Howdy, Newport, Rhode Island!

Poor, neglected Rhode Island. We’ve lived in New England for almost a year and a half, yet somehow it’s the only state we managed to skip over…and over, and over. For some reason (*ahem* mountains, foliage, breweries, maple syrup, etc.) Sean and I always seem to go north when we travel up here. We’d been planning a trip to Rhode Island for ages, but we just…never got around to it. Which is a darn shame! Rhode Island may not have the crunchy-granola vibe that I love so much about Vermont and Maine (hat tip to renegade New Hampshire for “live free or die”). But you know what Rhode Island does have? Mansions.

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In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Newport, Rhode Island, was the playground of the super-rich. The Vanderbilts, the Astors, and other American elites built their sprawling summer homes right on the water. And now, for a nominal fee ($25 for one house or $35 for five), plebeians like us can swan through their gilded halls, too.

The most famous mansion in Newport is The Breakers—a 125,000-square-foot “cottage” built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1893 (before income tax was A Thing, when the family was sick with money). Photography isn’t allowed inside, but believe me (or Google) when I tell you that it is absolutely stunning. I felt like I’d stepped into Versailles, but with a sweet ocean view. If it wasn’t so darn big, I’d move in tomorrow. Heck, I’d even invite a couple dozen friends and we could all share it.

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We also visited Marble House (owned by William Kissam Vanderbilt), which was nice in its own right, but didn’t call my name with quite the same volume as The Breakers did. That said, I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of a grandma, and both homes took geriatric chic to a whole ‘nother level. And I have to give credit to Marble House—it might not’ve been my favorite, but I’d give just about anything to make the matriarch’s bedroom my own. (Shoutout to my husband for knowing as soon as he walked in that I would love that room with my whole girly heart.)

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Since we bought the five-mansion pass that never expires(!) we decided to save the remaining houses for another visit and spend the remainder of the day meandering along the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk that winds along the sea behind the mansions.

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When we were planning our trip to Newport initially, I had it in my head that we’d get dinner at a seafood shack on the beach. But after spending all day surrounded by mega-opulence, I was in the mood for something a tad more chichi—or at least a place where I could get a glass of wine and a cloth napkin. We ended up at a restaurant called The Mooring with a great ocean view, limoncello and prosecco cocktails, and THE BEST appetizer I’d even tasted: seafood doughnuts with chipotle-maple aioli. Whoa.

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I’m sorry I overlooked you, Rhode Island. It was wrong. I was dumb. But I have seen the light (in the form of two Baccarat crystal chandeliers) and I’m glad I have a reason to return.

When your grad student springs back from the dead…

Or: How we celebrated the arrival of warm weather & Sean’s break from grad school

The spring semester was tough on us. It was dark all the time, it snowed basically every day, it never got above freezing, and Sean was so busy with work and two classes that we almost never saw each other. And even during our few fleeting moments together, nothing was open or worth braving the elements to visit, so we never left the house. It was so boring and gross and depressing that I eventually started referring to myself as a grad school widow.

But mercifully, spring sprang out of nowhere at the end of April, just as Sean was wrapping up his spring semester classes. The perfect storm of nice weather and free time was on the radar, and we knew we only had about three weeks to enjoy it before his summer class started on May 26, so we were determined to take advantage by:

Driving around Cape Cod.
I swear, since the day we arrived in Boston, we’ve been asked at least once a month if we’ve been to the Cape yet. And up until last month, the answer was always a sheepish “no.” The Cape is the vacation destination for New Englanders, yet somehow we missed it on our epic Year One tour of this place. I dunno. But because it’s such a hot spot, it gets really crowded in the summertime. We decided to make our first visit early in the season so our opinions wouldn’t been tainted by traffic and long lines. And it worked. Cape Cod is a delight! Coastal houses and endless beaches and seafood shacks and lighthouses galore. Even though it was a little chilly, I really, really loved it and would happily go back…in September once everyone else has left.

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Going to our first pub trivia match.
Sean and I are both a little bit a lot obsessed with trivia. We listen to a trivia podcast whenever we’re in the car together and we’ve played our Trivial Pursuit game so many times we’ve memorized the cards. So I’m not sure why it took us so long to try pub trivia. But try it we did—at a local brewery with our fellow New England Tex-pat Erin—and it was a damn revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun on a weeknight. We didn’t come close to winning, oh no, but it was a privilege just to play the game. (Har.)

Watching the Before trilogy.
After my cruise to Germany and the Czech Republic, I was on a bit of a Europe kick. So the time was ripe for us to re-watch one of our favorite European movies: Before Sunrise. And we enjoyed it so much that we couldn’t help but watch the the other two movies in the trilogy in quick succession (as you do). They’re so wanderlust-y and funny and refreshingly real. Not to mention perfect for enjoying with a glass of wine and a whole lotta cheese. Once you pop, you just can’t stop!

Spending a day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Have I mentioned that I love coastal New England? We checked Maine off the list last year (LUV U, MAINE! Be back soon!) and the Cape, clearly. But despite of our best intentions, we hadn’t found time to visit New Hampshire’s little sliver of coastline…until last month. We spent the morning exploring Strawbery Banke, a living history village with houses that have been restored to different eras in Portsmouth’s history. (We visited a tavern from 1771 and when I told the owner we were from Texas, he said he’d never heard of it. Well OF COURSE NOT.) Portsmouth is known for its craft beer scene, so after indulging in history, we did a different kind of indulging. (The best/most interesting brewery we tried was Earth Eagle Brewings. And I say that in spite of the fact that I drank a beer made with cow heart there. I mean, it tasted pretty good, but cow heart.) Our last stop on our Tour de Portsmouth was the local lighthouse because, hi, have we met?

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Making indoor s’mores and watching The Sandlot.
I’d been jonesing to re-watch The Sandlot for months (good news, millennials—it holds up) but Sean was adamant that we wait until it actually felt like baseball season. And in true Sean and Sarah fashion, when the weather finally warmed up enough, we turned watching The Sandlot into An Event: We made s’mores (how could you not?) and timed it so it would coincide with…

Going a Rangers/Red Sox game.
Before I moved to Boston, I didn’t consider myself an especially ardent baseball fan. But I love, love, love Fenway Park so much that I just can’t help myself these days. I was anticipating this game almost as eagerly as I anticipate football season. And that’s a lot of anticipation!

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Visiting my brother in Minnesota.
To cap off our three-week freedom fest, Sean and I flew to Minneapolis to visit my brother over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never been to the Midwest before (Chicago notwithstanding) and I really, really dug it! The people are so nice! The cheese curds are so fried! The beer is so plentiful! (We made a day trip up to Lake Superior and had dinner over the bridge in Wisconsin, where you can buy a 50oz. beer for less than $9. WHAT.) Not to mention, there’s so much incredible nature in Minnesota—lakes everywhere (10,000 in fact), the raging Mississippi River, a waterfall in the middle of Minneapolis, and *ahem* a lighthouse…

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How do you winter?

There are two sides to winter in New England: Winter in the city is a grim mosaic of grey snowbanks and brown slush and salt-stained boots on sanity-strained commuters. Winter in the country? That’s an entirely different story, full of mountain vistas, snow-dusted trees, and endless stretches of fresh, white powder. At the beginning of February, Sean and I escaped the bleak streets of Boston for the snowy paradise of eastern Vermont. We found a rustic, one-room cabin on AirBnB (hand-built by a friendly fellow transplant to these colder climes) and spent a weekend tucked away like a couple of mountain recluses.

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We arrived late on Friday night to a fire roaring in the wood-burning stove—the only real heat source in the place—and promptly unpacked our homemade marshmallows and assorted candy and started roasting. (Reese’s s’mores. Alleluia, amen.)

When we woke up on Saturday, our fire had gone out, and the interior temperature had plummeted to a frosty 40 degrees. It took three hours, three kindling-seeking missions, a handful of swears, and a little bit of female ingenuity (what can I say? I watch a lot of movies was a Girl Scout) before we finally got the fire going again. But once we did, our little hideaway became the perfect cozy retreat.

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There was a wind chill advisory that morning, so I refused to go outside until the threat of immediate and inescapable frostbite had passed. But once it was safe, we strapped on the snowshoes provided by our host and trudged through the 150 undisturbed acres behind the cabin. (For about an hour. Until my baby toes started to hurt so badly that I was convinced I was going to lose them to gangrene. Note to self: wear proper winter boots next time.)

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We devoted the entire rest of the day to lazing around inside. We didn’t watch T.V. (there wasn’t one); we didn’t stream Netflix (no wi-fi, either); and we didn’t wash our hair (the five gallon tank supplied just enough water in the unheated bathroom for a cursory underarm scrub). What we did instead was play Trivial Pursuit while Iron and Wine and Feist tunes hummed in the background; show off our “considerable” “musical” “talents” (ahem) on the guitar we found inside; curl up under blankets and chat about our future plans; eat chipotle Gouda and fig goat cheese in our sweats and wool socks; and listen for coyotes as we drifted off to sleep in our lofted bedroom.

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