Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Spa at The Sanctuary

This afternoon turned out to be a chilly, wet one here on Kiawah Island, so I opted to hang out at the Spa at The Sanctuary.

I wanted to spend some time at a special place where I would be surrounded by tranquil sounds and scents. The spa was the perfect choice.

I was able to spend some time in the sauna and the whirlpool and, ultimately, to get a custom facial. I was in serious need of a treatment that would be relaxing and refreshing, and at the same time, one that would restore the "natural beauty" and vitality to my skin.

Luckily, I got an appointment with a delightful young woman named Cheryl, who suggested I try the 60-minute "Bright and Balancing Facial." This one, she told me, was especially created for skin like mine. (Graciously, she did not elaborate. So, I'm not sure whether she was referring to my oily skin or my aging skin. Immediately, I liked Cheryl.)

A combination of anti-bacterial extracts of tea tree and lavender were applied first to balance and purify my skin Afterwards, a clay mask was applied to draw out the toxins and leave my skin ultra clean and refreshed. Then, to finish up, Anakiri's clarifying skin serum was applied to revitalize my skin. In the end, I emerged with a radiant complexion that (quite literally) glowed.

Freshfields Village

I was eager to visit Freshfields Village on St. John's Island so, about mid-day, I called on The Sanctuary's shuttle service to get me over there.

The drive took only 15 minutes, but it allowed me to see some of Kiawah Island that I might have missed otherwise - through some forested and marsh areas, past glorious golf courses and, hidden in the trees, some of the large and lovely homes situated here.

Starting out the weather was cool and wet, but before my "off-campus" excursion was complete, the sun came out and brought with it many more locals and tourists. Like me, all were eager to check out the offerings of this enclave of unique shops and dining establishments. With Christmas around the corner, it was not surprising to see that most were buying!

I was taken by the inventory of one particular shop, The Old Rangoon. There I chatted with the owner, a delightful woman named Joy Tucker, and learned much about the beautiful items she carried. Her "Arts from Asia" included jewelry, clothing, wall hangings and furniture.

I found myself totally enamored with the incredibly beautiful hand-made Oovoo handbags from Vietnam. I learned that the bags were a joint venture between two women - an American and a Vietnam citizen. So, I bought a small one, knowing I would love owning the purse, but also knowing I was helping two female entrepreneurs!

It was suggested I try Vincent's, a drug store and soda fountain, for lunch. So, happily, I did. I found the shop charming, a throwback to the 1950s. Loved the turquoise and white decor and barstools I remember as a child.

Reading over the menu, I spotted the Grilled Cheese Sandwich and under its listing (for the child in all of us). I liked that, and ordered the sandwich. Given the atmosphere there, it was deliciously appropriate!

This Morning

Being able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in my room this morning was a high priority. The need to relax and pamper myself was strong; the grand opportunity to do so here at The Sanctuary was not to be missed!

So, I got up very early - before daybreak - and immediately picked up the phone to order room service. Then, I stepped in and out of the shower, put on the hotel's waffle-weave terry robe and eagerly awaited the beauty of a new sunrise and the server's knock on the door!

A few minutes later, the latest issue of the New York Times and my morning repast of vanilla granola and berries and a large pot of coffee had been delivered. Within another few minutes, I was sitting outside on the balcony, taking in the beauty of the scene below and enjoying it all.

For me, early mornings are the most precious times. Always, I am nourished by the quiet and solitude and drawn to meditation. It is then I am most fully aware of the blessings of my life and my need to prayerfully express my gratitude!

Afterwards, I pick up my journal to ink three pages. Most often I write freely and fast, without concern for spelling or punctuation. Most often, I start by recording the things for which I am most grateful. Most often, I finish up resolving to use this new day to prove (to Him) just how much!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dinner at Jasmine Porch

It's my first night at The Sanctuary, and I'm dining at Jasmine Porch, a casually elegant restaurant located on the hotel's first floor.

I did a little homework before I got here. Found out that Jasmine Porch specializes in Lowcountry favorites and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I learned that the restaurant's signature Shrimp & Grits can be ordered any meal of the day! (Evidence of its popularity!)

My waiter is J.B., a gregarious man with a broad smile and friendly manner. After just a few minutes of interchange between us, I knew he was going to make sure I thoroughly enjoyed the upcoming dining experience!

He recommended a number of dishes and, for the most part, I followed his guidance - the seasonal green salad and beef tenderloin. As expected, though, he brought me a number of other dishes too - items he thought I "just had to try while I was there."

He brought me an appetizer side portion of the Shrimp & Grits, followed by an order of the Fried Green Tomatoes. Both were delicious, of course, and both sparked unintended conversations.

"Why do the chefs of the Lowcountry leave the tails on the shrimp," I asked. "Am I the only one who asks this question?"

He responded, "No, you are not the only one who wonders about the tails. We get asked that a lot from people not from this area. The reason the tails are there," he continued, "is because most chefs like to serve 'em that way. Simple as that!"

"OK," I said to myself. "If I try to make Shrimp & Grits at home, I can remove the tails! Good to know!"

The Fried Green Tomatoes led us into a conversation about the 1987 book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg and the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, with Kathy Bates.

The communication skills of J.B. were good and only a bit distracting from the fact that I was now (happily) eating a lot more food tonight than I had planned.

Finally, J.B. served the wonderful green salad, followed by the beef tenderloin. Again, both were delicious! Perfectly prepared and beautifully presented!

To complete the meal, I ordered coffee. But, again, J.B. brought me something extra — a serving of Southern-style bread pudding topped with a small dollop of rich and tasty vanilla ice cream.

I didn't (couldn't) eat it all. I was, quite literally, stuffed.

I record all of this here, because I know I am picking up some extra pounds tonight. When I get home, friends will ask me about it.

I will tell them the truth, "It's not my fault. I was over-served at Jasmine Porch. You can read my blog if you don't believe me!"

Benne Wafers

Funny how you discover something new one day and, soon afterwards, it keeps showing up in your life again and again - and always quite unexpectedly! I couldn't help but think of this phenomenon when I spotted the Benne Wafers given to me today upon my arrival at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Just three days ago I had never heard of them!

The first time I was introduced to Benne Wafers was Saturday when I was shopping on King Street. I had stopped at a small cafe for a cup of hot tea. When the waitress brought my order, included were a couple of small, crisp and thin cookies. They were delicious, with a flavor I wasn't familiar with, so I asked about them. They were Benne Wafers, a local favorite. I learned they are made with Benne seeds, blended with maple and brown sugar. I learned the Benne seed is the seed of good luck!

On Sunday, I bought a copy of Pat Conroy's new book, South of Broad, and spent much of that evening reading. In an early scene the hero, Leo, is asked by his mother to bake cookies for the new neighbors. Leo opted to bake some Benne Wafers. I smiled knowingly when I got to that part!

So, here I am, sitting on the balcony of a beautiful room in an incredibly special place. Every few minutes, an ocean breeze kisses my cheek and reminds me how blessed I am to be here. On the small table beside me is a small pot of coffee and a tin of Benne Wafers.

I pause and think: Just how lucky is that?

The Sanctuary

I have finally arrived; it happened this afternoon!

I am at The Sanctuary at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and for the next couple of days I will be a "happy camper" lounging around in this ocean-side lap of luxury!

The Sanctuary, awarded the prestigious Forbes Five Star Award, sits along the pristine beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, just 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, S.C.

The Sanctuary was built in the style of a 1850s Southern mansion. The architecture of The Sanctuary and its friendly and attentive staff capture exquisitely the charm and spirit of the gracious Old South.

After a quick check in, at about 2:30 p.m., I was led to the fourth floor of the West Wing, to a lovely and well-appointed suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

As I entered, I was immediately taken with the spaciousness of the rooms and "at home" with the Southern decor: traditional furniture in dark woods and posh accents: plush pillows, classic lamps and framed art, lush and formal draperies and sheers.

Just inside the door, on a small side table sat a bottle of red wine and a platter of cheese, crackers, berries and nuts. A welcome (and yummy-looking) site at this particular time of the day.

On the desk were two more gifts from the management: a ceramic vase full of fresh flowers and a signature Sanctuary totebag laden with local goodies. Inside the adorable lime green and brown burlap tote were a small book on the history of Kiawah Island, a box of Charleston Plantation Tea, a bag of praline pecans, a mini sweetgrass basket, a Charleston Chew bar, a starfish and a tin of Benne Wafers.

After bidding adieu to the bellman who helped me with my luggage, I turned around and took in the scene once more. I opened the French doors leading out to the balcony and walked outside. I breathed in the salt air and smiled.

The Sanctuary could not have been given a more fitting name!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bev's Sweetgrass Baskets

This afternoon I stepped out the main entrance of the Charleston Place Hotel and took a short walk over to City Market, a unique shopping area that has been part of Charleston's downtown scene for more than 200 years.

Within minutes I was standing in front of Market Hall, an imposing building that serves as the main entrance to City Market and its four blocks of open-air buildings. Strolling through them all, I found vendors selling high quality products of all kinds. I was taken with the beauty of the clothing, jewelry, pottery and paintings - all created by talented local artists. I was happy to see that the prices were appropriate - not too low, not too high.

One exception, perhaps, was the Lowcountry's famous sweetgrass baskets. Brought to the area 400 years ago by slaves who came from West Africa, basketmaking was a tradition handed down from generation to generation.

Today, the sweetgrass baskets are widely respected and a distinctive art form. They are found in royal residences and art museums, even the Smithsonian Institution.

At City Market, even the smallest of these unique works of art was pricey! I was about to "walk on by" until I saw a vendor sign that read, "Bev's Sweetgrass Baskets."

When I shop, I always look for things that "call out to me" or "have my name on them," and take it as a sign that I should pay the price and bring them home.

As you'd expect, today was no exception!

King & Queen Streets

I came upon this street sign today while walking to meet a new friend in Charleston. I couldn't help but wonder about the names of the streets and exactly which king and which queen did they refer to?

So, when I got back to my laptop, I started a search for information. Here's what I found out:

King Street was a generic name, used to pay tribute to the ruler of England. The road was also known (at various times) as "The Broad Path," the "High Way" and "The Broad Road." Those names referred to the part of King Street above Beaufain Street until after the American Revolution. During the later part of the 18th century, the upper part of King Street became the center of the wagon yard trade. Then, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, King Street was a regional retail center. King Street ended at South Battery until 1911, when it was extended southward to the newly created Murray Blvd.

Queen Street was one of the original streets. At first, it was called Dock Street, after a boat dock. The road was originally dug in the swamp once found at the present intersection of Queen and East Bay streets. Later, it was renamed Queen Street, after Caroline of Ansbach, the consort of George II. Queen Street ended at Smith Street until 1849, when it was extended westward to Rutledge Street.

I found it interesting that the office of the Preservation Society of Charleston (seen in this photo) is located right near the intersection of these two historic (and most popular) thoroughfares.

Brunch at Poogan's Porch

Tucked away in a lovely Victorian home at 72 Queen Street in downtown Charleston is Poogan's Porch, one of the city's oldest and most popular dining establishments.

Since its opening in 1976, Poogan's Porch has served some of the finest Lowcountry Cuisine anywhere and has been a favorite destination for well-known actors, politicians, tourists and locals alike.

Just knowing Tennessee Williams, Joe Namath, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Barbra Streisand and James Brolin and so many other celebs have dined at Poogran's Porch makes a visit here all the more enticing!

There are some interesting stories associated with Poogan's Porch, and all just add to its allure.

First, its name. Seems the place was named after a scruffy neighborhood dog that spent his days roaming from porch to porch, begging for table scraps. When the restaurant opened in 1979, its owners, who loved Poogan dearly, named the eatery in his honor.

Secondly, it's haunted. The Travel Channel had voted the restaurant the "Third Haunted Place in America" in 2003. Ghost Tours here always include a stop at and story about Poogan's Porch.

The story goes that Zoe St. Amand, a native of Charleston, lived at 72 Queen Street for a number of years before her death. Since then, "she" has been spotted in various locations in the building and at various times of the day and night. Pots and pans in the kitchen have been known to crash to the floor without reason, and hostesses in the restaurant have seen visions of an old women in a long black dress walking around.

Needless to say, I couldn't wait to dine here.

When I arrived this morning for brunch, I was greeted by Andy, a native of Seattle who opted to leave grey skies and daily mists behind and make Charleston his new hometown. He led me to a charming table upstairs, right in front of one of the two fireplaces in the room. It was a welcomed sight, as temps in Charleston today are just low enough to make sitting by a roaring fire an extra special treat.

Soon I was joined by Jenny Ferrara. Jenny is a lovely young woman from Connecticut who moved to Charleston in June "because she's loves the city and just wants to live here." We connected because she now works for Obviouslee Marketing, a firm that represents Poogan's Porch and a number of other local establishments.

Knowing the treats in store, both of us were eager to place our orders!

I opted to start with a cup of the famous Issac's Okra Gumbo and found it to be absolutely yummy! (A larger portion would, in itself, make a grand meal.) Ingredients include Cajun sausage, chicken, seasonal vegetables and tomato broth.

For my entree, I selected a big bowl of Sunrise Shrimp and Grits, one of the signature dishes of Poogan's Porch. After just one bite, I knew why! Featuring a blue crab gravy, peppers, onions, sausage and two poached eggs, it was extraordinary!

After brunch, Jenny and I headed out on foot, both wanting to spend some time on King Street, popping in and out of antique and gift shops, boutiques and the like and, of course, both hoping to find more treasures to bring home.

Obviouslee, we did!

St. Michael's Church

This morning I attended a quiet and reflective service at the beautiful St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston. 

I had heard so much about the beauty and significance of the history of this church; I couldn't wait to go there, praise God and pay tribute to its blessed congregation.

Built in the 1750s, St. Michael's is the oldest church building in Charleston and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the centuries, it has survived numerous serious blows, including fires, wars, hurricanes and earthquakes. Each time it was damaged, it was painstakingly restored or reconstructed.

Inside, the church retains its traditional 18th century English design, with a second story gallery and native cedar box-pews. Residents here are rightfully proud of the fact that Pew #42 was used by George Washington in 1791 and General Robert E. Lee in 1861.

The Bells of St. Michael's were created and imported from England in 1764, and since then have made numerous trips back and forth to London. 

During the Revolutionary War, the British took the eight bells back to London as a war prize. Later, a Londoner purchased the bells and returned them to St. Michael's Church. During the Civil War, the bells were cracked in a fire. The metal fragments were salvaged and, once again, sent back to London to be recast in their original form. 

Then, in 1989, the bells were damaged during Hurricane Hugo. Afterwards, they were sent back to London to the same foundry for repair. In 1993, they were once again returned to their home in Charleston!

The Bells of St. Michael's Church are special city treasures. Hearing them ring out is a wonderful and truly inspiring experience - one I wouldn't have missed for anything!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

She Crab Soup

I have been in Charleston for a couple of days now, and I've been fortunate enough to dine at a number of great local restaurants, all serving authentic Lowcountry Cuisine. I have noticed all of the menus from these eateries have at least one thing in common: They all offer She Crab Soup. Often it is the soup du jour.

I had no knowledge of this South Carolina favorite, but I just had to try it. First, though, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. 

I discovered that She Crab Soup is named for the female crab. It is similar to a bisque or chowder and is made with milk or heavy cream, crab and fish stock, Atlantic blue crab meat and (usually) crab eggs and a small amount of dry sherry (added at the table when served). It's common for a recipe of She Crab Soup to include seasonings like mace and onions.

Culinary historian John Martin Taylor credits the Scottish settlers who arrived in the Carolinas in the early 1700s with bringing their famous seafood bisque recipes to the area. 

If you get to Charleston and have a chance to order a bowl of She Crab Soup, do it. You'll be glad you did! Delicious!

Below is one of the recipes for She Crab Soup I found in a cookbook from the region.

Charleston She Crab Soup

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups half & half  

4 teaspoons finely-grated onion 

3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest 

1 1/2 pounds flaked blue crab meat
1/4 cup crab roe
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a large, heavy pot over low heat, melt butter; add flour and blend until smooth. Slowly add milk and half & half cream, stirring constantly with a whisk; cook until thickened. Add onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt, white pepper, mace, cayenne pepper and lemon zest. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, add crabmeat and crab roe or crumbled hard-cooked egg yolks; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes (if the soup appears about to boil, remove the pan from the heat for a minute or so, then return). Remove from heat and add sherry, stirring to mix. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.

To serve, pour the soup into individual heated soup bowls, dividing the crabmeat and roe equally into each bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Rainbow Row

One of the special places I visited today - by car and on foot - was the beautiful, brightly painted homes on East Bay, lovingly referred to as Rainbow Row.

The homes here were built in the mid-1700s, when this part of town was in the center of Charleston's commercial district. Small shops and other businesses were located on the first floors of these buildings, and the owners of each resided above, on the second and third floors.

Saddened by the "needless" destruction of historical buildings inspired Charleston residents to form the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwelling Houses in 1920. That organization - now in its 90th year - is still functioning and still doing a great job of saving the architectural treasures of early Charleston.

In 1931, a woman named Dorothy Legge purchased #99 and #101 East Bay and began the renovation of the area between Tradd and Eliott streets. Her work inspired others to do the same. It was these new owners who picked the distinctive colors for the buildings.

The old row houses represent the very first style of home built in Charleston. They were portrayed in the story of Porgy and Bess, an opera written by George Gershwin when he was visiting Charleston.

Rainbow Row is a beloved city landmark and a favorite destination for tourists, including me!

Talk of the Town

When I visit a new place I always like to take a motorized tour to familiarize myself with the lay of the land and to get some special tips and tidbits from the drivers. My visit to Charleston is no exception.

I signed up to take the owner-operated Talk of the Town City Tour, and I'm glad I did. The 21-passenger minibus was roomy and comfortable, just right for the 90-minute tour, which covered six miles of Charleston's Historic District. Included along the way were drives to the Battery and Harbor, the Market and Rainbow Row, by churches and their cemeteries, museums and historic homes and hotels, shops and restaurants.

Our driver and guide was Alan Hartley, dubbed "the best in the industry" and, true to reputation, he turned out to be a walking-talking reference book. His knowledge of Charleston, its history and its people, was extraordinary.

Hartley is the author of a great little travel book, Walking Tour of Charleston, which features 100 points of interest and a centerfold map. At $5.95 each, all visitors to Charleston should pick one up!

In addition to the usual historical stuff he spouted off with ease, Hartley told us about Pat Conroy's newest book, South of Broad, and the title's reference to Charleston's Broad Street. I learned that homes South of Broad Street are some of the most prized (and expensive) in the city, that those who live south of Broad are known as SOBs. Those who live Slightly North of Broad Street are known as SNOBs. Fun to know!

In the Battery, Hartley pointed out the large and impressive house comedian Stephen Colbert lived in as a kid. Back then, the celeb attended Charleston Day Elementary School and was simply known as Stephen, the funniest kid in school. And, way back then, the "t" in Colbert was NOT a silent letter!

As mentioned, I like taking city tours. Always, I learn so much. And, once in awhile, I learn the darnest and most interesting things!

Shopping on King Street

I spent most of this morning walking up one side of King Street in Charleston and down the other, stopping often as I strolled along. With Christmas less than 30 days away now, window shopping alone would simply not do. So, I headed out, on a mission - determined to buy gifts while I was here!

Doing so wasn't difficult. King Street is famous for its chic and fashionable boutiques and stores. I found everything (and more) than I was looking for quicker than I could say "Merry Christmas!"

I checked out the inventory at familiar spots like Ann Taylor, The Gap, Abercrombie & Finch, J. Crew, Victoria's Secret and Talbot's. But, I also discovered new local favorites, like Eliza's and Nancy's.

The weather was cool this morning, so a number of warm-looking, hand-woven caps caught my eye. After looking at dozens of them, I bought myself a white one. If I didn't live in Houston - where cold days and nights are rare - I would have bought some more!

Bookstores are a weakness of mine, so bumping into a small, locally owned one was a really nice treat. I spent a long time in there, looking through many, many books on Charleston. Deciding which one to take home was difficult, but finally I settled on a charming little book entitled, Very Charleston, written and beautifully illustrated by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler.

The book is a celebration of Charleston's history, culture and Lowcountry charm. Its watercolor drawings should be perfect reminders of this very special visit.

Charleston Place Meetings

I'm treating myself to a long-overdue getaway, staying the first few days in the luxurious Charleston Place Hotel, and I'm up early.

My room in the fabulous Orient Express hotel is situated on the club level, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee has awakened me and lured me to venture down the hall (sans makeup) to retrieve my first cup of the day! I sip it now as I write this post!

It surprised me a bit to find quite a few others already gathered to enjoy the buffet. I exchanged "hellos" with Betty, a Japanese-American woman writing in a notebook.

Betty too is a writer, and she too writes in a journal every morning. She too makes sure she inks at least three pages! We chatted for a few more minutes and decided to meet for Afternoon Tea later today to visit some more - to visit about our individual writing projects!

I also ran into a married couple - one I had seen in the room last night during "dessert" time. This time they smiled at me and spoke.

Spotting my "Houston Woman" t-shirt, the man asked, "So, are you from Houston?"

"Yes," I reply. "How about you?"

"We live in Philadelphia now, but I grew up in Texas. I went to Rice University," he said. "Small world, eh?"

We exchanged some other personal tidbits and discovered we know many of the same people and, amazingly, share some of the same good friends!

Small world? Yes! Six degrees of separation? Yes, perhaps it's so!

Soon I will do some yoga stretches, jump in the shower and into my clothes and head off for a full day of sight-seeing. A long walk down King Street is up first, then a motorized tour of the city. Afterwards, a relaxing lunch at one of the Lowcountry's best!

And, if I'm lucky, I'll make a few more new friends along the way!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dining at McCrady's

The agenda for my first night in Charleston included dinner at McCrady's, located at #2 Unity Alley.

Like so many other places in Charleston, McCrady's has a rich history. If you ask a waiter about it, he'll be sure to tell you about the night George Washington was the guest of honor at a dinner party there in 1791. The gathering took place in the "long room" at McCrady's Tavern, a complex of buildings of which this remains. I like knowing that!

Considered by many to be the best restaurant in this charming historic city, McCrady's is committed to using as many sustainable, local products as possible. According to the chef, the menu is a celebration of the hard work of the area's farmers and fishermen.

I sat on a pillow-laden banquette in a cozy corner of the main dining room. I was delighted by the decor - dark wood beams on the ceiling, three wrought iron candelabras dimly lighting the room, a brick wall with a large centerpiece fireplace. Charming, and just the right spot for this cold night!

I started with a small bowl of the restaurant's signature Sweet Potato Soup. (It seemed especially appropriate for this evening after Thanksgiving.) For the entree, I opted for the Beef Tenderloin with Allium, Fingerling Potatoes, Duxelles and Foie Gras Hollandaise. Dessert was the restaurant's signature Banana Puddin'. All proved to be special delights for the palette!

The coffee at McCrady's was distinctive and good, so I asked my server, "What kind of coffee is this?"

She knew and quickly replied, "It's Charleston Coffee Roasters."

I made note!

Going to Charleston - Finally!

I have always been especially fond of traveling and setting out to see new places. Unfortunately, I was raised in a small town in north Louisiana by parents who did not share my passion for adventure. By the time I was born, my mother and father had traveled a lot and, in their words, “seen enough.” (I smile now remembering how often I was told that!)

Childhood vacations, for the most part, were limited to driving north 150 miles into Arkansas to see my mother’s relatives on the farm or driving 1,500 miles east to see by dad’s clan in New York City. The trips to the next state were frequent; the trips to the Big Apple were not. But, all of them, thank goodness, lent themselves to stops along the way and visits to little-known (to me, at least) places I was delighted to discover.

It was on those trips that my passion for visiting new and different places began. Early on I announced: When I grow up I’m going to visit ALL of the most interesting (and unique) cities in the United States!

I made a list of the Top 10 cities I considered most worthy of my pursuit: Boston, Charleston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Savannah, Seattle and Washington D.C.

Happy to say, I am finally en route to the last city on that original list – Charleston, S.C. — and, I couldn’t be happier!

As I write this post, I’m aboard a Continental Express jet heading east. It’s mid-day. The sky is clear and bright blue; the ride is smooth. I keep thinking about all the things I want to see and do when I get there.

Thanks to much help and guidance by the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau and the South Carolina Department of Tourism, my itinerary is full. I’ll be visiting museums and plantations, shops and markets. I’ll be going on ghost tours and taking carriage rides. I’ll be dining at fine restaurants and small cafes known for their Southern cuisine. I’ll visit a couple of spas and play a round of golf at one of the island resorts.

Yes, I’ve planned a wonderful (and much-needed) getaway – a soulful journey of pure delight.

No doubt, this trip is one I’ll have to write about!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Crazy Busy, Once Again!

Often, I hear myself thinking, "I don't know what to do; I'm so overbooked. I'm stretched to the max. I am simply overwhelmed!"

Sometimes, I become the "crazymaker" in my own life. I don't slow down (to smell the roses or the coffee), and I say "yes" to everything, except what is best for me (like getting into the gym on a regular basis or getting together more often with my family and friends).

I know I need to manage my schedule and the expectations of others a whole lot better, but figuring how out to do that is a whole other thing. That's why I read the book, Crazy Busy, by Dr. Edward Hallowell, earlier this year.

Dr. Hallowell compares the fast-paced lives of our modern world with the symptoms of those suffering from A.D.D. and offers great solutions to change the situation and improve the quality of our lives.

Hallowell talks about the myths and realities of multitasking. That chapter, especially, spoke to me and gave me insights that have changed the way I work - and play.

Lately, though, I’ve caught myself slipping back into old habits and feeling very much in need of a Hallowell refresher course.

So, last night, I picked Crazy Busy off the shelf, sank deeply into a comfortable, over-sized chair and focused on the wisdom of the doctor and his prescriptions for a life best lived.

Afterwards, I fell asleep with new resolve: To slow down and shift gears. To remember there are other speeds besides fast-forward and stop. And, most importantly, to appreciate more fully the value of a measured pace.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rotary Club of West U

Some months ago, I was asked to speak at a regular weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of West U. The topic du jour was the club's founding 15 years ago.
It was a delight for me because, in 1995, I was the founder and charter president for that incredible organization. Admittedly, talking about the "early days" of that particular group is still one of my favorite things to do!
Many of the original members are still active in the Rotary Club of West U today. So, going back, after an absence of four years now, was like popping in at a family reunion. So many familiar faces! So many folks there I love and care about. (Picture lots of cheek-kissing and hugs!)
For the charter members, my talk was, perhaps, somewhat of a nostalgic trip down memory lane. For the newer members, the story probably seemed like a fairy tale, with surprising twists and turns that, somehow, led to a happy and illustrious beginning.
Okay, I know I sound like a proud mama bear, but it still gets me excited to tell others that the Rotary Club of West U distinguished itself from the get-go, starting off with 69 charter members and setting an international record. Not one of the other 27,000 clubs in the world had chartered with such an impressively large number of new Rotarians.
But, even more impressive than that is the record of service this organization and its other 14 presidents have established since then. Being named the "Best Large Club in Rotary District 5890" on numerous occasions speaks for itself.
Even so, one of these days I will write more about this club and its long history of service. I will publish it in an issue of Houston Woman Magazine and post it on the Web. I will applaud all those who continue to make the story of the Rotary Club of West U so very special!
Looking back. I can't help but recognize the similarities between starting a successful, non-profit organization and a successful, for-profit business.
Both take a grand vision and a master plan. Both take passion, hard work and dedication. And, above all else, both take a committed team of people who truly understand the power of doing all for the greater good.
Blessed are the organizations (for-profit or not) that have all that going for them.

Aussie Aborigine Art

Last night I popped in at the Booker-Lowe Gallery on Feagan. I went, of course, to see the great new pieces hanging there but also to do something I preach - cheer on another professional woman and friend, owner Nana Booker.

Nana and her partner, David Lowe, were holding an opening reception for "Puuya Kunitha - Strong Heart, Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings from Australia's Lockhart River."

I learned that Lockhart River is a remote Aboriginal community at the northern-most tip of the Great Barrier Reef, and artists from that region have astonished critics and attracted collectors worldwide since 1994.

Meeting Councillor Veronica Piva and Art Centre representative Peter Neal, who traveled more than 10,000 miles to be our culture guides for the evening, were special delights.

I could appreciate the beauty and talent behind all the paintings, but I found one piece especially appealing.

It was fairly large, adorned with a myriad of thick, brightly colored brushstrokes. I found myself staring at it for a very long time - wondering about the artist, the meaning of the painting.

It was entitled, "I Wait for Him."

I asked Veronica about the painting and found out that it had been created by a female - one who is only 18 years old.

We speculated about the title of the work. Veronica said the young artist was most likely longing for a boyfriend. I suggested she might be calling out to a higher power?

We both commented that "mystery" is one of the greatest things about art.

Today, I am still thinking about that painting and that inspired artist, still wondering about the yearnings of her very young heart.