Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Anniversary Lagniappe

Steven was scheduled to speak at the Louisiana non-profit association’s annual conference in Baton Rouge on the day after our 9th wedding anniversary, which was a great reason to have a fun weekend away. However, it was a destination with recent police shootings and a devastating 1,000-year flood. (Steven: “We sure know how to pick ’em.”)

We flew into New Orleans and drove one mile west to Baton Rouge. Along the way, we passed several closed exits off highway I-10, and there was standing water nearly all along the road, but we made it safely to the hotel and conference site. Most of the damage affected the eastern part of the city and surrounding parishes/counties. We had the unique opportunity to watch local news of families in the worst areas (Ascension Parish, namely) plow through the clean up process with adrenaline and hope. The area has Catholic roots, and it was encouraging to see trust in God in action. I spoke with several conference attendees about the community’s endurance after Katrina – but the need for and lack of mental health services.

Our anniversary dinner was at a cute, downtown oyster bar – Jolie Pearl. We had a stack of various charbroiled oysters and fried shrimp before another storm came through to flood the already-soaked ground.

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The next day’s weather was pleasant, but HOT. Louisiana humid and sticky hot. Steven had to work all day at the conference, so I spent my time doing independent things. It’s now become a tradition to get a massage, haircut or shop while Steven speaks. I scheduled a haircut at a local Aveda salon, found free wi-fi in the mall food court to catch up on some work, and then went to a see a movie.

By the way, you HAVE to see Florence Foster Jenkins. It made me laugh-snort and cry, which means it was superb.

Afterwards, I met up with Steven at the conference for a closing social reception. On our way to New Orleans, we stopped for local favorite beignets and coffee with chicory at Coffee Call. Fun Fact: chicory is a woody plant that is ground into coffee from a French tradition to stretch coffee beans supply. Beignets (ben-YAYs) are fluffy funnel cake-tasting fried dough with powdered sugar dumped on top. Everywhere I’ve seen, they are ordered in 3s, but the ones at Coffee Call are huge – like the size of donuts. By mistake we ordered “to go” and fought powdered sugar in the rental car.

We didn’t check into our French Quarter hotel until after 8 p.m., though in New Orleans, that’s considered early. French Quarter isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night as the weekend, but Deanie’s Seafood at 9 p.m. is still packed with families and couples eating a fried seafood dinner. Another pile!

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Later we wandered some New Orleans streets and enjoyed a quiet(er) evening in the hotel courtyard. It was just as pretty in the morning for breakfast:

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…which fueled us up for a day of walking around the city. I was in NOLA in early 2014 for the Alzheimer’s Association national conference, but hardly saw the city. Steven had never been, so we had a few things on our bucket list: Cafe du Monde (famous coffee and beignet restaurant along the Mississippi River), French Market, Jackson Square, hurricanes and poboys and live jazz at Preservation Hall. Later we explored the World War 2 Museum, rode a streetcar and watched entertainers along Bourbon Street. It was a fun, packed day, and we were incredibly sweaty.

Before leaving for the airport, we visited a New Orleans historical museum and walked around a few streets the next morning, and GUESS WHAT WE FOUND?!

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Leah’s Pralines! Of course we bought some.

It was a quick but good trip – a lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap, a New Orleans term for a bonus gift or “a little something extra”). It’s hard to believe we’ve been married nearly 10 years. Our relationship has changed over the years: we don’t have long conversations or look longingly into each others’ eyes. We don’t often hold hands or touch in public. But we do enjoy being in close proximity. I’ve found that when we’re together in a new place without Wes, we like to wander around and observe locations together – many times we’re deep in thought and subconsciously link arms or hands. We’re also more apt to jokingly tease in a way that doesn’t happen as often at home.

Occasionally getting away is great for us. View our photos from the trip here.

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Posted: August 21st, 2016
Categories: Leah
Tags: , , ,
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O Canada

Things the three of us have commented on regarding the differences between the U.S. and Canada:

  • Washrooms vs Restrooms or Bathrooms
  • “It’s a long, long way from our house.”
  • British spellings of words (centre, colour, realise, etc.)
  • Metric system (although much American radio and TV is available in Ontario, so you still get Fahrenheit and miles)
  • Inexpensive food and goods at museums and attractions (whereas it’s hiked up tremendously in the states!)
  • Poutine craze vs best local burger or pizza
  • Absence of billboards! Instead, there are many inspirational lines of advice along the road.
  • Lots of honking drivers
  • Cleanliness, even in public bathrooms
  • Labels and signs in both English and French vs Spanish (I was surprised at how much I could translate with my unused, limited knowledge!)

We’re home now, but the road trip to Ontario was entirely fun. I think we all needed a break, and we were in good spirits throughout the week. Nevermind a mild case of extensor tendonitis, there were lots of smiles, giggles and teasing.

IMG_3525Day 1 (Saturday) – We started on the road around 10 a.m. after packing up our pantry into coolers for snacks along the way. Wes did pretty good; he had very little concept of “a long way,” but he got the hang of it after I compared the timeframe to over a dozen episodes of Octonauts. We were nearly in Detroit when Siri/Google Maps took us on a wide goose chase. A bridge had gone out on our route, and we were redirected into a no trespassing zone within a metal factory. Apparently there is a small ferry nearby, but we didn’t stay to check it out. It was so weird. One minute we were on a residential street with houses all lined up in a row, the next we were surrounded by railroad tracks and barbed wire fences.

Once we finagled our way through the detour, we crossed into Canada and drove through Windsor on 401. Our phones lost signal, so we had to rely on our 2008 TomTom GPS, which we haven’t used in ages. (Sidenote, our TomTom was once stolen, and nearly 2 years after the incident, a police officer recovered it and drove it to our house. I still find this amusing.) It was fun to drive through Canadian countryside, watching the many windmills stretch across the landscape. We stopped at an uber-clean visitor center/rest area and got a map to direct us to Niagara Falls, since TomTom was only mildly trustworthy.

We stayed just north (west?) of the Falls at a shady Hampton Inn next to a giant Buddhist temple, but it was comfortable enough. Dinner that night was at a local bar & grill, where we had our first taste of Canadian fish and chips – a favorite Shattuck travel food. Downtown Niagara Falls, ON, though quaint and lined with lighted arches and a clean playground, is not very “happening.” We felt like the only people around, but it looks like it could be more frequented in the summer months.

Day 2 (Mother’s Day) – Wesley was so disappointed that we didn’t get to swim the night before, so I promised him we would swim in the hotel after breakfast and before heading to Niagara Falls. It was such a sweet morning; we had the pool all to ourselves, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable to start the day. Wes was terribly excited about the water – it was the first time he’s been in a pool since last August! We packed a picnic lunch (that we didn’t end up eating/having), along with my Mother’s Day cards/gifts, then headed to the car for the Falls.

We parked in a free, off-season spot, which was great, but it was also 3 km (2 miles) away from the main strip. We thought it would be fine to walk because we’d been in the car for so long yesterday, and it was – on the hike down river. Wes took some great photos of our trek, and it was fun to see some the sights easily missed: a stranded boat from the early 1900s, an abandoned power plant, blooming cherry blossoms.

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27027175475_bf1a034c7d_zOf course the first stop was the boat ride into the mist on the Hornblower Cruise (Canada’s version of Maid of the Mist). We’d been talking about this upcoming experience for days, maybe weeks, and Wes was almost as excited as Steven was to get on board. The giddy boys threw on their ponchos and grabbed a spot at the front of the boat. Wes got a little overwhelmed by it all, but he still says it was the best thing about Niagara Falls.

His feet were beginning to ache at this point, and we entered cranky-pants phase. Cranky Wes has trouble listening and following directions, so the rest of the morning was a mix of frustration and elation. The original plan to head back to the car for lunch seemed daunting, so we grabbed a quick bite at Tim Horton’s before completing the Journey Behind the Falls tour – where you get extremely up close (and under and behind!) to the falls and extremely wet.

We did have reservations for dinner at one of the falls-view restaurants, but we opted to head back to the hotel to rest after an exhausting day. But first we had to walk 2 miles back to the car. And then it started to rain. Hahahahahahaha. You can imagine how grateful we were to see our car.

26291575214_e8e21c455e_zSince we were didn’t make it to our planned picnic, I opened up my sweet presents from Wesley in the hotel room before we all took a nap. He beamed with pride at the handmade card and bracelet he worked so hard on for me. So perfect.

Dinner was at a local BBQ place we spotted while in downtown Niagara Falls the night before. I had amazing poutine (a Canadian staple dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it’s really good. I first became a fan when we visited family in upstate New York several years ago.), which I gobbled up after our fun, long day. Wes got a second wind of energy, so I suggested we drive by the falls at night to get a different perspective. It really was a Mother’s Day for the books. I love these guys.

Day 3 – Toronto day! It’s only a couple hours’ drive from Niagara Falls, and because the route hugs Lake Ontario, it was really fun to site watch: American businesses intermixed with names we’d never heard of, fruit trees of all sorts, street signs in both English and French. I could hear Wes taking a bunch of photos from the back seat of the car.

We had rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown Toronto, but the instructions for checking in were vague. We ended up waiting an hour at a metered parking space before meeting with the condo owner/host, who then hopped into our car to direct us into the maze of her parking garage beneath the building. The process was strange and so was she, but the place was perfect for us. Giant windows overlooking Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands allowed us to watch every kind of transportation go by: airplanes landing at the small island airport, sailboats racing each other, streetcars on cables, trains transporting thousands of commuters. Wes was stoked and asked to take our photos in front of the city with his camera.

BACKLIT ON A CHEAP CAMERAAA

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Later, we walked to the ferry dock. Wes complained about pain on the top of his feet from yesterday’s walking, but we thought we’d have a shorter amount of walking to do today – ferry (sitting) and bicycle (rented from island). It was a longer walk to the dock than expected, and we took turns carrying our 40 lb guy…whew.

26856931571_261746b2b4_zLots of locals bring their bikes on the ferry to explore the islands. We enjoyed the short ride and the view of the city from the water. During the summer, a children’s amusement park and petting zoo is open on Centre Island. We headed there first, knowing it would be closed, but we were able to find some roaming peacocks on the property. The island is basically a giant state park. It’s very clean and welcoming, with signs everywhere requesting people to “Please Walk on the Grass.”

On our hunt to find a bicycle (I was starting to give up at this point; poor Wes and his feet!), we discovered a pirate ship, multiple playgrounds and a long pier. The wind made it a chilly 50-ish degrees, but the sun was out, and the views were incredible.

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Back at the condo, I helped a wobbling little kid rest on the couch while I rubbed his sore foot muscles and Googled for tendonitis remedies. He thought it all very entertaining. We watched hockey before retiring for the night.

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The boys went on to bed, but I enjoyed a few minutes watching the downtown lights and reflecting on the past year before celebrating my birthday the next day.

Day 4 (Leah’s birthday) – I woke up to all kinds of nice words and hugs. “Mama, I’m so, so glad that you’re my mom. It’s your birthday!” After a thorough inspection of the sore feet, we determined that they had healed enough to endure a walking tour around the world through Toronto’s various neighborhoods. We started off in Chinatown and worked our way through Kensington Market, where we had yummy local food (and picked up a discounted Mother’s Day cake for my birthday dessert later), and on toward Little Italy for Wesley’s first cannoli. I think he liked it.

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I rubbed his tired little feet back at the condo before we crashed hard for the rest of the afternoon. We had a big night ahead to prepare for.

26875610721_597a6e41d5_z (1)Thankfully our walk to the CN Tower was only a few blocks away, and because it was a Tuesday evening, it wasn’t crowded at all. We rode a glass elevator to the “top” (the viewing area is actually toward the middle of its height, but the view is still impressive) of the country’s tallest building and sat down for a 3-course dinner in the tower’s revolving restaurant.

We had a great time pointing out sites seen and recognized – especially along the lake. After our dinner, we walked down a few flights to watch the sunset and experience Wesley’s favorite thing ever: the glass floor.

We came back well past bedtime to eat cake, because why not add more fun to an already fun day? And it ended the best way: with extra hugs and kisses from my loving family. “Mama, I’m so happy it’s your birthday.”

Day 5 – The reason why we picked Ontario for our vacation destination and at this time of year is because Steven’s business sponsored a 1-day donor retention conference held in Toronto. While he attended the conference, Wes and I ventured to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

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Yes, I know of his love of sea creatures and the Octonauts, but I’ve never seen him so mesmerized. He loved watching the fish and sea animals, and he equally loved playing in the indoor playspace built to knock out extra kid energy. We toured the museum twice and spend 3 solid hours there.

We found Nemo and Dory! We saw his favorites: several different types of jellyfish and sharks. Many of them.

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It’s another great venue for people watching. Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city I’ve ever visited, and it was most evident in the school groups on field trips that day. Kids of all different skin and hair colors, faiths and dress – playing together. I loved it.

Wes had expressed his interest in riding a streetcar for the last few days, so when Steven asked us to meet him later at the convention’s after party, we embarked on an adventure with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). First we walked to the streetcar station across the street from the condo, but there was no way to purchase a ticket or token there. Google told me that we had to purchase fares at Union Station, which was a 20-minute walk away, and Wes’ feet couldn’t possibly handle that. I finally found a convenience store within a large professional building that sold tokens. After trying to explain what we wanted to do to the clerk, who looked at us like total foreigners, we headed back the way we came. The tokens are smaller than dimes, and it ALMOST got lost within my wallet of change because Canadians like to give $1 and $2 CA coin change instead of dollars, but we managed to hop on.

The TTC stop by our condo is one of the first before heading north, and we quickly realized that our timing was terrible – it was the evening rush hour. People crammed into the car like sardines, and of course we got stuck in an area where someone had spewed their lunch of chicken noodle soup. After an unpleasant 15-minute ride, we made it to the restaurant. Wes still thinks the streetcar trip was worth it, even if it wasn’t quite the magical experience he dreamed about.

The three of us walked through University of Toronto campus and spotting a local pizza joint for a quick dinner.

Day 6 – The morning was a little crazy because, since we were living like locals with Airbnb, the condo management company didn’t exclude our car from mandatory evacuation for a garage floor powerwash. We had to move the car by 8 a.m. What luck, huh? It was even better when we got stuck in Toronto rush hour traffic for an hour. Lucky for us, there’s a Tim Horton’s donut and coffee shop in any direction you look, similar to Starbucks here, which does help to soften the blow a little.

We drove another few hours west and stopped in Sarnia and Port Edward, which is the southernmost point of Lake Huron on the I-69 Michigan/Ontario border. We stretched our legs and snapped some pics before cleverly using up the remaining Canadian cash on gas (to the exact cent!). We crossed back into the US and drove through rainy weather until home.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 at 10.49.48 PMThe guys did well this trip, but they both have bouts of homesickness, and they were so grateful to roll into our garage. Before bedtime, we played a round of Candy Land at the kitchen table while eating popcorn and listening to music.

“Mama, I really liked our vacation, but I love, love, love our house.”

Check out the full album of photos here, and Wesley’s unique camera shots here.

Posted: May 15th, 2016
Categories: Leah
Tags: , , ,
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A Wedding Story or “The Fainting Bridesmaid”

If you follow @StevenShattuck, likely you’ve been itching for the details about Saturday’s wedding.

We’ll get to that later.

Jordan is one of my closest friends from elementary through middle school. Freshman year at Ball State, by chance our dorm rooms ended up two doors down from each other. That year was filled with laughter, impromptu “movies,” music videos, discovery and just plain old fun. Her roommate, Laura, was another friend from middle and high school days, and combined with my bestie and roommate, Rachel, the four of us were always finding something exciting to do in Muncie. Jordan transferred to UT the next year and Laura and Rachel both left BSU the following year, so we look back on those days with fond memories. Even the distance from Tennessee to Indiana doesn’t keep us from seeing each other at least once a year. J is my gal-pal, and when she giddily told me about this guy named Matt, I knew I had to meet him.

They came to visit around this time last year, and I got to witness the true, innocent love shared between Matt and Jordan for nearly a week. I was pregnant and swollen and secretly hoping that Wes would be able to attend their wedding. Sure enough, just a few short months later, I got a phone call and photo text of a beautiful engagement ring. Jordan asked me to be her matron of honor, and what an honor it was!

Wes was a star. He was happy and pleasant the whole trip – even during the unexpected 1.5 hour detour, which made Steven madder than a hatter. He slept and napped well. He sported many smiles. Getting the Pack n Play set up was a struggle, however. The bruises all over my wrists are a lovely shade of blue. Must practice more.

Steven was great, too. He pretty much babysat Wes so that I could have fun. I’m sure Matt would have liked Steven to be around more, so next time I think we may leave him with Grandma. Note to self.

Laura, mentioned above, was a bridesmaid, as was Hayley, Jordan’s 15-year-old niece. During the rehearsal, we kept teasing each other about the possibility of fainting during the ceremony. You must realize that the ceremony and reception site was absolutely beautiful, but the balcony where the bridal party stood had little ventilation. It was down right hot up there. Laura giggled that she’s never been to a wedding where someone DID faint, but that it’s largely talked about and witnessed on youtube and the like. Wouldn’t it be fun to attend a wedding where someone did?

Once we were all in place and the floor was marked with tape where we were to stand, Laura and I jokingly told Hayley that if she needed to faint, she could lean forward on me or backward on Laura. We had her back. Good thing, too.

Now, I only tell this story because Hayley is fine & well and able to laugh about it now. Serious kudos to her for taking it lightly!

It was a wonderful view, to look down from the high balcony on Jordan and her dad coming down the aisle. In this photo, you can see the adoration on Matt’s face as he watches his bride. I mean, completely smitten! The minister’s words were fantastic, and the couples’ written vows made for a waterworks show. Just as the ceremony was starting to wrap up, Hayley put her hand on my shoulder and whispered, “I’m going to pass out.” At first I thought she was kidding, but I said, “I’ve got you.”

Everyone – well, nearly everyone – had their head bowed in prayer, which was great timing for all of the following events to happen. The bridal party were all turned inward to face M&J, and in the next moment, I felt Hayley’s chest on my back. She wasn’t kidding! “Ok, we got this,” I kept telling myself. I bent my knees and leaned far forward to absorb her weight as she indeed passed out. Laura wrapped her arms around Hayley so she wouldn’t fall to the side. It was a sight to behold, I’m told.

After a few long moments, she stood up straight and gasped. The prayer was still going strong, but I think that’s when a few family members and a couple ushers noticed the scene. Hayley said next, “I’m going to pass out again. I need to sit.” And almost instantly, she started to fall backwards into Laura. Her pretty face was getting paler by the minute, and we needed to make a quick decision. Team Laura/Leah sandwiched her again, and by the grace of God, an usher appeared on the opposite side of the locked french door behind us. He quickly opened it, and thankfully there was a couch right by the door. We laid her down and fetched orange juice. The prayer ended just as we got her settled! Surely Jordan was slightly confused why her bridesmaids disappeared!

I’m confident this event will get funnier and more dramatic as the years go on, and I sure hope they can embellish it to make a very unique and entertaining wedding story. So, Laura in fact, DID get to witness a fainting bridal party member! I doubt any one got footage of this encounter, and it truly is a shame. We were hailed as “the best bridesmaids in the world” by several wedding attendees throughout the night, and one even joked that he thought we were just “feeling the power of prayer” as our bodies bent in every which way.

The rest of the night went smoothly and was a lovely time. Matt and Jordan are meant for each other. Their love is sweet, sincere and full to bursting. It certainly is a wedding I won’t soon forget!

I dragged around my new birthday camera received just a few days before. I tried to be creative and artsy. Let me just say that it takes several days to figure out how to operate a new-to-you camera. I have plenty of awkward, missed-moment shots from the weekend. Dang shutter speed! (View them here.)

 

Posted: May 14th, 2012
Categories: Leah
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Comments: 1 Comment.


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