Late last night I arrived back home after six wonderful days in North Carolina. I was apprehensive about this trip from the beginning – was it too self indulgent to go on a second major solo vacation this year, after my trip to Book Bonanza in Dallas in August, plus also having already been on two major family/couple vacations earlier in the year to Florida and Colorado? Was it selfish to insist on doing another thing that only benefited me and made life a lot trickier for everyone else in my family? And in the most recent months, was it worth risking my wavering mental health to go to a conference that could very well just end up making me feel worse about myself by not spending more time on this thing I supposedly love so much? Between just LIFE stuff, being so behind on Heartstring Annie, and now all the uncertainty with my liver and needing to completely upheave my entire lifestyle…the CONFERENCE aspect of this trip felt overwhelming. But I couldn’t exactly back out of it at that point, so I decided to trust that I made the right decision way back last spring when I told Greg that I needed to make this investment in myself. And honestly? I think this might have been one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I don’t regret a minute of it.
I’d like to write more about what I learned at the conference after I’ve had a few more days to collect my thoughts and process all of the encouragement and new ideas I was given. Tonight I’ll just tell you a little bit about the trip itself!
I had a pretty early flight on Thursday morning – but out of Madison! I never fly out of Madison! So the boys slept over at Grandma’s and Greg dropped me off at the airport bright and early. Well, technically it was still dark, so not bright. And the roads to Madison were sheer ice after yet another snowstorm the day before. WHY is it snowing so much and already so cold in early November?! Anyway, I made my way to Charlotte without any issues until I picked my rental “car” that was supposed to be in the same class/size as the cars I own and am used to driving. I was instead given a Jeep Compass. Which I guess compared to other vehicles, is really not THAT big. But it was a whole lot bigger than what I’m used to driving. Plus, MY car is 17 years old. I am so not used to driving newer vehicles with all their bells and whistles. It was a pretty stressful start, especially because I could not for the life of me figure out how to connect the GPS from my phone to the vehicle, or find any kind of navigation system on the vehicle alone. Trying to drive a huge vehicle in heavy traffic while also holding my oversized phone in one hand in a city I’ve never been to before – it was rough. My phone wasn’t even verbally giving me any of the directions and at one point when getting on a highway it fell under the seat! Fun times, you guys.
Alas, I made it to my first destination! Superica – the restaurant owned by the author of Tex Mex, my all time favorite cookbook that came out earlier this year. I realized after eating there that I should have asked how they pronounce the name of the place. All this time I’ve been calling it in my head “super-ICA,” and realized later it’s probably supposed to be more like “soup-erica”, like “America.” It just seems like I should maybe know how to properly pronounce the name of the restaurant I was most excited about eating at! Anyway, the place was huge and really fun! They gave me a ton of chips with two salsas – the smoky verde was delicious. (I believe the recipe is in the cookbook!) I ordered a combo from the lunch menu of chicken tortilla soup and chicken suiza enchilada. Oh, and the seasonal aqua fresca – pineapple/banana/mango/ginger. It was a ton of food! But very delicious.
I had a long list of unique shops and areas that I wanted to hit up on the trip. But after the stress of just getting from the airport to the first restaurant, I knew very quickly I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself. So I looked up the one place that sounded most intriguing – a gift store called Paper Skyscraper – and realized it was only a few blocks away, so I put more money in the meter and booked it over there. The store was so amazing! One of the best gift shops I’ve ever been to. I purchased a rainbow heart mug (based off of a graffiti mural of the same thing that I didn’t find out about until days later and was SO ANNOYED to learn was actually just on the other side of the block from Superica!), a really cute Christmas mug, and a Christmas in Carolina candle. All of which were added to the very large box of things I bought on the trip and shipped back home to myself and will hopefully arrive in one piece!! I probably could have stayed for hours in that store, but I didn’t give myself a ton of time (ran out of change! forgot how slow I walk!) and needed to get back.
My next stop was my hotel where I was thankfully able to check in an hour early and take a short nap. I had planned on getting a quick dinner or coffee before the conference started at six, but chose the extra time to rest instead. Then I headed out to register and find my seat at the conference! The whole thing took place at a large church and there were 450 attendees, though it honestly didn’t feel like that many. We jumped right in with a short performance by Arielle Estoria and then our first session on the six writing stages Hope*Writers has come up with. It was a great start to my learning!
Afterward I was pretty keyed up – and hungry – so I found a Cava. I love Cava so much. I get it every time I go to DC. I wish they’d come to the midwest! I just get a pita with harissa, chicken, diced cucumber, and lemon dill tahini, but it’s just so dang good. I haven’t been able to replicate it at home with the same quality. It was a great treat after the long day. I also stopped at a grocery store before driving back to the hotel in the pitch black pouring rain (that was fun). I LOVE hitting up grocery stores when I visit new areas of the country. Normally I’m on the lookout for unique flavors of chips and cool snacks, though now I’m mostly interested in local products and coffee.
Friday was a full conference day. It was a bit overwhelming, but so awesome.
At the lunch break I went to a place called Emmet’s Social Table, one of the founder’s favorite restaurants. It was cute, but I was hit with my new constant predicament of what can I eat? All this liver stuff I have going on right now is very confusing. I have a general idea of what I should be avoiding, but I’m not so clear on what exact substitutions I should be making. Normally eating out is my favorite part of every vacation, but was really just a huge source of stress this time around. My meals were sporadic and not the most enjoyable. I figured at this lunch I could have a “splurge meal” and immediately regretted the decision. It was my first time (okay, so I did have a pita the night before) in weeks eating white bread and potatoes and fried items. It was all good, but also just made me feel like crap. And made me really, really wish I liked salads. I was trying to make BETTER choices at every place I went, but choosing the BEST options was never really on the table for me (yet). It’s too depressing.
The afternoon portion of the conference was really great as well, but I was so tired and just overloaded with information by the end. There was an optional/encouraged night out at The Nester’s barn with food trucks and a bonfire and fellowship with other hope writers. But it was also a 45 minute drive each way, in the country, in the dark. I wasn’t comfortable yet with my Jeep, was not super interested in having more awkward conversations with strangers no matter how nice they might be, and just needed to rest my brain for a bit. So I didn’t go to that part and really don’t have any regrets. Before going back to the hotel, though, I stopped at a place called Viva Chicken and had a Peruvian Tacu Bowl. The photo is before I loaded it up with an amazing spicy sauce. It was very tasty. (But I shouldn’t have been eating the rice.)
Three food photos in a row! That’s really all I took pictures of on the trip… Saturday morning I was back at the conference for the final day. I went to a place called Sabor Latin Street Grill for lunch and had two chicken authentic tacos with chips and a bunch of salsas from their salsa bar. It was my cheapest and simplest meal, but it was really delicious.
I forgot to mention that on Friday night I made the leap and JOINED Hope*Writers. The conference was open to anyone, but the majority of attendees were actually already hope writers. I am proud to say I am now one too! I’ll have opportunities to learn every week with fresh teachings, plus access to all the archives. I can also connect in smaller hope circles with other members to spur each other on and achieve our goals together. I haven’t had a chance to do much besides just sign up yet, but it’s one of my top priorities in the next few weeks. Another investment in myself that I hope will also be the right decision.
The conference ended around three and then I booked it out of there because I had to get to my next hotel in Wrightsville Beach, almost four hours away. I was really hoping to get there by sunset – just to drive in the light and also see the beach before it got dark. Unfortunately, the sun sets really early! I didn’t make it. And then I was very confused by my hotel and couldn’t figure out how to get to the beach. And I was irritated by all the bored valet drivers that kept watching me whenever I went in and out of the building. The parking lot was also quite confusing and I didn’t want to leave again worried I wouldn’t have a spot when I got back, even though I also really wanted some dinner after only having that one meal the entire day. (Breakfasts – too much work!) I spent a ridiculously long amount of time trying to figure out how and where I could order food, but nothing was really sounding good. Well, real problem – everything was loaded with carbs and/or fried. So I decided to just go out and walk, despite how dark and terrifying it was, until I finally came across a tiny ice cream shop and decided to just have a chocolate peanut butter malt for dinner and call it a day. I was kind of a wreck by that point. Despite being on this trip by myself and technically having a lot of time in the evenings, I only got about five hours of sleep each night I was there, no naps other than the first day, and so much stressful time driving. Plus the mental exertion of learning so many new things! I was just at my breaking point by Saturday night.
Sunday was my one totally free and open day. I took my time getting ready in the morning and then finally found the beach! I got my workout in, squatting in the sand for an hour picking up the prettiest shell fragments. It was really fun! The weather was about as perfect as it could be too. Fallish temperatures (45-65) and lots of sunlight. All the natives kept apologizing for the cold weather when they found out I wasn’t from around there. I just laughed every time.
I wanted to spend my day finding cool shopping areas – it felt more feasible than in the busier Charlotte areas. I ended up parking in Wilmington and walking all around the downtown area. There were a couple of buildings that had multiple shops inside of them, which was fun. I finally found my first local coffee shop – after four days! I didn’t really like it, but felt obligated to drink it. I believe the only thing I bought in that area of town was another North Carolina scented candle. I smelled every single one of the shop’s about one hundred scents and liked the very last one the most. Again – hope it gets back to me in one piece tomorrow!
My boring lunch at Front Street Grill before rushing back to my car right when my time ran out. I mostly just ate the chicken salad plain and the bowl of fruit. That was a depressing meal when the rest of the menu items that I would have picked out at any other occasion before my liver stuff came up, sounded SO much more delicious.
I spent the next portion of my day hitting up my favorites – TJMaxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods. You better believe I find those branches of stores in every single city I visit on every vacation I ever take! You never know what you’re going to find! It’s such a treasure hunt! I don’t even feel dumb about it (I did last year in Minnesota when I probably visited at least 20 versions of the same store because literally every single city has all three of the branches). They’re my favorite place to dig around and I’m not going to apologize for it anymore. I also went to a bookstore and another grocery store. I finished my night having dinner at a place called Flamin’ Amy’s Burritos. It was a rush menu decision at the counter so I picked a Jerk Chicken burrito and didn’t take a picture because how boring is a picture of a burrito? I don’t even like burritos. I don’t like flour tortillas. So it was another disappointment. I just ate the filling with some chips. I was pretty fed up with eating in general at this point. I did have some snacks with me, but no matter how good those snacks seem when packing for a trip, they fall VERY flat when it’s the only thing you’re filling yourself up with.
I stayed up really late back at the hotel on Sunday night. I shouldn’t have, but I was still having a hard time shutting my brain down and needed to force myself to just chill out. I also set my alarm so I wouldn’t miss the sunrise on the beach – since I had missed both sunsets. I actually got to the beach about an hour before it officially rose and took about a million photos, but cell phones just don’t really do it justice. I was the only one on the entire span of beach that I could see, and it was a really beneficial time for me. I wish I had an outdoor space like that around home where I could watch a sunrise or sunset. I’m generally not a beach person because I hate being hot and in the sun. But at this time of year, it was incredible.
After making one more stop at Marshall’s and a local fresh/healthy foods only grocery store, I began my long trip back to Charlotte. I wasn’t in the mood to keep hunting around for new things to do, so I chose a large antique mall near the airport and spent about two hours just wandering around. During that time I was getting texts about every five minutes saying my flight was delayed another half hour. My flight was already later than I would have liked, so this wasn’t helping! By the time I left the antique mall, however, it was suddenly back on time! I didn’t know airlines could go back and forth like that. But it was a relief!
I wanted to get some food before I got to the airport – it was already 3:30 at that point and I hadn’t eaten at all. So I picked something close by – a Caribbean restaurant with a ton of great google reviews. I ordered the jerk chicken. Let me just ask – does that look like chicken to you?? The third piece in the background was definitely a leg. But the two pieces in front? The shape of them – those were bones. What kind of CHICKEN has bones like that?! There was also a goat curry on the menu, and I think they maybe gave me that. Which kind of makes me want to cry. Sorry, I do NOT want to eat a sweet cute goat. There was hardly any meat on any of the pieces – it was just skin and bones. The SAUCE was delicious. But it was a pretty disappointing meal.
The rest of my night was very uneventful! I got to the airport about four hours before my flight because I was so tired and needed to just be done. I spent most of that time walking around every terminal because I was so tired and didn’t know how else to stay awake. I got a Starbucks coffee and it gave me a stomachache. I read a whole (short) book. And then we finally took off, flew across country with no issues, and landed to fresh snow and ice and 7 degree temperatures. Oh, Wisconsin.
And that was my trip! I feel like I should go back and re-title this post to “All the food I couldn’t eat in North Carolina.” Sorry about that. I know nobody likes to hear about food restrictions and limitations. It’s just so high on my mind right now, with my liver biopsy happening TOMORROW. For that reason alone, it was not a good time to go on a trip. But I’m so glad I went and I really had the most fantastic time. I will write more about the depth of things I learned (and not just what I ate and where I shopped!) at another time!