Best Of Summer 2016

I have a funny relationship with fall. Throughout the final weeks of August I find myself dreading Labor Day weekend and the change of seasons. I'm not sure why this is, because once I've gotten over the transition and the trees start to change, fall is my favorite season. It's almost as if I need that signal from the trees; they know it's time for change before I do. Once those colors start to pop I relax and say, oh, you are right, I'm ready for fall.

One of the reasons I have a hard time giving up summer is because it is often filled with lots of travel, something that is harder to do during the school year since Evan is a teacher. During the summer months Evan works at the airport so we use his awesome flight benefits to visit family and spread our wings. Now that Evan has finished his first couple weeks back at school and we're working our way into new fall routines, I'm already nostalgic for all of our summer adventures.

So as one last hurrah and in order to officially bid summer adieu, I'm having a little award ceremony over here for the Best of Summer 2016! (corny, perhaps, but work with me.) Perhaps it will help someone plan a future trip - like a road trip to the best brewery in the country (IMO)! Or at least reflect on your own summer bests, wherever you spent them.

Best Meal: The Farmhouse Tap and Grill, Burlington, VT
Evan and I spent our first night away from Henry since he was born (!) while visiting my parents in Massachusetts. We drove a couple of hours up to Vermont, where we stayed at a B&B, did some biking and dined at The Farmhouse. I got the fried chicken with honey and brown-butter glaze, with a side of nitty gritty spoon bread (like a cross between cornbread, polenta and grits) and braised kale. Evan got a burger. I don't know if we were simply wooed by the food itself or if the novelty of eating without a toddler magically enhanced our taste buds, but we left that meal on a food-high, determined to recreate it at home. I'll let you know if I ever succeed.

Vantage Point

I peer down through the darkness to the coastline sketched below. Tiny towns and broccoli-sized trees remind me of a scene from a puzzle, huddled together along the shoreline of one of the Great Lakes. It's July 2nd and we're flying east towards Massachusetts to celebrate the Fourth of July with family in Cape Cod. The sun is just starting to set from our vantage point above the clouds but the families below us, already in shadow, are shifting into night mode, chasing fireflies and lighting bonfires.

Summer Buckets

It's been exactly 10 years since I graduated from college, but I can still remember my English professor as if he just stepped out of the room. We always questioned his age and wondered isn't it time to retire? Not because his lessons were lacking but because, when everything was factored in, he had to be in his 80s. Yet he still kept up with his daily morning jogging routine, treated his students to gifts from his faraway travels, and invited classes over for salsa dancing and dinner at the end of the semester. With all his energy, some might be tempted to say he was young at heart, but if you sat through a class where he broke down and shared how deeply he still missed his wife who passed years ago, or heard tales from his time served in Vietnam, you'd understand that the cliched phrase doesn't hold true.

2015: Let's Do the Numbers

It is January in Minnesota and the weather is finally acting like it. Mornings are bright and clear, sun dogs magically appear in the sky, and nose hairs have a habit of freezing the moment you step outside. Oh yea, the arctic temps have arrived. I’m not complaining though. As I’ve said before, there is an excitement that comes with winter that makes you feel a little extreme. You post SnapChat selfies as you warm up your car, feel like a dare devil just for pumping gas, and you assume ultimate bragging rights to your sister in North Carolina {or is that just me?}. But the other bonus of surviving January in Minnesota is that even a normal weeknight feels like a cozy holiday. A night perfect for reflecting on things, like New Years Resolutions and highlights of the year now past. And that’s exactly where I am right now, cuddled up on the couch with Henry’s new cow blankie and a laptop, ready to dive into photos from 2015. {Side note: Evan gave me a deadline of Jan 31 to get this post published because a year-in-review post in January is acceptable, but February? Definitely not.}
A couple years ago I started recording stats of our travels, because who doesn’t like to know how many Delta pretzels they ate, how many hours they spent in the air, and the number of trains hopped aboard? Well, that was before we had a kid. We continued to keep track of some travel stats this past year but we definitely didn’t count every last pretzel! (Although in hind-sight, I wish we’d counted in-air diaper changes). And overall we traveled less in 2015 than we did in our pre-baby 2013 run {go figure!}, with a focus more on family visits and smaller-scale trips.
Now, let’s dive into those numbers!

Wind and Warmth: Ireland

When you arrive in Doolin, there is one thing you will not be able to ignore: the wind. On the western coast of Ireland, “windy” isn’t a mere adjective used to describe the weather or that helps you fly a kite. In this part of the world the wind is most definitely a noun, and a noun with an opinion and a presence that rarely takes a backseat. The Wind is everywhere. From the ribbons of field grass cutting across the hillside to the dramatic cliffs that dive into an angry sea, where foam collects then scatters with the surge; it is as if the landscape itself were created with the sole purpose of exposing the power and tenacity of the wind.

Now imagine you’re driving through this seaside village in a tiny rental car, stick shift, naturally, on the LEFT side of the road. You’ll later learn that traditional Irish music enthusiasts from all around Europe are huddled in nearby pubs, and that just down the coast lie the striking Cliffs of Moher. But for now your focus lies just a few feet in front of your car, as it bounces along between cow pasture and stacked-stone walls. You veer to the right then begin a steep incline, following directions you hope will bring you to your Bed and Breakfast. That’s when you notice the castle. A simple tower overlooking the valley below, taking a beating from the pummeling rain like it has for ages. As you approach at your slow, trying-to-see-between-the-wiper-blades pace, you notice a peculiar sight: bright yellow ponchos, pulled taught and billowing like inflatable Christmas yard statues atop a roadside fence. Rick Steves, the famous travel writer, is known well in this region for sending tourists on long walking tours and hikes. No doubt this is what we witnessed that day: a couple of past-middle-aged travel enthusiasts determined to complete the three mile hike along the cliffs and see the Doonagore Castle, even if it meant scaling a thin fence on the side of a windy road, taking turns holding on to each other to keep from blowing off the island like a kite.


The first year of life is marked with more “firsts” than a sleep-deprived parent can record in a baby book. Before Henry was born, I didn’t realize how enthralled I’d be by every single little development. The moment his eyes first looked out a window, the time his little arms stretched upward and finally met the cheerful toys above, when he belly laughed, sat up, tasted solid food, flew on a plane, crawled off the blanket in our yard, touched the ocean, when his sounds started to resemble discernible words, when he learned to crawl up the stairs with wild abandon (scary!), how he became obsessed with pushing everything around the house like it’s his job (too funny!) and now we are waiting for those first independent steps. It is so much fun trying to keep up with it all and adjusting to the newness that each new “first” brings.

Of course, for every first, there is a last. As a poem posted to a mom group on Facebook pointed out, there will be a last time you swaddle your baby, nurse him to sleep, or carry him on your hip. I understand the sentiment: appreciate life with baby now – the sweet moments and the challenges – because it will all be over soon. After all, babies don’t keep.


My mother’s hands. They shuttled heavy bags of groceries to and from the car, leaving lasting lines where plastic pulled taught from the weight. Some days her hands rested on our foreheads, testing for fevers or soliciting calm after a day of play. And other days they settled softly on piano keys, to infuse the house with “Threads of Love” and hymns of praise. But I learned of their true super powers when I witnessed them dip in scalding water to lift a dropped fork or wash a bowl. “Wait until you’re a mom, you’ll be able to snatch noodles from a pot of boiling water,” she said. And as she released the drain stopper and let the water loose, her wedding diamond spun to her cupped palm where bubbles still clung, like pearls.
In my work at St. Olaf College, I am fortunate to be surrounded by good music and deep thinkers. Kenneth Jennings, the former conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, recently passed away. A colleague told me that the current conductor of the choir, Anton Armstrong, once compared Dr. Jenning’s hands to a potter’s, “used with an artist’s gift to mold something beautiful, fragile, exquisite.” I’ve always thought of the conductor as a magician, calling forth music from those who stand before him. But perhaps a potter and a magician aren’t all that different – both use their hands to create their work of art.


It never fails to take me by surprise when that first pop of orange makes its way into the foliage. I know the days will grow shorter and the nights cooler, but until they actually do, I am somewhat in denial. Don’t get me wrong, I love fall, but something about it keeps me waiting on the doorstep. Once those fall colors start coming in, however, I dive right in and embrace the change. It’s almost as if I need that signal from the trees. They know it’s time for change before we do.

I was feeling antsy this weekend with the coming change of season. There is so much pressure, at least in Minnesota where fall is short-lived, to fill it up with apple orchards and bonfires and all things pumpkin. And now with Henry in our life it would be easy to get wrapped up in the season with the single pursuit to DO IT ALL. After all, this is the only year he will be learning to toddle about amidst pumpkins and leaves. But doing everything – even though the crisp air and Pinterest boards beckon me to try, that’s not what fall is about.

The Adventures that Bring you Home

I once heard a tagline to a movie that went something like this: the greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home. In the context of the movie, it reflected the struggles and ultimate coming-of-age experience of a young man of Indian-immigrant parents. I’ve always been a sucker for movie trailers. Something about the grand scope of a preview, where you take a step back and see the big picture, one broad stroke of the story set to dramatic music (of course!) makes my creative spirit say YES! So it’s not unusual for quotes from previews to stick with me. This particular line is one that comes back to me again and again, especially whenever we travel. And although I’m not in the midst of a coming-of-age moment or haven’t even traveled all that extensively, I truly believe that the greatest adventures are the ones that bring you home, both literally and metaphorically.

If you’ve ever traveled with a baby, you may have enjoyed the unique experience, upon your return, of seeing a little soul recognize home. We recently came back from a trip that, although only 10 days long, was a record for our little guy. He was a great traveler and loved tasting new foods, exploring new spaces and listening to new sounds (hello Irish pub), but we could tell by the end, he was antsy for the old familiar (or more specifically, his toys and space to exercise his latest skill: crawling!). It was late when we landed in Minneapolis, probably about 10:30pm by the time we unlocked the front door. But the light of recognition that popped on in his tired eyes as I carried him through the house could mean only one thing: he was happy to be home. In his nursery I showed him his beloved cow painting on the wall, we played with the felt balls hanging from his mobile, and he lay down on the soft sheep skin we use on his floor. He kept looking at us with what I can only explain as Christmas-morning giddiness. Priceless. And all from seeing the familiar, from coming home.

New Beginnings

To continue reading about the Tales of E and C (and now H!) head on over to Home Heart Wings, my new corner of the internet. I've transferred all of my old content from this blog and although the site is still very much under construction (broken links, poorly sized images, unfinished header, untwined tagline, missing About content, etc) I've decided to let go of the pursuit of perfection and share it as is.

For those of you who currently subscribe to my blog (hi Grandma!) I will get something like that set up for the new blog as well. 

Why a new blog, you ask?

Well, sometimes you need a change of scenery, you need to repaint the walls in your house, or maybe just put your bed on a different wall. It's no secret that my blog here has been lacking for the last year or so, and it's my hope that a new space will inspire me to find time in my day (or night!) to reconnect with my writing, thinking, and creating. Oh I know starting up a new blog won't really change any of the challenges I face in my day-to-day that are keeping me from fitting a little "me time" in (...motherhood...) but it's worth a shot. Blank pages and notebooks have always inspired me, and a new platform is essentially the digital version of a new notebook. 

See you over in my new home! There's already a new post up there about the art of decision-making and our upcoming trip.

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