that time #twistedsistergoestoIreland happened.

22 Feb

It’s become quite apparent to me that I crave the adventure of traveling abroad. Maybe it was the few years we spent in West Germany in my youth; or the countless visits to foreign boyfriends with British accents; or most recently, last years’s romantic whirlwind of the French countryside with the sommelier. Whatever the virus, I’ve definitely caught it.

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A few weeks ago, my youngest sister, DJ Emils, and I congregated in a frozen NYC to lift off to the greener pastures of Ireland. We had been planning for months, scouring Internet deals, researching trip advisor hotel reviews, and shaping our itinerary around the most beloved, off-beaten scenery. After countless discussions, we settled on a six night self-drive tour along the southern coast, from County Clare to Dublin, through EuropeanDestinations (at an amazing deal, I might add!).

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We arrived at Shannon Airport before dawn, extremely excited, yet underwhelmed in the emptiness and utter shabbiness of the actual facility. It somewhat reminded me of a lonely uncle, shut-in from the world, with graying hairs teased out from behind the ears, uncontrollable and indistinguishable cursing, and the tendency to drink heavily. Plus, scary puppets.

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After dealing with a very hardened, unhappy, tired Avis representative, we set off in pitch blackness towards the Cliffs of Moher. Luckily, the Irish learned long ago that most visitors need constant reminders to drive on the left, often placing road signs displaying the obvious, with gigantic white arrows depicting lanes, and reflective text on the asphalt.

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Despite my inexperience with the imperalistic standard of driving backwards, we navigated our way out of the busy suburbs of Limerick and into the countryside. As the sun gained altitude in the East, green pastures emerged before our hungry eyes.

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Tight twists and turns on country roads led us to the Cliffs of Moher, a painstakingly tranquil, magnificent wonder which took our breath away, and left us in complete awe. We were officially in Eire.

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We marinated in the Irish sun, and lagging from only a few hours sleep, navigated our way back to Ennis, where an early check in prompted a deep afternoon nap. After all, pubs, fish and chips, and Guinness awaited. We had so many #twistedsistergoestoIreland adventures to come. With men playing flutes. And sheep. And old castle stairwells. Stay tuned, y’all.

Slainte.

eating in the Deep New South.

26 Dec

What I had previously known of foods of the Deep South I learned from watching celebrity chefs. John Besh. Hugh Acheson. Richard Blais. even Paula Deen. yes, I know.

After visiting Thomasville, drenched in heavy oak, weeping in willows, and laden in a humid breeze, I may have changed my opinion on what the food represents. No longer will I automatically defer my opinion to chicken fried everything- cornmeal dusted with larger than life biscuits- but I may lighten my daydreams with something more delicious.

Like the house made pimento cheese that is found on almost every menu. Some are better than others, like that of Sweet Grass Dairy.

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A true Deep New South institution, Sweet Grass not only encapsulates artisan and locally sourced menus, but tops it off with an inviting atmosphere, top notch service, and a well rounded wine list. This beet salad with chèvre wasn’t too shabby, either.

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And while there were no wine bars or pubs that we had the pleasure of visiting on this trip, we did snag a cocktail at the Glen Arven Country Club, who, among other notable achievements, has a storied past of golf titles, as well as a stacked bourbon list.

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If our stay would have included a weekend, non-holiday night, we would have absolutely deferred to Liam’s. However, the sommelier and I were not disappointed in our choice of Thomasville’s Chop House on the Bricks.

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With sultry steaks (see above) and sexy scallops, The Chop House provides the basics for small town Southerners: comfort cuisine, quality ingredients, and pickled ingenuity. Much like this tuna tartare with okra and carrots.

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I wouldn’t recommend going to the Chop House without sneaking a peak at the history up above (an old Vanderbilt-style leisure resort), however I wouldn’t recommend going below, as the stairs aren’t quite sturdy and the spirits many. Because, you know, hauntings are scary.

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(photo credit: my uber-talented brother-in-law.)

Go to Thomasville for the food. Go for the hospitality. Even go for breakfast at Q cafe, complete with grits.

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In the words of one sweet-drawled, laid back manager, “The New South has arrived.” I tend to agree.

Cheers y’all.

seasons greetings from the Deep South.

24 Dec

I imagine that decades ago, prim young women in petticoats and polished men in top hats strolled the streets of Thomasville. Parasols in hand, they met at wrought iron gates in front of bow covered porches and red ribboned hearths.

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Time still seems to slowly fade in the Deep South.

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With every lackadaisical hour, the pace of daily life trickles to a standstill. Small town southerners stop to smell the flowers.

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Life here revolves around family, church, and good food… and there’s plenty of heaven to go around.

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Walking around downtown Thomasville, it’s plain to see that small southern business takes pride in its work.

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…and Christmas is all around.

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Past or present, it’s a sight to see. Season’s Greetings from the Deep South, y’all.

Cheers.

a revival: carols, art, and Cabernet Franc.

22 Dec

The Deep South has a whispy nature, an ear of almost whining wind, akin to scratching strings of a worn violin or distressed wail. The sway is gentle.

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Even though we drove through the night, the day beckoned us with promises of carols intertwined with stage. So, sommkid and I made our way to the Thomasville Center for the Arts to view an refreshed version of “A Christmas Carol” by the Red Hills Players.

Built in 1915, the center was originally the first public school in Thomasville, and has been restored to a community art mecca for the bustling town.

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Each room restored with care, the floors squeak in memories of harried children, while the walls reflect beauty and history of the area.

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The harmonies of the young singers were layered with care, the vibrancy of their voices rang with Victorian spirit. Sommkid sat on the edge of her seat, feverishly applauding every chorus.

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We emerged the play refreshed in holiday spirit, de-Scrooged of months past in wallow and decay. Our souls revived.

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As we walked out in a thick mist of evening fog, I promised myself this Christmas would be deep in love and tenderness, full of understanding and patience. I may even pair it with a Domaine Pierre Guindon Coteaux D’Ancenis Cabernet Franc.

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Hailing from vines planted in 1973, this Loire Valley wine is luscious in deep, complex flavors, ripe with dark fruit and a hint of spice. A soft finish to sip by the fire. A perfect end to a slow, Deep South day.

A day for revival. A refresh of our minds, our souls, and our palettes.

No BahHumbugs here. Cheers, y’all.

somm road trip: driving towards a Deep South Christmas.

21 Dec

I can’t remember the last time I took a road trip… it may have been when I moved cross-country over 10 years ago. In fact, I’m pretty positive the sommelier and I have never been in the car together for more than a few hours in a long time; even so, we’ve never driven very far as a family together… ever. Suitably, this holiday we decided to make the 11 hour trek to visit my in-laws in Thomasville, Georgia.

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Truth: we are traveling with a three year old. While sommkid may be well behaved, politely mannered, and gracious, she’s still three. And it’s a mammoth drive. So we opted to leave Houston later into the night, and said goodbye to our beloved city as the lights whizzed by.

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I’ll be honest, it’s dark out there y’all.

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The sommelier and I took turns at the wheel while sommkid slumbered in her seat. There’s a lot to think about when faced with the open road, and luckily, there’s also podcasts.

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(haven’t heard of it? download it now. seriously, like right now.)

When I was 25 I used to drive through Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana on a pretty regular basis. Since it was pitch black, memories were hard to come by. However, there were gems everywhere, including the rest areas in Mississippi, with complimentary coffee and views of NASA spaceships.

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As morning emerged, pellets of rain fell softly into our windshield. Tall, thin trees lined our path to a Deep South Christmas.

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We sighed in relief that sommkid slept almost the entire way; when she awoke, the utter joy expressed with the realization of cousins, jingle bells, and forthcoming hot chocolate was a moment to cherish. Success! We had arrived.

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Cheers, y’all. Safe travels out there this week.

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Linking up with PackMeTo and #SundayTraveler this week. Check out some great travel blogs here.

a love affair with The Inn at Dos Brisas.

29 Oct

This last week the sommelier and I finally had our date. After many months of cancelled plans, work priorities, and sommkid activities, we decided to clear one night so we could yearningly look into one another’s eyes and bask in each other’s company. As we drove into the Texas countryside, the autumn skies were feverish; burning with a desire to slow the pace of our lives and expand our minds with thoughts of pleasure and gratification.

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We drifted onto a small country highway northwest of Houston, through hills and valleys, past steer and open fields, and soon we found ourselves at the gate of The Inn at Dos Brisas.

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My heart jumped at the sites of horses, herb farms, and small ponds that sprinkled the landscape. The long, winding drive fueled our fervor further, in rusty anticipation of a night for just the two of us.

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Slowly a quaint Spanish-style manor appeared, beckoning us with promises of delicious flavors in local dishes and intimate wines. The only restaurant in Texas with a Forbes five-star rating, the Inn at Dos Brisas is the sparkling gem of Houston’s backyard.

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The sommelier took my hand as we walked into the quaint villa, the faint sounds of swooning crickets in the background. Every door was opened, with warm, but not overly polite greetings. We were graciously shown to our table, where the sommelier declined menus in lieu of the Chef’s Tasting. With a bottle of Alsace Resiling to start, our journey had begun.

Amuse Bouche: oyster with creme fraiche.

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First course: spiny lobster with permisson.

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Second course: shrimp with local herbs.

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Late Texas Summer slowly faded into early Fall with each dish, playfully alluring our palates with the flavors of the local soil.

Third course: gnocchi with crispy sunchoke.

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Fourth course: seabass in light foam.

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After devouring what tasted like the simple, clean ocean, we found ourselves with a bottle of 2003 Marcel Deiss Beblenberg, a Pinot that turned our thoughts to smells of burning leaves and crisp morning air.

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Fifth course: soft egg with shaved truffle.

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Sixth course: conckles in truffle cream.

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The satiating menu enveloped us in precise flavors we had not experienced in many years, and so we let the warmth of the wine flow freely into our bellies, as to savor every moment. The service: impeccable. Looking around the manor, beauty was everywhere, as evidenced by the cascading colors hanging on the walls.

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Seventh course: rabbit with foie gras and kidney, rillette stuffed Anjou.

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Eighth course: venison with local berry demiglaze.

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Our eyes began to glaze over, and our stomachs began to twinge with a plea for rest. Just then, Thomas Perez, Wine Director, appeared with Sauternes to accompany our next course.

Ninth course: foie gras ice cream.

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My heart was full, but my palate yearned for a sweet cleanse. Luckily, the chefs felt the same way.

Final course: peanut butter and chocolate cream.

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With smiles on our lips, we sighed in gastonautical pleasure. Life was good.

As an added bonus to our delightful meal, Executive Chef Zachary Ladwig and Chef de Cuisine Eric Fullem graced our table with their genius. Many thanks were exchanged for our long awaited date, sensuous textures, and amorous combinations of flavors.

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The seasons change slowly in Houston. The humidity lays thick well into Fall, as the cooler air is stifled with southern protest. While our date night was long in the making, the sommelier couldn’t have chosen a better experience to portray his love.

Perfect service. Perfect meal. Perfect night.

Cheers.

(Check out other travel blogs at PackMeTo.)

it could have been me.

15 Oct

There’s a funeral on Friday. I’ll wake up early, rummage through my closet, and find an appropriate suit dress. A black one. It could have been me.

There’s a funeral on Friday. Instead of driving down the Texas Gulf Coast, I’ll be meandering highways of the East Texas Piney Woods, to sit in a pew at the back of crowded church. It could have been me.

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There’s a funeral on Friday. Skipping the working breakfast, collaborative phone calls, and usual friendly banter, I’ll be faced with the reality of my daily existence. The hours upon hours of driving I succumb to. It could have been me.

There’s a funeral on Friday. There will be a widow in the front row, clutching two small children. Children who will now be without a father; children who will wake up every day expecting to hear his twangy voice, and will now be left in deafening silence. It could have been me.

There’s a funeral on Friday. I will hug my loved ones tight, express how grateful I am that they are in my life. Make sure they know they are loved. Today, I will life my life to the fullest. After all, it could have been me.

Live well. Love well. Cheers.

striving to find the balance: chaos, clutter, and Bulleit bourbon.

8 Oct

There’s a dollhouse in our living room that exudes a certain lifestyle and image. Almost every day, our little girl voids the rooms of it’s plastic furnishings, painstakingly lines up the characters, tables, and tea saucers, then perfectly places them all back into their small space. It’s a constant reminder of how she views her world.

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I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not perfect. As much as I try to harbor the scintillating negative thoughts and emotions that invade my day, occasionally I slip up. This morning, after thrashing through bedsheets and pillows and piles of toys, I cried out in a wallop of stress and frustration when I couldn’t locate big girl monkey. Rhea was scared, and I callowed in guilt. The last kind of mother I ever wanted to be was one who lashed out with impatience. Yet here I am.

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Sometimes, the balance seems unbearable; being everything to everyone can take a toll on your mind and your heart. I keep telling the sommelier I need a date night, and it’s not because I think he doesn’t appreciate me, but because I just need a break. A break from the responsibility of planning and structuring, a break from the schedules of dance class and breakfast meetings and lunch meetings and teleconferences…then cleaning the clutter and making dinners and feeding dogs and giving baths….And I don’t want to give the impression that I have absolutely no help… because that’s not true.

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I’m very fortunate to have a loving husband who cooks and picks up and stays home when I’m out of town on business. And parents and sisters and in-laws who have all done their fair share of child rearing for us. But it’s hard, y’all.

Somedays I wish I had a less challenging job, then I could spend all my free time focused on my daughter. Instead, because I actually do love what I do, most nights I find myself sending emails or doing reports after she’s in bed, or multitasking if I have deadlines to meet. Then the chores lose themselves in the chaos. And the clutter. And then I’m in the chaos. It’s a never ending cycle.

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So, needless to say, Hatha yoga has been my friend. And recently, I’ve joined my sisters at an extremely early morning boot camp. But some nights, what I really look forward to… is a bourbon concoction that warms my belly and stays my fears. Personally, my standard homemade concoction is Bulleit Rye Whiskey on the rocks with a splash of Campari, angostura bitters, ginger ale or ginger beer, and muddled orange. For those unaware to the world of Kentucky Bourbon, Bulleit has been making headway in small batch distilleries for 150 years. Using straight rye, the snarky, spicy structure of the bourbon exudes character, while the finish is smooth with a touch of vanilla and oak. I kind of feel like I’m in an episode of Madmen when I sip it.

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It’s delicious. And balanced. And while not as satisfying as a deep hug from my beautiful, sweet daughter, it does the job. And so will I. Because as a working mother, that’s the commitment I’ve made to myself, my little girl, and my husband. We will prevail, as a family.

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Cheers, y’all. Live life with balance.

a whirlwind of food, art, and dragqueens: a weekend in San Francisco.

5 Oct

At least once a year I like to lose myself in San Francisco. Somewhere between climbing the row-housed streets and tumbling past red wooded parks, my mind begins to relax, my heart softens, and my soul opens. There’s no other feeling in the world, than knowing you can just be yourself, enveloped in a sea of social acceptance and love. And because of it’s unrelenting ability to harbor the eccentric, San Fran is one of my favorite places in the world.

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Last weekend I visited my youngest sister, who has claimed a rent controlled flat on Alamo Square (think Full House, DJ Tanner, and the Olson twins).

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Right out of the golden gate (and an evening flight in), we headed to a new restaurant on Eater’s “hot list.” Plin, Chef Alexander Alioto’s second Bay Area restaurant, more than deserved the placement. After Champagne and oysters, we shared small plates like raw tuna and figs, grilled octopus, and raviolo al uovo. We feasted on seafood lasagna layered with sole, and paired it all with Champalou Vouvray a 100% Chenin Blanc that sung in high acid and minerality, and drank beautifully with all of our tapas selections. Retail $16. Fact: the wine list is full of value, small producers, and kick ass varietals. Some service kinks aside, Plin is a must visit for any modern Italian gastronaut.

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The next morning we continued our food journey, literally around the corner from my sister’s house, at The Mill. I’ll be honest, I trekked into the bright light, hipster-filled, open bakery in my bluebird pajama pants and long white sweater, in true “give me my coffee mode.” And a cortado I had. And it was good. In addition, we also claimed a triage of toasts, to include an apple butter preserve, Nutella and honey, and cream cheese with sea salt. Fact: I need more toast in my life. And so do you.

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After transforming into satur-day wear, my sister and I lyfted to the Legion of Honor, where my French fascinations were satisfied with everything plated in gold. A gift from Alma de Bretteville Speckels to the city in 1920, the Legion boasts neo-classical French architecture, marble statues, and a range of exhibits.

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Personally, I adore collections like those found in the Robert Dollar Gallery.

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However… there’s always room for a little piece of Versailles.

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The most uplifting realization about classical art is appreciating the historical context. These magical pieces of canvases provide insight to the daily lives of the people; while our society has transformed and progressed, it seems some things never change.

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The West Coast is full of plush parks, overflowing with Redwoods and ocean cliffs. After our mid-morning art lesson, my #twistedsister and I hiked the short Coastal Trail to Sutro Heights. A sight to behold, the landscape diverged from massive red bridges to exposed rocks to shaded red dirt trails. Brilliant.

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After a glass of Gloria Ferrier Brut Rose at the Cliffhouse, we headed to The Haight, where we partook in some beer pong before the night’s festivities.

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Let’s be honest: when you’re spending your time with high energy, young thirty-somethings, the party never ends. I honestly don’t know how I kept up…. Alas, after a brief break we transformed ourselves once again to sit VIP style at the historical Castro Theater, only to witness Peaches Christ, Jinkx Monsoon, and Ben de la Creme in a very special edition of Hocus Pocus. These, my friends, are some very special ladies.

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What I really enjoyed about this space, however, was the beauty the theater itself radiated. The stories screamed from the decorative walls.

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After a late night of Castro Clubs and electric disco dancing, we spent our next morning engorging in the city’s best neighborhood dim sum. From original pork soup to spicy prawn filled dumplings, we basked in full tummies and happy hearts.

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No trip to San Francisco is complete without a stroll through Chinatown. Between bouts of nauseous smells and delightful delicacies, we stopped to appreciate the intricate culture of the neighborhood. There’s no where else on the West Coast that brings so much Eastern custom to the ordinary traveler.

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A few trinkets for Rhea, some wine for the sommelier, and a short Lyft back to #twistedsister central, we finally rested our weary legs for a night in. Movies and pizza and fodder pursued, and I readied myself for an early flight home. The hardest part about leaving Northern California is always leaving family; we love each other more than words can express.

Final thoughts: San Francisco, I adore you. Please don’t change.

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Today I’m linking up with #SundayTraveler, check out other travel blogs for tripspiration.

surviving youth and the importance of sisters.

22 Sep

When I was ten years old I ended my love affair with private school and began my marriage to public institutions. Gone were the boring blue and white checkered jumpsuits, weekly masses, and nuns; I entered the handprint-covered, glass double doors in 80s pink neon and knockoff keds, exulting Judy Blume in conjunction with memorized multiplication tables. I was a nerd. In oversized glasses.

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Like any other girl of my years, I longed to be included. There was a gaggle of gals who looked the part, knew the gossip, and held the attention of the most important boys. My goal was to be one with them; with soft features and bright eyes and lovely hair, I wanted more than anything to be popular. But it wasn’t meant to be, because those girls didn’t want me…. and they let me know it. Fortunately I had three sisters at home, who, even though yelled at me for stealing their clothes, loved me for who I was. I copied their crimped hair styles and emulated their cheerleading mantra. When my oldest sister moved into her first apartment, I stared at the entrance to Fenway Park and envied her freedom to smell the green grass and drink Boston Lager. While my youngest sister and I had a slight obsession with spaghetti-os, we moved across the country together, only to find the open Texas skies replaced with gray clouds and wintry corn fields.

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Recently I have been reminded of that time period: the mean girl era. I remembered the thought process that excludes all sincere, heartfelt knowledge and replaces it with jealousy and relentless rage. The teen years. The pre-teen years. The years where every single girl on earth is faced with the challenge. The challenge to be themselves. The challenge not to retaliate against the ones who got them there. The challenge to just…. be. Complete alienation… even when among “friends.”

How can I get this right? The ideal of what my daughter should expect, should react, as an only child? The instillation of the brisk confidence that will allow her to brush off these mean girls with the back of her hand, the soft breeze gently guiding her to a better place. Oh how I want to spare her the pain… how I wish to only fill her heart with subtle peace and excruciating joy.

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(Photo credit: SPC Creative)

I realize as her mother, I can only provide a buttress from which she can build her strength. I can teach her that she will have girlfriends like sisters… who truly love her for who she is, and withhold judgement from every angle.

Looking back, I notice that for every moment I hid in the school bathroom to cry, there was a much more important moment, sometimes years later….when I could see the pain in my sister’s face, her eyes, and could feel the twisting in her heart. I could identify with her very intense pain. Whether or not your sister is real or bonded in friendship…the love you share is irreplaceable.

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It’s about action..

It’s allowing your sister into your home, with a semi-aggressive dog and all that she owns in the world, because she just can’t get it right.

It’s bringing your sister dinner and movies while her husband lay in the hospital, because you know that eating is the last thing on her mind.

It’s about flying half way around the world so your sister can feel special on her birthday, and singing karaoke duets in the process.

It’s the complete understanding of the intense emotion, sunken chest, and welled eyes. Lifetime friendships are built this way. Sisterhoods are born this way. And that is why I’m so grateful for mine. I love them more than they’ll ever know… and hope one day my daughter finds true friends such as these, a gaggle of gals who will lift her up for all she is, even if she ends up in oversized glasses.

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(Photo Credit: SPC Creative)

Love each other. Cheers.

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