Week 25 and 26: A Bed and Breakfast Getaway and Exploring my Revitalized Hometown

Week Twenty-Five – A Bed and Breakfast Getaway

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Now that my sister, Lindsay, is a mother of two children, our time together is often punctuated by feedings, diaper changes, and plaintive requests from a toddler. So, we decided to take advantage of an impromptu – and baby free – recent visit to Florida by getting in some much needed sister bonding.

Shortly after we arrived in our hometown of Deland, Florida, Lindsay and I drove to nearby New Smyrna Beach and checked into a quaint Bed and Breakfast called the Black Dolphin Inn. Although I’ve been lucky enough to have stayed in some historic and grand hotels, this was my first ever B&B getaway. Lindsay and I exchanged excited glances as we pulled up to the picturesque Spanish-style home overlooking the river. The owner’s son carried our bags through the sleek, modern common area and gave us a bit of history – “It took my parents four years to get this place perfect. My dad actually did the decorating, he was inspired by the Louisiana-French style.” Later, I asked if owning a B&B had been a long-standing dream of theirs. He replied, “You’d think so, but really it was an opportunity that fell into their laps. But they jumped at it, and they love it.”As we settled in, one of the owners poured us glasses of pomegranate lemonade – her own creation – and told of us all the goings-on scheduled for that weekend on the beach.

After a day by the pool and an evening out, Lindsay and I gratefully retired to our luxurious king-sized bed. Although the homey surroundings and the amicable service stood out, what made our stay a truly singular experience was breakfast the following morning. This was not a uninspired spread of bagels, muffins and fruit. The owners hustled between the restaurant-grade kitchen and the dining room table, trading plates for smiles. I poured myself a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice while inspecting the menu. We ultimately shared two southern favorites – biscuits with sausage gravy and shrimp and grits. Exclaiming over how delicious everything was and eating way more than was good for us, we discussed the details of the quaint B&B that we would run together someday.

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Week Twenty-Six – Exploring my Revitalized Hometown

I loved growing up in DeLand, Florida. It was the kind of town that completely shut down when there was a big football game at the local high school stadium, and where the construction of a Wal-Mart became front-page news. However, since I now spend the bulk of my holidays in Nashville, I haven’t seen much of my hometown in five years. As became apparent during my sister and I’s recent visit, DeLand has undergone a great transformation; it was time for us to become reacquainted.

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Historic Downtown DeLand is comprised of a single main street framed by 19th Century storefronts. It is a sight burned into my memory. As a child, I loved to pick a quiet corner and sit “indian-style” with a dusty tome in a removed corner of the Muse bookshop. I spent lose change unearthed from the couch cushion at the Candy Castle. During high school, I flipped through CDs in Steve’s Downtown Music. As I checked out with my latest Top-40 selection, I shrugged aside more obscure recommendations from the owner – a Weird Al lookalike known for his telltale glazed expression.

Although Downtown DeLand has held onto its quaint, historic spirit, it has adopted a more eclectic and vibrant aesthetic. During a mid-morning stroll down Woodland Boulevard, Lindsay and I browsed the wares in trendy boutiques. Ten years ago, downtown DeLand would hardly be considered an ideal shopping destination – unless perhaps you were a character from the Golden Girls. Today, some of our childhood friends have returned home to open businesses like Pinup Parlor and Sportsanity, which cater to a younger crowd. Outdated shops have given way to places such as The Nest – a dual-purpose establishment where patrons can browse restored, hand-painted furniture while enjoying a glass of (“secret recipe”) sangria. For lunch, Lindsay and I ate at Dalley in the Alley, a restaurant that creates imaginative dishes from locally-grown produce. That evening, we joined our aunt for an authentic Mexican meal at De la Vega. After sampling home-made Churros while sitting outside along the lighted street, we caught a live band in the courtyard at Cafe De Vinci. Affectionately called the “Athens of Florida,” it seems that modern-day DeLand has opened up to a wide range of international influences.

The recent revitalization of DeLand extends beyond its main street. Although DeLand’s history Garden District was settled in the late 1800s by well-to-do Yankees who built large, beautiful homes, the neighborhood became blighted by the 1980s. Today, however, many of these homes have been restored to their former glory. My sister and I drove around, eagerly pointing out our favorites. I gave Lindsay a (perhaps unwanted) history lesson, explaining that the large porches would have once served as screened-in sleeping areas to make the muggy summer nights tolerable before the advent of air-conditioning. The two of us paused when we encountered a “For Sale” sign outside a weathered green colonial-style home. It turned out to the oldest house in town – built in 1883, only a few years after baking soda magnate Henry DeLand purchased the surrounding land for $1000 and founded the town. My sister had to bring me down from my lofty imaginings – no, it would not be advisable to abandon my fledgling legal career to run a B&B in an 150 year-old home.

On my last day in Florida, I had a pleasant beachside lunch with my Grandfather. Afterward, I peeked into the gallery at the Athens Theatre – a building constructed during the Vaudeville era of the 1920s that, much like the surrounding neighborhood, eventually fell into disrepair. This was my first opportunity to see the old theater since it was restored and reopened in 2009. When I was growing up, I thought the facade was beautiful despite the boarded-up windows. There was much to love about my hometown – even the areas that were a bit time-worn. When I first drafted the 52 New Things List, I never anticipated that one of my new experiences would involve traversing streets I’ve walked down a thousand times before. I’m thankful that so many people (native DeLandians and transplants alike) have recognized DeLand’s potential and have transformed it into a thriving, artistic community.

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