Something happened last week. It shouldn't be a big deal, and maybe it's not, and maybe it is. Maybe it will dramatically change my behavior and maybe it won't...yet it's already changed my mindset.
I got the Covid-19 vaccine.
For one year almost to the day, I've spent countless hours on I-75 or I-95 (or both) driving to the same 2-3 communities where my work life and family obligations demand my attention. Or my presence is needed on whatever day for whatever reason in whatever city, minus the social interactions and Delta SkyMiles. Just the miles.
Now, as I thumb through the latest issue of Southern Living's beautifully crafted accounts of off the beaten path destinations and allow myself to dream, I feel a little freer to explore. A little freer to fly. A little more comfortable I'm making others feel a little more comfortable. Most of the places I'm longing to visit are also home to the people I'm longing to visit...which will make a few of these excursions doubly blessed. In no order, here they are.
Living in So Cal during grad school marked my life forever with indelible impressions and incredible friendships. Fast forward a few decades and Favorite Nephew is a Marine Corps officer stationed in Oceanside (spoiler alert...all my nieces and nephews are called my favorites...ha), so there are exponential reasons to return again and again. (I'm like a boomerang!) San Diego is still one of my favorite cities in the world, and I've not had better Mexican food anywhere than in Old Town. Have to cruise down Prospect Street in La Jolla just to drink in the luscious beauty of the Cove. Even in heavy traffic, nothing tops a drive north on scenic Pacific Coast Highway with the convertible top down. Roadside vistas bursting with seascapes on one side and mountains on the other are rare, but not here. A stop in Ventura to hug my sweet SD roommate will lead to a venture out to sip pinot noir on the Central Coast. (Sideways, anyone?) Before Alex Trebek left us, sitting in the live audience of Jeopardy! with him as host was high on my Bucket List. Now he's gone, and I might just show up anyway, in his memory. (True Daily Double, please!!) And while I'm in the neighborhood, maybe I'll swing by the new $6 billion So Fi Stadium (home to the NFL's LA Chargers and Rams) and pop in to see what's new at The Getty Museum (if it's reopened). Perhaps two other dear La-La Land friends, who do not know each other (yet), would like to join me. Places to go and people to see!
SAN JUAN ISLANDS, WASHINGTON STATE
Cool Cousin has lived in many cool places and I've managed to visit her (invited or uninvited) in pretty much all of them! This place is the latest and newest. The Pacific Northwest has been on my Travel Bucket List for a while now -- besides its progressive cities and prolific wine regions, it offers unique experiences right here in the good ol' USA. I admit I might have never stumbled across the San Juan Islands on my own -- and now I know I would have missed out. Originally founded as a salmon curing station by the Hudson Bay Company in 1850, Friday Harbor remains the archipelago's only incorporated city. And now with access to a fabulous guest house and Cool Cousin to greet me at the ferry from Seattle, this is a must-see.
GRAND CAYMAN & CAYMAN BRAC, CAYMAN ISLANDS
No explanation needed. Here's one anyway. Synonymous with fantasy vacations and obscurely hidden wealth, the Cayman Islands have deep-seated meaning to us after working with local business leaders, pastors and philanthropists to establish the first YMCA organization there. With this venture came visits for fund raisers, boat trips with new board members to Stingray City and Rum Point, "friends and family" rates at local hotels, and fostering life long friendships. The more they grow, the more I want to go. It's impossible for me to enter this British Colony of 55,000 natives and ex-pats right now under pandemic restrictions -- as soon as they are lifted, I'm on the next 1 hour 40 minute direct flight from Tampa airport. Yes, that's right -- I can get there in the time it takes me to get to ATL. Except Cayman Air offers rum punch as part of their complimentary drink service. Soon come!
This one is already on the calendar. Full disclosure -- the actual destination is the back patio of my college roommate's fabulous home on the channel where we will share champagne, whatever scoop we've missed, our latest hopes and dreams, our favorite stories. Fresh fish right off their boat and exceptional hospitality is always on the menu. The Destin area is even a treat for us Florida natives, as the Panhandle culture is so unique, you almost feel like you're in a different state. Known as the Emerald Coast or "30A" (a reference to sections of Highway 98), it's a vacation home address for celebrities and a go-to getaway spot for the Southeastern states neighboring Florida. Jim Carrey's 1998 hit movie The Truman Show made the charming town of Seaside a household name...and Florida Governor Leroy Collins famously deemed Destin "The Luckiest Fishing Village" in 1950 after he caught a 29 pound mackerel right off shore in less than an hour, thereby staying on his busy Governor schedule. If boutique hotels with historical flair are your style, be sure to visit the Henderson Park Inn, part of Sheila Johnson's exquisite Salamander Resorts group. Insider Tip...avoid visiting during Spring Break. ;)
RIO VISTA, TEXAS
You've probably never heard of Rio Vista, Texas (pronounced "Ry-O" by the locals). According to the United States Census Bureau, Rio Vista has a total area of 1.0 square mile and the population was 873 in 2010. It sits on a tributary of the Brazos River, and has become an off-the-path recreation area for boaters and water skiers. So why is this on the list? Because a long time sister-friend bought a dumpy river house there for peanuts and waved her stylish-design-on-a-shoestring magic wand over it (look out, Joanna Gaines!!), and I can't wait to see its transformation. And her! Everyone needs a friend who will be silly and real and energize you out of your boring comfort zone and drink wine with you until you're giggling at nothing and fill your life with memorable stories. It was easier to create those stories when she was just around the corner (as was our neighborhood wine bar), but it's never too late (or too far) to add a few more. And if we crave a city-fied shopping or dining experience, Fort Worth is just a 45 minute drive away.
HOLY LAND, ISRAEL
The historical and spiritual mystique of Biblical landmarks calls many Christians and Jews alike to visit the Holy Land. With good reason. Though news media has tainted its allure, I immediately opened my mind, heart, and calendar (and soon, the wallet) at the potential opportunity to join a couple who impacted my faith in significant ways for decades
, and who has made the journey a few times in the past few years. This particular tour, called Shoresh, is based out of Christ Church Jerusalem and explores the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. I can't wait to fulfill my growing desire to study Jesus in First Century Jewish context and to walk where He walked. To see the places I've read about so many times in Scripture. To take this journey with the humans God used to make Jesus real for me as a teen adds an indescribable depth and precious undertone to the experience. Hopefully, Covid will cooperate.
OK, I know, you think this one is cheesy. Whether it is or not is irrelevant...when asked what they would like for Christmas this past year, my stepson and his beyond-amazing wife responded without hesitation...a family road trip with them and their 2 extraordinarily adorable toddlers (my husband's first grandchildren) to Niagara Falls! They wanted to see the Falls before their Army post at Fort Drum in Upstate NY ended, while they were in driving distance. So OK we are going to Niagara Falls!!! We would have agreed to take them to the moon if they'd asked, as Landon (David's son) had just returned from a 10-month stint in Afghanistan which began less than a month after his second extraordinarily adorable son was born. Niagara Falls is actually 3 different falls, part of a State Park, and lies on the border between New York and Ontario, Canada. (We will stay on the no-passport-needed side.) Although its surroundings are bombarded by a blatant display of American commercialization, Niagara's natural wonder remains in tact. Oh -- and did I mention the 2 extraordinarily adorable grandchildren??? ;) Niagara, here we come!
Take me home, country roads! My father was the only child of a coal miner and a country girl who eloped at 18 and 15, respectively. True WV mountain people who worked hard, loved the Lord, and encouraged Dad to get out of there the minute he turned 18. Mamaw and Papaw moved to Florida in 1960 to be near my newlywed parents, and we never went back. Bolstered by a cousin who is the keeper of the Ruckman Family genealogy and annual reunions, my desire to connect to my hillbilly roots and witness the awe-inspiring landscapes in one of the few pristine states left in the US has grown as deep as the mines themselves. West Virginia is the only state completely within the Appalachian Mountain region and has a higher mean elevation than any state in the east, at 1,654 ft. And who isn't intrigued by the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs? No longer a secret, this trip will definitely include a tour of its Cold War nuclear bunker 720 feet underground. I would miss the true richness of this pilgrimage if Dad (now 87) was unable to accompany me...so time is of the essence.
THE BEACH, ANYWHERE
As a teenager, you couldn't drag me off the beach. (Pass the baby oil and lemon juice!) I was lucky enough to live steps from the sand as a relatively carefree young adult, so the sea, salt, and sand became forever engrained (pun intended). You wouldn't know it by the amount of time I have spent at the beach since I married a man who hates it, but it hasn't left me. For me, it's a place of peace, connecting with nature, kinetic beauty, and God's majesty.
Oh...and sunburn and skin cancer...so this middle-aged beach babe now chooses the late afternoon/evening/sunset window to save both my skin and my marriage. My family is gathering in Ponte Vedra Beach in May at a gorgeous home right on the ocean, so I can leave Fair-Skinned-Doesn't-Like-To-Be-Hot-Or-Sit-Still Hubby indoors in the AC any time of the day! I am already there in my mind. Ahhhhh.