Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All Hands on Breast: My New Cancer Prevention Protocol

C’mon everybody, gather round. Real close – there’s room for everyone. Ok, great, you’re all in nice and tight. Now, I want you to reach out your hands – one, both, I don’t care, just reach out. And now, please place them firmly on my breasts. Yes. Now. Go ahead. Excellent! Thank you! Oh, and if you have a free hand, use that to call all your friends and neighbors, and tell them to come on down. There’s plenty room for everybody, and if I run out of breast, we’ll just start rotating everyone in, or hand out numbers; I’ll stand here all day! Because the more of you there are putting your hands on my breasts, the more chance I have of not dying from a tumor that I didn’t find because the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends against women being taught how to do regular breast self-exams.

Oh wait. I already know how to do self-exams, so maybe I don’t actually need your help. My doctor taught me. And yes, the first time I put my hands on my breasts to mimic what she’d demonstrated for me, I felt pretty ridiculous (was I doing it right? What the hell is all the stuff in there, anyway?), not to mention a little perverted.

Now, I’m the first to admit that all that breast touching took some getting used to. I did skip a fair number of months. And I confess that sometimes I fibbed to the doctors when they said, “Your mother had breast cancer at 36? Is she still living? You are doing monthly self-exams, aren’t you?”

But here’s the thing: all that breast talk got my attention. I did a lot of self-exams – I paid a lot more attention – than I would have if there hadn’t been a schedule, a concrete action plan. I never really got over feeling pervy about it. But I’m not sure that a generic focus on “breast awareness” - instead of monthly self-exams - can compare to the lyrical hook of “buddy checks.”

So you can just take your hands off my breasts. Go on – off with you. But don’t go too far, because my nieces are going to be needing you. No one’s going to be haranguing them about “buddy checks,” and they won’t be seeing those little hang-tag reminders in the showers at their gym, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d stay tuned to lend a hand.

And according to a CNN.com article I read today, my nieces won’t be the only ones who need your help. Dr. Anne Wallace, professor of surgery and director of the Moores Breast Cancer Program at the University of California-San Diego, says she “has seen patients with large dents in their breasts and tangible masses within. When she asks them whether they had noticed anything there, they say, ‘Oh, gosh. I can't touch my breast. I don't know if it's new.’’

I read this really quickly at first, and interpreted it literally: Can’t touch their breast? Huh? Are their arms too short?

But then it dawned on me that they were saying they are too embarrassed to touch their breasts. Too self-conscious. Too modest. And I thought, well, okay, the idea of monthly self-exams probably is a bit much for them, then, but those prim women are not my nieces. And modesty should not get in the way of education.

My mother was a paragon of modesty - so much so that, on the first day of school, my sisters and I each presented this note to our gym teacher: “Please excuse my daughter from group showers for the remainder of the school year. Thank you very much. Sincerely, Mrs. Bauer.” And even she managed to put her hand on her breast when she felt a strange burning inside. The perv.

The firestorm that was launched this week will no doubt burn for weeks and months to come. And the good people of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force did not make their recommendations lightly; this is a challenging and multi-faceted quandary. But so far I’m hearing that women shouldn’t be encouraged in self-exams because the protocol is “overcomplicated,” or because many of us have trouble sticking to the monthly “schedule” and then we face huge guilt trips and blame ourselves when we get diagnosed, or because those of us who do self-examine have more biopsies. And that some of us are just too modest to touch our own breasts.

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that self-exams cause cancer. And maybe then I’ll shut up.

My mom may have been a perv, but I sure did enjoy the last three decades we had together.

(Stay tuned...A Shore Dive Kinda Life will be right back ;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rehoboth Nor'easter Follow Up

For a follow up (with some good pix) to my blog post about the nor'easter on the Mid-Atlantic coast yesterday, see Rick's post here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rehoboth Nor'easter: The Friday the 13th Storm

This is what keeps me awake at night: Fires and floods.

When a teenage guest in our beach house decided to cozy up on a winter’s day last year, he piled wood into the living room fireplace, just as he’d seen his older cousin do the evening before. He stuffed in some newspaper, lit a match…and didn’t open the flue. He didn’t know what a flue was.

It cost us $500 to repaint the ceiling, and we decided to ignore the rest (except for the dozens of soot-filled cobwebs now clearly visible in every room). And I got to thinking about what would happen to us financially if the house burned down on, say, Memorial Day—the beginning of rental season. Sure, there’s always insurance money to rebuild, but what about the (many) thousands in rent we collect every summer, the money we use to pay the mortgage on— what we hoped would be—our retirement investment? Our dreams for a Shore Dive Kinda Life would go down (or, more precisely, up) in flames.

As I drove to the beach house in Rehoboth yesterday, with a fat nor’easter plopped down just off the mid-Atlantic coast, my anxiety wasn’t stoked by fire, but by flood. Rehoboth Beach and other towns up and down the shore had been beaten about the head and shoulders for three long days and five massive tides, with another tide rising.

On the ride in, I’d passed dozens of low-lying houses up to their ankles in water, and I worried about my own, just three blocks from a very literal “sea-level.” I headed straight to the beachfront, not knowing what to expect. I wanted to see for myself.

Forty-odd years ago, a similar monster—now called the Ash Wednesday Storm—sat on the same coast for three days and nights. The water surge, driven by near-hurricane force winds over a 600 mile span, inexorable and raging, took out the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk, washed away burial vaults in Chincoteague, Virginia, and joined ocean to bay in Dewey Beach, Delaware—Rehoboth Beach’s next door neighbor—turning the little town into one big swim-up bar, at least until the tides receded.

Thirty years after the Ash Wednesday storm, I saw for myself what a nor’easter could do. Driving back to my rented home—an oceanfront stilt-house in Virginia Beach—after a couple of days away, I noticed a screen door askew here, an errant garbage can there. Then, turning a corner, a hundred yards of beachfront road gone, washed out to sea. I pulled onto my concrete drive – or what was left of it: half had collapsed into the surf and washed away the night before. The outside staircase leading up to the big sundeck now hung, unsupported, six feet above my head.

Inside the swaying house, I stood and looked out at the building waves, not sure what was happening. My phone rang and the rental agency told me to pack up and get out, now. The nor’easter was still out there, the tide was rising fast, and it would be dark soon.

I didn’t need to be told twice; there was so much debris in the road on my way in that I’d run over a nail and my tire was slowly leaking, so I threw ten pairs of socks and my tax return records into a plastic bag and fled. (That was also the moment I learned that I have absolute clown-like reflexes in emergency situations.)

I took a hotel room on the Virginia Beach boardwalk and listened to that storm smack the hell out of us all night long. The next day, twenty-five of my neighbors had lost their homes.

So as I pulled up to the boardwalk yesterday, Friday the 13th, I was concerned. I opened the car door and nearly sacrificed a leg as the wind whipped it back at me. I repositioned the car so the passenger side took the brunt of the gale and stepped out, staggering the few feet to the beach bent over 45 degrees like Geraldo on hurricane duty.

The waves were ferocious, bulky…and close. The dune grass was waging a mighty battle to hold its ground, but the relentless pounding had already taken a toll, carving short cliffs into what had been 100 feet of gently sloping sand. So much water. So much rain.

Nor’easters don’t care about retirement investments, or mortgage payments. And fires burn where and when they want. The moves we get to make in life are like a game of chance: we blow on the dice, toss out the best roll we can, and whoop and holler until our fate is decided. And if we’re lucky, we get to roll again.

Back on Scarborough Avenue, our house is fine. We’re still in the game. And we’re leaving our chips on the table. Rehoboth is pretty beat up, but the dune line held, and Rick and I feel a lucky streak coming on.

Dewey Beach storm photo copyright Journal News

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Getting Off on the Side Road

Last week started with the worst kind of Monday morning. The weekend before had been gray and gloomy, rain for three days straight. But then came Monday, with me back on the clock, yoked to an overflowing desk, and out came the sun, laughing and rolling around in the sky like a puppy that’s slipped out the doggie door.

So I do what any responsible professional who’s supposed to be earning money for a Shore Dive Kinda Life would do: I check my email for work emergencies and, seeing none, head for the mountains. The Blue Ridge is always a magnet on bright fall days, pulling me to get in the car and just drive, searching for side roads.

In my new favorite book, Tales of a Female Nomad, author Rita Golden Gelman’s travels are nothing but side roads. Hers are a little more exotic than Berryville—my lunch stop on Monday (where I found a great smoked ham and lentil soup at Bon Matin Café). Rita writes about sleeping next to sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, dancing in a protective circle of Zapotec women in Mexico, and meeting orangutans at Camp Leaky in Borneo. The side roads she chose weren’t travelled on a tour bus, and she’s teaching me a lot.

As much as a traveler’s life pulls me, the thought of going through the world as Rita did—diving into the deep end of human relationships instead of my usual splashing around in the shallows—makes me afraid. True, no one’s forcing me out of the tide pool. I think most of us just skim the surface of the countries we visit, and that’s fine—there are plenty of fish to see in the shallows if we just take time to stick our face in the water.

But any diver knows that being on the water can't compare to being in it, and that's what lures me. Part of the siren call of a traveler's life is the sweet shock of stepping off a puddle jumper into a shack of an airport, or realizing you can’t understand the road signs as your taxi whizzes into town. It’s the differentness that both attracts and frightens.

And I’m afraid that—not at all like Rita—I’ll settle for an expat experience that’s divorced from the local reality. Or that I’ll fall into loneliness and gain 30 pounds eating chocolate, like I did in college when I lived in Spain. I’m really afraid that if I do finally screw up my courage to walk down an unmarked street or through a scary door, I’ll end up like my friend Jan: in someone’s living room, admiring their knick knacks as if they’re for sale, nodding in a friendly way to the family who own the house but are too polite to say “Gringa, why are you in my house?” I’m afraid to look like a boob.

So, reading Rita, I’m gaining both courage and tips. In Antigua, Guatemala, hoping to meet some of the local expats, she sat by the door of a little breakfast place where they gathered each morning. She brought no book or magazine or post cards to write – she just sat. And as people came through the door she made eye contact, gave a little smile and a nod. Each (painful) day she became more familiar to them, and by the fourth day she was one of the gang.

If you’ve ever spent time alone in a restaurant—and I have, lots—you know how much courage it takes to just sit, with nothing to hide behind. And that as you sit, you’ll be taunted by your own personal gremlin, whispering in your ear that everyone is talking about you and you probably have dirt or pudding or something on your face.

So Rita’s example is a great tip: Just give it some time, let people get used to you. Be open. And don’t worry about the pudding.

At a Zapotec village in Mexico, Rita walked up and down the hot and dusty village streets each day, smiling at the women as she passed (when they didn’t run away at her approach). After several days of this—women fleeing, children scurrying (and men reacting the opposite)—one woman fell into step beside her, then offered a loan of the traditional skirt, blouse and long waist scarf that would help her blend in and begin to be accepted.

Rita had waited patiently and respectfully for the relationship door to be opened, and maybe it never would have but for one curious lady. But once invited in, Rita made the most of it—standing side by side during meal preparations, shooting marbles with the children. She spent a month in the village, alone but welcome.

As for me, when I’m being honest with myself, I suspect that a Zapotec village is not in my future. Were I to take a deep dive into Rita’s kind of side road travel, it’s not the tourist amenities I’d miss; I wouldn’t care if I never saw another boutique, antique store or cute clothing shop again. And historical markers hold my interest for… zzzz.

But I do love a good bowl of smoked ham and lentil soup. And I'd never say no to a little pudding.

Blue Ridge photograph by Ken Thomas, Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A House for Life

This is a blog about leaving one kind of life for another, with some helpful websites and books and stuff thrown in for those who are thinking dreaming along the same lines.

I try to keep my posts on point, because as much as I’d like to laugh with you about the boardwalk pet parade in Rehoboth this weekend,

or get your opinion on these shoes I recently bought,

there’s really nothing worse than a blogger who lures you in with a creative proposition, only to intrude on you later with football fancrazy opinions or "I'm sorry I haven't posted in so long!" fauxpologies.

I admit, I did take that granita detour, but at least I tried to pass it off as something Shore Dive Life-ish.

The hard part about sticking with my theme isn’t that there’s not enough to say—it’s that almost everything we do is somehow linked to creating our next life (and by next life I don’t mean the next life, for any new readers just joining— although I suppose my wine consumption and tendency to run with scissors are probably pushing me in that general direction…).

This weekend we’re staying at our rental house in Rehoboth Beach. On the face of it, this has nothing to do with a Shore Dive Kinda Life. Except that we are trying to sell this house to finance what comes next. And we just reduced the price again – to $990K. Crazy price for a house, I know, and that's $250,000 less than where we started more than two years ago. At this point, we might have enough for a Starbucks after we pay back the bank.

So, I’m learning about power washers and leaf blowers, rose bush pruning and house painting (and not the easy inside kind). Yesterday, our neighbor weighed in with a few ideas. What he actually said was, “I can say this because I’m gay, but basically you need to gay it up a little.” We said, “We’ve been trying to gay it up!”

He recommended a carpenter in town. The carpenter’s name is John. John stopped by today to talk to Rick. (That’s one of the things I adore about Rehoboth – you never actually make an appointment with the plumber, the carpet cleaner, the pool guy. They just come by. Even on a Sunday.)

So Rick (husband) tells John (carpenter) that our neighbor suggested some spruced-up framing for the big plate glass windows out front. The neighbor says that would really help the windows look less cheap and cause the house to “pop.”

John is a 50-ish guy with a torn t-shirt and disheveled hair. Rick is a 50-ish guy with a scruffy beard and disheveled hair. (He’s a hard sleeper on the weekend.) They stand side by side on the tiny front yard, look at the windows, scratch their disheveled heads and say, “Uh, I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

This place is never going to sell.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Picking a Winner

Is an itinerant art show life in the cards for us?

Before we can earn a buck selling photographs, we need to figure out what, exactly, we’re selling. Rick has ramped up his underwater photos in the last couple of years and he has some jaw droppers, but do people put fish on their walls?

How about iconic images from Egypt? Caribbean sunsets? Flamingos? Me sleeping on the couch?

According to the two bibles of the industry, the The Art Festival Handbookand the Art Festival Guide, it’s not enough to pick your favs; you need a theme, a specialty. You can do Tuscany, or you can do birds. Flowers, or cute kids. Not both. No mixing and matching. And don’t even think about trying to sell your snow-capped mountain shots in Florida, or your sailboat photos in Oklahoma – it doesn’t work that way. (I find that last bit a little hard to believe, but then again, I’ve never been to an art show in Oklahoma. For all I know, oil rig scenes are all the rage.)

So we decided not to decide, and instead picked a couple of promising photos and had them blown up on canvas. If we can’t pick a theme, maybe a theme will pick us.

Those first two were underwhelming, so we started over. I picked my favorite – a wildly colorful assortment of spice sacks Rick spotted in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo. It’s the kind of photo that makes you do a little happy dance just to look at it – or get started cooking some aromatic Middle Eastern recipe.

The spice sack photo showed up on Friday, and I am happy to report that I am apparently an art-picking genius: it’s spectacular! On the canvas, the edges of the sacks melt into the background and the softened colors seem painted in oils. It looks good on every wall, in every light. We have a winner!

But wait - does that mean we have to do our art shows in Egypt?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Expat Interviews: In Brugge

Driving an RV through Rocky Mountain National Park would be child's play compared to, say, trying to learn Flemish. So cruising around the not-so-historical streets of my neighborhood today, I was curious why images from the movie In Bruges kept popping into my head.

But why wouldn’t they? Look at this:

And this:

There’s something about a chill in the air that always gets me thinking about European cities, holiday shopping on cobblestone streets, Sacher torte and cottage pie.

So I put the Art Show Epiphany on hold for a bit and went off in search of Colin Farrell.

I mean, Brugge! Yes, Brugge.

On ExpatInterviews.com, I found Bradley Boatman. He isn’t in Brugge, but he’s close – just down the road in Hasselt. Everything is just down the road in Europe.

Brugge to Amsterdam: 2 3/4 hours
Paris: 2 hours 59 minutes
Bonn: 3 hours
London: 3 hours 50 minutes

And that's by car! (Except for that bit under the English Channel)

Here’s one of my favorite questions from Bradley’s interview:

What do you think about the Belgians?

I tend to take a universal approach to my fellow humankind; if you're warm, accessible, friendly then usually they mirror the same sentiments back to you. Perhaps Belgians are only slightly more reserved at first. Belgians are trustworthy and extremely dependable people. At least that's been my experience in Flanders.

Trustworthy and dependable. I bet they’d make great neighbors. (Oh, and you know who else is Belgian? That maitre d’ on Hell’s Kitchen. He seems so nice. Even though the Mean Chef insists on calling him French.)

So, read Bradley’s interview if you’re hankering to know a bit more about an expat’s life in Belgium. Or leave a comment here if you have personal experience – even better! And maybe bookmark Expat Interviews, for those days when you’re craving a bit of a wander.

Brugge pictures from Wikimedia Commons, copyright markdhammond (top) and Wolfgang Staudt from Saarbruecken, Germany (bottom)

Pictures Are In!

Welcome to the Hostel Chef, who’s now following A Shore Dive Kinda Life! We hope you like it here, Chef. Speaking of which, if you like what you've been reading here but haven’t subscribed yet, why not put a ring on it? Just type your email address into the "Want this Blog by Email?" box. Or just call me and I'll read it to you. 'Course, then you'd miss all the pretty pictures.


If we pursue the Art Show Epiphany, we’ll need something to sell, something awesome. Evocative, familiar. But unique. Inspired. Generously proportioned, but not outrageous. Something pretty. Something in focus. Something that goes with a living room couch.

So Rick picked a few of his best photos and had them printed up on canvas. They arrived in record time. I resisted tearing them open; it was his work, not mine, and though the day will come when all this is mundane, this first shipment was Christmas morning, and these presents were his.

I knew he was excited when he didn’t go upstairs to change out of his work suit before opening the packages. He slipped the first, a classic Waikiki sunset framed by a palm frond, out of the cardboard, and held it up.

We beheld. We scrutinized. “Hmmm,” we said in unison.

Reluctant to jump to judgment, he moved on to the second package and pulled out the moody Amman cityscape – the one he uses for his business cards, it’s so perfect. This, surely, would floor us.

“Ummm,” we said.

They were…fine. They were nice photos on large canvases. And neither of us would buy either one at an art show.

I don’t know if it’s the size, the canvas, the subjects. (This, obviously, is why I’m not the artist. I can tell you it doesn’t quite work, but can’t quite articulate why.)

We’re still moving them around the house, trying to figure out where they work better. The tropical sunset may work great on the yellow wall of the sunroom in our beach house >>>

But the tent we’d be using in an art show is likely to be white. So do we pick photos and framing that work on white? Seems obvious, I guess, but worth considering.

In the meantime, I decided to take a stab at picking a couple of shots myself. Here’s my favorite >>>
Photo of spices on display in front of a shop within the Khan el-Khalili marketplace in central Cairo, Egypt– it should arrive any day now. Don't you think that'd look incredible on a kitchen wall?

Well, with all this new art hanging around the house, I guess one thing IS easy to predict:

A lot of people are going to be getting Rick’s pix for Christmas this year.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Let's Get this Artist Started

Canvas is the thing now. A pretty photograph of a Tuscan vineyard becomes Art when printed on canvas. So the Artist in our house was thinking canvas as he took his first baby steps toward developing a salable portfolio, reviewing his massive catalog of travel photos long into the night.

He considered lights and darks (will canvas illuminate or flatten?), frame-dependence vs. stand-alone (most canvas-printed photos we saw at the Art Show That Started It All were unframed). Open landscapes? Shimmering seascapes? Tapestried studies?

More than once he shuffled to bed in the wee hours, shoulders hunched, forehead scrunched, muttering things like “what was I THINKING?” Apparently nothing causes one to reassess one’s talent like the prospect of hanging a sizable price tag on it.
Photo of sunset off Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, by Rick Collier, (c) RickCollier.com and thePhotoTourist.com.
Finally, he chose two sunsets: a blue and yellow pastel Waikiki scene that hangs in our beach house, and a stunning Amman cityscape that draws raves in his office--both safe bets since we already know they work.

Photo of the skyline at sunset from the citadel in Amman, Jordan, by Rick Collier, (c) RickCollier.com and thePhotoTourist.com.
At least, on paper.

Eventually, he’ll need to handle the production process himself. Most of the better Arts Festivals have lots of rules around what constitutes art, and photographers are expected to execute their work--shooting, printing, matting, framing--from beginning to end. But for now, he sends them off to two different production houses: Mpix, and the one that handles his website orders, SmugMug.

One week and $200 later, the UPS guy drops two large packages at our door, and I resist the urge to rip them open. Could this be it? The first entries in our traveling menagerie? Could it be this easy?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sure About This?

What does tooling around the country in an RV, selling photographs at art shows, have to do with a shore dive kinda life? Where’s the diving? The tropical beaches? The mangoritas?

I’m not 100% sure that we haven’t completely copped-out. After all, in the U.S., life’s easy: English is widely spoken, I understand how the tipping works here, and most everyone drives on the right. There’s a lot to love, and a lot to hold us, not least our friends and family.

So when the itinerant art seller idea hit us two weeks ago – not coincidently on the weekend of our 10th anniversary – I had to question our motives. Were we settling for domestic because international is too scary or complicated? Are we just lazy?

Now, after dozens of hours of research, I can assure you: this art show biz is no cop out. It’s complete insanity. It’s hard, hot, fickle and a heck of a lot more complicated than putting a BCD on your back, an air hose in your mouth, and a dive buddy between you and a barracuda.

Sounds perfect!

As a kid, I was a real couch-hugger. But now I’m much more like your neighbor’s kid – the one with ADHD.

Or a shark. If I stop moving, I sink.

Planning constantly. Always conscious of the ticking clock, the fear of having missed something, fear of regret.

So the thousand details and decisions needed to get an art show life into motion sound just about right to me. Just as long as I’m not the one creating the art. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Detour: Rehoboth Beach Visitor's Guide

Slight tangent here. This is a blog of many colors, after all, so why not a Rehoboth Beach Visitor's Guide? [Author's note: Check out the iPhone App that Rick and I are developing - a travel guide called "Rehoboth In My Pocket" - which is due for release in spring 2010. You can sign up now to be notified when the App comes out, or for our Rehoboth blog updates, at www.RehobothInMyPocket.com]

I've gotten a couple of nice compliments on a little guide I wrote for renters in our Delaware beach house. One person even said "You should publish this!" And I thought oh, pshaw, who would publish .... hey, wait. I can publish!

And what better time to post a review of Rehoboth restaurants, walks around town, and coffee shops than now, the butt-end of summer when the boardwalk teems with seven or eight lost souls wandering about, asking "Where's the boardwalk?"

We’ve sampled most of the restaurants in Rehoboth, usually with happy results, but many of them can be hit or miss, which can be infuriating when the prices are as high as they are.
* shows our favorites

◊ *Stingray Sushi Bar & Asian Latino Grill, 59 Lake Ave.
One of my biggest regrets is not trying this place out when they opened last year – we missed an entire year of this fabulous spot! Now if they'd only get rid of the horrible, loud techno music - one night we watched diners at every table in our part of the restaurant complain (including us), and the staff did their best to explain that the owners were trying to set a mood. Owners: please? We aren’t sushi eaters, so didn’t expect a lot of choice, but their menu is the most mouth watering and well-executed in Rehoboth (in my humble opinion). Once we finally went, in April, we spent 5 of our next 6 dining experiences there. On the appetizer menu (ALL of which are huge and can be a entrée) we loved the potstickers, fish tacos, duck quesadilla, ceviche, lettuce wraps, and spring rolls (not what you expect). Salads we’ve tried – both great – are the pulled chicken and the pad thai (both huge). Entrees – like so many places – aren’t quite as memorable: didn’t really care for the Eisenhower Chicken (odd flavor) or Pork Mojo (good sides, but pork rather dry and tasteless). Rick preferred the Sea Salt NY Strip over the Rib Eye (but admits that the overly salty NY Strip might have been an aberration). Outstanding sides are the yucca fries with queso fresco, the corn and black bean salad, and the wrinkled green beans. Skip the lobster pierogies. If they ever offer the lobster/edamame side dish, absolutely grab it. Interesting avocado cheesecake – not too sweet. Oh, and it’s a gorgeous restaurant, too! Moderate to Expensive.

Lupo di Mare (in the lobby of the Hotel Rehoboth, across the Avenue)
Oh, I love this place, and they have such wonderful food, but it is so incredibly loud (with wood floors and tables and no sound dampening anything) that we can only eat there when it’s empty. Wonderful small “tastes” and generous “sides” can make up your whole meal here – for $3 to $6 a plate. Particularly good are the mushroom risotto, shaved Brussels sprouts, huge fresh arugula salad.

Mariachi Restaurant, 14 Wilmington Ave., 227-0115
Very friendly restaurant with a nice, large upstairs deck for outside seating. Have tried some of the fancier items but been disappointed – stick with the Mexican basics like the chicken chimichanga and the fajitas and you’ll be very happy. Great sangria by the pitcher. Moderate.

Espuma 28 Wilmington Ave. 302-227-4199 Used to be our favorite, but the last two visits have disappointed. Wonderful atmosphere – very romantic – but the food has fallen off. Very trendy ingredients and eclectic menu, but not always well executed. Very Expensive.

Eden 23 Baltimore Ave., 302-227-3330 Consistently good. Best seating choices are the outside seating upstairs, and some cute fabric-draped booths downstairs. Great grilled romaine salad, duck with homemade fettucini appetizer , fish served over paella. Portion sizes are not huge, which is actually somewhat of a relief these days. Good mojitos. Very Expensive.

◊ *Zebra Ristorante, 32 Lake Avenue 302-226-1160. Perfect Caesar salad. You can taste the fresh in the homemade black & white pasta with scallops, and the pappardelle with mushrooms is memorable. Zebra also offers pastas in “small plates,’ saving money and calories. Very good carbonara, pasta Bolognese, risotto. Jungle décor – really cute. Nice outside patio. Definitely make reservations. Very Expensive.

1776 Steakhouse, Midway Shopping Center (next to the movie theater), Route 1, 302-645-0854. Side dishes and desserts sometime don’t warrant the price, but truly outstanding dry-aged steaks, perfectly cooked. Very expensive.

◊ *Nage, 4307 Highway 1, (302) 226 2037
In an odd location, next to the Oreck vacuum cleaner store and in the shadow of a massive liquor store in a small strip mall on Route 1, Nage is a find. It’s small – so call ahead. Lots of ambience in the lighting, and with no standard-issue anything (everything from the salt and pepper shaker to the silverware is just a little bit different). We typically go for the specials, and if they ever offer the cannelloni Bolognese while you’re there, please call me immediately! Best French onion soup ever, and the truffle frites are oddly addictive. Expensive.

Planet X Restaurant, 35 Wilmington Avenue, (302) 226-1928. Organically-focused restaurant with dramatic, eclectic décor with lots of draped fabrics, candles, stuff. I love it, my husband less so ;-) Two of my favorites – a duck risotto appetizer, and chicken soup – are either no longer on the menu or offered as specials. Don’t miss them if they pop up while you’re there. The red curry seafood is terrific, fish is nicely prepared, pastas are good. Not sure of reservation policy. Expensive.

Just in Thyme, 31 Robinson Drive & Route One (drive out Rehoboth Ave to Route 1 and turn left, it’s a mile or two down on the left hand side) 302-227-3100
This is a local’s favorite; we went on a February Saturday night without a reservation and had to wait nearly two hours for a table. There are a lot of plastic flowers and white lights decorating this place, but at night it seems relaxing and happy. They use fresh crabmeat all over the place – topping the prime rib, in the delicious stuffed mushroom caps, and their smoked fish appetizer is generous. You can eat here without spending a fortune, too, which is nice. Moderate to Expensive

◊ *Porcini House Bistro, 210 2nd Street. Formerly Chez la Mer, this new restaurant re-opened as the Porcini House Bistro in April 08, with the same chef/owner as Espuma. Small and intimate with a warm little cocktail area and low ceilinged dining room (plus a lovely rooftop bar area with a bar and more dinner seating), we love this place and have been there a dozen times now. Most everything is under $20, and they have a fun collection of appetizers including flatbread pizzas (try the Country French with ham, honey mustard, and brie), Italian sausage, small plates of risotto (the shellfish with sausage bits is very good, but overall risottos aren't the high point here), and a bunch of different paninis. This is the rare menu where you’d happily choose 90% of the items. Moderate. (Call for reservations.)

Stoney Lonen, 208 Second Street, 302-227-2664. This place is a constant, low key, winner. Fish is always great, but a nice light meal is a generous spinach salad with an appetizer of steamed mussels or braised short ribs. Rick has enjoyed the steak and the corned beef and cabbage, as well as the fish and chips. GREAT beer list. Half price fish & chips on Friday, half price bottles of wine on Saturday, and half price fish dinners on Sunday. Lots of ambience in this converted bungalow. Moderate.

Fins Raw Bar, 243 Rehoboth Ave, (302) 226-FINS
Lots of seating (on the second floor) and excellent fresh fish, seafood, and salads, at reasonable prices. It’s nicely decorated, with dark wood and interesting nautical knick knacks, but you could take kids here without a worry – it’s not a white tablecloth kind of place. We love the chopped salad with fresh fish of the day on top, and the cheeseburgers and po’ boys are really good, too. Moderate.

Finbar, 316 Rehoboth Avenue, 302-227-2873. We have a love/hate relationship with this place. It’s gorgeous, with an authentic dark-wood pub feel. Huge bar brought in from a turn-of-the-century Irish pub in Philadelphia. Big selection of British and Irish beers. Food-wise, they could do better. Stick with the basics here – fish & chips, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew – because the more adventurous chops and fish and Indian dishes have been pretty disappointing. Moderate.

Pig & Fish, 236 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-7770. This used to be Sydney’s Jazz & Blues, and while we miss Sydney’s, we love Pig & Fish! They opened in 2007 and are doing a lot right. The wood floors make the sound bounce around, so it can get a little loud, but the gumbo makes up for it. Delicious chowdah, and they offered a Cuban Tenderloin entrée special when we were there that needs to be on the regular menu. I had the pulled pork sandwich, and the vinegar flavor was way too heavy for my taste (and they put blue cheese in their side dish of potato salad – uck), but one of their desserts – Bourbon Bread & Butter Pudding – is the best bread pudding ever. Moderate.

◊ *Purple Parrot, 134 Rehoboth Avenue, 226-1139. Great burgers and fish tacos. Hilarious karaoke on Friday nights with some real local talent. Look for their dinner specials on Sundays at 5:00 – like $12 prime rib. Get there right at 5:00 because they sell out. Inexpensive to moderate.

◊ *Adriatico, First and Baltimore Avenue, 227-9255. One of the few fairly inexpensive places in downtown Rehoboth that has nice (casual) ambience, good service and frequently good (not great) food. Very nice linguini with white clam sauce (enough for 2 meals) and sautéed spinach. Rick approves the spaghetti with sausage on the side. Great garlic bread. Kids are welcome. Eat outside on the patio. Very casual. Pasta less than $10. Inexpensive to moderate.

Big Fish Grill, 4117 Highway One, 302-227-FISH. Extremely popular place, which doesn’t take reservations (that I know of, you may want to check). Long, long waits. Big place, quite loud, not fancy. Excellent food, reasonable prices. Outstanding crab cakes. Lots of choices for the non-fish eater. Inexpensive to moderate.

◊ *Go Fish, 24 Rehoboth Ave. One our of three favorite, go-to places in the off-season (along with Summer House and Stingray). English fish & chips place with delicious and inexpensive entrees. Try the calamari, shepherd’s pie, and, of course, fish & chips. During the winter, they have 10 entrees for $10. Limited beer and wine selection. Skip the toffee pudding for dessert. Inexpensive.

◊ *Summer House, 228 Rehoboth Ave, 302-227-3895. Love this place. Redecorated since its days as a twenty- and thirty-somethings’ meeting place, Summer House is now a value-priced (for Rehoboth!), consistently good place. Good steaks with nevis potatoes (think au gratin, yumm), great salad with cranberries and a little packet of filo-wrapped goat cheese underneath (you can get it with grilled fish of the day on top for a great dinner), very large portions that you can bring home for lunch the next day. Excellent service – very attentive and quick. Moderate.

Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, 320 Rehoboth Avenue, 302-226-2739. This is a fun place, very casual with lots of wood, live music starting at 10 on Fridays and other nights throughout the week. Dogfish Head beer is ubiquitous throughout the region, with creative, seasonally-themed brews. Food quality goes up and down here, so you’re better off sticking with the simple stuff – burgers, pizza (Thursday is create your own pizza night and I put one together with olive oil & garlic, chicken, prosciutto, red onion and parmesan cheese that should SO be on the regular menu!). Rick liked a recent steak, which came with excellent mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. TERRIBLE wine selection, I’m sad to say – one of the reasons I’m always a little reluctant to go there. Inexpensive to Moderate.

Cultured Pearl, 301 Rehoboth Ave., 302-227-8493. Unbelievably, the building that houses this restaurant used to be a hardware store (remember Quillens??). The Cultured Pearl owners moved their small but loved restaurant from its former location closer to the beach out to this larger space. They bought the whole building and renovated it in a tropical/Asian theme, leasing out the bottom area for retail, including a wine store and a new Starbucks. The restaurant is beautiful, and in warm weather the rooftop dining area reportedly has a koi pond embedded in the floor, under a sheet of plexiglass! Must be an incredibly romantic place to eat. Have only had drinks here at this point – let us know if you go and like it!

Dish! 26 Baltimore Ave., 302-226-2112. This tiny, below-street-level place has the best beef stroganoff you have ever had, guaranteed. We have a hard time ordering anything else, so can’t really report on other entrees, but the duck confit and cabbage wontons and calamari are excellent starts. Reservations.

For lunch on the boardwalk, try Victoria’s (excellent burgers, good poached salmon salad – just don’t go for the overpriced, unimpressive dinners) or Obies By the Sea (really good chili dogs and fries).

◊ Dinner with kids, try Nicola Pizza (Baltimore Avenue, left off Rehoboth Ave) – very popular and gets crowded, but good pizza. Though this is the landmark, we actually prefer the pizza from Grotto’s (a local chain, locations everywhere, including on Rehoboth Avenue about a block from the water) and from Casa DiLeo, a small, family-run Italian place in the small strip center on the left just as you get off Route 1 onto Rehoboth Avenue and head toward the ocean. Casa DiLeo also has pretty good lasagna, a great sautéed broccolini with garlic side dish, but the fettucine alfredo is horrendous.

◊ Institutions – Grotto’s Pizza (everywhere), Thrashers French Fries (everywhere), Dolle’s candy and caramel corn.

For breakfast, here’s what we recommend:

Best Overall: Ask for a table on the screened porch at Royal Treat on Wilmington. Everything’s good (especially the French toast made with Italian bread), and you gotta love a screened porch on a nice day. Get there before 11:30. (They close for lunch, and then reopen in the afternoon as an ice cream parlor - root beer floats, butterscotch sundaes with wet nuts, malteds, you name it.)
Best Food: Crystal Restaurant, on Rehoboth Avenue heading into town from Route 1. Large, clean, casual place with dated 50’s décor and lines out the door because of their home fries (the best in town), huge stuffed omelets (try the shrimp and crabmeat), and everything else you could want.
Most Food: If you are a big brunch person, try Victoria’s very fancy and pricey buffet, on the boardwalk, looking out at the ocean. Celsius, Café Sole, the Front Porch, Purple Parrot, and Cloud 9 also offer Sunday brunch. We haven’t been to any.
To Walk It Off: Try walking down to Dewey Beach (either via the beach or south along Bayard Avenue), then head to the Starboard Restaurant for their Bloody Mary bar, or to Sunrise Restaurant for a basic but good breakfast.
Coffee to go: Starting three blocks from the beach on Rehoboth Avenue, there’s a Bakery in the first block (massive, delightful muffins, donuts, etc), or keep going to the Dunkin Donuts a block down on the right, or go one more block to Café a Go Go (our favorite) for a fancier coffee (try their special Café con Leche or one of their Mexican chili-chocolate coffees) and bacon, egg, cheese bagel.
Paper, Coffee, Sandwich and Sun: Here’s my favorite morning place – Lori’s Oy Vey Café, 39 Baltimore Ave. Grab a table in the courtyard, order an egg bagel and a coffee at the counter, and sit as long as you like.
Just for fun: Try Café Papillon, a great little crepes place in the Penny Lane shopping alley (ocean block off Rehoboth Avenue on the right side). Order a sweet or savory crepes at the window (I had the predictable but delicious and filling ham and swiss) and sit at one of the outdoor tables. A little bit o’ Europe.

If you want a quick and easy breakfast and the other places are full, you can try Sammy’s Kitchen, a friendly place with spotty food, but typically good eggs, omelets, and pancakes or Robin Hood Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue (two blocks from the ocean) , which has been there forever and recently renovated – it’s a pretty authentic diner feel, tasty, cheap, basic breakfast. Grotto’s Pizza now serves breakfast at their location on Rehoboth Avenue, one block before the boardwalk. I can’t really imagine it, but give it a shot.

Under no circumstances should you go to Gus and Gus on the boardwalk for breakfast. I’ve heard their chicken is pretty good, but breakfast is not their thing – take my word for it.

You may have better luck than we did at these places

Red Square – Rehoboth Avenue. Russian restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue. Beautiful, cozy restaurant with bizarre service, extremely high prices, no tap water (have to buy bottled), mediocre to bad food, and never anyone in the place – it’s a mystery. Cover for some shady business? What do you think? (I mean, they tossed a stale slice of that swirly rye bread you get at grocery stores on our plates, charged $15 for martinis, and then charged us over $30 for beef stroganoff that appeared to have come out of a nuke-in-the-bag package. What is UP with that??)

Celsius – Wilmington Avenue. I wanted to love this place so badly because it’s cute, the staff is nice, and it has a tempting menu, but our one meal there was just bad – I had bouillabaisse and my husband had pork osso buco – both among the worst we’ve had.

Jake’s Seafood – Baltimore Avenue. So many people seem to like this place (or at least it’s always busy), but my one trip there was so unimpressive. Plain décor, no ambience, service was okay but impersonal. I had a basic fish dish and it just had no flavor. Others at my table were equally unimpressed.

Claws – About a block down Rehoboth Avenue on the left. Tried this place once and was excited at first to see the wood-y, nautical décor and extensive menu. But then they were out of the lobster roll. Then the shrimp salad. Then the crab soup was just tasteless and thick – how can you mess up crab soup? Add to that the poorly designed benches that had my feet swinging off the floor (and I’m not short)… Just unexcited about this place, I’m afraid. (Though my sister had a wonderful happy hour experience this summer, so who knows?)

Things to do
Some of our favorite things to do:

◊ Start the morning with a latte at Café A Go Go and walk to the boardwalk to greet the ocean. Turn left and follow the boardwalk to the end, then continue along Surf Avenue into Henlopen Acres. Beautiful homes, large, shady trees, lovely walk. Finish the morning with breakfast on the screened porch at Royal Treat (4 Wilmington Avenue) – but get there before 11:30. They convert to an old fashioned, sit-down ice cream parlor at 1:00.

◊ Walk to dinner on the patio at Zebra, followed by ice cream at Royal Treat on Wilmington.

◊ Pick up shells on the beach south of the boardwalk, then continue on the beach down to Dewey. Have grilled chicken and beer at Eds on Rt. 1, then walk back up Rt. 1 into Rehoboth.

◊ Get to Dogfish Head Brewery (on Rehoboth Avenue) around 8:30 or 9:00 pm for a meatball pizza, house-brewed beer and live music starting at 10:00 on Fridays.

◊ The Midway Movie Theater on Route 1 has tons of theaters and they are the best – stadium style seating, comfortable high-baked rocker seats, everything clean and modern. And now there’s a Coldstone across the street – how perfect is that!

◊ For an up-close look at the huge beach mansions, go right on the boardwalk to the end, turn right and walk up Prospect to your first left, then just wander.

◊ Tuesdays between 12 and 4 – check out the Farmer’s Market in Grove Park (walk left on Rehoboth Ave to the canal – you’ll see the white tents on the right). Great selection of stuff like mushrooms, nuts, cheese, bakery, sandwiches, farm eggs – great stuff.

◊ Rent bikes and ride back into The Pines, Henlopen Acres, or down the other way past Dewey Beach to the bay-side parks and the WWII observation towers. (Oh, and great sunsets on the bayside beaches.) A new bike path is now open between Rehoboth and Lewes - just 6 miles of pretty. Called the Junction and Breakwater Trail.

◊ Work out at the YMCA - $12 per person for drop-in visits. (From Rehoboth Ave, turn at Shore Haus furniture place, then first right.)

◊ We haven’t done this yet, but you can rent kayaks, small boats, or pontoon boats on the bayside in Dewey Beach and spend the day out on Rehoboth Bay.

Where Can You Find…

Newspapers: Browseabout Books or the Variety Store on Rehoboth Ave.

Coffee: Café A Go Go (about a block from the ocean on Rehoboth Ave). Or, Starbucks, three blocks away from the ocean on Rehoboth Avenue. Go if you must.

Magazines: Browseabout Books or Atlantic Books on Rehoboth Avenue a block before the ocean has a great selection

Suntan lotion, laundry detergent, toilet paper, etc.: Rehoboth Variety, Rehoboth Avenue (toward the ocean) on the left side of the street.

Milk, fruit, water, etc: There’s a health food store (I forget the name) on Rehoboth Avenue next to the Bakery, on the right. There’s also Lingo’s Market, a small food store, at 1st and Baltimore, and if you go LEFT on Rehoboth Avenue (away from the ocean) you’ll find a 7-Eleven and a Royal Farm Store. (At press time, a new grocery called Grub looked to be opening across the street – check it out.)

Books: Browseabout Books is a great place to wander. It’s on Rehoboth Avenue about two blocks down (toward the ocean) on the left hand side.

Playgrounds: Big playground on your left as you crossed the canal driving into Rehoboth. There is also playground equipment and a nice little walking path over by Lake Gerar (walk down Rehoboth Avenue and turn left onto 1st Street and it’s 4 blocks ahead).

Whatever you end up doing, seeing, or eating, have a great one!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Second Thoughts

A week after the Art Show Epiphany, we've run smack into an existential dilemma. A big one. One that piled up in Rick all week before exploding in a 5,000-word email of anxiety and doubt. The email was both to me and, to a certain extent, about me.

He fears that I’ll change my mind, that I’ll blame him if the adventure turns to boredom. And that, ultimately, it could jeopardize our relationship if it doesn’t work out. Change is feeling risky to him. He writes: I will not jeopardize what we have for some chimera of greener grass overseas or on the road. (Yes, he actually writes like that.)

I respond immediately; it’s on my mind, too. I fear that I’m too lazy; that the early mornings, manual labor, and cold/heat/rain/fog/name it will turn me into a whining, whimpering, snotty-nosed child. That Rick will hate the RV/art show life and blame me. That I’ll hate it and blame him. And I fear that being caught up in an enterprise that’s all about Rick – Rick’s photos, Rick’s art – will leave me empty and envious.

I write: I love dreaming about downsizing and offloading and “shedding” and living more simply. But I’m afraid I’m full of shit.

So after work, we head to the barge to hash it out. We live on a lake, and the “barge” is our floating dock with a little motor on the back. We cruise over to pick up some pizza at the shopping center, open a bottle of wine, and get down to business, slicing and dicing.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An RV Life for Us?

Did I ever tell you that Rick and I invented TripAdvisor? Yep, that’s right. Years ago, on a long drive home from Sarasota to D.C. We tossed around a few ideas for creating an entrepreneurial future and landed on the model of posting short, online reviews of charming towns and great restaurants, all contributed by John Q. Public. Brilliant, right? Course, then we got home and took a nap and, well, got distracted for a year or two and next thing you know someone goes and launches Trip Advisor and never offers us one red cent. So rude.

But it’s all good, cause this weekend we realized our true destiny is to drive around the country in an RV and sell Rick’s photos at art shows.

Sorry. I know this is pretty much everyone’s dream, and now you’re probably all jealous and grumbling about how Rick and I seem to have ALL the good ideas.

This epiphany came to us as we wandered through the Alexandria Arts Fair, looking at the hefty price tags on photographs of Santorini and Tuscany and St Barths and Raratonga. We sidled up to the laid back and beautifully tanned photographers manning their booths, peppering them with questions about their passions and their camera settings, their lifestyles and online sales strategies. They mostly yawned and rolled their eyes; we weren’t fooling anybody with our faux interest, and we certainly weren’t going to drop $400 on a photograph that Rick could take with both eyes closed (says Rick’s wife and PR flack).

I can’t pinpoint the moment we leapt from art show stalkers to potential competitors, but I think it all jelled when Rick tossed out the RV idea. It’s perfect: Sedona, Coconut Grove, Boulder, Portsmouth. We get to downsize and travel, but I can still consult and write. We can rent out our house and live cheaply, and use what we make at the festivals for overseas dive jaunts and tax-deductible picture-taking forays.

And we get to drive around in an RV! Even if we don’t sell so much as a postcard, we'll be the envy of all!


But, whew, all this excitement has got us plumb tuckered out.

So stay tuned, folks, this is it – the real thing, and we’ll keep you with us every step of the way. Right now, though, time for a wee little nap.

Back in a jiff.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Skype and Me

You’ve heard this before, from some touchy-feely friend, at a time of angst and restlessness: when you put what you want in your life out there into the world, the universe will conspire to make it so. Now, I’m about as susceptible to feel-good pablum as they come, and even I find that one a little tough to swallow. It seems so hocus-pocusy.

But I can’t deny that since I’ve tossed my own ambition out there (long term travel, please oh please), I’ve noticed an awful lot of conspiring. Friends introduce me to friends who ride motorcycles through Bhutan. Rick has suddenly launched his own blog (with his incredible travel pix) and tortures me every night by yelling "POSTED!" while I'm struggling just to come up with a topic. I can’t open my laptop without seeing a reference to Skype (the virtual worker’s magic carpet ride). And at the River this Labor Day weekend, holed up in my tent, the winds howled out of an otherwise perfect weather sojourn while I read the chapter about Hurricane Luis taking out Blanchards Restaurant in Anguilla. (Oops, spoiler! If you’re planning on reading A Trip to the Beach, just forget I mentioned that.)

Then tonight I see that a guy in my Personal Essay Writing course has written this:

I'm planning my escape from the "deferred life plan" to sail away on a 1969 Rawson 30 sailboat with my wife and wirehair dachshund. We live in Wilmington, NC on the coast. The boat stays in the water. I'm just a few lines cast off to making my dream a reality.

I admit: part of me fears that we are ALL planning to escape, and that we’ll all end up at the same gate at Dulles Airport. And if you make me miss my flight, you will pay. But mostly I think, hey, maybe there’s something to that hocus pocus.

So if you want to toss your own secret ambition out onto the wind with mine, go right ahead. Maybe you’ll get the seat next to me on the plane. Which would be great. Except don’t talk to me. I’ll be trying to figure out how to Skype.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Trip to the Beach (Please!)

I've been inviting the Lupus Foundation to send their truck 'round pretty regularly for a few years now. They appreciate the donations, and I appreciate the lightened load. When the day comes for Rick and I to hit the road (...more than a month, less than a lifetime...), I don't want to lose a moment to packing up high heels that no longer work on my flip flop feet.

My travel books, though—those are sacrosanct. I know the time will come when Kindle replaces them as my one true love, but until then...

I ran my finger along their spines the other day, looking for one to tell you about. Married to a Bedouin? Eat, Pray, Love? So many choices, but A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean raised the biggest ruckus. Understandable that it would demand pride of place, since it was the first travel essay Rick gave me, and the one that launched me (ergo, us) on the path to a Shore Dive Kinda Life.

A Trip to the Beach tells the story of Melinda and Robert Blanchard, an entrepreneurial couple from New England who fell in love with Anguilla. After a bunch of trips to the easygoing island, and the sale of their business in the U.S., they found themselves negotiating for the lease of a crumbling restaurant they'd thought to revive as a little burger and drinks place. But deals in paradise are hard to come by, so when the bills started adding up ( including $1800 a month for trucked-in water for the garden), the casual beach bar turned into a fine dining experience, Blanchard's Restaurant.

The project bumps along in fits and starts, including the startling $24,000 the couple spent on duty alone for bringing in their equipment from Miami. I really love the financial details in this book, so the reader can gauge whether the Blanchards' fanstasy could be theirs, too. My conclusion? Not in a million.

Of course, books set in the Caribbean always have a sinister villain waiting in the wings, and he usually blows into the story in a big way come September or so....

It's a great story, like most books in this happy little niche. I just wonder if I'll love it as much when I'm flipping its pages on a Kindle.

(The finished product.)

Photos from Amazon.com and www.BlanchardsRestaurant.com.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Have Granita, Will Travel

This blog is a service to those who live to travel for (as my tagline says) more than a month but less than a lifetime. You, like me, crave sweet tree smells and salty sunshine. You want to bump over rutted roads in a rattletrap pick-up. You crave views, foreign language news, and every color blue.

But, um, you’re sitting in your living room, with no way out for the moment. Like me. Right?

So, hey! I have something for you! You may not be able to dive into shades of blue just yet, but you can whip up some blueberry granita. Rick and I just polished off the last of our own batch, but I have a dish of mango granita chilling upstairs, so we’re not sad.

Lime-mint granita started me down this path three years ago. Tomorrow I’ll whip up a granita made from plums.

All you need is a little fruit, a sprinkle of sugar, a bit of water, squeeze of lemon or lime, and a freezer. Oh, and a spoon.

It tastes like the tropics. Enjoy your getaway :-)

Blueberry granita (tried it...loved it...don’t waste calories on the crème fraiche)

Mint lime granita (tried it...loved it...really good on hot days and as an entremezzo)

Mango-lime granita (tried it...didn't love it...)

Plum granita (holy moly! This tastes like Christmas! Served it with slices of carrot bread from the farmers' market. I used vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean, and ground allspice instead of whole.)

Strawberry granita

Orange granita (If you're lazy like me and use a box grater to get the orange zest for this, your granita will end up with some terrific chewy little orange bits that taste like candy, yum!)

Nectarine granita

Peach granita

Coffee granita

Apple granita

Canteloupe granita (Hmmm. Tried it. Something not quite right...maybe canteloupe doesn't translate well into granita?)

Cherry granita

Grape granita (Perfect for leftover grapes! Tastes just like...grapes!)

Green tea and honeydew granita

Pineapple granita (Yes! Very nice! Fun to imagine the possibilities with this true-tasting granita - maybe add a bit o' rum and some coconut sprinkles?)

Kiwi granita

Cranberry granita

Pomegranate granita

Grapefruit granita

Raspberry granita

Watermelon granita (tried it on a hot 4th of July night - loved it!)

And finally, after working your way through all those, you can toast yourself with a SANGRIA GRANITA!

Granita photo courtesy of nyaa_birdies_perch's photostream at Wikimedia commons

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Theme Songs

Rick and I have been kidnapped by a theme song. This sometimes happens when a couple takes a lot of road trips in the company of an iPod. The shuffle gets into some weird groove and you find yourselves listening to a dozen consecutive Sugarland songs. Then you start with the humming, and suddenly you’ve got your heads out the window, belting "there’s gotta be something mooore!" We're even more spirited when the song’s narrative traces the path of our relationship, and since this particular tune captures our zeitgeist perfectly, when it plays, we bring it.

Monday, hard to wake up
Fill my coffee cup, I'm out the door
Yeah, the freeway's
standing still today
It's gonna make me late, and that's for sure
I'm running out of gas and out of time
Never gonna make it there by nine

Rick always hits replay at least once, and I love that sappy part of him. He was a country music objector when we met, but now he’s as sappy as I am. Next month, we’ll have been together ten years, and one of his favorite things to say to me is that forever won’t be long enough. I agree; I only wish I’d met him younger.

So as I headed out for my sister’s river house last Friday, I cued up Sugarland.

There's gotta be something more
Gotta be more than this
I need a little less hard time
I need a little more bliss
I'm gonna take my chances
Taking a chance I might
Find what I'm looking for
There's gotta be something more

Our own something more will start when our investment property in Rehoboth finally sells—or the lottery hits—and we strike out for beaches unknown.Ultimately what we’re after is pretty simple, and there’s so much of it here at the river. A little boat. A red and yellow hammock. Spot and croaker caught by our friend and cooked on the grill. And at night, Rick sets his tripod out on the pier, hoping for a replay of the lightning storms that cracked across the sky when we stayed last year. No matter where we end up, he and I, I can’t imagine needing anything more than this.

Five years and there's no doubt
That I'm burnt out, I've had enough
So now boss man, here's my two weeks
I'll make it short and sweet, so listen up
I could work my life away, but why?
I got things to do before I die

Eating pancakes on the screened porch this Sunday morning, I look over my shoulder at the tall trees lining the shore, throwing soft shadows against the grass, and point it out. “That’s my favorite view – this time of the morning the light is so perfect, and everything looks so green and fresh.” Rick looks distracted, doesn’t seem to notice. Then a couple of houses down, a little boy in a big life vest and water shoes runs out toward those tall trees, yelling “I’m coming, Daddy!” Rick smiles and says “There’s that kid again. He’s really cute. Looks like it's just him and his dad this weekend, down here by themselves.”

Dad sends the boy back to the house for something, and the kid takes off like kids do, flat-out running, arms flapping. Rick watches longer than I do and laughs, says “So he runs back to the house, gets distracted by some bug or something, stomps on it a few times, then keeps on running.” He shakes his head and grins like that’s the funniest thing he’s seen in ages.

And wham. Out of nowhere, I'm plunged into a sadness so deep it's as if I’m made of tears. I turn my head so Rick won’t notice, while I try to sort it out. It drags me down and I struggle, afraid to feel it; where’s the bottom? My throat closes up and I will myself to relax, like you’d do if you were drowning, arms flailing in deep water. And I realize it’s about that kid. And about us, and the hard choices you make when you start running out of time. And that sometimes, you just have to trust you’re choosing right.

Some believe in destiny, and some believe in fate
I believe that happiness is something we create
You best believe that I'm not gonna wait
'Cause there's gotta be something more

And then Rick stands up and grabs his camera. He points behind me and says “Is that the view you like so much?” and sets out to capture it for me. As I watch him stalk the dangerous linden trees along the riverbank for just the right angle, the sadness starts to seep away, and I notice Rick’s t-shirt, from a trip we took last year: a couple of turtles sitting at a bar, with the caption

Best Buddies

And we are, indeed. Kinda sappy, huh?

Morning at the River

Monday, August 10, 2009

VRBO: An Expat Entry Strategy

For those of us who like a little nibble before we commit to an expensive entrée, think of VRBO as a big ol´ tapas bar. The ungainly acronym stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner, a website that serves up more than 120,000 properties. Mostly it lists short-term vacation rentals, but there are also some great condos, chalets, and cottages for a month or longer—so you can taste-test calamari all over the world before settling in with your favorite.

Why does VRBO excite me? Well first, because that tapas analogy has got me thinking about happy hour, but also because VRBO.com generates enough rental income to pay the mortgage on my and Rick’s investment property in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Unlike a lot of travel-related websites that seem about as substantial as a sliver of carpaccio, this one has been around for more than 10 years and has lots of depth. The rental agency we use in Rehoboth takes 15% off the top to “market” and manage the property, but it’s VRBO that brings in 90% of the rentals.

Another reason you want to check out VRBO.com is because it’s like the menu at a TGI Fridays. Photos! Detailed descriptions! Prices! Everything you need to feed the wanderlust. Here’s a little taste...the value-conscious-but-adorable oceanfront cottages Rick and I will soon be renting in Bonaire (for just a week, sadly). How cute are they??

For longer-term assignations, how about a $700/month 2 bedroom 2 bath in the beach town of Manta, Ecuador? Or, for loftier tastes, maybe a penthouse in Rome for the paltry sum of $8,500/month.

History hound? Then consider this sharp one bedroom in Buenos Aires overlooking the famous La Recoleta cemetery, eternal home of Eva Peron. A little steep at $2200 a month, but when you consider what you pay now on a mortgage, utilities, maintenance, mulch; well, Evita’s neighborhood starts to sound a little less pie-in-the-sky.

Oh, and here’s something else: it’s not too far from a tapas place called Museo del Jamon. That’s “Museum of Ham” to you and me.

What more enticement could anyone need?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Will Blog for Points!

I’m at Starbucks eating a Greek Yogurt & Honey Parfait, which has me thinking of Greece, of course. One more “must” for the ever-growing life list, which also includes scarfing steaks in Argentina, rijsttafel in Indonesia, and olive oil in Italy.

Happily, my husband, Rick, and I have finally queued up Italy for a visit next fall. Unhappily, our Italy-loving friends Jim and Jackie will likely not be joining us, despite our plying them with cheap vino and fresh mozzarella/tomato canapés last night; the economy continues to stink and Jim’s in real estate development. Or not, mostly.

And now it seems my sister Karin and her husband Ted are unlikely to dive alongside us in Bonaire over New Year’s. Ted’s masterful at finding and managing building contracts, but nobody’s doing any building these days. And McDiver and Gigi? Our steadfast dive partners for the last few years? Also a “probably not” for Bonaire; McDiver is busy setting up as an independent consultant, thanks to downsizing that squeezed him out of his 10-year job a few months ago.

So why aren’t Rick and I hunkered down, too? Why do we suddenly have three trips on the planner in the next twelve months, when we’d resisted temptation all year? I’m not sure. It could be the flirty piles of Sport Diver and Outdoor Photographer striking provocative poses all over the house, or my Pavlovian response to Rick’s jubilant “What’s the drink of the night?!” shout when he comes home from work on summertime Fridays. (Drink...! Fun...! LET’S GO DIVING!)

We always fall off the budget wagon eventually. Here’s how I justify it:

Reason number one: Points programs are my passion. The more the merrier. I am particularly fond of the United and American credit card incentives; American recently awarded me 25,000 miles for taking their Mastercard (and charging $750 in the first three months – piece of cake). With a Caribbean flight going for 35,000 miles, that reward is a big help. And just linking my Safeway purchases to United’s Mileage Plus program adds a couple hundred points a month to my stash. It takes a little time to keep track of everything, and of course the credit card offers require some fine-print scrutiny. I just keep everything together in a Notes file in my Microsoft Outlook and update it during a slow tv night. (Oddly, I love doing it.)

This year we fly free to Barbados, Florida, and Bonaire (via Curacao), saving close to $3,500. When you can cut out airfare costs, an awful lot becomes possible.

On our Florida road trip in June, we stayed for free in Aiken, S.C. (Fairfield Inn; Marriott Rewards), St. Augustine, FL (Hampton Inn; Hilton HHonors), Savannah, GA (Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa – Starwood Preferred Guest), and Wilmington, NC (Holiday Inn -Priority Club). I accumulated a lot of those points over years of business trips, waiting for the day we could put together a wandering itinerary dictated by free hotel nights.

When I came up short for a couple of those hotel stays, I just transferred some points from my American Express Membership Rewards program. No fee, no fuss, no muss. You can also use Amex points for stuff, like flat screen tvs and golf clubs and bikes, but why would you, when you can use them to buy a bed for a night?

And if you haven’t checked out OpenTable.com yet, don’t wait. You get points just for using their website to make restaurant reservations (instead of making a phone call!), then use the points to get free meals!

So, points programs. Yes, please.

Reason number two: We are cockeyed optimists about money showing up when you need it (though it’s taken years to pound that optimism into Rick, I admit, and he still backslides occasionally with a mystified “and how are we supposed to pay for that??”). I’m not advocating this as a strategy for everyone, believe you me. Most of the "free money" I’ve picked up over the years had some sort of price tag attached – like the crushed fender I lived with in exchange for the $1,000 insurance settlement that took me to London way back when. But if you’ve got Hermes in your corner, go for it. Who knows? Maybe it’s the cosmos, or maybe it’s a willingness to make concessions in your life you didn’t know were possible until you stepped onto foreign shores. Either way, you win, right?

And number three: I buy our sheets at Wal-Mart. Our living room walls have probably not been painted since the house was born nearly 30 years ago. And we use the same comforter that belonged to Rick and his ex-wife. We don’t exactly live in a hovel, but I have noticed that while some folks spend their money switching out their dish sets every so often, or mulching twice a year, or wallpapering a bathroom, we let the house fall a little deeper into disrepair and instead leave town. With frequency and gusto. Last year I was out of town nearly 35 weekends, and Rick almost as many.

So in this fragile economy, should we be more restrained? Rick’s got a solid govvie job and a guaranteed retirement income, but I’m a consultant whose earnings could be reduced to $0 with the flick of some CFO’s pencil. Sitting here with this $3.45 Greek yogurt when there’s 69 cent Yoplait just across the parking lot is probably tempting the gods-of-responsible-living to come smack me around a bit. But then again, I did just find a $10 bill on the ground last week, so if you think about it, we’re actually ahead.

Bonaire, here we come!

What have we here?