The Difference in a Year

“Until you’re broken, you don’t know what you are made of. It gives you the ability to build yourself all over again – but stronger than ever.” – Unknown

I received a text this weekend after posting pictures of a visit to Hot Springs that said “you look so happy”! It made me smile then it made me curious. I, of course, know that everything inside has been torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. Aside from the random weird days that I will always have due to having genes filled with depression and anxiety the smile on my face has become a permanent fixture. But what was it that was showing through on pictures? Thank goodness for modern technology because I was able to just open my photo app and scroll backwards.

February 4, 2021

The picture above, taken at the height of the chaos that was 2020-2021, shows me in my happy place with a smile on my face. But it’s not until I saw this weekend’s picture next to it that I understood….

January 15, 2022

In 2021 the smile was there but it didn’t completely transform my face. It didn’t reach my eyes and my body language said “take the damn picture already”. This weekend’s picture? I feel like I am looking at a different person. THIS is the woman I feel inside now. Lit with happiness, love, and a passion for doing the things in life that I love doing. Not afraid to be in front of the camera and happiest out and about with people I love.

I was told by multiple friends lately that sometime in the last six months I became an extrovert. Who me? The girl who hated parties or leaving the house? Yep. Amy 2.0 loves having a full schedule, a LONG bucket list of places she needs to see, and friends (and a handsome man) that wants to do all the things with her.

Grief, loss, life changes, outside people and forces….they will flatten you like a cement roller. Whether or not you choose to let them? That’s your choice. Mine (with a whole lot of support from a long list of people) was to pick myself up, dig in, and come out better.

If you are going through something and need an ear? Let me know. 🙂

Blessing y’all – Amy

Friends Who Become Family

“Friends are the family you choose with your heart.”

Definition of Friendship — I'm Fine.

Macedonia, Romania, Greece, Italy, Belarus, Mexico, Serbia, New York, Connecticut, Baltimore, California, Arkansas… If you had asked this shy small town girl who graduated in a class with only 23 other people if she would have friends located in all these far away places she would have laughed at you. And yet….

Instagram messenger goes off and my face lights up with a message from my Z in Macedonia. It’s 4 am where he is and yet the timing works perfectly to get to catch up. I’m working away at the office and Facebook messenger is dinging with excited chatter is coming in fast and furiously from the East Coast about an upcoming trip or from the sweet lady that mothers ME who is on a ship somewhere in the Caribbean. WhatsApp goes off to let me know I have a voice message from a treasured friend in Belarus I am praying to be able to see within a couple months. All blessings I never dreamed would be part of my life. Precious communication with people who have all become part of my life in ways this small town girl couldn’t have ever seen coming.

I’ve said before Thanksgiving always makes me reflect on everything. Many many of these special people are in my life from cruising and trips that centered around the holidays. This year as I reflect back on where the year started and the beautiful place I am in now, I am that much more thankful for each of these special people. Thankful for the role they played in my healing. Thankful for knowing I can pick up the phone at pretty much any time of day (thanks insomnia!) and reconnect with someone who stirs memories that can chase away the worst of moods.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Would fight to the end of time for each of them and to protect them. But there is something so special about having people in your life that don’t HAVE to be but CHOOSE to be. It’s humbling to know I have made an impression on someone enough they include me in their life that is going on hours away. More than just keeping up with their social media posts, but really knowing how they are and missing them fiercely. Knowing they get as excited to see me as I do them.

As we go into a season that tends to bring out the worst in all of us because of stress, bad family trauma, or a variety of other reasons – I challenge you to reconnect with SOMEONE who once made your heart beat faster and a smile hit your face because their name showed up on your phone. It’ll make everything else seem unimportant.

To those who chose me simply because I’m me – I LOVE YOU!

Blessings y’all – Amy

Italy Memories

Two years ago I was in Rome, Italy. My Timehop is bombarding me with memories of all the beauty and wonder that Italy and Greece was. Thought I’d take a trip down memory lane…

Riomaggiore

This little village was perhaps one of my favorite stops of the week and was a last minute itinerary add based on the recommendation of my orthopedist. When we got there (after 36 hours awake!) I was instantly in love. Charming little area by the sea with steep enough hills to make you want to be sure you are in shape before you visit. Mailed my first overseas postcard from there and got to practice my Italian-that-sounds-like-Spanish with a sweet shop keeper who had the patience of a saint.

The Coliseum

Another bucket list item, the Coliseum, did not fail to take my breath away. From being inside it and having a grasp of just how long it has been standing to capturing it from a distance as we finished our tour it was just a magnificent experience.

Being overseas and seeing the structures that have stood for thousands of years and remain gorgeous makes you wonder why we (Americans) always tear stuff down and have to have bigger better more. The craftsman ship that was in every place we went in Italy and Greece just can’t be matched stateside!

The food!!!

I was sort of prepared to eat well in Italy…but totally unprepared for how amazing the food would be. Or that my better off gluten free self would be able to tolerate their pasta and breads so well. One of our first stops was a roadside “gas” station that offered up fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh bread you never want to stop eating. The food was like that everywhere in Italy and Greece. Makes my mouth water just to think about going back to that food!

I have hundreds of pictures from Italy and Greece. I know I will go back but there is something special about your first time. I am grateful for the TimeHop reminders to nudge another trip overseas higher up the must do list.

Ciao! – Amy

Cruising Through Life?

Carnival Horizon peeking through the palms in La Romana

When I go too long between cruises I forget. I forget the energy that thrums through your body when you wake up on embarkation day and realize that FINALLY it’s time to get onboard. I forget how my heart races when my foot crosses the threshold of the ship and every muscle in my body screams “YES”. I also forget the way life just fades away and time slows down for a few days.

But the people? People are different onboard.

The crew you meet…there aren’t words for these amazing human beings. They make you feel like you are the most special person in their world for a week. They have some superhuman capacity for remembering they have met you before. With the thousands of faces they see I have no idea how on that one. But some of the kindest, sweetest, most compassionate gentle souls I have ever met dedicate their lives to these ships and making vacations unforgettable. It makes me physically ill when I see the few that can’t seem to leave their bad attitudes at home and abuse them like they are servants. More on that another time.

Amber Cove – a look at just how big Carnival Horizon is!

I think the most fascinating is how the guests are. 98% are more easy going and open to meeting new people than they ever would be at home. If the human race could tap into the energy and attitude you find aboard a cruise ship? Hell, we’d have no wars or division anywhere. There is something truly magical about meeting someone you wouldn’t have met otherwise (mainly because they live 1000 miles away from you) and feeling your heart click like they are your best friend. I can’t tell you how many of these friendships I have made that remain near and dear to my heart.

Prior to this week it has been 18 months since I was on a ship. The longest I’ve gone since 2012. Now that I have proven to myself I can do it alone, and love it, I can assure you that will be the longest gap I will have for as long as God provides me the ability to keep cruising through life. ❤️

Blessings y’all – Amy

Need My Vitamin Sea

As a card carrying down to the nth degree Cancer large bodies of water, salt air, and sand in my toes are the only things that calm the storms in my heart. I literally can have had the worst week and the minute my feet hit the sand the knots in my shoulders start to unfurl.

The world is churning in much the same way as an angry sea. While we all fretfully watch it giving inclinations that it’s going to shudder to a close (again) I’m holding my breath. I find myself praying, daily, for God to heal the world. To release us from captivity of fear, anger, distrust, and mistrust. For us to find common ground as the compassionate humans He designed us to be.

Selfishly I don’t want to be thrown back into the stress and anxiety that being cut off from society brought about last year. I don’t want to lose human interaction. The ability to go and do. To travel. To live LIFE. It feels difficult for us to understand just how devastating this radical shift in normal has been for each other. Maybe that’s just my perspective but holy heck it would seem we’d all be a lot more patient if we could imagine the pain we are each in and respond accordingly.

Me? I am long overdue for a dose of vitamin sea. Not sure how or when I’ll get it but it’s high on my list of priorities. To feel the sun on my face. The sea breeze in my hair. The hot sand burning my toes. It’s been way too long since I felt the sand under my toes and filled my lungs with that intoxicating salt air that calms my soul like nothing else can.

Tranquility

Vitamin sea is the best medicine in the world. And there isn’t a pharma company in the world that has figured out how to sell THAT.

Blessings y’all – A

Nashville Nights

When I see the title “Nashville Nights” that song from Grease starts playing in my head…”oooh, those summmmmmmer nights…”. You know the one! LOL That is about where I would put the nights we had in Nashville. I am 43 years old and I am still a little kid when I discover the fun that is to be had out in the world when I loosen up a little and just let go. On one hand I hope I always have that naivety as it brings appreciation…on the other damn I wish I could let go more often.

Holland Gray of Whiskey, Cash, & Roses

We arrived in Nashville on Monday. We spent Monday evening at The Stage listening to a newfound fav band called Whiskey, Cash, & Roses. Lemme tell ya – the lead singer Holland Gray? That girl has some pipes. Didn’t matter what the audience threw at her as far as requests…she nailed it. One of my favorite things to ask of these singers is Fred and I’s song – Pat Green’s ‘Wave on Wave’. I’d never asked a female singer to sing it before but I was so impressed with this lady I requested it. She moved me it was so good. My Fred would have been “leaking” as we call it.

Now I can’t even tell you who the next band was because at that point the evening got even better. Somewhere in all that a group of people showed up and started talking to Bev and I. I got pulled out on the dance floor – without time to do my usual “I have two left feet”. Before I knew it I was literally doing the old “whirling and twirling to a steel guitar”. We were having a blast. At 1 am Bev insisted it had been a long day and it was time to go. Pretty sure this old girl would have gone until closing time but ya know… 🙂

Don Schlitz – Song Writer of The Gambler (and many more!)

Tuesday night we had tickets to the Opry. Gotta admit I was excited to see it as far as it being something any country fan knows about but less than excited because I literally knew nobody on the bill for the night. I was pleasantly surprised at how the evening went. Don Schlitz, writer of The Gambler and several other songs I recognized, came out and played and it was moving to see an old man reduced to almost tears when Larry Gaitlin came out and sang with him as a surprise and the audience gave him a standing ovation. Love and Theft (a duo) had a row of friends in the row in front of us and one half of the duo came out after they sang and sat with his friends – clearly thrilled to see it from the audience perspective. It was even more cool when he was spotted during intermission and he spent the entire intermission taking pictures with fans.

We, of course, wound up back on Broadway after the show but it was a short night. A long day plus too much gin made for bedtime. LOL

Kalie Shorr (and a kick ass friend named Stephanie that I didn’t catch her last name)

Wednesday evening we hung out with these two ladies in the hotel lobby for a couple hours. It wasn’t very crowded and they asked for requests so we threw it back to 90’s female country. It was the most up close and personal chilled out evening of the week. Both of these two ladies can sing their little behinds off AND entertain with jokes and running dialogue.

Of course we made another run at Broadway hoping for more of that Monday magic but other than watching more than one drunk bridal group hit the floor (literally) it was slow evening. The bartender we met earlier in the week had already warned us that Wednesday’s were slow…she wasn’t kidding!

Cory Farley – my fav of the week!

Thursday was my BIRTHDAY 😳! I had warned Bev to get a nap in…we weren’t going to the hotel until closing. Or until I couldn’t hold my liquor respectably anymore. LOL. We had dinner at Dolly Patton’s White Limozeen in The Graduate Hotel to kick off the night. Food was good, concept was overdone. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Back to Broadway to get the music going in my veins! We bar bounced between The Stage, Second Fiddle, and Tin Roof. We wound up finally sticking to Second Fiddle. The band playing was the same one that closed Jenn and I’s weekend in February. And he is SOOO good. Now, normally, I’m the shy one. Can’t get me in front of a crowd to save my life. But when Cory called for the birthday girls I was up on stage before Bev could blink. We danced and laughed and sang until closing. I can’t remember another birthday so fun!

Broadway looking all innocent in the daylight

Before leaving town Friday I wanted one more look at Broadway. It had been such a great time in Nashville. Something about good music and a sweet spot in the South just made this Texas girl’s heart so happy. ❤️

Blessings y’all!

Those Music City Days

Nashville is rich with history – especially for one history buff (Bev) and one music lover (me). We didn’t go into the trip with a ton of day time activities planned which was a little bit of a blessing and a little bit of a curse. Having your days open to wing it is a different way to travel for me…having to make a decision on the fly when neither of you is good at saying firmly “this is what I want to do”? A bit of a challenge.

Belle Meade Plantation

Tuesday we took the opportunity to venture out to the Belle Meade plantation. While I might not be the bigger history buff of the two of us I am definitely one that love those old plantation homes of the south. I think sometimes I was born in the wrong century – I could have been a great Southern belle. Eh. Maybe not. I do like AC and cell phones an awful lot.

Our tour guide was fabulous. The interior of the home is so well preserved and the stories of how the house came to and flowed through the family over the years was just fascinating. The fact that it was a horse farm was different for me. I’ve been in plantation homes where they raised cotton or sugar. Never horses.

Minnie Pearl – WITHOUT the mask she had on in February when I was there!

Tuesday afternoon was one of our “what do we want to do” afternoon struggles. I had done the Ryman tour (or so I thought) when I was in Nashville in February. But Bev hadn’t so since it was within walking distance of our hotel we decided to give it a whirl. Come to find out I had only done the self guided tour. We managed to get in on the last guided tour of the afternoon! Seeing backstage…being in some of those dressing rooms and feeling the presence of those who had been before…it was really amazing! We were again blessed in the tour guide department and he had many stories to tell as we toured.

Slow Day in The Lucky Bastard Saloon

Wednesday after our AirBnb experience we did what girls do best. We went shopping. All along Broadway checking out all the western stores and tacky gift shops. When I was hangry we ducked into the Lucky Bastard Saloon because the music coming out of there was good and the place was almost empty. After almost a week there I never did figure out what really makes you choose one bar over another. For me it’s whether I’ve been there before and the music coming out of it. We befriended a bartender named Jazz. Sweet girl that she was she put up with me having her pick my food and drink because making choices isn’t a thing for me when I’m hangry. Spot on with her choices on both I might add. She put up with us when we talked her ear off anytime the music wasn’t playing. It was a great place to just kick it and relax and listen to music! For me it was also a bit of a personal triumph as I sent Bev back to the room when she was ready and I wasn’t – staying alone in a bar. That was a fear I conquered and harder than you might think.

For the tourist who prefers to do more than we did we missed The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Opry backstage tour, and tons of off Broadway activities. We literally could have been busy sun up to sun down. Thankfully we did something different this time and took it pretty chill. So many times in my life I didn’t take time to stop and listen to the music. One of my favorite parts of this vacation is that this time I did.

Blessings Y’all – Amy

Here’s to new experiences!

How many of y’all know that AirBnb has an “Experiences” component to their site? That almost any town you are visiting has something fun to offer that is usually some hidden gem or something you wouldn’t normally think of doing? I can’t remember exactly when I found this now favorite thing but it is something I look into everywhere I go now. My most recent vaca into Nashville was no exception!

This adorable sign was hanging in Nicole’s (our host) kitchen

Our first stop in Nashville (literally) was a biscuit making class. We left Memphis early Monday morning to make an 11:30 class where we were lucky enough to have the class to ourselves. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I definitely was sure making biscuits is harder than it turned out be. I’ve steered clear of them because I grew up with the notion that they were a chore. Our host, Nicole, made them not only seem easy but also fun. Her kitchen is dreamy…one all us girls want…and so organized. The class flowed because she had all the prep work done. Just like you see on the cooking shows!

One of our finished products…makes ya hungry don’t it?

My favorite that we made by far was the biscuits and gravy. True southern biscuits in gravy that are the right color and not greasy or lumpy or anything of the things you get from those that just think they can make gravy. Of course, having well made biscuits under them probably helped! We got to leave with leftovers to take to the hotel for munchies. Besides the biscuits and gravy we made a flavored biscuit and some sweet biscuits and toppings. Definitely did not need lunch after…did I mention we got to have mimosas during all of this?

Probably the AirBnb experience I was the most nervous for of the week was the one we did Wednesday. We booked a Photowalk with Christy. One – I don’t like having my picture taken. Two – I definitely don’t like to do it out in the open where people walking by can stare at me. Three – did I mention I don’t like having my picture taken?

Our host Christy was AMAZING!

There wasn’t a worry to be had though. Five minutes into our experience our host Christy had us relaxed and talking. Christy took us around on foot to several of the murals down in the Gulch – including the butterfly mural that everyone is so crazy about these days. Christy gave us tons of tips on things to see and do in Nashville. Introduced us to locals and seemed to be a favorite in the area.

We are goofballs!

When we got the pictures back a few days later I was surprised by how many of them I liked! (Also by how flat and gray my hair was but that’s a story for another day!) As the weight as come off it’s been easy to see the me that has been hiding under 80+ pounds that are now gone. Still takes a bit to pull her out but she’s in there. Christy did a great job at getting us to relax, smile, and capture more than a little of the amazing time we had in Nashville. This is one experience I am so glad we pushed outside the box to do and will definitely look to do again in Nashville and probably in other cities.

Ok, here’s the links for both experiences.

https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/290704

https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/276316

Check those out! Blessings y’all!

Amy

Thank you, Thank you very much!

After a one night stay in Hot Springs (which I’ll circle back to later) vacation kicked off in Memphis with a stay in The Guest House at Graceland and a visit to Graceland. I will admit I went into the experience more as a “bucket list” everyone should do it once than any real fan based desire to go or an actual knowledge of Elvis. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Our Room at The Guest House

The hotel was just phenomenal. From start to finish. The staff was thoughtful and hard working and there wasn’t one person you ran into that didn’t want to help. I didn’t really care for the food on site but I think that was more a me issue than a hotel issue. My stomach wasn’t super kind to me this trip.

We rolled into town mid-afternoon Saturday. We opted to just hang out at the hotel and chill the rest of the day. Live music in the lobby and a friendly bartender seemed like a good way to just chill out. True to bar form we made new friends and stayed up talking into the night.

Our sweet bartender Taylor at The Guest House

Sunday morning came too early after a late night of gabbing. But it was time to check Graceland off the bucket list! We had booked the “ultimate” tour which basically meant we skipped all the lines, had a very educated tour guide, and got to see some of Elvis’s personal items up close that aren’t on display. We got to hold the keys to the pink Cadillac!! I was dumbfounded at what a generous man Elvis was. I had no idea. I am scrambling to get my hands on a biography so I can learn more.

The Jungle Room

I wasn’t feeling very well after Graceland so we went back to the hotel and crashed. Hard core crashed for over two hours. It took me a couple days to shake off whatever that was about but 🤷🏻‍♀️.

We circled back to Memphis at the end of the week. Got back in Friday evening. This time we stayed at The Peabody Hotel. We had done a slow and easy drive from Nashville so we opted to eat at the hotel and hang in the lobby bar Friday night.

Saturday morning we got to see the infamous ducks March into the fountain at The Peabody fountain.

The ducks march in…

Memphis was odd as far as being able to find things to do outside of Graceland. I had felt that way since before we left on vacation and that feeling did change throughout our time there. After the ducks we wandered down to Beale St for lunch at BB King’s place and to listen to some music. We made our loop of Beale St, bought all the required souvenirs for home, and headed back to the hotel.

We had asked around and had been told several times to go to Sun Studios. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was (being honest) but we didn’t have anything else to do so we figured what the heck. I am SO glad we did. We took the tour and the feeling of standing in the same room as legends like Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis….still gives me goosebumps. It was a small place but a great tour!

We made new friends in Memphis. Both around the bar and behind the bar. Some may judge where I choose to make friends but people relax when they gather and if you have a great bartender they make people feel comfortable enough to get to know each other. I was least sure about Memphis as a pit stop coming and going on our trip but I’m glad we included it. I learned a lot there and am anxious to go back.

PS – will blog the food experience later on 😉

The Southern Napa Valley

Venture to the heart of Texas and you’ll find a sweet little town with so much charm you just don’t want to leave. Fredericksburg, Texas has become THE southern destination for girls’ trips, bridal parties, couples weekend getaways, and childless vacations. Here you can enjoy hills filled with vineyards as far as the eye can see, a Main Street full of treasures to explore, and country air to help you relax and sleep.

With four of us traveling in from Lubbock, Houston, and Dallas meeting in Fredericksburg is almost a dead center 4 to 4 1/2 hour drive for all of us. Not an unpleasant drive and not so far that you lose an entire day on either end of a trip driving.

In a single weekend we managed to do tastings at six wineries. Five of the six were laid back relaxing experiences where the mood was quiet and we were able to converse and hear the sommelier tell us about the wine we were trying. One vineyard we could have been at a bar based on the noise level of the three bridal parties not knowing how to conduct themselves as ladies. I don’t hold that against the vineyard other than management not stepping in to protect the ambience of their establishment.

I think my favorite of the weekend was a last minute edition at Texas Heritage Vineyard. Our driver recommended it after our disappointing aforementioned stop. We were pretty late in the afternoon for a tasting at Texas Heritage but they welcomed us and didn’t let on that they probably wanted to go home.

As we sat trying wines one of the owners came and sat down with us and just made conversation. He was charming and adorable. I missed the details on the last two wines because I was enjoying a totally separate conversation with him. 🙃 When our tasting was over there was one type of wine that wasn’t offered on the menu that day that my niece really wanted to try. Our sommelier was happy to bring around a taste. It was just a Texas type experience. Needless to say, they gained a couple new wine club members before we left.

We also had amazing food experiences while here. Friday night we ate at The Club at Barron’s Creekside. While I personally didn’t care for the blues music (not my fav type of music) the place was pretty much packed. The food was amazing and the sunset view over the vineyard was stunning. A wonderful start to our weekend. With the added bonus of the owners nephew being from Austria and him setting us straight on what our Saturday night dinner plans needed to be.

Saturday night we were directed to get our name on the list at a little German place called Otto’s and to head next door while we waited to a French market called La Baruche. Both experiences were mind blowing. Starting at La Baruche…the sommelier didn’t stop until she had us paired with a wine that was perfect for all four of us. (A couple of us were just about wine-d out for the day.) We then had a warm Brie that was unlike anything I have ever had as an appetizer. Since the restaurant had slowed down we got to spend some time with the sommelier getting some more recommendations on wines we might not have chosen for ourselves normally. It was wonderful.

Our call came that our table was ready at Otto’s. Whatever personality our waiter lacked was made up for by the food and drinks. Our driver for the day had told us to get the mushroom appetizer – it was great. We also got the pretzel. Still not sure what the sauce was that came with that pretzel but I will be thinking about it for weeks to come.

I got the salmon. I haven’t finished an entire plate of food in months. Save for a couple shared bites for the others to get a taste I ate the whole darn thing. It was that good. AND we got dessert. Apparently sunshine and wine drinking makes you really hungry.

Duck Schnitzel
Beef Tenderloin
Strawberry Shortcake w/Honey Lavender Ice Cream

We got the added bonus of being able to stay at a friend of mine’s home. The kind of home I dream about owning someday. Creaking original floors, wide trimmed doors and floors, sprawling garden, chickens roaming, open floor plan. If I was more educated in architecture I could tell you year and style but I can only speak from how it makes my heart beat to walk around it. Staying in a charming place instead of a box hotel definitely added to the experience!

It’ll be hotter here than Napa this summer. But it’ll make up for it with Texas hospitality and charm. I personally can’t wait to get back here. ❤️