Cool Place, Hot Location

Hotels are not the only place to stay! 

Quiet Moment

A Quiet Moment in the Midst of Christmas Week

We arrived in Houston on December 22 for our stay at the Domain at City Center  for eight days. The mammoth complex sits in the middle of Town and Country Village, as they call it. The price is about the same as a hotel room. We would be near our two sons and six grand-children. A son checked the model apartment beforehand to assure the reality of the online advertisement. “You’ll be claustrophobic in 750 square feet (not true), and the traffic, awful (true),” he reported. We signed the contract without knowing other aspects. The property is owned by an individual, not the leasing company.

Last year we stayed in Houston a month in a VRBO rental with three bedrooms and two baths. We thought the grand-children might visit us and stay overnight a few times. Didn’t happen.

Our dog presents an issue wherever we travel. Fargo is the perfect guest unless left alone. He’s quite good in a hotel room as long as we are with him. He barks incessantly with fear of abandonment if no one is with him. Over the six years we have owned him, we tried unsuccessful remedies to quiet his fierce barking. When he travels with us, we tend to eat in our hotel or motel room. If it’s cold enough, he stays in the car while we rush through dinners. In Houston we could deposit his blanket, dishes, leash, and bad habit with either family. The barking, little thirteen-pound beast, loves the grand-kids and grand-dogs.  On this trip we ate with family much of the time.

Watching cars

I wanna watch cars, Dad!

The Condo

The condo contained everything we needed, even a little balcony above a garden. The owner left coffee, salt, pepper, bottled water, garbage bags, soap for the dishwasher…even kitchen shears for us.  The furniture and decorations probably came from Ikea. Everything was comfortable, even the bed, which is not always the case with furnished rental properties.

Other positives included a parking place (quite small) on the same floor as our rental and a dog park! I didn’t think Fargo would like the phony grass but he loved it. He and I walked around the condo grounds and hiked the neighborhood of office and condo buildings. I never let him off-lease except in the dog park. One day he and I made 10,000+ steps according to my FIT. Other amenities in the building: a meeting area with coffee, an outdoor pool, an exercise room, and outdoor grills.

Shops and Restaurant

the plaza

The Plaza-food, music, strollers, shops

Gourmet restaurants line the streets, along with retail shops and other businesses. One night I purchased carry-out from a high-end Mexican restaurant a few steps outside our building. Another night we had designer pizza and salad from a restaurant by the plaza across from us. At night musicians performed there. Recognizable brands abound. How about Sur la Table, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ulta, and Barnes and Noble? A grocery and a pharmacy are “walkable,” although maybe not when it’s over 100 degrees. Christmas Day the temperature hit 82 degrees.

Other Properties

This is our fourth “VBRO” or Vacation Rental by Owner.* VRBOs are great for a long or short stay. They are not quite like home but certainly more exciting than a boring and expensive hotel. Our short stay this year will lead to more travel. It’s so much fun to try someone else’s home or condo, especially in such a hot place in a cool location.

*VRBO or Vacation Rental By Owner is part of the Homeaway conglomerate owned by Expedia.

Changing Plans: from Charleston to Jefferson

Enjoying Jefferson, Texas: Part 2

breakfast

Breakfast at the Carriage House

When the hurricane and high tides “attacked” Charleston, South Carolina on our dream vacation, we returned toTexas after two full days. Much to my surprise, my husband made reservations at the Carriage House Bed and Breakfast to complete our vacation. He found the property online, choosing it when he read they serve a “two course breakfast.” The man likes good food and I love antiques! Changing plans meant new adventure.

Happy Anniversary

Jessi Brooks, owner of the Carriage House, knows the ins and outs of hospitality with 30 plus years in the hospitality industry. She decided, about six years ago, to transfer her skills from large hotel chains to her own business. When she discovered the Carriage House on the market, she and her sister began the negotiations. Located on the edge of the shopping district in Jefferson, Texas, the property needed her decorative touch to make it “her own.” Read a more detailed account of her life and the property on the website.

The weekend we arrived on her doorstep several guests celebrated their anniversaries and Jessi’s accomplishments since opening a year ago. I asked her why she left corporate America. Her response, “I wanted to have my own place where I can achieve amazing customer service for my guests.”

Thoughtful Customer Service

Jessi the owner

Jessi from Jefferson

The fire pit offered a surprising “extra” at the Carriage House. Early October brings balmy days and cool evenings. The wood fire on the patio created a splendid space for sharing the evening with the other guests. When she delivered blankets as we sat talking by the fire I realized how seriously she attends to detail. She thinks of everything! In the morning, the fire pit blazed for the focal point of visiting with others until breakfast. We had s’mores the previous night and a two course breakfast in the morning which included a blueberry compote/bread pudding for a starter. An egg dish followed.

A Little History

We knew from previous visits that the city exploded with paddlewheel boats for merchants between 1845 and 1873. The town grew to approximately 30,000 people during its heyday, but someone unflooded the Bayou and the river port dried up. Today Jefferson numbers around 2000 people. Many of the lovely B&Bs share the history from the era with their guests.

A Harrowing Halloween Story

Our new friends, the anniversary couple who both work for one of the chicken manufacturing plants in the area, planned to take the Ghost Tour during their stay. The wife told her own Halloween story.

At a Halloween party at a bowling alley near their home in East Texas, people attended in costume. She wore a fabulous witch costume. Her grandson, about age 5, was hit in the head at the party with a bowling ball causing severe bleeding. She picked him up squawking that he didn’t want stitches…he didn’t want to leave the party. She dumped him in the car, racing to the nearby hospital. She said, “I knew he’d need stitches when I saw the white meat on his chin.” Apparently the hospital could not tell who to treat in which department when they arrived. Hospital personnel saw an extremely bloody witch with a tall hat and small screaming, wounded child. I’m sure it was not funny at the time but her recitation grew raucous response from her listeners.

Nearby

Graceful Ghost

Graceful Ghost-steamboat on Caddo Lake

Nearby Caddo Lake is the largest, freshwater lake in Texas. We found Big Pines Lodge in Uncertain, Texas with tours available for fishing or  riding the small paddlewheel steamboat around the lake. Our hostess at the B&B suggested other places to eat and visit.

With sadness we visited Marshall Pottery, discovering they laid off the artist and small team producing one of a kind pottery to focus on manufacturing only clay pots. We had purchased a few pieces years ago which probably appreciated with the loss of their specialty pots, mugs, birdhouses, and other gift items. I questioned the lady at the  cash register who had tears in her eyes when she explained the large, vacant space with few products.

church

Church of Uncertain, Texas

Don’t be afraid of changing plans. We enjoyed Charleston, but we’ve made reservations to return to Jefferson again this time next year. I’m not thrilled about returning to Charleston yet, especially not during a full moon and hurricane to interfere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Showing Love: the Trip to Ohio

Valentine

Valentine’s Day Is Coming

 

Since Valentines Day is two weeks away, think about the word love.  Would it include “going home” for you?  Is there someone special who needs your love “at home?”  Regardless of the physical location, you may show love in many ways.  Today we easily send e-cards or use snail mail, but think about how you can demonstrate your love.  I had the opportunity to celebrate love and friendship by “going home”  last November.

 

 

Unexpected Invitation

I received an unexpected invitation to attend an anniversary party for a special couple in my life, who live in my hometown in Ohio.  Their adult children would surprise them with the party.  I don’t particularly like going home, as I have no relatives there and I’d rather go someplace flashier, like London or Los Angeles.  But, by attending the party, I would honor my friends, as staying married is hard work.  Plus,  the invitation was a good excuse to leave town for a few days.

Should we go?  We’d need to take the dog with such short notice.  But we haven’t seen fall color for a number of years.  And it would be fabulous to see our special friends and my husband’s relatives.   We packed!

Road Trip Beauty

The trees on the trip from Arkansas through Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio glowed red, yellow, green, purple and shades of pink.  Seeing the leaves brought back fond memories of jumping in huge piles of recently raked leaves.

Fall Leaves

Brilliant Fall Leaves in Ohio

Since the dog traveled with us, we had to find a pet-friendly hotel in my hometown.  There are two.  We arrived around dusk at a dilapidated, cheap motel with no cars around it.  The hotel looked like a place for thieves and disreputably endeavors .  The man in the next room with his curtain open gave me the creeps!  The “loved one” said it looked like the previous guests washed car parts in the tub.  The desk clerk said she could not cancel the reservation, despite the filthy room.  It was downright scary!  What a mistake!

Fortunately, the not-too-distant, expensive hotel had a vacancy.  Wow!  The inn, decorated with pumpkins and mums, had nearby woods for a walk through the pines the next morning.  The amazing colors and frost on the ground overcame the unpleasant departure from the cheesy hotel.  The cost for the new inn….priceless.  The food, the service, the cleanliness, after the long drive, made the experience much more relaxing.

The night of the party was frigid but the event was warm and friendly.  We were treated as extended family. Memories flashed through my head as fast as a high speed train,  as I watched my friend’s surprise when she came through the door.

Ruth and the dog on a chilly walk in Ohio

Ruth and the dog on a chilly walk in Ohio

Not all trips can be exceptional, but showing love to special friends periodically makes “going home” worthwhile, even with the bumps in the road.  Sometimes “going home” is exactly what we need to remember who and what are important in our lives.  What a happy, spontaneous trip to Ohio!

This Valentine’s Day, make sure you tell your friends how much you love them.  Love is not just sending a Hallmark card.

A special thanks to another special friend, who babysat our dog during the party and cooked a lovely meal for us.  What a nice way to show love!