Into the universe.

It’s funny. Sometimes when you put your ideas, hopes and dreams into the universe, they come back to you.

I first learned that a few years ago. Just for fun, I wrote a list of all the places I wanted to travel, starting with the ones I’d always thought about, and adding as I saw, read or heard about new destinations. One entry on the list was “Germany and Bavaria.” No sooner had I written it down than my dad called. My stepmother and her business partners were going to a trade show in Frankfurt. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet in Munich, drive down to Salzburg and take the scenic Alpenstrasse back through Bavaria? So we did.

In July, I started officially compiling, and publishing here, my Adventures list. It’s what many people might consider a bucket list of things I’d like to accomplish before I kick it. Mine is so lengthy that I had to divide it into a general adventures list of things to do and see (incorporating my trusty old travels list), a local list of places I want to visit right in my own backyard and my culinary bucket list of foods I can’t wait to eat.

I’m proud to report that in the few short months since publicly declaring these items, I’ve completed several already. Some were intentionally undertaken. Others completely fell in my lap. But that’s the way it happens.

1: “Visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Elizabeth Creamery and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery” (from the Playing Tourist list)

There are few things more satisfying to me than crossing something off a list. So imagine my glee at accomplishing three items at once. In October, I took Dad on a long-promised trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with a stop-off at the highly recommended Elizabeth Creamery, and we closed out the day at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. You can read all about it here.

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Start your engines.

I’ve had a few weeks off of work and I’ve been trying to whittle through my adventures list. As I realized earlier this summer, I almost never take the time to play tourist in my own hometown. So I seized this opportunity to make good on a daughterly birthday or Father’s Day IOU: taking my dad to see the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Dad is an avid NASCAR fan. Sure, he grew up and has lived near at least three of the major raceways. But he also understands and is thrilled by all the physics of racing. Where I see a bunch of adrenaline-fueled, cocky young bucks driving cars around in a circle, Dad sees stuff like “drafting” and driving skills and properly maintained car parts.

I started to understand the NASCAR fascination a bit more when I went to my first race at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway a couple of years ago. Sure, there were the requisite shirtless, beer-swilling, mullet-sporting fans who’d camped there for three days. But sitting in the stands, only feet from the track — where several cars wrecked right in front of us — I could feel the energy and the danger. It’s so loud you hear nothing but the roar of engines and the zing! of cars speeding by. You smell burning rubber and feel the reverberations of the cars on the track. It’s sort of thrilling, even when we had no idea who was who or what was going on. Dad was watching on TV at home so he narrated the race for us by text message.

The raceway at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

At the race in 2010. I was excited; Ann not so much.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame and museum opened a couple of years ago in uptown Charlotte, and it’s housed in a sleek, architecturally interesting building that I used to drive by every day. There’s been plenty of news and controversy about it, and many friends have already been, so my interest was piqued. On a sunny day in early September, we set off. Continue reading

The end of the revelry.

One more day of the DNC to tell you about.

After the late-night gallivanting on Wednesday, I went back to work on Thursday morning. Because of the speech, I was going to leave at lunchtime and make my way uptown. But when it was canceled, I scrapped those plans. The more I thought about it, though, I changed my mind. I wanted to witness and be in the midst of the action. Plus, I found out that my friend Missy — who I’ve known since the Rent days when I was in college and she was in high school — was in town for the convention. I haven’t seen her in at least 7 or 8 years, when I was in New York and she was in D.C. Now I’m in Charlotte and she’s in San Diego — how times have changed. So I made plans to meet her in the afternoon before she had to go to the convention arena. (Even though the festivities didn’t really kick off until evening, capacity at the arena was a problem nearly every night, and the fire marshal ended up turning people away when the arena was too full. To guarantee entry, everyone had to start trying to get in about 3 p.m. Sheesh.)

I left work, drove pretty easily uptown and parked in the same lot as the night before. Again, the mood on the streets was electrifying. Tons of people were out and walking around, bands were playing in the middle of Tryon Street, an angry street preacher was shouting his hate from his homemade pulpit, police lazily dangled their feet over cement barricades, and dozens of sidewalk vendors hocked everything from t-shirts to buttons to hats and posters.

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On a whim.

As I was telling you, the Democratic National Convention was in town last week. I think I’m still recovering.

Delegates and tourists started to pour into the city over Labor Day weekend … while many residents of Charlotte fled. I went to dinner on Saturday night at a restaurant that is usually the place to ‘see and be seen’ any night of the week, and there were empty tables. Eerie.

The convention kicked off on Tuesday, but us regular folk had to go back to work. My commute has never been so easy — outside of the city center, Charlotte really felt like a ghost town. On Tuesday night I met a friend for dinner near uptown and just coasted through streets and lights the whole way there. We had figured it would be really busy or just totally deserted, but I wasn’t expecting that level of desertion. Luckily the restaurant did fill up, confirming that there were actually other people still in town. On the way home, I was terrified to be trapped in some sort of convention traffic but I made it without incident. That’s why watching the First Lady’s speech on tv that night was especially surreal — I knew the convention had taken over town, that all the revelry onscreen was happening right down the street. I just hadn’t seen much evidence myself yet. Continue reading

Once in a lifetime.

The story begins a couple of weeks ago. I’d had a hard week. Not at work, really … more like overbooking for social events and staying out late every night. So by Thursday I was beat. I daydreamed about sleeping in on Saturday morning, waking when I felt like it, taking Oliver on a leisurely walk and enjoying a cup of coffee on my couch.

Then Natasha emailed me. Continue reading

Exploring in my own backyard.

When I was in London in June, I talked with my cousin Eric about the things I wanted to do while I was there. He had all kinds of ideas for me, steering me away from places I thought I should see but suggesting others that were little known.  He had gleaned much of this knowledge about London, he explained, just by wandering and exploring. It’s something he’d done in every city in which he’d lived — Boston, Hong Kong, New York, now London — seeking out, planning and then actually visiting historical sites, neighborhoods and restaurants around town. (That’s also why he recommended the book he told me about.) Just before I visited, Eric and his wife Jenmon took a private tour of Parliament through their M.P., and a few weeks later were going to see the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. He very purposefully doesn’t take the places he lives for granted, which I think is rare, and admirable.

I focused, of course, on how I spend a whole lot of nights and weekends: just flopped down on the couch. As the years have passed by, I haven’t taken proper advantage of the historical and cultural gems right in my own backyard. I mean, I lived in NYC for nearly 8 years and never saw the Bronx Zoo, the Hamptons OR Coney Island.

Coney Island!

It’s a travesty, I realize.

So, inspired by Eric and in the spirit of my other “adventure” lists, I sat down to create a local list for myself — one I will call “Playing Tourist at Home.” It’s a work in progress, but it encapsulates all the things I want to see and do right here in the Charlotte metro, and likely wouldn’t without motivation. It seems like the right time to make the effort, now that school’s behind me and I’m recapturing my hobbies and social life. So hold me accountable — I will respond to that.

As luck would have it, an occasion to accomplish one item on this list recently completely fell in my lap.

A couple of weekends ago, I was invited to visit a local winery, Childress Vineyards, which is about an hour north of Charlotte in Lexington, N.C. For awhile now, North Carolina has been a burgeoning wine state, and vineyards and wineries are popping up all over the place. Even growing grapes in your backyard and making your own wine is becoming quite the thing.

The day we went to Childress turned out to be the hottest day of the year (and the hottest in my recent memory): a high of 105° F. But, I told myself, I’m always up for an adventure. And I was thrilled to see that the whole place is air conditioned. (Okay…I checked on that before we left.)

Though it was sweltering, it was actually a beautiful day — crystal clear and sunny, which just highlighted the vineyard’s extraordinary beauty. It’s like a Tuscan estate tucked  into the countryside of North Carolina. Childress Vineyards is owned by NASCAR racing owner Richard Childress; he lives nearby and even keeps vines in his yard that are used to produce the most exclusive of the Childress wines.

Now, I cannot stress enough how “out in the middle of nowhere” the vineyard appears — at least from the one minute drive between highway exit and winery driveway. But, that day it was a destination — probably more so because of the heat. It was packed. As we entered through enormous, ornately carved wooden doors, we stepped into a stone entryway complete with fountain. A four-piece band was playing music just ahead of us, and tons of people were milling about: tasting frozen wine concoctions at the “bar,” eating lunch, browsing the gift store. Since we were a fairly large group of 14, we put our name in for lunch (with at least an hour’s wait) and went ahead to the wine tasting.

We divided into two groups based on our wine preferences — a “Cellar Select” tasting for those who like sweeter wines, and a “Barrel Select” tasting for those who like dryer, more premium wines. I probably tend towards sweeter wines, but I’ll really drink anything and wanted to make sure I experienced the best Childress had to offer. So, while the majority chose the Cellar Select Series, I joined three more experimental wine drinkers for the Barrel Select. The tastings are all conducted at a long bar adjacent to the gift store, so we were all able to stand together anyway. The wines were all good — though nothing was extraordinary enough that I couldn’t leave the winery without purchasing. Perhaps Trader Joe’s has ruined me to buying any bottle over $7.00.

After the wine tasting, we moved our tipsy selves to the dining area for lunch. The dining room looks out over the acres of grapevines — a beautiful view. On a better day, you can even sit outside on the lawn to enjoy your meal. Since I had driven and we had to be back in town at a certain time, we didn’t linger over a bottle of wine at lunch. We just glared jealously at all the other patrons nearby who were doing so.

After killing about an hour wandering through the gift shop and ducking outside for a few minutes at a time until we couldn’t take the heat anymore, we gathered for the vineyard tour. I’m not sure if they cut the tour short because of the weather, but it only took about 20 minutes. Blissfully, we were only outside for about five of those minutes before we headed into the chilled warehouse to see the wine manufacturing process. As we walked down the stone steps and across the lawn on our way there, though, we passed a group of staff members assembling white, folding event chairs. There was to be a wedding there at 6:30 p.m. Right there in the blistering sun at 105 degrees. Bless their poor souls.

Our tour guide explained that North Carolina used to be the top producing wine state, until Prohibition in the 1920s. After it was repealed in the 1930s, California popped up as the go-to wine producer, but North Carolina is trying to catch up. We apparently have good weather for all types of grapes, though the humidity in the summer can wreak havoc. Muscadine wine, which I didn’t taste but Childress sells, is a homegrown North Carolina product, primarily grown and produced in the Eastern/coastal part of the state. I think Childress buys grapes from that area to make their wine, but grows everything else on that property.

Richard Childress is committed to only making, and even bottling, local wine — home vintners can bring their own wine there for bottling, but only if the grapes were grown in North Carolina. That’s a nice touch, the local angle.

After the tour, we loaded cars and headed home. It had been a lovely day — an easy drive, a fun excursion and a nice distraction from the heat of the day. There are a whole host of other wineries nearby — clustered near the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area, around Hendersonville and Asheville in the mountains, about two hours north near the Virginia border and even more out at the coast along the beaches. They literally dot the entire state — mountains to the sea. So, more N.C. vineyards are on my list — tourist excursions for another day.

Life with a scaredy cat. Um, dog.

I don’t know about all of you but it’s been storming here like crazy. Thunderstorms every day at 4:00 p.m.

Not that I’m complaining, because it must be keeping Charlotte out of The Great Drought of 2012 that’s gripping the rest of the country. And I do love a good thunderstorm. (When inside though, not running through it with sopping shoes and clinging, wet hair while lightning cracks above me and hail pounds the pavement. Hey, we’ve all been there at some point.)

It’s been raining cats and dogs, you could say, which brings me to Oliver.

Oh, Oliver, love of my life. (Sorry, Raleigh). He came to me at a time when I needed something and someone to take care of, and though he keeps me on my toes (and money flying out of my purse), he’s made life funnier, more joyful and so full. I love coming home to his wiggly, crazed-with-energy little body, and I love snuggling with him while watching TV or going to bed.

(As I type this he is fully laid out across my lap, holding one of my arms nearly immobile in a way that makes typing difficult and pushing the laptop away with his sprawled limbs. Apparently I am inconveniencing him.)

He can be sweet and loving, and he can be an emotionally unpredictable handful. Either way, he’s worth it.
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It's a small world after all.

Small-world coincidences always throw me for a loop. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s that it seems outrageous that in this world of nearly 7 billion people, we can be connected across cities, states and continents, that the theory of six degrees of separation is true. Maybe I’m way too independent and comfortable with anonymity, and such connections are a tap-on-the-shoulder, wake-up call that I’m really not as detached as I think.

But they’re also neat when they happen.

For example.

Meet Dave.

Dave and I worked together at my first job in NYC — along with fellow hard working, hard playing 20-somethings who were taking the NYC PR scene by storm (so we thought). The lines between life and work constantly blurred, which brought an inordinant amount of drama, as you can imagine. But it also forged possibly life-long friendships. I was on the periphery of the main, inner circle: friendly with everyone, invited to the parties, but since I was younger (and more junior), I was slightly removed.
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Hot town, summer in the city.

I don’t know if you are aware, but the city I live in is quite happenin’ right now. Yes, as of 2012, Charlotte is officially “on the map.”

I mean, it’s already home to Bank of America headquarters, whose front door has been on the news every night for the last four years, and who’s constantly in the running for “most hated company in America.”
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Over my dead body.

I’m nearing the end of another one of those crazy periods in life, full of stress and errands and little sleep. Which, with the dust storm and the new job and some unexpected medical issues of Oliver’s, is probably understandable. (Oh, how quickly I forgot those fleeting days of retirement.) And last weekend was the culmination, the prime reason I had cleaned for weeks and shopped and chewed all my fingernails off.  I graduated from business school.

My family descended on my barely-cleaned home to witness my walking across a stage in a cap and gown one more time and to celebrate such an accomplishment. It was three and a half long, yet still quick, years in the making, and during the weekend I reflected often on the friends I’d made, the classes and people who made me want to pull my hair out, the lessons I’d learned, those stressful times where I’d barely known my own name, my South Africa trip, and ultimately all the fun I’d had. It’s the end of an era, which is always bittersweet.

The best news is that, while it was unnaturally hot in early May, it was my first graduation ceremony ever that wasn’t affected by rain. At my high school graduation, the downpour on the coliseum’s tin roof completely drowned out all the speakers. And the douse of big, fat rain over the outdoor stadium before college graduation just made everyone mad and uncomfortable. So, it was a miracle that we had a clear, if a bit steamy, day this time. And all the scheduling went smoothly — everyone arrived on time and was able to secure decent seating, I didn’t trip over my robe or otherwise embarrass myself and dinner was a big hit.
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