North Georgia

Over the holiday break, I decided to do a little special something for Timmy. This past year, he has traveled on average for work almost 2.5 weeks of every month. That’s a lot of airports, rental cars, losing things in rental cars, contacting rental car company and getting stuff back, ubers, luggage, hotel stays, hotel food, and stuff. Needless to say, by November, he was over it. I was over it. Floyd was very over it.

Traveling that much, I just can’t imagine. Going back and forth to Miami and Atlanta over and over and over again can really wear a person down, and in 2018, not only has travel started back up in high gear again, but he has now been given Alabama and Mississippi (the most shameful states in the Union I must say) to boot. My schedule will also be insane this spring semester, so quality time will be prioritized over most everything.

I wanted to do something special to show him how much I appreciate what he does to provide for us, and really give us a comfortable life through sacrificing time with me and Floyd so I secretly started planning a getaway.

When we lived in Atlanta, there was a bed and breakfast only about 2 hours away in Hiawassee that was beyond adorable. It was also the area that Timmy’s family owned a lake house that contained many happy times and the most sad memory ever for them.

We loved going there. I had never really been in my life and it’s just so beautiful in the North GA mountains. I also loved being able to give Timmy new memories of a town that had given him and his family so much despair and sadness as that was where his father had his accident before passing away nearly 14 years ago. It was healing for him in a way that I wish could be possible for everyone. Since we moved to FL, we haven’t been back up there, and we’ve missed it.

The holidays, year after year in FL, just SUDDENLY happen because we have no seasons, so out of nowhere it’s HalloweenThanksgivingChristmasYearOver. I wanted to experience cold again, and winter, and heavy clothes, and all that crap. Each year we’ve gone home for Xmas, it’s been barely cold enough to wear gloves, which is a real let down over the holidays.

My gift to him was a 3-day, 2-night stay at the Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa. We had been to dinner there once but never stayed, and I always wondered what it would be like to stay in a resort in the mountains. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

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On our way up, we stopped in Helen, GA for a quick bite and a beer. If you’ve never heard of Helen, it might be the most random town in the world. It’s quite literally in the middle of nowhere GA (which is never a good place to be in my opinion), completely German-ized. German architecture, German food, German music, all of it German. It’s kind of crazy yet awesome.

We arrived at the resort on the Wednesday before New Year’s to a nearly empty lodge. It was full of old people (hey, we’re Floridians now so it felt totally normal) and MY GOD WAS IT COLD. I left my heavy coats at my parents’ house since I have zero need for them in FL, and thank the Lord above I did that because my knee length down coat was a savior. Along with the hat and leggings I bought in Helen, I finally felt like winter had arrived for the first time in years.

[BTW, a high of 31 degrees is cold for anyone, so none of this “You think you were cold??? Let me tell you…” nonsense that I know some of you are thinking.]

I had reserved a cabin, which was like having a private hotel room in a cabin. We had a fire place, rocking chairs, and a really pretty view. As soon as we arrived, we got drinks from the bar (a hot chocolate with Bailey’s for me, thank you very much) and watched the sunset behind the mountains. It was just magical.

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the hot chocolate was the star of the show

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IMG_0969.jpgI didn’t do the greatest job planning because we tried to make spa reservations and they were completely booked up which was a bummer. No way in hell was horseback riding going to happen in that cold, so we opted for a 2-mile hike along one of the resort’s trails where Timmy proceeded to take a work call because hey, you can’t totally unplug sometimes in his profession.

If you ever get a chance, go there. It was definitely worth it and for us to experience winter during the holidays (finally), well it’s just another memory to treasure.

♥, VB

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Ode to NY

Oh NY. The things you make my heart feel.

I absolutely love going back to my second home away from my real home in Atlanta and my actual home now in St. Pete (that was confusing). I love it because of all the things that city makes me feel, what it reminds of, and how I’m so happy that I no longer live there.

Yes, I said I’m happy I no longer live there. Odd how one can feel such conflicting feelings, yet it’s the truth.

My time spent in NY was a roller coaster ride during college. Becoming an adult in that city two weeks after 9/11 happened was tumultuous, emotional, rocky, overwhelming, and crazy fun. I miss it but I really don’t. Mostly I just miss the food and my friends. I don’t really miss the feeling of needing to be everywhere, doing everything, all the time, always.

But man, when I visit, we really pack it in. Usually, I’m with my BFF Denise and her husband Vinnie, sequestered away in the suburbs, but this time we were Brooklyn people, all the way. We stayed with our good friends Jenny and Joe (remember them, from the crazy beautiful Cali wedding?) in Clinton Hill, a super adorable south Brooklyn neighborhood with charming brownstones and vistas for days. Apparently, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis live down the street from them, so it must be a hot neighborhood, right?

The first night, we got there super late, like 10:30p, but we still went for a quick bite to eat at this adorably delicious spot named Walter’s. It was really dark and romantic inside, so no pix were bothered with.

The next day, we tried to sleep in because the sounds of NY are CRAZY obnoxious to me now that I don’t live amongst the sirens, birds, and children screaming outside. Needless to say, I slept like crap. We got up, made our way to another adorable lunch spot, took down a bottle of cava, and proceeded to walk all over the place. I ended up with 12,000 steps that day, so a success all around.

We settled in for a little while at a park in DUMBO and enjoyed the beautiful weather, which clearly we brought with us from Florida.

amazing views of south Manhattan

amazing views of south Manhattan

The night, Jenny and Joe made reservations for nearly my entire bridesmaid roster and partners at Lido’s in Harlem, where we gorged ourselves on delicious Italian food and lots and lots of wine. Jenny was like the mom of the group and just ordered everything for everyone, and all I had to do was eat and drink. I highly suggest you get yourself a friend like that. We laughed and laughed and laughed and Timmy and I almost came to blows during a newlywed-style game.

The question: Which celebrity is our number one hall pass?

My answer for Timmy: Chris Hemsworth (I won)

Timmy’s answer for me: JEFF GOLDBLUM

What the hell…the marriage is off people! (FYI, the answer I wrote down was Keanu Reeves circa “Speed”…yummmmmmm)

Later that night, somehow we all ended up with Pez dispensers because Joe went to the Walgreens across the street to get a Tide pen for Timmy, was gone for like 20 minutes, and showed up with Pez for everyone. It was weird and generous, all at the same time.

The next day, we went to Mission Chinese food where we annoyed our waitress by asking her every 5 seconds if there were peanuts in anything (because Timmy’s allergic), walked half the Brooklyn Bridge, got ice cream, then back to the airport. It was such an incredibly fast weekend, but it filled my heart to the maximum. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than see these amazing people and love and laugh with them.

Dammit, I love my friends.

♥, VB

The End of 2015 and Life Lately

So a lot has happened in the past two months and boom, now it’s 2016. I thought I’d catch you up on our lives the past two months before I launch into the great BIG changes that have happened in the last few weeks.

Halloween, Timmy and I celebrated our 1-year engagement at Spinners on St. Pete Beach. It’s a rotating restaurant that I dumbly reserved a table for AFTER the sunset, so we saw a whole bunch of nothingness. We will return with much better timing.

I finally talked Timmy into wearing a couples’ costume, which he poo-pooed until he realized that it was just a black cotton t-shirt with jeans. We were Opposites Attract, but apparently people also thought we were a pregnancy test, so it has multiple uses. #Imeanttodothat

We also went out to Green Bench Brewery, one of our favorite St. Pete spots and in one of the most random run-ins I’ve ever had, ran into the little sister of one of my close college friends. WHAAATTT?! We ended the night at Enigma for a lot of gay costume contesting and free beers bought for us by people wishing that Timmy was gay.

For maybe one of my highest professional achievements, I was selected as one of the 8 inaugural TEDxUSFSP speakers on November 13. I had a blast creating the talk, practicing it, and then finally performing on stage in front of students, colleagues, Timmy and Gavin, one of my friends that I met through St. Pete Pride. It was truly awesome, and I can’t wait until the video comes out.

November finished out with a morning trip to Auburn immediately following my TEDx talk. It was a super fast trip that started with an 11 AM game and ended with a star-filled night at Lake Martin with good friends. We also got to meet Wiles, my friend Heather’s newest baby girl and Timmy got grossed out by my bachelorette party gift.

December ended the way it should. I made a gingerbread house for the first time, we moved Timmy out of his apartment in Orlando into mine (more on that later), drove to Atlanta for Christmas and New Year with both our families. A little drama here and there, a WHOLE LOT of driving, and so. much. love.

Hope you all had the best holidays, whatever you celebrate, and hope mostly that your final days of 2015 were filled with nothing but joy, love, and hope!

Happy New Year!

♥,

VB

Costa Rica

December started with a trip we had been planning forever and then POOF it was here. We went to Tamarindo, Costa Rica for my college friend Taamy’s wedding to her perfect match Dave. It all started with the card enclosed in our goody bag and ended with some of the best memories I’ll take to the grave.

We flew from Tampa to Atlanta, Atlanta to Liberia, Costa Rica. From there, we took a shuttle about an hour away to Tamarindo, a little surfer town right on the Pacific, close to the Nicaragua-side of Costa Rica. It was so cute and really hopping, with tons of shops, restaurants, and surfer hang-outs. We got to Hotel Pasatiempo, and tried to get a quick nap in before walking around and exploring the place.

Taamy is that friend (we all have one) who can’t wait to start planning her next exotic vacation, who will try anything once and more times if she likes it, who is fearless, beautiful, and fun fun fun. We were so honored to be invited to this intimate shin-dig and we were incredibly emotional to see their love and gratitude for their wedding weekend. Timmy actually had a moment during the ceremony where he couldn’t stop crying, it was really that overwhelmingly touching.

The first night we got there was the joint Bachelor-Bachelorette party at Casa Alang-Alang, the house that Taamy and Dave rented for the week. There was a moment where I was dancing on the side of one of their many infinity pools at the house they were staying at. All of the sudden, I got pushed into the pool, fully clothed. Now, I’m not one for drama, but if there’s ever a reason to get pissed off beyond belief, it would be when a grown ass adult pushes another grown ass adult into a pool fully clothed in a pretty dress.

Well, I did nothing because it was a wedding celebration party for Dave and Taamy and I will NEVER be THAT person who starts fights and takes attention away from the couple. I went upstairs, asked Taamy for a change of clothes, and obviously had to explain what happened, but I left it at that. Taamy and Dave were PISSED. I kept trying to diffuse the situation, but at this point, Taamy had had a few, and you could see the drunk spiral happen a mile away.

The next day, Taamy said she got so mad not because of the alcohol but because she hates when men think they can behave however they want around women because they’ve been drinking. I still think the spiral contributed to how upset she got, but either way, it was unfortunate and I wish it hadn’t happened. The guy who pushed me in however sent me and Timmy a nice bottle of sparking wine with a very classy apology note attached over the holidays, so it’s all good.

It was actually all good the first time he apologized, but I guess Taamy and Dave really let him have it later.

Their wedding was drop-dead gorgeous, their house was UNREAL (I mean it. It was like 10 bedrooms, owned by the guy who started Billabong and who owns Au Bon Pain, 3 infinity pools, and a cliffside view of the Pacific), their wedding vows were real and deep, and we couldn’t be happier that the two of these crazy people found each other in this world. Any opportunity to hang out with my college peeps is the best time ever.

Timmy learned from his Panama mishaps and decided to pack every undershirt he owns and also brought sweat towels. He DID NOT stop getting compliments from everyone on his suit choices and his towel decisions. He was so proud of himself. 🙂

There was a crazy, “This world is so small” moment we had while getting breakfast at a small place across the street from our hotel. We sat down and Timmy saw that the people next to us had an Oakland hat on. Taamy and Dave currently live in Oakland so it wasn’t a complete jump to assume they were there for the wedding. When we asked, they said no, they were actually on their honeymoon. This was the conversation.

Timmy: “Are y’all here for the wedding?”

Guy: “No, actually we’re here on our honeymoon.”

Timmy: “Oh cool, I thought you were since the bride and groom live in Oakland.”

Guy: “Nope, we live in Florida. We just got married in Orlando.”

Me: “Really?! I live in St. Pete and he lives in Orlando.”

Guy and Girl: “Where?”

Timmy: “Lake Mary.”

Guy: “Dude, I live in Sanford.”

After discussing the streets, they realized that they live 1.2 miles away from each other. WTF.

Then the owner of the cafe came out and said he was from Marietta and went to college at Georgia Southern. I mean, really.

So I’ll leave you with pictures, even though they don’t do any justice to the beauty and fun we had there. These college peeps of mine, god, I love them so much my heart wants to burst. Taamy and Dave, we love the hell out of you.

♥,

VB

Panama

This last month has been exhausting. There’s been a lot of traveling, a lot of stress, and a lot of heartbreak. There’s also been a lot of joy and hope, so let’s start with the first story and make our way through the rest later.

The weekend after our Bach party (as in 3 days later) we flew to Panama for a friend’s wedding in a remote location off the coast called Bocas del Toro. My father’s side of the family all still lives in Panama City, so imagine my surprise when I ended up being the first in my entire family to visit Bocas. I’m such a world traveler.

On the flight from Atlanta to Panama, we got upgraded to First Class and holy shit I don’t think I can ever go back to being a regular citizen. That was legit. AAAAAANND I totally forgot that my friends’ gelato company, Honeysuckle, is now served on first class flights on Delta, so that was definitely fun and filled me with pride at how cool my friends are.

We sat next to two gentlemen that were THE definition of the odd couple, talking extremely loudly, making each other laugh, and just genuinely becoming friends. It was a much older white man who was super overserved with wine (as we all were) and a SUPER tall black man who, as we learned later on the flight, used to play for the Atlanta Braves in the 70s and was roommates with Dale Murphy. How cool is that??

My cousin picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel around 9:30p, which gave us just enough time to shower and fall asleep only to get up at 5 am to make our flight to Bocas. We got into the cab, told the driver Albrook Airport, and took off.

About 30 minutes later, I had the feeling that something wasn’t right. I had purposefully picked our hotel because it was only 15 minutes from the Albrook airport, so I signaled to Timmy to tell our driver, and lo and behold, we were one exit away from the WRONG AIRPORT. So we turned around and proceeded to take one of the most dangerous drives back in order to hopefully make our flight.

I had neglected to tell Timmy about driving in Central and Latin America. It’s really fun when you think about it: lane markers are really just suggestions, traffic lights are there for funsies, pedestrians get dropped off on the side of the highway, including school children, and the emergency lane is really for when you want to go faster. Timmy, bless his heart, almost had a heart attack.

And I just laughed quietly to myself.

We ended up making our flight by about 20 minutes. Thank god it was a small airport and not the international one, because we would’ve been screwed. And I had amped myself up to have a good ole, knock down drag out fight about payment since the driver was the one who messed up, but he charged us fairly and all was good.

We landed in Bocas after about a 45 minute flight and wow. What a cool freaking town. It’s laid back (think: not rich and glamorous resort living), friendly, and cheap. We stay on Isla Colon, the main island, which was about a 15 minute water taxi ride away from Bastimentos, where Jasmin and Todd were getting married. Our hotel was ADORABLE and definitely worth it.

We immediately found OUR spot, a teeny little bar restaurant with a surf/dive shop in the back. This town is clearly a surfer’s town, as everyone was unkempt, sun bleached, and suuuuuuuper laid back (read: high). This place served the BEST FISH TACOS EVER. No, I’m not kidding. They were amazing, and we went back again before we left for a repeat meal.

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The day of the wedding, we decided to take a day trip to Starfish Beach. We took a $35 cab about 30 minutes through the jungle to the other side of Colon. This was not a fun ride. The streets are “paved” and very very very hilly. It’s a miracle I didn’t get sick.

From our drop off spot, we took a water taxi about 5 minutes to the beach and OMG. This place. Unbelievable. It’s called Starfish Beach because there are starfish EVERYWHERE. You’re not allowed to pick them up but you can touch them underwater. It was just so cool.

We were pretty hungry when we got there but knew that the wedding was a few hours away, so we decided to split a meal at one of the little restaurant/shacks on the beach. There were only about 100 people on this remote beach, with a few spots to get food and drinks. We had brought the beer (which was like 85 cents for pretty delicious beer) and ordered a lobster with creole sauce from a dude who spoke perfect English. Then the coolness started.

We were told to go pick our lobster. Here we are thinking, “Oh from a tank. Cool.” Nope. FROM THE WATER.

Then we’re told to take a seat. Here we are thinking, “Ok, one of these tables.” Nope. THE TABLE IN THE WATER.

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Then he brings out the food. Here we are thinking, “This will probably be pretty good.” Nope. THE BEST LOBSTER I’VE EVER HAD.

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We clearly highly recommend checking this place out.

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The only time we were taken advantage for being tourists was on the water taxi over to Bastimentos to the Red Frog Beach Resort for the wedding. We didn’t get an itinerary in our gift bag, so I was going by the wedding website which said the wedding started at 4:30p. Knowing how long it takes Timmy to get ready (AGES), I said 4, so he’d be ready on time. We boarded the water taxi, paid the driver, and headed out.

First, he lied and said English was his first language even though it clearly wasn’t. Then, we stopped for gas (without telling us first) and asked for more money (which we didn’t give him). Then he dropped us off at the wrong dock at the island even though there were only 2 and I clearly didn’t know which one we were supposed to go to (side note: the resort is the only thing on that island. He clearly should’ve known). Thankfully, he was still close enough to come back and pick us up because at this point, Timmy and I didn’t have any more cash for a new water taxi. Silently and clearly disgruntled, he drove us to the other marina and HAD THE NERVE to tell me it was because my Spanish was so bad that he didn’t know where he was going.

F*%k You, sir. Clearly, you’re an idiot.

Finally we end up getting to the resort, which then entailed a golf cart ride to the actual wedding location, and by the time we arrived, it was 4:17. On time, right? Wrong! Apparently the wedding had been moved up to 4p, so we were late. AND YOU ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING LATE.

The Bride and her bridesmaids were already at the top of the stairs and I can’t even explain how bad that feels. We did it once before for a wedding in Beaufort, SC where the church was surrounded by 25 other churches and we got super confused as to which one we were supposed to go to. We ended up running into the church right before the bride, and I do mean, RIGHT before the bride and I’ve never felt so bad in my life.

Cue a second time doing this in Panama. We apologized profusely and explain what our taxi driver did (which apparently happened to a few people at the wedding too), and ran down the stairs only to be seated about 4 minutes before the wedding started.

Whew.

After the ceremony, they served fresh coconuts and I drank that sucker down in record time. We made our way over to the cocktail hour which was in a really cute hut overlooking a spectacular view.

And it was also in direct sunlight with no fans. I’m not going to lie, I don’t think I saw anyone use napkins for anything other than wiping off the profuse amount of sweat torentially downpouring from every inch of skin. Welcome to life on the equator. Thank god we were all wearing white.

The party moved back to the ceremony site where we ate, danced, and caught up with old friends. I heard someone say that I was Todd’s oldest friend present at the wedding, which just made my heart warm. I’ve known that dude since 1st grade, and he’s been solid ever since.

We were able to get back to our hotel much later that night so Timmy could shower. And then in the morning he showered again. And then he showered after breakfast. He took 5 showers in 18 hours. I’ve never laughed so hard at someone being unable to control their bodily perspiration. Did you realize that knees and ankles can sweat?

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We made it back to Panama City where my cousin took us on a whirlwind driving tour of Panama. I hadn’t been back to Panama in over a decade, since my Abuelita’s funeral, and holy shit, this city is insane. It looks like Dubai. The entire downtown looked NOTHING like that the few times I came to visit when I was younger. It’s really incredible.

We got dropped off at our amazingly beautiful Marriott for a quick snooze and another shower for Timmy, and then we were ready to meet the family for dinner. We went to a restaurant in Casco Viejo, which is the oldest part of Panama that they’ve beautifully restored. It looks a lot like Viejo San Juan, with its cobbled streets, white walls, and beautiful architecture and plazas. This was Timmy’s opportunity to meet nearly all of my dad’s side of the family, and I was so happy we were able to fit in a quick visit. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them, and it was so so so fun. And Timmy was a HUGE hit (when isn’t he, really). All in all, it was a fantastic but too quick 4 days.

Thanks and congratulations again to Jasmin and Todd! You gave us a reason to come to Panama to celebrate your love. We both couldn’t believe how gorgeous Jasmin looked (not that it was surprising since she’s already beautiful), I mean really stunning, and Todd couldn’t have been more happy to have all his friends and family in one place. We love you guys! Panama, we’ll be back, don’t you worry.

♥, VB