Saturday, October 26, 2013

A wee shuffle

Change of address on *sparklingly  |
I thought I would refresh this whole space once I left NYC, but I've gotten a little antsy and my impatience got the best of me. With the weather cooling down, changes elsewhere (more on that soon), and a general feeling of blahness with *sparklingly, I wanted to make a move sooner rather than later, even if it means a fairly subtle one, given my lack of design/HTML coding skills.

But first I had to figure out exactly what I wanted to call this new place. Since my day job involves similar queries (what space can this "brand" own? why would anyone care about it? what's its reason for being?), I employed similar strategies to figure this out—I asked a few people what they think I write about and why they like reading and there was definitely a clear thread:

J/*sparklingly = a place filled with homemaking, simple pleasures, balancing city and country, how to indulge graciously and elegantly, tweaks for a gentler life, real/whole foods and living, plus a little snark. Which to me all mostly boiled down to my favorite thing to do ever:

Feather my nest.

I love making something prettier, cozier, homier and more welcoming. Whether it's my apartment, a hotel room when I'm traveling for work, my desk when I'm working at a client site for the day or even an hour, or a little nook at a cafe nearby for a weekend coffee. My thinking is consumed by ideas of how to make my surroundings sweeter, softer, more sacred—which goes for my physical surroundings as well as my physical self.

Thus was born a feathery nest.

But of course I'm still shy and prone to anonymity, so I needed another little handle to sign off with and use on Instagram and things. I created a rationale for *sparklingly before, but it really annoys me now, so a new one had to be made. This time, though, I decided to just use a nickname I already have (General J / Gen J / il Generale) thanks to my particular, some-say-bossy, ways, plus a little finessing to make it better encapsulate me (and my puritanical, modest, hostessing ways), hence ladygenj.

Everything will switch over later today / tomorrow, but just in case my ability to understand complicated code is less stellar than I imagine it to be, I'm posting this last post here on *sparklingly with a breadcrumb trail so you can still find me after today if your feeds and things don't automatically update:




I've also switched my social media accounts over to my new handle, so if you follow me on those, you'll notice my shares under a new name.

Hope to see you on the other side!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumnal oil concoction

Autumnal oil concotion on *sparklingly  |
For the transition from Summer to Autumn, and before I need to turn completely to the spiced yumminess of my Winter Oil Concoction, how about one to ease us in to this frostier time of year?

The cool weather we're experiencing in NYC now means gloves and an easier subway ride for germophobes like me—so nice to not play the balancing game I do to avoid touching anything in the subway during the nasty, muggy hotness of the city from April to September.

I mixed up a batch of this Autumnal Oil last weekend, trying a few new blends together, and applied liberally before heading uptown to meet friends for brunch and a stroll to see one of the gal's new apartment on the Upper West Side. As we walked off our massive (and delicious) meal I kept getting a whiff of something mysterious and toasty, but I chalked it up to the lightly-spiced nip in the air. Imagine my delight when I realized it was actually me!

But before I share, I have to tell you how nice it is to rediscover something charming close to home. I always wrote the UWS of the city off, but meandering around its brick townhouses with honest-to-goodness front "yards" (okay, stoops), with gardens and harvest bounty displays, and peeking through windows to see fireplaces and chandeliers and bannisters wrapping around and around was so foreign and homey and intriguing, all at the same time. And now that I have a friend living on the top floor of one of those townhouses (complete with mahogany wood paneling, window boxes, a skylight and a view over the sidewalks where children are skipping), I'm sure I'll indulge in its neighborhoody goodness a bit more.

Autumnal oil concoction: lovely as an after-shower moisturizer, face wash, perfume, and/or massage oil
+    1 1/2 cups of coconut oil (or your favorite carrier oil)
+  20 drops vanilla for warmth, comfort and fresh-out-of-the-oven coziness
+  15 drops germ-fighting/thieves (lemon, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary) for spicy cleansing
+  10 drops orange for zest and freshness

Melt together and store in a glass container.

P.S. Previous oil concoctions: Winter and Lullaby
P.P.S. My essential oils are all from Plant Therapy—love their quality and value!
P.P.P.S. Why I use coconut oil and how I use it

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Autumnal things: walks and more knits

I know it's been a bit quiet over here. Everything's okay—just working through a few things. But, I haven't been too busy to enjoy my favorite season of the year. I'm practically giddy with the weather right now. Well, the theoretical weather. The leaves have changed colors and fallen a bit in some places, but the temperatures keep fluctuating between mid-50's and low 70's. No matter, though, because the air smells fall'ish and the foliage looks it, so I'm happy!

Last week R and I explored the nether regions of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, a place I'd only skirted around the edges of after brunch in Caroll Gardens. Turns out, if you wend your way deeper toward the southeastern borders, there are wooded paths, lakes and ducks and swans swimming in formation.

Like the North Woods of Central Park, the Ravine section of Prospect Park has lots of opportunities for "off roading". Meandering through woodsy paths, hopping over fallen trees, kicking through piles of fiery leaves. Nothing makes me happier than stomping through the underbrush and taking huge gulps of air in before whoooshing them out. I'm like a child with a rain puddle.
I've also been reserving pockets of time for my ever-calming knitting habit. The last few things I've finished are another Purl Soho Pebble Tank (same as this one, but more flowy/loose-fitting), a few more knit goodies for "Dante", including a matching set of mittens and booties and another hat, plus a little coffee/cell phone doily from leftover yarn. I hate to have scraps hanging about, so I used the very last bits of coral cotton from my myriad of napkins to crochet something Downton Abbey'esque (albeit much more colorful) to rest my coffee cup and saucer or phone on while typing away on my computer at the dining table.
After all that crafting for the baby and selfish knitting for myself, R finally insisted that I make something for him again. He has a whole drawer full of socks, scarves, ties, and pocket squares, but now I'm (gulp) starting a full on sweater for him with a fancy collar and stitch pattern. The biggest, (he's 6'4"), thus scariest thing I've tried so far. I've already started and re-started a few times, so you might not see any pics of it until next year.

Hopefully will be back soon with some updates for you on that, though, and things in general. Until then, get outside (if you're in the same hemisphere) and breathe in some smoky, spicy fall air! I also highly recommend crunching through a few piles of leaves—it does wonders for a stormy soul.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The international travel essential we forgot

Funny story for you. Remember that time R became an American? And then we left the country 3 weeks later? And remember how long it takes to get a passport (hint: about 6 weeks)?

Yep, we had a bit of a situation on our hands.

After a massive freak out (right on the heels of that morning's sprint), I ended up staying late at the office to see how the heck we forgot to account for this timing snafu. What happened was, we were told of the oath ceremony date 3 weeks ahead, and sometime between getting that notification and the day of the oath, we booked our St. Lucia trip. What we hadn't considered is that when you get your Certificate of Naturalization, you surrender your Green Card. Meaning that the only proof R had of his new status was a piece of paper. A piece of paper that must be handed over when you apply for your passport. And in doing so, he'd be essentially proof-less of his citizenship. That plus the fact that once you become a citizen it is illegal to leave or enter the US on any other passport (making his Italian and Swedish ones irrelevant), meant he couldn't leave the country.

But, praise be that we live in NYC. The land where everything can be head: pierogies at 2AM, a wedding dress tailored in an afternoon, and, most relevant to us, a passport applied for, processed and returned in a day (!). After some Googling and Yelping I found a government agency called the NY Passport Agency. Now when you think of filing bureaucratic paperwork (as sadly, I know all too well), you immediately think of the DMV and the rampant lack of efficiency, right? Well, if Yelp was to be believed, apparently this office (located conveniently near us!) not only processed SAME DAY passports with a smile, they also only charged the ridiculously low sum of $60 for this service.

If you Google "expedited passport service" you'll find a whole slew of shady internet companies that (1) cost upwards of $300; (2) tack on more fees for overnight shipping; and (3) aren't really even done overnight anyway.

So of course I was skeptical, but I sent R over there with a printout of our confirmed travel itinerary, his certificate of naturalization, a passport photo and the passport application. He got there at 12:30PM, took a number, waited less than 10 minutes, handed over his documentation, and was told that since his trip wasn't within the next 7 days, they'd mail him his passport (if it was for a same day flight they would turn it around immediately and for a flight within 7 days it's ready the next day). Regardless of timing it all cost $60.

He came home and two days later a little Express Mail envelope followed him with his beautiful new American passport and his returned Certificate of Naturalization.

Incredible service.

Which, likewise, rendered us incredibly grateful, especially given our non-refundable vacation and my non-moveable birthday!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The notion of home

The notion of home on *sparklingly  |
Now that we're back home after the most amazing of trips, bumpy re-entry included, I've realized I'm at the point where I'm completely sick of our apartment. I've lived in it so long that it's last refreshing was years ago, so the walls seem a bit crusty, the floors need refinishing, and the whole thing needs a good scrubbing. And everything about it now irritates me: the way the walls soak up cooking splatters and no amount of scrubbing seems to get rid of the telltale signs. Same goes for the bathroom walls and doors where dust combined with flying oils from my overzealous applications have created an impenetrable barrier.

Then there's the floor, a horrid parquet—I should say faux parquet—comprised of uneven pieces, meaning dust and wayward hair and fluff gets embedded around each splintery piece, making sweeping a futile exercise and walking barefoot painful. Not to mention the ear-splitting creaking that echoes every single step we take from March through November, thanks to the humidity. Speaking of humidity, it's impossible to keep the shower, especially the grout lines clean because of the dampness in the air (we're not quite at fall weather yet) and I'm so sick of cleaning so often only to have the whole place still feel dumpy.

And why is there an inch-long gap between the stove and the counter? Do you know how many crumbs and onion slivers and who knows what else have dropped into our own personal Grand Canyon? And have I mentioned our hyperactive smoke alarm? Anytime we barely sautée a bit of garlic in oil the damn thing goes off and we have to take our positions as door-waver, window-opener, frantic-pillow-beater and dish-coverer to disperse the hot air before the whole system starts spraying water every which way. You don't want to know the hysteria that ensues if God forbid one of us is alone and has to pull off all four with just two hands amidst the pelting whine.
The notion of home on *sparklingly  |
I just want to leave everything behind and start fresh.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Properly ushering autumn in

While some people may welcome Autumn with pagan rituals around a bonfire, I chose to wave my favorite season in with a leaf crunching walk and an afternoon's immersion into rich, opulent, amber-colored art. I convinced a friend she had to join me so we met at the northwest corner of Central Park for an autumnal afternoon. We started by tromping through the North Woods, making a few loops around dirt paths, scrambling up mini rock faces, and traipsing across bridges over wee waterfalls. There were loads of tiger-eye colored foliage on the ground which made for a pleasant crackly soundtrack as we walked, even though the temperature was more Indian Summer than October Fall.

By the time we emerged on the east side of the park at The Metropolitan Museum of Art we were a little out of breath and ready for the coolness of the museum's galleries. Every time I go I forget that there's absolutely no point checking out the exhibitions online beforehand, because no matter where you plan to go, you'll never get there. You just have to wander.

Which is how we came across a gorgeously recreated Venetian bedroom and loads of Egyptian gold. Refilling our tanks with seasonally-appropriate colored works of art? Check.
Then we made our way up to the museum's rooftop for the view and a chat in the sunshine, where another friend met us. People always rave about the Met's rooftop, but I found it to be just okay. Maybe because it became really hot up there and there was very little shade, and maybe because the current exhibition was a little underwhelming to me. The view, though, made up for it.
Around 5PM I went to meet R, who had just finished working, and we headed home together for a bit on foot before hopping on a bus. At that point I checked Moves, a new app on my phone that tracks your movement (walking, cycling, running or transport) with a really simple infographic and map. I had walked 10,971 steps, covering 5.9 miles in about three hours. No wonder my feet were hurting—and why as soon as I walked in the door I took a cool shower and poured myself a tumbler of my favorite gin with a splash of sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon. Excellent end to the day.
Sunday morning broke bright and gray and misty. Perfect strolling weather, made even more perfect because R finally had a weekend day off. We decided to go for a coffee walk through Tribeca to try a new'ish cafè—FIKA Tribeca Chocolate Factory. "Fika" means coffee break in Swedish and those Scandinavians are serious about their coffee and the sanctity of the twice-daily fika.

FIKA began in NYC with one post in Midtown and now there are five in the city, plus their products are sold at Whole Foods. Speaking of products, the Tribeca FIKA is one part cafè, one part a Willy Wonka-like chocolate factory that shares a glass wall with the dining side and a window onto the sidewalk so you get a nice view of chocolatey goodness being crafted.

It's also got that swanky, industrial vibe going on, with lots of light since they have a prime corner spot. But, all my happy feelings about the place and space evaporated when our bill came to $22 for two cappuccinos, a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) for R and 4 teensy chocolate truffles for me.

To be fair though, it was all delicious.
I had a hankering for some more creamy, cappuccino goodness, but didn't feel like another at FIKA, so we took a walk deeper into Tribeca to Laughing Man Coffee & Tea—a teensy to-go spot with a cozy vibe, a nice manifesto at the door, and handsome pictures of Hugh Jackman on a coffee plantation tucked onto the retail shelves. He started the place—which now has three locations downtown—so it's fitting. While I did like the clean white, unbranded to-go cup, my coffee wasn't as good as at FIKA (not quite creamy and rich enough). But, it was still nice to tote along and sip while we walked home.
We had an hour at home to relax before one of R's friends picked us up and took us to the Polish section of Greenpoint in Brooklyn to join him and his daughter at Amber Steakhouse. Amber is R's man-date restaurant of choice. He and his friends meet there often for carnivorous, wine-fueled and vodka-finished extravaganzas before going for espresso and a rum baba at Fortunato Brothers—it's their little tradition, so it's quite the thing that I finally got to inhabit their manly space.

Amber had some more of that opulent (though muted), dark-wood, Eastern European autumnal tones going on, perfectly fitting into the weekend's theme. We shared a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, and I tucked into a steak tartare to start and then a bone-in rib eye with a side of broccoli and mixed mushrooms. It was so intense and delicious and I had to take a walk around the block afterwards while the men ordered another bottle of wine.
Of course I still had room for an affogato at Fortunato's with scoops of bacio and nocciola gelato.

Seems like a fitting end to the weekend, no? I thought so, too, until we were coming over the Williamsburg bridge and the sky exploded into color. The annual Diwali festival at the South Street Seaport was just wrapping up with a firework show and we literally had a front-row seat to a 20-minute spectacle. I've never seen fireworks that colorful, intense, and filled with purply-gold, peacock-feathery wonder (better even than any July 4th display I can remember!) Hand it to the vibrant-hue obsessed Indians to have the most fantastic fireworks. And to see it all against the backdrop of the East River bridges and the antique ships docked in the port? Incredible.
{ via, but lightly edited by me }
Welcome back, Fall. I've missed you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One year later

NYC East River Esplanade  |  One year later on *sparklingly  |
When I first decided to start writing this wee blog here, I had no intention of ever sharing it. I just wanted a little place to keep track of what I then hoped/thought would be my last year in NYC and play around with coding (I should say "coding"). I also thought it was only fair that after so many years of listening in to others share their stories, that I reciprocated, especially when it comes to people I've been following for years.

Right now, as far as I know, no one in my family (apart from R), nor people in my life here know about my corner of the Web—two friends that live far away do, as well as all the people I've "met" through the blog world, but that's it. And my reluctance to share is not because I write anything scandalous (as you know), but just because I started quietly and to be honest, after two aborted attempts previously, I didn't think it would stick around this long. So after thinking about it for a few weeks last year, I just powered up Blogger and gave it a go.

I didn't give much thought to the context or the "lens" through which I write (as you might have guessed from the somewhat flimsy name/address I post under). But now that it's lasted this long, perhaps it's time for a little dusting? A bit of updating and re-skinning? I've got some ideas, but haven't had a chance to think them through all the way, but perhaps in a few weeks (or, months) you'll find me in a new place. A place you'd be most welcome to join me.

But, I do have one teensy favor to ask of you.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

2013 in pictures: September

And just like that, we're already at the last weekend of September. Hope y'all have your spicy teas, snuggly blankets and fat pillar candles ready for cozy evenings in October!
{ Lavender-Peppermint muscle relaxing & boo boo balm  |  Sep. 1, 2013 }
{ Dante's layette  |  Sep. 3, 2013 }
{ Bittersweet  |  Sep. 4, 2013 }
{ Waltzing waterfront walks  |  Sep. 6, 2013 }
{ Sicilia Selvaggia, Wild Sicily  |  Sep. 9, 2013 }
{ End of summer pullover  |  Sep. 10, 2013 }
{ The art of imperfection and choco-buckwheat-banana bread  |  Sep. 12, 2013 }
{ Good things, lately  |  Sep. 13, 2013 }
{ Escaped again  |  Sep. 16, 2013 }
{ Raw cacao & cashew crunch cups  |  Sep. 18, 2013 }
{ Postcard from St. Lucia  |  Sep. 23, 2013 }
{ There will be pancakes  |  Sep. 24, 2013 }

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

There will be pancakes

Yesterday was a bit of a doozy.

Forget the fact that we had a bumpy re-entry, but I woke up with yet another set of maladies which made for a rough first-morning-back-to-work. Then of course the actual act of going back to work. Followed by a semi-big decision that R and I had to make. And then a few hours later, an even-bigger decision was made for me, which throws everything back into the blender again.

All of that equals a somewhat rumpled in body, mind and spirit J returning home last night.

But, there was wine waiting. The discovery of new-to-me White Collar episodes available online. And, comfy pajamas. All of which were at least a temporary panacea to my blue spirit.

R went to bed, but I stayed up glued to my screen doing research to counteract the aforementioned myriad of somewhat disturbing decisions. As I clicked around online, I also kept a chat box open. Typing here and there, simultaneously. A friend reminded me that every down is followed by an up and all we know is that. And all we have is the ability to enjoy the moment that we're in. Wholly, completely, unquestionably.
There will be pancakes on *sparklingly
Who needs to meditate when you can make pancakes?
Which is why I woke up early today to make the most of my morning, cooking a proper breakfast for R and myself while he was still sleeping. His weekend started today and he's worked every day since we came back from vacation, including a 7AM start when we arrived home only 6 hours previously, so I don't know who was more excited about this, me or him.

On the menu were a batch of silky, eggy, proper French crepes with apricot jam for him, and butternut squash flapjacks (making use of my abundance from Sunday) with a side of bacon for me. A piping hot moka and a pitcher of cream rounded us out.

In the name of doing more kind things for ourselves, R met me in the evening in Soho, looking dapper in his white dress shirt edged in purple (my favorite). He took my bag and we ambled down Mulberry Street, finally able to take nice deep breaths as we walked. Autumn in New York is conducive to proper inhales. Summer, with its ability to turn garbage bags lining the sidewalk into highly odoriferous obstacles, not so much.
Di Palo Fine Foods, Little Italy, NYC  |  There will be pancakes on *sparklingly
Never was a wait so enjoyable
We turned left on Grand Street and popped into Di Palo Fine Foods and took a number. And then we waited. And waited. The neighborhood salumeria doesn't care if you're tired or have heavy bags. The proprietors talk to most everyone. Chatting about nothing and everything while they weigh your provolone, your sausages, your fresh ravioli and fettuccine. I people watched, surprised as always to see how encroaching neighborhoods create unexpected mixes. The Italian-American man with a Chinese-American wife making a quick trip down from their apartment upstairs because they forgot something for their dinner. Both speaking the others language. The Indonesian tourists on the border of Chinatown, hungry for Italian.

R ambled about the display cases, waiting for number 80 to be called. Watching a mother try to calm her daughter who wanted nothing to do with a taste of almond cookies. When he was finally called up he placed our order and watched as a little tub of burrata was snapped closed, a satiny pile of mortadella and prosciutto crudo was sliced off of the weft on the counter, and the exact right cotoletta was chosen.

Then home, the long way, on foot.

Another glass of wine. Another escape to Puerto Rico-cum-Capo Verde. A few squares of dark chocolate with chili. And then a few minutes here, capturing the day for myself and to share with you.

And even though the balance doesn't seem quite right, somehow today's goodness far outweighs yesterday's lack of it.

I think I'll sleep just fine tonight.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Postcard from St. Lucia

Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
And...we're back! (With lots of photos to share!)
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Our first sunset in St. Lucia at Rendezvous Resort
And...I'm a naughty blogger. Or, at least a less-than-committed one. I tried to be so very mysterious about my whereabouts, and then, spurned on by prevalent Wi-Fi and gorgeous scenery, ended up Instagramming my photos. Mystery solved.
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pretty beach curve at Rendezvous Resort
Remember how I mentioned here that I was interested in exploring the Cocoa Trail of the Caribbean (as written about in the NYT article I linked to)? Oddly enough, the name of the hotel must have stayed with me (how could it not, really), because we did in fact spend part of our time in St. Lucia at Boucan's Hotel Chocolat on the Rabot Estate. It was a bit of a splurge, but, if not now, when?

(Clearly there really is something to writing down your dreams, hopes, ideas, etc., and having them manifest! Nudge, nudge, Sweden!)

But let me backtrack. After R steered me away from Cartagena, the idea of St. Lucia started to grow gradually stronger in my mind. For all the reasons I mentioned before, it seemed like the perfect fit. And, funnily enough, a few agencies ago, I did some work on the tourism brand of the country—so it was such a treat to actually experience St. Lucia after working on its branding!
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Glorious morning view at Rendezvous Resort
Once we had agreed on St. Lucia, and found reasonable flights, we had to decide where to stay. Since the country has such gorgeous and varied terrain, we thought of splitting our time between the beach and the jungle/mountains. We've never actually stayed at two places on one island before, so that was a first. We rented a car so we could drive between them and around a bit, and I was freaking out beforehand because R's Italian license has expired and I didn't want to be "forced" to drive the rental (they drive on the other side of the road there). Luckily, they didn't even check, so I was spared dealing with that frightening scenario, which would have been greatly compounded given the whirly-turns of the island's topography.

Rendezvous was our first stop—directly on the beach, colonial style architecture, and a more mature/sophisticated crowd. We decided our time there would be a proper (lazy) detox. No more than 20 minutes a day online, lots of beaching, reading, lazing about and sandy walks as the sun set.

All was going well until Day Two when we came back to our room late and fell into bed without realizing the A/C was turned on (and very high), which means we both woke up with horrifically sore throats that later turned into fevers. Quite a damper on the vacation. We both did our best to not let it slow us down too much, but sadly, I'm only just now getting over this nonsense. I'm not sure if I'm more mad that I was sick while on vacation or that I ended up being sick so long. The whole point of my commitment to improving my wellness every chance I get is to avoid piddly things like this—clearly there's a breakdown somewhere. Sigh.
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Morning coffee is for (and with) the birds!  |  Rendezvous Resort
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
St. Lucian boys racing wild horses down the beach  |  Rendezvous Resort
But, back to the trip: the highlight at Rendezvous was definitely seeing local St. Lucian boys racing wild (at least they seemed wild to me) horses along the beach. There were about 10 or so of them and the thundering of hooves crescendoing and then descendoing as they passed was quite thrilling. Other highlights: taking breakfast on the beach (oh so peaceful), and tea time. That's something I love about visiting resorts on English-influenced islands like St. Lucia, and Antigua (where we spent our first honeymoon). Tea time is so proper and civilized.

We also indulged in a little Hobie Cat-ing, one of my favorite things to do when in the Caribbean. I learned how to wield the little boats ages ago (much before I met R), but he always seems to forget that I know how to captain them. I like to remind him once he's sailed us out of the harbor area and then laid down on the netting for a little nap. Then I scooch down the sides, wind the sail rope around my hands and start feeling around for a breeze while I maneuver the rudder thingy. Nothing better than seeing him pop up in surprise when we've started to zoom over the water.

The thing is, I don't really have any idea at all of what I'm doing. R grew up on a proper island (unlike Manhattan), and also served in the Navy, so he actually knows how to man everything from a canoe for fishing off the coast of Sicily to a sailboat to an actual, you know, military boat. I, on the other hand, approach Hobie Cat sailing as I do everything else: try a little of this, a little of that, and if it doesn't work, try a little of something else. Tweaks and whatnot.

And, it works. I'm pretty good at finding a good wind and steering into it so we can get moving. Also fairly good at steering around other boats and mini land outcroppings. What I'm not so good at, though, is slowing down. Which is why almost every time I take over the captain-ing, everything is lovely for a bit until I pick up way too much wind and the speed (and the fact that HC's tilt to the side when going fast) gets to be too much and I freak out and shove everything over at R.

That's my version of the dreaded "pie/cheese wedge" method of stopping when skiing. I should probably learn how to gradually slow down and stop, versus my throwing-of-the-rope and releasing-of-the-rudder, which creates a crazy fast turn and immediate stop. I should also learn the terminology so I can stop saying rudder thingy and rope thingy.

Maybe next time.
Pitons |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
The road from Castries to Soufriere, passing by the Pitons
After three days at Rendezvous we headed down the western coast of the island just past Soufriere to celebrate my birthday. We passed the looming Pitons along the way—which ended up playing a starring role for the rest of the trip.

Hotel Chocolat was our second stop—a modern, chic, eco-lodge—where we had finally detoxed enough (nasty illness aside) to have the energy to do a few (brief) hikes, tours of the cacao groves (the national product I alluded to!), and enough of an appetite to indulge (regularly, overly, abundantly) in the cacao-infused menu at the hotel's on-site restaurant.

But first, we had to actually check-in, which involved walking up to the outdoor restaurant / terrace / reception area, where we were faced with this view:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
View from the terrace at Boucan Hotel Chocolat
That's the famed Gros Piton of St. Lucia. It and its sister, the Petit Piton, were up for consideration as the 8th wonder of the world. Beautiful, right? As soon as I shut my mouth, which had dropped open when "surprised" by the sight of it at the top of the stairs, we sat down to check in, accompanied by a  refreshing glass of local rum and coconut water. Yes, we were both ill, but when on vacation, right?
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Boucan Hotel Chocolat reception and gift shop all in one!
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Cacao, cacao everywhere!
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Gorgeous restaurant terrace with the most stunning view
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Jungly wilds between the main building and all the lodges
Then we were escorted out to our room, and that's when we realized that those nice folks had upgraded us to a Luxe Lodge—an individual villa bigger than our apartment and with a ridiculously huge terrace with a straight on view of the Pitons. Cue another jaw drop:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Looking up to our lodge
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
View from our lodge, featuring R's foot
The views from our jungly perch to the island's most iconic feature was surreal. Like, smack you in the face with its massiveness, surreal. Now combine that with the gorgeously dark, teak-like furnishings and creamy, gauzy linens (my favorite combo!) and I was in heaven.

Our terrace, besides having that glorious view, came equipped with a nice little tea/coffee-time corner of our own. First order of business that afternoon was indulging in some. And then a few local friends swung by to join us:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Coffee and chocolate and chocolatey-nut break on our terrace...
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
...where we were joined by this little cutie
My other favorite part of the Luxe Lodge was the indoor/outdoor shower. I'm a clean person, but even I don't need to take three showers a day...which I definitely did while there. A less-favorite part of the lodge was the antithesis of a favorite part: all that nature during the day is wonderful. At night? Less so. There are these frogs and birds that create a racket as soon as the sun begins to dip. I'm someone that has learned to more or less sleep through the non-stop insanity that is NYC noises at night, but even I had to dutifully shove the complimentary ear plugs in so I could sleep. Actually, I had to put them in much earlier, as the show began at dusk. Still, there was something pretty magical about sleeping with that view at the foot of our bed—we chose to keep the louvered doors open all the time (which also made sleeping with a mask a necessity).
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Where I spent a good ten minutes, three times a day. New love of my life: indoor-outdoor showers.
While on that part of the island we took a day trip to Sugar Beach to fit in a little more sand time. There was a little kerfuffle since we were accidentally on the Viceroy's part of the beach (which apparently costs $100 to sit on if you're not a hotel guest—?!?!). We smoothed things over (and then hightailed it out). But before all that, at least we enjoyed this:
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach cliffs
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach cabana
But the rest of the time, aside from that hike and a cacao tour, we spent right here. Relaxing on those chaises and facing the Pitons:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Boucan Hotel Chocolat pool & terrace area (once again, featuring R's foot)
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
The view from where we sat (and R's knees/book)
Oh, there was also a bit of that cacao-tasting menu I mentioned. Can I tell you how nice it is to sit in a restaurant that not only has the usual sea salt and black pepper grinder, but also a cacao grinder? So very nice. The menu included lovely dishes like gazpacho with cacao nibs, micro-green salad leaves with white chocolate, pan-seared tuna with cacao pesto, risotto with portobello mushrooms and cacao nib oil, a red lentil savoury hot pot with cocoa flatbread, angus prime beef with a dark chocolate port sauce, curried and cacao chicken, and on and on it went. And then came the desserts (followed by a decadent breakfast the next day). Surprisingly, despite the deluge of cacao, we never felt uncomfortably full, just pleasantly satiated. Must be the purity of product?
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pre-birthday dinner cacao spread (cacao balsamic, cacao butter puree, cacao oil and herbs)
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Hello cacao grinder, where have you been all my life?
I also did a little extra indulging in cacao while at Hotel Chocolat. I looked into their Cocoa Juvenate Spa before leaving and the massages they offered are done with cacao-infused oils. You could choose from: pure cacao, cacao-peppermint, cacao-rose or (drumroll) cacao-nutmeg-cinnamon. It's like they know me! I obviously had to do a massage with that heavenly-sounding (and smelling) cacao-nutmeg-cinnamon oil. Afterwards I broke into a coconut on our terrace hoping the double whammy of deep tissue massage + hydrating coconut would make me feel better. It did, but it didn't knock out the fever like I hoped it would.
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Self-medicating with a freshly-cracked coconut
I've needed a good soaking in nature. Our last trip was decidedly a beachfront extravaganza, but this immersion into jungles and cacao plants and volcanic mountains was truly grounding (earthing!). After inhaling fresh island air, digging my toes into actual grass and moss, hiking through animal habitats, immersing myself into mineral-tastic waters and reveling in pure cacao I actually felt a bit radiant—at least in spurts between feverish spikes.
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pitons at daybreak, as seen from our terrace
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Hike near some potent sulfur springs
We know that we sleep better on vacation–but it's not just because we're relaxed and far away from demands, although that helps. On vacation, especially a beach one, you're barefoot. Your body is connecting with the earth and grounding the electrons within you. You're swimming for good chunks of the day, getting natural doses of healing minerals like magnesium. You're frolicking on the beach, playing and moving uninhibitedly, dousing yourself with Vitamin D. No wonder we sleep deeply and soundly (with ear plugs) and wake up with the sun and birdsong naturally (if not wearing an eye mask or ear plugs).

I wonder if I could swing a trip back now that I'm feeling better?

Although, I have to say, New York is pretty amazing right now. Crisp 55-60F weather, clear strong sunlight, light breeze. Everyone's got their tights on and belted sweaters and I even saw a few boots today. No heavy coats and gloves just yet, just the first plummy, autumnal layers are being applied. We welcomed fall our own way at home yesterday with a roasted butternut squash (alongside green beans in garlicky olive oil with crushed red pepper and...a shared steak. No dessert though!).

If this weather carries on, though, I don't mind sticking around for a bit at all.

PS. If you're curious about our path around the island: