big snow cone at the top. Perusing the 64 different flavors, I decided on pomegranate, while Pat chose margarita and the girls chose coconut. Served in a big styrofoam cup, this snow cone was NOT like anything I’d ever had…it was fantastic and just filled with flavor and effectively cooled us off.

Austin Sno Cone

Austin Sno Cone

We headed back to the girls’ house and hung with them for a bit before Pat drove me to the University of Texas campus for a tour of the Butler School of Music. I was tickled to see that musicians everywhere have a sense of humor. (My apologies to any viola players out there)

hahahaha!

hahahaha!

We were pretty hungry from the day of swimming, so Pat brought me to a nearby local tex mex spot, Torchy’s. I ordered a green chile pork taco and a smoked beef brisket taco. Oh, my they were to DIE for. Some of the best freshest food I’ve ever had.

Torchy's Tacos!

Torchy’s Tacos!

After eating, we drove off in search of a drink to top off the evening, and found ourselves at Contigo, a fantastic out of the way open air bar and restaurant. We sampled a local dark brew and enjoyed sharing tales of our musical exploits. We recounted one of our favorite stories involving our different approaches to recital preparation. When I gave a recital, I always scheduled it on a weekend. Two days before my recital I’d do my heaviest playing, then the day before I’d do no playing whatsoever, and hole myself up like a hermit to “rest my lip.” Pat and I shared an office at Iowa, and one afternoon in the middle of the week, Pat walked in and grabbed his horn. I was shocked to see him since I knew he had a recital that evening and asked “What are you doing here, you have a recital tonight!” In Pat’s very quiet way, he replied nonchalantly, “Well, I have a quintet rehearsal” to which I replied with horror “OMG, you have a recital tonight and you’re here at school for a rehearsal?!!!!” Pat laughed at me and said “It’s just like any other day.” We laugh about that to this day….but our own individual approaches worked well for both of us!

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Austin (except that I never caught a glance of Sandra Bullock) and will offer two observations: it is much larger than I thought it would be, and the traffic is HORRENDOUS!

Next stop: San Antonio and the Alamo!

NOLA!

Alise in NOLA!

Alise in NOLA!

New Orleans! City of fantastic food and even better music. I couldn’t wait to spend a few days in this city. My last visit had been about 10 years ago, so I was eager to come back and enjoy the city again.

Elysian Fields Inn

Elysian Fields Inn

I made arrangements to stay at a little Bed & Breakfast that I’d stayed in the last time – Elysian Fields, located just east of the French Quarter on Elysian Fields avenue. I arrived in town on Sunday around 1pm, and pulled up right in front of the inn. It looked like it hadn’t changed a bit. However, the owners had changed since I was there before. A really nice middle aged couple, Jim and Leigh, were now running the place, along with their two dogs, Zeke and Louie. Jim greeted me and led me inside the beautiful inn and took care of paperwork. His wife Leigh told me about the great improvements in the area along Frenchmen Street, and then pointed me in the direction of Ruby Slipper, where I was eager to have brunch. I brought my belongings up to the room and then headed down the street just a few blocks til I saw the Jeff Stimac recommended brunch spot. I put my name in for a short wait and then headed straight to the bar and ordered a Bellini; a delightful concoction of peach juice/pulp and champagne. It was heavenly! For brunch I ordered Eggs Cochon, which consisted of a couple of rather large buttermilk biscuits, covered with pork debris (looked like pulled pork) and topped with two perfectly poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. It was heavenly and as hungry as I was I couldn’t finish it all!

Ruby Slipper Brunch!

Ruby Slipper Brunch!

Next I headed towards the French Quarter via Frenchmen Street. I was thrilled to see how many little bars and clubs lined the street, and could not wait to hear the live music later on in the evening. I hit the French Market and walked through all the stalls and browsed all the jewelry, masks, and other wares for sale. It was blazing hot and very crowded as I continued walking along the Quarter, stopping in the little voodoo and gift shops. I stopped in a cool little smoke shop and watched cigars being expertly and quickly rolled. I bought a couple of little sweets to have later in the evening. I strolled all the way down to St. Ann’s St until I finally ended at Cafe du Monde, which was packed with folks getting their beignet fix. Still full from brunch, I passed it up, choosing to return the next day when I had an appetite! I walked into the Square all the way to the back and had a chance to hear a guy playing a unique instrument called the Kora, a huge African bass harp.

French Market

French Market

Square and Kora Drum

Square and Kora Drum

The heat was pretty unbearable, even for me, and I was a bit sleepy, so I walked back to Elysian Fields and up to my room for a mid-day nap. When I rose, I headed back out and made the quick trek to The Praline Connection, a fantastic spot for soul food. I started with a cup of the crawfish etoufee, and found it to be just as good as it was 10 years ago. I was a bit disappointed that they had run out of the fried chicken, but I opted for meatloaf instead, with collard greens and limas. Out it came with a side of fantastically sweet cornbread. For dessert I ordered the bread pudding, and it was one of the best I’ve ever had, very heavy on the bourbon. A wonderful meal.

Dinner at Praline Connection!

Dinner at Praline Connection!

After that, I was ready to hear some music. I wandered down the street, music streaming out of all the little clubs, and heard some really great trumpet playing coming out of a little Japanese bar. I wandered in, and settled at the bar, listening to this tiny Japanese woman playing a pretty mean trumpet, along with a pianist, bass, and drums. Although she was very fine, as they continued to play, I was captivated by the pianist. I have NEVER in my life heard such unbelievable jazz piano playing. He was absolutely enthralling. Chart after chart, he jammed away, exhibiting unbelievable technique and the most amazing improvisation I’ve ever heard. I looked around and there were very few other people in the bar, and I kept thinking that the place should be packed!

 The combo finished after about an hour, so I walked out and saw a crowd forming right across from Praline Connection. I walked over to see a group of about 10 boys, and yes, they were boys….teenagers mostly. THe group consisted of a couple of drums, a tuba, about three trombones and four trumpets. They started playing and it was phenomenal. Real New Orleans brass band stuff. They took turns playing solos and played on and on. Their chops were unreal. They appeared to have a woman watching over them…she was dancing and jamming among with a tambourine. At one of their breaks, she implored us to keep in mind that for every dollar bill thrown into their donation box, each boy got ten cents. It was a great treat to see them perform.

 After that, I wandered over to a little artist colony along a little corridor, brightly lit with white christmas lights. There were stalls with unique beautiful jewelry, wooden goods, and other types of art. What a joy to see the talents of others and what they are sharing with the world. Just amazing.

Frenchmen Street

Frenchmen Street

I headed back to the inn and sat out on the open air front patio balcony and enjoyed one of my little hand wrapped sweet cigars, along with the balmy New Orleans breeze and the sounds of the late night: far off music, street noise, and the cicadas and other night creatures. Perfect end to the first day of NOLA.

Monday I woke and headed downstairs for coffee and a great breakfast of bacon and eggs, and got a kick out of several other guests rehashing their exploits from the previous night. I finished, walked out the door and headed for Bourbon Street. It was almost noon and shops just started opening up. Again I enjoyed the local art, little voodoo shops and saw some promising looking bars for later that afternoon. Once I hit St. Ann Street I headed south towards Cafe du Monde. Walking down Prisoners Alley I passed some amazing displays of art – paintings, charcoal drawings, prints, etchings, etc – created by local artists. I walked into Cafe du Monde and sat at a table. An old waitress came over and took my order: 3 beignets and a cup of cafe au lait. It arrived and it was heavenly. Covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar – oh my! I had no trouble disposing of them. A tradition that should never be passed up! And yes, I’m well aware that IT’S NOT PALEO!!

Mmm...beignets!

Mmm…beignets!

After that sugar bomb, I walked back up to Bourbon Street, which was a bit more lively by now. I found a friendly neighborhood bar playing some good dance music and settled in for an hour or so with a couple Abita Summer Wheats. I enjoyed the atmosphere and watched the folks at the bar and the people passing by on the sidewalk. I finished my last beer and bid the boys at the bar farewell, and headed towards Central Grocery, anticipating a NOLA favorite, a nice muffuletta sandwich. However, when I arrived there, I was horrified to see that they were closed on Mondays! AHHHH!!! I had my heart set on a muffuletta! Discouraged, I walked down the sidewalk and noticed another Italian spot hawking their own muffuletta. Well, I thought I’d just see for myself, so I went in and ordered one and was NOT disappointed. In fact, I believe this one to be even better than what I had years earlier from Central Grocery! Mission accomplished.

Muffuletta!

Muffuletta!

New Orleans goes into napmode at around 4pm, so I returned to the hotel for a late afternoon nap myself. Around 7 I got up and dressed to go out one more evening. I stopped for a bowl of gumbo at Snug Harbor. There was a great jazz band in the back, but the cover was a little pricy so instead I walked across the street to the Spotted Cat. A nice little combo was playing, but the Spotted Cat is quite small and standing room only. I got a bit claustrophobic so walked out and back to the little artist colony before heading to Cafe Negril, another brightly lit little club just a few doors down. The band playing consisted of drums, bass, electric guitar, keyboard, and a fantastic harmonica player. I was thoroughly enjoying them and was thrilled to see that anyone could sign up and play a set with the band. First up was a cajun singer, he was fabulous. Then a keyboardist took a turn, and as I was leaving, a young man took his spot on drums. I think I was there for about an hour and a half enjoying a multi talented group of local musicians.

I walked out and started heading back to the inn, but noticed that the same group of young kids were again in front of Praline Connection doing their thing. Again I stopped and enjoyed listening to some grown up music played by very young but talented kids. When I got back to the inn, I grabbed my last little sweet cigar, a bottle of chilled mango moscato, and went downstairs to the outdoor patio balcony and enjoyed my last perfect evening in NOLA.

Kids

Kids

The next morning I enjoyed my last breakfast of french toast and reluctantly and wistfully checked out. More adventures were ahead, but I could have stayed much longer, enjoying the food, sights, sounds, amazing music and wonderful scrabble games! Onward to Texas….see y’all soon!

 

 

A Perfect Gulf Weekend (in the middle of the week!)

IMG_3278When I thought about my adventure, a high priority was to dip my feet in the Atlantic while watching the sunrise, and dip my feet into the Gulf of Mexico and watch the sunset. I got my East coast fix while I was in North and South Carolina, and looked forward to spending some time on the Gulf Coast. Once I left Leesburg, I headed southwest.

My first stop was Sarasota, where I would meet an old opera acquaintance. Lisa Ellis was our seasonal stage manager for Kentucky Opera for several years. I drove down to the Sarasota waterfront and met Lisa and her 6 week old baby at the Toasted Mango, a beautiful bright little restaurant near the waterfront. We had a wonderful time catching up over a delicious lunch, which for me was a BLT with avocado on toasted marble rye. A wonderful unexpected visit!

I’d looked online up and down the gulf coast for the most ideal place to spend a couple of days and decided that Clearwater looked like a nice choice. So, I started my drive there, but rather than take the direct route, I crossed the bridge over the Bay to Longboat Key, and drove north. Many years ago I had vacationed a few times in this area, so I had good memories as I drove all the way up along Longboat Key to Anna Maria Island, seeing places I’d visited years ago. I found a nice little public beach access, and with camera in hand, walked out onto the tip of Anna Maria Island. It is a beautiful beach, and the sun was shining brightly. I kicked off my sandals, walked through the hot sand into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and took a few pictures of that beautiful beach.

Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island

Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island

Beach on Anna Maria Island

Beach on Anna Maria Island

The afternoon was waning, so i got into my car and drove over the huge scary Sunshine Skyway bridge and shortly arrived in Clearwater to my hotel for the next two days. Omigod my room was wonderful. Brand new and spotless. I was eager to get to the beach, but I had a date at a local Crossfit gym for their 4:30 class. So, I threw on some workout clothes and got right back into my car for the short 4 mile drive to the box, Seal Strong Fitness/Caged Crossfit. It was a small bare-bones box housed within a larger bare-bones gym, akin to Fitness Factory. I met the owner, Kory Knowles, and was immediately welcomed by the rest of the class. I was excited to see that we were starting with a 5X5 deadlift, as heavy as possible, and a little scared to see that it was followed by Grace, 30 clean & jerks for time! I eagerly loaded my bar and worked up through the 5 sets to 180lbs. The two coaches for the class were very involved, giving individual instruction and lots of encouragement. After that, I unloaded my bar to 75lbs in preparation for Grace. I think it’d been two years since I’d done that, and I was going 10lbs heavier. It was tough, but thanks to Nathan Wilson at DCCF my cleans were easy, although the jerks were pretty tough at that weight. When that was over, I took off my shoes, packed up my bag and went to shake Kory’s hand. He laughed at me and said, dude, you still have another workout left! Omg, we still had OTM for 12 minutes, 5 handstand pushups even minute/5 muscleups odd minute. So, I gamely grabbed an abmat for my HSPU and subbed 3 pullups/3 bar dips for my muscle ups. Pretty high volume workout, but I loved it and it was a great community.

Caged Crossfit

Caged Crossfit

Exhausted, I drove back to my hotel, stripped off my workout clothes, put on my swimsuit, and headed to Indian Rocks Beach, about 10 miles from the hotel. I made it there by about 7pm, and headed directly into the water for a nice little recovery swim. Then I settled into my chair and enjoyed the gentle gulf breeze as I watched the most beautiful sunset.

Clearwater Sunset

Clearwater Sunset

I headed back as the sky darkened. After a quick shower, I headed out for a bite to eat and pulled into a nice little spot about a mile from where I was staying. I took a seat at the bar and was pleased to see that a Cub’s game was on the tv above the bar. The bartender walked up to take my drink order, and was just a bit bummed that there was nothing darker than an Amber Bock. Oh, well, I got something cold and fizzy; pretty much anything tastes good after a super hard crossfit workout and swim in the Gulf. I ordered dinner, and as I waited and drank my beer, I noticed a nice looking but extremely inebriated woman sitting down a ways from me at the bar. How could I not notice, since she was loud, slurring her words and borderline obnoxious. I tried as best I could to ignore her as my dinner was served, but all of a sudden she called over at me, wanting to know if I was a runner since I was in such good shape. Politely, I said, no, I crossfit, and then had to explain all about it is since she’d never heard of it. However, the bartender did crossfit, and so we started a really nice conversation about working out. Drunk lady must have felt left out, because she then walked over, wrapped both arms drunkingly around me and started whispering loudly in my ear that I HAD to visit where she lived in Destin and that I HAD to join her for lunch, and once I’d been to Destin, I’d NEVER want to live anywhere else. EWWWW! I looked over at the bartender who gave me a very sympathetic glance and thankfully and quickly brought my tab over to me. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Sorry, no pictures of the drunk lady….

The next morning I returned to the no-nonsense crossfit gym for the 9am class. This time, I was the only one in class, so I had the full attention of my coach. The workout of the day was a 5X5 box squat. Interestingly it revealed a weakness in my glutes/hammies; as the weights got heavier, I was relying on forward momentum to get the weight up rather than my posterior chain. Great coaching on their part. After that was Jackie, which is a 1000m row, 50 thrusters and 30 pullups. The two coaches looked at each other and told me that although the women’s RX was 35#, they wanted me to do the workout with 45#. Well, I couldn’t say no, could I? So gamely I started the workout, did the thrusters with 45#, then did all my pullups unassisted, the first time I’d done unassisted pullups in a workout in about 8 months. The whole time I was working out, a group of about 20 Navy Seal candidates were training with the coach. As I packed up to leave they were about ⅓ of the way through their 3 hour workout and were in the middle of doing 100 reps of 1 pullup + 1 pushup, with no pause between the reps. As I walked out the door, the coach made them start over because they were taking too much time between reps! I got off easily!

The afternoon was spent reading and reflecting on my trip so far, and then around 4:30, I headed back to the beach for the last Clearwater sunset. As I drove towards the beach, a huge thunderstorm materialized. Instead of turning around, I kept going, knowing that in Florida those kind of afternoon storms often blow over fairly quickly. As I pulled into the beach entrance, it was still raining and thundering a bit, but I could see a line of perfectly clear sky approaching. After about 15 minutes, it was safe enough to walk out onto the beach. The water was fairly rough, and when I walked into the water the waves were extremely strong and knocked me over several times, so I was careful not to venture out too far into the rough water. After that I settled into my little beach chair and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset.

West and East view

West and East view

On my way back to my hotel, I stopped for dinner at a neat looking little spot called the Twisted Martini. It was a very brightly painted, wide open little restaurant with a nice outdoor patio. A nice little bonus was some live singing, a guy playing guitar and doing some pretty decent old covers. I enjoyed a fantastic bacon and bleu burger, with some very oddly cinnamon seasoned sweet potato fries.

Twisted Martini

Twisted Martini

The next morning, although eager to start the next phase of my adventure, I was a bit sad to leave Clearwater. Everything about the two day stay was perfect (well, except for drunk woman at the bar!). I drove north, looking forward to my next adventure in New Orleans!

 

A familiar but oh so different visit

Me and Aunt P Summer 2013

Me and Aunt P
Summer 2013

Leesburg, FL was on my map from the beginning of my planning. My very favorite aunt (Mama’s oldest sister) and uncle have lived there for 23 years and I visited them every time I’ve ever been in Florida. Aunt Pat was 92 and this Spring fell into some very bad health. I was desperately hopeful that she’d still be healthy when I traveled to Florida, but it was not to be. She passed away on May 5, peacefully and in the wonderful care of hospice.

As I was growing up, Aunt Pat and Uncle Bern lived in a lovely little brick house on the South side of Chicago. It was passed on to Uncle Bern by his uncle. I still remember the address: 11050 Avenue C. They had no children of their own. As a child, I was terrified of Aunt Pat. She was an intimidating and stern presence to me; always impeccably dressed and accessorized, and very particular about her house and belongings. My brothers, who are older than I, had a much different relationship with them and I was envious of the friendship they had. As I grew older, that fear quickly dissipated as I realized that Aunt Pat was the furthest thing from scary. She was one of the kindest, most generous and loving people I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. She and Uncle Bern attended most of my graduations, recitals, and other milestone events through the years. When my-ex-but-now-dear-friend Patti and I were together, we traveled to Florida once or twice a year and always made a point to visit them. One year we made plans to visit Aunt Pat and Uncle Bern, and then surprised them by bringing my sister Renee along. Mama and I traveled down together for a visit in 2009, and last year I was vacationing in the Orlando area and drove up to Leesburg for a wonderful visit, which turned out to be the last time I saw Aunt Pat.

Surprise visit with Renee

Surprise visit with Renee

Visit with Mama 2009

Visit with Mama 2009

Summer 2013

Summer 2013

Aunt Pat did not have an easy life growing up. My grandfather kicked her out of the house when she was just 16 and she had to make it on her own. Her first job was in a chili parlor right there on the East side of Chicago. She continued to support herself as a waitress and then worked as a “26 girl.” 26 was a dice game which originated in Chicago; the 26 girls rolled the dice and kept score. She worked in the very affluent Hyde Park neighborhood at a club called Buzz’s, thus many of her customers were wealthy businessmen. Aunt Pat, who my mom always said was no dummy, would listen to the business chit chat among these men, and asked what they were talking about. They told her they were playing stock market, and she asked, well, tell me how you play it. They did, and Aunt Pat quickly caught on and subsequently showed quite a knack for picking stocks, doing quite well for herself!

As a young man, Uncle Bernie was one of the strong muscle men who would work out on the beach on the Chicago lakefront. My mom was a swimmer, and often had practice at the lakefront, and there she met Uncle Bern. They had a mutual interest in working out, and dated a couple times before deciding just to be friends. After that, Uncle Bern went out with Aunt Ali, the middle sister! I think it was at this time he went overseas to serve our country. He served as a paratrooper, who because of their dangerous profession were paid $50 for every jump they made. He had always wanted a car, and when he returned from the war, he bought himself a black Cadillac. One day after returning from the service, he just happened to go to the bar at which Aunt Pat was working. Everyone was still under the impression that he was dating Aunt Ali, but he said, nope, not anymore. And apparently he and Aunt Pat hit it off, and thus began one of the longest, most loving marriages I have ever seen, 60 or so years strong. Aunt Pat and Uncle Bern worshiped each other. I never witnessed anything but loving devotion to each other. Never a cross word, never anything but love and respect. Aunt Pat told me that the secret to a long, loving, healthy relationship was trust. She said, you have to have trust.

Aunt Pat had pet names for all of the girls in her family…her sisters and nieces. Mine was Sweetface. I can still hear her saying that to me now…”Hi Sweetface!” in her unique voice. Thanks to the wonders of smartphones, I saved several of my voicemails from her so I can hear her say “Hi Sweetface!” anytime I want. When she’d write me, she’d draw a little smiley face right next to Sweetface, and when I’d write her, I’d sign Sweetface with a smiley face and a heart. Aunt Pat had the most unique handwriting, to say the least. It was beautiful, but extremely difficult to decipher! Even as an adult, I would read her letters very slowly and out loud, trying to make out her intricate cursive. My mom was pretty adept…she could read Aunt Pat’s writing at a normal speed, without any slow sounding out. Aunt Pat’s letters and cards would be filled with tiny shiny graffiti like stuff. Until I got used to it and remembered in advance, I’d pull her card or letter out of the envelope and spill it all over the place, and then kick myself! Aunt Pat got me!

Aunt Pat LOVED cashmere. Cashmere sweaters, cardigans, tees, turtlenecks…her drawers and closets were filled with cashmere. Uncle Bern calls their house “The House of Cashmere.” One would think that quite non-essential living in Florida, but Aunt Pat was always cold and I’m sure the cashmere felt great in the ever-present Florida air conditioning. From time to time through the years, she’d have no more need of certain sweaters and she’d send many of them to me. They were beautiful, and they always smelled of her signature perfume, Opium. I cherish them all to this day.

Aunt Pat's Opium

Aunt Pat’s Opium

When Aunt Pat and Uncle Bern moved to Florida years ago, they became very involved with The Ice House, a community theatre in nearby Mt. Dora. Uncle Bern has worked as a carpenter there to this day, assisting with building the sets that are used for their productions. He has been recognized by the Ice House many times, and even has appeared onstage for some performances! Through the years and through many an Artistic Director, they remained loyal and supportive to this theater, and are beloved by the local community. Ah, that reminds me of an important story! Aunt Pat did not like her given name, Grace. She had it legally changed to Patricia when she became an adult, and when she moved down to Florida became known as Trish to all those there.

Throughout my adult years, my relationship with Aunt Pat grew closer and closer. Through many trials and tribulations of life, including those of my career and relationship challenges, I could call Aunt Pat and pour out my heart and soul to her. She would listen as only Aunt Pat could, and lovingly yet assertively give me sage advice, whether I was ready to hear it or not. Over the past ten years or so I realized that, despite a large age difference, she had become one of my closest friends.

This week my adventure brought me to Leesburg. As I turned into the subdivision of Aunt Pat and Uncle Bern’s home for probably the 15th time in the past 23 years, it hit me hard that this time, she would not be there. Overcome with emotion, I pulled over and called Patti in tears, knowing that she would understand the immensity of this visit as she’d accompanied me so many times before. She listened to and comforted me, and I gathered myself and pulled into the driveway of their home. Uncle Bern opened the door, with a big smile and sporting his ever-present scruffy beard. I walked in, and the smell of Aunt Pat’s perfume still filled the house. It felt like she’d walk out of her bedroom and into the room any minute. I brought my bags into her room, everything was just as she’d left it. Uncle Bern came in, and he showed me her handwritten note with detailed instructions of which belongings to leave her loved ones. She left me a beautiful emerald ring, a lovely yellow jade necklace and matching bracelet, and her baby locket. Uncle Bern and I picked out a few more cashmere sweaters for me, so I set those aside with the little bags of cloves that keep the moths at bay. He offered to give me anything else I would like, and I desperately wanted to take every single thing there – every sweater she’d ever worn, every purse she’d ever carried, every bracelet she’d ever worn, her perfume, her lotion, her little books, her collection of turtles, her writing accessories….as if that alone would keep Aunt Pat with me. But it’s not the material things that I need…it’s the legacy of her love and generosity and kindness that I will keep in my heart by which to remember her.

The rest of my two day visit with Uncle Bern was wonderful. We went to the Ice House and I met Darlin, the Artistic Director, who was busy planning July’s production. I met David, who is the Set Designer and his little dog Patrick Murphy. Uncle Bern gave me a tour of the newly remodeled lobby and brought me backstage and proudly showed me the set in progress. We went out to eat, we watched tennis and old movies together, we looked at old pictures and he told me numerous stories about the past. He admitted that it’s hard for him, especially when he gets up in the morning and Aunt Pat’s not there, and when he gets home from the theater at night to the empty house. He often stays later and later at the theater, watching the rehearsals in the evening, even though he quipped to me “You know rehearsals are like watching the grass grow.” I’m grateful to Darlin for giving him the opportunity to stay involved and busy.

Ice House Theatre

Ice House Theatre

When I left, I hugged his still-strong but very thin frame as hard as I could. I struggled with every bit of my will to keep my tears from spilling over, trying to stay positive and strong and hopefully giving him strength as well. I told him how much I’d enjoyed the visit, and reassured him that my travels would be safe and that everything in my life was going to work out as it should. I drove away, carrying with me the mementos Aunt Pat left me, along with the treasured memories of my most beloved aunt.

 

 

Some Florida Crossfit

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Any of you who really knows me knows that I love Crossfit. I joined Derby City Crossfit in February of 2010 and haven’t looked back since. It’s been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life, I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and it’s made me aware of my true calling.

A year or so ago, a gal visited our 5am class at DCCF for a couple of months. Her job requires her to stay in various cities for a period of time, and we were lucky to have her join Derby City and work out with us. Jody is quiet and no nonsense, and extremely strong. Her home base is in Florida, and when she left Louisville she said, hey, if you’re ever down there, come on and see me. Since that time, she and her partner Cathy opened their own crossfit box, so I couldn’t wait to stop and spend some time with them and work out at their gym.

The weekend I drove down to Palm Coast, her crossfit affiliate was participating in a competition in Daytona Beach, so Saturday I made the short 3 hour drive from Savannah to the Ocean Center in Daytona. I made it there in time to see the last workout of the day in which two of her members were competing. After cheering her members on, we headed back to her beautiful home, and caught up on our lives over a fantastic single malt scotch, Macallan’s 12 year. Cathy then prepared a wonderful paleo meal of grass fed burgers, a fantastic slaw made with apple cider vinegar and coconut oil, and fresh fruit. Dessert rivaled any Erin Stimac creation….cacoa powder, coconut oil, crushed walnuts, and finely chopped cherries, spread out on foil and set in the refrigerator. It was fantastic!

Fine scotch and simple dessert

Fine scotch and simple dessert

Sunday morning we woke about 6:30am and drank some coffee in preparation for the crossfit “church service” which that day just happened to be one of the toughest Hero WODS imaginable: Badger. 3 rounds, 30 squat cleans, 30 pullups, 800 meter run. At 8am on a Sunday morning, after a weekend of competition, 13 Crossfit BearCat members showed up, ready to take on the WOD – in 90 degree plus weather. I’d done Badger twice before, but never at the RX weight of 65#. I was determined to use that, even if it meant that I could not complete the full three rounds within the 35 minute time cap. It was TOUGH, especially in the brutal heat. I completed two full rounds and 8 squat cleans into the final round before the time expired. It pretty much crushed me, and at least I wasn’t alone. Thanks to the fantastic supportive community at Crossfit BearCat!

Badger Aftermath at Crossfit Bearcat!

Badger Aftermath at Crossfit Bearcat!

After a workout like that, proper restorative nutrition is a necessity. Jody and Cathy obliged with a delicious brunch consisting of a really good smoky bacon – lots of it – paleo blueberry pancakes topped by two over easy eggs, and perfectly ripened mango and strawberries. I followed the advice of a dear friend and ate much more slowly than is my habit. I found that I tasted the flavors more intensely by slowing down and was much more satisfied by the end of the meal. Brunch was followed by a short lounge by the the pool and then a quick dip. Jody and I then headed to downtown Flagler Beach, a quaint little town right on the beach. It was interesting driving in to town, in that there are no high buildings at all on the waterfront, so the ocean is fully visible as you drive towards the beach. We stopped at a local winery to have a refreshing adult beverage, and while chatting up the owner about the competition that weekend, a young girl behind the counter walked over, introduced herself as Sara, and started talking crossfit. It turns out that she is a very highly skilled and experienced olympic lifter, and exactly the type Jody had been looking for to provide some quality olympic lift coaching at BearCat Crossfit! How fortuitous that we’d just happened to stop by that day and meet her.

Paleo breakfast, relaxing and beauty

Paleo breakfast, relaxing and beauty

We returned to the house to await some fellow crossfit dinner guests. One they arrived, we had a few drinks and some delicious smoked salmon around the pool, followed by a very relaxing epsom salt soak in the jacuzzi. Dinner was fantastic….perfectly grilled grassfed ribeye steaks, a beautifully prepared salad with various vegetables, fruit, bacon and nuts, and an exquisite Cabernet Franc that was a perfect complement to the meal. Good food, good wine, great company and conversation. Bedtime was early, as there was an early morning crossfit class to be coached.

Fantastic wine

Fantastic wine

4am came early after sleeping in for a couple of weeks! But, it was still fairly easy for me to do. We jumped in the car and made it to the box a little before 5am. A respectable contingent of 8 members showed up for a pretty intense workout: 5/3/1 strict press, 9 minutes to a max front squat, then a nice little workout consisting of front squats, box jumps, 400m run and toes to bar. Nice workout and even nicer view!

Kick ass workout and sunrise

Kick ass workout and sunrise

I have been very fortunate on this trip so far. I’ve connected with many friends from all walks of my life so far. The generosity which I’ve been shown has been overwhelming. My friends have opened their homes to me, they’ve fed me fresh, healthy and tasty food, they’ve introduced me to some really fine single malt scotches and fine wine, they’ve taken me on adventures, they’ve brought me to their gyms so I can work out and then let me wash my yucky sweaty laundry! Most importantly, they’ve shared their hearts along with me, and encouraged me to continue my journey with courage and optimism.

Next stop…..family!