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Dear Future Me...

There will be a day (or more) when you may be sad... or tired... or restless... or maybe missing Kean... or simply preoccupied by an exceptionally bad hair day. Or whatever.

The point is, future me, I have created this blog post especially for you, for those days. Consider this a formal reminder of a special time, a warmer place and a thousand reasons to smile and be thankful...

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Remember when you drove from Rock Hill to Florida and decided it was only appropriate to play the "Miami Vice" station on Pandora the whole 700+ miles to "get in the mood"? Phil Collins — forever. And, oh my, Boys of Summer...

And how unexpectedly fun it felt as you made your way as far south as you ever had by car? Believe it or not, inevitable me, you really knew how important it was to savor that trip.

That photo above was how you looked at that exact moment. (And yes, years later, you will be amazed at how young you both seem... of course, Instagram was very forgiving.) You felt the pang of that fleeting blip in time knowing you would never ever again be that age, in that car, with that man, traveling to that place. Ever. Again.

Or remember when you arrived on vacation and the most difficult thing you had to do was decide which was sweeter — the trips to Gelato-Go  where you ate your weight in decadent Italian affogato or this puppy 

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Just think, right now someone is playing in the sand on South Beach — rollerblading, longboarding, volleyballing, doing chin-ups, tight rope walking. You get the idea. Remember how good it felt to be near so many fit, active bodies. (Now suck it up, go outside, and get moving.)

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Can you still picture the mostly whitish sand beaches and clear water as you lounged about the coast for days on end? How you were finally tan after 16 years of living in the Carolinas? No? Well then, perhaps it's time to plan another tropical excursion, eh?

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And don't forget the amazing food that filled your evenings in Florida. From Taverna in Jacksonville to the phenomenal meal at Miami's overflowing Yardbird. And, of course, there was authentic Italian at Amami and Cuban at Havana 1957 (if things are still blurry, visit your Miami food gallery for the shameless details...)

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...or remember Zan developing a serious obsession with coconut sunscreen. Yum! Or how lovely he always looks across the table from you (and how he bites his lip when he's getting ready to eat. Does he still bite his lip, future me?)

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And remember how, before it was all over, you spent your last evening away from the lights and the music and the crowds (as usual.) How, instead, you and Zan borrowed giant chartreuse beach cruisers from the lobby and sped along the Atlantic, side by side, in the dark.

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So, unavoidable self, I hope you can revel in the satisfaction that, once upon a time, you finally learned to slow down and enjoy life. I hope you can still recall these moments and be proud.

Because there was a time when you really, really felt alive... And because you still are.

Take comfort in the knowing that this was just the beginning of a lifetime of traveling well with the one you love.

What's next, future me?


Paddling & Pedaling the Great Smoky Mountains

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We've always enjoyed our trips to the Smokies and this summer was no exception. We made the last minute decision to pack up our gear and head to the mountains. We humbly present the highlights from our weekend of multi-tasking (insert funny spork joke here) as we paddled the Nantahala, mountain biked Tsali and ate our weight in roasted marshmallows*...

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*That marshmallow thing is totally a joke. We only ate like 7. 


New River, Old Friends

Celebrating Spring with images from an annual fishing expedition to the New River close to Jefferson, North Carolina. You can view more photos of the lovely area in the New River "travel" gallery.

Fish on!

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Two Men Enter, One Man Leave

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Italy, Day 21

(Spoiler Alert! You might want to start with Day 1 to follow this trip from the start!) 

Tuesday officially marked three weeks into our trip and our last full day in Italy. I couldn't decide if I wanted the day to last forever or if it'd be easier to just rip it off quickly, like a bandaid that was no longer sensible to wear but that you'd grown attached to. (Wait, did I just compare our trip to Italy to a bandaid? Anywho...)

Fortunately, we had breakfast to distract us. We discovered Ginger in a local magazine a few days prior and were looking forward to it. We arrived at the restaurant in the middle of a promotional photo shoot, complete with models and hovering art directors and reflective umbrellas. With the addition of Zan capturing the moment it was a bit of breakfast / photography inception.

 

It rained through breakfast so we decided not to tour the Coliseum — or Colosseum — in wet conditions. After going back and forth to our room a few times that morning, we were reminded of how lucky we were to have a place with such a central location.

On our way to the Coliseum, we had our final lunch in Italy. It wasn't a fancy joint but it was nearby and recommended by our hosts in the stack o' business cards. We ordered broccoli gnocchi, a margarita pizza and washed it down with a bottle of prosecco and aqua frizzante. It was fresh and simple and amazing as usual and I was starting to think the bandaid might just have to stick with me a while longer...

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During lunch a sinewy, compact little guy strolled in and picked up some knives from the kitchen. He brought them just outside the door, hopped on a custom bicycle and started pedaling and sharpening the knives simultaneously. Sounds a little unbelievable, I know, so that's why we (and every other tourist in a 10 mile radius) rushed to grab photo documentation of the unexpected site. See above. So there.

We had purchased our tickets to the Coliseum a couple days in advance so once the rain subsided it was time to take the scenic walk to the grounds. We passed by The Forum one last time, some groovy statues, fashion-challenged Eastern European tourists and our second sexy ferrari of the trip.

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We could see the Coliseum from down the street and the crowds swelling around it's entrance. With our vouchers in hand, we were able to walk by hundreds of people wrapped all along the building and straight up to a teller to get our official tickets and enter the arena. This was one tourist tip I was glad we'd paid attention to. Grazie.

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We passed through the ticket area, around a few columns and then stepped out into the arena. Not to be picky but (like they say about Sylvester Stallone) we kinda thought it'd be bigger. Don't get me wrong, the fact that is was still standing after a billion years (that's an exaggeration for all you school children using this blog as "research") and that it once held 75,000 spectators was very impressive... but, well, I'm just saying.

Anyway, what was more difficult to reconcile was being in a place where men and animals were brought to die for the amusement of the masses. I won't even mention trying to wrap my brain around this thought coupled with the gigantic cross that adorned the front entrance. Not even going to do the math on that one.

Inside the walls of the arena, we ascended a few sets of glute-toning steps and walked through an exhibition showing the Coliseum in all its glory. There were illustrations of how it once appeared fully intact and busts of famous Romans on display. Glass cases contained animal bones and fruit pits labeled as objects of consumption during the tailgating orgies that accompanied each battle. Perhaps more strange — nay, depressing — were the "accessories" used to apply make-up or adjust wigs worn by the women who dutifully primped before the festivities. Seriously ladies? Lions are clawing some poor soul to shreds and you're adjusting your curls and reapplying your lipstick? Guh.

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After hours of sightseeing and a gelato stop, we made our way back to the apartment to shower and stop by the grocery store to buy wine for the evening's dinner with Stéphane's family.

When we arrived, Claudia performed an English song she learned earlier that day. Ah, yes, English — that language we used to speak once upon a dream... The oldest, Thomas, shared his hopes to sail around the world after high school and Marc recounted his adventures in Spain from the previous summer. It was the most fun I'd had sitting around a table with children since... well, since I was young enough to sit at the "kids' table" growing up. (That's supposed to be a compliment, not always sure how these things translate in writing.)

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Dinner was wonderful, but then we'd come to expect nothing less after three days of being spoiled by our adopted French family from Rome. Conversation once again ran long and deep and it became clear that it was going to be hard to part with Stéphane. Somewhere around / after midnight we eventually tore ourselves away. It was an unexpectedly emotional goodbye, especially for Zan.

Had we really just reconnected with this boy / man that had been real to me only in stories shared at the dinner table over photo albums? Had it really been 25 years since all these stories took place? Was it already time to say goodbye to someone whose connection was so inextricably tied through Zan's mom, Jo.

It was sad on so many levels — saying goodbye to such a gracious host, a born teacher, a man in love with an extraordinary city, his adorable family. Saying goodbye to a dream-like three week trip to Italy, to so many things we'd just recently come to know but that already seemed normal, routine, natural... But also saying goodbye to Stéphane was saying goodbye to the past. To an old friend from a time in life when adulthood was still "future tense," a blurry, exciting mystery waiting off in the dark.

 

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But we did, eventually, part ways. We walked arm and arm away from Stéphane for several moments before Zan finally broke the silence. "I didn't expect that to be so hard," he whispered. "Saying goodbye to him was like..."

"I know," I continued, "I already know what you're going to say..."

Saying goodbye to Stéphane was like saying goodbye to Jo all over again.

The trip, and all the memories shared over the last few days with Stéphane, brought the warmest thoughts of Jo bubbling back to the surface. Italy was about people and people were Jo's most favorite thing... To think of her vitality and curiosity and joy for exploring... her ability to listen and connect and give... how a room got brighter when she breezed in, how you became a better person for having been around her.

Yes, there was so much to learn and see and do. And yet, in the end, life was really about spending time with special people. Fortunately for us, Italy held both, in great abundance.