Texas: Home, Home on the Range

I’ve already admitted that I’m a spoiled creature. But my husband took it to a whole ‘nother level when he flew me home to spend my birthday weekend with my family at our ranch in the Texas Hill Country. It was a last minute decision and I was up until 1 AM packing… but it was perhaps my favorite birthday present of all time! (And particularly generous, since the husband was sadly unable to join due to work.)

It’s hard–nay, impossible!–to capture the Texas Hill Country’s rugged beauty in late October. It’s untamed and sunshine-y and serene, unspoiled by internet access or cell service. Some moments were almost ridiculously Arcadian–my stroll through wildflower fields rife with butterflies (the monarchs are migrating right now), or when my brother Hunter and I accidentally spooked two fawns, sending them leaping lightly from a thicket. But they say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so in defiance of my writer’s heart, I’ll let my snapshots speak for themselves. Continue reading “Texas: Home, Home on the Range”

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Wine Tastings & Touring New Towns

My first experience doing a wine tasting was at a dear friend’s bachelorette party, when we did a marathon session at five different vineyards in the Midwest, starting at the early hour of 11 a.m. (Don’t worry. We were safely D.D.ed by our handy-dandy limo driver.)

Needless to say, by the time the tasting portion of the day was starting to wine-d (get it?!) down, I was very ready to stop sipping and get something more than cheese and crackers in my stomach. But I was also pretty sold on this “tasting” thing. It was like a little adventure in a glass–you never knew what flavors awaited you in the next sample.

But I’m not into doing tastings solo, so my opportunities have been pretty few and far between–living overseas for long stretches and often being far from family and friends has that effect. But I’ve rustled up the occasional partner in crime. My bro invited me to join him and his friends at a lovely Texas winery. And on her recent odyssey to visit us in our new homestead in the D.C. area, my sis-in-law Brooke was good enough to accompany me to Great Shoals. (We abandoned the husbands at home. #SorryNotSorry.) Continue reading “Wine Tastings & Touring New Towns”

Texas: There’s No Place Like Home

One of the many (many MANY) odd quirks of Foreign Service life is a little something we call “Home Leave.” A congressionally-mandated series of leave days following the end of an overseas posting, Home Leave is designed to help culture-shocked American readjust to life stateside.

Since July saw the official end of our time in Suriname, we’ve been spending our month-long Home Leave traipsing around the country, visiting loved ones and preparing for our move back to ‘Merica, where we’ll be posted to the D.C. area. Our trails took us from D.C. to Michigan to Indiana to Texas, seeing treasured family and friends all along the way. Continue reading “Texas: There’s No Place Like Home”

I Found Santa’s Workshop!

There’s nothing like living overseas for a year-plus to make you appreciate being home for the holidays. This past month has been a whirlwind of visiting American friends and family as the husband and I have ranged from down south in Texas, all the way up to (what this Texas gal considers) the Far White North of Indiana. Although both of our overseas posts–China and Suriname–celebrated Christmas to some degree, the American Christmas experience is truly unique. In no other place that I’ve lived has the holiday been as sugary, extravagant, bustling, or glistening as I’ve found it to be in the States. Traveling home to share in all that chaotic cheer gives me an effervescent kind of happiness.

One of the moments on this trip that quintessentially captured American Christmas was a stop at Albanese candy store, AKA Santa’s Workshop. Some of our dear, Indiana-based friends took us to this massive–and I do mean massive–sweet shop in western Indiana. The instant we crossed the threshold, we ran into an almost palpable wall of warm, sugary scent. The sights were equally dazzling, with banks of home-made chocolates (maple truffles, malted milk balls, chocolate-covered animal crackers, turtles, haystacks, etc.) and endless bins of rainbow-colored gummy candies (did I mention that their gummy bears are home-made?! From scratch?!) Vintage-style candies lined the back of the store, and an extra wing of the shop boasted a glorious array of glittering Christmas baskets and speciality items. And as if that weren’t enough, a gigantic column coated with flowing molten chocolate stood sway in the midst of all the Christmas sparkle.

Considering all the temptation around, I was pretty proud of the fact that we walked away with only two packs of bubble gum cigarettes (a nostalgic favorite of my husband’s) and 1.5 pounds of chocolate candy (peanut butter meltaways, chocolate-covered cookie dough, and chocolate almond toffee). I’m also grateful that the Suriname to Indiana commute is long enough to prevent our being regulars at Albanese. Because my waist-line cannot take that abuse on a regular basis!

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Wine Not? When in Texas….

At a party this weekend, a dear friend (another American diplomatic spouse) and I were chatting about our home states. She’s a California/Colorado girl, and I’m Lone Star State born and bred.

“But you aren’t one of those annoyingly proud Texans,” she said, reassuringly.

I felt obligated to come clean. “Oh, no, I totally am. I just try to keep it at least a little bottled up, for the sake of my Indiana husband.”

And that’s the absolute truth. As proof, here’s Exhibit A: Today’s coffee cup, last night’s wine glass, our welcome mat, a piece of decor in our living room:

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Given all this, it likely comes as no surprise that some of my favorite wines are also Texas born and bred. Continue reading “Wine Not? When in Texas….”

Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway

In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.

But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.

I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.

But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.

Continue reading “Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway”

All Key-ed Up

You may have noticed my blog has been quiet of late. Part of this is a result of busy months at work. But the last few weeks of silence have been for the best of reasons.

Vacation.

I find coming home to the U.S. after living overseas is like a big gulp of oxygen after holding your breath underwater. It’s not that Suriname is such a dreadful place to live. It just feels so good to be home.

This particular trip back was a whirlwind: a day in Houston, a weekend jaunt to the Midwest, down to Key West to meet my family on their vacation, a few more days in various Texas locales, then a week in my hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast (and surfing!).

With all that travel time, I wasn’t going to be caught without a book in my hand.

So one night in Key West, while my dad and twin brothers were being awesome and doing a night dive around an old shipwreck (their tales of octopus, shark, and fish sightings have made me determined to finally get my scuba certification), I was cheerily getting my nerd on at a local bookstore. Continue reading “All Key-ed Up”