Tag Archives: explore

Weekend Wandering: The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Tree

Though I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for a while, we still stuck with tradition and waited until after the joy and mayhem of Thanksgiving to start the Christmas decorating. But this weekend it was time, so we set off to find our shining beauty – the Christmas Tree.

To save time and money, we planned to go the easy route this year and pick from the pre-sorted, pre-cut selection of firs at a local lot. But when we pulled up and learned that even the puniest of trees on the lot were going to run us a whopping $80, that wasn’t going to happen… So we made a last ditch decision to continue our tradition from last year and headed out to pick and cut our own tree at Larson’s Family Farm.

We drove an hour west, leaving the suburban sprawl behind and winding through midwestern farms and cornfields. When we finally arrived, we has less than an hour of sunlight left with which to pick our perfect tree. Though the sunset made for a beautiful setting, it also served as a stressfully ticking clock on my indecisiveness.

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I darted frantically from the firs to the pines to the spruces and back again searching for what would be the perfect symbol of our holiday cheer. While Larson’s had a vast selection and beautiful variety, every tree I came across seemed too short or too sparse or too crooked. In my eyes, one tree was not full enough while another was not green enough. As darkness began to descend, I fretted that we had driven all this way and I would still not find “The One.”

Then my husband, in his simple but infinite wisdom said, “They’re trees. They’re real and living, so they’re not going to be perfect.”

Ah yes, how I so easily forget that to be real and living means by default to be imperfect. And that’s not only okay, but wonderful. Because isn’t it far better to have the type of beauty and essence that is real and living than to strive for some artificial idea of perfection?

This season more than any other, I think it’s easy to forget the beautiful reality of life in our quest for perfecting the holidays. We strive for the perfect tree and the perfect gifts, for the perfect house for hosting parties and the perfect treats to share with friends, for the perfect Christmas card picture and the perfect gift wrapping. We can become so blinded by the sparkling lights that we forget what this season is truly about – the birth of a grace and love that allows us to be perfectly imperfect as real and living humans.

So with the sun descending below the stalks of corn, I finally decided to forget perfection and pick a tree that had a beauty and charm that we loved. We went with a pine, mostly because I loved how Andrew called them the “furry trees.”

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It’s shaggy and sparse in areas and a bit wonky at the top, but in our eyes, it’s taken on it’s own kind of real, imperfect perfection.

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Weekend Wandering: Checking out Chi-Town

We’ve spent the last week in our new home getting slowly unpacked and settled in, escaping the house only for the occasional exciting trip to Home Depot, Lowes, Target, or Ikea. Lest we get sucked into the wide world of suburbia, we decided on Saturday it was time for a little break and an excursion to the city of Chicago.

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Just a couple miles from our house is the cute little town of Clarendon Hills, complete with a train station and easy access to the city. We met up with one of Andrew’s coworkers and his wife and hopped on the train for a quick (30-ish minute) train ride into the city. As we disembarked at Union Station, we had admittedly no plan.

I have to confess, for as much as I love to travel and explore, I am probably the worst tourist. Many of my friends are so great at putting in the time and research to discover the best restaurants to eat at and the best things to do or see. I, however, am far too lazy and usually go into a new experience with very little plan, choosing instead to wander and take it all in and just do or see whatever I happen to come across. The downside of this method is that I likely miss a number of interesting things.  In the case of Chicago though, it was a relief to not have to be a tourist and plan and pack it all in. While it was my first trip to the city, it certainly will not be my last. So I have plenty of time to see and do all the fun things this great city has to offer.

Since Saturday was probably one of the last great weekend weather days of Chicago before the cold sets in, we spent most of the day just walking around and getting acquainted with the city. It really is a beautiful place, with the sprawling waterfront and meandering canals, historic architecture, clean streets and green parks. A few of the highlights from our day:

  • Lunch at the historic Berghoff Restaurant – One of Chicago’s oldest restaurants and the first to obtain a liquor license once prohibition was repealed. It serves up delicious German fare (my favorite!) and their own freshly brewed beer and soda. I especially loved the Blackcherry Soda. And don’t miss out on trying the corned beef or a delicious wurst – yum!
  • Exploring the historic (and haunted?) Congress Plaza Hotel – Since it’s construction in 1893 the hotel has hosted countless presidents, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries; and Al Capone supposedly lived in the hotel for a time. The rich history plays into the tales of haunt. This weekend however, our little group was probably the creepiest thing in the hotel as we roamed the hallways and staircases, exploring the fading glory of this Chicago relic.
  • Visiting “The Bean” (of course) – If you’ve been to Chicago or ever seen anything about the city, you probably know about “The Bean” (official name, Cloud Gate), the large reflective sculpture that is the highlight of Millennium Park. We joined every other tourist to take in the stunning sculpture. We went in the evening and I’ll admit, it was pretty cool to see the lights of the city reflected on such a large scale.

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After a long day of walking, we made our way back to the train station to head back to our endless tasks at home (oh the joys of adulthood…). It was lovely though to have a break from it all and be quickly transported from our quiet neighborhood into the bustling city. Chicago, I’m look forward to many more dates in our future!

Have you visited Chicago? Are there any things you particularly love to see or do there? I would love to know as I embark on future city excursions! 

Falling in Love with the Golden Heart

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been here over a week. In a way though, it also feels like so much longer. Usually when we travel, we’re constantly on the move, but with Andrew’s job, it’s allowed us to settle into Fairbanks more, get to know the town a little better.

The first few days, before Andrew began work, we spent our time being total tourists around Fairbanks.

To get up to speed on our Alaskan history and culture, we checked out the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. Not only did we gain a wealth of interesting information, we also got to meet the museum’s mascot – Otto the grizzly.

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We then headed down to Pike’s Landing, a local recreation area along the Chena River.

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In the summer this area is teeming with outdoor activities such as river-boating and kayaking, golf over the river, and waterfront walking and dining.

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When winter comes, the river freezes over, creating an ice bridge and perfect setting for snowmobiling, dogsledding, and skating or skiing.

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But in the current shoulder season, the banks of the river are just plain peaceful.

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Over the weekends we’ve enjoyed one of our favorite places regardless of what town we’re in – the farmer’s market. Fairbanks’ Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market is a great combination of delicious local produce (yes, Alaska actually does have so much incredible produce), as well as craft artisans inspired by the beauty and resources that are uniquely Alaskan.

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Even the view from the farmer’s market parking lot is incredible.

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We also explored Pioneer Park, “Alaska’s only historic theme park.”

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The park is filled with a few small rides, lots of open park area, historic buildings and exhibits, museums, shops, and food vendors.

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And of course there was an aviation museum that someone loved.

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Later we headed to downtown Fairbanks, which was not so much an urban Mecca as a quiet riverfront town. A lovely place to relax and enjoy the flowing water and evening sun.

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To top it all off, we couldn’t miss a visit to North Pole.

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The town of North Pole, Alaska is just outside of Fairbanks and draws in visitors to enjoy the year-round Christmas cheer. The main attraction is Santa Clause House, where the big man himself greets visitors, offers seasonal delights, and preps his reindeer for the big December journey.

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It’s safe to say we got into the Christmas spirit!

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Though our first week here hasn’t been the Discovery Channel style “Alaskan Adventure” most people imagine, it has been so wonderful to experience and become a small part of the Fairbanks community. As Alaska’s third largest city (behind Anchorage and Juneau), Fairbanks is still relatively small, with a population of only about 100,000 people throughout the greater metropolitan region. This gives Fairbanks a small town feel and a rich community, where residents and tourists alike enjoy the simple pleasures of good food, friendly people and just living in this beautiful place. It’s easy to see why Fairbanks is affectionately known as “The Golden Heart City.”

Weekend Wandering: Adventures in Asheville

Andrew and I are lucky to get to spend most weekends at home together. Still, with all the hustle and bustle of daily life, errands to run, and chores to get done around the house, it can be nice to get away and have a change of scenery. Though I love the life and home we’re creating, monotony gets stifling to me and I’m always seeking new experiences and explorations.

So this past weekend, for a breath of fresh air, we headed to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate a belated Valentine’s Day / an early 6 month anniversary / any excuse to get away. Though I’d been to the beautiful mountain town of Asheville years before, I’d been longing to return with Andrew and bribe him to visit the Biltmoreand other city sites in exchange for feeding him endless local craft beers. A win-win really.

So we set off Saturday morning without a plan. While this lack of planning may bring stress to some (myself included at times), it also adds to the adventure. Armed with just a few friendly recommendations and a vague idea of where we might sleep that night, we were determined to drink in the best of the city in just one short weekend.

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We wandered through street musicians and artisan markets into the incredible Battery Park Book Exchange. This place is a library meets bar meets living room. Or if you’re a book lover like me, it’s simply heaven.

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All the books are previously loved and deeply discounted, and the place itself welcomes you in and makes you want to stay until you’ve read every book under their roof.

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But time was limited and stomachs were rumbling, so it was time to try local cuisine with a side of southern hospitality at Mayfel’s. Though surrounded by mountains, we enjoyed a lunch of shrimp po-boys, gumbo, and fried catfish that tasted as if it came straight out of the bayou. And the beignets… oh the doughy fried sugary goodness!

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After a bit more meandering and a tasty craft brew for Andrew, he indulged my inner book nerd once more with a visit to Asheville’s infamous Malaprop’s Bookstore. This local landmark has become a mecca for book-lovers and talented authors from around the world. So I was excited to score a signed copy of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by one of my new favorite authors, Ann Patchett.

Though I could have happily stayed and read the evening away, the sunny skies and fresh mountain air beckoned us outside again. It was too late to soak in the beautiful weather with a hike, but just the right time to take it all in at an urban beer garden.

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Our lunch waitress suggested we visit the new and little known Ben’s Tune Up. This gem of a find has risen from the ashes of it’s former life as an auto repair shop to become an eclectic bar, beer garden, and sake brewery – the perfect open space to gather with friends and share some Asian fare and ginger beer.

And let your patriotism shine…

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On the recommendation of, well everybody, we ended the night with dinner at the delicious Curate tapas bar. If you’re like us and don’t plan, know that you will likely be waiting for over an hour to score a seat. But the wait is well worth it, and since the restaurant texts when the table is ready, we used it as an opportunity to explore even more.

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The beauty of tapas style dining is the ability to try so many different dishes. From chorizo and clams to croquetas, none of our mini meals disappointed. And you just can’t go wrong when you finish the evening with homemade raspberry sorbet and lemon thyme ice cream.

Sunday morning we were up bright and early for our day at the Biltmore Estate.

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Since I had been pestering him for months about visiting America’s largest home, my sweet husband surprised me with tickets for Valentine’s Day.

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To fuel up for the trek through the 178,926 square foot house, we began with a bountiful brunch buffet at the Biltmore’s Deerpark Restaurant. There were more amazing options than we could even handle, so we waddled out full and happy.

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Once inside the house, the magic and majesty of the mansion that I remembered from childhood overtook me once more. The grandeur, the design, and the detail are the stuff of dreams.

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The vistas of the Blue Ridge mountains encircling the property are breathtaking.

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And a beautiful terrace to relax and enjoy the views doesn’t hurt the charm either.

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After winding up grand staircases, down sprawling hallways, and through tapestry laden living rooms, we emerged from the house slightly humbled. Though it’s nice to visit, the upkeep of such an estate, especially without many of today’s modern conveniences, seems downright daunting.

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As the early evening sun settled over the mountains, it was time to return to the real world. East Tennessee was calling and new adventures, including a new dog, awaited us back home.

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No matter how brief, the break and breath of fresh air that a weekend escape brings is always wonderful. I’ve returned to daily life rejuvenated and only slightly bitter that I wasn’t born a Vanderbilt…

Weekend Wandering

As expected, the weekend included lots of laying low and keeping cozy.

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I started the snowy Saturday off with this delicious, healthy, and easy breakfast of quinoa, edamame, egg, and avocado.

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Bella and I decided to brave the elements to enjoy a scenic walk and expend some energy.

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Fetch was played. Sticks were chewed. And someone had a frightful moment when she got a piece of stick stuck in the bridge of her mouth…

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But alls well that end well with a happy pup.

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Hope your weekend was blissful and that your week is off to a joyful start!