Travel doesn’t always have to bring us to faraway places to soothe our souls. While I love the experience of being immersed in a land and culture foreign to me, there’s also value in the nearby, easy to arrange weekend getaway.
These can be planned spontaneously, require little effort, and can recharge you in ways that are elusive in the familiar lands of your own homestead. I relish these mini vacations for the break in routine they bring and the feeling that changing it up is easier than you think.
I write this from an absolutely exquisite short-term rental house in downtown Covington. Yes, that’s right, I’m a New Orleanian who retreated to nearby Covington for the weekend. Those of you in the GNO metro region, don’t balk! Remember that our grandparents and great-grandparents regularly retreated to the piney woods of the Northshore to enjoy their summers away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I’m trying to conjure their experience, not that of the thousands of commuters who drive the 22-mile trek across the Causeway Bridge each weekday to reach downtown.
Since our grandparents’ time, the quiet woods have undeniably become a suburban outpost of New Orleans, with neighborhood after neighborhood of tract homes, snarling rush hour traffic, and strip malls full of chain restaurants. It’s grown so much, in fact, some of its residents now bristle at terms that define it in relation to the city that spawned its growth. They reject the term “Northshore” since that defines them in relation to New Orleans. As a locale, they’re in the rebellious teenager phase and require a lot of patience of others while they figure themselves out. (Note to the Northshore residents who want to sever the cord to New Orleans: When you get a city center and a public gathering space worthy of the name, we’ll know you’re ready to make it on your own).
Now, all that to say this is not the place New Orleanians think of as a retreat any more. But that’s too bad, because it’s not all Chipotle hell over here. You just need to scratch beneath the asphalt surface to find some real gems.
The home we rented is one of those gems. As one of the original buildings in downtown Covington, it’s built in my favorite style of architecture: the center hall cottage. It has been decorated with sophisticated comfort and thoughtfully renovated with respect for the original. There are wonderful details including hardwood floors, door transoms, beadboard walls that make me feel like I’m sitting on Mamou’s sleeping porch, and a slipper tub that was designed for long soaks and nowhere else to be in a hurry. There’s a deck the size of a large dancefloor with strategically placed outdoor seating that includes rockers, a swing, and outdoor sofas with fat, fluffy cushions. Suddenly you find the time and the space to catch up on the book that’s been sitting unread for a month on your nightstand at home.
While there are still country-ish properties to be found in St. Tammany Parish, this is not one of them. Nonetheless, there’s a living wall of bamboo and pine trees which makes it feel as though the woods are just beyond the ample deck. This is also work research for me in a sense. As an Air BnB host myself, I pick up tips and tricks each time I visit someone else’s property. (Extra toilet paper and hand lotion is a plus. A long list of housekeeping chores for me to do upon departure, a definite minus.)
The overall wonderful Air BnB rental is in the downtown shopping area. When we arrived yesterday we walked around the block and were delighted to find several open antique shops and unique casual clothing boutiques. The antique shops are a particular joy since they bring me back to my childhood spending time at my beloved Granny’s Shannick’s Antiques. It’s a nostalgia trip for sure. Most of the stuff in these shops have fallen out of favor in modern homes, mine included. But just like Covington, if you search, you will find a few gems. That glass pitcher with tiny matching cups that make up the “lemonade set” that my nine-year old so coveted may come home with us if the shopkeep is willing to deal a little bit on the price. One thing I learned from Granny is that haggling is part of the sale and the fun in shops like these. The sticker price is only a suggestion!
We’re here specifically for an annual art show at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church. This is a perennial delight. The sanctuary is converted into a gallery after Sunday service where the original works of local artists are offered at a reasonable price and benefitting a good cause. The event was our inspiration for making it a weekend getaway.
In a recent NPR interview, Stephen McCauley, author of my book club’s pick this month: My Ex-Life, talked about the need to get away from the familiar to do his writing. He said that though he created the perfect study within his house that’s conducive to work, he unfortunately can’t write a word in it. “Once a space becomes my own,” he observed, “I can no longer work in it.” As an academic and professional author, this causes him some problems. He resolves this by serially renting Air BnBs in which to work. There’s a brilliance in this solution. Sometimes we need to escape the tyranny of the familiar to create something new, whether it’s a book, a recipe, or our overall perspective. The distractions of home can be escaped close to home, and a short weekend break can be just enough to do the trick.
When it came time to eat, the six burner Viking stove in our rental was lovely but wasted on us, since we were thinking simple, uncomplicated fare. Kale salad, pasta primavera and a simple berry medley served us well with a bottle of red wine followed by coffee and a shared bar of dark chocolate for dessert. Here are the recipes if you want to whip up a quick and easy light meal:
by Shannon Uschold
Livin the Dream is a bi-weekly blog by Shannon Uschold. Shannon is the owner and principal broker of Key to NOLA, LLC. Shannon is a New Orleans native who brings two decades of real estate experience to the brokerage as a property manager, investor and sales agent. Shannon holds a master of science degree in urban studies with a concentration in historic preservation and is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. A lifelong lover of all things house-related, she is licensed by the State of Louisiana as a real estate broker holding designations as a Historic House Specialist, Short Sale & Foreclosure Resource (SFR), At Home with Diversity, and Certified Real Estate Negotiator (CREN). Shannon resides in uptown New Orleans with her husband, two children, and Lily, the dog of the full-body tail wag.