Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Travel”

Travel Tuesday: Portsmouth, NH

Over the long Labor Day weekend, Q and I escaped a few hours north to Portsmouth, NH for the weekend to relax a bit and enjoy some time away from the routine of life. We took the Friday of the long weekend off and headed up to Portsmouth on Thursday night after work. We decided to stay in the city proper so that we could walk to restaurants and not have to worry about parking.

After sleeping in Friday, we headed up the road a bit to Kittery, Maine to do some outlet shopping, mostly for Q. There were some good deals to be had since it was the long weekend and both of us scored a few good ones, though most of the buying was done by Q who was in desperate need of clothes ( why do men wait until shirts are threadbare to go shopping?). It was so nice to be out and about since the weather was perfect- it was the first time in weeks that it wasn’t hot and humid, so we were quite happy to walk around. We found a fantastic BBQ spot- Ore Nell’s BBQ– on our way back to Portsmouth on local roads instead of the highway, which was already congested with long weekend travelers.

The view from our picnic table at Ore Nell’s BBQ

After a little afternoon nap, we strolled the streets and shops of downtown Portsmouth, had some coffee, and then an early dinner at a delicious seafood place, Surf. I had the Fisherman’s Stew which was so much food. Q had a huge seared tuna steak (the only seafood he eats) and we enjoyed a gorgeous view on the water.

Saturday we started with a seriously out of this world breakfast at Friendly Toast, and then ventured off to explore The Great Bay Wildlife Refuge, which was about half hour from Portsmouth. I’m glad we went early as there weren’t a ton of bugs yet and other than some photography folks, there was no one there. A lot of people do a harbor boat cruise or visit the Isle of Shoals, but I get seasick pretty easily, so didn’t want to ruin the weekend being queasy for a day.

Even though we were “on vacation,” our Saturday still included a stop at Target! Q has had a shoulder injury for a few weeks now (thankfully, he’s on the other side of it) and his shoulder had been bothering him the night before, so we stopped at Target for some one-time use ice packs to get him through the weekend.

One of the highlights of the trip was our tour and tasting at Smutty Nose Brewing. There are a lot of options for breweries in the coastal New Hampshire/Maine region. We chose Smutty Nose not just for its close location, but neither of us were that familiar with the beer and weren’t sure if we’d ever had it before, so we were excited to try some flavors. The tour was good and the beer was even better! Highly recommend their pumpkin ale that’s coming out right now which may be the first time I’ve ever liked a pumpkin-flavored beer.

After beer, we napped, walked some more, and then had coffees while people watching in Market Square. We had dinner at Poco’s Cantina where I are their out of this world smothered vegetarian nachos. While this was delicious, it was also A LOT of cheese and nachos and I spent the rest of the evening definitely questioning my life decision.

Sunday morning after a quick bite at the hotel, we headed home fairly early. Early on in our relationship, we both realized that one of the keys to successful travel together was making sure we had a cushion between coming home and going back to work. We like having the time to do laundry, grocery shop, and get back to the swing of things before work starts, so we try to do long weekends where we get the actual holiday day off to be home. It’s my favorite adulting/vacation life hack to pass long!

Also, these three photos are the only ones I took the entire weekend- we were having such a good time, I barely touched my phone!

Travel Tuesday: Utah

Utah isn’t probably a place high on many people’s travel to-do lists, but it should be! It’s one of the most interesting places, both with its Mormon culture and its amazing geography and natural wonders. My aunt lived there over 20 years ago and now has made it her home again. Q had never been to to the state, and it had been so many years since I was last there, that we were both anxious to visit. We also both desperately needed a vacation!

We were in Utah for a week and packed it full of time with family and exploring. We spent a few days down in Moab to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park. The weather was absolute perfection. I kept saying to Q as we were driving around that nothing was familiar to me, but seeing as the last time I was there I was about 14, my perspective of everything was from the backseat of the car. I also realized that we always visited in July ( with one Christmas visit one year) when it was blazing hot so I likely opted to stay in the air conditioned car instead of hiking around.

 Arches National Park

2 relaxed, happy vacationers (minus Q’s sunburned arm)

at Canyonlands National Park.

This photo is the best because my aunt took it. 

Q had only two goals with this vacation- to consume as much Jamba Juice and In & Out Burger as possible. He had Jamba Juice every day ( a few days twice!) and we did In & Out 3 times. He was  a happy camper.

This is Jamba Juice visit #1

We encountered some closed shops and roads in the mountain areas where there is still snow and threats of avalanche. Park City is busiest in the winter and then picks up again in the summer, so there were several shops and museums closed for “spring break cleaning” since it was the last week of April. It didn’t dampen our spirits though- it was lovely to be out and walking around in the sun.

Two highlights of the trip ( other than spending much needed time with family): Hole in the Rock in Moab and Gilgal Gardens in Salt Lake City. The first is a totally wacky roadside stop and essentially historic home that is built into the giant rock. You cannot take photos inside, but it was quirky and weird in a way that I love– it had everything from amateur taxidermy that was truly creepy to fascinating stories about the couple who used dynamite to carve out their home and diner in the base of this rock. Gilgal is a hidden sculpture garden in a residential neighborhood of SLC that was quiet and quirky.

The view from my aunt’s porch 


Gilgal Garden

Great Salt Lake

Weekend in Vermont

Q and I desperately needed some time away. After a tough summer, we decided just after Labor Day weekend to go away for the long weekend in October. We chose Southern Vermont because it wouldn’t be too long of a drive and would be a nice change of scenery. Honestly, I wanted so badly to get out of our rut, I would have taken a night away at a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere.

We stayed in Brattleboro, Vermont– it’s just under a 3 hour drive from our house and we both had been there in our younger years and liked the place. It also was well-situated for short car rides to other spots that had things to do too. Downtown Brattleboro is a small New England city, but has some great food and beer spots, and a very active arts scene. Since it was the long weekend, there were a lot of people around and all the restaurants were packed.

Our weekend was spent, as most vacations are, eating and drinking. We really enjoyed the Whetstone Station Brewery, Saxon River Distillery, and Grafton Village Cheese Company. We stayed at the Latchis Hotel, which is right in downtown Brattleboro, which made it great for walking around and going to various spots without either of us worrying about how much we were drinking ( which, isn’t a lot anyway, but always nice to not have to think about driving and how many beers one of us can have). It rained most of the time, which happened when we went to Maine a few years ago on Columbus Day weekend too, so at least we’re consistent! We ended up driving into New Hampshire on the rainy day to see Keene, which is near where I went to college, so it was a nice little trip down memory lane for me. We ended up at one of my favorite bookstores, Toadstool Books, which I spent many hours in over my 4 years of college.


The foliage was just short of peak, so lots of muted colors and the cloudy skies made them seem a bit more gloomy than usual. Overall, we had a lovely weekend and it was a good reminder that we need to make more of an effort to break up our routines and get more fun into life!

Clearly we are not amazing picture-takers, as our selfies were all ridiculous looking from our height difference & those pesky power lines!


Recently: Museums

Even though I work in a museum, I don’t tend to get out to them very often– often because it’s difficult to shut the work brain off, even when in another museum space. I’m always looking at labels, how things are hung, lighting. Even though I write labels for a living, I almost never read them. I hate going on organized tours. When we went to California, we didn’t go to any museums at all ( partly because I’ve seen them all a few times over the years and partly because we had other priorities). So it’s quite funny that in the last 2 weeks, I’ve been to 3 different museums (2 work trips, one personal), all lovely, inspiring, and highly recommended.

Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA


A new museum for me, this museum has a diverse collection and a beautiful building, redone in the past few years. This was a field trip with our tour guides and I tagged along. I especially enjoyed an aboriginal art exhibit that had both historic and contemporary pieces.

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Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT


I visited this museum a few years back as part of a friend’s 30th birthday celebration when she wanted to paint on the grounds by the river for the “Make a Painting Sundays”. This trip was for work and was part inspiration visit for our next year’s exhibit. It was a gorgeous day and it was great to walk the grounds and have lunch outside. At my last visit, we didn’t go into the museum or historic house that once housed an art colony at the turn of the 20th century, so I really enjoyed this part, particularly since Impressionism is one of my favorite periods of art. The dining room of the house is definitely one of my favorite historic rooms that I have seen, featuring painted panels done by the various artists who stayed there over the years.



RISD Museum, Providence, RI

I visit the RISD Museum once or twice a year, often to see their special exhibitions or to attend a lecture or program. They are a world-class art museum in a small city and I always enjoy my visits there, whether for personal or professional reasons. This visit was with my Mom to see the Todd Oldham fashion exhibit that is currently up. If you’re anywhere in the Northeast region or even planning a visit to the area, I highly recommend the show. It’s glitzy and splashy, but also has a great personal view on the fashion and production because Todd Oldham was personally involved in the exhibit design and choosing each piece for the show.



Finally, Vacation

A few weeks ago, Q and I hightailed it over to San Francisco to visit my aunt and grandmother, but more importantly, to get some much needed time away from work and the routine of life. I’ve been to the Bay Area several times in the years my aunt has lived there, but this was Q’s first time to the area, so we did a mix of tourist stuff and general vacation relaxing.


The weather was fantastic, the food was delicious, and the company amazing. Q, by his own admission, is not a great traveler, but had a great time, even despite traffic and some crowds.

And, after a failed attempt a few years ago, I was able to meet up with the lovely San! Love when I can finally meet in person someone I’ve ‘known’ online all these years.


Overall, it was a treat to get away and spend time with family and as a couple. Mostly, it was good to be away from our routines of life and work, giving us some much needed relaxation and perspective on life.


Muir Woods

Honor Flights

On Wednesday, May 25th, I witnessed  amazing kindness and beauty in the Baltimore airport.

I traveled through Baltimore last week on my way to Cleveland for a Costume Society of America conference. As I departed from my plane and into the Southwest terminal, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that in ten minutes, an Honor Flight of veterans would be arriving at a nearby gate. There was an invitation to stand near the gate to welcome and honor the veterans as they came into the terminal. There was to be about 75 or so vets from Vietnam, Korean War, and one veteran from World War II. I found my way to the gate for my next flight and saw it was next to the arriving Honor Flight gate.

Have you heard about Honor Flights? I have a vague recollection of seeing a news report about this program, where volunteers come together to bring veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials of their respective wars. It’s a way to not only celebrate their service and sacrifice, but also to bring some closure to the many vets who still struggle with the hardships of going through a war.


This particular Honor Flight was from Central Missouri. At the gate, about a dozen active military stood at attention lining the aisle from the gate door. There was an Honor Flight Ground Volunteer passing out American flags to random people sitting in the gate area, and slowly people started to stand around and wait for the flight to empty out. There was an announcement that the non-veteran fliers would deplane first. As the crowd grew, people stopped to ask what was going on, though it was clear from the military that people knew it was something.

When the vets started coming off the plane, people took out their cellphones and took photos and videos ( of course, I never remember that I can do this now with a smartphone so no documentation from me, though I like to think I remember it better because I was fully in the moment observing it). They all wore Honor Flight t-shirts with the name of the war they served in on them, many with hats too. Every single vet shook the hand of every military personnel in uniform, both thanking each other for their service. They were mostly men, some in wheelchairs and using walkers, many helped along by the Honor Flight volunteers who accompany the trip. The group of people clapping was over 100 and extended beyond the gate area, down the terminal to where the Honor Flight group gathered after. There was a group of Boy Scouts and young students who gave them all high 5s. I think it’s fantastic of Southwest that they made sure these heroes were given an amazing welcome to their stay in the DC Area.

Many of the vets were overcome by the support and had tears in their eyes. It was truly one of the most amazing things I have witnessed. In a place like an airport terminal where people are so determined and focused on themselves, the time, and getting to where they need to be, hundreds of people stopped in their tracks to honor these men. It was truly a reminder of the greatness that can exist in the world.

The Honor Flight Network relies on donations to make these flights and trips possible, and after witnessing the program in person, I know I’ll be adding them to my annual donation list.




Weekend in Maine

Q & I took a much needed weekend away over the Columbus Day holiday weekend. In fact, it was the first time in our 2.5 years together that we’d gone away just the two of us. Long overdue indeed!

With a somewhat tight budget for our getaway, we scrapped our initial plans for Colorado and went to Maine– same idea for outdoor activities, quiet place, but a lot closer. We originally were thinking of heading to Acadia National Park, but it’s about a 5ish hour drive from our home and neither of us was feeling like doing all that driving, so we settled for Boothbay Harbor, Maine. It was just over 3 hours from home, so it felt enough like a getaway and close enough that we weren’t both cranky in the car.

We both took Friday off from work to make it a relaxing four day weekend ( shouldn’t they all be that anyway!?!). We originally were booked for three nights at our hotel, but about a week ago we decided to come home on Sunday so that we could skip some of the holiday traffic and feel more relaxed at home on Monday before the work  week, instead of frantic. Best decision ever.

Since we are now a one- car family since Q has a work truck,  my little Hyundai with 164,000 miles on it wasn’t something we wanted to be traveling in, so we borrowed my Mom’s car and left the area late morning. It started raining once we hit the NH border and didn’t stop until late Friday night in Maine. Between the drive and the rain, we were fairly tired by the time we reached Boothbay.

We stayed at the Beach Cove Waterfront Inn, which was a quiet spot away from the busy harbor and had a comfy room that was recently renovated. Friday night we ate at McSeagull’s, where I would have, unbeknownst to me, my only seafood of the weekend.

It turns out that Boothbay is like so many New England seaside tourist communities– they essentially shut down in the winter. While I expected that, I didn’t expect that a lot of the businesses wouldn’t wait until the end of the Columbus Day weekend to close. We came across more than a few spots that had already shuttered their doors for the season. It’s a good thing we didn’t end up staying an additional day, or we might have been eating crackers in the hotel room Sunday night!

That aside, we had a truly wonderful and relaxing weekend. Even though it was quite chilly on Saturday, the sun was out and we were anxious to spend time outside. We walked the many trails and paths at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and visited the Fall Foliage Festival at the Boothbay Railway Village. We tried some great new beers at the Boothbay Craft Brewery and Q had one of his favorite corn beef hash breakfasts ever at the Wave Cafe.

Even though we’re on a tight budget, we’re committed to getting out of routines and house a bit more because we had so much fun and laughed the whole time, even when one of the restaurants told us they were out of almost everything on the menu since it was their last night open for the year. The biggest takeaway from our weekend away was that we have to make getting away together more of a priority.

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View from our room at Beach Cove Waterfront Inn

Wanderlust: Iceland

I can’t say that I’ve never been to Iceland because on my 2013 adventure to The Netherlands, we stopped over in Reykjavik for all of two hours, each way. Both ways it was gray and raining, but the airport was lovely ( minus the $20 spent on a croissant and Icelandic yogurt).

I can’t remember when I first learned of the amazing beauty and offerings in Iceland, but I know that by the time I met my sister-in-law in 2011 or so ( who has traveled to Iceland a few times), Iceland was in my top ten places to see around the world. On Q and I’s first date, it was one of the places we also both had in common for wanting to travel to someday.

Iceland has amazing waterfalls, glaciers, mountain ranges, and hot springs. And also makes the list for one of the world’s places with the most happy people. The food and nightlife in Reykjavik are supposed to be awesome. It’s described as a ‘Nordic Nirvana’ and it’s hard to choose all the things I’d want to do when there.




Turf-roof houses


Hot spring at Leirhnjúkur




 Probably one of the most famous things in Iceland, The Blue Lagoon

Images via wikicommons

Wanderlust: Azores

After all my travel in a short period of time these past few weeks, I’m surprised that I’m already thinking about my next trip ( Maine in October!). As much of a hassle as preparing for a trip can often be, I have a crazy sense of wanderlust and there is so much of the world I want to explore, but there are many places that are on my top ten list.

The Azores is a place I want to visit not only because it’s the ancestral home for my father’s side of the family, but also because it’s a gorgeous oasis that is a relatively short four-hour plane ride from Massachusetts.




images via WikiCommons

The nine islands of the Azores offer history, amazing food, culture, and unbelievable natural settings including some glorious black sand beaches from its volcanic mountains. Between fishing villages, hikes, and acres of the gorgeous blue hydrangeas I love so much, I know a trip to the Azores will be amazing. I’m not sure when we’ll get there, but I cannot wait to discover the islands where my great grandparents once called home.


Image found here


Free Form Canadian Vacation

This post is long overdue, as it was over a month ago (!) that I went on vacation with my mother to Canada. Normally a vacation recap would be riddled with photos, but in what can only be explained as an electronics vortex around my mother and I on this particular adventure, almost no pictures were taken because our cameras and phones decided to be non functioning for most of the trip.

With Q unable to get out of work and Air National Guard duty, it was just my mother and I roadtripping it up north to her homeland ( Mom’s Canadian, btw). It was bittersweet to be going on such a big adventure without my Dad, but an important trip for us both to take for a million reasons, the biggest to show that we rule at driving ( we already knew we vacation well together from our Holland adventure of 2013).

The goal of the trip was really just to visit family and enjoy time up there. Other than our hotel reservations and ferry tickets for the beginning and end of our trip, we had no set plans at all. Our only goals were to eat our weight in seafood, namely lobster. We called it our “free-form vacation.”

We drove Massachusetts to St. John, New Brunswick on day one- seven hours in the car. We didn’t even put the radio on ( actually, we didn’t the entire trip). We just talked, made observations along the way, or were quiet with our thoughts. Day two took us to Prince Edward Island, where I had never been and Mom hadn’t been to since she was a child. We stayed in Charlottetown, avoiding the crazy tourist area that is Cavendish and Anne of Green Gables fandom. I was happy that we avoided it– working in a tourist town, I tend to like to do low-key for vacations and have missed out on many landmarks or ‘must see’s in favor of walking around little shops and eating in random places.

Day three had us taking the ferry from PEI to Nova Scotia and then driving about 3.5 hours to my mom’s family up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This was only my third trip to Cape Breton, having visited as a child and then seven years ago for a whirlwind trip for a giant family reunion. It’s beauty and setting is amazing– I would suggest everyone goes once in their lifetime ( it’s not a rough trip for New Englanders to make by car!). We spent the week visiting with family, eating lots of lobster, exploring little areas of the island, and relaxing. My mom took me on a tour of her old neighborhood, doing the creepy slow car roll by the house she grew up in and her father built before they moved to the States.

We ended the week making another seven hour car ride through Nova Scotia to get to Yarmouth, staying the night there so we could take the NovaStar ferry to Portland, Maine the next morning. It was a great experience doing the ferry– we had a great ride, wonderful food, and spent lots of time napping, reading, and playing Scrabble. We stayed the night in Portland and hit the outlets in Kittery, Maine on the way home that Sunday, arriving back in our town in late afternoon– just in time for me to prep for going back to work the next day. Mom was lucky enough to have the following week on vacation at home too ( still jealous!)

Our trip was one of those that every person needs to take every so often- restorative, quiet, relaxed, contemplative. I needed the time away to recharge my batteries a bit and get away from the craze of life, as did Mom. It’s also amazing to me how wonderful it feels to see family that you don’t get to see very often. The entire trip was filled with so much laughter and smiles- it was exactly what we both needed.


Cape Breton via here


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