Hitting the Empty Nester Lifestyle Hard


Sitting in the airport waiting to board our Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, Florida, I felt a mix of excitement and guilt. We were traveling to the Happiest Place on Earth without our kids. It was definitely a weird feeling. When John and I talk about our happy places, it is different for each of us. Mine is a pool or Spain. His is Disney World. We hadn’t been back since 2010. How was that possible? It didn’t seem like it could be that long ago. Sheesh. How old are we? The short answer is old, but not too old for Disney World!

We were quickly struck by how much had changed. We had wristbands that contained our park passes and room keys, which, it turns out, was very convenient. We later found that the bands also held our photos from rides and character encounters. Wow. It was awesome. A little freaky for privacy seekers, but overall very cool and useful. Also, the refillable cups are now equipped with sensors that know when your stay is over, so no more bringing back last year’s cup and getting free soda for a week. We were never that organized but other people must have been to lead the Disney powers that be to put chips in those cups. That can’t be cheap, can it?

We began our week with the excitement of our recently married selves when we last visited Disney without kids. The approximately 25 years difference was almost immediately obvious by our earlier bedtime and willingness to call it a day sooner than our young selves would have. We were logging over 20,000 steps daily and feeling every one of them. We noticed a plethora of motorized scooters and can proudly and gratefully say that we are still young and healthy enough that the many, ever-present scooters annoyed us.


We also took the opportunity to go on a mid-week bike ride. As you can imagine, Florida has a number of wonderful trails from which to choose. John’s research lead us to two trails that both sounded great. One trail went through an area that was described as having a lot of opportunities to see wildlife and sounded more isolated. Readers of this blog know how I feel about wildlife… I thought that it sounded like there was a distinct possibility that one or both of us could be eaten by an alligator and no one would know. So, while in theory I’d love to see a bunch of animals with a variety of diets up close during a scenic bike ride, in practice, the answer is actually (as kids these days say) a hard no. Which nudged us toward the West Orange Trail. It is a flat, paved, rail trail that included key points such as, 20 easy miles and restaurants along the route. It was also closer to our vacation accommodations in Orlando, and offered a conveniently located bike rental shop, Bikes and Blades, at the Killarney Station trailhead.


We set out with our newly rented bikes on a really nice, sunny and warm day. We peddled along feeling proud of ourselves for taking a break from the happiness of Disney to ride. But mostly I was feeling grateful to be doing something other than walking. We enjoyed the peaceful ride with few other people on the trail. We managed an ambitious 24 + miles total. We were tired but very pleased we were able to ride in February.

We were back in Disney World by mid-afternoon and moving onward with our agenda of fun. We took a quick trip to Epcot to ride Soarin’. Twice. It was different than the last time we did it, and still very fun. We then raced off to the Magic Kingdom for a quick dinner and reservations for the Fireworks Dessert Party at the Tomorrowland Terrace. It was a delicious dessert buffet and front row seats for the fireworks. It was all quite fantastic, and the next morning I couldn’t move. I was so sore and tired, I decided I needed a day by the pool. John, however, did not want to chill by the pool, but instead went off to see Stars Wars things in Hollywood Studios.


Two additional big changes we noted were how much Disney Springs (which was called Downtown Disney the last time we were there) had grown. There were a lot of new restaurants and shopping! It was fun to spend the evening there. We went almost every night. We also decided to try Animal Kingdom again.


The last time we were there it was maybe a year old, and I wasn’t impressed. This time, it was very enjoyable. We saw a lot of animals and really thought it was worth the trip.


We decided we could have easily stayed another week, which means we may be back in Disney sooner than last time.



A Gem of a River Trail in North Carolina

Neuse River Greenway Trail River and Wetlands

Neuse River Greenway Trail
River and Wetlands

We were thinking that there are so many trails to check out and so few weekends before the weather turns too cold. So, why not take advantage of our Empty Nester status and being in North Carolina for the weekend to ride a trail that John had his eye on for awhile? The Neuse River Greenway Trail in Raleigh was worth the trip. We parked at the Neuse River Falls trail head, but there were literally dozens of entrances to this trail. It’s obviously a very popular area. Lots of people were there to tube, canoe, or float down the river, as well as the bike, walk or roller blade. The weather was sunny and warm (93 degrees when we finished, with a heat index of 102). We were grateful that the storms stayed away.

We started our ride by going to the dam area which was only a quarter of a mile or so from our parking spot. There were picnic tables, benches and more parking at this trail head. Plus, there were bathrooms and water fountains. 

The paved, wide trail is in great condition– very clean and obviously very well maintained. The road bike was a great call for this trail. There are a umber of little hills which were actually a nice change of pace from the more flat than not B&A Trail we’d been out on lately.
Neuse River Greenway Trail Trail Curves

Neuse River Greenway Trail
Trail Curves

Scenic views of the river dotted the way and the trees provided shade for much of the ride. There were lots of bridges and plenty of places to stop for a break at cozy spots with benches and/or picnic tables. But, the trail appeared to me to be needlessly curvy. It was the windiest trail we’ve ever ridden.  Like ridiculously curvy. We normally ride rail trails, which don’t seem to have much curve to them. I don’t think that the river caused the curviness, it’s more likely the fact that the greenway goes through wetlands and fields. We didn’t see any interesting wildlife, which is absolutely fine by me. But, I was surprised by this. Usually wetlands are teeming with wildlife. It’s likely that I may have just not noticed because I was constantly negotiating another curve or bridge. We loved how well marked in both distance and trail heads this trail was, which was a nice change of pace.

Neuse River Greenway Trail Curvy!

Neuse River Greenway Trail









We rode about 12.5 miles before deciding to take a quick break and turn around to head back to the car. We stopped on a long bridge that crossed the river, which lead me to wonder how many bridges we had crossed. It seemed like quite a few. So, we counted how many bridges we crossed for fun on our way back, giving each bridge a catchy name so we wouldn’t lose count. We counted 23 bridges, the last of which we named “Jordan,” but then I was second guessing our number thinking we’d crossed 24. But, John maintains that we didn’t use “Jack Bauer” for 24, so we couldn’t have crossed it. We didn’t count how many we rode under, which was probably four or five more, nor did we count the covered areas of the trail that looked like bridges but were not. It was a fun trail.

Bridge over Neuse River

Bridge over Neuse River



















We got back to the car tired and sweaty and with the about four and a half hours left of our drive home, (which ended up taking longer thanks to traffic). We hit the bathrooms to change our clothes before starting back, but not before taking our customary selfie.

Post Ride Selfie!

Post Ride Selfie!



An Uber Treat

My Friend Erin's Tie Dye (Roll Up N Dye and Colorful Abandon)

My Friend Erin’s Tie Dye (Roll Up N Dye and Colorful Abandon)

I was born in the 60’s. As I grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s, I think there was a lot of residual hitchhiking going on. It must have been leftover from it’s heyday in the 60’s. I, however, was told to not hitchhike. I was raised with the notion that hitchhiking is very dangerous. You don’t know whose car your getting into. It could be a murderer! Well, truth be told, I don’t believe I was ever told that folks picking up hitchhikers were murderers. I’m sure I just assumed that was the worse case scenario of dangerous. And, I probably saw a scary news item or two to that effect. The bottom line message was that hitchhiking was dangerous.

Over the years, I was never tempted to hitchhike, nor did I run with a hitchhiking crowd. We had the “mini buses” or ColumBus buses. So, if I needed a ride to The Mall, for example. I could jump on a ColumBus. I didn’t use it often, but it did save me from hitchhiking a number of times, I’m sure. If we needed a ride to the airport, we would call a taxi. Taxi’s were driven by strangers, but had the benefit of being vehicles labeled as such and being backed by a probably big, well known company. They were just smaller versions of the mini bus. Right?

So, imagine my consternation upon hearing about Uber. My kids were the ones to clue me in on this new ride sharing experience. The first exchange with my daughter went something like this:

Wait. What?

You get in an unmarked car with a stranger?

That’s not safe.

That’s crazy.

No. No, I’ll pick you up. Night or day. Anytime. Just call me or your father. Nope. It’s fine. I’d much rather you get home safely…

The popularity of Uber soared and so did the opening of my mind. I became a hip mom who confirmed that my children would be taking Uber, or Ubering, after a night out on the town. But, even though my children were experiencing Uber firsthand, I was not really accepting it into my world. That is, until my friend and fellow blogger Jessie became an Uber driver. “Whoa,” I thought. “What? Is she nuts?” It’s like picking up hitchhikers, I thought. That’s not safe, I said to myself. So, the same argument for why I wasn’t supposed to hitchhike growing up was, not surprisingly, the same as it was for why I shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers. But, Jessie has always been an early adopter. She not only embraced being an Uber driver, but she blogged about it. I was hooked on her posts. I enjoyed hearing about the people she picked up and her interactions with them. I loved the realness of her trying to find her way through tricky city streets. It was so entertaining. I would read one post and could not wait for the next one. I was thrilled to hear she was planning to publish an e-book based on her experience. It is available now and I highly recommend it.

Are you interested in checking it out? Please click here or visit Amazon.com and look for: Uber Chronicles: Field Notes from the Front Seat  Kindle Edition by Jessie Newburn. You will not be disappointed!




2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert

2016 Feria de Abril Plaza de Toros Poster; Official Program and Feria Daily Insert


One of the highest accolades a bull fighter can receive for a valiant well fought fight is una oreja, an ear of the bull he killed. Sometimes, for a particularly well fought battle, dos orejas or two ears of the bull he killed are given. More rarely than that two ears and the tail is granted to the bull fighter. It is quite rare and a real honor to witness a bull fight in which the latter two awards are bestowed. However, the most rare and amazing event to witness at a bull fight is when both the bull and the matador have fought exceptionally bravely and the crowd petitions for an Indulto or pardon. When a bull is pardoned, he is lead from the bull ring and lives out the rest of his life on the farm of its owner as a stud.

Family Photo from our Seats

Family Photo from our Seats

I was excited to have the opportunity to see a bull fight with my family during the Feria de Abril in Seville, Spain. It is, to me, a must see. My son had been to his first bull fight the week before and was enthralled by it. But, April 13th in La Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla was special. We arrived early to take in the atmosphere. Everyone dresses very nicely for this event, and we did too. So, we took a lot of photographs before it had even begun. There are so many things to notice. Seat cushions are for sale or rent (which benefited the Spanish Red Cross), as the seating is on brick and cement. Many folks purchase snacks and drinks before they enter the Maestranza.

We also immediately noticed that there was no jumbotron. No announcers. Not much room to move once seated. But, there were two vendors walking through the seats yelling what they were selling, one had roasted almonds and one had drinks. There was a decent size band on the upper level across from the box where the dignitaries sit. We were seated in the Sombra section, which is the shade side. We were happily on the side where most of the action took place. The opposite side of the ring was in full sun and was the Sol or sunny section.

Bullfight Bullcropped

The music began and the action followed almost immediately.  The first bull was not a very good fighter and the matador did not appear as polished as I’ve seen. My husband and kids were glued to the action. The third bull was better and so was the matador. He received dos orejas. I kept saying, “This is a great honor. I’m so glad we got to see this. This is relatively rare to see.” And etc. The next bull came out and he was fierce from the start. He and his torero performed very well, each one matching the other with moves and counter-moves. Pretty soon, it became obvious (to those who have seen bull fights before) that this was a special bull. The crowd began to wave white handkerchiefs. Those of us without them used the programs we had about the night’s bull fight. The whole place was waving and the matador walked over to the judge and he granted the indulto or pardon. Immediately, eight large light brown and white bulls were ushered into the ring. They patiently corralled the bull and then all walked back out of the ring. The crowd was cheering wildly. THIS was the pinnacle of bull fighting. We witnessed history. It was so thrilling. The matador received dos orejas (from a previously killed that night bull) and he walked around the ring, proudly holding up the ears and waving at the exuberant crowd. The owner of the bull also joined him in taking the lap around the ring. It was so awesome.

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

Helping the Pardoned One Out of the Ring

There were two more bulls, but the evening belonged to the Matador Manuel Escribano and the indultado (the pardoned bull), “Cobradiezmos.”

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano

Glossy Photo of the Matador Manuel Escribano







There was so much history, culture, passion and art that we all came away exhilarated by the experience. John was taken by the music which served to connect the three stages of the bull fights. It was so old fashioned. I felt like we were non-speaking extras in a movie, sitting quietly expectant until we were cheering and yelling, “Olé” on cue. There was no evidence that it was 2016, except for the cell phones we held up to take pictures of the spectacle. We thought we might have feelings of, “Oh, my gosh! I feel sorry for the bull!” but did not.  It was too ceremonial to feel that way. The prevailing thought was, “This was so cool!” And, of course, it was nice to focus on knowing that one of the bulls would be spending his remaining years out to stud on a farm.

Bullfight ring


New Bike! New Trail!

Fall Day on the NCR Trail

Fall Day on the NCR Trail


















My husband and daughter surprised me with an early birthday present–a new hybrid bike. It hasn’t been very long that we started our biking adventures, and the need to have more trail options than a road bike can handle had become apparent. There are just too many trails that are calling our names, but that would be too dicey to ride on my road bike. So, fatter tires it is.

I wanted to give the bike a test spin, so we took a little 5.5 mile ride in a local office park area. My initial reaction was 5.5 miles on a hybrid made me about as tired as 20+miles on my road bike. John decided my degree of exhaustion was due more to the fact I had had an early morning and eight hour work day, than the fatter tire size. Maybe, but I did notice a difference.

The Restored 1898 Monkton Train Station

The Restored 1898 Monkton Train Station


Our first trail with my new bike was the Torrey C. Brown (TCB)/Northern Central Railroad Trail (NCR Trail) from Ashland, Maryland to York, Pennsylvania.  We jumped on the trail at the Ashland Trailhead, which was about a 35 minute drive from our house. It was a chilly – low 50’s, but a sunny and bright fall day. There were lots of walkers, joggers, and bike riders coming and going. We set off and were immediately impressed with the scenic and serene trail vibe. The trail was alternately narrow and wider. The surface alternated between packed gravel (almost paved) to loose gravel; with lots of leaves. I was very glad to not be trying this trail on my road bike. There were several muddy areas that my new bike handled like a charm. As we traveled north, there were fewer people, but it was still a well-used trail. I was freezing. I decided I need earmuffs that fit under my helmet. And gloves that fit over my riding gloves. And, I could have used warmer socks. But, we were delighted by the trail, so we kept pedaling, hoping to warm up.
The trees were not in full autumn glory, but there was some nice tree color. The part of the trail we rode was probably 90% shaded. We entered Gunpowder Falls State Park and spent a good deal of time with the Big Gunpowder Falls in view. It was so nice. Talk about a great way to disconnect from reality. Just nice scenery and no sounds, but those in nature.

Position Light Signals, NCR Trail

Position Light Signals, NCR Trail


















Benches and picnic tables dot the trail. There were also some cute scenic points of interest. We stopped a couple times in sunny spots to warm up and enjoy the views. We went about 8.5 miles, just past Monkton, before turning around and heading back. This is another one of those long, beautiful trails that had us planning our next ride before our first one was finished. John was so taken with this ride, it was one of the big reasons he bought me the new bike. I agree with him. It is a great trail. And, it’s close to home. We will be back to try to get to Pennsylvania next.

Sunny Spot along the NCR Trail

Sunny Spot along the NCR Trail

  For our review and more photos of this trail, see my post on my bike trail blog here.


Thirty Years Later

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain

Rocky, exasperating, frustrating, overwhelming, and hard are a few of the words I would use to describe my first few weeks in Spain, where I was transplanted for my Junior year of college. However, those aren’t any of the words I actually use to describe my study abroad experience, mind you. I look back on my study abroad experience with happiness, excitement, pride, and a deep yearning to go back. In fact, I have a number of stories about things that I experienced when I first arrived that I laugh about now, but that I did not find funny at all at the time. So, having a child go overseas for his semester abroad program, has reminded me of the not often talked about parts of study abroad: the culture shock. We used the terms “culture shock” and “reverse culture shock” before and after my study abroad experience, back in the day. But, talking about it and learning what types of feelings are bundled under the umbrella of the term “culture shock,” does not prepare you for it happening to you. Funny thing about feelings. And, while I believe that everyone experiences some sort of culture shock, not everyone’s culture shock manifests in the same way. But, I guess, it was helpful to have the idea that what one is experiencing is normal. Although, I don’t once recall thinking, “Oh, yes. This is my culture shock talking,” when I was having a frustrated moment.And, communication has changed so much since I lived in Spain, it is mind-boggling to me. While I had pushed all of my entry into Spain and Spanish culture issues (READ: my culture shock) well to the back of my mind, I was brought back face to face with them through my son.

And, while it was a bit uncomfortable to hear he was experiencing his culture shock, it was nice to be able to say, “Yeah, I remember that. I felt that way, too.” So, while the sum total of our parenting advice has been something along the lines of, “Hang in there!” and “You can do it!” I had more peace about the place my son found himself in those early weeks of his Junior year. I knew that he was so close to getting over the biggest hump and would be fine. It just takes time.

While I mentally wrestled with ways I could “help” him, I began thinking about thirty years ago. One thing that came to me was an analogy. Undertaking a study abroad program is like panning for gold in the late 1800s. The conditions are physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. You’re standing in unfamiliar waters, performing unfamiliar tasks, like bending down and scooping up rocks and dirt and water and shaking out the unwanted parts. It’s demanding all of your attention to find the gold nuggets. But, you find them. Some are small, some a little bigger, and every now and then, you find a sizeable chunk of gold. You put all the nuggets that you find in a pouch or off to the side and continue panning. When you stop at the end of the day, you may not find that you have many nuggets. But, at the end of the week or month or semester, you will have lots of gold nuggets. Those gold nuggets are what you will be proud of, thankful for, and will be what you remember about your study abroad experience. The lack of reliable 24/7 WiFi will fade into the deep recesses of your mind, crowded out by the awesome, shiny gold nuggets you are holding.

Another thing that came to me was a word of advice: Don’t compare your insides (READ: what you are feeling) to somebody else’s SnapChat stories, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, or tweets on Twitter. Seeing people who are also studying abroad appearing to be having an amazing time without any of the culture shock piece does not mean they are not also struggling to come to terms with their new environment. They are. And, just a P.S. Everyone is thinking the same thing about your cool photos and posts on social media.

And finally, I thought, it’s important to find your inner warrior. Be fearless. Face the day resolving to do your best, make the best of every situation, and have fun. I used to picture a map of the world and then picture where I was compared to my family and friends. I used that image to propel me through days I didn’t want to get out bed, as well as days I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to go to sleep.

Monserrat Catalonia, Spain

Catalonia, Spain







Our Empty Nest Game is Strong


We had a chance to take a page out of our Empty Nest playbook this weekend and it was fantastic, dare I say, glorious. As a couple, John and I went into empty nest-hood with a basic survival plan, some vaguely articulated hopes, and a determined flexibility. We did great! Although, I didn’t fare as well, at least initially, but that’s a topic for another post.

Since that momentous August two years ago, the kids have come back and gone again and come back and so on. Thus, the parenting territory has become murky or murkier than pre empty nest. It has required many adjustments on our part. Currently, the biggest one being how to handle the limited amount of “empty” in our house. We have found ourselves being less motivated to be the foot loose and fancy free empty nesters we were in the beginning, in exchange for spending time with one or both of the kids. Despite the soundness of our thinking, we were a little stuck.

That is, until this past week. We learned that very dear friends were going to retire on Friday. We knew immediately upon hearing the news that we wanted and needed to be there. “There” being Buffalo, NY. We were able to clear our schedules in under a week and head up to Buffalo. Our friends, Tom and MaryJane, have owned a pizzeria in the town my husband grew up in for 31 years. He actually worked for them 30 years ago. They are about our age, and when John finally moved to Maryland, he kept in touch with them. My first trip to Buffalo included a required stop at the restaurant and introductions. MaryJane and I hit it off instantly, and I would look forward to getting together with them during our Buffalo visits. To think that we wouldn’t have their restaurant as a stop during future visits was so sad. We had to get there one more time. Plus, they were planning a big party Friday night.

We ended up making the trip without the kids, which was a little strange since they were both technically at home. But it was also really empty nesty of us. We realized how much we had needed to get away almost the minute we arrived at the restaurant, which was our first stop upon arriving in town. We had a great visit and we’re thrilled to get to Torella’s one last time to wish our lovely friends happiness and lots of spur of the moment fun!