Ireland: Part 1

For the next few weeks, I’ll talk about our week long driving tour of Ireland. It was a week of art, hiking, and lots of Irish music. Everything a girl could want.

Our trip started with a few days in Dublin. We arrived early on Saturday and took the bus into the city. It dropped us off about a block and half away from our hotel. We were staying off Dame Street, a main thoroughfare that felt like a combination of tourist and student central. We threw our bags down, as is our custom, and ran off to explore the city.

First, we needed to get lunch. We wandered a little bit, passing a little farmer’s market with a display of cheeses that I would regret not tasting for the rest of the trip. We went to a little cafe that had a glorious display of different hot chocolates. I was disappointed that their orange and cinnamon chocolate was not available; i had a caramel chocolate, which was okay.

Next, we headed off to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I had been in Dublin once in 2005 but we had missed seeing the Book of Kells because it was Christmas season and it was closed. As a lover of illuminated manuscripts, I was very keen on seeing it. There was a bit of a line but it went quickly. There is a room filled with explanations of everything from the ink, the binding, to the illuminated alphabet. I was thrilled that you can actually get up close to the Book of Kells. It’s crowded but you can make your way in and get really close. There is such an incredible amount of detail that no photo can do it justice. Several folks said it wasn’t the bees knees but they were wrong. It was well worth the wait.

After the Book of Kells, there is the delightful Long Room, a two story library with so many leather bound books. There’s even the harp that inspired the one Euro coin. When I asked one of the guards how one gets to the second story, he said, “Walk.” While it may sounds snotty, it was delightful and dry; I was reminded that Ireland is know for the gift of the gab. We chatted with him for awhile before making our way to St. Stephen’s Green.

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What a wonderful park! Talk about the greenery of Ireland. Ponds, playgrounds, and picnics. Everything a proper park needs. Apparently, during the Easter Rising, the Irish Citizen Army took over St. Stephen’s Green, a key strategic point. However, each day during the fighting, there would be a ceasefire to allow James Kearney, the park’s gamekeeper, to feed the ducks.

I wandered around a little bit afterwards and found what I think is a Luigi themed Stag party. This made me immensely happy.

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Plus many pub signs had extremely clever booze related messages. A sampling:

That evening, we were going to fight against jet lag by going on a ghost walk. As regular readers of this blog know, this is standard fare for trips with my husband. Ghost walks are a fun way to get to know a city and hear some great stories. This walking tour did not disappoint. The best story was about the ghost of Jonathan Swift. He was the Deacon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and would regularly walk between the two cathedrals up a flight of stairs where beggars and prostitutes were known to ply their trade. He had pockets full of coins that he would give to people as he strode the stairs. After his death, beggars would find their cups with coins on them when no one came by. Those coins are attributed to Swift, making him the first philanthropic ghost I’ve heard of. (Well, a philanthropic ghost giving people things they want).

We ended the night with an attempt at some Irish music near our hotel. It was astonishing to see how many pubs and restaurants advertised Irish music. We walked in to some lovely fiddling tunes but as soon as we ordered a pint of cider, the music turned into US country music. Or covers of country songs. While I actually had a fondness for country, this was not quite what I was hoping for!

That’s all for now!

Boston 2017: Part 2

We began our second day of our trip adventuring in Rhode Island. After a good night’s sleep after the delightful dinner party, we awoke to the sounds of nature, bird calls and wind rustling through the trees. As a group, we decided to start the day with a visit to an annual local photography exhibition and then a hike through the woods. We’d have lunch at a nearby winery and then make our way back to Boston.

The local photography exhibition was held in the second floor of a public building in a local town. There were about 30 photographs; many focused on the theme of nature. Some of them were pretty good; one depicted stones and leaves, imprinted on a beach. One of the winning photos depicted a photograph to which one of our hosts noted that it was a little stereotypical given that we were in New England.

Our next stop was hiking in a nearby forest. The first part of the hike was perfect. The sun filtered through the explosion of green leaves; nearby ponds were bursting with life. Wooden planks shielded us from the wet path. We came to a large pond or lake with little nesting houses for local sea birds. It was nature at her best.


With the goodwill inspired by the first hike, we ventured off path into the grass to check out another part of the lake. Quickly the terrain became muddy and trickier to navigate. We did see some lovely birds and one or two snakes. But after about 10 minutes, we decided to turn back since the path became even thicker with mud. And then that’s when we noticed the ticks. Our friend had mentioned that it had been a boon year for them so we weren’t completely unaware of it. But it soon became a tickpocalypse. For the first time ever, I found two ticks on my pants, which we quickly dispensed of. Others in the part found a multitude more including a record of five off of my husband. Apparently, there are three independent factors for a healthy crop of ticks. First is a wet spring; the second, an explosion in population of mice (possibly dormice); and third, an increase in deer. Sadly, all three happened at once so it was tickapolooza.

We then decided to head off to the winery. We had been told by several people that the wine wasn’t the best but they had tasty food. But we soldiered on, keen to try it. I’d been to very few wineries so it seemed like a fun thing to do. When we got there, we were told that there was a wait for food. Half our party decided to go elsewhere. We decided to do a wine tasting while we waited. When we paid for our wine tasting, the cashier pointed out that my husband had a tick on his back. However, he was too busy killing a tick on the cuff of his shirt. He proceeded to find two more additional ticks during our time at the winery and a fifth when we got home and did a tick check.

The wine… it wasn’t the best, unfortunately. Each wine did have a neat associated graphic design that I appreciated. We did have a nice time chatting and enjoying the convivial atmosphere. We finally were seated and the food was rather tasty. I had some flatbread that included fig jam. Everything tastes better with fig jam.
We briefly stopped off at our host’s house to pack up and throw our hiking clothes in the dryer to get rid of any residual ticks. Then it was off back to Cambridge to return the car and then to Boston to meet our friends. We had dinner at an old fashioned Italian restaurant Marliave that was great. They had a wondrous selection of cocktails; I only wish we had time to linger there. We had an appointment for a ghost tour.

As any reader of this blog knows, we always try to go on a ghost tour no matter where we visit. This was no exception. We ran to the graveyard where the tour began and caught it just before it head off to its first stop. It was a delightful tour, focusing largely on the Boston Green. We heard tales of residual ghosts in a graveyard, a man whose burned remains were found in a toilet at an institution of learning, an accused witch hung from a tree. My favorite story was about a highwayman who decided to write the story of his life and give the book, bound in HIS OWN FLESH, to the man who caught him. It currently resides in the Boston Athenaeum. Next time we are in Boston we have to go this library (not just because of this but because the library is supposed to be lovely). We ended in the Omni Parker House that had a variety of stories of angry ghosts making life for visitors unpleasant. The best was a story of a mirror owned by Charles Dickens on the second floor. Naturally, when the tour dispersed, we made our way there to check it out. It was pretty neat.

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We ended the night at a gastropub with a healthy beer selection with our friends.

That’s all for now!

Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 1

Back in October, we took a trip to Philadelphia. I have been wanting to go ever since I had learned about the Barnes Foundation. I had seen The Art of the Steal several years before and was very intrigued. It was also on my list of museums I had to go to. Plus I had never been to Philadelphia before!

We got there late Thursday night. We took the train from the airport into the center of downtown and walked to our bed and breakfast near what was called the Italian market. It was about a mile long walk past beautiful older houses in quiet streets. We were surprised how quiet it was. Our bed and breakfast was very charming. You checked yourself in. Each room was themed. Ours was the Bohemian room filled with hunting pictures and a four poster bed. Once we checked in and threw down our stuff, we went out in search of food. It was late enough that many places had just closed. We ended up getting directed to a place that served food until 1 in the morning. It was a pub with a decent food selection that was playing the Cubs Dodgers game. It was fun to watch it through a mirror so everything was reversed! Afterwards, we wandered home and found lots of beautiful mosaics around the neighborhood. It seemed like a magical place!

The next morning, our first stop was the Barnes Foundation. I try to do the thing I want to do most first. Just in case.

When I walked into the very first room of the collection, tears sprang into my eyes. It was astonishing. They recreated the rooms in his house within the museum. Paintings from masters over time were hung together. It was crazy. It was beautiful. It was everything I wanted. The first room had these Matisse murals on top, a giant Cezanne of men playing cards, and a beautiful Seurat. The Cezanne painting would be my favorite of the collection. On all the walls,  there were metal pieces arranged around the paintings. What a charming effect.

It is clear that Barnes clearly favored Renoir and Cezanne to lesser extent. I had no idea that Renoir was so prolific; Barnes seemed to have so many! I’ve really liked Renoir before but the surplus of Renoir made me become very picky about which paintings I liked and disliked! Occasionally a Monet will pop up. A friend who had been there recently said to me, “It makes you think why this Monet is here.” Apt question! There were also paintings and iron pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They have a painting done in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.

Barnes collection is simply astonishing. It’s amazing how much he collected. More importantly, it’s rather fantastic art. It’s well worth a visit if you go.

However, my feelings changed about the motives for the museum.  When I saw the documentary, I had very mixed feelings. There was no question that greed fueled the motives to move the museum despite the will of the Albert Barnes who explicitly forbad that his collection be moved from his house in the suburbs. However, I felt that moving it to the center of Philadelphia meant that it could be visited by more people more easily. It’s suburban location required transportation, etc. However, upon going to the museum, the ticket price alone made me rethink that. $25 timed entry, $35 anytime entry. Even the Art Institute is less than that. So accessibility may be far more limited than I hoped. It’s still worth going but it’s worth noting.

We realized that we were next to the Free Library so we checked into the Special Collections. We got to see Grip, Charles Dicken’s pet Raven that may have been inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe! They had letters of Poe’s along with drawings by Beatrix Potter. We have to go back to go on the tour where they pull out items!

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Our next stop was Independence Hall. However, we had not realized that it was ticketed and had gotten there long after tickets had been given away. So we decided to get some food at the City Tavern, a tavern dedicated to food of the colonial era. That was well worth it! It’s a few blocks away. All the servers are wearing period outfits. I had Benjamin Franklin’s chicken dish with a glass of chardonnay. It was pretty tasty! They also had wonderful breads, also period recipes!

After lunch, we met up with a friend who lived in Philadelphia who gave us a lovely tour of the area. We got to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave, covered in pennies, and several other revolutionaries in a nearby graveyard.  We saw some of the less popular but equally interesting revolution buildings nearby. It was a wonderful tour!

Afterwards, we headed off to the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, just mere blocks from our B&B. I had spotted it on a Google map as I was figuring out how to get to the B&B. Simply put: this building is covered inside and outside with mosaics. It was the result of efforts by artist Isaiah Zagar who wanted to revitalize the neighborhood and protect it from proposed highway project. It’s truly a magical place! There’s so much to see inside and outside. Outside, there’s a multi-level garden area with lots of nooks and crannies. What a place to have an event! He also is responsible for all the mosaic walls we’d seen in the neighborhood!

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After a short rest at the hotel, we went to a local seafood place. We sat outside and met this lovely lady with her dog. My husband and the dog bounded throughout the meal. I had a delicious lobster while he had crab. Ah…fresh seafood. Nothing like it!

We ended the evening with a ghost tour that mostly took place in the historical district. We got to check out Washington Square, which like Lincoln Square, was built on top of a graveyard. Much more common than I had previously supposed! We also learned that there is a painting of Marie Antoinette (By Vigee de la Brun!) in the Congress building next to Independence Hall. At night, she is said to step out of the painting and wander around. Pretty awesome.

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That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 2

On our second day in Edinburgh, our first stop was the Edinburgh Castle. We got there close to opening time so we could avoid the potential crowds (There were stanchions and other signs of long queues in the square outside). They had free tours all day so we found ourselves a tour that gave a little overview of the castle for  45 minutes. We learned that the castle was never taken outright, only by surrender or trickery. We did learn that when Robert the Bruce recaptured it, he had it burned to prevent it from being taken by the Brits again. Apparently, this was a common theme with castles captured by Robert the Bruce in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

After the tour, we wandered into the magnificent hall that was covered in swords and other paraphernalia of war. The woodworking is magnificent. They did have docents who talked to us about some of the swords and other weapons in the hall. We got to lift a claymore! (So heavy). Then we wandered into the beautiful war memorial that records all the deaths over the centuries in various conflicts. In this church-like hall, there are many books with the names of the deceased listed by rank and regiment. A secular holy place.

Great Hall

We also got to see the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny. My husband was very disappointed that he couldn’t make off with the Stone of Destiny for the British Museum. That would have been awkward to say the least. There were several museums dedicated to various military regiments since the Castle is still used for military purposes including a barracks (I think). What a wonderful place!

After the castle, we decided to wander the Royal Mile and get some lunch. Afterwards, we decided to check out a free Harry Potter walking tour of the area. The first third of it had us wandering around the cemetery that we had wandered in the day before. We got to see where J.K. Rowling got many of her character’s names. We saw McGonagall’s resting place; apparently, he was a notoriously bad poet! Even more thrilling was the tomb of Tom Riddell! Very cool. We also got to see the street that allegedly inspired Diagon Alley. It’s a curvy road with brightly colored buildings on it. Very picturesque.

Diagon Alley?

After the tour, we ran over to the National Museum of Scotland before it closed. It’s a lovely building with a nice open atrium in the middle. We did a whirlwind tour of the place, checking out the T-rex bones and the Lewis Chess pieces. The chess pieces were a real treat for me since they are my favorite at the British Museum. I didn’t even know there were more pieces (though it seems obvious now!). It was neat to see that some parts of the museum collection were paired with thematically similar items rather than separating things by time or geography. I like seeing the connections between ideas in objects.

After our whirlwind tour, we decided to check out Lovecrumbs, a place our friend in Edinburgh recommended, for tea and cake. It’s a little cafe below from the castle and off the Grassmarket. On the way there, we passed a cat cafe and lots of used bookshops.  Edinburgh is my kind of place. This cafe was amazing. The place has all sorts of tables including  piano where you can sip your tea and work. I had violet tea and a tasty cake with neat flavor pairings. Sadly I don’t remember what cake I had but it was among the best cakes I’ve had in a long time.

For dinner that evening, we decided on a little place off the Royal Mile. I had goat cheese stuffed butternut squash, which was tasty. My husband’s dish included fried haggis balls that were simply out of this world.

Then it was time for another ghost tour. We had opted for the 10:20 tour because it was the latest tour…and we would check out the vaults. There are buildings coming off the hill that is the Royal Mile. We learned that these vaults were accidentally created when they built structures around them. The vaults were used for several businesses including a tannery and a tavern. But also all sorts of crime flourished here. And there are lots of reports of ghostly sightings and even possessions by tour guides and others.

The vaults are delightfully creepy. You have to descend several flights of stairs to get to them so you definitely feel cut off from the rest of the world. The lighting is fairly low and dark in some places. You can believe anything is possible here. But the best part of the tour? We were the last group so we got to blow out the candles. Whee! So thrilling!

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 1

After our wonderful wedding, we had a marvelous honeymoon in Scotland and London. As most would expect, our honeymoon was filled with castles, graveyards, ghost tours, and hiking. So over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about our travels around Scotland and our time in London.

We began our honeymoon in Edinburgh, flying through Heathrow. We got to Edinburgh in the mid-afternoon. It was amazingly easy to get into the city. We found a bus right outside the airport doors that cost about £4.5 per person and it took us to the center of the city. A short thirty minute ride later, we made our way to the hotel, which had a brilliant view of the castle. We threw down our stuff and ran up to the castle. When we got there, it was about five to 4 and the castle closes at 5. The staff recommended at least 2 hours there so we decided to go the first thing in the morning so we could see everything we wanted.

Castle at sunset

So we trotted down the Royal Mile, which is lovely but very touristy. We ended up in St. Giles Cathedral, which was gorgeous. It has beautiful stained glass, a series of battle worn flags, and more. While we were there, an organist started to play. Absolutely beautiful!

We took a side road to find the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog. He is said to have waited at his master’s grave for 14 years. There’s now a statue commemorating him. We found ourselves in a cemetery during the Golden hour. The sun hit the gravestones just so. Beautiful.

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We asked one of the shopkeepers about a place for some tea and a snack and discovered that we were in the area where J.K. Rowling had written Harry Potter in several coffee shops. He told us of one place nearby so naturally we went to a place known as the Elephant House. It was lovely. It had a dual theme of elephants, which readers know are one of my favorite animals, and Harry Potter. I went into the Lady’s room and found it covered in Harry Potter graffiti. Someone had written “Alohomora” on the lock! Very cool.  It was neat. A cup of tea and some tapenade was what we needed.

HP Graffiti

We decided to check out Mary King’s Close. Basically, there are lanes or paths leading off the Royal Mile called closes. Each one has a specific name. People lived and worked in them. Mary King’s Close got boxed in when they built a government building on it. Many of the lower levels (not leveled by the construction) have been preserved. You can take tours of the rooms and learn a little bit about the history. People of all classes would live in the close so we saw different styles of rooms. There are several places that were haunted. One particular room has a giant pile of toys, mostly stuffed animals, as a result of a psychic encountering a ghostly girl there. The pile itself was fairly creepy!

And there was an amazing story about a man who liked to show off his luxurious item: his toilet!

After our adventures in the underground warren of Edinburgh, we met up with a friend who had been living in Edinburgh for over a year. She brought us to some pretty nifty places. We had amazing cocktails at the Brambles, a bar that reminded me of the Violet Hour before it got too trendy. My husband had a drink with chartreuse in it and he said it was the first one that tasted good. I had my drink in a teacup! What a wonderful place.

And then, we went to a place so I could fulfill a dream I’ve had for 13 years. I finally had haggis. I had been wanting to try it since the summer before college. I remember driving home from a writing program in Iowa City and listening to Anthony Bourdain talk about it on an audio version of The Cook’s Tour. I remember him saying that if it wasn’t for the fact that it was served in a sheep’s stomach, it would be on every street corner in NYC. Our friend had the place to get top notch haggis and so we went.

The place was kinda like a comfort food place but for Scottish food. I ordered haggis with mash. And then it stood before me, my dream of 13 years. It was pretty good. It’s hearty and you really can’t tell it’s made from sheep innards. I liked it. I didn’t love it in the same way that Bourdain did but I’m really happy to have tried it. I would go onto have other versions of it in the coming days.

Our friend also shared with us some treats of Scotland, which was really awesome. She gave us a bottle of Irn-Bru, the national soda, tea cakes, and a tablet. Goodness, those tea cakes were amazing. They are basically marshmallow covered with chocolate on cookies. We ate them pretty quickly. I brought one box home and I’m sad that I didn’t buy more. The tablet is made from caramel and toffee (I think). Sweet and wonderful. As for the soda, not really our cup of tea. 🙂

Anyway, it was a super way to start off our honeymoon.

That’s all for now!

New Orleans: Part 2

After the Voodoo Museum visit (as outlined in Part 1), I decided to wander around the French Quarter before dinner. I loved walking through those tiny streets lined with balconies. And as always. the live music would emerge from every corner.

Before dinner and a testament to a balanced diet, I had my first praline. I had been to New Orleans many years ago, at least fifteen years. I remember two things: Bourbon Street and pralines. I chose a random shop, tried some samples, and chose a rum flavored praline. Quite tasty. If you like sweet, this is probably not the treat for you. It’s like a cookie made entirely of sugar; it’s sorta like solid caramel but I think it has a pecan base. I was quite pleased with this decision.

Dinner time finally came. We ended up at a little place on Royal Street. I was keen for fresh seafood, preferably not fried. I can’t really eat a lot of fried food without feeling ill. We ended up with a lovely peach and plum salad. It was light and airy. Not overly sweet. And then we each had gulf fish tacos. Sadly, it was not very good. The fish wasn’t very tasty and it had a lot of tiny sharp bones that proved a little daunting to eat. Oh well!

After dinner, we headed to a sponsored party at Antoine’s, a classic New Orleans restaurant. They are known for their fried oysters. When we got there, we went into a room and was immediately handed one of those legendary oysters. However, our greeters mentioned that “there were bankers all around the room.” I then realized we had accidentally crashed a party. I made our apologies and went to find our party. There, I finished my stolen oyster. It was fine but I’m not sure why you’d fry a perfectly good oyster!

Then it was time for the ghost tour. Readers of this blog know that I can’t resist a ghost tour. We ran several blocks to find the tour with Haunted History Tours since we were running a bit late. However, we caught it just as it began. Our guide was named Drew in a bowler hat (!), a vest, and a cane. This was most auspicious. For the next two hours, he lead us all over the French Quarter, telling us stories about New Orleans, its inhabitants and ghosts, of course. He was a great storyteller, making the city come alive for us. I highly recommend him.

Of course, the loudest screams came from a palmetto bug from another group…

Back of the Cathedral

When the tour was over, it was time for jazz! We went to Fritzel’s on Bourbon street since it was nearby and I didn’t want to deal with Preservation Hall lines. Fritzel’s was the only place our tour guide would recommend on Bourbon Street. He told us to go to Frenchmen Street (our next evening). And it was everything I wanted. The music was amazing. The instrumentation was a clarinet, banjo, double bass and drum set. It was fantastic. They played covers including “Hello Dolly” and “Ain’t She Sweet.” I was super happy about the last song since I had only heard recordings of it from the amazing Annette Hanshaw. The cover was 1 drink minimum per set, which was a little annoying since water cost $5. But it was well worth it!

Fritzel's

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our adventures in the great city of New Orleans! That’s all for now!

Washington DC in July: Part 4

On our final day of our trip, we spent the day in Alexandria, VA. We had several hours before the wedding so we decided to check out some of the historic sites.

We started off the day with a wonderful brunch on King Street. I had a seafood omelette which had lobster, shrimp, and crab with a wonderful glass of champagne and strawberries. The omelette was tasty though I ended up eating all the seafood and half the egg. And anything with champagne is wonderful.

Then we decided to check out the facts of the Female Stranger ghost story. So we decided to head out to the cemetery and see if she really was buried under the pseudonym. Well, this proved a little adventurous. The websites about the story said she is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery. Mere blocks from King Street is St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. However, when we walked there, we didn’t find any sign of a cemetery. So we decided to go to the Alexandria National Cemetery, which was a small jaunt away. When we got there, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We found a gamekeeper’s house, which had a sign encouraging guns (awkward). I called the hotel to see if they knew but they thought the Church nearby was the place. Then we saw signs for several named cemeteries including St. Paul’s.

When we found the lot, I looked for tabletop graves because the guide had mentioned that was what they used to memorialize her. With that, I quickly found it. And yes, she is buried under “Female Stranger.” So bizarre! I’ve seen many anonymous graves for “the Unknown Soldier” etc. but never for a person whose identity was known beforehand. Crazy. I’d believe she’d be around haunting people for that fact alone. Apparently, these tabletop graves were actually used for picnics back in the day.

Female StrangerTabletop Gravestone

Then we decided to check out Gadsby’s Tavern, which would close the entire story of the Female Stranger. We actually had a late lunch in the restaurant , where they tried to recreate the founding era of the tavern. All the waitstaff were wearing period costumes. It was quite nice. And the brie/apple french toast was really good.

The tour of the Tavern was not very long but it was neat to see all the various rooms. We learned that when you stayed at a tavern, you paid for a place to sleep, not a bed or your own room. People would share beds. No wonder travel was a pain. If you were wealthier, you might get your own bed in a separate room. We also saw the room where the Female Stranger died and supposedly haunts. And we got to see the ballroom where the annual Birthnight ball that George Washington attended a few times. Very neat. This is a facsimile since the Met has the original room (what is up with the Met having entire rooms!) Quite neat. Sadly, the building had a pipe burst in January so they are trying to repair damage from then.

Female Stranger's windowBirthnight Ballroom

That’s all for the trip!

Just a note for constant readers, I’m going to be scaling back each week on posts with all the madness in the upcoming months. So I’ll likely post at least once a week or more depending on the insanity of wedding planning. But I’ll still march on with my bowler hat!