beach breakfastfernandina beach

beach readsfernandina bookstorefernandina beachspanish mossbeach bike ride
bikes on the beachbeach bike rideIMG_7233st. augustinest. augustinefreedom trail st. augustinetaco shopcastillo st. augustinefort st. augustineAh, vacation. Let’s all just take a deep breath and beam ourselves back there. Shall we?


This comic made me laugh, but I don’t agree. To my mind, there is no better place than a beach to read (about) Russian literature. More on that later.

The quality of light when the sun shines through Spanish moss is one of life’s small pleasures.

Augustine helped Luke realize he’s homesick for history. Even though he’d never been particularly interested in it back home, now that we live in a relatively new city, the monotony of concrete, steel, and cookie-cutter brick houses has him longing for the cross beams of a black and white Tutor. Go figure.

Drinks in the oldest drinking establishment in the US.

Wouldn’t you like to interview someone who lives in a year-round tourist town like St. Augustine? Or beach town? How do you end up there? Where do locals go when they don’t want to be surrounded by tourists? How does anyone ever get any work done? What are the skin cancer rates?

New life goal: Spend at least one day a year in a beach chair. Alternate as follows: read a little, nap a little, read a little, take a dip, read a little, nap a little. That is all.

Hope you’re vacationing well. Where are you off to?


garden salad

When Luke and I moved back to the US from England three years ago, the thing we agreed we were looking forward to the most about being settled for a while was, oddly enough, having a garden. It became an obsession, really. From our apartment overlooking the city of Bristol, we (fine, I) searched real-estate listings of cheap old farmsteads in rural parts of my home state. We didn’t really have any intention of buying and settling down on a farm of all places — being, as we are, slightly phobic of the word “settled” — but the idea did appeal at the time. We were coming to the end of one season — being students, living abroad, traveling, owning very little — and moving into another — marriage, work, building nests — where the thought of cozying down with someone and making a home, even for these nomads, had a certain appeal. And chief among them, was having our own garden. Hard to do when you’re living from a suitcase. salad leavesWe’ve had two somewhat successful gardens in three years, which are not bad odds, me thinks. Actually, I’m including this year’s garden as one of the two, so I hope it doesn’t go and die now that I’ve said that. Even if it does, we will have enjoyed a number of tasty salads, not to mention the countless uses we’ve found for basil, parsley and mint (Juleps, I’m looking at you).

salad tomatoesmustardsalad dressingstrawberry jamshallots

Back from vacation and not wanting to get in the car again to drive to the grocery store (I know, life is hard), it was a pleasure to be able to forage a healthy and tasty meal right from our back door. Homemade dressing could easily become my thing, y’all. This one combines the tangy, dillyness of champagne mustard with the sweetness of strawberry jam (I know, right? Brilliant!). Fresh minced shallots give it a kick and good olive oil holds it all together. Throw on some chickpeas from a can or, in our case, thawed from a hummus-ready batch in the freezer, plus some fresh mozzarella, olive and tomatoes, and you have yourself a delicious and super healthy (let’s not mention that strawberry jam) post-vacation lunch.
salad presentationWho can say how long this putting down roots business will last? There’s been talk for a while now about the next chapter — and, no, I don’t mean babies. All the more reason to enjoy the fruits of this season we’re currently in.


Green Garden Salad Tips (I can’t call this a recipe, can I? I mean, it’s salad.)

A handful each of spinach, baby kale, and baby swiss chard.

A combined handful of mint, Thai basil and Italian basil, to taste — herbs in salad is the secret to happiness.

Wash greens. Throw into a big salad bowl. Slice 1/2 one red onion (or to taste). Add to greens. Two tomatoes cut into eights. A few Kalmata olives. Toss all together.

Fill two plates with salad. Add a few spoonfuls of cooked, salted chickpeas. Tear a few slices of mozzarella over each salad.

Brassy Strawberry-Mustard Dressing

(“brassy” because, don’t know if you noticed but I’m obsessed with Braswell’s condiments. You guys! The empties can be used as classy European-looking drink wear.)

2 teaspoons of your favorite Dijion mustard.

1-2 teaspoons of strawberry jam

3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil (coconut would be beautiful, too)

1/2 shallot minced

black pepper to taste

Mix into a creamy (not runny) consistency. Better if allowed to sit in the fridge over night. Eat up!

I’m wary of going home these days. Sorry, Mom. After three years of successfully feigning momentary deafness to her appeals to remove the boxes of my childhood keepsakes and books that languished under her guest room bed, somehow, on a recent visit, they ended up in our car. Books, my elementary report cards, boxes of disposable camera photos from summer camp, of friends in braces, school dances, a portrait gallery of all the pets we ever owned and adored — bonfire anyone? — it was all there. I accepted these gifts under the delusional confidence that I would dump everything in the correct recycling bin as soon as we got home.

It will surprise no one, perhaps, that these boxes did not move from our living room floor for a month. We are the couple who hosts a standing monthly dinner party for the sole reason that if we didn’t have people over regularly, we would never tidy up. In frenzied preparation for one of these dinners, we moved the boxes to the office floor where they remained for another two months. Then a terrible thing happened. I steeled myself and tucked into the long days work of going through them. Finally my cluttered mind and apartment would benefit from the great purge of 2014. No one would be spared. Or so that was my intention. That is not what happened. The unsentimentalist got sentimental. After an entire day’s work, I only managed to carve out one box of throw-away.

“So what?” the sentimentalist says. “You’ve gotta keep that stuff, it’s personal history.” For the person with a mortgage and every intention of staying put for a while, yes, this is a fine solution. The kids you raise in your family home will one day derive hours of mirth and amusement from looking at your school year books and reading your 5 year-old stories about Frisky the cat.

That is not us. We have places to go still, many more years of suitcase living left. Stuff is our nemesis. Storage is a four-letter word. What are we going to do with all this stuff? Where will we put it? These are the questions that torment the nomad. And the most tormenting of all: What are we going to do with all these books? Because, you can’t talk about stuff without talking about books.

Herein lies the great dilemma. For two people who value our impermanence, our pick-up-and-goability, as highly as we do, we have a damn incompatible obsession with printed books. I’ve even changed my tune about eBooks in recent years, although it must be said, I still don’t gravitate to them. Theoretically, I can get down with eBooks, but in practice I know me. I will always buy and read and prefer the printed book. Done. End of story. So, what do we do?

As I ponder this emblematic first world problem (what to do with this stuff that we own because we have jobs and a place to live where we can keep it and money and health and… everything!), I am inspired by the rooted ones who are finding creative ways to live with their books. This family, featured on Cup of Jo today, are the latest. 

Which is all just to say we’re looking for storage solutions for renters. Got any suggestions?

In other news, this guy just wrote another book. I was, no exaggeration, just saying (to a friend at a recent clean apartment dinner party) that I wish he’d write another book because The Imperfectionist was just so perfect and timely and everything I wanted. And he did! Debating whether to pre-order or to wait and buy it as an eBook — :/.

(Photos from A Cup of Jo)

It wasn’t long after we got back from our trip to England and Europe this summer that Luke turned to me and said something surprising. “I’d really like to go back for Christmas,” he said. “Would that be okay?”

I can assure you, he was not going to have to twist my arm. I love England and I love visiting his family, so of course I was game. Was I a little surprised that he wanted to spend money on a second set of plane tickets when we had just been there five months earlier? Definitely. Especially considering we were there for two months. But as he pointed out, it had been two years since we’d spent Christmas in England and, as I mentioned in my last post, Christmas is a special time for his clan. So, to England we went.

It turned out to be an extra special trip as my mom joined us for part of it. Here she is having just arrived after spending several hours delayed in both the Pittsburg airport and Euston station in London because of inclement weather on both ends of the Atlantic. Before this trip, she’d just found out she had a torn rotator cuff(!), but you would never have known any of that to look at her. What a trooper. Quite the contrast to Luke and me after a long journey that included our own 4 hour wait in Euston station. On that day, I took the first offer of a nap in someone else’s bed and peaced out. I really need to learn how to sleep on an airplane. 

It was very much a food and drink-centric holiday. Here we have exhibit 1.

Exhibit 2. Pepper the German spitz, ever hopeful. Also, fruit cake (or Stollen) and cheese may be the single greatest food combination ever.

Exhibit 3. Going out for coffee is not limited to the beverage in the Harwood house. Also, a walk has little appeal without the promise of coffee at the end.


Exhibit 4. More trips out for “coffee.”


Exhibit 5. In London, my sister-in-law and her friend prepared an absolutely delicious Togolese feast of fish poached in a chili and tomato broth and served alongside a dish that she compared to grits but made from cassava. So yummy!IMG_6689

Exhibit 6. Having tea with a veggie English breakfast on the way. Exhibit 7. So many sweet tooths in the bunch.

Exhibit 8. Nothing like warming up by the fire at an old pub after a cold day exploring castle ruins.

It wasn’t total gluttony, though. We did go on a fair few walks to temper the amount of food we consumed. Like this one to Attingham Park. Does anyone recognize the bridge? Here’s a clue (start watching from 11:16).

Did I mention my mom joined us for a week? It was so lovely having her there. Luke took us on a walking tour of Shrewsbury one day that was, erm, entertaining to say the least. It went a little like, “This building is old and important because… well, I’m not sure why, actually.”

Mom being there also gave us the excuse to be tourists, which we managed quite well in spite of the rain and cold.

Here’s another relic from the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol, which was filmed in Shrewsbury. Luke was good enough to include a visit to St. Chad’s graveyard on his walking history tour of Shrewsbury. Bless.

On the subject of being American tourists, my mom and I joined forces and persuaded the others to visit a nearby castle on one of the sunnier days of the trip. Stokesay Castle was suggested as neither of us had been there, even though it’s just right down the road from Luke’s hometown. It was such a quirky little place and really everything a medieval castle should be: moat, great hall with roasting spit (evidence of), archers’ alcoves, lush tapestried master bedrooms, and stunning views of the countryside.

As it is the English countryside that Luke and I miss the most (second to family, of course), we made sure to sneak a trip up the treacherous road that crests the Long Mynd in Church Stretton, a favorite spot of ours. Yes, that is a sheer drop to the valley below on my left. And yes, that road is one car’s width. Thankfully, we never had to find out what would happen if another car came up in the opposite direction. I hid behind my camera so I wouldn’t have to think about what I was seeing. 

It had been a gray rainy day, so we weren’t expecting much when we got to the top. However, we were rewarded for our efforts with a glimpse of the setting sun (at 4:00) over the clouds and hills. Stunning!

Take away point? Some trips are simply worth the journey.

I’ve heard friends explain their method for deciding where to spend the holidays as a weighing up of traditions. Whose family has the stronger tradition? Which holiday is more meaningful to which partner? If both traditions are equally strong then there’s nothing to do but travel between the two households on the day (Christmas lunch at one, Christmas dinner at the other), or, if the distance is too great, alternate years. If one family’s Christmas tradition is more quintessentially unique and precious than the other, inevitably, that’s where the couple will go two out of every three Christmases. It’s a sensible enough method, but just would not work for Luke and me. Not for Christmas, anyway. I’d lose every time.

For Luke’s family, Christmas is a precious reenactment of childhood traditions. Although marriages and moves have inevitably imposed changes even on the stoutest of these traditions, basically Christmas is bursting with nostalgia every year. My family’s Christmas traditions on the other hand have, in recent years, come to represent the inconstancy of a changed family. In the past six or seven years, we’ve spent Christmas in a different location every year, with a different set of people, observing other people’s traditions more often than not (with a few remnants of ours preserved for good measure). And that’s okay. We’re okay. We’ve adapted. We always have a good time wherever we are.

Thanksgiving, too, has in recently years become a holiday in flux. Shared with in-laws in new towns, with neighbors in new cities, or sometimes with only one person in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday.

It wasn’t always that way. Thanksgiving and Christmas used to follow a prescribed pattern. Thanksgiving when I was younger was always at my Dad’s parent’s house, where as many aunts, uncles and cousins who could attend did. When I was a little older, Thanksgiving moved to our family’s cabin in the mountain’s. It could hold more people, and so more relatives and practically-relatives showed up. Sometimes we’d have over twenty people crowded around two or three tables. We’d play Christmas music, eat turkey and make my grandma’s famous mac n’ cheese. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we’d have our family Christmas, since chances were we weren’t going to see all these relatives again one month later. So it was great really. Two of the eatingest holidays packed into one weekend.

Oh, how sweet it is when the stars align just so (and people’s schedules, too), that everyone can come back to a familiar spot and create a new tradition that reminds us all very much of a precious old one. Like Thanksgiving at the cabin, with over twenty people crowded around tables, and turkey, and snow, and a fire in the hearth. Even better when there are new faces mixed in with the old, and new traditions (like an oyster bar in the yard!) to remind us that our traditions are strongest when they are infused with the new.

I hope you had a happy one.

cumberlandislandWe’re officially into my favorite season now and, make no mistake, the pumpkin-scented blog posts will soon start inundating your inboxes. But before I get carried away with homemade chai recipes and cold weather book recommendations, I thought we could all enjoy the last rays of fading summer sunlight together. It was a good one, no?

st marys georgiaIMG_5395 IMG_5393cumberlandislandbeachIMG_5420 IMG_5446 IMG_5457 IMG_5504 IMG_5524We bid farewell to the season with a high humidity camping trip to Cumberland Island. Similar to Assateague Island, which we visited a couple summers ago, Cumberland boasts wild horses and a complex coastal ecosystem. Unlike Assateague, Cumberland is pedestrian only. During the day, the place looks like any other popular (if somewhat out of the way) southern natural attraction. It’s after 4:00 when the last ferry chugs away with the last group of day visitors, that you realize you’re the only one walking on the beach and have been for the last mile, and, why yes, those are wild scuppernongs hanging on that low hanging branch along the trail you’re hiking. No other hikers saw them, because no other hikers have been on the trail that day. IMG_5555 IMG_5479

Unlike books or food, I am less carefree about buying new clothes. There, I hesitate. In my book? They’re a luxury. I do try to shop at second hand stores most of the time and generally feel less bad about spending money on clothes then (though I still only do it rarely), but sometimes you just really want that pretty new thing. Of course, this time of year I find myself thinking like my school and college-aged self: a new outfit for a new school year — wouldn’t that look nice? Tax free weekend doesn’t help the situation. Neither do cute, Frenchy frocks. Add to the equation that this August I am starting a new job, and it would be so very nice to add some color to my wardrobe that is currently black and white attire as per the dress code of past jobs. You can hear the internal monologue I’ve been having here of late.

But a dress is not a book. Sure, it’s the cost of a few books and I’ll wear it for a few years. But I could also spend that money on other things. Books and breakfast, for example. And this time of year also has me thinking about new books, too. To put in my new backpack, naturally.

So it’s a conundrum, really. New books or a new frock? One is clearly a necessity and the other is, to me, a major luxury. Of course, every so often, if you’re frugal, I see no reason not to indulge. That’s what this series is all about, right?

Tell me. What is your feeling about splurging on a little luxury every so often? What are your splurges?

Speaking of books, would you like to win one? The giveaway for Gone Girl is going on until 5pm today. Make sure to enter and good luck!

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