It’s Done Been Looking Like Christmas

The Foyer


I have this love/hate relationship with Christmas.  We usually went ‘home’ for Christmas when I was a kid and both of my parents have a gajillion siblings.  Once you factor in spouses and kids and cousins and crazy Aunts Christmas was always loud and colorful and chaotic.  Which I loved.  We live 6 hours from family so it’s always very subdued and quiet around here…which even after 26 years still just feels odd.


I’m also on the fence about decorating.  Every year I try to outdo myself from the year before, this year we have EIGHT trees and I’ve already bought two more for next year.  But, as you can imagine…it’s exhausting and by the time the third tree is up I’m always asking myself why we didn’t just go to Denny’s for Christmas dinner and avoid the whole mess.


Plus…I’m missing Christmas decorations.  We’ve moved a LOT in the 26 years we’ve been together.  And every time the military sent in a team of ‘professionals’ to pack our stuff and ship it off to the next base.  And every time they manage to lose a box…or two.  When we moved from Tennessee to Dc (the first time) they managed to lose an entire box of Christmas decorations.  Inside that box was the Christmas stocking my mother hung for me every year for 22 years and most of the vintage ornaments she bought in Japan.  So it’s always a little bittersweet when I pull the decorations out of the attic and remember what we’ve lost.


This year I was extra motivated so the Christmas prep began in October!  I carried down all of the decorations and actually sorted and organized them.  I also pulled out the box of broken ornaments ad repaired them!  This is epic..I say I’m going to do it every single year and I NEVER do.


Just after Halloween Jim and I made a quick trip to Smithfield to visit Carolina Pottery…the ribbon mecca!  I’d been watching YouTube videos from Balsam Farm and knew I wanted some larger scale ribbons for all of the trees.  But…I also kinda wanted some inspiration on how to decorate each tree…like a theme.  I found total inspiration with the aqua ornament with red gingham ribbon.  And i got super lucky because they still had several rolls of the red gingham ribbon from summer…on sale!


This is one of the videos that inspired my ribbon style on this year’s trees.  Their stylist, Brad Schmidt, is a ribbon genius.  Seriously!  Unfortunately, his focus is on demonstration and NOT information.  I had no idea how much ribbon it would take to create these looks.


The gingham ribbon came with ten yards per spool and I bought 2 spools.  I used every last piece of it to fill the tree…and…only part of the tree is decorated!  yah, trade secret…because the tree is in the corner and you can’t see the backside I left it blank.  It’s got lights, but no decorations.  IF I’d decorated it, I’d have needed 1-2 more spools of ribbon.


I also made two wreaths for the foyer…specifically to match the tree and color palette.  The first one is a retake on a wreath I did last year…instead of scalloped black felt I layered aqua and red felt over rolled sheet music (thrift store) and added a glittered snowflake from the Dollar Tree.


The second wreath is yarn pom poms attached to a wire ring.  i already had the wire ring from a mild obsession I had with dream catchers, so i bought some white yarn. I had the name and weight saved to share with you and I lost it on my desk somewhere.  The brand had “lion’ in the name and the weight was ‘poofy’.  I used the pom making kit I got at target and made 3 inch poms then attached them to the wire.  Which is where things went bad.  Turns out poofy yarn poms carry a little more weight than you’d think…and they want to spin on the wire.  So, I glued those suckers down with some Aileen’s tacky glue.  By morning they were dry and those suckers don’t move at all.  I made a quick loopy bow and tied it on to finish it off.


The Salon


We bought this year after Christmas when it was 50% off.  I LOVE 50% off day…it’s my fav holiday!

When we bought it we were thinking ‘OHMYGOD it’s 9 feet tall..that SO awesome!

Now, having decorated it…I’m thinking “OHMYGOD it’s 9 feet tall…what the hell was I thinking!!!’


It took Jim an hour to put it up and fluff the branches.  It took over an hour to put lights on it and it took a whopping FIVE hours to decorate it.  And it’s in a corner…you KNOW what that means.

This isn’t just a’s an investment.  Not a money investment…it was 50% off!  It’s a time investment.  You have to REALLY love Christmas…and ladders…to wanna spend this much time with them.  I just have luke warm feelings towards them…


To be fair 4 of the 5 hours I spent working on the tree…were me fighting the ribbon.  I was determined to add polymesh and the polymesh was determined to NOT work right.  In the end I cut small curls and shoved them in randomly.  I don’t love it, but it was kind of like a mid-battle truce.  I didn’t win, the ploy didn’t win…we both lived to fight another day.


I scattered random Christmas stuff around the rest of the room…

The small tree on the buffet table is one of my favorites.  I don’t undecorate it…I just carry it upstairs and sit it in the attic which means next year I can carry it back and sit it down fully decorated.  Super easy.


The Living Room


The living room tree is the most casual or rustic.  Lot’s of deer and cabins and burlap.


I made the little log cabins.  I bought two of them unfinished at Michael’s.  I stained them, then sprayed them with fake snow.  Turns out fake snow is just baby powder in a can. It falls off, blows off, makes a mess and leaves you frustrated.  BUT…if you get a big brush and brush it off, it leaves a lovely patina mimicking the look of a light snow dusting…or aged wood.  Either way I liked it.


I made a hot cocoa bar in the kitchen…which no one actually used during Thanksgiving dinner.  they stole bits of candy but avoided the cocoa.


Tree #5 is also in the living room…and adorable.  And super low maintenance as all good Christmas trees should be.


Tree 6 is a 3 foot potted tree.  These are cell phone pics so don’t expect much…


This tree is for Jim’s office.  last year I made him a 1″ foot tree.  I added soccer ball ornaments with a liberal dose of red ornaments and red poly.  It worked but he’s getting a new bigger office so I decided he needed an upgrade.  I pulled apart the wreath I made for Independence day and stuck everything on this tree with some red, silver and blue ornaments.  Then I added his new ornament, the vintage plane.

I still have two trees to decorate…his old one foot tree and a 4 foot tree.  That’s also a favorite because it’s the one that gets all of the ‘special’ ornaments…anything the kids made, sports ornaments our moms sent, stuff I made with the kids, anything that doesn’t match another tree.  It’s like a potluck tree.


A Little Dolce…A Little Me


We finished another shoot today for the non-profit

Model: Hannah Wade
HMUA: Candice Wade
Styling: Elizabeth Blevins
Photography: Elizabeth Blevins

I spent THREE weeks styling this shoot…mostly because I couldn’t settle on a theme.  I discarded five different ideas before I finally found something I liked.   This was inspired a bit by Dolce & Gabbana and a bit by Dr. Seuss and a little bit by my own thing….


Miss. Finn…

She wanted to badly to be part of the glam squad and initially we let her.  But someone fed her cheese and popcorn and she was having a most unladylike reaction.  We relocated her to the living room and told her to help Matt kill things in his video game.


Candice (the one who fed Finn cheese and popcorn!)  and my photography assistant.  She has a thing for tiaras (we both do) and was soooo happy when she realized this one was just the right size to fit Truffle..the cat.  Truffle..the cat…wasn’t so pleased!


Hannah was a trooper.  It took us nearly two hours to finish her hair!  She has a LOT of hair!  Then it was wicked hot up on the hill where we shot this and taffeta doesn’t breathe…she expressed some minor concern for her ovaries…they were melting.  But she hit every pose and had us laughing the whole time.





Projects, Props, & Problems

The days are getting shorter and I realized a few weeks ago I was running out of time for outdoor shoots.  Which means I’m running out of time for clients.  I needed a new project but I wanted to volunteer and specifically as a photographer.  Something challenging.

There are no shortage of charities that use photographers in some capacity…I especially liked Operation Love Reunited.  Photographers photograph the families of deployed military members and send them the photos.  But….this is a HUGE military town and a lot of photographers earn a living doing that exact thing.  While I appreciate it’s worth…I didn’t want to step on any local toes.

I also explored Heart Gallery.  They photograph children in their state who are waiting to be adopted.  I can’t do that one.

Then Jim mentioned an organization on base..  These are the people that sent us to San Diego to retrieve two buses in April and my daughter worked for them this summer at the base pools so we already had a connection with them.  I called my contact and we talked about a few different possibilities.  I’m going to photograph events for them throughout the year…but the biggest project I’m working on is their Ball Gown Closet!


They have a walk-in closet full of donated gowns available to military personnel and their dependents to rent.  It’s such a wonderful program, especially since Fort Bragg has a lot of formal events and the cost of formal wear is pretty high for some of the lower ranking members.


Candice and I basically spent 8 years browsing thrift shops for the most amazing clothes and props we could find and designing photo shoots around them.  It was 8 years of practice for THIS!

img_9009We started simple for this shoot…I didn’t have a choice.  I initially planned to photograph these three dresses on three different models and give the entire shoot a Carnival’ theme.  But meshing schedules proved impossible…then a hurricane came through..literally!  I’d resigned myself to photographing them individually but Brittany & Candice were both free today so we went for it.  It was low-key…no masks and we shot outside of a base chapel instead of driving to Raeford and using the property I’d initially chosen.  But…we did use The Ship!


The ship was a lonely little boat a year ago when I plucked it off a shelf at the local thrift store and brought it home for $1.58.  I bought two, but I used one for another project.  This one was just sitting on a shelf in the salon gathering dust.


The sails were made of bone or something.  I hated to paint them, but they took the paint better than the other ship which had canvas sails.  Then i glittered it.  Several times.  For a project like this I usually add glitter to white school glue and paint it on.  And I tried that, but no matter how many coats I applied it just wasn’t glittery enough.  I eventually held the ship over a trashcan while the glue was wet and doused it in black glitter.  You add enough glitter to something…it looks good.

You can kind of see in the above photo that the ship originally had a small wooden base.  It was screwed in from the bottom…so I simply unscrewed it, put a few holes in a headband with my dremel tool and screwed the ship to the band.  It’s heavy and it wobbles when you walk but it sits perfectly for photos.

I’m hoping to get more elaborate and more creative as we move forward…we have hundreds of dresses to photograph and I have millions of ideas to bring them to life.  Project!


The ‘F’ Word


Before you panic….I’m NOT declaring myself a feminist.  But it IS a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a woman in California who was insulted…by another woman.  She launched a movement to encourage women to not only be kinder to one another, but to love themselves unconditionally.  And THAT small portion of her rhetoric is something I can totally get on board with.

But her new public platform became a pulpit for all of her political beliefs…

This week I found an organization founded and run by 6 very successful women, and designed to showcase the work of women artists.  Sounds like heaven, right?  It was until I discovered they were also using it to promote specific political candidates.

I have a lot of issues with feminism…but one of the biggest is that because it’s a political issue…it’s irrevocably linked to political parties.

So, while I definitely do want to actively support women and feel an inherent need to be vocal about it…i also feel a responsibility to distance myself from the word ‘feminism’.


I’ve decided instead to use ‘fierce’.

Specifically…I’m starting “Fierce Friday’

As a photographer I see the insecurities women harbor when they step in front of the camera in nothing but a bra and panties..and as a woman I hear the girl on girl hate that permeates our culture.  Fierce Friday is the absolute antithesis of that!

I want every woman to be fearless.  To relish her differences and flaunt her uniqueness.  But i REALLY want every woman to know she can expect nothing but support from other women.

In order to create a platform that emphasizes fully the idea of women supporting each other in lieu of competing against one another…and encourages you to take the radical step of loving yourself…the platform has to be free of conflict and judgement.   Which means it definitely has to be free of politics.  We face far too many divisive issues as women….let this be a place where you don’t have to endure that.



26 Years and counting…

“Love is not about how many days, months or years you have been together.

Love is about how much you love each other every single day.”


Our anniversary is quickly approaching…we’ve been married nearly 26 years.  Last year we celebrated with a weekend in Hampton and a Fixx concert.

2015-08-29 17.45.58

the band rehearsing before the concert

2015-08-29 21.27.02

Cy Curnin – the lead singer. Jim actually spoke to him before the concert and was so psyched!

2015-08-29 22.42.50

They played IN the street so we were like 5 feet from the stage

2015-08-29 20.58.44 (2)

Our first couples selfie. We were a little drunk in this photo. We might have been doing tequila shots

We have tickets for another concert this year in another city…I think this may be our new tradition.


Atalaya Castle


if you stick around long enough you’ll notice a theme to our adventures….they almost always involve the residence of some rich person who died mid-century.  We don’t plan this.  We don’t literally scour the internet for abandoned/neglected homes of the rich and famously dead.  It just kind of works out that way.  My mom actually suggested we visit Atalaya when we told her we were going to Myrtle Beach for the weekend.  She and my dad lived in MB when they were first married…and I was born there!


To be fair…while Atalaya was built and owned by the very wealthy Archer Huntington…it’s not opulent in any way.  In 1927 Anna Huntington, his wife and a famous sculptor, contracted tuberculosis and Arthur purchased four adjacent rice plantations near Myrtle Beach to build a winter home for her.  Arthur was a brilliant industrialists by day and a scholar of Spanish culture by night.  Atalaya (AH-tuh-lie-yuh) means “watchtower” in Arabic, and is designed to resemble  the real Atalaya Castle in Spain.


“The house is dominated by a square tower, which housed a 3,000 gallon water tank.  Rising nearly 40 feet  from a covered walkway, it bisects Atalaya’s inner court…..The living quarters consist of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter, while the studio, with its 25-foot  skylight, opens onto a small, enclosed courtyard where Anna Hyatt Huntington worked on her sculptures. Pens for animal models, including horses, dogs and bears, are situated adjacent to the open studio. The building also features hand-wrought iron grills designed by Mrs. Huntington, which cover the exteriors of windows. These and shutters were installed for protection against hurricane winds”


The entire structure is made of stone and there’s a fireplace in nearly every room because the house was situated just a hundred feet or so from the water’s edge.  Winter winds whipping inland from the Atlantic had to be unbearably cold.  It was relatively warm when we were there and I still couldn’t help but think how cold the house felt.  Imagine stepping onto the icy stone floors in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom!!!


the door to the courtyard.


Path from the beach to the house



The New Duchess of Devonshire


This is the Duchess of Devonshire.  The Honourable Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford was born on 31 March 1920, the sixth daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdale.  She died September 24, 2014.

Read more about her here…

My old lady goal…is pretty much to rock everything like she did.  Every chore…even feeding more glamorous with a ball gown and tiara.


Which brings me to my point…I’m addicted to dishes.  I’m the Frank Navasky of the porcelain world.  I love our house…it’s not a centuries old castle in the heart of England…but you can’t win them all.  And even though we’ve been in the house 6 years I’m still slowly buying things and decorating.    I finished an upstairs bathroom in June and now I’m focusing on the kitchen…and I’m trying to channel my inner Duchess as I decorate it…


I’ve been collecting dishes for years….I started buying them at thrift stores and yard sales, TJ Maxx and department stores.  I have full sets of some and no more than 1-2 pieces of others.  But I love them all…and I really love to mis-match them!




The bottom piece is a charger from Michael’s.  I painted them blue

The square plates are from TJ Maxx last week

The scalloped baby blue saucers are from a charity shop in Oklahoma

The gingham, both polka dot dishes and the whales are from the Christmas Tree Shop

and the Transfer ware is from a local thrift shop

I’m slowly working on new colors for the different holidays.  It’s a process


Miss J

IMG_8060 (2)

Had the pleasure of doing an outdoor boudoir session with Miss J two weeks ago.  She’s an army wife from Fort Bragg and wanted to do something a little different…avoid the standard bedroom shots.  We found the perfect spot near base and we had an absolute blast shooting these.



View the full session on FaceBook


Cousin Popcorn’s On My Bar Cart

I’ve wanted a bar cart for the salon for eons but we really don’t drink very often so I couldn’t justify paying a LOT for one.  Then…we found this….


It WAS $130 at Target the first time I saw it.  The second time it had been marked down to $60 and by Thursday it was marked down to $38!!!  But…it gets better…I still had $15 on a gift card from my birthday so I paid a grand total of $23 for the most awesome bar cart ever.


The infamous Popcorn Sutton is my cousin…my 5th cousin to be exact…on my Great Granny Rachel’s side. Popcorn was famous for moon shining in the Great Smokey Mountains.  His family has gone ‘legit’ and they produce and sell moonshine in Popcorn’s name.  Which is how I came to own a mason jar full of moonshine this afternoon.  I’ve never had moon shine before…which is actually kind of sad considering Popcorn isn’t the only family member who ran moon shine through the mountains.  But I figured if I was going to try it…it had better be his.  (And it looks cute sitting on the bar cart)


“Moon shine” sounds kind of romantic, they made white whiskey by the light of the moon to avoid detection and all that stuff.  But really it’s like hell in a jar.   At first you think it’s kind of like tequila…only smoother.  Then the burn hits and you start to choke on what I’m guessing was my tongue…melting.  The fire reaches your belly and you flush all over…only it’s more like a hot flash and a volcano merged and had a baby inside of you.  You sweat. I didn’t even know i could sweat in some of the places that were sweating.  And then your belly hurts for five or six minutes and then…you think ‘that wasn’t so bad…maybe I’ll do another shot’.


For the record…it’s been 25 minutes and I’m still sweating.






The whole world is talking about…and to…Brynne Huffman…

“Today I put on a pair of mid-thigh denim shorts, a flowy white blouse, flip flops and left the house to run a couple errands….

My second errand of the morning was a drop off at the UPS store. I stood in line between two women. Woman #1 in front of me was about sixty. As I took my place in line behind her, she smiled and complimented me on my tan and my hair. We chitchatted about the weather and children until it was her turn at the counter.

It the spirit of paying it forward, I turned to Woman #2 behind me and smiled. Woman #2 was probably about 30-35, very attractive, about a size 8, wearing a shirt that says “COEXIST”.

She says: “Your hair really is amazing. ::cocks head to side:: “You should probably rethink the shorts though.”


I’ve been following the story…and Brynne…all week trying to wrap my head around this.  Even now, it’s difficult to string coherent sentences together.  I just kind of want to point at the screen and grunt caveman style.

Women today talk a LOT about feminism and sisterhood.  There’s a presumptive narrative based on our presumed commonality.  But I suspect more often than not…very few of the women spouting these platitudes even remotely understand them.  And even fewer would actually sacrifice even a moment of discomfort to support another woman…or to defend another woman.

To be fair, Brynne isn’t one of those clueless women.  Brynne is part of a sorority, one whose long list of members have felt the pink-cheeked shame inflicted by another woman.  She understands the double gut punch a woman experiences when she’s among women, in a place of safety, and the women turn on you.

I’m part of that sorority.  I was introduced to the mean girls in 7th grade and for four long years they took great joy in reminding me daily of how inadequate and flawed I was.  They turned me into a ghost. I was always there but always out of sight.  I was quiet and demure and indistinguishable.  Not being seen was my full-time job.

I spent a lot of time analyzing their hate…trying to figure out where it came from and what allowed them to behave the way they did.   Then I spent a long time rehearsing an internal monologue to them.  I’d somehow convinced myself that if i could just convey how wretched they made me feel…it would somehow change things.   I was never clear on what exactly it would change…years had passed and I’d moved far away.  But the echoes of those mean girls still resonated in my head and I needed a ‘fix’ of some kind.

One day I realized there was absolutely nothing I could say to them that would show them what they put me through.  And to be honest…i was mad all over again.  But then another day, I realized they probably knew.  They probably had a mean girl of their own.  Maybe it was their mom or sister or a ‘friend’ but each of them had experienced the gut punch.

Fifteen years later I crossed paths with one of those mean girls…and she was happy to see me!  She said she’d just been talking about me the day before to the other church wives and told them how horrible she was to me in school.

That was it.  that was all she had to say about it.  We hadn’t spoken in nearly 15 years, and when we did, she brought that up.  And didn’t apologize!  Maybe she assumed I didn’t need an apology.  Maybe she assumed Jesus had already forgiven her and his forgiveness trumps mine.  Maybe…she’s just still a self-absorbed harpy.


I don’t know why she did it…I can’t solve all of life’s little mysteries…I’m a busy girl.  What i do know…is that while almost every woman has experienced this girl on girl hate, not everyone reacts the same.  The harpys, the mean girls, pay it forward.  They perpetuate the hate cycle ensuring generation after generation gets to feel that sting.  But some women…women like Brynne…use it as fuel,  It galvanizes them into action, it strengthens their resolve and instead of lashing out..they look for innovative ways to lift all women up!  Which in turn, inspires more women to do the same.


I encourage everyone to check out her new website The Body You Have, and don’t just follow her on this adventure but support her!  And while you’re at it…support ALL of the women in your life.  Hand out compliments…like a LOT of them!  I started today and it was great.




Outlaws in Oklahoma

Exploring Oklahoma

Elmer J. McCurdy was an American bank and train robber who was killed in a shoot-out with police after robbing a Katy Train in Oklahoma in October 1911. Dubbed “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up”, his mummified body was first put on display at an Oklahoma funeral home and then became a fixture on the traveling carnival and sideshow circuit during the 1920s through the 1960s. After changing ownership several times, McCurdy’s remains eventually wound up at The Pike amusement zone in Long Beach, California where they were discovered by a film crew and positively identified in December 1976.’

Read the whole story here


In the same cemetery….

William “Bill” Doolin was an American bandit outlaw and founder of the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that specialized in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas during the 1890s.’

Read more here





Today we’re happy to introduce you to our Carolina Collection.


We’ve been in North Carolina nearly six years and we’ve come to absolutely love our summers here.


The history and traditions are always noticeable but never so much as in the summer months.


As a family we’ve created all new traditions starting with the Azalea Festival in early Spring, the Symphony in the Park with a blanket and picnic dinner, the Swampdog baseball games, hiking in Raven Rock, and backyard bar-b-ques with good friends.


It’s truly my favorite time of year and I wanted to capture the a little bit of the warmth and color and tradition in this collection.


To see the entire collection visit our Facebook page and to purchase a piece of The Carolina Collection visit our etsy shop.


Elephant Walk

Jim is the airfield manager at Pope Airfield.  So I got VIP seating for this one.

‘An elephant walk is a USAF term for the taxiing of military aircraft right before takeoff, when they are in close formation. ..The term elephant walk dates to World War II when large fleets of allied bombers would conduct attacks in missions containing 1,000 aircraft. Those who observed this said that the taxiing of these large numbers of aircraft to takeoff in single file in nose-to-tail formations said that they looked like elephants walking to the next watering hole.’











The Bayou, the Quarter and the Valet

Most of the highway into New Orleans is really just a long bridge over old-fashioned swampland.  Once in a while you cross dry land and occasionally you cross an actual river.  The river is where I saw the first alligator.  Later I saw 4 more…one was on top of the other.  Could be he was just trying to reach something up high, could be he was just trying to keep his friend warm, could be there was some gator sex happening out there in broad day light.  But I’m a born and raised Tennessee girl and gator hating is in my DNA so I chose to believe I witnessed a bonafide gatorcide.  That top gator was doing his best to kill the bottom gator.

Traffic in Louisiana is BAD!  Like we’d just been in southern California and had a broad base of comparison and still thought it was bad.  But traffic in New Orleans is basically just a noisy parking lot.  You can holler out the window at your neighbors, ask their name, get to know their life story and make plans to meet for drinks next week and you’ve still only moved six inches.  But they were nice.  Every time Jim asked me to switch lanes and I flipped my signal on…people made a hole.

We actually think this might be partially related to another phenomenon we noticed…people are afraid of people who drive buses.  Maybe they’re just afraid of the bus…maybe they saw YMCA on the bus and thought we were hauling kids around…I don’t know but we never had a problem getting over.

We did have a problem parking.  When you make a hotel reservation in New Orleans you’re also supposed to make a parking reservation.  Not that it would have mattered because we weren’t driving cars…we were driving 20 foot long buses!  So we paid $200 to the valet and he let us park them on the curb…right in front of the hotel.  Blocking traffic.  We would quickly discover that everything has a price in New Orleans, and if the price is right you can have anything you want.

New Orleans was MY end of the trip.  The Grand Canyon had been for him but I’d spent 3 weeks researching the French Quarter and had another 10 pages attached to my itinerary with history and addresses.  We were gonna do it all and see it all.

We showered and dressed and hit the road…we were staying on Camp Street which turns into Chartres Street which runs parallel to Bourbon Street…but it’s one street over.  Got that?


We should talk about perception vs. reality for a bit.  I’ve always been mildly interested in New Orleans.  I never really sought out information about it before this trip but I also didn’t pass it by if it presented itself.  Plus, I’d just done three weeks of research so I thought I had a pretty firm handle on the Crescent City.  I thought there was a richness to the culture…in the accents, in the history, in the pride.


The reality is we met one person with a faint Cajun accent…and I may have imagined it.  I was indulging in cocktails.  Which brings me to my second point…New Orleans smells bad.  Bourbon Street is the worst but the entire French Quarter smells of old beer, pee, and garbage.  Sometimes if the wind blows just right you can ignore it, but mostly it just stinks.  And while Bourbon Street does have a few nice restaurants and boutiques, it’s mostly sleazy.

The Quarter is laid out as a grid with the skyscrapers (the hotels) at the north side and the river at the south.  It’s fairly easy to navigate once you learn that and we noticed that as you cascade away from Bourbon Street the shops get nicer and the bars get fewer.  Around dusk each night the police put up barricades stopping traffic from traveling north and south.  At the same time the nicer places all close up shop and go home for the night.  And as the sun sets the French Quarter shreds all signs of respectability and becomes a writhing frat party with naked girls dangling from windows and drunk people urinating in the street.  Fun!


We kinda stumbled onto Pat O’Bryan’s.  We just looked up and there it was.  It’s one of the most iconic eateries in New Orleans and famous for having invented the hurricane…which is NOT named after the hurricanes that pummel the coast…but for the hurricane lamps that were used for lighting back in the day. The lamp also did not get its name from the storms.  Go figure.


We ate in the alley.  Yah.  They have a large alley and it’s set up with a bar and bistro tables.  It’s actually pretty nice; we were close to the bar and had a view of two water fountains.  But…the food is wonderful!  I kind of had low expectations…it’s know for inventing a cocktail…how good can the food be?  But it’s delicious.  I had brisket with potatoes and I loved it.  Jim had the trio…jambalaya, red beans and rice, and gumbo.  He loved it…I didn’t.  It was dry.  The 2 foot tall hurricane I chugged made it better.


After dinner we wandered a bit just taking in the sights.  A Creepy tall man invited us into a club to see ‘free titties” but…I actually brought mine with us…told you I don’t pack light.  Then we stumbled onto Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo!


Portrait of Marie Laveau, New Orleans voodoo queen

I had done my research on Marie and was excited to see the shop.  If you’ve ever experienced the inevitable let down associated with walking into one of the surf shops in Myrtle Beach….you know how it was.  Mass produced chotsky’s.  It looks like they’re printing books, post cards and magnets right there in the shop; low quality graphics in black and white.  The voodoo dolls look like they make them with discount fabric from Walmart.  And the staff was two skinny college guys eating fast food and ignoring everyone.  I expected a plump Cajun woman with a colorful cloth wrapped around her head and sparkling eyes hiding a deceitful nature.


Working for our beer money


The voodoo Queen and celebrities

The next day was better.  After a good night’s sleep and some breakfast we headed to Rev. Zombie’s Voodoo Shop to meet up with our tour guide, Pam.  We did a tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 but the first hour we just wandered the town as she gave us a history lesson.  I was pretty much in heaven.  I can’t remember even half of what she told us but in a nutshell…the French founded the city, the Spanish took over, then the Americans came.


The people of New Orleans hated the Americans so much they created a neutral ground to hold meetings…literally a grassy knoll between the French Quarter and the American area on the opposite side of Canal Street.  To this day, what we call a median, they call neutral ground.  And if you get caught in rain and it starts to flood, the news will advise you to pull onto the neutral ground and wait for the pumps to pump out the water.  And…if you call work and say ‘I’m gonna be late I’m stuck on neutral ground’ not only is it an acceptable excuse for being late but they seriously don’t expect to see you for at least an hour and a half!


The cemetery is next door to a visitor’s center with a LARGE digital map of the city.  Pam spent some time showing us the pumping stations and what actually happened during Hurricane Katrina.  It’s pretty scary, especially since it can happen again if a hurricane pushes up from the Gulf.

The cemeteries in New Orleans are infamous.  Officially, there are roughly 7,000 people buried in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1…unofficially they suspect more than 70,000 are buried there.  All of the Quarter is basically just a sinking swamp.  They didn’t know this in the early 18th century when they were burying the thousands of people who died from yellow fever.  So they buried them IN the ground.  They’d pop up and float away or get reburied every time it rained.  When the Spanish took over they brought their above ground burial system.

Finding bodies in your backyard is so common…they’ve developed a procedure for it; first you call the NOPD to determine if the body is old or new.  Assuming it’s old, they have to do DNA testing to determine the nationality.  If it’s Spanish, French, or plain old American, you have two choices; if you dig it up you have to pay to have it re interred.  Or you can just leave it there.

Pam told us about a body that tuned up recently when a local man was having a hole dug in his backyard for a pool.  Ultimately, he left the body there.  I think knowing a body was under my pool would be disconcerting.  BUT…the older bodies in NO aren’t just your average hard-working settlers.  Once the people of France learned they couldn’t grow anything on the swamp land and that yellow fever ran rampant, they refused to immigrate.  So, in desperate need of settlers, they emptied prisons and insane asylums and shipped the occupants to the Crescent City.  When these new ‘settlers’ demanded wives, they emptied the women’s prisons and sent them over.  Which means the average Nawlin’s ghost is a criminal, a crazy person, or some combination of the two.  I would not want those ghosts tethered to my pool!

The cemeteries attract all kinds of crazy and the Save Our Cemeteries organization lobbied successfully to close them to tourists.  In order to enter you have to be a tagged member of a paid walking tour and the tour guides are personally responsible for making sure they leave with the exact same number of people as they entered with.  Unfortunately it means you’re also limited in what you can see.  They don’t have time to show you every single tomb and they can’t let you wander off on your own.  It also means it’s difficult to photograph anything without also photographing the 45 tourists meandering about.


Despite all of that we still had a really good time.  She showed us the tomb that people mistakenly believed to be Marie Laveau’s for decades.  It’s covered in XXX’s.  Apparently the working theory is that you make a wish and mark it to Marie with three X’s.  When the wish comes true you come back and circle those X’s.  None of the X’s are circled!  BUT…that might be because the tomb they’re marking is NOT Marie Laveau’s.


When she was buried the tombs weren’t marked so no one really knows which is hers.  The Catholic Church supposedly dug through existing church records and determined that a much newer and cleaner looking tomb was hers.  There’s some understandable disbelief.  But the Church produced an impressive placard and had it attached to the tomb anyway.


The new and improved Marie Laveau tomb receives a fair amount of attention from fanatics.  In December of 2013 someone painted the entire tomb pink with standard house paint, so the Archdiocese paid someone to clean it.  That someone had no idea the tombs are built with a special kind of brick and mortar, and then covered with another layer of mortar.  This concoction is essential because of the high humidity and allows the tombs to ‘breathe’’.  He attacked the tomb with a pressure washer and almost destroyed it.  A fundraising campaign was started and raised $7000 of the $10,000 needed to repair it.  Some industrious reporter reached out to the most famous of Marie Laveau’s descendants… Desiree Rogers…famous for the White House party crashing incident…and she immediately offered to pay the difference.


After the tour we shopped.  My first priority was finding VooDoo Makeup.  Cait is fanatical about her makeup…it has to be cruelty free and she only likes very specific brands.  Voodoo Makeup is one of the few places I’ve heard of where you can have custom colors mixed…I had a laundry list of products to buy for her.  But…turns out the New Orleans location closed down months ago.  The shop is still there and it looks like they just closed up for lunch, but we asked around and no one could remember seeing them open since before Christmas.  Major bummer!


Trashy Diva

But we did find a few other boutiques with perfect gifts for the kids…and souvenirs for us.  Trashy Diva is an awesome retro shop where Jim picked out a pair of sunglasses for me.  I’ve been obsessed with sunglasses lately!  And Fleurty Girl has great New Orleans themed souvenirs that aren’t tacky.    And…Lost and Found is a mix of vintage pieces and cute boutique items.  I found a gorgeous baby doll dress for Candice and adorable tortoiseshell sunglasses with little cat ears for Cait.

Fullscreen capture 5152016 95316 PM.bmp

Jim’s pick for me


For Cait

We had dinner at Deuce McAallister’s restaurant on Royal.  They had a Cinco Cinco special on margaritas…so I had TWO!  In my defense, they were delicious!  I had short ribs and Jim had a steak and everything was so good!  It’s seriously hard to find a bad meal down there.


Then we wandered.  We walked Jackson Square and browsed through the art work, then we hired a horse carriage for an evening tour of the city.  Our driver was…weird.  I thought he might be on drugs at first and worried that we’d end up at the bottom of the Mississippi in some kind of freak horse-drawn carriage incident.  But it turns out…he just speaks slowly.  He was really funny and knew all kinds of gossip about the French Quarter.  For instance…he pointed out every single house owned by a celebrity.  Did you know Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie live across the street from the house Matthew McConhaughey rented?  Or that the two actors stood on their balconies talking and Matthew tossed beers across the street to Brad?  Now you know.


Jackson Square & St. Lewis Cathedral

He also pointed out the Delphine LaLaurie house…the most haunted and notorious house in New Orleans.  The story of Delphine laLaurie featured prominently in season 3 of American Horror Story: Coven.  Delphine had a nasty habit of torturing her slaves and killed several.  In 1834 her 70-year-old cook, who was chained to the stove, set the house on fire in a desperate attempt to escape the torture.  Neighbors observed Delphine running in and out of the house trying to ‘rescue’ her valuables.

Lalaurie House

When the fire marshal arrived the cook told amazing stories of torture and death.  They searched the house and found slaves chained and caged throughout the house.  Many have been tortured, some had their mouths sewn shut and were missing appendages.  Ignoring the Code Noir Delphine had used them for her own twisted medical experiments and to satisfy her sadistic nature.


Delphine LaLaurie and her family

When the neighbors learned of the disturbing events taking place, a mob descended on the home.  But the Lalaurie’s escaped before the mob was able to enter the home.  No one knows for certain where they went…the trail just disappears that night.



Momma I’m coming home

We left Friday morning and headed to Atlanta.  It was a ‘quick’ 6 hour drive which we desperately needed.  I’d visit New Orleans again…but I’d definitely wear better shoes.  By Thursday night our feet were so bruised from walking the broken and uneven cobblestone sidewalks that we literally limped back to the hotel.  Plus the long hours in the bus are kind of cathartic.  Your mind gets to wander, you get to reflect on what you’ve done and seen…and you get to day dream.

I decided somewhere near Biloxi that I could be a Sherpa.  A Sherpa for European tourists wanting to explore the vast wilderness of America…

Tourist 1 – Is so windy, I need moisturizer

Me – Whoa Eidelveiss…this is Chicago…Chi-town!  You don’t need moisturizer, you need a gun.  Gimme the La Mer and see if anyone has a spare

Me – Ok, we’re going to leave the hotel and travel east to McDonalds.  Remember the bob and weave technique I taught you…practice it…it may save your life.

Tourist 2 – hehe…is like we do Congo!

Me – Yah…Lederhosen how bout you go stand in the front of the line.

Me – There is a 90% chance that 30% of you will NOT survive this outing.  When we get back there will be a short break while I do a head count and make sure everyone paid in advance, then we may venture out to explore something we call the ‘subway’.

Tourist 3 – are our chances really that bad?

Me – they’re better with Lederhosen in the front…but just the same I wouldn’t make dinner reservations.

Tourist 1 – Look!  Baby gun fits in Fendi baguette

Me – That’s great Edelweiss.  You go to the front of the line too…that’s right…next to Lederhosen.

I should point out that I’ve never actually been to Chicago.  I probably couldn’t find a hotel, much less navigate my way to McDonalds.  And apparently I’m a mean Sherpa…

We stopped for the night around 6, found a store to restock supplies and then went to Pizza Hut.  I was going to take a mini vacation from my vacation and indulge in the indoor swimming pool…but we got back to the hotel so late it was closing.

The next morning we hit the road bright and early.  We got home around 5.  But there was no rest for the weary.  We had no food in the house.  None!  So I went to the store while Jim washed the buses and prepped them for the big handover.  Then…we slept!

Perspective –

At the beginning of our adventure I thought of first class plane seats and deluxe suites as luxuries.  By the end of the trip I was looking forward to being able to pee whenever I wanted!  It’s amazing how something so simple can be so gratifying.  And being able to walk across the house for food…instead of having to hunt it like some kind of modern day caveman…pure bliss!

We’ve been home 8 days and we still feel like fish out of water.  When I get into my car I reach to the wrong spot for my seat belt and still try to shift gears by the steering wheel.  I keep forgetting I have a counter-top full of cosmetics and toiletries and find myself using the same few items I took with us.  But going out is the worst…Hope Mills feels alien to me.  I barely left the house the first 5 days we were back.  Now I drive the same streets I’ve been driving for six years and it just feels…unfamiliar?  Like it’s changed somehow.  And I’m constantly surprised that I don’t recognize anyone in the cars passing me or in the stores.  And it’s not like I knew everyone here before…so it shouldn’t surprise me.  But it does.

The first few days we were back Jim kept smiling and saying ‘I can’t believe we did that!’  We left our comfort zone and we had a true adventure…no kids, no dogs, no agenda.

Just the two of us…




That’s a really big hole…and other misconceptions

We spent the night in Kingman Arizona and we arrived at the hotel well after dark.  We didn’t have a reservation and there was a Rod Run and a biker rally in town so all they had left was suites…yes please!  So…it was a huge surprise to wake up and see that we were surrounded by gorgeous mountains.  That was actually a theme through most of the trip.


I’d printed a 26 page itinerary so I KNEW we had a 2 hour drive to the Grand Canyon.  That estimated time Google maps gives you…is just that…an estimation.  Always add at least two hours.  Even if you’re going across town…add two hours!  That way you can stop and shop and if your husband asks why you’re late you can roll your eyes and say “Google…pfft!’ and he’ll think it’s their fault.

We turned off of I40 around 1 and stopped at the one and only gas station/tourist trap around 130.  Candice and I have this running joke about souvenirs…we were at a rest stop near Wichita Falls Texas one time and they had ‘genuine’ plastic deer hide dream catchers hand painted with the Mona Lisa, and resin rattlesnakes.  I’m always telling her I’ll get her a resin snake as a souvenir when I travel…and this place had them!  Yah…genuine plastic rattlesnakes in all kinds of poses and holding all kinds of useful stuff like clocks and cups and forks!

I didn’t actually buy one but I did take a picture of it and tried to text it to her.  It was around this time that we discovered we had no cell phone service.  We also discovered entering the canyon cost $30 per vehicle.  So we ditched my bus and I rode up with Jim…frantically trying to call Candice the whole way.  When we got to the gate the older woman working it panicked…she assumed we were part of a tour group that hadn’t bothered to let them know they were coming.  She was so happy when she found out it was just two tiny people driving that big ass empty bus that she let us in for free!


Jim had never seen the Grand Canyon but I had so I was really anxious to see his reaction.  If you’ve never been there you should know…it’s essentially a hole in the ground with trees and shrubs lining the rim so you can stand 20 feet away and not know it’s there.

He was impressed.

Jim – It’s so much bigger than I expected it to be

Me – Yah…I heard they took that into consideration when they named it

Jim – Funny

Me – seriously!  These Indians initially found it.  They were just out riding one day and boom!  They almost fell in.

Indian 1 – wow…that’s a really big canyon!

Indian 2 says – We could make some serious money off this thing.

Indian 3 – what’s money?

Indian 1 – what should we call it?

Indian 2 – let’s call it the ‘Big Canyon!’

Indian 1 – I don’t think that really conveys just how big it is

Indian 3 – what about the Majestic Canyon!’

Indian 1 –  it’s too pretentious.  People hate that.

Indian 2 – how about…the ‘Grand Canyon?’

Indian 1 – …right there The Grand Canyon!  I like it

Indian 3 – The Majestic Canyon is pretentious but the Grand Canyon is perfect????

Indian 2 – Don’t be bitter man.

Indian 3 – Whatever dude.  I’m gonna get a falafel and work on my ideas for the gift shop.

And that…is how the Grand Canyon got its name.


We walked the rim for about an hour and loved every second.  It was kind of overcast when we started walking but the clouds burned off and it got sunny and you could see all of the striations in the rock and all of the amazing colors.  We also saw a cave in the rock about halfway down the opposite side and a crazy Japanese tourist wearing way too little clothing.  She scaled a fence, walked out onto a rock and posed for photos for like half an hour!

I could hear panting and wheezing behind me so I turned and asked this older man if he was ok.  He was kind of heavy and sweating so I assumed he was having a heart attack and my first thought was…not one damn cell phone up here works…how are we gonna call 911.  But…it turns out he was just having a panic attack watching her prance around the edge all care free like she couldn’t fall down a billion feet to her death.


The park is full of elk…I don’t remember there being elk in 87.  And these are tame-ish elk.  They’re so accustomed to there being billions of people walking around that they don’t really mind.  We passed two between the rim and the parking lot then saw dozens of them grazing on leaves as we drove out.


We passed through a picnic area on our way back to the buses and this little guy was perched on a banister. he had major attitude, especially when I started taking his photo.

I’ve been to a lot of touristy areas.  Usually every inch of land is considered prime real estate right up to whatever big thing people have come to see.  So it’s kind of surprising that the 60 miles between I40 and the park is a barren wasteland.  (Yah…another one).  There’s desert and scrub brush everywhere and every 10-15 minutes you’ll see an RV or mobile home anchored to the sand with a small fence and 5-6 sheep or cows or something.  About 15 miles North of I40 there’s a rundown building on the left that use to be a business but it’s been abandoned.  30 minutes from the interstate is the gas station we stopped at with a motel and a diner that’s closed til summer.  And that’s it…nothing but land and trees for nearly 60 miles.  They must have one hell of a zoning board and some seriously intense zoning ordinances to keep the commercial developers out of there.

When we stopped to get my bus I went in to ask about food…the diner was obviously closed and we hadn’t eaten since the ‘Free Continental Breakfast” at 8am.   The cashier told us there was a town, Williams, on the other side of I40 with ‘all of the fast food chains’.  He assured me we could find a hamburger there.  There are NO burgers in Williams!  None.  In fact…Williams is two streets…each of them a one-way street…and no place to eat.  So we headed to Flagstaff…where we found an ice storm.

I always assume Arizona and New Mexico are hot.  It’s the desert!  But it turns out…they’re not always hot.  Sometimes, they have ice and snow in May!  Just as we’re getting into Flagstaff and rush hour traffic an ice storm hits us.  So we find the first place we can and pull off to eat…steak!  Our poor bellies were so accustomed to gummy savers and soda with the occasional fast food thrown in they didn’t know how to react to vegetables and substance.  We used dinner to regroup and set a new destination…Gallup!

We were supposed to go to the Painted Desert, the petrified Forrest and end the day in Albuquerque.  I learned to spell ‘Albuquerque’ just so I could add it to the itinerary…but we didn’t make it that far.  It was dark, we were tired, and we were at least 3 hours behind schedule so Gallup sounded like a good place to stop.  It actually sounded like a podunk little run down country town with more horses than humans but I was too tired to argue with Jim.


Milagro – New Mexican for ‘use to be two gas stations…now only one’

I don’t have a lot to say about day three.  Our plan was to get to Oklahoma City as quickly as possible but we knew we were still three hours off track and it was going to be a long day of driving.  And it was!

Our hotel was in a complex with some tourist shops and a gas station.  We stopped for gas before we left and there was a Native American wandering the parking lot asking for money.  I went in to pay and the cashier was telling both of the Native American women in line in front of me that she couldn’t sell them alcohol because she could tell they were drunk.  It wasn’t even 9am!   And we saw these signs all over New Mexico…no where else…just New Mexico.


That was one of the worst moments of the trip.  I always assume that a lot of stereotypes are based on a few select instances that get blown out of proportion.  I didn’t want to believe the cliché of Indians being alcoholics.  But the cashier, who was also Indian, said she deals with it all day every day.  It’s an incredibly sad legacy for a culture that was so rich and so proud.

I have to say…the views on day three were the best.

We drove through 500 miles of flatland and I wanted to stop every quarter-mile and take photos.  I’ve spent the last 30 years on the east coast so I’d completely forgotten what it was like to look out and see the land stretch so far off into the distance that it meets the sky.  As we drove east the steep cliffs dwindled away and suddenly you could see forever.  Exactly 160 miles west of Oklahoma City you start to see a spattering of trees.  Within 20 minutes of that you’re surrounded on all sides by a perfectly green wall…and it stays that way until you hit the Atlantic Ocean.  I love the east coast…but I could spend eternity staring at the views in Arizona and New Mexico.


About every 50 miles or so there were remnants of an old tourist attraction or souvenir shack.  They were all old and deserted.  There’s amazingly very little business on that stretch of I40.  Each time we stopped I’d tell Jim to start looking for a bathroom in about 40 minutes because I know it could take another 40 minutes for him to find an exit with existing businesses.

We had walkie talkies to communicate on the road and we had code names for each other.  But you should know…you put a walkie-talkie in the hand of an otherwise sane person…and they lose their mind.  I had two distinct personalities; Saucy Flossy…which is who the bus is named after…was a trash talking country girl…

Jim:  What’s up Buttercup?

Me:  I gotta pee honeybee!

…and Audacious Lizzie Funk was ghettolicious.

Jim:  You need a pee break?

Me:  why you gotta be up in my koolaid when you don’t even know what flavor it be????

If I was tired/bored/rushed my alter egos would just kind of swirl together into one confusing blend of countrrfied ghettoness and you never knew what was gonna come out.

Around mid-day we stopped in Milagro New Mexico.  There was an abandoned Exxon on the south side of the highway and a no-name station on the north side.  I had to pee (it’s a well documented fact that I have a bladder roughly half the size of a goldfish bladder) so I went in expecting it to be pretty awesome.  It had survived when Exxon hadn’t and it was the only place to stop for about 80 miles!  They had 4 bags of funyons, 9 sodas and a box of Epsom salt.  That was it.



Hipsters, corruption and moth man…but definitely not Sasquatch

We woke up in Moore Oklahoma.  This is significant for several reasons:  we use to live there.  In fact we lived there for four years before we moved to NC.  Which means we knew our way around…and I knew where the boutiques were that I wanted to shop.  It also meant we knew where the Laundromat was and I needed clean knickers.  And most importantly…we were less than a mile from both…Taco Mayo and Freddy’s.  Freddy’s has the creamiest dreamiest ice cream on the whole planet!

We left my bus at the motel and headed out in search of shopping utopia.  Both boutiques were on Pennsylvania Ave. so I held on for dear life as Jim attempted to whip the Beast around the 240 like it was a Porsche.  (Kinda glad I had my own bus for 9 days!)

But…both stores were gone!  Yah, they closed up and never looked back.  I immediately started sending emergency shopping texts to my girls and got some scattered suggestions…I think they moved…Look by Hobby Lobby…you liked THAT store?  So we went back to Moore and noshed on Taco Mayo. (Jim was in such a hurry to reach OKC he had neglected to feed me dinner the night before)

haely (13)1

Haeley Love June 2010

Then we did two quick loads of laundry while I reminisced about the photo shoot I’d done there with Haeley SIX years earlier.  In fact…everywhere I looked in Moore was a happy memory.  I spent four years building up a photography business and had done photo shoots everywhere or the girls and I had done something fun everywhere I looked.


But it was also sad.  In May of 2013…3 years after we left…an F5 tornado ripped through Moore destroying everything it touched.  Friends sent photos for weeks after showing us the destruction.  The path of the tornado took it one street over from our old house and destroyed 90% of the neighborhood.  So we were totally shocked to discover there were no visible signs of the disaster.

Which sounds great…except it made me think of Hope Mills.  I spent 18 months toiling in local politics trying to affect some kind of positive change and finally walked away…disgusted and questioning everything I believed in.  I realized how much we’d taken Moore for granted while we lived there…it’s not only a beautiful community it’s also a strong community with an equally strong local government who stepped in and worked tirelessly to rebuild.  Within hours of the tornado they had established social media accounts to disperse information and deployed extra security to keep looters from pilfering from the damaged homes.

But more importantly…less than three years after this took place…you can’t even tell.  The only visible sign is the local hospital.  The exterior is complete but while the interior is finished they operate out of portable buildings in the parking lot.  That’s it!  The debris is gone, the homes rebuilt, the sun was shining and the whole thing was a beacon flashing in my face with one singular message…Hope Mills could not have survived this.  Much less flourished!

If an F5 had destroyed part of this town 3 years ago…we’d still be sifting debris while the elected officials argued over who had stolen the relief funds and whether or not they should say something to that person.  God forbid they appear ugly and accusatory…it’s not the southern way.

We got to Idabel around 7 to meet with Jim’s Aunt Melody and Uncle Russ.  Melody and Russ come with a lot of ‘est’.  They’re the nicest people you could ever meet, with the cutest dog you could ever try to steal (I tried but they wouldn’t leave me alone with them long enough to squeeze them into my bag) they make the best BBQ sauce in the world and live in the smallest town ever.

Idabel isn’t really the smallest town, but it is small.  The first time I visited them in 1998 they didn’t have ATM’s in town.  Now they do…they’ve come a long way.  They took us to Jake’s for dinner and I will admit I was biased.  I assumed Jake’s would be a tiny little run down diner with a limited menu and too much grease in the food.

I will never judge a town by its size again.  Jake’s was phenomenal!  It’s down a side street next to an outdoor amphitheater and it’s cool!  It’s like downtown Las Angeles cool.  The décor is a mix of industrial and antiques from the local area, the staff is super friendly (they have to be everyone knows everyone…or knows their momma) and the food is amazing!  We rarely have a meal so good we remember it and talk about it for years to come…in fact that’s only happened once before.  But Jake’s was that good!

And the conversation was good.  Melody & Russ are just the kind of people you feel at ease with.  They’re funny and affectionate and there’s no guile.  They’re totally genuine and warm and if it weren’t for their frustratingly close watch on those dogs…I would declare them perfect. We really do love spending time with them and wished they lived closer…but I suspect Melody would never move an inch farther away from her grandson…and that’s ok.  He can have her…for now.  Thank you Melody & Russ and Erik for a lovely evening!

Oklahoma was supposed to be a reboot for the trip…an opportunity to relax a bit and get back on schedule.  We succeeded with the relaxation part…too much.  We were two hours behind schedule when we left Idabel and headed to Shreveport.  Which is why I’m gonna cut Jim some slack and claim he was suffering from a full belly and exhaustion when the walkie-talkie squawked and he said he was pretty sure Sasquatch had just thrown a bat from a tree into his grill.


I partially blame the Discovery Channel for what happened that night.  He’s watched a billion documentaries on Big Foot and he knows that section of Oklahoma is a hotbed of activity and sightings.  However…that doesn’t explain why he thinks Mothman flew over his bus.  We were on a small winding road in the dark at 10pm.  No houses, no lights, just creepy darkness and trees and wind.  I’m pretty sure he saw an owl…I didn’t see it.  I was trying to get a signal on my cell so I could check in with the girls.  But just to be safe I’ve banned him from watching the Discovery Channel anymore.

It took over 2 hours to get to Shreveport that night, but it was one of the funnest nights we had driving.  We crossed into Arkansas fairly quickly, and I learned that ALL of Arkansas smells like chicken poop.  I could barely pick up any radio stations and when I could there was nothing good to listen to.  But at one point we were doing 70 mph down a dark twisty road with the smell of chicken poop drifting in the windows and the sound of Oh Sheila ricocheting off the walls of the empty bus and I thought…we’re having fun!  We could be at home watching reruns and wishing we lived a life full of adventure…but instead we’re off having an adventure.

(Next up…More fun in the Crescent City)



Jim –When you and your parents drove from California to Tennessee, how long did it take?

Me – Four days, but we made a lot of stops.  Why?

And that’s how it began.

But you need some background info…

Local YMCA’s don’t necessarily own everything they own.  For instance, the Twenty Nine Palms YMCA did NOT own the 15-passenger van they had in their possession.  They discovered this when they decided they didn’t use it enough to justify the expense of maintaining it and wanted to sell it.  The same thing happened with the San Diego YMCA.  The national office technically owned both vans and knew the Fort Bragg branch needed them.  So a grand plan was hatched to transport both vehicles from Southern California to North Carolina.

But after dozens of phone calls they discovered it would cost somewhere near $23,000 to have them carried that far.  That’s when we got the call from Lisa.  She was looking for two people to fly to San Diego and drive them cross country…and coincidentally…we are two people!

There was a LOT of prep work…at their end.  Luckily all I had to do was plan the route and figure out where we wanted to stop each night.  Oh…and pack!

I rarely fly.  I HATE flying.  I always drive because A) cars so rarely fall out of the sky and 2) there’s no luggage restrictions.  I’m not a light packer.  Last May I shot a wedding in Tennessee.  I was gone five days and took five suitcases, two duffle bags and an overnight case.  I took NINE pair of shoes and I wore them all during those 5 days!  So packing 9 days of necessities into one suitcase was torture!




Gladiators & Lightening

We flew out of Fayetteville on a Friday.  I’m not sure if it’s a post 9/11 issue or I’d just been really lucky with all of my flights prior to this…but planes don’t take off on time anymore.  Like…ever.  We didn’t even board on time…and we had priority seating!

When you don’t fly a lot, your body isn’t use to it.  I hadn’t flown since 1999.  And that was just 4 quick one hour flights.  I actually like the take off…but once the plane levels out it just all feels wrong.  It’s like when you’ve had hiccups for 20 minutes and they abruptly stop…your body craves that next hiccup.  Well…once the plane climbs up to the cruising altitude…my body craves the plummet.  Maybe it’s from years of riding roller coasters.  Maybe I’m just weird.  But it literally feels wrong when the plane levels out, but doesn’t immediately swoop back down.  I’m going to write a suggestion to the airlines that they leave a little Valium and a bottle of water on each seat.


We had a 3 hour layover in Charlotte so we had lunch at 1897 Market…they’re on the Top Ten List of Airport eateries and the food was delicious!  Then we had a 3 hour flight to DFW…with first class seats!  We had leg room, headphones, and warm towels to clean our hands before they served…lunch!  Yah we totally ate twice.

It ended far too soon and we landed in DFW…where everything came to a crashing halt.

I won’t bore you with details…just picture a thunder-storm, a closed airport, one cancelled flight, 5 flight delays, some missing luggage, one episode of Scandal, three catholic priests, and a seriously messed up car rental and you pretty much know what the next 11 hours were like.

By the time we checked into the resort and crawled into bed we’d been up for more than 21 hours and traveling for 18 hours.  And the front desk woke us up at 3am to let us know our luggage had arrived and they were bringing it up!


The road to Nirvana is paved with…windmills?

Bellagio-Sorrento Bougainvillea Final

We woke up Saturday morning to a gorgeous view of the bay and dozens of little ducks meandering around and Bougainvillea climbing all over the balconies of the resort.  But we also woke up starving because we hadn’t eaten since the second lunch in Charlotte the day before…we were on a mission to find food!


This is how we learned people in California don’t eat anything but tofu and sushi.  They also run or bike everywhere.  We spent 40 minutes kinda looking for food and kinda looking for La Jolla.  We found La Jolla ( where Jim got his first glimpse of the pacific Ocean ) before we found food, but by that point we were so hungry we were like feral cats clawing at anything that looked edible.  One of us mentioned hamburgers…maybe him…maybe me…maybe I hallucinated it.  Either way it was decided we would look for a Burger King because A) they have food and 2) there’s one on every single street corner in America.  Except of course…in California!

45 minutes later our GPS directed us to a mall of some kind.  It claimed there was a Burger King in the food court but we never saw one.  We ended up eating subs from Charlie’s.

The original plan was to spend 3 days in California before heading east.  But the night before we left the coordinator found out California has some weird rule and we needed a class C license to drive a passenger van.  After another flurry of phone calls it was agreed that we’d meet the staff from the Twenty Nine Palms office at the border of California and Arizona for the official hand off.  But that we’d do it Saturday at 1!  So we had to cram some real fast sight-seeing into the drive to Twenty Nine Palms.

I’ve been to Palm Springs but neither of us had been to Twenty Nine Palms.  It sounds exotic and glamorous…the kind of place movie stars frequent…the kind of place with cabana boys and waving palms trees.

Not so much.


Picture the post-apocalyptic wasteland from any of the Mad Max movies and you’re on track.  The highway into Twenty Nine Palms is laden with windmills.  I remembered them from my trip to Palm Springs in 87.  The town itself is barren with very old one-story buildings…most of them vacant and abandoned.  There were a few gas stations, a fast food place, some Native American references.  I’d never seen anything so desolate and dreary before…


Twenty Nine Palms is home to a marine base…it’s nestled down in a valley.  You have to circle most of the base then drive across a good portion of the Mohave Desert to get to the gate.  But we managed to get there without running into a rattle snake, a road runner or Wylie Coyote.


We found their YMCA office…and realized there had been some major miscommunication.  We were NOT driving cute little lady like vans across the whole wide country…we were driving buses!  Big white buses.  The kind with wide-set back ends, double doors that open when you pull that massive lever, and really bad sound systems.

There were a few jokes about ducking out, buying plane tickets home and forgetting the whole thing.  And it’s truly a testament to how much I hate flying that I chose to stay and drive that big ol’ bus instead of flying home.  But we did stay…and now I’m glad we did.

We needed provisions for the ride so while Dawn…our new friend and coordinator made some phone calls and mapped a new route…Jim and I went to the commissary.  I know not all of you are military people so you have no idea how big a commissary is supposed to be so I’ll just tell you…BIG.  They’re usually the size of a Target.  Not a super center Target…just a basic Target.  So it was a little bit of a shock when we walked in and this commissary was just about the same size as my house.  But it was conveniently located across the street from the YMCA…why?  Because everything is across the street from the YMCA.  Twenty Nine Palms is one of the largest military bases in the world and covers more than 931 miles of land.  But the actual cantonment is super small.  Super small!!!!

We go back to Dawn and the buses and discover there was a bit more miscommunication.  We thought we were simply going to hand Dawn the keys to the rental and she’d hand us the van keys…but the actual border is more than 150 miles away.  So Jim, Dawn and I loaded everything onto one bus while Butch (a very nice retired marine) drove the second bus.  And a third guy who I never met drove an SUV behind us so he could drive them back to Twenty Nine Palms after we did the hand off in Needles.


Mesa – Mesa is the American English term for tableland, an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually steep cliffs

Once you leave the base and head into the desert on historic Route 66 the scenery changes a little.  It’s still desert, but it’s gorgeous!  Flat desert sands surround the road on each side and end at the base of giant red rock mountains that rise up forming a border.  Joshua trees are scattered around with a few tumbleweeds.


Then there’s the volcano.  Yah…an actual volcano rises up out of the desert on the North side of the road.


Between the base and the border there’s ONE place to stop…Roy’s Café.  Roy’s is famous.  It’s been used in movies, music videos and written about in books.  There’s also a lot of trains and railroads crossing the desert.

While we drove I quizzed Dawn on the area. They have dust storms that last 15 minutes to 3 days!  If you have doggy doors, road runners will sneak in and steal dog food or rifle through your trash.  They have a LOT of snakes and scorpions there…large scorpions.  And they don’t have a Walmart!  In fact there are very few places to shop once you leave the base.  But the extreme climate and the isolation kind of forces everyone to be closer.  They’ve formed a much stronger community bond and work together to do everything from raising kids to helping spouses of disabled vets.  And while it is barren and dry…it’s also really beautiful.  She said at night it’s so dark you can see every star for miles around and they have beautiful sunsets.  I don’t know if I’d ever feel at home living there, but I’d definitely go back and enjoy taking photos for a few weeks.

We hit Needles around dusk and with very little pomp and circumstance Jim and I took possession of two outdated and over sized buses…which we named Saucy Flossy and the Beast.  (The local YMCA has decided to keep the names)


(The next installment will be posted soon)


Aloha Zoo

Jim and I took the kids to the Aloha Zoo today.  It’s owned and operated by a friend of a friend so we were excited to see what he’s done.  Most of the animals, even the exotic animals, were rescued so it’s pretty inspirational to see how they’re thriving now.


Peacocks run wild all over the estate.  I LOVE peacocks!





I love trees. I love full trees with thick canopies that send down flickering dappled light. I like tall weedy trees that sway in slight breezes and drape their thin tendrils around your rooftop like a gentle embrace. I love ancient trees that wear cicada skeletons and moss covered branches like merit badges announcing their longevity.


The kids laugh at me when oooh and aaaah over a nice tree. They think it’s silly to get excited over something so mundane.

But there’s something romantic about a large tree…it’s withstood, it’s weathered storms, it’s watched people grow and love and die and still…it stands there like a majestic sentinel quietly noting the passage of time.


To lie on soft grass and listen to the rustle of soft leaves jostling about in a summer breeze, it’s the purest form of decadence, the ultimate laziness. I love trees.

It is not so much for its beauty

that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts,

as for that subtle something,

that quality of air

that emanation from old trees,

that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.

~Robert Louis Stevenson


Granny, Potato Cakes, Chickens and Bill’s Big Store

Mary Leasty Patton was my grandmother. She lived in Strawberry Plains Tennessee, which was a magical place in the early 70’s when I was growing up. Granny was old and wrinkly with gray hair and dentures as far back as I can remember. But she was from a generation that didn’t know about restylane injections. She never complained about aging, she never complained about anything.


Granny never uttered the words ‘reduce’ ‘reuse’ or ‘recycle’, but they were concepts she practiced every single day. Her counter tops were always littered with used pie tins full of water and floating snippets from a plant one of her church friends gave her. She didn’t just have a green thumb, she was the plant whisperer. She knew the name of every single plant, ever! And she could pull them back from the brink of death no matter what ailed them…and then proudly paraded guest around her porches showing them the fruit of the labor.


She was a firm believer in force feeding her kin. Before you’d even finished admiring the jungle of plants on her porch she was offering you a snack or a drink…coffee, tea or Coke. And you took it…because if you didn’t she’d just keep asking…’You wanna sip of Coke?’ I’ve swallowed gallons of flat soda because Granny was convinced of two things…you WERE thirsty and just didn’t know it…and she never threw anything away…no matter how old it was. Coffee sat in the cradle waiting patiently for a guest to arrive and she’d hit a button and warm it back up…even if it was three days old.
When you walked into Granny’s living room you passed a cabinet built into the cavity under the stairs. It had glass doors on top with wooden knobs and was painted a muted mustardy yellow color. Beyond those glass doors was a treasure trove of Readers Digest and TV Guide…every issue was carefully read from front to back, cross word puzzles completed, and then neatly stacked inside. I don’t know why.
We spent a week at Granny’s house every summer until I was 12 and we moved to Alaska. My uncle Freddy, who never married, slept on the sofa for the duration of our stay and the four of us camped out in his room. He had two old brass beds with rusting posts and sagging mattresses. We slept on feather filled pillows that stabbed our cheeks all night and under hand stitched quilts that Granny or great-granny Rachel made.


Every morning I woke up to the smell of bacon and the sound of roosters. If Granny made mashed potatoes the night before, she’d make potato cakes to go with the bacon and eggs. And we always used Karo syrup instead of maple syrup.
After breakfast Granny had chores: she had to feed the chickens, gather eggs, and hang laundry. My sister (Stacy) and I were obsessed with the chickens. Feeding them was easy…Granny would scoop feed up into an old sauce pan or an old cup and hand one to each of us. We walked around sprinkling it on the rocks and grass. But what we really wanted…was to gather eggs. We begged, we pleaded, we promised this time we’d actually do it! And every morning she gave in with a giggle and sent us into the coop. We’d stand there, staring into the icy black eyes of those hens, wanting so badly to reach under their feather bottoms and carefully scoop up a perfect brown egg. But…every morning the thought of having our own eyes pecked out by an irate hen would send us right out of that coop. Granny would gather the eggs for us.
Granny didn’t have a proper clothes line; she had sticks…6 foot long branches pulled from the woods. And no one ever thought to sink them into the ground; they just wedged them precariously between a few rocks and hoped for the best. Under the weight of the wet laundry, they still managed to sway back and forth, sometimes dragging the clothes through the grass. And just beyond the clothes line was the remnants of an old outhouse. They bought the house before there was indoor plumbing! The outhouse hadn’t been functional in years…hole was filled in with dirty and they used it as a makeshift storage shed.


Granny lived at the top of a giant hill surrounded by woods and cow pastures. When I was little it seemed much larger and I always told my school friends she owned a mountain. After we did chores daddy would walks us down the hill, past Thorn Grove Baptist Church and up another hill to the Big Store. It was about 500 yards from the Little Store, but the Little Store closed when I was a toddler.
The Big Store was owned by Bill and had 2 gas pumps, uneven wooden floors, and a ‘deli’. The whole store was about 20×20 feet. Not very big, but one corner had a meat slicer and you could buy ham, bologna, and cheese by the pound. We’d buy fresh cut bologna and a Coke for the three of us to share, and head back to Granny’s house. Then he’d make us bologna and cheese sandwiches with huge slices of tomato fresh from Granny’s garden. They were delicious!
Sometimes we’d get halfway up the hill and stop. There was a flat area that looked out on the road and the cow pasture. We’d sit under a huge tree and daddy would pluck blades of grass and line it up between his thumbs and blow on it to make a whistling sound. We’d pluck grass and blow too…but we couldn’t make it whistle. So we’d just sit there listening to the bob whites or the whippoorwills and the cows and wait for the school bus to drop my aunts off from high school. Then we’d all walk up the hill together.


Dinner was always chaotic. There was Granny and Papaw, Uncle Freddy, Donna, Wanda, and Charlene (my aunts), and the four of us. There was never enough room for everyone to sit, but always more than enough food. Granny cooked country food…from scratch! Chicken and dumplin’s, pork chops with fresh biscuits and gravy, and pot roast that melted in your mouth. And she always made dessert…apple pie, stacked cakes, peach cobbler!


After dinner we always sat on the front porch. The front porch faced the cow pasture and looked down the hill so we had a fabulous view. There’s an old wooden swing at one end of the porch and a warped wooden banister that circles the whole thing and sags under the weight of her plants. Stacy and I would spend hours swinging back and forth. You swing with your back to the woods so every time we heard a noise…usually a squirrel or a bird rustling leaves, I’d tell her it was a bear or a coyote and scare the holy pee out of her. Everyone else just sat and talked the lazy evening kinda talking people do:  about the crops, about the crazy cousin moonshiners, about the heat.  Sometimes Granny would have a bushel of beans in her lap and we’d help her break beans for dinner the next night. Sometimes she’d have something to sew and she’d sit and make perfect little stitches all evening. She taught me to sew on that porch. She cut simple doll dresses out of her leftover fabric and taught me a basic running stitch.


The days were entirely predictable. They were slow and measured, no one was ever in a hurry but everyone was always occupied. A million times I’ve sat and watched Granny pluck feathers from a chicken, or stir a pot of vegetables she was going to can. As an adult I’ve carried her canned peaches and green beans home and cooked them without ever thinking to ask HOW she made them and I’ve killed so many plants they could give me a catchy title and make a documentary about me. I wish she was here to show me how to can peaches, how to resuscitate the tea roses I just killed, and how to make potato cakes for breakfast. And I hope she knew those quiet predictable weeks we spent with her every summer are the best parts of my childhood…and the parts I remember the most.




‘Planet Clair Has Pink Hair’







The cast members of M*A*S*H* were at the Airborne Museum today to talk about the experience of filming the show and mingle with guests.  Jim and I both grew up watching the show…everyone did!  So it was pretty awesome to see…



Loretta Switt as ‘Hot Lips” Houlihan




Jamie Farr as Corporal Klinger



William Christopher as Father Mulcahy



Fayetteville’s Historic Cemetery’s

It’s not often that Cait wants to spend the day with me…so when she does I jump on it.  We spent all afternoon tooling around the historic cemetery’s in Fayetteville.  There was lots of Spanish moss, a few homeless people and a lively discussion about grave robbing…so we had a blast.









Ghouls Gone Wild

Every year the Flaming Lips host the Ghouls Gone Wild & March of 1000 Skeletons in downtown Oklahoma City.  It’s pretty awesome so we go every year…




Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips in his hamster ball


march of 1000 skeletons…




Hiking Raven Rock


The couple that hikes together…stays together!

Plus we were bored and wanted to get out of the house for a few hours.  So we drove to Candice & Matt’s favorite hiking spot and we hiked the ‘easy’ trail at Raven Rock.

It was NOT easy.  I’m just gonna put that out there.  That little squishy part of your leg just above your kneecap…I killed it.  In both legs.  And it turns out that’s the most important part of your leg when you hike.

But it IS beautiful out there.  We did the whole trail…even down to the fish hatchery and we climbed all the way down to the river.  It’s super clean and you totally feel like you’re away from the hustle and bustle of humans out there.  I loved it!









Independence Day Fort Bragg Style


This is our first July 4th in NC…and we had a blast!  We’re exhausted, dehydrated and might have a heat stroke before the week is over but we’ve had so much fun!

On the first we went to the Symphony in the Park followed by fireworks in Festival Park.  One the 2nd we saw a movie,  on the 3rd we went to the Swampdogs game…followed by fireworks!  Today we saw Charlie Daniels and Little Big Town in concert and the 82nd Airborne did jumps, then we watched another fireworks display in Hope Mills.  Exhausted!  We need a few gallons of water and a few days to rest and recuperate