The UK Trip: Day 10 in Amsterdam

For a dozen reasons, we didn’t want to leave Scotland. How can one look forward to a trip for more than a decade, finally experience it, and leave without crying? 

I cried at the airport. Full on. Cried. 

We drove 1,468 miles in England and Scotland, which doesn’t account for the miles we walked, nor taking the train back and forth to London. Needless to say, we felt accomplished and took advantage of every opporunity.

View of Scotland as we flew away: 

When we were booking our flights for this trip, it was inevitable that we’d have a layover in Amsterdam. Though I’d been to the Netherlands as a kid, Chuck had yet to put his feet on mainland European soil.

So, why not finagle a later flight, get one more stamp in the passport, and tour the city?  

We booked a hotel room next to the train station so everything would be walkable. This was our view: 

With only a couple of hours until sunset, we unloaded our luggage and took to the streets immediately.

Amsterdam was exactly as I remembered it – all bikes and canals. 

Sunset was coming, and we were perfectly positioned for a postcard moment:

These photos were taken with my phone since I didn’t want to haul the camera all night. Not bad for cell phone photos! 

Dinner was pizza on a patio: 

Killed it: 

Cheers to a memorable trip and to being each other’s favorite traveling buddy. 

The UK Trip: Day 9 in Inverness and Banff

By Day 9, we were acutely aware of how quickly time was passing us by. It was an impossibility to see everything on our respective lists, but we would sure as heck try.

Our Airbnb in Kirkhill was a sweet little one-bedroom house on the owners’ property in the country and perfectly situated to jump down to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle before heading east.  


Bits of Urquhart Castle date back to the 500s, but its heyday was in the 13th and 14th Centuries when it was a military stronghold. It was a garrison for the Jacobites and their supporters in the 1600s, but the place ultimately fell into ruin in 1715 and thereafter.

From every corner is a beautiful view of Loch Ness.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this photo was taken in East Tennessee: 

It was too cold to dip our toes into Loch Ness, but we got as close as we could.

Off we went to Inverness, which could easily pass for the Scottish version of Knoxville or Chattanooga. Give me Inverness over Edinburgh any day of the week. 

The River Ness was moving faster than I’d seen a river flow, particularly being that wide and shallow. We even asked the waitress at lunch about how fast it was flowing and she said it’s run faster before. If you jumped in, you’d be in the North Sea in minutes. 

We went to The Mustard Seed for Sunday lunch, which offered a solid meal and a stunning view of the river. Though our dinner at the Thomas Becket pub in Canterbury was our favorite, this lunch was a close second. 

You can’t tell by the photo, but Chuck was so happy with his meal that he wore a steady grin on his face the whole time. Even buttering this piece of bread was enjoyable. We really loved carbs on this trip. 

We hit the road for one last swing along the coastline to find a graveyard where a few of Chuck’s ancestors could potentially be buried. We drove through Cullen first.

Banff was home to the graveyard where we looked for Camerons. (Doesn’t everyone traipse through graveyards on their wedding anniversary trip?) 

We actually found two Camerons, but we weren’t sure if they’re related or not. We took photos to bring home to our family historian, Aunt Linda.  

After our graveyard stroll, we stopped in the town of Banff to eat ice cream and then promptly walk off the calories.

Because there were considerable calories. 

By now the sun was starting to set on our last night in Scotland. The sadness started to creep in, at least on my part. I knew leaving the next day was going to be hard. 

We stopped along the roadside for sunset photos because – again – it looked so much like East Tennessee.

Last post: Goodbye UK, Hello Amsterdam

The UK Trip: Day 6 in Northern England, Alnwick Castle, and Bamburgh Castle by the sea

The night in Horsley near Newcastle was a delight, and the Airbnb apartment where we stayed was in an old, Victorian converted barn which offered one of the most comfortable night’s sleep throughout the entire trip.

Our route for Day 6 took us along the eastern coast of Northumberland and eventually into Scotland. We had two nights in Edinburgh awaiting us, but we didn’t want to rush the drive. On my must-see list was Alnwick Castle, private home to the Duke of Northumberland and his family.

The countryside along the drive was nothing short of spectacular.

The approach to Alnwick was breathtaking. I cannot imagine living in an expansive estate such as this.

Guinea fowl! Chuck and I were excited to see these birds because we’d long wondered what guinea fowl actually looked like in person. (Thank you, Great British Baking Show, for making us care so deeply about identifying ground-nesting birds and other ingredients of a game pie.)

Alnwick Castle is home to the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the first years learned how to fly on their brooms. Tourists can enjoy the same experience. 

We didn’t learn to fly on brooms, but we did practice a little archery.

At every turn, Alnwick was a stunner.

This was the view from atop one of the battlements:

We couldn’t take photos inside the home – cause it’s someone’s HOUSE – but I did see with my OWN EYES the most beautiful library ever, home to 15,000 books. I snagged a photo from the internet, so I didn’t break any rules by sneaking a photo with my own camera. 


The library was used in a 2014 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, and yes, I squealed upon learning this detail. 

We took a quick walk through the little town on our way back to the car. (How many photos do I have of my husband from behind?)

We drove north to Bamburgh Castle at the suggestion of Becca and Luke, but by the time we arrived we could only explore the outside. We’d missed the time limit for entr. Boo.

I took this photo with my cell phone from inside the car on our approach to the castle grounds:

Nestled on the seaside, the castle is surrounded on one side by sandy dunes. It is utterly breathtaking! 

On the other side of the castle is the tiny town of Bamburgh. 

As the sun set, we got back in the car and concluded our time in England. I nursed a little sadness because it felt like time had flown by too quickly. Fortunately, we had four more days together in the UK, and it was finally time to explore Scotland. 

If you’re interested, click here to watch my Instastories from England

Up next: Edinburgh

The UK Trip: That one night in Newcastle

Of all the unpredictable details of our anniversary trip – the pleasant weather, the ease in which we navigated the roads, the picture-perfect half marathon despite my doubt – the best unexpected part of our trip was making fast friends with a couple from Newcastle at a pub near our Airbnb in Horsley. 

Our stay in Northumberland was brief since it was a one-night stop on our way to Scotland. Horsley, the tiny spot of a town west of Newcastle, offered a cozy spot to sleep and a pub – The Lion and Lamb – within walking distance. We were tired from our busy morning in Oxford and the Cotswolds, not to mention the near-five hour drive afterward. All we had in mind was a hot dinner and a few pints. We settled at a table and ordered. 

Across the tiny room was another couple and their little brown dog. (Note: I love that so many European restaurants let in well-behaved dogs.) Of course, I had to make eyes with the pup because I have no self-control. Aware of one another, we smiled and nodded to the humans. But really, I was eye-balling that dog. Eventually, I got up to pet him.

Thus began our conversation with Becca and Luke. The usual questions started – Where were we from? What were we doing in the area? Were we enjoying ourselves? Did you know you sound like Julia Roberts?

They were locals, so I returned as many questions as I could. What was worth seeing in the area? What’s it like living here? Why is Northumberland so perfect? 

Then they had an idea – what if they gave us a quick tour by car? Sure, it was dark, and yes, we were strangers, and of course, this sounds totally bizarre. But how about it? 

Hmmm. Let me think: 
– get in the car with strangers
– in a foreign country
– at nighttime
– have no plan whatsoever

Sure! We piled in Luke’s car – Ted the Spaniel jumped in Chuck’s lap, while Becca and I sat wedged in the back seat. Off we went to The Boathouse on the River Tyne.

Do you need a soundtrack for our night with strangers in Northumberland? Click here to hear the song Becca played for us: “Fog on the Tyne” 

Our night didn’t end at The Boathouse. Shall we go into Newcastle and visit another pub? OF COURSE WE SHALL. Come on, Ted.

I can’t remember the name of the third pub we visited, but there we met another group of locals who enjoyed Ted’s company as much as we did. 

Our conversations circled every topic imaginable, from what we all did for a living, a little of our histories, whether or not we were Trump supporters, whether or not they were Brexit supporters, and so on. At every turn, I found them more interesting, more enjoyable to be around, and I grew more thankful we said yes back at the Lion and Lamb.

At the close of the night, Luke and Becca took us for a quick walk by the riverside and it was there that we realized how similar Newcastle is to Knoxville. 

Totally unexpected but completely worth it, we will never forget our one night in Newcastle and the sweet people who made it memorable for us.

Becca and Luke, please come to East Tennessee so we can return the favor.

Up next: Alnwick Castle

The UK Trip: Day 3 at Hever Castle

We visited more than just Hever Castle on Day 3, but my affection for Queen Anne Boleyn warrants its own post on account of the number of photos I took at her childhood home. 

My interest in Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is primarily rooted in her impact on the English Reformation as a religious reformer and her insistence to qualify their daughter Elizabeth as an heir to the throne. (Spoiler: Elizabeth I made it to the throne.) 

Hever Castle was Anne’s childhood home, so it was a non-negotiable visit. Though Chuck had no prior knowledge about this place and has limited-to-no interest in the British Monarchy, he enjoyed touring Hever and said it was one of his favorite things we did while in the UK. 🙂 

The property as a whole is stunning, and I remain grateful we visited on a bright, clear day. Upon crossing the drawbridge (THE DRAWBRIDGE!!!) we entered a courtyard that showcased the manor’s architecture.  

Each room offers a delightful amount of access, unlike other castles that prohibit photography and keep a rope draped at the doorway. Some pieces of the home are replicas since the castle went into disrepair until a wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, purchased the property in the early 20th Century to restore and preserve it

I read as many placards as I could and studied the artifacts with great care. I’ve wanted to visit Hever Castle for more than a decade, and there I stood where the Boleyn family used to live. (Not that I have an affection for the entire family, mind you.)

Of course, Anne was wrongfully executed on the accusation of witchcraft and myriad other silly things. She was unable to produce a male heir (because women were totally in charge of that, you know) and she suffered a series of terrible miscarriages (again, the complete fault of the woman on account of her witchcraftiness). Oh the importance of modern medicine!

Whatever really happened back then, Anne Boleyn remains an important piece of the Protestant Reformation, as well as a crucial role in the validity and success of Elizabeth I.

This marriage tapestry represents the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, to King Louis. 

A few rooms of the manor reflected early 20th Century decor, as this was a private home for the Astor family. 

Interestingly, Winston Churchill was acquainted with the Astor family and often visited Hever to visit and paint. 

The grounds were beautifully manicured and beginning to burst with autumn color. Again, I was so thankful for the clear weather.

One of my favorite memories will always be feeding the ducks at Hever Castle. It was like that moment was crafted specifically for me. 

Like I said, Hever Castle wasn’t our only stop on Day 3, but it was an important one for me.

Up next: Mermaid Street in Rye, the White Cliffs of Dover, and dinner in Canterbury

The UK Trip: Days 1 and 2

I’ve already confessed to the number of photos I took throughout our 12-day trip. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed, but whew – I’m overwhelmed. On top of my regular tasks and assignments, I will attempt to edit a chunk each day and post them within a reasonable time. (This goes against the temptation to pull an all-nighter and get them edited in one fell swoop.) 

Day 1, October 5/6: Chuck and I flew out of our hometown, a decision that warranted a little more money but paid off when we realized that, upon landing, we’d be home in 15 minutes. Well worth it! The connecting flight between here and Heathrow was Atlanta, and since Corey happened to be flying home from a business trip at the same time we were dropping in, we met near our gate for a quick goodbye dinner.

The flight was uneventful, minus the fact that I slept exactly zero minutes. Already a fitful sleeper, the Valium I took only helped me not freak out during take-off, flying over the ocean, and landing. I might have dozed here and there, but I didn’t sleep. Chuck didn’t do much better, so we knew a nap was going to be necessary once we got to the hotel. We landed just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, so we grabbed our luggage and headed to the rental car park.

‘Cause yeah – we rented a car!

I’m here to tell you that Chuck had no problem driving on the opposite side of the car or on the opposite side of the road. Only two or three times throughout the whole trip did we have to re-circle a roundabout because we missed our exit. (“Look, kids! Parliament!”) We guessed on the road signs and used the GPS to get us where we needed to be. We drove everywhere except to London since the train was more efficient.

Our first three nights were spent in Kingston-Upon-Thames, a market town about 12 miles west of London, home to Hampton Court, plenty of shopping, and where I ran my 21st race. Before checking into our hotel, we went to packet pickup so I could get my bib and chip. The last thing I wanted was to get lost and miss out. My body can handle only so much anxiety at once.

I didn’t know you could live on a riverboat on the Thames, but alas, you can.

After our nap, we explored Kingston and grabbed a meal at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a UK chain, then perused a five-story shopping mall to stretch our legs. However, since I was going to run a half marathon the next morning, we grabbed a dessert to go and went back to the hotel to rest.

Day 2, October 7: I woke up the morning of our 18th wedding anniversary refreshed and ready to run. This is not normal for me, as I have consistently slept poorly the night before a race for more than a decade. Not sleeping on the plane combined with not sleeping the night before our trip meant I slept like a baby exactly when I needed to. 

Also, the weather was perfect, a detail I did not anticipate for a half marathon in England.

And then I saw a Packers fan across the square. Her name is Elle and she’s been a fan of American football for ten years. I was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to meet her and she was sweet to take a photo with an American stranger. 

I wasn’t worried about my running time because I knew I’d stop to take photos of Hampton Court, a favorite of Henry VIII’s. I was so pleased to see it was along the route.

Medal No. 21:

There was no rest for the weary because we had plans to tackle London on our anniversary. I showered and ate breakfast as quickly as I could, then we caught the train to Waterloo. 

Dobby was also going to Waterloo.

The primary thing I learned while in London is that I am indeed a country mouse. Much of London reminded me of New York City, a city I enjoy visiting but would never want to call home. Neither my brain nor my body is built for that level of chaos or that number of warm bodies. 

That being said, we enjoyed everything London had to offer in the single day we visited. The Tower was a must-see, but the rest I was happy to tour on foot as a passerby.

One interesting thing we learned was that the Beefeaters, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower, live on site. The Tower is its own little community where the Yeomen Warders and their families live and work. 

I was particularly interested to view this site, a marker for the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn (among others). Her remains are buried inside the church on site (Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, or “Peter in Chains”).

We passed on waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels because, from the looks of it, we could’ve stood in line for several hours. Neither of us wanted to waste that kind of time. (Not to mention that I’d just run a half marathon, so standing in line sounded like Torture in the Tower to me.)

So, off we went to explore more of London.

I love me some flower boxes.

We walked by Westminster Abbey, where both Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip and William and Kate were married, plus where dozens of royals are buried. 

I couldn’t get enough of the flower boxes. Give me all the flower boxes. 

Jennie’s kid, Winston: 

Lunch was at a gloriously packed pub with football (soccer) on every screen. Fish and chips with cider became a favorite meal.

We walked by Buckingham Palace, but the Queen wasn’t home. Presumably, she was prepping for her granddaughter Eugenie’s wedding, which was later in the week. 

We took a series of selfies at the palace and Chuck decided to make a crown of fingers for himself. He was being a good sport with all of my monarchy obsessions. God bless him and his good spirits! 

A walk past the National Gallery provided us a quick view of street art we knew our little vexillologist would love. Indeed, Jackson enjoyed this photo of every national flag in chalk. 

George was there, too.

The sun was setting soon and we had plans to watch the Packers-Lions game at the Hippodrome Casino, an NFL ticket hub for Americans and fans of American football. It isn’t the most romantic way to spend an anniversary, but we make our own rules. 

The game did not end the way we wanted it to, but there, in London, on a dream trip together, it really didn’t matter. We grabbed the train back to Kingston and collapsed into bed. October 8 would have plenty of adventure on its own.

Up next: Hever Castle

First photo dump from Key West

I didn’t take an abnormal amount of photos during our trip to Key West (who needs evidence, right?), but I brought my camera along when I knew the scenery would be worthwhile. We went sailing, visited two beaches, and strolled the Old Town each day and evening. Every part of the trip was wonderful, weather included.

We spent five days/four nights on the island with our dear friends – Lesli and Jimmy – who were also celebrating 16 years of marriage (our weddings were one week apart). We divided our time between hanging out together and doing couple things. One thing was consistent: We weren’t in a rush for anything. For parents and professionals, having no timeline was a dream.

Our home away from home, The Cabana Inn:

the-cabana-inn view-from-the-lobby

Our view from the third floor:

view-from-our-room pick-a-spot




We arrived in Key West shortly before the Tennessee-Texas A&M game. We caught the first quarter, then we unplugged.


This was the first night’s sunset from the patio outside our room. I took it as a good omen.


And this was our view on the first morning as we ate breakfast by the pool. Did I mention The Cabana is adults-only? As in no kids? Aside from the roosters, which are protected and even endearing after a while, the property was tranquil.



On to the second photo dump…

The Regional Assembly of Text

This is the last time I’ll mention our anniversary trip. I promise. 

I decided to make a singular post about the Regional Assembly of Text because this topic is definitely not interesting to everyone and I wanted to give folks the option to pass. If you have no interest in typography, design, illustration, books, typewriters, letterpress, creativity, or anything else cool like that, then you are free to move on. (See you tomorrow!)

But, if I’m speaking your love language, then KEEP READING.

There is a little shop on Main Street in Vancouver called the Regional Assembly of Text. It specializes in stationary, gifts, journals, typewriters and typewriter supplies, and everything else related to text. The owners, Brandy and Rebecca, design many of their own products, and if they sell someone else’s product, they make darn sure it’s unique and clever.

SignageA very special couple assembly logo Button maker My feelings for you TypewritersLowercase Reading Room Wonder Woman Handmade cardsI spent 45 minutes in the tiny shop looking over every single detail. Every book, card, stamp, and button was interesting to me. My sweet husband waited patiently because I could not be rushed. The young woman minding the front desk was super helpful and fun to chat with, particularly since she had a beautiful Irish accent. (I asked her permission to take these photos.)

If this store could float in Knoxville, I’d totally open one. Y’all know that’s a big statement because running a business involves math. Major props to the Lonely Planet guide for directing us towards this amazing store.

Viva Vegas

Taking a sharp turn in another direction, we left the serenity of the Pacific Northwest for the glowing lights and mirage of Las Vegas. Why Vegas? Why not?

ChampsIt was every bit as cheesy and fake as I’d imagined. But, we didn’t go there for beauty. We went to act like kids and enjoy a couple of days with Corey and Gwen, who met us there on the day of our actual anniversary. Vegas is better with friends!

FremontLuxor Paris Roulette Vegas at night Viva VegasI’m not sure I’d go back, to be honest. Although the room charge was $49 per night in our hotel, that number is hugely misleading when it comes to what you’ll actually spend in Las Vegas. They charge you for every little stinking thing. Fees here, fees there, three dollars for a bottle of water… Unless I had ten grand to blow – with no consequences – I don’t foresee going back. Regardless, I’m so thankful our friends were able to join us and make the end of our trip even more memorable.


Seattle by Seaplane

My husband is a simple man. He doesn’t need much to make him happy. Put him in the den with a pipe and a glass of sweet tea. Give him a good football game to watch. Cook him a roast. Let him sleep in.

But, if Chuck had the money and the means, he’d be flying one of these:Chuck's dreamHaving done much of the trip on the cheap already, we splurged a bit for a seaplane tour around Seattle. The SeaplaneWhat’s better than a view of Seattle from the Space Needle? A view of the Space Needle from above Seattle.

Space Needle from above Puget Sound Piers from the sky Univ of W Neighborhood from the sky Cityscape and Mt. RainierSeaplane selfie


We’d been on the road since Tuesday (the day the government shut down), and on Friday morning we left the coast and drove to Portland.

Side note: Have you seen Portlandia? It’s not a show for everyone. In fact, the first time I watched it, I didn’t laugh but instead sat with my mouth gaping open in confusion. What is this? By the second episode I was chuckling. By the third episode I’d put the show on a season pass. It’s funny, quirky, different. It’s a sketch comedy starring Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. They love Portland, so they make fun of it.

My favorite is the “Put a bird on it” sketch. Sure enough, in Portland, birds are on everything.

Anyway, our stay in Portland was short because we only put it on the itinerary for two reasons – to visit Powell’s Books and have dinner with our friends, Ashley and Andrew.

As a surprise bonus, our hotel room had the most perfect view of Mt. Hood.

View of Mt. Hood

Sunrise! Sunrise in PortlandPowells

A couple of things about Portland:

The hotel staff could not have been kinder. (I knew it would be a good stay when I noticed a canvas photograph of an Underwood typewriter hanging in the lobby. Good taste, Marriott!) Their kindness was overwhelmingly confirmed when Chuck made a casual remark to the buffet cook, Cynthia, about how good their hazelnut butter tasted. He asked her if it was available somewhere in town for purchase. She told him it was made for commercial use but that she’d be happy to give us a jar. Delighted by the gesture, we assumed she’d probably get busy and forget.

She didn’t. A little gift bag arrived at our room just as we were about to leave. Inside were two bottles of Voss water, a sweet note, and a delicious jar of fresh hazelnut butter.

Hazelnut butter

With hazelnut butter in hand, Powell’s Books was our final stop in Portland. If Hug Point is the backyard of heaven, then Powell’s Books is its library. The bookstore covers an entire city block and is home to nearly 70,000 square feet of new, used, and rare books. I wandered around in a time warp until I realized we needed to head to Seattle. If you have the chance to go, then go. (The rare books room is my favorite.)

Escape to British Columbia

To CanadaAfter a long day of traveling across four time zones, Chuck and I arrived at the Canada border on the day of the government shutdown. It was rainy, but we didn’t care. Our anniversary vacation was underway and despite Chuck’s impending furlough we were grateful anyway.

Vancouver is beautiful. Surrounded by water, trees, and altitude, the city is a haven for outdoorsmen. (It was the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.) We drove to Whistler, explored Shannon Falls, walked the perimeter of Stanley Park, and ate well at the Granville Public Market.  In addition to English, nearly everything was written in French and Mandarin. In one city, you could visit the entire world.

Fiers de vous servir Starbucks

Stanley Park

Red flag

Handmade cards

It did not rain


Siwash Rock

Aggressive seagulls



It was a sign

On furlough at Shannon Falls

On the way to Whistler

Sunset from Whistler

Drive from Whistler

Shannon Falls


The Best Trip There Ever Was

To begin, I love that on October 1, the day the government shut down, we went to Canada.

We had been planning our 13th anniversary trip for many months. After four years of botched anniversary trips (due to geographical separations, family emergencies, and the buying of a foreclosure), we decided to cash in every hotel and airline point Chuck had and make Lucky No. 13 worthwhile.

In nine days, we went to Vancouver, Whistler, Cannon Beach, Portland, Seattle, and Las Vegas. We enjoyed every single day, slept and ate well, had favorable weather 90 percent of the time, visited a few friends, and were confident that our kiddos were safe and sound with their grandmother.

Truly, it was the best trip we’ve ever had. I have nearly 1,000 photos to edit and I will not rush the process. On October 1, in spite of the Congressional circus, Nashville gave us a fine Tennessee orange sunrise farewell and the skies were clear for flying.
Sunrise on October 1BreakfastLeaving on a jet plane

While I intend to post photos in chronological order, I’ll share this one early, which was taken in front of the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas on our actual anniversary.  There are many, many photos to come, but right now I’m off to get my dog from the kennel. Son of a gun, I actually missed him.
October 7 in Las Vegas