Holiday Travel? Bring It!

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I was delighted to see this article pop up in my inbox last month—How to Make Holiday Travel Less Stressful—because Lord knows we could all do with a little less stress, yes? (Travel or otherwise.) And because I have a little experience with it—and hope to have more.

When the kids are little it’s nice to stay home, or take a trip across town (maybe further) to Grammy’s house. The decorations, the baking, the wrapping … those are all things you can enjoy at home. And it’s good.

But when the kids are grown … a whole new world opens up. You care less about the tree and the ornaments and more about being with your favorite people. Am I right?

Sometimes that involves travel. Your schedule may be the more flexible one.

Here’s what the Times says—

  • Travel on the holiday
  • Fly direct, if possible
  • Ship the gifts
  • Go in January instead

—and I have employed a variety of them over my lifetime to make the holidays work for everyone.

For some years my son was in a traveling brass quintet, and one of their biggest concerts of the year was—you guessed it—Christmas Eve. They’d line up a nice big gig in a nice big church in a nice big city, and come Christmas Day morning, I’d find myself driving to BNA virtually all by myself. Roads were deserted. The loading zone at the airport—a madhouse any other day—was nearly deserted. And the people who were there, both travelers and their rides, were very, very happy. (Even the quiet house on Christmas Eve was a moment to be savored.) It was festive!

One of the virtues of flying out of a large city, of course, is the availability of direct flights. This facilitated the Christmas Day flying. And it certainly facilitated the times I flew to see my son when he was living and working as a high school teacher in Phoenix (my schedule was more flexible). A direct flight increases the odds that you and your luggage will arrive in the same place at the same time. You’ll agree, I’m sure, that this is a plus.

I didn’t ship the gifts those years I flew to Phoenix, but I did not wrap them until I arrived. To save time, I brought gift bags and bows with me (rather than shopping for them in Phoenix), but I left the gifts unwrapped so the TSA could see them.

As soon as you reach adulthood, you have to start juggling various holidays and various family groups. This is a prescription for stress, so to the Times’s list I would add this: go with it. Just go with it. You can hold fast to some notion of how things are supposed to be … or you can just take this holiday this year as it comes. And then plan that trip to the Bahamas for next January! 🙂



The List: Husbands, Wives, and Christmas

My parents always asked us kids for a list of things we wanted for Christmas … when we were still kids, and when we’d grown up. It’s a habit I continued with my son, especially now that he’s grown, because I don’t see him every day—I don’t know what he wants. Why spend money on something that will never be used?

My husband thinks that’s too mercenary, but then he’s the guy who only gives cash. “They can get what they want,” that’s his motto. It works, though I sometimes find it a little boring. I enjoy the hunt for the perfect gift.

But I think that’s a gal thing. What’s a doting husband to do?

Sometimes, gentlemen, you draw a complete blank, yes? Sometimes … You Just Need a List. If you ask your wife for a list, though, you spoil the surprise.

The list that follows was making the rounds among my Facebook friends. I don’t know whom to credit; the version I read actually included the words: “I just read this somewhere.” So I offer it here, cleaned up and with a few edits.

The Doting Husband’s Gift Idea List: Gifts To Surprise Your Wife

• Gift certificate for a mani/pedi. Supersize it and give her four of them.

• Gift certificate for a professional massage.

• An empty house for 24–72 hours. No less, but longer would be cool.

• A planned weekend with her friends: fancy hotel, all plans pre-made, kids arranged, concert/play/movie/event tickets bought.

• A cleaning company to come and do even just one deep clean of the house. Those dust bunnies are not going anywhere without hired help.

• An upgrade to her engagement/wedding ring: a new wrap, added stones, whatever suits her.

• Concert tickets with backstage passes. Sitter booked. Hotel overnight a bonus.

• Get her car detailed.

• Facials/massages/hair appointments pre-booked and pre-paid for as many months as you can afford. Arrange the babysitter too.

• Gift cards for a girls’ night out. (Besties notified and booked!)

• A weekend, with you, in the big city. Plans made. Sitters booked.

• A local hotel room booked for her for a whole night (or two!)—alone. Preferably one with a spa.

• Don’t forget tradition. I have a friend whose husband, every year without fail, gets her the latest hardback edition of her favorite prolific author.

• Jewelry. Duh.

• Hack her Pinterest. Ideas galore.

• Ask her girlfriends.

• Don’t forget the deluxe wrapping.

There’s your list. A surprise is still the best thing, so don’t ask her for a list. Just do it.


A Jane Austen / Georgian Christmas

I stumbled upon this article in the New York Times back in August, which was probably about as late as you could wait and still get a spot on this travel experience (“heritage tourism,” they say in the trade) … but it’s something to put in your tickler file for next year, yes?

I think it sounds like a lot of fun, if you like a tour. (We’re not generally the sort who goes in for tours, but this seems pretty upscale, with plenty of time on your own worked into the schedule.)

I snagged this photo of Bath Abbey from the NYTimes article © 2014.

I snagged this photo of Bath Abbey from the NYTimes article © 2014.

Day 1: Arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport. Meet your expert guide, Rosalind Hutchinson, and depart for a visit to the Jane Austen House and Museum in Chawton, including a talk by the curator and the opportunity to view a first edition.
Have lunch as a group at a historic local pub before continuing to the hotel in Winchester. This evening, before dinner, enjoy “A Jane Austen Evening” by the Madding Crowd. Carols, songs, hymns and anthems are included in a mummers play celebrating Christmas as in the time of Jane Austen.

Day 2: Tour the historic city of Winchester. Visit Jane Austen-related locations, including 8 College Street, where she spent the final weeks of her life, and Winchester Cathedral, where she was buried following her death in 1817 at the age of 41. The afternoon will be at leisure to attend services at the Cathedral, shop or enjoy the ambience of Winchester at Christmas. Have a Christmas Eve dinner with mince pies and mulled wine at the hotel tonight. Guests also have the option to attend midnight Eucharist at Winchester Cathedral.

Day 3: For Christmas, you are free to relax, explore or attend services at Winchester Cathedral. There will be a Christmas Day luncheon, complete with Christmas crackers. In the evening, you may decide to dine at the hotel’s evening buffet.

Day 4: Depart for Steventon Village, the village in Hampshire where Jane Austen was born in 1775. Visit the rectory where she spent most of her first 25 years.
Travel along Popham Lane, a route she often walked, to the Wheatsheaf Inn, where the Austens posted letters and collected their mail. These and many other locations in the area provided inspiration for Jane’s incisive novels about English town and country society. “Northanger Abbey,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” were all written at Steventon.
Visit The Vyne, a National Trust property once owned by the Chute family, who hosted many parties attended by Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy a light lunch followed by a curator-led tour. Later this afternoon, meet with a member of the Jane Austen Society.

Day 5: Visit the quaint village of Lacock, which is sought after by filmmakers for its picturesque streets and historic cottages. Have lunch in a historic pub and continue to Bath. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1805, after her father retired from his ministry at Steventon.
Relax and enjoy the rest of the day, perhaps taking a sumptuous English tea at the hotel.

Day 6: Head out for a tour of Bath, known for centuries for its healing waters. Highlights include the Palladian-style Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon and the houses where Jane and her family lived at Sydney Place and Gay Street.
Visit the Assembly Rooms, a fashionable meeting place for 18th-century society, featured in Austen’s novels. Visit the Jane Austen Centre and the impressive costume collection at the Bath Fashion Museum. Later, continue to the Roman baths and the soaring Bath Abbey, which has undergone many transformations during its more than 1,000 years of history.
Today’s grand structure was one of the last great medieval cathedrals built in England. Tonight, toast your trip with a farewell dinner at the hotel.

Day 7: After breakfast, transfer to London’s Heathrow Airport for your flights back to the U.S.

If you’re a Jane Austen fan, do bookmark the website of the Jane Austen Centre, and the Jane Austen Society (England and North America). Here’s an interesting blog that’s All-Jane-All-the-Time, from the Vermont wing of the Jane Austen Society. Here’s another one, Austenonly.

Now start saving your nickels and dimes for that tour next year!

Long Weekend

Oh, the things you can get done on a long weekend (after the kitchen is cleaned). We went through all the congrats cards we brought back from the party in Ireland and made a list for thank-you notes. Started writing thank-you notes. Then I did my usual thing of displaying the cards for a while on the bookshelf. Many a birthday card, thank-you card, wedding announcements, and more have been displayed on this shelf. It prolongs the delight. 🙂

Wedding cards.

Wedding cards.

And those little bells? They were repurposed from my friend Amy’s wedding (more than a decade ago) and used by a group of friends to ring us “in” when we arrived at the Nashville Airport on 20 October.

This is the weekend for counting our blessings, and we really are blessed when it comes to friends.

Lexington Thriller Parade

Last week one of my friends—a former resident of Lexington, Kentucky—posted on Facebook a video of the annual reenactment of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video that has happened in downtown Lexington every year since 2002.

Source: Thriller! Lexington Facebook page.

Source: Thriller! Lexington Facebook page.

It purely delighted me, and I have put it on my bucket list.

“When you think of Halloween in Lexington,” says the writeup at the Lexington Herald-Leader’s website,

You think of candy, pumpkins—and the Thriller community dance during the Halloween parade.

First conceived in 2002, Teresa Tomb of Mecca Dance Studio and Melissa McCartt- Smyth, who works in the office of Lexington mayor Jim Gray, refined the idea by putting out a note to see if Lexingtonians were interested in participating.

The idea was to involve Lexingtonians even if they didn’t have formal dance training.

That first year, McCartt-Smyth recalls, “We worked on it for a couple of weeks. We did a little rolling (street) blockage with the police. We did word of mouth. We even invited my parent.”

It was a modest thing.

“We thought it would be just a fun little street performance,” Tomb said.

Tomb and McCartt-Smyth thought that would be the end of it—until the next July, when they started getting calls asking when rehearsals for 2003 Thriller would start.

Here’s a clip from 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Isn’t that just fabulous? This year thousands lined the streets to watch, and they had six Michael Jacksons and more than twelve hundred zombies. The zombie walk is open even to those who have no dance or theater training, but they must learn the dance. Lexington-dot-gov says if you want to shamble along, it’ll cost you $11.00 ($6.00 if you’re sixteen or under), and you are required to attend at least one regular rehearsal and one staging rehearsal.

Now, Lexington’s a four-hour drive from here, so I don’t think I’ll be dancing in the streets, but I do think it would be fun to be there some October, don’t you?


Happy New Year in the American South

My parents were both born in the Midwest, but my father was a Southerner by heritage, and he grew up keeping to the traditions of the American South.

Like having black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, preferably to break the fast. Black-eyed peas, hog jowl (fried up or to season the peas), and spinach … each symbolic of luck and wealth. (Some people serve cornbread, the color of and representative of gold.)

And so I carry on the tradition.

If you think you don’t like black-eyed peas—and I hear this a lot—it may be because you’ve only had dried peas boiled in Hoppin’ John. Or canned peas, which is worse. (Don’t get me wrong: I like Hoppin’ John. It’s just a completely different taste and texture.)

But this is 2015, kids! And I have a better recipe—made with fresh or frozen peas. They don’t get mushy (as you can see below) and the bay leaf and onion give them a sweet cast. Seriously, try it! The whole dish is done in less than 45 minutes and it tastes great. Great for vegetarians too.

Twenty-First Century Black-Eyed Peas

2 T. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
1 lb. fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
4 c. vegetable stock (add more if needed)
1/4 t. each salt and paper

Pour oil into large skillet and sauté garlic, onions, and bay leaf over medium-high heat until tender and fragrant. Add peas and vegetable stock. Simmer until the peas are tender—about a half hour. Add salt and pepper, and serve warm.

Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, a dollop of sour cream, or chop up and fry a bit of pancetta to sprinkle on top.

Black-eyed peas, 1 January 2015.

Black-eyed peas, 1 January 2015.

Christmas in Music City

This photograph came to my attention from the Nashville Scene online—a respected alternative newspaper I’ve read for more than twenty years—but it was first posted on the International Space Station’s Facebook page. Snapped by Mt. Juliet-raised astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, it shows the city of Nashville on Christmas night.

Beautiful! Merry Christmas and happy New Year from here in Tennessee.

Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore 131A442

Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore 131A442