My Pandemic Vacation

If you’ve been here awhile, you know my partner, Tom, is in flight school at Fort Rucker, AL. He is currently in his second phase of training, in a program called SERE – Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. It’s a 3-week long course, and unfortunately he isn’t allowed any personal contact for the duration. So that means that I am looking at 3 weeks alone, with just Gnocchi for company. So I decided to embark on my first “pandemic vacation”.

August 20, 2020

I loaded up my car with all the glass bottles we’ve used since moving here in May – I still haven’t found a local place able to recycle glass, and I refuse to throw them away. So me, my cat, and my trunk full of glass drove about 6 hours nearly due North to Nashville, TN. I picked up my mom and little sister from the airport, and we headed to Tish and Gene, our close family friends’ home in College Grove about 45 minutes outside the city. Even after just four days alone, it was a really welcome change of scenery. Moving to a different state in the midst of a pandemic was challenging, but I had Tom by my side to make it feel less rocky. Without him stitching a new leather project or grinding coffee in the morning, the apartment felt uncomfortably quiet. So getting to be surrounded by family was centering and soothing, and kept my anxiety about SERE at bay.

We decorated and cooked homemade GF pizzas upon arrival and celebrated being reunited. Tish and Gene are actually our old neighbors; I grew up with them living next door. They moved to Tennessee right before I graduated college, so it has been much too long since we were all properly together. I’ve always felt that the people make a home more than the physical space, and chatting with these people in a place I had never been before solidified that.

August 21, 2020

A night spent celebrating lead to some Hangover Tea from local favorite High Garden Tea the next morning. One of my love languages is cooking for others. I don’t actually know if that’s an official love language, but it is to me. So I rolled up some avocado roses and made breakfast for everyone while Tatum attended virtual high school in the other room. I guess one of the perks of online learning is getting to be anywhere with a wifi connection to go to class. Although, that seems to be the only perk, really. While Tatum zoomed, we spent the rest of the morning driving around the neighborhood looking at all the beautiful homes before heading back and packing up the car for our drive to Black Mountain, NC, where we planned to spend a couple of days.

The four hour drive through the mountains went by in a blink – my mom and I really know how to chitchat. Tatum spent the drive loving on Gnocchi, writing, doing homework, and joining in for chitchat when it got interesting. I’ve always been a daydreamer, and dreaming about and planning for the future with these two women on those winding mountain roads will be something I look back on fondly for a long, long time.

We had two motivators for visiting North Carolina: 1. Fraser’s Ridge, from the Outlander series and 2. my mom’s close college friend, Tavi. We climbed up the mountain and pulled into Tavi’s remarkably steep driveway, one side of which was absolutely covered in the greatest hydrangea bush I have ever seen. The view was stunning – I actually forgot to take a photo of it until the next morning. We were welcomed with bubbly and a delicious charcuterie board and wonderful conversation.

August 22, 2020

Since we only had one full day up in the mountains, we wanted to make the most of it. Tavi’s husband roasts his own coffee beans and made me a fresh cup of his low-caffeine roast with foamy oat mylk. I walked out onto the balcony to enjoy it, and pondered if it was possible to ever have a bad day when it starts in such a tranquil place.

After morning coffee, we headed out for a hike, but the spot we were planning to visit was absolutely packed with people and there wasn’t a mask in sight. So we decided to take a drive up Curtis Creek to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Driving up the rough, untamed roads of the mountain simultaneously reminded me of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland (but much more relaxing) and taking ATVs out to explore in Colorado on our family trips. The experience swam with nostalgia, and I closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, and cherished it. We did end up stretching our legs for a bit at a few scenic overlooks and Mount Mitchell.

After our drive and super strenuous hike, we rewarded ourselves with a visit to a local brewery called Hillman Beer. I ordered a Wampa Wit, a “classic Belgian Witbier” that caught my eye because of its notes of “citrus zest, coriander, and chamomile”. It did not disappoint, and I actually left with two crowlers full to enjoy at home in Alabama. I also tried each of their wing flavors – lemon pepper, mild, and pineapple BBQ. Unsurprisingly, lemon pepper was my overall favorite. The space was indoor-outdoor and very airy, which was perfect for the warm, breezy weather that day. Plus, everyone wore masks until they sat down at their appropriately spaced tables. This brewery is the second place I’ve eaten out since March, and I was very at ease.

Once back at Tavi’s, we all took an hour to nap and mellow, which was a welcome little respite. I was so happy, but so tired. I’ve never been someone who can go-go-go, especially when it comes to socializing. Now, though, with my social interactions limited to Tom, the two couples we hangout with, and the grocery store, it seemed like I had an even smaller threshold. The hours spent behind the wheel and the late nights with conversation and wine didn’t help, either. But after letting my body be still for a bit, I felt loads better.

We made Moscow Mules with local ginger beer and sat on the balcony to talk, the conversation flowing easily as my mom, Tavi, and her husband recounted stories from when they were younger. I listened avidly to tales of college parties, meeting their partners, and remembering old friends. Once dinner time approached, we put together another charcuterie board, opened a bottle of red, and somehow stayed up until 3 a.m. playing Scrabble and gabbing.

August 23, 2020

I woke up slightly hungover, annoyingly anxious (hangxiety is real, people) and itching to get on the road back to Tennessee, even though I didn’t want to leave this magical place. But after some strong hugs and hopeful promises to return for a visit soon, we packed into the car again. Within 20 minutes of being on the road, my anxiety was nearly gone. Learning how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks has not been a stroll in the park, and it feels like right when I start to figure it out, everything shifts. It’s frustrating to feel so controlled by something that technically is of your own creation. But each day is a new day, and I will forever be learning how to listen to my body, as are so many others.

Another 4 hour stint of driving and a much needed shower later, we were back in College Grove with Tish and Gene and their daughter, Lexi and her husband, Austin. My mom made us all, sans Tatum, Bees Knees cocktails and then we headed to the pool. I haven’t seen Lexi in ages, so getting to catch up with her was so special. We were some of the last people to get out of the pool, and we headed back to Tish and Gene’s after a delicious dinner.

August 24, 2020

After excusing myself from the festivities and heading to bed early the previous night, I felt totally rejuvenated. Sometimes you just gotta listen to your body and miss out on some conversations. Tatum had online classes again and my mom and Gene had to get some work done, so I sat on the porch, read a book, and enjoyed the alone time. I know the whole point of this vacation was so I didn’t have to be alone while Tom is away, but there is a difference between being alone and having alone time. The latter means there are still people around you, that you’re still able to engage with others if you want to, while the prior means you have to seek out interaction, usually outside of your home. I much prefer alone time to being alone.

While Tatum finished up her online classes, my mom, Tish and I headed to Arrington Vineyards to try the frosé that Tish had been raving about. It’s made with their Tennessee Red Wine, so it’s less sweet than a typical frosé. It was delicious, especially in the shade of the big oak trees in the late afternoon warmth. We put Taylor Swift’s Folklore album on, sat on an old porch swing, and enjoyed ourselves.

From there, we met back up with Gene and Tatum and drove into the city to grab dinner from Radish Kitchen, a new fast casual place that had recently opened. The owner, Amanda Frederickson, is a woman I’ve been following for a few years now. It was really neat to watch all the behind the scenes and see it progress from an Instagram announcement to a brick and mortar restaurant. Plus, the food was as killer as it looks online. To add some nostalgia to the night, we went to Jeni’s for some ice cream scoops. I got a pint of Goat Cheese with Cherries, my absolute favorite flavor, and promptly forgot about it in Tish and Gene’s freezer. Since they’re not big dairy fans, maybe it’ll still be there the next time I visit.

August 25, 2020

Our last full day started out with a walk around the neighborhood. I love how good my body feels even after just a bit of movement. Which made me realize that I was a day behind on my workout routine, which I am proud to say I am still keeping up with. So I borrowed a yoga mat and dedicated 30-ish minutes to making my body stronger. My mom and sister walked in and out of the room once or twice, and were actually impressed to see me doing crunches and (godforsaken) burpees, which felt very rewarding.

After my workout, Tish helped me throw a new matcha mug. She’s been an art teacher for years, and it was so interesting to learn how to manipulate the clay on the wheel. I also made a ceramic garlic grater because I’ve always thought they are such pretty tools. For a little post workout snack, I walked out back to Gene’s impressively healthy basil plant and picked some leaves to make caprese for the gang.

We all got “dressed up” – relatively speaking, since putting on anything except for pajamas and athleisure is dressing up nowadays – and went to have a night on the town. Our first stop: The Factory at Franklin. Unfortunately, we were unaware that almost everything in the building closes by 6:00 p.m. But it was such a neat space, and I definitely want to visit again during hours. From there, we drove to have drinks at L.A. Jackson, a rooftop bar in The Gulch. We ordered some superb drinks along with some fries, shishito peppers, and shrimp toasts. Even though we were outside, distanced, and masks were enforced, the hustle and bustle of a downtown bar was slightly overwhelming at first. As we enjoyed the view though, memories of Chicago’s rooftops and city lights played in the back of my mind and the feeling of unease slowly dissipated.

To end our lovely day, the five of us drove over to Lexi and Austin’s home in Brentwood for some late night chitchat. Afterward, my mom, Tish and I decided to drunkenly paint our garlic graters. Moments like this – going from spot to spot, talking about everything and nothing, drinking well made drinks and eating food that is good for the soul – are what I miss the most about “the before time”. The ease at which we used to do things like that still shocks me. They are moments I will never take for granted again.

August 26, 2020

The day of departure finally arrived. Even when I wake up early and pack things up ahead of time, I always end up scrambling when it’s time to get to the airport. More hugs commenced, more promised return visits, and it was back on the road. I dropped my mom and sister off at the airport with hopes to see them again in October. Then Gnocchi and I headed home to Alabama.

This is one of those trips I think I will never forget. We exist in such a strange space right now, where traveling and seeing loved ones can be impossible or risky. Yet moments and memories are still being made, every single day. Even if it’s just a day sitting in my apartment, with Gnocchi next to me, writing up this post and having the rhythm of my fingers on the keyboard soothe my anxiety – that’s a memory, a moment.

I know this is a long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, cheers to you. But this trip is something I want to document, to hold dear. I am tremendously lucky to be able to have the memories and moments from this trip, and I am so grateful to have people that make new places feel like home.

Are you heading on any pandemic vacations? Or have you taken one already? Let me know in the comments.

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