Experiencing Fairhope

A few weekends ago, Jeff and I headed south for a few days at the historic Grand Hotel in Fairhope, Alabama. Jeff had been before, but it was a new experience for me. The Grand Hotel is a unique and special place. It’s been around since 1847, and it has a nostalgic, family-oriented feeling to it. Being on the property almost felt like stepping into a movie (similar to the place where Baby and her family spent their summer in Dirty Dancing). We were there for one reason – to REST. This has been a busy and stressful season for us and we needed a few days to get away from everything and just enjoy each other’s company.

Our reservations at The Grand were for Saturday and Sunday nights, but we decided to drive down to Mobile on Friday night so that we wouldn’t waste our day driving all day on Saturday. Before we checked in, we found a fun little brunch spot called Warehouse Bakery and Donuts. I fell in love with this place, y’all. It was welcoming, had a rustic charm, and the food was amazing. If I ever get to open a little bakery (which would be a dream come true!), I would want it to be like this one.

After we had brunch, we headed over to the hotel and checked in. The Grand might be the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We were in the Spa Building and had a pretty view of the duck pond and the pool area.

The thing that Jeff loves about The Grand is that all activities are included in your stay. You can use the hotel’s bikes to explore Fairhope, borrow a kayak for an afternoon, and they have activities like “swim in” movies at the pool for families. It’s really a neat place and we are already planning to bring Jack back with us the next time we get to come so that he can enjoy some of the activities they have for kids. We went for a bike ride (which is a feat for this clumsy girl). and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Alabama game (Roll Tide!).

After a relaxing afternoon, we headed out to find dinner. We went to a little hole-in-the-wall place called Big Daddy’s Grill. They had live music on the back deck, and we enjoyed as much fresh gulf shrimp (fried, of course) as we could eat. If you are ever in Fairhope, you should definitely check this place out.

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On Sunday, we were planning to go kayaking, but the water was pretty rough, so we decided to go for a walk around the grounds of the hotel instead. It is such a beautiful place, and we enjoyed learning about the history of the hotel. We watched them fire the cannon that afternoon and then went to lounge by the pool. It was the perfect, peaceful day that we needed to escape our busy schedules.

Sunday night, we found a little place downtown called The Bone and Barrel. We went there because they had great reviews on Yelp! and everyone said they had a great soft shell crab sandwich (Jeff’s favorite). They were actually out of soft shell crab the night we went, so Jeff and I ended up doing something we NEVER do and ordered the same entree. It was called the J. Burrell sandwich and was an interesting take on a surf and turf dish made up of slow roasted pulled pork topped with crispy fried shrimp on a hoagie bun. They served it with au jus for dipping, and it was so good. I’m going to have to work on recreating that recipe for y’all soon!

This trip was so relaxing and it was nice to have time to reconnect. You can read a little more about my thoughts on the importance of rest here.

I feel like we just barely got a taste of all that Fairhope has to offer and we are already talking about going back again. Have you ever been to Fairhope? What are your MUSTs for activities and food? Let me know in the comments!

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A Real Rest

img_0159Other than our recent weekend trip to Fairhope (you can find a recap of our weekend here), my life has not really felt very blog-worthy lately. Jeff and I are both working long hours and then coming home to mounds of laundry and long to-do lists and a toddler who never stops moving. We are TIRED.

The tired I’m talking about is so much more than not getting enough sleep (although that’s an issue right now, too, because Jack suddenly thinks that 1:00 a.m. is a good time to wake up screaming EVERY night). My tired is more of a mental and emotional thing.  My job stresses me out and my students need so much every second of the day that by the time the final bell rings at 3:15, I am completely emotionally and mentally spent. Then there are papers to grade, emails to respond to, paperwork to complete, professional development assignments…the list goes on and on. By the time I leave work every afternoon, I feel like I have nothing left to give anyone (which is frustrating for me because Jeff and Jack should get my best and not my grouchy, irritated, exhausted, and emotional self). Then I go home and Jeff and I tackle whatever needs to be done at the house and try to spend quality time with each other and with Jack (and exercise and eat right and keep up with the news and what’s going on with friends and family and EVERYTHING else).

I  reached a breaking point on Saturday last week. Early Saturday morning, my work email app on my phone buzzed and a rude email from a mad parent popped up. When I read it, I could feel myself filling with anger. Then, that anger faded into frustration and led me to an entire weekend filled with negative feelings. By Monday morning when my alarm went off, the last thing I wanted to do was go to work. I felt unappreciated, disrespected, and completely defeated.

Then I read this quote from Elizabeth Elliot on a friend’s Facebook page: “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

I already knew that I couldn’t change my circumstances. Even if I could change them, I would still face challenges and difficult situations. Any job is going to come with those things, and there’s no way to avoid them. Instead, what I need to do is take my focus off of my circumstances and put it on Christ.

Let me tell you, this is a really hard thing to do.

Jesus is not going to jump around and yell, “Look at me!” all day, but Satan will make sure that your circumstances do. Deadlines, emails, meetings, negative comments from coworkers, unrealistic expectations, and stress are all masquerading around as important things that should take precedence over everything else. Learning to take a step back from all the stressful things, breathe for a minute, focus on God first, and then conquer that to-do list is a discipline that I have yet to perfect. It’s hard.

Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (KJV)

I love the way the way The Message words these verses: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out in religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I love that phrase, “I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” God is teaching me so much about resting in Him in this busy and stressful season. When Jeff and I went on our trip to Fairhope a few weeks ago, we did that to get away and get some rest. While our trip was a wonderful escape and a great time to spend time one-on-one and reconnect (which I believe is absolutely necessary to maintain a happy and healthy marriage, especially once you have kids), it was just a temporary escape from the things that are weighing us down. Even while we were there, we were both getting emails, texts, and phone calls from work. A vacation or a good night’s sleep, both of which are good and necessary things, is not enough to bring rest to our souls.  The only way we can get that “real rest” is to allow God to refresh our souls by spending time with Him.

I’m still a work in progress, and I often let my circumstances distract me or weigh me down, but I am trying to slow down and focus on God first. Here are a few things I’ve done this week to help shift my focus and change my perspective so I can get that “real rest” with God:

  • I deleted my work email from my phone. I will focus on work while I am at work, but I will not let negative thoughts, feelings, or comments from others (which are often shared or sparked by an email) affect me during my family time.
  • I turned off notifications on all my social media apps. While I enjoy seeing updates from friends and family on Facebook and Instagram, I also tend to get stuck in a comparison trap and want to compare my circumstances to what I see online. I turned off my notifications and am trying to spend less time on these apps and more time focused on time with God or my family.
  • I downloaded the Church of the Highlands podcast onto my phone. I don’t attend Church of the Highlands (Jeff and I have visited there a few times and have enjoyed the services, but felt more at home in a smaller congregation), but I do find the teachings and preaching to be in line with God’s Word and am thankful that they offer their weekly messages in an online format through a podcast. I have been listening to a sermon on the way to work every morning and it has made a big difference in my attitude over the last few days. Also, guess what the title of the most recent sermon was when I downloaded the app…A REAL REST. (Do you think God might be trying to teach me something?)

What do you do when your circumstances feel overwhelming? How do you put your focus back on God? How do you make rest a priority in today’s busy world? Let me know in the comments!

 

Currently – September 2018

Here’s a look at what’s happening in our world this month:

In the Kitchen

  • Easy and fun foods for entertaining during football season
  • Healthy lunches for school and work

On My Bookshelf

  • The Girl from Blind River by Gale Massey

Watching and Listening

  • Alabama Football – Roll Tide!
  • Jack Ryan season 1 on Amazon Prime
  • Dr. Death Podcast

Health and Fitness Goal

  • 30 minutes of activity at least 3 days a week

Hello, September!

Hello, friends! It has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, but this month I am hoping to get back into a regular routine of posting at least a few times a week.

Here’s what we’ve been up to lately (detailed posts to come soon):

In July, we moved into Jeff’s grandparents’ house and stayed busy with lots of DIY projects.

Jack turned one on July 23 and we enjoyed a fun party with family and friends in our new home.

School started back at the beginning of August, and Jack and I are just now getting back into our school-year routine.

Now that we’re finally getting settled in at our new house, I’m going to be sharing some of our DIY projects and I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen to create some new fall recipes for y’all.

Happy September!

Arkansas Family Vacation

Jack has been busy marking new states off his bucket list this summer! Last week, we went to Tennessee and Georgia, and a few weeks before that, we traveled to Arkansas for a family reunion where Jack got to meet all of his Arkansas and Missouri cousins.

Jack is becoming a pretty good little car rider. When we go on long trips, like this one (it was about a 9 or 10 hour drive), I usually sit in the back with Jack and make sure to pack lots of books, toys, and download some of his favorite videos onto our Kindle. We also make pretty frequent stops to get him out of the seat and let him move around.

We stopped in Hardy, Arkansas, on our way and walked around downtown to get out of the car for a little while. Hardy has a really neat little downtown area with lots of little shops, so it was a nice place to get out and stretch and do a little sight-seeing.

Once we got to Springdale, my mom kept Jack in the hotel room (he was so tired after that drive) and Jeff, my dad, and I went to an Arkansas Naturals game. We had been to a game when we came up for the reunion a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so we decided to go back this year. We had great seats right behind home plate, and the tickets were really affordable.

The next day, we were supposed to check in at our cabin at Lake Fort Smith (where our reunion was held) at 4:00, so we had the entire day to explore. Mama and Daddy took Jack with them while they looked around at shops in town and Jeff and I headed to Devil’s Den State Park to do some hiking.

The caves at Devil’s Den were really cool. They were closed, so we couldn’t go inside (not that I’m brave enough to go into a cave, anyway, but my husband would have been climbing in without a second thought), but when we walked by a cave opening we could feel a burst of cool air coming out of the ground. We had a lot of fun on the trail and I took about 500 pictures (as usual).

My grandfather was in the CCC (he was working in Washington, I think), so I’m always interested in the CCC monuments at parks like this. I really want to find the park where he was working and and see it someday. This monument was near the dam at Devil’s Den and honored the men who worked to build the park.

After our hike, we were starving, so we searched Yelp for restaurant reviews and took a chance on a local little place called Crawpappy’s. We were so glad we decided to try it! Jeff got their etouffee, and it was the best I have ever tasted. I got their Cajun catfish and fries. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Alma, Arkansas.

After our lunch, we met my parents at Lake Fort Smith and checked into our cabin. Our family rented the big lodge so everyone could have a room and we’d have a place to have our meals, but we decided to get a private cabin because we thought it would be easier with Jack than rooming in the bunk room. We got a two bedroom cabin, and it was so nice. My parents and Jeff and I each had a room with a king bed and an attached bathroom, and there was a nice kitchen and a big living area for Jack to play in. We spent the next few days relaxing at the cabin and exploring the area around the lake.

Lake Fort Smith has lots of amenities, including a big pool with a kids’ swimming area. We took Jack swimming for the first time while we were there and he loved his float. He was not a fan of getting his head under water, but as long as he was in his float, he had fun splashing and floating around with us.

There are also trails at Lake Fort Smith. We saw a bunch of snakes on the first trail we attempted and I ended up chickening out and running back to the cabin (I am terrified of snakes), but this one from the cabins to the lake was pretty clear and snake-free.

The lake was beautiful.

Meeting all your cousins is apparently exhausting.

Arkansas is the perfect vacation spot for nature lovers. There are tons of state parks and opportunities for outdoor activities. Jeff can’t wait to go back and find another state park to explore at the next family reunion.

Have you ever visited Northwest Arkansas? What are some must-do activities we should check out on our next trip there?

Georgia Mountain Vacation

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We just got home from a long weekend trip to the Georgia mountain with Jeff’s mom and sister’s family. We stayed in an awesome cabin in Epworth, Georgia, which is just about 15 minutes from the town of Blue Ridge. There are lots of places to go zip lining, horseback riding, fishing, and white water rafting, and lots of little shops and fun restaurants, too.

On our way, we stopped in Chattanooga and walked around at the top of Lookout Mountain. I had never been to Chattanooga before, and Jeff wanted me to see the view from the top of the mountain. It was a nice break from riding and Jack loved getting to be outside for a little while. We walked over to Point Park and had some wonderful ice cream at Clumpies before getting back on the road. (We also spent the day in Chattanooga on our way home a few days later, and you can read about our adventures on that day here.)

I absolutely love Jack’s stroller, which my grandparents got for us at our baby shower. It should grow with Jack until he outgrows a stroller, and it is easy to fold up and store. It’s also really durable – we have put lots of miles on it in the last 11 months. I couldn’t find the exact one we got a year ago, but I linked some similar ones.

Jack was a great little traveler. I made sure to pack him plenty of books and toys and downloaded some episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse onto the Kindle before we left to keep him entertained on the long drive. We switched him to the Graco Extend2Fit car seat when he was about six months old because his feet were already resting on the back of the seat. This car seat has an extender to give him more leg room while he’s still rear-facing and should also grow with him and turn into a front facing seat for him until he’s ready to move into a booster seat.

We stopped at the Ocoee River where they had the 1996 Olympics Kayaking Competition. They had that section of the river dammed up when we stopped, but it was a neat little park with all the flags from the different countries (you can seen them in the background of the picture below) and a sidewalk built into the rocks along the side of the river. We had a little photo shoot on the bridge over the river and Jeff took the picture of Jack and me and said it is his favorite picture of me because it shows what I look like on a normal basis (apparently I am always making some kind of goofy or sarcastic face). We got caught in a summer shower just as we were leaving and got soaked, which Jack thought was the funniest thing ever, and when we got back into the car and I dried his hair, it stuck up in the most adorable mohawk.

After a long day of adventuring, we made it to our cabin, Trinity Waters (available through Cuddle Up Cabin Rentals). Jeff had stayed in this cabin before on a guys’ trip and loved it, so he told him mom about it and she booked it for us. It has four bedrooms and a loft, and two bathrooms and could comfortably sleep 8 to 10. There were seven of us (including two small children), so we had plenty of room to spread out. The cabin is right on the water and has an amazing back deck, which we made sure to take full advantage of during our stay.

Jack loved watching the water, but he and I decided right away that it was too cold for swimming. We let Jeff do some swimming while we stayed on the deck. I loved having this pop-up play yard for Jack on this trip. It is so easy to set up and it was perfect for keeping him from crawling off the steps of the deck.

Once the rest of the family got to the cabin, we headed into Blue Ridge to get some supper. The boys were fascinated by the Blue Ridge Express train and we got some pictures of them at the train station while we were waiting on our table.

On our first full day at the cabin, we let the men go exploring (they looked for a place to go fly fishing and went swimming in the river) and we stayed in the cabin and let the boys play and nap. That afternoon, we went back into Blue Ridge for dinner and to explore the little town. There are tons of shops, and we had fun strolling around and looking. We met the town pet, Nibbles the Cat, and Jeff, Jack, and our nephew, Zachary,  loved petting him for a little while. One of my favorite shops was Blue Ridge Olive Oil. We tasted some different flavored oils and balsamics and I got a sampler pack of oil and balsamic pairings to experiment with at home. You can expect some recipes using those coming soon!

On our second day at the cabin, we decided to drive around and explore the mountain. We drove up to the top of the mountain and stopped at all the scenic lookouts along the way. We found a really cool park on top of the mountain with a swimming area and lots of spots for camping and grilling out and will plan to go back there for a picnic and swimming with both boys if we go back next summer.

We are already planning to go back to North Georgia when the boys are old enough to enjoy all the outdoor activities. This was a really fun family vacation spot! Do you prefer the mountains or the beach for your vacation? I used to always say I preferred the beach, but the mountains are winning me over lately.

Family Day in Chattanooga

We spent this weekend in the mountains with family, and we stopped in Chattanooga on our way home to spend a little time checking out the city. We visited some local shops and then walked across the bridge, which was really fun and had some beautiful views. A very nice stranger offered to take a picture of us all together and ended up taking a pretty good picture of us, even though Jack was too busy lookin around to pay attention to the camera.

After our hike from the car, we went to the Tennessee Aquarium. Jack loved it and kept pointing and saying “ish, ish.” Jeff and I had a lot of fun, too. We got to pet a sturgeon, a sting ray, and a shark (with Jack safely in his stroller) and Jack loved watching all the fish and turtles.

After we left the aquarium, Jack fell asleep while we walked back over the bridge and Jeff and I grabbed a late lunch at Good Dog, a neat little hot dog restaurant near the river. I had a classic dog with pickles and onions, and Jeff had a breakfast sausage dog. It was a really cool little restaurant and the food was good and reasonably priced for a quick lunch.

We had a fun day and it was a nice way to end our long weekend vacation. It was especially nice to get out of the car and walk for a while to take a break from riding so much. I would highly recommend checking out the Tennessee Aquarium, especially if you have little kids!

Have you ever been to Chattanooga? What are your favorite places to visit there?