CHF Recovery: Day 25

I was busy on October 8 so here’s the stuff from that day. It was time to leave New York so I was focused on wrap-up activities.

  • Got up, had protein shake, took meds
  • Had shower and got dressed
  • Met Kathryn at the same cafe as the day before to have breakfast

Breakfast was good (I tried blintzes for the first time) but also sad, since it was the absolute end of our time together. The restaurant was busy and various emotions were happening and it was hard. But it was good, too.

  • Walked Kathryn back to her apartment
  • Took my bowls over to UPS to have them shipped home
  • Strolled as slowly as I have ever strolled in my life back to the Airbnb, stopping to get myself a chai tea latte at Starbucks
  • Drank my chai and messed around online and wrote some stuff
  • Packed my things
  • Got a cab to LaGuardia
  • Checked my bag and got through security in like two seconds (it was so dead!)
  • Got a sandwich and a yogurt and piddled around at my gate until time to board

LaGuardia felt really small compared to Atlanta, but I was at a specific terminal, and it seems like every terminal has its own baggage check/claim and security area and food court, making them pretty self-contained. I guess there were several more terminals that were the same way, each with their own gates, so the impression was deceptive.

There were high tops all over the place with tablet computers at each seat that allowed you to order food, play games, check the status of your flight, charge your device, and more. Really cool. If I had known I could just order food right there I might have done that instead of searching through the food court. What I ended up doing was going back out to the entrance (like I said, the terminal is really small) and finding the sandwich and yogurt (and some peanut butter M&Ms), then taking forever to realize that I had to walk down toward the gates to check out. I had looked at the restaurants, but one of them was very fancy and expensive (the seafood dish was $75!), one of them didn’t have anything I could eat, and I couldn’t tell how much the stuff was at the third. The food court had stuff like deli sandwiches, pizza, and burgers, none of which would have really worked for me.

I was in Zone 3 so I sat around when boarding started, and right at the last minute I went to the bathroom, and then suddenly they were making an announcement like “All passengers going to Atlanta come to Gate 10 now!” I went back out there and there was still a line to board, but it was short. Perfect timing, I suppose.

I was seated way in the back, and all the overhead bins were looking full, so I slipped into my window seat carrying both my laptop bag and my camera bag and hoped for the best. Miraculously, both of them fit under the seat in front of me, and that meant I was able to use my little laptop to do some writing during the flight! I also had my traditional hot tea and Biscoff cookies, and ate my peanut butter M&Ms, and took pictures out the window, and set the TV on the back of the chair in front of me to Japanese mode for fun. All in all, it was a good flight. Takeoff was kind of rough; there was a bunch of turbulence before we got to cruising altitude. And then landing was also rough! But the flight itself was smooth.

My plane arrived in Atlanta at around 9pm and it took about half an hour to take the Plane Train to baggage claim. Right on time. I met up with Sean and hugged him a lot. Then we went home.

  • Unpacked all my stuff
  • Left the computer to set up the next day, but set up my little laptop on the bed and messed around online a bit before finally going to sleep

CHF Recovery: Days 23 and 24

Whoops, I forgot to log anything yesterday. I was busy!

October 6

  • Got up, had protein shake and meds
  • Met Kathryn for breakfast at Gracie Mews Diner on the recommendation of my Airbnb host; it was lovely
  • Took a solo jaunt up to the Cloisters, first by taking the bus to Broadway and 86th and then hopping on the A train up to 190th Street

This trip involved taking the bus! I finally successfully rode a bus.

  • Wandered around the garden and park for hours
  • Actually got to the Cloisters itself; it was closed but I took photos of the outside
  • Walked back to the front of the park

This doesn’t look like much but it was so much walking! The garden—which is called Heather Garden, by the way—was utterly gorgeous, and I took about a bazillion photos. The rest of the park is huge, with trails everywhere, and there are some really steep inclines and a lot of stairs. The park is the site of a former fort, Fort Tryon, and you can wander around overlooks made of stone, and it’s beautiful. The Cloisters building itself is also lovely.

  • Ate dinner at New Leaf, a restaurant on the park grounds

Dinner was great; I asked them to make it without salt and they did! It was half a chicken, roasted, with carrot and asparagus couscous. For dessert I had three scoops of ice cream: chocolate, lemon, and basil. So good. At the end I thankfully remembered to take my meds. The sun had long since set by the time I finished eating, and it had gotten fairly chilly; I was happy to get back down to the climate-controlled subway.

By the way, the subway stop in front of Fort Tryon Park is so cool! The building looks so neat, with a big wood door and metal gates and such, and you have to ride a huge elevator way down to get to the trains.

  • Rode the subway back into town, this time to 59th Street
  • Took a different bus across Central Park to stop by and say goodnight to Kathryn
  • Walked back to the Airbnb, stopping along the way for some mint Milano cookies
  • Ate cookies and drank hot tea
  • Took supplements and went to bed

October 7

  • Got up around 8am, had protein shake, took meds
  • Showered and got dressed
  • Met Kathryn at Cafe Luka; she had a burger and I had a chicken sandwich

They gave me enough chicken for three people. I cut off what I wanted to eat and put that inside the seven-grain bread with one slice of tomato and some of the massive lettuce leaf, and left the rest on my plate. We shared my fries, which were good.

  • Took the train with Kathryn down to Grand Central
  • Took photos of the main terminal area that everyone takes pictures of
  • Went to the Transit Museum Annex and saw the etiquette sign exhibit

This was so fun. In addition to New York signage, there were signs from around the world. There was also a loop of TV ads running, including a bizarre and hilarious and morbid one from Australia, Dumb Ways to Die. The gift shop had a ton of subway-themed stuff, but I didn’t find anything I really, really wanted, so we left with no purchases. (I was drawn to a collection of old subway tokens, but I’m not sure where I would put them.) Next door there was a store selling unique gifts, so we went in there and looked around too. Kathryn got herself some cute Alice in Wonderland stickers :)

While we were in the area we walked over to the UPS distribution center to pick up a package I had sent to Kathryn, only to discover that it was on the truck being delivered. Argh. Lots of walking for nothing. However, we did see a few New York City Comic Con cosplayers, at least.

We were both quite tired at this point so we went back to our respective apartments.

  • Poked around online
  • Met up with Kathryn again at our usual sushi place
  • Remembered to take my meds!
  • Walked over to a little bakery with Kathryn and had cute little cakes
  • Back to the Airbnb whee
  • Went to bed at 12:30am

CHF Recovery: Day 22

Really not feelin’ it today. (Where “it” is “anything.”)

  • Got up at 7
  • Had protein shake and morning meds
  • Sat around grumpily for hours
  • Ate the protein bistro box I bought yesterday
  • Finally got off my ass and went out; walked a few blocks to the subway stop on 77th and rode downtown

I had intended to go to Chinatown and walk around taking pictures, but when the train got to the Astor Place stop I spontaneously got out, deciding to go to Cha An again. While walking toward Cha An I realized that entire street is lined with Japanese restaurants and other businesses, including a store. I picked a sushi restaurant and went there first for some protein.

  • Had a late lunch (3:15) of delicious sushi at Sharaku
  • Went to Sunrise Mart

This place was great! You take a laboriously slow elevator to get to it, which reminded me of older department stores and such in Japan. The store is filled with groceries and beauty products and video rentals, and in the very back corner…dishes!!!! I was so excited! (My mood had already picked up quite a bit thanks to the sushi but this pushed me over the edge.) I ended up buying four rice bowls, each with a different beautiful pattern. Then it was time for Cha An!

  • Went to Cha An

I ordered the matcha and the dessert sampler, and they were both awesome. The matcha is served in a large, beautiful cup (not a traditional pottery-style cup, but a porcelain one, but it was gorgeous) with red bean and mochi confections on the side. It was the perfect balance. The menu had said the matcha was sweet, which concerned me, but it had not been sweetened; it was just the right kind of bitter.

The dessert sampler included five items: mochi with what I believe was chestnut filling, black sesame creme brulee, lemon cake with jam and whipped cream, red bean ice cream with a black sesame cracker for contrast, and two cookies, one green tea flavored and one that I think had the flavor of roasted rice. They were all amazing; I think I liked the creme brulee best, followed by the red bean ice cream and the mochi.

I forgot to take my mealtime medicine while I was at Cha An, so I stopped in at a bakery and bought a bottle of water…and a gift box of macarons, because macarons.

After taking my meds, I headed back uptown. I’d thought about continuing down to Chinatown, but I had a bag full of bowls and macarons at this point and I didn’t feel like lugging it around.

  • Rode the train to 86th
  • Walked a few blocks back to Airbnb
  • Settled in and did some reading
  • Got peckish so went up the street and bought a slice of pizza

Yes. Pizza. >_< White bread and salty and greasy and unhealthy. My sodium count must be through the roof. I don’t even know. I don’t know how much sodium was in all those desserts, either.

Today was a cheat day ;P I’ll be good again tomorrow.

(It was real New York pizza. I had never had it before. You gotta have real New York pizza in New York, man.)

  • Changed into pajamas
  • Did a bit more reading

Now all that’s left is:

  • Take evening supplements
  • Go to bed

CHF Recovery: Day 21

It is so difficult to maintain a low-sodium diet. I hate it.

Today the plan was to go to Cha An for lunch, then check out Chinatown. We did both of these things, but at first there was some confusion about whether or not I could actually eat anything at Cha An.

Cha An is a cool Japanese restaurant that focuses on tea and dessert but also has appetizers, side dishes, and a couple of meal options. I was looking at the menu before heading out to meet Kathryn and it seemed like it wouldn’t work out. This was really upsetting, because I had really been looking forward to this place. I grumped around for some time, then decided I could probably have the “salmon toast”, so we met up and went there as planned.

I ended up ordering the appetizer sampler, which came with six different items in very small portions. The fish items didn’t seem to have heavy sauces, and nothing tasted particularly salty, so I was hopeful I’d be safe. We shared a seasonal parfait at the end of the meal, which consisted of assam tea jelly, chestnut ice cream, and sweet potato custard, with toppings of mochi, chestnuts, and a matcha (green tea) Rice Krispies treat bar. It was amazing.

Later, when I attempted to tally the nutrition information for these items, I learned that one of my appetizers, the seaweed salad, has a ton of sodium. I was not expecting that at all.

Dinner happened at a diner we passed while walking back to Kathryn’s apartment, and it wasn’t very good. I did find something I could eat: grilled chicken with steamed vegetables and a baked potato. The portion size was ludicrous. I received two full chicken breasts and enough vegetables for four people. I got tired of eating it after awhile, so I stopped eating even though I was still hungry.

The highlight of the day was Chinatown. Kathryn took me to a three-level grocery and home goods store. The top level had beauty products, home office supplies, and some cute decorative items. The middle level was the grocery store, with a wide variety of food, including tons of snacks. The bottom level, Kathryn had kept as a surprise: it was filled with dishes!

I spent ages there, going through the aisles again and again, looking at bowls and plates and cups and teapots. It was so wonderful. I haven’t had a place to shop for Japanese dishes since Hibari Market in Lexington shut down, years ago. There were so many different designs! So much blue and white! I ended up getting two medium-sized bowls in a traditional Japanese pottery style and two small bowls with a pink sakura pattern. (Here’s hoping I can pack them properly for the trip home…)

So, while my heart failure tried to ruin the day, it ultimately failed.

  • Got up, had protein shake and morning meds
  • Goofed off online and wrote a very tiny bit
  • Took a shower
  • Met up with Kathryn and went to Cha An
  • Went to Chinatown and it was awesome
  • Went back to Kathryn’s apartment, stopping at a diner on the way; took mealtime meds
  • Hung out at Kathryn’s apartment for awhile
  • Came back to the Airbnb; at this point I was grumpy
  • My host made me some eggs and toast for a snack
  • Ate the snack and then got back on my computer for awhile
  • Grumpily ate a piece of baklava
  • Took evening supplements

My mood was not great at the end of the day—I actually started crying a couple times on the walk home—but I think it was due to the day being long and tiring. I’m going to bed now, and hopefully I’ll get some good rest tonight.

CHF Recovery: Days 18, 19, and 20

So, I’m on vacation, and that means my normal routine is disrupted. I had planned and booked a trip to New York City before my heart decided to fail, and everything was nonrefundable, and I am at least able to walk around, so I came. And I’m having a great time! Here are my status updates for the first three days.

October 1

  • Got up around 9:15am
  • Had my protein shake and morning meds
  • Piddled around online
  • Had second breakfast with my Airbnb host (eggs and toast, yum!)
  • Continued piddling around online until something like 3:30pm
  • Walked from my Airbnb to Central Park
  • Wandered around Central Park a bit
  • Walked from Central Park all the way down to Times Square; it was nighttime so I got to see it all lit up
  • Went from there to Starbucks to get a chai while I waited for Kathryn
  • Met up with Kathryn and went to a diner for dinner; I had a salad and she had some sort of delicious-looking Eggs Benedict thing
  • Went back to the Airbnb and realized I had forgotten to take my evening meds with dinner
  • Ate yogurt and took meds
  • Wrote a short story
  • Went to bed at 1am

October 2

  • Got up around 9:30
  • Had protein shake and morning meds
  • Goofed off online
  • Showered and got dressed
  • Met up with Kathryn for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant
  • Had steamed cod (recommended by the American Heart Association!) and it was delicious
  • Went around the block to a coffee shop and sat with Kathryn while she had her favorite flavored coffee
  • Went back to the Airbnb and had a couple cookies and some tea while playing around online (I tried to think of something to write but was unsuccessful)
  • Got dressed for dinner in a skirt that didn’t fit me when I first got it! I looked really cute
  • Met Kathryn at our favorite (e.g., the only one we’ve ever really tried) sushi restaurant
  • Had a deluxe sushi plate, half of which I had to take back to the Airbnb
  • Also had a scoop of vanilla ice cream that was AMAZING
  • Walked back to the Airbnb

Let me just interject here that I love walking around Manhattan? It’s just so full of energy and interesting things to look at! I’ve noticed this time that everyone is doing sushi now. There is almost a sushi restaurant on every block. But what really took the cake for me? A bagel shop with the sign, “Now serving sushi!” What is happening? :D

  • Ate my leftovers while reading online and chatting
  • Went to bed at midnight

October 3

  • Slept until 10am! This seemed dramatic until I just looked at the other times I got up this week
  • Had protein shake and morning meds
  • Made myself two eggs and a piece of toast
  • Hung out with my Airbnb host for awhile
  • Went back to my room and goofed off online some more
  • Asked my Airbnb host if he had any chocolate and he DID and he GAVE IT ALL TO ME
  • I ate it all
  • Wrote 2310 words on a story and I’m not sure where it’s going or how much longer it will be!
  • Finally showered at like 5pm and put on my octopus skirt
  • Met up with Kathryn for dinner at a Greek restaurant

Let me just mention here that the walk was GREAT and it made me feel so good, because the weather was perfect! It was nighttime and dark, but not cold at all. And it wasn’t hot. It was my favorite temperature, really. Somewhere around 68-70. Ahhh it was just so comfortable. I had a spring in my step!

  • Kathryn had souvlaki with lamb and I had a gyros with rotisserie chicken and they both were made with French fries inside them and it was fascinating and delicious
  • Took my mealtime meds
  • Then we went to a froyo place
  • I had strawberry with strawberries and banana and white chocolate chips and Nilla Wafers
  • Kathryn had birthday cupcake batter with a bunch of different candies and it looked awesome
  • Neither of us could quite finish
  • Walked back to my Airbnb; it had gotten slightly chilly but not bad at all
  • Goofed off online, as is my wont
  • Couldn’t really focus on what to write next, so didn’t write anymore
  • Took evening supplements and went to bed at 11:30pm

NY Trip Day 4: Poughkeepsie and an Epiphany

This post covers the fourth day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. The events occurred July 17, but it took me two days, July 18 and 19, to write about them.

This was a highly satisfying day. I was out later than usual and didn’t end up writing a thing when I got back, so I started this update the next morning.

I had a plan for this day: Samuel Morse historic site, Culinary Institute of America, FDR site, Vanderbilt mansion. The first wrench in the works came when I realized the Culinary Institute was closed for the summer. There would be no tours or meals at the campus restaurants. So I had to cross that one off my list.

I got started early enough to catch the 10am opening of the Samuel Morse historic site, located on the south side of Poughkeepsie. When I arrived, I discovered there was a car show going on all over the grounds! I wasn’t sure where to park, so I pulled right into the main entrance. “If you’re showing the car, pull up and around to the left,” a guy directing traffic said.

“Actually I just wanted to see the museum…where can I park?”

“You’ll need to go back out down the street to Merrill Lynch and walk back through the woods.”

This wasn’t difficult, and soon I was at an entrance table where I paid $6 for the car show (why not? I could simply pay an additional $4 for the house tour, which was normally $10 anyway) and then meandered on into the grounds. I took some time strolling around all the cars, snapping plenty of photos. Finally I headed to the visitor’s center and bought a ticket for the tour of Samuel Morse’s house, Locust Grove. (As is typical of these older homes, photography was not allowed inside.)

Locust GroveIt turned out the house had had several owners, and it currently exists as its last owners, the Youngs, had it set up. Samuel Morse did own the home and make some amazing additions to it, but the home is also notable just for showing how people lived. The most impressive room to me was the billiard room with its rounded, vaulted ceiling. The room was huge, with walls curving around a pool table in the middle, and the extraordinarily high ceiling is capped off by what used to be a skylight–it leaked, so it was closed off. Closets with curved doors to the left and right of the entry served to store ball gowns, so there was no smoking in the billiard room. There was a music player that played wax rolls.

I also loved the add-on back room, with its huge windows and French doors. It was like a giant sunroom, with access to the veranda and backyard. The room originally boasted a beautiful view of the Hudson, but trees have since grown up to block that view.

Every room in the house was filled with collectible items. Some were antiques or valuable and others were knockoffs. The Youngs apparently didn’t throw anything away. But I found the eclectic collection quite charming. One lady of the house collected teapots, and it was neat to see them all around.

The dining room had, I believe, been added on by the owners previous to Morse. The butler’s pantry off that room features a mirror that allowed the lady of the house to signal the butler without it being obvious to the rest of the table. There was also a nice dumbwaiter leading down to the kitchen and a safe hidden behind a painting.

This home was a neat contrast to Boscobel. Boscobel is Colonial era; this house, Locust Grove, had been lived in and updated until 1975, and after that was restored to turn-of-the-century. So you see things like electricity and real bathrooms with tubs, sinks, and toilets. The hearth area where cooking would have been done over the coals in colonial times now boasts a gorgeous black gas stove.

After I was done in the house, I went back to the welcome center and looked at the Samuel Morse exhibit, which shows off many of his portraits (I’d had no idea he was a painter), other paintings, and a sculpture. It also, of course, detailed the creation of Morse Code. Reading it all was really exciting. To think that before the telegraph, instant communication simply wasn’t possible…this breakthrough summoned forth our current age.

I also liked seeing the books and toys that taught children Morse Code, making it fun to learn the tools they’d need for work in the future. It reminded me of mail-order science kits or those build-it-yourself radios you could get at Radio Shack when I was a kid.

Finally I headed back outside and looked at more cars on my way back to the Camaro. The gentleman who’d waved me out when I arrived recognized me and was stunned to discover that the car was a rental.

I hadn’t had breakfast, and by now it was time for lunch, so I searched Yelp! on my phone for a nearby restaurant and ended up at the Derby on Main Street in Poughkeepsie. It’s right up the street from the water and pretty easy to find. When I walked in, the place was dead…probably due to the fact that the air conditioning wasn’t working in the bar or in the first dining room. The second dining room had window units, though, so I was good to go. I sat down and snapped some pictures and looked at the menu.

The Derbyme at the DerbyIt seems to me like pulled pork is becoming a thing up here. Or maybe it has been for awhile. Coming from the South, I kind of wanted to try something different, something more local. Many of the menu items sounded like stuff I could get at downtown Augusta restaurants. Finally, with the help of the waiter, I settled on their Derby Summer salad, which includes strawberries, nuts, and Brie. I asked to have salmon added.

I waited for a very long time, drinking two or three refills of water in the interim. Finally the waiter came back, looking embarrassed, and told me that they actually had no salmon. Somewhere the lines of communication had completely broken down. He gave me the salad without the salmon and said it was on the house.

Derby summer saladThe salad was amazing. It might have been the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Plus, I really didn’t care about having to wait, or having no salmon. I can be pretty easygoing when I’m by myself and don’t really have a deadline. I left a $10 on the table, which now that I think about it wasn’t enough to cover the food, tax, and tip, but since they were giving it to me for free hopefully they can work something out so that the waiter gets a fair share.

I thought about walking down to the river from there, but the parking was only for restaurant customers and I didn’t want to risk being towed. I decided against driving around looking for a riverfront parking area and continued on Highway 9 to the north.  I passed the Culinary Institute of America, to my left as I was leaving Poughkeepsie, but as I mentioned before, it was closed, so I just drove straight past. By the way, for those of you who don’t watch Law & Order, Poughkeepsie is pronounced “puh-KIP-see”. ;)

The next place on my list was the Franklin D. Roosevelt historic site in Hyde Park. But I somehow wound up in the wrong lane and had to make a right turn off of the road I was supposed to be on. I was going to just turn around and go back, but then I saw a sign pointing the way to Eleanor Roosevelt’s house. Purely on a whim, I followed the signs and ended up at Val-Kill.

Val-KillThe grounds are lovely. I drove in and parked, then purchased a tour ticket at the welcome center. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is maintained by the National Park Service, so everyone, tour guides and ticket sales alike, was in uniform. The tour began with a video about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life.

Watching that video, and then listening to the tour guide as she showed my large group through the house, I had a revelation. You see, I had never really known much about Eleanor Roosevelt before. I had a vague understanding that she was a first lady who championed causes, but I never realized what those causes were or why she did it. She didn’t do what she did because she was expected to; she did what she felt was right. In fact, what she did often clashed with the majority opinion of what she should be doing…but she didn’t care.

She wanted to help, to take care of people, to ensure that everyone was treated equally. She cared about people. She wrote and wrote and wrote. And her home was a simple, comfortable one where she could entertain family and friends with dinners and potlucks and swimming.

She started out shy but madly curious, uninterested in “girly” stuff such as her “coming out” and eager to learn all she could about everything. She met and married a kindred spirit and together they achieved greatness, despite his infidelity.

At one time the Ku Klux Klan put a bounty on her head, and she drove winding country roads in the black of night to get past them so she could attend an important meeting.

The reality, the power, of believing in people and oneself and actually doing something about injustice thrummed through me to the bone. Here was a woman who didn’t, say, get a job in TV news and then censor her own opinions for five years, crippling her writing and miring herself in fear of what current or future employers might think. Here was a woman who simply did what she believed was right. All in. All the time. She wrote every day and she pulled no punches.

I was profoundly affected by learning the story of Eleanor Roosevelt. I think I will finally be able to get myself back on track now.

I took a short walk around the grounds and got some photos, then headed back to the car. As I was messing with the GPS, two older ladies tapped on the window and asked if I was going to the FDR library, and if so, could they get a ride? Yes, and yes! We fumbled around and figured out how to move the passenger seat so one of them, Ann, could get in the back, then the other, Elaine, sat up front. We chatted about how it was really too hot to walk all that way; they thanked me profusely and I said it was no problem. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen the FDR site yet, and I wondered if I had enough time to do it all. They recommended the library over the house, and I took that recommendation.

The FDR site is much larger than Eleanor’s. The sprawling estate includes the house, the library/museum, a large visitors center, and various gardens. The Roosevelts are buried there. After parking, you go through the visitors center, get your ticket, and then exit a different door onto the grounds.

statue of the RooseveltsIt was indeed a very hot day, I thought as I marched up the gravel path to the library. The site is currently being renovated and restored for the first time since it opened–construction started this year and there’s taped off areas and construction equipment and dirt and concrete all around. It gave the area a starker feeling than I think it would normally have; I can imagine the site being much more pastoral and beautiful.

At the library I learned about FDR’s life and presidency and about the reasoning behind social security. A lot of the opposition back then used the same arguments we’re hearing today. The exhibit included a place for people to write their own thoughts as to whether or not social security is the right choice moving forward. I was also interested in the sections concerning FDR’s role in the atomic bomb and Japanese-American internment camps.

However, I had been so wowed by my epiphany at the Eleanor Roosevelt site that I didn’t pay as close attention to the FDR site as I might have otherwise. I looked at everything–one nice touch was that photography was allowed–but I didn’t feel the same connection. There was a room dedicated to Eleanor in the museum, but it was small and I felt I had already gotten to know her at Val-Kill.

Finally I went outside and walked the grounds a bit. I checked out Springwood, FDR’s house, the main house used by the couple. (Val-Kill was originally a furniture factory and then a summer home before Eleanor moved there after FDR’s death.) I was too late for a tour but I got some exterior shots. I also saw Franklin and Eleanor’s grave.

SpringwoodGrave of FDR and ERI headed back to the car through a field filled with leaping insects, long waving grasses, and clover. All I could think was how happy I was to have gone to Eleanor’s site. How there was no one saying I couldn’t write anymore–I was the only one blocking myself. I felt a new hope and optimism that had been missing for a long time.

Why should I be afraid to write what I’m thinking, and how I came to think it? Is the alternative, writing nothing, really better? No. It’s worse. I’ve always known it was worse. But I was afraid. And I’m tired of fear.

My last stop was the Vanderbilt mansion. Again, I was too late for a tour. I’ve toured the Biltmore, and it felt like a very “look how rich they were!” tour, which is completely unappealing to me. But I’ve heard that this mansion tour focuses more on how people lived, and I’ve also heard that the Vanderbilts were extremely generous with all that wealth. So I do want to go on the Vanderbilt mansion tour someday.

Vanderbilt mansionWhen the grounds are open–they’re free to the public from dawn until dusk–you can just drive on in and park. I saw lots of people walking, running, and bicycling, and even one woman laying out getting a tan. The grounds are extensive, covered with trees, and well-maintained. This open, public, comfortable atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the theme park feel of the Biltmore. There, you pay an admission fee of $44 to $59 for access to the house and grounds (which includes a self-guided audio tour of the house), and there’s more driving around on all the winding roads than there is walking or bicycling. But of course, the Biltmore is not a public park; it’s owned by a Vanderbilt descendant.

I walked past the visitors center and around the house, which is lovely, then followed a path far back into the woods until it ended at a large Italian-style flower garden. Maintained by volunteers, the garden has several levels filled with blooms. There’s a small fountain at the top, and below, just above the lowest-level rose garden, there’s a pool filled with lily pads and watched over by a pale statue. There are some arbors, but most of the garden is in direct sunlight, making for a steamy meander. I strolled through most of the levels but left the sparse rose garden unexplored.

Vanderbilt gardensflowersgardensEvery now and then at these sites I’ve seen a sign indicating a private residence. A house alongside the garden is one such property. I wonder what it’s like to live in the middle of a public park?

I walked back to the mansion, this time taking a moment to walk around back. I was glad I did, because the Hudson River was visible. The back of the home was lovely as well. I took more pictures and then headed back to the car.

Hudson River viewrear of Vanderbilt mansionWith this, my mission for the day was complete. I knew, though, that if I went back to the hotel now, I’d be stuck shivering in the air conditioning for hours doing nothing interesting. So on my way back south on highway 9, I took an exit in Poughkeepsie called “Water St”. The sign was huge, so I figured this was the best way to get to the riverfront.

And it would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for all the construction! Not long after I got onto the ramp, it turned into gravel, with traffic cones demarcating a rough lane. I was unsure I wanted to go this route, but there was no way back, so I plunged forward, following construction cones and detour signs until I was back on regular roads and the river was before me. Ah! The riverfront! I drove straight down into a cul-de-sac and found a park area. Perfect. After a little confusion about where to park the car, I finally found a four-hour public parking space on a side street.

As I was walking back to the park, I saw a restaurant called Captain Cliffy’s River Station. Seafood. Awesome! I headed on in for an early dinner. They seated me near the back window so I could see out to the park and the Hudson River beyond without missing out on the air conditioning.

Captain Cliffy'sThe place has your normal bar and grill on the coast sort of feel. Comfortable, a little loud, great view. I had the swordfish and it was wonderful.

Once I was fed and watered, I headed down to the riverfront park and walked its length, first right, then left. There was music playing at a picnic shelter near the park entrance, and lots of people were dancing or sitting and listening. There was a skate park and a playground further down the path. Up ahead was what I thought was a working train bridge, but then I came across an informational sign that let me know it was a former train bridge that had been converted to a walking and bicycling path. The thing is really long. I wanted to find where it started and cross it, but there was no way I had time. A little further up the path is one of those binocular machines–free–and I was able to see the people walking along the bridge.

Poughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontbinocular view of converted train bridgeThe path ended with a large covered area suitable for small concerts and gatherings; a young couple was walking around inside. The riverfront park really isn’t all that big, and Augusta’s Riverwalk, it could be argued, is far more elaborate in terms of landscaping, gardening, and walkway design, but there were all kinds of people there, from the nearby apartment building or restaurant patrons or visitors, and it all felt very friendly and nice.

Back the other way from the entrance, there’s a three-piece whale-serpent statue lying across the grass such that it appears to be swimming, with only its tail, midsection, and head visible. Each piece has beautiful decorative tiles embedded along the top like scales. Beyond that, the trail meanders down to a pier that extends out into the Hudson, affording lovely views. There’s no railing at the end, so I assume boats can dock there briefly to let people on or off. To the right of the pier, down the river, is the train bridge walkway; to the left, almost immediately, is a highway bridge, light blue.

whale serpentwhale serpent's headdockPoughkeepsie riverfrontAs I walked back to the car, I just drank in the happy view of a Sunday evening at the river, families and couples and individuals all out having a nice time.

When I got back to Fishkill, I rode with Sean to get his dinner (Wendy’s) and then up to Friendly’s for some ice cream. This time I had a strawberry shortcake sundae, and it was yum. And that concluded my fourth day in New York State. I went to bed as early as possible to prepare for Day 5: New York City!

NY Trip Day 3: Fishkill and Beacon

This post covers the third day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 16.

Today was a slow day. I didn’t get up until 12:30pm; guess I was tired! I spent a few hours searching online for historic or interesting sites to visit and eating a sandwich and some blueberries. Finally at around 3 I decided to head out.

My first stop was the ATM in Fishkill to grab some cash, because I don’t want to run into the cash-only entrance fee problem unprepared again. Then I headed back up the road to the Van Wyck Homestead, which is right at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Highway 9. It was 3:50 when I arrived…and the house closed at 4!

Van Wyck HomesteadI managed to catch the tail end of a tour. The house isn’t that big, and it hasn’t been perfectly restored, so really the main interesting things were who had stayed at the house and how people had lived there. I saw the kitchen and heard how people cooked, and the guide talked about how people made soap from animal fat and had to import sugar in cones from the Caribbean Islands–where Alexander Hamilton was born, something I had never heard before. Hamilton, along with Lafayette, von Steubing, and Washington himself are said to have stayed at the Van Wyck house when it was used as a headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

After a quick look through the gift shop–which included a cabinet said to have originally housed a Murphy-style fold-down bed used by Gen. Washington–I headed outside to allow the poor proprietors to close the house up. I didn’t leave right away, though; instead I circled the home taking pictures, getting some decent shots of the building as well as some interesting stone structures, a garden, and a well. There’s more information about the house here.

Also on the property is a historic marker for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path. I was excited to see this since there is also a marker for for path at Riverwalk in Augusta! (Click here for more information about the Path.) Needless to say, I got a few pictures.

When I was done poking around the Van Wyck Homestead property, I went back to the car and wondered what to do next. The obvious option was to head up the street into Fishkill and walk around, but I’d already sort of done that, so the idea didn’t excite me. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and searched Maps for “historic”. Many of the sites that came up were some distance away. I avoided those because I’d noticed many of the smaller historic sites had early closing times, like Van Wyck. But I did see a point nearby: the Madam Brett Homestead on Teller Street in Beacon, Fishkill’s neighbor to the immediate southwest. (Interestingly, the Van Wyck house was built on land purchased from Catheryna Rombout Brett, the lady who lived there. I didn’t discover that fact until I started writing this post.)

Madam Brett HomesteadI put the address into the Garmin and headed off to Beacon. It was a short and simple drive. When I got to the house, there was a big sign for it, but no parking area other than a normal-looking half-circle driveway, and no one was parked there. I saw a bunch of people walking around, and I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable getting out there. So I drove past and parked along the water on Main Street, where I saw some shops and cool murals.

muralschurchAs I walked back up I took pictures of a neat church, and I saw a building just beyond it that looked really awesome, but I figured I’d come back around in a loop and get pictures of that one later. I saw plenty of other interesting things on my way back to the Madam Brett house, and I took pictures all along the way.

The house sits on a wide lot behind a firehouse. The land and home are well-maintained. I walked up to the front door and created the spot on Gowalla and checked in, then got plenty of pictures around the site. I saw no information for visitors, so I’m not sure the house is actually open to the public, but it was still neat to see. I finished up by photographing the big sign at the corner, then walked back up to Main Street.

Madam Brett Homestead signAt that point I could have walked back to the car and left, but I saw that I had come out on a lively shopping and restaurant district. I turned left instead and headed further up Main, taking pictures of all the cool signage and architecture. I walked and walked until I got to the end of the street and saw signs for the Beacon/Newburgh Bridge. Then I crossed and headed back down the other side of Main Street. I got photos of an awesome church with a “fallout shelter” sign, the fire station in front of the Madam Brett house which was built in 1901 and is still in operation, and many small shops and restaurants with cool signs, including an authentic old-school diner called Yankee Clipper. I passed a place that made real fruit popsicles on my way up the street, and I so meant to stop and get one on my way back, but somehow I missed the place and didn’t want to try to go back up and find it.

downtown Beaconfallout shelter churchunisex salon signlive bait and deli signfire station signOn my way down, I gave $1 to a guy who said, “Could you spare a dollar?” Normally I don’t give to panhandlers, but this is because normally I feel accosted by them. I found the honest, direct question refreshing compared to Augusta panhandlers, who tell you their entire life story and how they believe in Jesus and whatnot before they get down to implying you should give them money. I also chipped in to a couple of guys playing a guitar and a banjo on the street outside a restaurant.

street performersThe cool-looking building next to the church did not disappoint when I finally worked my way back to it. I wish I knew more about architectural styles so I could describe it properly, but to do it justice, you have to see it. It’s dark brick with wooden features, including two small panels with cutout shapes. The place turned out to be the Howland Cultural Center. It didn’t appear to be open at the time, but I was happy enough taking photos of its dramatic, gorgeous exterior. Go here for information about the building, including its history and architecture.

Howland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterI stayed at the center for a long time, then started walking back down where Main Street curves along the river, toward the car. I was fully prepared to leave at this point–it had been a good walk, and I was thirsty–but I decided to meander a little further down Main to see if there was anything of interest. Almost immediately I came upon some wonderful street art (starting here) along a windowless wall–I’m not sure if it was graffiti or “authorized”, but it was very striking.

street artGoing further, I suddenly realized I was hearing rushing water. I looked across the street and saw a waterfall. It was Beacon Falls: a man-made lock, like Savannah Rapids in Columbia County, Georgia, though not nearly as wide. Water gushed down into a beautiful shallow river charging across an endless field of jutting rock.

Beacon FallsComing at it from this angle, I saw a lot of “NO TRESPASSING” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs, but as I approached the lock itself I realized the waterfall was at the end of a public trail, and it was the waterway and land beyond the trail that were private. My guess is they belong to whoever’s restoring the large round building overlooking the churning water.

Beacon FallsBeacon FallsBeacon FallsI took many pictures, probably too many, of the waterfall, then walked down the path a bit. It’s very short, leading through some trees to a small parking lot. I thought about going to the end, but even that seemed a bit much with how thirsty I’d become, so I turned around and went straight back to the car.

GPS led me back to the hotel a different way, through Beacon and downtown Fishkill, and I enjoyed the scenery and the views of local businesses as I swallowed against my dry throat and pondered stopping for a drink. But it wasn’t long before I got back to the room. I immediately downed about four glasses of water :)

Day three: Success!

NY Trip Day 2: West Point and Washington’s Headquarters

This post covers the second day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 15.

After we arrived in Highland Falls and Sean went to work, I took a little walk around the village and snapped some photos of the intriguing architecture.

house

Cool house on Main Street in Highland Falls, NY

red church door

Church with red door in Highland Falls, NY

When I was satisfied with my walk around the block, I had breakfast at Andy’s Restaurant, the place I found yesterday after I’d already eaten at the Dunkin Donuts. I had a lox omelet and it was quite good. The home fries were amazing.

andys restaurant

Andy's Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

lox omelet with home fries

Lox omelet with home fries, Andy's Restaurant.

After I ate I did a little more walking, then headed to the US Military Academy Visitors Center. I knew from yesterday that it opened at 9, so I was just in time. I wondered what exactly it would have, since there is a separate building for the West Point Museum. I was thinking maybe it just had information on the West Point tour. It turns out there is a whole information center there about training at the US Military Academy. The place seems to be geared towards potential cadets and their parents, but has useful information for anyone. I was most intrigued by the cadet quarters on the upper level, seeing what the beds and desks are like. There’s a room off to the left of that showing all the different uniforms cadets wear, and a theater off to the right showing a twelve-minute introductory video.

cadet quarters

Cadet quarters example, US Military Academy, NY

There was a booth where you could sign up for a tour of West Point, but you could only pay cash and it cost $12, which was more than I had. I left the display area, walking through the entry hall in which a plastic soldier is parachuting from the ceiling, and crossed over to the Visitors Center Gift Shop. This was a disappointment…mostly clothing, and high prices. I didn’t buy anything.

parachuting puppet

Plastic parachutist, West Point Visitors Center

As I was finishing up, many tour groups started arriving. I walked over to the museum, walked back, and walked over to it again, wasting time until it opened at 10:30. After seeing the visitors center I wondered what the museum would house. It turned out to have several displays on multiple floors: history of the Academy, history of warfare, small arms, large arms. There was another display upstairs but I didn’t have time to look at it.

West Point Museum

West Point Museum

I noticed that the Civil War was completely omitted from the history of the Academy exhibit. Gen. Robert E. Lee was one of the Academy’s superintendents, so I was interested to read about any issues that might have come up over that…but it was all blithely and neatly ignored. After I got out of the history of warfare exhibit, I discovered a small alcove that did address the Civil War, though not in the detail I might have wanted. I did appreciate the information right at the mouth of the alcove about causes of the Civil War and the way the two sides basically tried to ignore the slavery issue afterward; the South by claiming the war was really about states’ rights, and the North by just refusing to talk about it anymore. (This is one reason I like modern society and the internet. There is always a place for this sort of discussion.) The introductory text made the point that for the North, it was not about ending slavery, because most Northerners had the same wrong-headed views as the rest of the “civilized” world. For the North, it was about keeping the country whole. The introduction argued, though, that there had been plenty of strife between North and South before that had been resolved, and the only reason the South went so far as to try and secede was because of the Abolitionist movement. This jives with what I learned at the Abraham Lincoln exhibit I saw at the Atlanta History Museum; Lincoln’s equality views were not popular and he basically had to force the issue. Thank goodness he did.

Anyway, after those exhibits I walked through the small and large arms displays. In history of warfare there was a 1/10th scale copy of Fat Man (the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki), but there is a full-size version down in large arms. Having been to Hiroshima’s museum, I was a little underwhelmed by the lack of attention to the effects of the atomic bombs in both exhibits.

There was a Japanese tour group there–I passed them as they were going into the visitors center. I was sort of morbidly curious as to what the tourists’ reactions would be to the atomic bomb displays, but I didn’t see them in the museum.

When I came back out of the sub-basement galleries, I went into the gift shop, where I found a great Academy refrigerator magnet. Yay! While checking out I had to listen to this really obnoxious man discussing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the shop employees. He kept using the phrase “Guess what?” I wanted to say, “Guess what? You’re really annoying!” but I contented myself with a massive eyeroll on my way out the door.

Sean texted me as I stepped outside; he only had to work a half day and was done. We met up in the parking lot, then walked up the street to Park Restaurant and had some great salads for lunch. Seriously, that fruit and grilled chicken salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. Park Restaurant’s whole menu sounded divine!

fruit and grilled chicken salad

Fruit and grilled chicken salad, Park Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

After that, we drove through town and the mountains with the top down. I can’t recall if I’d ever ridden in a convertible with the top down before. If I have, it was a very long time ago. I did have the foresight to tie back my hair before we got going. It was a neat experience–I could see a lot more, and I liked all the light. But the sun was beating down on us and it was also too noisy to talk much of the time.

Our hotel is in Fishkill, New York, near Beacon, across the Hudson River from Newburgh. We stopped in Newburgh to take a look at a home that served as Gen. George Washington’s headquarters for a little under a year during the Revolutionary War. The buildings are undergoing renovation, but the grounds are nice, and there is an extraordinary memorial set up to look like a guardhouse/watch tower overlooking the Hudson. It’s huge, made of stone, with four copper gates intricately wrought into patterns with state names and seals. Inside is a larger-than-life statue of Washington, looking out to the river and standing ready to draw his sword. One of the gates is open so you can go in and see him. As you walk away from the stone citadel and turn back, you see Washington’s silhouette standing guard through the open area above the gate.

monument to Washington

bronze

Washington statue

Washington statue

Washington's silhouette

Washington's silhouette

Unfortunately we weren’t able to enter either of the houses on the property; one’s under intense restoration and the other required a cash-only tour. What is with cash-only tours? It’s 2011! But we walked all around them and noted their interesting architectural features and spotted a gravestone, what appeared to be a filled-in well, and a monument to the Minutemen. The grounds are nice, a long field of green grass. The view of the Hudson can be lovely in places, but it’s slightly marred by the telephone wires and metal buildings running along the industrial section of Newburgh’s waterfront.

Washington's headquarters

A last look at Washington's Headquarters.

When we were done there we continued on back to Fishkill, where we made a pit stop at the hotel and then headed out to Friendly’s for ice cream and the bank for quarters to do Sean’s laundry. I wanted to go to the Van Wyck Homestead, which we passed coming back into town, but Sean was all tuckered out and is in fact now curled up on the bed fast asleep, poor thing.

It was a nice day :) What will the weekend bring…?

NY Trip Day 1: Highland Falls and Boscobel

This post covers the first day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 14.

My first full day in New York was pretty fun. Sean and I drove to West Point, then he went to work and I took over the car. 25 cents bought me an hour on a parking meter, and I used that time to walk around historic downtown Highland Falls and look at the cute storefronts. I love how all the signs have old-time charm. One interesting feature is the way they decorate their fire hydrants; here’s one example:

fire hydrant

Fire hydrant in Highland Falls, NY

I also liked the small park with white gazebo I found. It looked like a cozy place for a picnic.

gazebo in park

Gazebo, Highland Falls, NY

I snagged breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts–I’d wanted to find a locally-owned diner or something, but had had no luck and was really hungry. It was only after I’d already eaten that I happened across a place that would have been perfect. Alas!

When my meter ran out I drove around trying to find some riverfront access, and I ended up accidentally going through the gate at West Point. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to come in here!” I told the guard. “Can I just turn around?” He was nice and waved me back out. I drove around that area a little more, then started heading back the way Sean and I had come in, deciding to check out one of the many things I’d seen on the drive that had interested me.

It took awhile, especially since I was too snobby to use the GPS, but I finally ended up on the correct road out of the area. The first sign I saw and decided to check out was in Garrison, NY, for “Historic Garrison Landing”. A skinny road twisted back and down and around, past the most adorable train station (wish I’d gotten some pictures!) and finally to Garrison Landing, which seemed to be a very small community–like two houses, two storefronts, a couple of art and theater arts buildings, and then a pier. It all sits just below the train station and there are signs everywhere saying “TENANT PARKING ONLY – NO COMMUTERS”. I finally found a space without a tenant-only sign and parked in it, then got out and looked around and took some photos. The boat launch appeared to be private, and the rest of the area was filled with children, there for an arts camp. After awhile I wondered why there were signs pointing here if there was nothing for tourists to see, and I got back in the Camaro and headed back out.

Garrison Art Center

Garrison Art Center, Garrison Landing, NY

When I got to Cold Spring, I decided to stop at Boscobel, because I’d noticed the historic site sign on the drive in and thought the name was funny. It turned out to be an historic home, originally built several miles further down the Hudson but moved to its current location after the local government sold the land it was sitting on for $35 and the house was in danger of being bulldozed. Volunteers dismantled the house and stored pieces of it in their basements until suitable land was found and it could be rebuilt and restored. I took a private tour and thoroughly enjoyed learning the history of the house. (The man who had it built originally was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War; he was a farmer who ended up making a lot of money working for Britain, and used that to finance the home’s construction. Unfortunately for him, it took a long time to get to that point, and he suffered a carriage injury and other problems…so he only saw the foundation laid before he died, and his wife, 20 years his junior, saw to the completion of the house.)

Boscobel House

Boscobel House from the back

Boscobel House

Boscobel House from the front

Photos aren’t allowed inside the house, which is pretty standard in historic homes, but I was able to get lots of exterior shots. The rear is the most lovely, likely because it boasts the view of the Hudson.

Hudson River

Hudson River and US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

US Military Academy

US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

Before taking the above photos of the river view, I went downstairs and enjoyed the house’s current art exhibit, interpretations of the Hudson River area. I also went on a walk through the Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail, which features a waterfall, creeks and streams, wooden bridges and benches, and of course a wonderful winding trail through the trees. The Hudson River and the marshland just below Boscobel are visible from certain points on the trail, as is the US Military Academy; it was all very lovely.

trail

Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail

US Military Academy

US Military Academy as seen from forest trail

After my adventure at Boscobel, I came back to the hotel to charge my nearly-dead iPhone and ended up websurfing for awhile. I was planning to go wander around a park up the street from Boscobel before picking Sean up, but I ran out of time. Sean and I finished our day messing around online at our hotel in Fishkill, only venturing out to try a Japanese restaurant that unfortunately didn’t turn out to be very good. Still, it was a full day of fun and I got lots of great pictures–an auspicious start to a wonderful trip.

So long, 2011. You were pretty awesome.

As the new year approached, I saw more and more of my friends posting status updates about how they were ready to see 2011 go. In many ways, I guess it has been a rough year. But I can’t help but think back on it fondly, despite the bad things that happened–the desperate situation our country is in, the hate and pain and suffering and disasters breaking out across the world. For me, 2011 was a year of growth and change and renewal and family and generosity. It was a year filled with love and hope. I want to take the power of what 2011 ignited in me and go out and share it with everyone.

I feel refreshed. I feel empowered. I feel ready.

We started the year embroiled in change. Sean had accepted a new job, and we were in the middle of a long period in which he commuted to Atlanta from Augusta for a week or two at a time. In February I hit the five-year mark at my own job, and wrote about it here. We moved to the Atlanta area at the beginning of March. I took a week off from work to coordinate the move, then went back to Augusta for a week to wrap up loose ends before beginning an approximately three-month-long period of telecommuting. I got a red velvet See You Soon cake :)

red velvet cake
After that week was over, it was back to the new apartment, which I had spent several weeks towards the end of 2010 selecting from the plethora of choices near Sean’s workplace. I wanted new or renovated apartments, nice facilities, a good location, and access to nature. I found everything I wanted, and we’ve been very happy with our new home this past year. Here’s a little something I wrote about it at the end of March.

We slowly started exploring our side of town and discovering new haunts. One of our first discoveries, Hashiguchi, ended up closing, much to our dismay. There are several other Japanese places in the area, but none have the same feel. We also discovered an Italian place, though, Scalini’s, which quickly became a favorite. And at our friend Will’s recommendation we checked out J. Christopher’s, a breakfast and brunch place, and fell in love. It’s currently my go-to restaurant (assuming I break for lunch early enough), just as the Boll Weevil was my go-to restaurant in Augusta. (They even have a door that creaks the same way!)

There’s a lot of shopping in our area as well, and as time went on I started to explore more and more of Vinings, Smyrna, and Marietta. One of my favorite landmarks is the infamous Big Chicken. Sean loves the Micro Center, which is kind of reminiscent of CompUSA. They pricematch, so he can get his quick technology fix.

Of course, there’s plenty to do in the rest of the Atlanta area. We’ve been to a comic book store in Buckhead; a Japanese restaurant, Korean barbecue, and Fry’s in Duluth; Super H-Mart, which is like Walmart for Asian food, off Peachtree Industrial; charming downtown Decatur; the aquarium and the World of Coke; the Atlanta History Center; and more. One day I drove around looking at all the furniture stores I could find, including IKEA…that was an adventure! And still so much more awaits us.

One great thing about living in Atlanta has been seeing our friends Charles and Heidi so much. I had taken several road trips from Augusta to Atlanta to visit them in the past, but now we’re free to do stuff together whenever we want! We have lots of dinners out, and we love going hiking and to cultural or interesting Atlanta destinations as well.

Heidi and Charles
For the next few months, my life consisted of telecommuting, trying to get the apartment in order, and exploring Atlanta. In May, since I was telecommuting anyway, I headed up to Kentucky and surprised Mom for Mother’s Day.

Then, around the middle of June, the station hired my replacement, so I went back to Augusta for my last two weeks to train her. On my way, I took a detour for a weekend in Savannah and had myself a nice little mini-adventure.

It was wonderful to see everyone in Augusta again. I stayed with Sean’s parents, which was really nice. I tried to get together with as many friends as possible. Brandon even managed to pull together some of the old lunch crew from years and years ago…it was awesome.

the old lunch crew
I spent some time on my last day running around getting pictures with everyone. Then, for my last night in Augusta, I spent the night at Brooke and David’s, and had breakfast with them at Cracker Barrel the next morning before heading home to Marietta.

Brooke and David
It was a wonderful last two weeks of work and a wonderful two weeks in Augusta.

Sean’s friend Adam came to visit while I was still out of town, and when I got back we took him around the neighborhood and out for sushi and frozen custard.

After that, I went back to Kentucky for the 4th of July. The fact that I was able to see my family so much was a big part of why last year was so amazing. On this visit I went swimming; I helped my brother with some sod on an area he’d leveled around a tree for seating; I spent lots of time with my nephews, including an awesome camping trip to Natural Bridge with their family; I ate ribs and fried chicken and corn on the cob and watched fireworks; I took a zillion pictures of my niece; I went shopping and out to eat with Mom; I went up to the farm and took awful pictures of the moon…basically, I had the best time ever.

And then I went to New York!

Sean’s job sent him up to the West Point area, and I got to tag along. I spent a week exploring the towns and villages along the Hudson River, including Highland Falls, Newburgh, Fishkill, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie. In Fishkill, I found a sign for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path, which ends in Augusta. Here’s the sign and its Augusta counterpart:

Fishkill signAugusta sign
I have a few detailed summaries of my adventures around “downstate New York” that I wrote back in July. I will be posting them here shortly. In brief, my first day was spent exploring Highland Falls and Boscobel House; my second day, I went to the West Point Visitors Center and Museum, then Sean and I checked out Washington’s Headquarters. The third day was quite busy. First I went to the Van Wyck Homestead, where the above Warrior Path sign stands, then explored the lovely city of Beacon. After that I headed over to the Samuel Morse house and museum, where I also took in a car show. After that I had the singular moment of the whole New York trip, an unplanned visit to the Eleanor Roosevelt home, Val-Kill. I’ve written much more on that experience in the upcoming post; suffice it to say I’m not the same person I was before I went. I also checked out the FDR Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion grounds, then finished up my day on the Poughkeepsie riverfront. This day might possibly be the best day I spent in New York state; it is rivaled only by the next glorious day, when I took the train down to New York City.

At Grand Central Terminal, I met up with my friend Matt, who I hadn’t seen since our very first (and my last) Governor’s Scholars Program reunion, a zillion years ago. (Here we are on a boat.)

Matt and me
Matt was an amazing tour guide. I got to see so much. Since we only had one day, we concentrated on Manhattan. Matt’s recommended three-hour boat tour showed us many of the sights with views we couldn’t have gotten up close. The angles we saw of the Statue of Liberty (starting here) were spectacular.

Statue of Liberty
After the boat tour, Matt and I walked and rode the subway to a few places I was interested in seeing. This included…the apartment building used as the exterior shot for Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends!

Friends apartment
We also went to Times Square and Central Park, then walked up 5th Avenue to get back to Grand Central Terminal and head off our separate ways.

I hope to write in much more detail about this part of the trip later. It was a long, wonderful day, and an excellent endcap to my time in New York state. I spent the next day relaxing and recovering from two whirlwind days of awesome, then had one more mini-adventure in Cornwall-on-Hudson before Sean and I headed home.

After we got back from New York, Sean’s parents came to visit us for the first time in our new apartment. It was great to show them our place and give them a feel for our neighborhood. We took them around to our favorite haunts, and the next day we did some touristy things. It was a good visit.

Finally, there was a lull in the whirlwind of travel and visits, and I took that time to resume looking into weight loss surgery. The original plan had been to do the surgery once we lived in Atlanta, after all, and various health issues were making it obvious that the time to act was now (if it hadn’t already passed). Unfortunately, just as I started doing the paperwork for a local surgeon, we ran into some difficulties that meant it was impossible to have the surgery done here. This culminated in a trip to San Francisco as soon as I got all my medical clearances out of the way, which ended up being the end of September.

I was blessed to stay with family and thrilled to get to see much of San Francisco before my surgery date. I had never been there before–until then, the furthest west I’d traveled in the United States had been Texas–and I was excited to see everything I could. I was awed by the natural beauty of the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods and the sculpted elegance of Golden Gate Park. My uncle even took Mom and me on a drive down the famous Lombard Street on our way to an open-top bus tour which later offered us an excellent view of same.

One great thing about being in San Francisco was that I got to see my friend Hai again.

Me and Hai
We hadn’t seen each other since our first in-person meeting in Cincinnati back in April of 2008, though we’ve known each other for far longer than that thanks to the AMRN. We met up at Hog Island Oyster Company for lunch, and it was awesome. Hai is a fellow foodie, so he and Mom and I tried oysters, lobster, and a grilled cheese sandwich–an excellent last big meal before weight loss surgery ;)

The next few days were taken up with surgery prep, the surgery itself, and in-hospital recovery. I was eager to go back to my relatives’ house, so I pushed myself to walk as much as I could as soon as possible. The surgery was September 26, and I was released on the 29th.

I wrote a little about what I expected the surgery to be like here. I may write what it was actually like someday, or I may not. I never really have been one to dwell on that sort of thing. I don’t care to write about all my experiences when I had leukemia, either. Frankly, I don’t fully remember them, and I don’t really want to. Yes, I’ve had cancer, heart problems, sleep apnea, obesity, weight loss surgery–but these things don’t define me. They’re just things I’ve gone through. They are a part of what has made me what I am, but what I am has also been a part of what defeated them. Their role in my life is (or will soon be) over.

However, I will probably write about how weight loss surgery has changed me, because my approach to food is completely different now. I have a tiny stomach. I don’t absorb nutrients well, so I need to focus on getting as much protein as possible. Sugar and carbohydrates can shoot my weight loss in the foot. And white bread, white rice, and artificial sweeteners other than sucralose cause unpleasant gastic side effects for me.

These factors mean I don’t eat at all like I did before. Now I go for the meat first. I don’t eat much bread, and when I do it’s whole wheat. I don’t typically have, or even want, dessert, because by the time I’m done eating my few bites of dinner, I’m full. But I’ll get hungry again in a few hours, so I’ve started trying to keep higher-protein snacks around, like nuts and edamame. I also rely on Atkins shakes and bars for the times when I need protein fast. Since an all-protein diet can cause hard stools, I’m working to incorporate fiber when I can. I also have to make sure to drink a lot of water, not only because my new gastrointestinal configuration leeches it away, but because I’m taking a diuretic to treat my pseudotumor cerebri until I’ve lost enough weight to “cure” it permanently.

I also take a lot of supplements to get vitamins and minerals. I have to take a particular kind that my intestines are able to absorb. This will continue for the rest of my life.

Despite these constraints, you have no idea how freeing it is to not be a slave to food. I had no idea how much control food had over me. I thought I did…but I didn’t. I knew I was miserable. I knew I felt trapped. I knew I ate emotionally, or out of habit, or whenever someone else was eating, or because something looked delicious. But it never sank in just how addicted I was to food until, suddenly, I wasn’t anymore.

I told Sean, “I wish there was a surgery to help people stop smoking.”

This is not to say that going through weight loss surgery and recovery is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work, and you have to have the right attitude going in–the attitude that you are going to kick ass and take names because you are awesome. You have to know your stuff. And there will be times, many times, when you don’t want to eat, and you will have to force yourself to do so.

This concept is so alien to the former me that I don’t think I could even begin to explain it to her.

No, it’s not easy, but it works. If you know what you’re doing, if you have the right attitude, if you follow the steps you need to follow…you will lose weight. And you’ll keep losing weight. You’ll feel better than you have in years. The fact that it actually works will keep you positive, and you’ll keep going, and you’ll keep losing weight, until you hit your healthy balance and stop. I’m not there yet, but as of today I’ve lost 64 pounds…more than I’ve ever been able to lose trying to diet on my own. On my own, I had to battle my food addiction every day. Now, with this surgery, that enormous factor is simply gone. I still enjoy food…but I don’t have to have it, and I often don’t even want it.

I’m free.

Immediately after my surgery, I had to rest and recover, but also keep myself moving so I wouldn’t lose muscle strength. I felt good the majority of the time and it wasn’t long before I was off painkillers–a benefit of laparoscopic surgery is that fewer nerves get distressed. Of course, this can also be a con, if you feel so “normal” that you try to do too much too soon and end up injuring yourself. Since I’m the go-getter type, I was in danger of just that. The day after I was released from surgery, I went on a shopping trip with my mom and aunt! It was brief enough, but I tired out extremely quickly. Thankfully I hadn’t messed anything up, but looking back on it now, I’m sort of surprised at myself. I took a weekend off and relaxed with family, but then I went crazy again and accompanied my mom and aunt to Costco! Actually, I did far better than you might expect, and only felt like falling over and dying towards the end of the excursion. We sat down at the little cafe to give me time to recover, then headed back to the house.

After a checkup the next morning, my mom and aunt and I finally got the weather we were after for some Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline shots.

Golden Gate Bridge
After that we sort of just drove around looking at things. We had lunch in Sausalito, which is awesome because I’ve always wanted to say I’ve been to Sausalito (the name is cool!), and then we did a tiny bit of grocery shopping. I was getting stronger and stronger. Still, the next two days were spent relaxing and recovering from all that wandering around. Then my aunt’s dear friend came up for a visit–I’d previously met her on my first trip to Savannah–and we had a lot of fun going around the area with her. (Enjoy this nasty picture of my lunch from our day shopping in Mill Valley…I was still getting the hang of ordering protein-rich food.)

Thus ended my first-ever visit to San Francisco. So much more happened, and there was so much more that I wanted to see. Hopefully someday I will write in more detail about the trip, and I definitely plan to go back!

Obviously, after having surgery, I wasn’t really up to my usual sort of self-reliant behavior. I had to lean on Sean a lot for help with the most simple of tasks, like getting the laundry out of the washer and dryer, putting away the dishes, bringing in the groceries, moving things, etc. It was a little frustrating not being able to just do everything myself, but I persevered. While I wasn’t supposed to carry much weight or reach over my head, I was allowed and encouraged to go up and down stairs, which was good, since we live on the “garden level” (below the first floor). While I recovered I focused on walking for exercise. I did a lot of reading, breaking into the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin for the first time. I also did a little more writing in November than usual.

I did leave the apartment for one event while I was still in the recovery and adjustment period, and that was A Web Afternoon on October 22. I saw my friends Chris and Will, and organizer J. Cornelius apparently recognized me from when I attended the Webmaster Jam Session back in 2008, which is pretty cool of him. The event was really inspiring and interesting; the speakers had somewhat diverse messages and delivery methods, but they were all very enthusiastic about the web.

The end of November heralded a weeks-long flurry of travel for Sean and me. First, on November 22, we headed to Augusta for an early Thanksgiving with Cheryl and Reid, plus Cheryl’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Michelle. I made corn casserole, and I swear Michael ate about half the pan! Michelle is from China, and I got to hear a lot of interesting stories from her past–how she was sent to work on a farm by the government as a child, and how she worked hard to help her family. It was a nice visit, and the food was great. Cheryl really pulled out all the stops.

Sean, me, Reid, Cheryl, and Michael
After a brief stop in Brooke and David’s driveway to say hello, we headed back to the ATL. But I turned around the very next day and drove to Kentucky!

One of the highlights of the visit was seeing my beautiful niece, who turned 1 on November 5. She’s grown so much!

Daphne and Ben

Daphne and Ben

Given my new post-weight loss surgery reality, I wasn’t able to eat much at Thanksgiving dinner–here’s my plate. I ate all the turkey, and maybe half of everything else. It was great to just be there with my family though…I love seeing everyone!

Uncle Steve stopped by during my Thanksgiving visit home, which was great; he’s always a trip.

The day after I got back from Kentucky, I jumped into the car again for a quick weekend in Augusta. I’d been wanting to visit Brooke and hang out with people for awhile, and this was the only weekend left in the year that would work for both of us. It may have been a mistake to try to squeeze it in there–I ended up exhausted and unable to do nearly as much with Brooke as I’d hoped–but I was at least glad to see her, and to visit my friends at the station and have Teresa’s with Brandon, Ed, and Arturo. Brooke and I had dinner with Mari at Kinja, too, which was great.

Mari and Brooke

Mari and Brooke

I squeezed in a quick breakfast with Chris and Kenny and a stopover at the in-laws’ before heading back to Atlanta on Saturday. My biggest regret from the trip is not spending more time with Brooke…that will be rectified next time.

After the Augusta trip, I mercifully had two weeks in which to relax…theoretically. In reality, I had to decorate the apartment, wrap Christmas presents and prepare holiday cards. Yes, even though we were going out of town for Christmas, I still put up our tree. It was beautiful, so I think it was totally worth it! (Technically it still is beautiful…I need to take it down…) These activities brought me much more joy than annoyance. I was thrilled that I could finally give decent Christmas presents to family members; it had really been too long. I had a lot of fun selecting everyone’s gifts.

Sean and I also went to his work Christmas party the weekend of December 10. It was held at Stone Mountain Park, and we decided to spend the night at the hotel and go see the sights the next day. It was an utterly romantic weekend. I’d lost enough weight that I needed to buy a new dress, which I did. I also wore a new perfume, Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Nude, which is now my fragrance–we both love it. The party was elegant enough, and the hotel common areas were beautifully appointed, but my favorite times were when Sean and I were alone–in our room, or out exploring the park. We went down to the village after the party and wandered around looking at all the Christmas lights. The next morning we had room service in bed and a bath in our in-suite jacuzzi. We rode the skyride to the top of Stone Mountain and I got amazing views of the huge carving in the face of the rock. After we’d explored to our hearts’ content, we descended and found hot cocoa for Sean inside an exhibit hall and way too much lunch for us to ever eat at Miss Katie’s.

A particular highlight of our trip was watching a glassblowing demonstration. We saw an artisan create a decorative flower and a very unique vase. We’d already explored the shop, and nothing had quite struck our fancy there. The vase we’d just seen created was unlike anything in the store. Sean asked if we could buy it then and there. It was finished and delivered to us three days later!

After that, we had a snack and then got onto the little train that circles the mountain, watching the lights come on and listening to Christmas carols as the sun went down. When we got back, it was dark and Christmas-y in the village once again. Sean pulled me under a huge ball of mistletoe for a kiss–the perfect end to our romantic weekend away.

The week before Christmas, we headed off to Kentucky. I guess my crazy holiday running around, plus the fact that I was still recovering from surgery, caught up to me, because I felt like I got worn out pretty quickly. Still, I was able to do a lot with my nephews, including getting some one-on-one time with each of them, which I think is important. I also spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. I didn’t get a chance to go to the farm, but fortunately Ben and Manda and Daphne came down twice while we were there.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I loved seeing everyone open their presents. I think I did well with what I picked for everyone. I had trouble coming up with ideas for a couple of people, but it all seemed to work out in the end.

I love gift-giving. I love how personal it is, how it shows what you feel for the other person. I’m so glad we were able to give gifts this year.

Before everyone dispersed on Christmas Eve, Dan was kind enough to snap some photos of the family for us. It’s hard to get this many people into a picture, but I think it worked out okay :)

my family
Would you believe even that isn’t the end of 2011? After we got home from Kentucky, Sean had his friend William over for a few days of gaming and fun.

William and Sean
William is a charming guest and a funny guy, and it was great to have him around. We’re looking forward to meeting his fiancée when they both come to visit us sometime this year.

After William headed home on the afternoon of December 31, Sean and I quietly rang in the New Year watching Smallville season 10. (I belatedly noticed the clock had ticked over and mentioned something on Twitter; I have no idea if Sean was even paying attention. Similarly, I just realized we both forgot our ninth wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.)

And that was 2011. It was a big year in so many ways, full of friends, fun, travel, and change. I loved it.

Here’s to more of the same in 2012!