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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Orleans, Louisiana - The Secret Trip

You might have guessed from my last post that I would write about this next.

As a part of our 6th anniversary celebration, Judd planned a vacation as a surprise for me.  I knew he had something up his sleeve because my anniversary card from him indicated that there would be travel in our immediate future.  He didn’t tell me where we were going.  In fact, he wasn’t going to tell me when we were going either. 

Except this happened……

Two weeks prior to Independence Day, while walking our dog one evening,  Judd mentioned to me that he wanted to go to Brewton, AL (his hometown) two weekends in a row.  As you all now know, I was consumed by school at that point.  When he mentioned the plan to go home I questioned my ability to travel two consecutive weekends.  You see, we already had plans to visit Brewton for Independence Day.  When I said that, I noticed Judd hesitate.  I could tell he was thinking about something.  We continued the rest of our evening as normal.

The next morning, Judd asked me if I really would be unable to travel due to my course load.  I said that if there was something important he needed to do in Brewton or if it was really important to him to go that weekend, that I would go, but he needed to let me know in advance so that I could get all of my readings, papers, homework assignments, etc. finished ahead of time.

Basically I ruined a major part of my surprise--The fact that he was going to take me on an amazing, and much needed, surprise vacation.  He proceeded to tell me that he had a surprise trip planned for us that weekend and that Brewton was not our destination.  He also told me that he had already called my office and asked for me to have a day off in order to make it a three day weekend.  What a sweetheart.  I, of course, said that I would do everything in my power to make sure I would be available.  He still wouldn’t tell me where we were going though.

He tried to trick me all week.  He would “accidently” drop clues like boat, or plane, or beach, etc.  Eventually, I had a feeling it was a car trip because I knew he wouldn’t really slip up and tell me.  He is too good at keeping fun surprises a secret

In turn, I wanted to do something special for him since he went well out of his way to plan something for me.  So, I packed us a travel basket filled with his favorite goodies (and a few of mine too).  Since he usually gets home from work before me, I left it on our kitchen counter for him to find with a note that said “open me”.



We grabbed the basket and our luggage and hit the road.  Oh, we grabbed the dog too.  At this point, I was pretty sure we were headed south in order for Judd’s parents to doggysit for us while we were away.  Sure enough, I was right about the first leg of our trip.  We drove to Brewton to spend the night.

The next morning we got an early start.  At this point, I thought we were headed to the beach.  But then our car turned for Mobile, AL.  Naturally, at that point, I thought that Mobile was our destination.  Judd, in an attempt to throw me off of his trail, even faked a call to our friend Tripp (a local Mobilian) to see if he wanted to have lunch.  You can imagine my surprise when instead of taking the Mobile exit off the interstate we headed for Mississippi.

Around lunch time, we stopped in the beautiful town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  It reminded me so much of Fairhope, AL.  Both cities are lovely, up-scale, artsy retirement communities.  We had a tasty seafood lunch at McElroy’s on the Bayou.

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At this point I figured we were either going to Biloxi or New Orleans.  NOLA it was.  We arrived at our hotel and immediately headed for the French Quarter.  We stopped in at Harrah’s Casino first.  We lost a total of $20 and called it quits. 

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Then, we walked down to Jackson Square.  Gosh, that place is so beautiful.  Don’t let the overcast sky fool you, even with the breeze of the mighty Mississippi it was hotter than you know where in New Orleans in June.

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Afterward’s we cooled off with a few Abita’s (Louisiana’s premier craft beer) at one of Judd’s favorite NOLA bars, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar.

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We decided to walk with our drinks and take a tour on foot to see the beauty and details of New Orleans.  We soaked up as much as we could.  Everything in that city has such charm.  The weathered and aged patina everywhere we looked combined with the sounds and smells of a port city caused true sensory overload.  I LOVED it.

Judd wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on my first hurricane.  After our walk, he took me Pat O’Brien’s to cool off yet again.

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We then walked back to our hotel to get dressed for dinner.  Judd took me to Antoine’s.  Gosh, it was delicious.

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We spent the rest of the evening walking in the French Quarter and on Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street, as expected, was a little crazy.  We quickly moved on to other parts of the French Quarter.

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The next morning, Judd took me to Commander’s Palace for Sunday Jazz Brunch.  To say that this was the best atmosphere, food, and service I have ever experienced at a restaurant would be an understatement.  IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!!!!

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We captured a video of the fantastic Jazz musicians who played tableside during brunch.  They found out were from Birmingham and played Tuxedo Junction just for us.


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The chefs made our already amazing dining experience even better by writing a special note on our dessert plates.  Also, catch a glimpse of Judd’s to-die-for bread pudding.

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To burn off some calories after brunch, we took a pleasant trolley ride to Audubon Park where we walked and enjoyed the splendor and serenity of the park.  I was amazed when we stepped off the car to see that Loyola University and Tulane University were literally next door to one another.  Both were just across from the entrance to the park.New-Orleans-June-2011 089New-Orleans-June-2011 060

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While walking through the park (and pretty much during our entire trip) we photographed more of the New Orleans vernacular and style including lanterns, landscaping, and homes.  I even found a little DIY project while I was there.  Isn’t this sign with house numbers amazing?  I think part of an old door or old cabinet front would work well when making this on my own.  I wanted to share it so that you could make one too.

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I still can’t get over these lanterns.

Seriously, look at these homes.  They are all so beautiful.  Also, Fab look at the largest image below.  Do you see what I see?  I’m thinking Fab compound for sure.  (Faithful readers, if you don’t know what I just referred to you can catch up with this post.)

Check out this stunning landscaping.

Here are some other fun things we did while we were in The Big Easy.  We peaked through the gates at a historic above-ground cemetery, shopped on Magazine Street, ate macaroons and gelato at Sucre, drove around the Superdome (the home of Judd’s favorite NFL team), and played a few rounds of Bananagrams in our hotel room.  Judd won.

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On Monday morning, before heading back to Brewton to pick up our furbaby, we stopped in at Cafe Du Monde for some delicious beignets and French roast coffee.

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After devouring our beignets in what seemed like seconds, we took one final look at the Mississippi, jumped in the car, and headed down the road.

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We had a blast.  I highly recommend each restaurant and attraction mentioned in this post.  Have you ever been to any of the places mentioned?  What do you recommend?

Monday, August 8, 2011

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

Don’t let my last post about the worst semester of my life fool you, we did manage to squeeze in a little fun this summer.  Actually, my husband managed to squeeze it in for us entirely on his own.

On May 14, 2011 we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary.  We are so lucky to have a happy and successful marriage.  These past six years (or eight if you count the year we dated and the year we were engaged) have truly been the best of my life.  I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone but Judd.  God sure did have a great plan when we picked the two of us out for each other.  

As you all know, I was in throes of two statistics courses by the date of our anniversary.  Judd, knowing that I needed a little pick-me-up, made our anniversary so special. 

We had already decided to keep things simple this anniversary.  We bought two Groupons for $50 towards $200 worth of merchandise at a local retailer to put towards a major furniture purchase.  We agreed that the furniture Groupons would be our presents to each other.  Or, at least, that was what I thought.

After a long week at work and school, I awoke on Saturday morning to find a chocolate cake from the same bakery that made our wedding cakes (Olexa’s) and a card (made on stationary Judd created just for the occasion) on our kitchen counter.  I also found these two in the kitchen waiting on me. 

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The envelope read, “To my darling “Gail” on our 6th Anniversary.”  This probably could go without saying but my full name is Abbygail, so that’s where he got Gail as a nickname.  See the card he designed for me.  I loved it.



The inside of the card had check boxes for coming gifts he had planned.  He noted that I should use the card to check off when each occurred.  One box noted a surprise trip…


Judd truly is an amazing husband.  He loves me unconditionally.  I am so thankful for him.  He made our anniversary really special. 

Thank you, Dear.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Summer by the Numbers

Can you guess who submitted her last final paper for the semester today???


The end to this summer semester could not have come any sooner.  I. AM. EXHAUSTED.  The good news is I just simultaneously finished the last two statistics courses of my life.   Wow, that feels really good to say.  Of course, grades haven’t been posted yet, but I am hoping for the best.

I’ve missed keeping up with all you through the blogosphere.  To catch you up to speed on my life over this summer, here is a recap by the numbers.

Number of weeks in the semester: 12

Number of classes: 2

Number of graded assignments due over the 12 week semester: 69!!!

Yes, you read that correctly.

Number of pages of reading material: 1000s

Seriously, more than I can calculate.  Some weeks there were 300+ pages in addition to 3 or 4 graded assignments.

Number of statistics final exams: 1

Number of final papers due: 3

Number of pages for the first paper: 17

Number of pages for the second paper: 59

Number of pages for the third paper: 28

Number of jobs worked full-time while taking these two classes: 1

Number of blog posts written over the summer: 1 (wow, that is so pitiful.  Do you forgive me?)

Number of times tears were shed: I am embarrassed to comment on that one.

Number of days until fall classes begin: 13 (a.k.a. – not enough)


I read an article not too long ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education about how doctoral students often develop anxiety and paranoia complexes as a result of the constant pressure and judgment they face every day.  I whole heartedly agree with that claim.  To read the article click here.  It was pretty interesting.  Also, what the article describes is me in a nutshell at this particular point in time.

Also, the article mentioned this really great comic strip website for Ph.D. students.  I included an example below because it is really fitting for this stage of my life.  What this comic strip expresses is SO true.  For those of you who are experiencing this or have experienced it, does it make you want to laugh or cry because I am not sure?  Source: