Monday, June 20, 2011

Cape May, Congress Hall and relaxation, rediscovered

If there's one thing that's lacking in my life, it's genuine relaxation. It's not just a matter of finding the time. It's just that ever since I had kids, it's been hard to lose myself in the pleasure of a moment. It takes a lot for me to sink into a book, crocheting or a Netflix movie. I feel restless, like I should be doing something. I suspect I am not alone here.  

When the fabulous ladies of The Motherhood invited me to visit Congress Hall in Cape May, New Jersey, with a group of other bloggers, my RSVP was HELL YEAH (OK, I didn't say it but I thought it). I arranged for babysitting, made sure Max had a good supply of spaghetti, reminded Dave that he's the dad and he doesn't have to give in to Sabrina's every whim, and escaped. The mere act of cruising down a highway alone, without Madagascar on the DVD for five thousandth time, was a treat.  

Congress Hall dates back to 1816, when it was a boarding house called Tommy's Folly, because people thought the owner, Thomas H. Hughes, was out of his head for building a place so large. He went on to become a congressman. Voila! Congress Hall. 

My room. Mine, mine, mine. I could have happily stayed in for two days. I loved that the floors sloped, as befits a fine old hotel; the place was renovated in 1879, though the charming details remain. It's America's oldest seaside hotel. As grand as the hotel looks, the soaring columns and verandas were standard architecture for its time. 

The place sure does make it easy to chill out. Like, mandatory.

This year, Cape May was ranked one of the best beaches in the country. It's particularly beautiful, and it rarely gets that crowded. Also, the hotel's cabana boys will bring you food and drink, though I am not sure they will help build sand castles.

I roamed around town. The hotel is right near the Washington Street Mall; "mall" is a totally wrong word for the wide brick walkway lined with seaside-chic stores. 

The preferred mode of transportation. 

I have been craving a Bloody Mary for too long, and I had the best one of my life at the Rusty Nail bar/restaurant at the Beach Shack (a sister hotel of Congress Hall). This place, which Travel & Leisure considers one of the country's best beach bars, makes their own mix and it was just right—rich and not too spicy. The comfort-food menu was temptation central. I had a balanced meal: 1 part salmon, 10 parts Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, 10 parts Strawberry Cobbler. 

The pool, where I got to sit and read a magazine from cover to cover and nobody shrieked "MOMMMMMY! WHERE ARE MY GOGGLES!!!" Nobody that I owned, anyway. Congress Hall, as beautiful as it is, is completely family friendly. 

People regularly get married on the hotel's expansive lawn. I am a sucker for weddings: Family's, friends', strangers'. 

One relaxing thing that I never do anymore: Walk around neighborhoods and check out the houses. There are loads of old Victorians in Cape May, and the streets are quiet, a stroller's paradise. 

We visited Beach Plum Farm, a 65-acre farm that supplies much of the produce served at Congress Hall's restaurant, The Blue Pig Tavern, and other Cape Resorts Group eateries.

The perennial herb garden. The farm also produces flowers, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and many fantasies about quitting your job to run a farm.

Maybe the prettiest chicken coop ever—eat your heart out, Martha!

I've never once been tempted to gnaw on raw asparagus spears, but the just-picked kind are surprisingly sweet. I would eat many more veggies if I had a bigger backyard garden and no resident groundhog, although if someone built Maxsutawney Phil a little house like the one above, he'd be welcome to stay.

Our lunch setting. I know. I felt like I was in a Merchant Ivory film.

Chef Lucas Manteca, of The Ebbitt Room, and straight out of central casting. He prepared our feast. Everything tastes ten times better when you are in a Merchant Ivory film.

Mercifully, I was not forced to return to reality; I got a pedicure at The Sea Spa, a place that's just as serene as it sounds. 

My toes, so rarely available for photo shoots. 

For dinner: Exceptional food (Steak Frites!)...

...excellent conversation with Amy from Selfish Mom (who is the opposite of selfish, and I hope that doesn't ruin her rep)...

...and one wonderful dessert (that would be Strawberry Shortcake). 

Heaven, continued: Sitting on a bench on the walkway by the beach, alone with your thoughts.

And that was my fantasy two days, fully complimentary, in the most picturesque hotel and seaside town. If you're planning a visit, you can get $100 off a 2011 stay at Congress Hall, the Beach Shack, or the Virginia Hotel if you book by July 31; use the code MOMBLOG. You can also "like" the Congress Hall Facebook page to stay updated on offers and/or fuel your own fantasies.

This sort of trip happens, like, never (and certainly not without the kids) but it was the motivation I needed to figure out ways to really relax. Like taking time to sit in the swing on our front porch, away from the siren call of my computer. Or hitting the Farmer's Market alone early weekend mornings. Or mixing up a Bloody Mary once in a while. I wish I could have had one with you guys—I know you need some serious relaxation, too. Hmmm.... Can someone plan that get together? We'll call it Love That Mom, and we'll all sit around doing absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, here's the next best thing: the secret ingredients for the Bloody Mary. I asked.

Mix up tomato juice or V8 with the desired amount of vodka (or not—I happen to love Virgin Marys) with a small amount of cider vinegar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, fresh lime and lemon juice, onion powder, garlic powder, fresh horseradish, a pinch of dried ancho chili powder and pepper, and a dash of Tabasco.


  1. My rep is SO totally ruined now that I have to go incognito - the red hair in that picture is gone! :-( No, really, as of last night.

    Love your post. So funny, we went to the same place, actually spent a lot of time together, and had completely different agendas and perspectives. I rarely have trouble relaxing (it's so often the opposite) that my entire reaction was "OMG, I can't wait to bring my family here!"

    But we both agree that Congress Hall was spectacular. And I'm glad you were able to relax. :-)

  2. Suggestion for another post, Ellen: how to get a job writing reviews for complimentary stays at relaxing places. You sold me on this one!

  3. Ellen, what a BEAUTIFUL post!!! You brought the whole trip floading back with all your gorgeous attention to the perfect details and your stunning photos. It was heaven to get to relax with you at Congress Hall. (I'm already planning a trip in the Fall with the kids, which granted, won't be quite so very relaxing! :))

  4. re = lacks?
    ree - la x?
    I'm sorry I have no idea what you're talking about!

  5. I'm just thrilled at the chance to finally have met you, Ellen! Oh, sure the relaxing part...the eating...okay, okay, AND Mojitos...enough said :)

  6. God, do I love Cape May. One of my all-time favorite places. It's so nice to think of you roaming around and relaxing there. Much deserved.

  7. i love cape may, and congress hall sounds beautiful. will have to try and make it there sometime, most likely for the less relaxing version of the trip with kids!

  8. How beautiful! I would love to bring my family there. Some of your photos are absolutely breathtaking!

  9. I am officially JEALOUS!!!

  10. I always feel guilty fo relaxing and hardly do during any daytime hours. If I try my mind races about what I should be doing. I also love alone time in the car which doesnt happen to often.

  11. Sounds lovely! I'm so glad for you!

  12. I'm very glad you got a chance to relax. I just wanted to take a second to tell you how much I admire your dedication not only to your kiddos but also to your blog. I can always count on an inbox with the title Love that Max, and even though I'm not a mom and have only been a follower for a short time, I've come to love following!

  13. Barbara, I would so love to do more travel writing about relaxing places I visit, only two problems: Max and Sabrina. :) Traveling with them is all sorts of fun. Relaxing, not as much! But I would love to return to this place with them and Dave—Felicia, Dave is just as jealous, if not more!

    Welcome, Kimmy! Glad to have you here.

    We Take It Day By Day: What a great name for the blog. I think I need the bumper sticker! I personally don't feel guilty for relaxing—I just have a hard time doing it. I know that I'm a better mother when I take time for myself—you should look at it that way, too. Also, you DESERVE it.

  14. Beautiful photos Ellen. I had to laugh...driving without Madadagascar on the DVD for the five thousandth time...

  15. It looks fabulous, you have taken beautiful photographs. I'm glad you were able to have a good time.

  16. I love your description of our "Merchant Ivory" lunch - SO true!!! Wish I were back there right now, in fact. Thanks for helping me re-live the experience! Great meeting another Ellen, too. :)

  17. One of the challenges, I find, of parenting a child on the autistic spectrum is that I find it impossible to completely relax. I'm always waiting for a meltdown, crisis, "Asperger Attack." Just looking at your photos and reading about your experience took the edge of what was a very long day. Thanks.

  18. i think that is the best idea for a blogging conference. love that mom 2012: doing nothing but sitting on the beach drinking, eating, and reading with fellow female bloggers.

  19. Ellen, your post is amazing! I love your pictures, and your witty descriptions of everything we experienced. It was such a pleasure to get to spend time with you on this trip, and thank you for turning me on to The Rusty Nail's Bloody Mary - it was truly spectacular!!

  20. Nice post. However, although Congress Hall has been renovated a number of times over the years (most recently majorly rehabbed in 2002), calling what happened in 1879 a renovation? It burned down In the great fire of 1878, so, no, not a renovation!


Thanks for sharing!

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