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Posts Tagged ‘CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition’

Day Twenty-four: North Dakota, I rebuke thee!

16 Jul

Well, here it is. CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition has officially come to a close.** And, as always, it feels utterly surreal to be back in my own home. Which is kind of a weird thing to say. I know that. But I can’t even begin to tell you how strange I feel right now, how my head is absolutely being messed with, just by proximity to my own things, my own bed, my own space. It all feels like one gigantic step through the looking glass. As if the past 3 weeks or so (24 days to be specific!) might not have happened. Like maybe it was all just one massive brain episode. Did I imagine it? Nah, my imagination isn’t that good. And I do have souvenirs. But I can tell you that it’s messing with my kids’ heads, too. They haven’t been in this house for 26 days. That’s a long stinkin’ time to be away from your Legos and snuggle friends. And let us not forget, Tivo! We all have some adjusting to do. But for now, the kids are sleeping soundly in their own beds. The van has been completely emptied, and the beautifully clean & totally organized house that I left over 3 weeks ago, is now crowded with bags to be unpacked. Blerg.

But that’s not why you’re here now. To hear me blather on about my malaise at the ending of CMRT. You’re here for the low-down recap, the final accounting – CMRT: By the Numbers. It’ll be brief, because, man, am I knackered, but here ya go…

–> We’ll start with the most important stat, our findings in the license plate game. I really thought this would be the year. We had such a promising start. But, alas and alack, I must hue and cry, North Dakota, I rebuke thee! Yeah, you guessed it. The only state we missed. North Dakota. We got D.C. and all the other 49 states – yes, including Hawaii and Alaska. Even multiples of hard to find states such as Wyoming and South Dakota. But no North Dakota. And we’ve been sitting in that position since our week in Maine. Did we lose focus? Were we not vigilant enough? Has the luxury of our built-in entertainment system made us soft? We’ll never know the answer. Oh, so close, and yet, so far…

–> This was the first year that the CMRT: Lottery Project was a failure. And my oh my what an abysmal failure it was. The past two years have been winners for the CMRT: LP. Okay, nothing grand, but we walked away from the fun both entertained, and in the black. By less than $10 each year, but still it was like being paid for our own entertainment. This year? Not so much. We definitely still had fun, but came to realize that winning was much more fun than losing. And losing is what we did best this year. We were definitely in the red. Way in the red. Didn’t lose it all – started with $100 – but we lost most of it. CMRT: LP 2013 had a deficit of $74. Yes, we had the entertainment along the way, but lighting 74 $1 bills on fire individually would also have been entertaining in a way. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. All cash invested in CMRT: LP is strictly for entertainment purposes, and playing the what would you do if we won the big one with this single scratch of a coin game is pretty fun.

–> Number of states we drove through: 15 (counting Florida). Number of different states in which we rested our heads for the night: 9 (ME, CT, NJ, PA, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA). Number of times I reminded my kids that they had no idea how lucky they were to travel so extensively, and that they have, in their short lives, visited more states than many people see in a lifetime: shockingly, only 1.

–> And now for the big reveal. The total number of miles I personally logged behind the wheel, the sum total of all travels for CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition? 3,309 miles, on the nose. Forgive me, but I like to write that out longhand, too. Lets me savor it a little longer. Three thousand three hundred and nine miles driven. In 24 days. Wow.

Phew! Okay, so that’s it. It’s all over except the unpacking. No more updates. No more snark. Hopefully, no more rocks off the interstate. Though, to that end, I did make arrangements to drop my car off at the body shop tomorrow to get the damage caused by that rear-end collision in Philly fixed. Which means I get a rental car. The guy’s insurance company arranged for me to have a full size from Enterprise. Fingers crossed for the Dodge Charger! Because if my days of long driving are over, I might just need to jump over a lake or two… (“Straightnin’ the curves, flatnin’ the hills, someday the mountain might get ‘em, but the law never will…”)

 

** Applications for inclusion in CMRT: Summer 2014 Edition are now being accepted. Please kindly allow 6-7 months for a response. And understand that to be eligible for inclusion as a CMRT host family, you, too, must be completely crazy.

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Days Twenty-two & Twenty-three: Nary a snake in sight

15 Jul

This year’s big winners for the final stop of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition? The Gray Family in Richmond Hill, Georgia!! (YAY!! And the crowd goes wild…) Okay, so maybe earning the right to host Crazy Momma & the Willim 3 at the tail end of a 3 week odyssey doesn’t exactly make you winners, but it sure does make you damn fine friends. And I couldn’t have been happier to pull into their driveway yesterday afternoon. It was one of those days where the anticipation of the final destination is the only thing that keeps you driving. And what should have taken a little less than five hours ended up taking more than six. At times I was driving through rain that was falling so hard it was like driving through the curtain of a waterfall. And let me tell you how happy I was to have my polarized Costa del Mar sunglasses (Please tell their people to contact my people about CMRT sponsorship opportunities.) The glare was terrible, sort of a blinding, misty fog covering the interstate, but the glasses cut right through that. So other than looking like an idiot for driving with my sunglasses on in the pouring rain, it was definitely a safer way to drive. And oh the traffic along I-95 South in South Carolina, the ever-loving traffic! Let’s see, it went something like this: Come to a screeching stop, crawl forward, come to another stop, accelerate to 40mph, slow to a crawl, accelerate to 20mph, screech to a stop, resume a slow crawl, accelerate rapidly to 60mph, come slowly to a dead stop, repeat, repeat, repeat… And in conditions like this you absolutely cannot use cruise control. So, of the five hours or so of actual driving time yesterday, I think I used cruise control for maybe 20 minutes of it. My right knee was starting to ache about halfway there. And it seems unfair, because I’m not really noticing any difference. I think after more than 3,000 miles behind the wheel in the past three weeks I deserve to develop a really toned right leg. People on the street should be able to say, “Who’s Crazy Momma? Oh, you’ll know her by her driving leg…”

But though it took us much longer than anticipated, we made it in one piece, and that’s what really matters. My kids were so excited to see Aiden & Gretchen that I actually checked the door locks as I rolled into their driveway, because I feared the kids would try to ditch out of the van before I came to a complete stop. And within seconds it was like no time had passed at all. The kids disappeared to play while Katie gave me the tour of their gorgeous new home. (Side note: Why are all my friends moving away, and then turning into grown-ups?) We enjoyed a lovely evening. Katie got a meal together for the kids, while David grilled up some delicious burgers on his great new summer kitchen grill. The beer was cold and plentiful, the kids were happy, and I was perfectly content passing the hours with my old friends in their new place.

And being with the Grays feels like stepping back in time. Or maybe it’s just crossing into an alternate reality. Because my rational brain says that they live here, that they moved away from my neighborhood, but just being with them feels like home. So I expect my house to be just down the street. I expect that I’m going to be able to knock on this door to ask to borrow something. But that’s not the case. And I think last night for the first time it is really hitting home that they’ve moved. That I’m only visiting them. That when I actually leave here and travel home, they won’t be there. And I love their new house, it is amazing. And they have been so kind and gracious to invite us to stay. But when I leave here, it’s real. They’re going to stay. I know that I’ll see them more often than I think. Katie’s parents still live in Ponte Vedra. Savannah is only 2.5 hours away. And we all know that I am not one to shy away from a road trip opportunity; certainly not one as paltry as a 2.5 hour drive! But it was surprising to me how melancholy I could feel after a really fun night. And what made it fun? The sense of normalcy. It was just another night of us sitting around, drinking beer, talking. Man, I’m going to miss this family.

Today, in the best possible way, was just more of the same. Aiden & Gretchen had soccer camp in the morning, so we just hung around the house, being lazy, the kids off playing (with electronics and otherwise) while I was shooting the breeze with Katie. But sooner than seemed possible, it was time for Katie to pick them up. So I packed my kids off to Publix to pick up some lunch (and oddly enough, school supplies! Not that I carry the supply list around with me, but they’ve got some classic essentials on BOGO right now, things that have been on the list every year, so I might as well stock up now. Plus they had Sharpies BOGO. You all know how I feel about Sharpies.) Anyway, since the rain was falling sporadically, we decided that perhaps we should alter our plan, that swimming in the rain was fine, but perhaps lunch was better served indoors. So after a quick lunch we all changed into swimsuits and headed to their community pool. It’s funny, at Karen & Tony’s neighborhood pool there is a lazy river, a huge tower twisty slide, a zero-entry toddler play space. In our own neighborhood in SJGCC there is a tower slide, separate lap and social areas of the pool. But in David & Katie’s neighborhood, it is just a pool. A classic, rectangular community pool. And the funny thing is, I think the kids liked it more. They were delightfully entertained just with pool noodles they pilfered from the lost & found, and the dive toys I keep in the pool bag. It is exactly the kind of community/club pool I remember from my childhood. The kind of pool that fosters imaginative play because they aren’t distracted by all the other lookatmelookatme options. So they happily played for what seemed like hours as Katie & I sat in lounge chairs, soaking up the sun and talking. At one point I lounged all the way back and shut my eyes, drifting off into a peacefully sleep. That is until I felt something touch my leg, and opened my eyes to see my son looming over me. When I startled, he said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were asleep. Nevermind.” And started to walk away. Aaaaarrrggghh! WHAT? No. Come here. What? What did you want? I’m awake now, so tell me. “Um, are we leaving yet?” Sigh. No. Not yet. Blerg.

But we packed up soon and headed back to the house. My kids were ecstatic when I told them they didn’t have to shower. Somehow I feel better about that because their pool is salt water. And the kids were once again off to the races playing while Katie did some things around the house, I showered and changed, and we basically ignored them. We decided on Chinese food from the very cleverly named Asia Asian Cuisine less than a mile from their house (right next to the amazingly well-located Publix!). My picky eating girls ate white rice, while the boy had a bagel from the Grays freezer. Bless his heart, he does want to try more things from time to time, but with an egg allergy, I’m thinking take-out Chinese food is not the time to be adventurous. As a report, if anyone is considering ordering from Asia Asian, the fried rice is a miss, and the curry chicken could use a few other vegetables other than the approximate 2 pounds of onion, but the fried dumplings were absolutely to die for! As David said, we ate past the point of feeling full and circled back around to it a second time. So. Yummy. The kids wolfed their food down and went to watch a movie in their bonus/play room/Krista’s bedroom to get the full surround sound experience, and the grown-ups stayed downstairs chatting, picking out our private jet (used, because we’re not that pretentious) from the Gulfstream website, and almost forgetting that there were children upstairs. And that is the beauty of having such good friends. Our kids are absolutely inseparable, perfectly comfortable together. We enjoy the ease of each other’s company – sharing stories, talking frankly, laughing a lot. Time slips by unnoticed, unmarked. The other beauty, the knowledge that we will see each other again, and not just on the 5th annual CMRT. We’ll see each other soon. Whether it’s them coming to us, or us going to them, this is not a friendship that is separated by so many miles that our visits become annual events. Which also means that visits can be relaxed, not stressed by the sensation that we must pack as much as possible into these few hours we have together. Which is a beautiful thing.

Tomorrow: The final push home (with a late afternoon departure). And if I’m not too knackered at the end of it, the final recap.

Author’s note: The title confuse you? Well, a few days ago the Grays spotted a snake on their patio. Not really a big deal, because places like south Georgia are lousy with snakes, and this one wasn’t one of the 6 poisonous varieties indigenous to these parts. But, the thing is, it was a very big deal. First, because Katie really understands Indiana Jones’ feelings (Snakes? Why did it have to be snakes?). But, second, because this particular snake was not on the ground. That’s right, it was slithering along the ledge that runs around the inside of the patio near the roofline. It was overhead. And as David quickly figured out, there really is no good way to get a snake that is above your head down to the ground without it falling on your head. Which really is not an acceptable option, whether the snake is venomous or not. So, after fully documenting the creepy event, and sharing said images with their closest friends, I felt like I had been promised a snake. But he wasn’t there. Which, frankly, was even creepier, because the mind does wander and I wonder where he is now. So, there you have it. We’re over halfway through our visit to the piney woods, and thus far there has been nary a snake in sight. But I have to say, that doesn’t actually disappoint me in the least…

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Days Twenty & Twenty-one: Quotes from the mouths of babes and a visit to The Fairy Forest

13 Jul

This year, the southbound leg of CMRT is heavy on friend visits. Lots of days of doing nothing, the kind of nothing that means everything. Just spending time together. Playing. Visiting. Laughing. And the past two days we’ve been in Greenville, South Carolina, visiting with Auntie E (my college bestie & housemate for 3 years), Uncle Russell, Charlie, Poppy, and Mary Hazel. You know the old Stones lyric, “Time is on my side, yes it is.” Well, for the first time ever during our annual visit to Greenville, I actually felt this to be true. Time did feel like it was on my side. Weather, not so much. (Rain, rain, go away…. you know the rest) But despite the rain, we have been making the most of our visit with our friends. Yesterday, after we arrived in Greenville and checked into our hotel, we made our way over to their house in a driving rain. (As if I don’t have enough driving on this trip!) Man, was it ever coming down hard. This put an effective end to any of our aspirations about going downtown to roam the park or get ice cream. Which, while at first glance may seem disappointing, was actually a blessing in disguise. Because it meant that we were able to just relax, just roll with it sans plan. No timetable, no need to round everybody up. Just let the kids flow throughout the house, playing Wii, building forts, painting nails, lightsaber fights, jumping on sofa cushions placed on the floor. You know, let them be kids. While the grown-ups sipped adult beverages and talked. It sure was nice to have some girly time with Erin. We keep up with each other throughout the year, but our face-to-face talks are usually limited to these CMRT visits. It was good to gossip, share, reveal, discuss. And to laugh. Many of those opportunities for laughter were actually supplied by her precocious and hyper-verbal 3 year old, Mary Hazel. At one point during the evening shenanigans, MH was seated on my right, staring up at my profile as I took a sip from my cider bottle. She matter of factly declared, “I like the look of your mouth when you drink.” Erin & I shared a quick look and then burst into laughter. It is entirely possible that I have never laughed so hard. Erin, who has known me for 22 years, since the very first day of our college careers, actually said, when I managed to catch my breath, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh like that.” It is definitely a moment that translating to print doesn’t do justice, but it was like that all night. Some antic of the children, some classic out of the mouth of babes comment, and we were dissolved into laughter. It’s a miracle no one wet their pants. Truly. We stayed up way past our bedtimes, but the only thing Beau wanted last night was to watch the new episodes of Gravity Falls and Phineas & Ferb on Disney Channel. A channel which doesn’t happen to be available in our hotel room, but is available at the Hinson household. Was I pleased that the shows didn’t start until 9pm? Not particularly. Except for the fact that it bought me an extra hour to chat with (and take selfies with!) Erin. And that was crucial because our hotel is not the sit in the hallway drinking beer and whispering to all hours of the night type of place. Having that extra time where the kids were engaged, and we could speak freely without little ears hanging on our every word. But getting back to the hotel at 10:30pm with three sleepy kids was mildly difficult. Luckily our hotel is close to their house, so I only had one who had drifted off to sleep. But of course it was the one seated in the position making it most difficult to remove her from the van, so I woke her up, forcing her to make her way into the hotel under her own power. Luckily my kids know the drill. When I say it’s time to go to bed, there is no room for argument. So, they settled quickly, and once prone with eyes closed, drifted off rather quickly. Myself, I was a bit wired, and needed a little decompression time before sleep. Eventually I got sleepy reading and admitted defeat, drifting off to sleep at almost midnight on the dot. Cue the ringing telephone. That’s right, the landline in our hotel room. When was the last time you heard a real telephone ring, especially in a hotel room? I can tell you that when you have just drifted off to sleep on the fold-out couch of a cheap hotel room, it sounds both incredibly loud and excessively shrill. I lurch to grab the receiver, luckily on the bedside table closest to my little bed, and what do I discover on the other end of the line? Not the drunk mis-dialing idiot I actually expected, but rather a toddler. At least that’s what it sounded like as I listened. It sounded like a toddler babbling and singing away. At 12:03 am. Oy. Okay, fine. Rip the cord out of the back of the phone. Maybe read a few more minutes to recover my drowsy state. Surely I’ll be drifting back off to sleep in no time. Which apparently did happen, because I was deeply asleep, way inside a dream in which zombies were approaching a house I was trapped inside, when the alarm clock started blaring. And I don’t mean easy-listening music, I mean an outrageously loud, honking, wailing, fire house alarm. Which had apparently been set for 4:45am. Awesome. Made even more awesome by the fact the alarm was on the far bedside table, on the complete opposite side of the room, and my zombie dream had me fairly well tangled in my sheets. I feel like it blared for 10 minutes, but I’m guessing it was more like 35 seconds. Which was exactly 35 seconds too long. I figure out how to silence it, (sadly couldn’t reach the plug, or I would have resolved it that way) and how to be sure it wouldn’t go off again. Then I laid back down in bed, my heart hammering from adrenaline. Definitely conducive to slipping off in blissful slumber. Sigh. At least the kids slept semi-late today, and it was in the 7 o’clock hour before I was awakened by their wouldyouquittouchingme bickering. I consider it a minor miracle that they were not awakened by either the ringing phone, or the blaring alarm. Crazy. But the kind I’m grateful for.

So, today entered banging cymbals and announcing its presence. Accompanied by more gray clouds. After breakfast we made our way back over to the Hinson’s house, loosing the children to play while the moms made a plan. After weighing all our options, and a quick glance at the radar (thank you new iPhone, there are times when I’m willing to overlook your autocorrect shenanigans) we decided a visit to Paris Mountain State Park would be just the ticket. There is something delightful about turning a group of children (is there an official name for that? A herd? A flock? A murder? ) loose in the woods. And this park is wonderful! After paying our $4 – only $2 per adult and children under 15 free – we chose from ample parking, had several choices for accessible restrooms, and enjoyed a 1.2 mile basically flat trail around the lake. Was it muddy? A bit. Was it raining off and on? Yes, but not excessively so. Which meant we just got a bit damp rather than soaking wet. And since we’d already determined that we were not made of sugar, we had a really pleasant morning. We snacked for lunch, the kids sharing much of our food with the resident geese and ducks, and basically passed a very pleasant hour or so roaming about in the wilderness. I do so enjoy getting out in nature. Especially when there are handy restroom facilities. But the crown jewel of the CMRT stopover in the Greenville area was yet to come. And I am ever so grateful that despite returning just last night from their own vacation, Erin’s parents, Dan & Mary (aka DanDaddy & GranMary) were willing to host Crazy Momma & the Willim 3, as well as Erin & her crew, plus Erin’s brother, Scott, and his son, out at their house in Anderson. Windward Meadows is something that defies proper description. It has a wonderful, old farmhouse that makes me feel cozy just thinking about it. I remember college visits, being snuggled under Erin’s old quilt snug as muffins in the oven. There are acres of grass to roam in, a burgeoning vegetable garden, a hammock under a tree, and, the piece d’resistance, The Fairy Forest. Yes, it deserves capital letters. Erin and her dad planted this copse of trees some 30+ years ago, creating a place of shade, a place of wonderment, a place of delight. Of course I rushed to plant myself in Scott’s chair. Oh, sweet hammock chair, how I long to rest in your relaxing embrace. It was, as all visits to Windward Meadows are, full of frivolity and silliness. There was Dan, the Maze Master, using his riding mower to cut a maze for the children in the grass of his field, and then setting elaborate rules for their quest to find the “gold” in the center. There was prancing, though I abstained until all smartphones were safely tucked into pockets. There was the quest to find the ugliest insect. There were hot dogs on the grill. There was beer. There was a rousing game of Would you rather…? And, as always, laughter. Much laughter. And peace. It was another one of those perfect vacation days we’re getting good at. The kind where nothing much happens, but it sure feels like a lot. And the time didn’t fly away from us, it stuck around, hovering close, demanding to be savored and appreciated. So we enjoyed the heck out of it.

This is usually my melancholy night. The final night of CMRT. But that’s not the case this year. We have one final stop in Savannah, Georgia, to visit the Grays. And everything feels different this year. Everything. Even the end. But it’s not the end yet. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to the Hinsons, take a 5 hour drive, roll the trip odometer over the 3k mile mark, and say hello to the last few days of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition. Fingers crossed for a North Dakota license plate along the road tomorrow. It’s the only one missing.

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Days Seventeen – Nineteen: Metro Lex and Tiny’s House

11 Jul

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, and that is a very good thing. Because it means that I’ve been so busy, so engaged, so happy that at the end of the day when I fall into bed, frequently after midnight, my body is too tired, and my mind is too full to even attempt transcribing my thoughts. Boy howdy has a lot happened in the past three days. And yet, really not much at all has happened. I mean, not when compared to rocks falling off interstate overpasses, or being rear-ended in traffic, or having a public confrontation in a fast food restaurant. No, instead what we’ve had would best be described as most excellent, perfectly laid back vacation days. And this is not to say that on the northbound leg when I managed to write most every night I wasn’t also having fun, I wasn’t also making wonderful memories that will last a lifetime, no, that’s not it at all. But I think it fair to say that fatigue has caught up with me. And now after my friends and I part ways for the evening, I have less stamina to keep my eyes open and share my contentment. So, here’s a brief recap of how the past few days have gone.

Day Seventeen could separately be titled: Metro Lex, Lex Vegas, or whatever you will. Because that was a halcyon day spent in Lexington, Virginia. We managed to serendipitously see old friends who live in Atlanta, but were visiting Lexington. I wish we had more time to spend with them, but it had been years, so even a brief catch up with the Partletts, letting them marvel over how the children had grown, a chance for Harper to dote on their dear “Gruffey Dog”, well, it was an unexpected treat and I’m so happy it could happen. We also perused a few shops in town – Books & Co, ironically to play with toys, Shenandoah Attic for old-fashioned candy sticks, and Intimate U for underpants. Here’s where I have to mention Tracey Lackey at Intimate U, because I am a person who is terrible with names. And I truly wish I wasn’t. I want to remember people, and I do, I just have trouble with names. But Tracey, whom I see only once a year, who I talk to a grand total of maybe 15 minutes every year, from whom I purchase very plain, very boring, very nondescript underpants once a year, never fails to remember my name. And my hometown. And the exact style & size of underpants I wear. She is a marvel to me. And since she runs a lingerie store, in a very small town, a store that contains many, many beautiful, and some really exciting and racy things, I can only imagine what kinds of secrets she holds in her head. And trust me, she remembers them with starling specificity. Be fun to get her drunk and listen to her tales of sales past. We also headed up to the Hill, as the campus of Washington & Lee University is affectionately know. Mostly we just wanted to go to the bookstore. My kids have been on the W&L campus many, many times. They have already been forced to tour the library, and poke heads into buildings that contain many of my most beloved memories. So we just parked in the garage and headed straight to the (relatively new) student center. Of all my kids, Beau is the one who is most vocal about wanting to attend W&L when he’s older, and since I think this a fine idea, I love fostering that love. First stop, a new t-shirt for him, as the old one he was wearing rides a little high above his shorts. But, since W&L is a particular weakness of mine, I can’t leave the bookstore without something for myself as well. This year it’s a new t-shirt. And since W&L combined with Tervis is like kryptonite, from which I am clearly incapable of defending myself, there was a W&L Law Tervis thrown into our purchases for good measure. Actually my first Tervis purchase of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition. I also managed to find Mike Young, W&L Head of Security, for the next 8 days until his retirement anyway, for a chat. Mike started working at W&L my freshman year, and we like to say that we started college togather. He is a father-figure to me, watched out for me during my college years in countless ways (probably some of them unseen), and I adore our annual chats. He’s a tell it like it is kind of guy – exactly my kind of people. And to round out our perfect downtown Lexington experience, lunch at The Palms. Not quite the same, but kind of fun to eat lunch with my kids in the bar/restaurant where I celebrated my 21st birthday with an unfortunately named shot or two. As lunch places go, it was mediocre at best, and ludicrously expensive. But the experience did nothing to tarnish my memories. And it was kind of nice that no one was throwing up. After lunch we headed out to Boxerwood Gardens and their most excellent play trail. It was a touch warm, and one of the kids spent more time in the port-o-let than I (or they!) would have cared for, but overall it was a fun adventure in the woods. I just sat at a picnic table reading while the kids explored the woods, threw rocks in the stream, and generally just ran around being kids. I love opportunities to let them do that, there seems to be so few in my world. Back at Jess & Eric’s house in time for showers before they arrived home, and we had another lovely evening with them. The kids watched a movie, and played together, so the grown-ups got some more quality time to chat. And it is such a wonderful thing being in the company of people you love.

And speaking of people I love, next stop, well, after picking up a breakfast biscuit at Hardee’s (because who would miss that opportunity!) and a 4.5 hour drive, the Matthews, NC, home of former Glenfield Crossing Courters Karen & Tony Taylor, and their sons, Cooper & Anderson. It’s been 7 months since they moved, but when they opened the door it felt like it had been only last week. The kids raced upstairs to fall easily back into their old rhythms of play, and Karen & I got to just sit around the kitchen table (and what a huge & beautiful table it is!) to talk. It suddenly felt a lot less like the tail end of a long, exhausting trip, and more like a nice day in the neighborhood. It was just so relaxing to be there, chatting in the kitchen, catching up, while the kids played. And, sure, Karen & I occasionally had to referee, or chastise, you can’t get 5 kids who are lifelong friends together and not have some drama, but it was the usual kind, the expected kind. And mostly they seemed really pleased to be together once again. And not to shortchange the recap, but honestly, it was uneventful in the most amazing way. So relaxing. So fun to be together there at “Tiny’s” House. The only thing missing was the Gray Family. Because that would have been the only thing to make it even more exceptional than it already was – having our entire Friday Night Pizza Night crew back together. But Tony and I have very similar personalities – meaning I’m not quite sure how Karen manages to put up with either one of us! We also share a love of beef jerky so profound, that I may have shed a little tear when Tony brought me a souvenir coozie from The Beef Jerky Outlet. (Though, to be clear, it’s really just a beef jerky store, they only call it an outlet to draw people in off the interstate.) Of course, no one can rival Tony’s, um, interesting taste in music. Really, dude? Late 80s – early 90s R&B? Yeah, that’s your jam. (Insert snickering laughter here) But, you can’t fault his intelligence, because the man figured out the only way to not rack up a loss against me in cornhole – we didn’t play. He’ll try to blame it on the weather, but their beautiful home has a hallway spacious enough for a regulation game. Tsk, tsk. Guess we’ll never know. (Except we do. I crush him pretty much 98% of the time. Of course there is that 2%…)

Anyway, our days in Charlotte were not eventful in a crazy wackadoo road trip kind of way, they were better. They were calm, relaxed, so very, very pleasant. We went to the pool and it was just like every other trip to the pool – where the kids spend the entire time gathered around the table begging snacks, until it starts to thunder and we have to pack everything up. Though we did get our free Slurpees for 7/11 Day, so that was a little out of the ordinary! I kind of want to tell you here that Karen & Tony are terrible hosts, that their guest room is completely uncomfortable. I kind of want to lie to you, because if I tell you how awesome they are, how oh-my-god I don’t ever want to rise out of bed comfortable their guest bed is, then maybe they’ll be booked with other guests the next time I want to visit. Theirs is a home where there is always laughter, always something good (and possibly regional) to drink, and always a warm welcome. But you check with me first before you go visit – I might just be on my way back there…

Tomorrow: Greenville. And a much anticipated visit with Auntie E, Uncle Russell, Charlie, Poppy, and Mary Hazel. There will be more laughter. Lots of ice cream. And hopefully a hallway jammie-jam or two.

Current odometer reading: 2641.6 miles. Phew! I’m developing one heck of a right leg…

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Day Sixteen: Coming Home

08 Jul

I started the day by snapping awake at 6:30am. Nothing terribly unusual about that. Except the quiet. The absolute silence in the room. Because my children were still asleep. All of them. Sound asleep. It’s like opposite day up in here. And apparently I am so conditioned to sleep failure that I can’t even take advantage of an opportunity when one presents itself. Because as I laid there with my eyes open I realized that I was not falling back asleep. It was futile. And yet because I didn’t want to wake the slumbering children, I couldn’t even turn on a light to read. Sigh. Surely this is a sign of good things to come today, right?

And it was. Because today was a perfectly lovely day. We started off by going to the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. It’s okay, go ahead, I’ll pause for snickering. I’m sure at least some of you are as immature as me, and need a moment to compose yourselves. (Side note to induce further laughter: there was a tourist guide for the region displayed on the counter that showed what appeared to be a cheesy couple from the 80s and it said: Intercourse, Pennsylvania – Slow Down the Hurry! Bwahh haa haa! Slow Down the Hurry. In Intercourse. Phew! Too much. Too much.) You have no idea how much I was hoping that they would sell t-shirts at the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. Alas, it was the souvenir that was not to be. Darn it. And the “factory” – yeah, it deserves quotes, especially after we toured the massive, highly automated Herr’s Snack Factory on the northbound leg – is actually just a single, large room. And wouldn’t you know it, they weren’t even making pretzels today! Apparently it was too hot and humid outside (the factory/room does not have air conditioning) and the yeast would not react properly with the dough. So, we stood and looked at a mostly bare room except for a large industrial mixer, and a single commercial oven, that was otherwise empty. But the girl giving the “tour” was well-spoken, and she gave us a very interesting and informative rundown on how the pretzels are made, even if we were mostly dependent upon our imaginations for visual representations. And then the fun began. She gave each of us a ball of pretzel dough, and taught us how to twist pretzels. It was actually really fun, and much harder than it would seem; at least doing it the factory worker way where they just hold the dough in the air, twist one hand quickly, and drop the dough to the table in a perfect pretzel shape. The kids all had a great time, and we each got our Official Pretzel Twister stickers as she gathered up our dough. (Clearly this dough was not actually for consumption. Bleech.)

After that short “factory tour” and snack opportunity, it was time to load up and head further south. I must say that this has been some of the loveliest driving I’ve done. These massive farms, with corn taller than our car, fields of it, as far as the eye can see. And all the Amish horse & buggies. Not to mention the opportunity to talk to the kids about how easy their lives are, and why I will not abide laziness – if they were Amish kids they would have been up with the sun doing chores, hard labor at times, not arguing over whose turn it was to chose a Netflix video on the iPad. And we got to see children no older than Avery working in the fields, and a boy who appeared to be maybe two years older than Beau driving a wagon with four plow horses. But it was all so lovely and bucolic. It was a nice reminder that not all of America is a fetid parking garage attached to a strip mall. America is still the beautiful…

Also beautiful, today’s destination: Lexington, Virginia, home of Washington & Lee University, my beloved alma mater. But there were 5 hours between here and there. Thankfully, the movie was selected, the kids were entertained, I was enjoying a great audio book by Harlan Coben, but I also spent a good portion of the time chatting pleasantly with a friend on the phone (no, not a law-breaking handheld cell phone, but via my earphone headset, thank you very much!) The time, and the miles, really did just fly by. So much so that we arrived in town a bit ahead of schedule. It was amazing rolling off I-81 South at exit 195. Driving past Lee-Hi (No, I’m never going to call it Berky’s Restaurant – sorry!) Seeing the changes – excuse me, is that a craft brewery? And how some things never change – like the fact the view of House Mountain tangibly shifts something within my physiology. Funny how the speed limit through town used to be such an annoyance, and yet now it is a blessing. I get to look around, soak it in, and 25 mph suddenly feels too fast.

First stop? Well, when Crazy Momma promises ice cream for dinner, she delivers. So we rolled right off of Main Street onto Washington, past the Dutch Inn, found a parking spot, and walked down the hill to Sweet Things. So happy to see it still open. I bought my kids ice cream at Sweet Things. Seems poignant somehow. It really is gratifying the way some things never change. And then we took our cups to go and walked across the street to the W&L campus. What a bizarre feeling it is to be on the Hill, to walk in plain sight of the Colonnade. I think the weirdest thing about it was that it didn’t feel weird at all. It felt natural. Right. I do so love this campus. Like I said, it shifts something tangible in my physiology. I am happy here. Calm. Relaxed. It just feels good to be home. And speaking of home, after we finished our ice cream and loaded back into the van. Before heading to our friends’ house, I had a slight detour to take up Borden Road. And there is was, looking so very much the same as it did 20 years ago, Disgraceland. My college house. And I couldn’t help thinking about Auntie E and Mrs. Adams (as my kids know them! That’s Erin McKinney Hinson, and Caroline Amason Adams, to you and me.) We had such wonderful, transformative years in that house. Glad to see it was still a student rental. A bit sorry to see that the back door was closed. Guess either the current residents made a deal with the ghost regarding keeping a window cracked, or the ghost has moved on. I sure hope it’s the former. But after a quick stop for nostalgia and photos, we were off to Jess & Eric’s house.

The kids jumped out of the car and immediately into playing with their kids, I helped Jess finish chopping some vegetables while she mixed us drinks. It was so nice to just fall into the comfort of an old friend, fall into the rhythm of her house. It all just seemed so easy. Chatting while dinner cooked, dinner itself (okay, maybe that part was easy because I had pre-fed my kids knowing them to be ridiculously picky eaters, to the point of it being painful for me, so they just played by themselves while the rest of us ate), getting them situated for bed (again, Jess & Eric doing the heavy lifting, if one can call air mattresses heavy, but children’s behavior wise, all was going well). But most of all it sure was nice sitting on their lovely screened porch after all the little ones were snug in their beds, chatting. I love the way Eric & Jess love one another; it is with simple grace, an easy intimacy. I always feel so happy and relaxed when I am around the two of them. And that is a very nice feeling indeed.

Up tomorrow: In the morning, meeting our dear friends who are randomly up from Atlanta, but on their way out tomorrow. Maybe head to Boxerwood for a bit. Definitely have to hit the university bookstore on campus – Beau has basically outgrown his W&L shirt and wants another. Perhaps the Admissions Office, as Beau is ready to drop off his application for the class of… (please don’t make me do the math!) The book store in town has been requested. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Lexington for me without a stop at Intimate U – I’m probably the only girl who lives in a big city yet only buys her underpants in a tiny town. (Hey, man, don’t judge. When you find what you like, you stick with it!) I imagine tomorrow will be another day that just sails by when all I really want it to do is slow down so I can savor the moment. But not if I don’t get to sleep soon. You ever feel so excited that it’s hard to sleep? Yeah, I know exactly what you mean…

 

 

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Day Fifteen: I made a left turn. In Jersey.

07 Jul

One of my favorite bands is a little group called Eddie from Ohio and they sing a song called No Left Turns in Jersey. It’s a great little ditty, classic EFO. Hysterically funny, with more than a hint of truth. Today, as I was driving in New Jersey, I had that song running through my head over and over again. No left turns in Jersey, no u-turns at all… But then Fiona, my GPS, told me to take a left turn in half a mile. I thought she must be mistaken. Take a left turn? In Jersey? But sure enough, there was a green arrow, so I made a left turn. In Jersey. I’m sorry EFO. Fiona made me do it.

But I didn’t start the day in Jersey. We started the day in Connecticut. In a really great hotel in Danbury. If you ever find yourself in need of a hotel in Danbury, CT, I can highly recommend the Springhill Suites by Marriott. Big, bright, beautiful room – my kids were outrageously impressed by the fact it had two flat screen tvs – and super clean. I like that in a hotel. (Side note: the Days Inn I’m currently in does not qualify as super clean. Maybe only half as clean, and that is commiserate with the comparative room rate.) The Springhill Suites also had an excellent selection for the included breakfast. The typical cereal, yogurt, fruit, carbo extravaganza, with the addition of hot waffles and a kicky little oatmeal station with hot oatmeal and add-ons like raisins, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and two different kinds of nuts. So we lounged a little, had a great breakfast, and then headed out at 10:03 am. A quick peek at the trip odometer puts me at 1831.1 total miles traveled thus far. Which means I should roll in over 2k during the course of the day.

Our morning destination? Meeting college friend, Bevan, and her 7 year old daughter at the Imagine That! Childrens’ Museum in Florham Park, NJ. Fiona said that was about 1.5 hours away, so I figured leaving at 10am would give us time to pick up some food for a quick lunch before our play date. The first part of our route was along the Saw Mill Parkway. I have to say, it was a perfectly lovely drive. I think the Saw Mill is really pretty, quaint almost. I also think it must be a terrific nightmare in heavy traffic. It feels close, almost claustrophobic when traveling it without anyone around, it must be stifling when surrounded, pinned in, by other cars. But today it was smooth sailing, and I enjoyed the ride. That is, until we approached the Tappan Zee Bridge. Where the heck did all this traffic come from? I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it, given my experience yesterday, but for whatever reason I did not account for it. It threw us a little off schedule, but only 15 minutes, so I felt okay about that. And my kids were super amused that within the course of the first hour we traveled through three different states – CT, NY, NJ. I explained that in New England the states are smaller and closer together than in the South. Which really, when you think about it, doesn’t make much sense, since NY is a massive state. But they accepted my half-baked answer, and just enjoyed seeing state border signs with regularity.

We made our quick food stop at a very bizarre Wendy’s. It was the corner/anchor store in a strip mall. No drive through. Just stuck in a strip mall. I had never seen anything like it. And then when I ordered my cheeseburger with mustard, the girl behind the counter said, “Oh, we can’t put mustard on your sandwich.” Excuse me? Being my perfectly reasonable response. “We can’t put mustard on your sandwich. We don’t have mustard at this Wendy’s location anymore.” WHAT?! Um, okay. Uhhh.. You don’t have any mustard? It’s a pretty popular condiment, so that surprises me. “Well, we have these mustard packets. I could give you some of those.” Yeah. I’m going to need some of those. I want mustard on my burger. Geesh!  Am I the only one that thinks that is super weird? How does a hamburger place not have mustard? Oy.

But other than being 15 minutes late (and giving Bevan the heads up so they wouldn’t get there on time and be waiting for us), our time at the Imagine That! Childrens’ Museum was really great! It’s a really cool hands-on children’s museum. With a really eclectic collection of different areas for the kids to play in – a store, a vet’s office, a dance studio, a doctor’s office, etc. They also have a small climbing structure, and best of all, an art room, where there is paint, crayons, paper, glue, mixed media objects just laid out for the kids to go nuts. And go nuts they did, our little Jackson Pollacks. But mostly, we just turned the kids loose and let them play. It was nice to be in a safe place where I could do that. Let them out of sight, loosen the supervision. Harper and Izzy in particular played well together. And Bevan and I got to chat unencumbered by little listening ears and lap-sitting hanger-ons. Which was refreshing, and lovely. Adult conversation among friends in the presence of 4 little children? Inconceivable. And yet, totally possible at Imagine That! Huh. Imagine that.

The kids kind of reached their limit just shy of the 3 hour mark, which I thought was phenomenal. And though I could have happily and easily chatted with Bevan for 3 more hours, it was time to pack the Willim 3 back in the van and begin the trek toward PA Dutch country. Today must have been my day for beautiful drives, or maybe it’s just that I’m in a particularly lovely area of the country. Much of the drive today, while slower than interstate speed, was really enjoyable because it was on some of the lesser, back roads in NJ and PA. Fields of corn for as far as the eye could see. (Harper thought that was especially great & begged to be let off at one of the farms to live there.) Though I have to say, as we made our way into Ronks, a town adjacent to Lancaster, I was shocked by the level of consumerism we entered. I was vaguely concerned about the dinner offerings near our hotel, but I shouldn’t have been. There is everything under the sun within a mile or two of here. Including a glut of outlet malls. Every chain restaurant you could think of. It was incongruous with the drive we had just taken to get here. But it made it even more poignant and delightful when we did see a horse-drawn Amish buggy navigating the traffic. So strange, yet wonderful. A lot like America in general, come to think of it. And for dinner, I managed to kill two birds with one stone by taking us to Cracker Barrel. The food was fine and reliable, but what I really needed was a new audio book. Especially since tomorrow has a long drive between PA and my second home, Lexington, VA. While in the country store, we spotted a Tervis that said “Road Trip.” The kids were begging me to buy it, knowing my love for Tervis (and a good road trip!) But I declined. A friend reminded me that you can custom order your own Tervis from their website. So now what I’m thinking is that Crazy Momma’s Road Trip needs a logo! Can you imagine? A CMRT Tervis? I would be in heaven.

Tomorrow: At least one pretzel factory. Maybe two. Amish buggy ride? Torn. Depends on the weather, I suppose. But also depends on my willingness to shell out more cash for something that may be a non-event. I’m leaning towards pretzels. And more pretzels. We’ll see…

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Day Fourteen: Nothing to report

06 Jul

Today was just a rambling, ambling day. One that was shockingly full of traffic (why are all these people rushing to LEAVE Maine?!?) But I was in a great mood, and the driving was easy. We piled into the van almost exactly on schedule – rolling away from cottage at 10:06am. A quick glance at the trip odometer told me that I didn’t do as much driving in Maine as I usually do, because the northbound segment + Maine driving was only a total of 1576.3 miles. Only. Heh. It’s all in the perspective.

I should have filled the van up with gas last night, but figured I might find some cheaper gas on the way out to the interstate. Yeah, that’s all well and good if you have your choice of places and aren’t in imminent danger of running out of gas. The traffic was so terrible on the way out of Kennebunkport, on the way to I-95, that I didn’t want to do anything that required going out of my way and needing to fight traffic going back the other way. So I went ahead and got onto I-95 just thinking that I would get off at the first exit. Good plan. Except the next exit is York, a highly trafficked exit, and my trip computer was telling me my range to empty was 6 miles. Oops. And there was no choice. Just a single station where I paid a premium $3.59/gallon. Yeah, the gas would have been cheaper in KPT. Oh well, lesson learned. At least I didn’t run out of gas!

Our next stop was just a little bit down the road at the NH Liquor Store. Personally, I think that if a store is so important it warrants its own exit of I-95, then it would be positively rude not to visit it. Now, my booze needs are already covered, but in the interest of our annual Lottery Project, we wanted to take our brief stop in NH and the NH Liquor Store was the most convenient option. Plus, nothing says classy like taking your three young children into a liquor store to buy scratch-off lottery tickets! That may even qualify as Klassy with a K. (Side note: despite our success in past years, this year the Lottery Project is kicking our butts. We are way behind. Though come to think of it, we were way behind at this point in last year’s trip and we ended up winning $70 in Virginia, so I’m not giving up the ghost yet.) (Additional side note: for those of you new to CMRT and therefore unfamiliar with the Lottery Project, we invest $10 in every state we stop in – $20 in Maine because we stay for a week – and then record our outcomes. If we win something, we cash out and put the money back in the envelope, recording on the front the amount invested and the amount won. We’ve blanked a few states this year – with no winners at all. We’ve won half our money back in a few, and even doubled our money in one state. But suffice it to say we’re behind right now. The past two years we’ve done the LP, we’ve actually come out ahead in the end. I believe it was $7 the first year, and $2 last year. It’s just something fun to do, something to look forward to. Mostly still fun because we usually don’t actually lose any money. And there’s always the hope that something big will come of it!) But I digress, we tried our hand in NH (won back half our money) and got back on the road.

Again with the traffic! Traffic, traffic everywhere! But for whatever reason, it just didn’t phase me today. We were planning to go to a children’s science museum in Hartford, but it was closing early, we were running late, and honestly, did it really matter if we went to one more children’s museum? So we scrapped that plan and were making tracks directly for our hotel in Danbury, CT. Along the way, we stopped for a snack in Massachusetts. Occasionally I let the kids pick out a snack in a convenience store instead of out of our fully stocked snack bags in the car. They appreciate the novelty of it all, and usually I let them get something sugary and disgusting. True to form, they all picked Pop Tarts. With Avery intentionally picking a flavor that has an egg ingredient because her siblings couldn’t have it. As we were paying the guy behind the counter asked us where we were from. When I said the Jacksonville area, he said, oh, I used to live in Orange Park. When I guessed, Navy? He smiled and said, Marines. It was funny to run into someone who knew my hometown in some small town in the middle of Massachusetts.

Other than the traffic it was a mostly uneventful ride. The kids engrossed in their movie, me enjoying the countryside. Until I got to the Newtown/Sandy Hook exit off 84W – that caused a rather painful tightness in my chest. And I looked in my rearview mirror to thank my lucky stars for the blessings of my challenging, smart, driving me crazy, lovely, wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world children. Not too long after that we arrived at our hotel in Danbury. Another 250 miles under our belts. We checked in at 4:15pm, killed a little time in the room, and then set out for dinner. On nights like tonight I like to splurge, have a sit down meal, one with menus, cloth napkins, where someone takes my order and then brings the food to me. Now, finding a place like that where my children will actually eat, and I won’t be aggravated by paying for a ridiculously expensive kids’ meal that sits untouched? Not always the easiest task. But playing a hunch, I discovered that there was indeed an Olive Garden in Danbury, CT, and off we went for our overpriced pasta!

On our way back to the hotel we took a detour to a Rite Aid so we could pick up some essentials – including, ironically enough, some Toms’s of Maine toothpaste for the kids. Yeah, that’s right, I purchased a toothpaste made in Kennebunk, Maine, whose factory I actually drove past a few days ago, in a Rite Aid pharmacy in Danbury, CT. Sigh. But we had a really funny exchange with the cashier. Harper was being her usual flailing self as we stood at the counter to pay, and ended up stepping back, almost bumping into someone else, but bumping into a product display instead. Nothing broken, no true harm done, but I turned to her and said, “Be mindful of your body, please.” The cashier stopped what she was doing and said, “What did you just say to her?” I repeated myself, and she said, “Wow. I’ve never heard anyone say that to a child before. Where are you all from?” I thought that a funny response to the fact that I speak to my children the same way I speak to other adults, but I do enjoy conversation with strangers, so I told her, Florida. She said, “Oh, was born in Florida actually. In Jacksonville.” WHAT? “Um, yeah, that’s actually where we’re from. I was born in Jacksonville, too. In fact, we all were.” After that we just smiled, thanked her for her help, and then walked out of the store, shaking our heads. What are the odds of that? I mean, I know Jacksonville is a rather transitory town, especially with the large Naval presence, but what are the odds of my randomly stopping at two stores off the beaten path in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and encountering people who once lived in my hometown? Crazy.

Anyway, now tucked safely into our hotel room, it’s time to watch a little Love It or List It with the kids before bedtime. It was nice to have a lazy traveling day with no pressure. Tomorrow we get to see some friends, and that makes me happy, too.

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Day Thirteen: The way life should be

05 Jul

I sit here in front of my laptop with absolutely nothing to say. I mean, of course I have something to say. It is an objective fact that I talk too much. I clearly have words. Too many of them. But tonight, they aren’t coming easily. Here it is, our last night in Maine. Tomorrow morning marks the turn south, the beginning of the southbound leg of CMRT. Usually on this night I am a bit melancholy, I am stressed about getting everything adequately and accurately packed. I am wishing that my vacation never had to come to an end. But I don’t feel that way tonight. I don’t feel any of that. This trip has been different from the get go. Everything has just felt different. Our first day was particularly great – which it usually isn’t. There were the freak falling rocks. The rear-ending causing damage to the van – which is hopefully just cosmetic, but I really didn’t feel like spending any of my vacation time dealing with finding out. We didn’t go into Manhattan. The kids are, well, they’re growing older, and into some stages I don’t particularly care for – the incessant testing of me, the incessant bickering with their siblings, a complete and total lack of volume control. Everything has felt a bit off. But Maine. Well, Maine has been wonderful. Usually it is, but this year it has felt particularly so. We did so much, but we also sat around more. (Seems like diametrically opposed ideas, but it’s true.) Maybe this is one of the good parts about the kids growing older, I was able to send them down to the beach without persistent supervision. And when I was on the beach, I could fairly well ignore them if I wanted. And sometimes they were perfectly happy to just sit in a tidal pool playing with rocks and mud. And bizarrely enough, those times on the beach, and especially when we brought out the kayaks, the kids seemed pleasantly enamored with their own siblings, and played very nicely together. We met new friends, we visited old ones. We spent hours on the beach, and on Vaughan’s Island, hunting lobstah, and learning how to skip rocks. The weather really has been perfect. Though Maine is up to her old tricks again. Turning her weather just as it’s time for me to go, as if saying, go ahead, you won’t be missing anything here. Today was hot. Maybe not Florida hot, but Maine hot. And while that was fine for sitting on the beach, and especially for wading in the cool water, it makes it rather miserable in the house. I know that despite having all the windows open and a fan running, I’m still rather warm. I definitely will not need my hooded sweatshirt tonight. Nor will I be snuggling under the quilt, for there is no encroaching chill. But overall, I really cannot complain about the weather, even with the few rainy days. I actually liked those rainy days. So, like I said, it was pretty much a perfect week in Maine, but I am not sad to be leaving. Which is weird for me. But I feel like this week was complete. We stayed happy. We did big things – like spending the entire day in Freeport for the 4th. Weird & unexpected things – me running in a 5k and a 10k on my vacation week! Small things – sitting on the beach for hours at a time. Traditional things – going to Kennebooks and Ben & Jerry’s and LL Bean. Didn’t eat any lobster, nary even a roll. And yet, it was a truly wonderful week in Maine. And maybe that’s part of why it’s okay to me that it’s over. I feel fulfilled. I have these amazing memories to take with me. I have a sense that I will return, and everything will be much the same. I feel like we achieved the perfect balance between static and motion. This week, with some minor tweaking, was the way life should be.

For now, the majority of the stuff is packed up. But even my packing tonight felt a bit slipshod, or at least less urgent than it usually feels. Maybe because I’m not feeling like I’m under any pressure. We have to clear the cottage by 11am, but lord knows we’re all going to be up by 7am, and there isn’t 4 hours worth of stuff left to do. The packing of the van will require a bit more creativity for this, the southbound leg. I feel like this happens every year. It’s not really that I’ve acquired so much stuff, it just doesn’t seem to all go back in the way it was. But I’ll get it figured out. I always do.

For now I think I’ll retire the laptop, and go sit on the upstairs patio for a bit. Savor the last of my Maine sky. Reflect on our great week. Start to get excited about the adventures awaiting us on our southbound leg. And then maybe try to get some sleep, as I’ve already proven that driving for hours really does go more smoothly when the driver is at least moderately rested.

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Day Eleven: Riding the Rails

03 Jul

It started off another one of those dreary vacation days. Not raining, per se, but definitely not hey kids want to throw on your suits and go down to the beach weather. So we laid pretty low around here this morning. Just relaxing – which is also the point of vacation, I might point out. Especially to myself. Yes, of course this is exactly the sort of thing we could do in our own homes, the letting the kids play electronics while we sleep in or read, but the truth is, sometimes on vacation the weather sucks. And it’s nice to just throw the rules out the window and go with whatever feels good. But after awhile I started getting restless. The weather was supposed to clear and warm up, so I felt like there had to be something in the vicinity that would warrant an adventure out of the house. I googled a few options – starting with, things to do in portland maine with kids. Came up with a fairly comprehensive list, but I don’t think we’ll be doing any snowshoeing this week, and as it turns out, we’re just a touch too early for the u-pick-em blueberries (something I would have loved to do!) Turns out most of those farms around here have opening dates of July 15th, or thereabouts. Sigh. Oh well, no blueberries for Sal, or Krista, as the case may be. But what I did find was the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. And turns out they give short little rides along the shore of Casco Bay. Sold!

On our way up the coast we took the back roads, driving through some of the small towns between Kennebunkport and Portland. I enjoyed that. I like seeing the small towns. Their churches, their buildings, their houses. The kids, who were crammed three abreast in the back seat of John’s rental car were less enthused by the meandering path, but honestly, I think they would have been pushing each other’s buttons no matter how we were traveling. After a quick stop for lunch (Panera – yum – and what a welcome change from McD’s), we arrived at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. The museum itself is small, but fairly comprehensive, with several restored rail cars that you can either enter, or at least look inside. Lots of pictures and exhibits on the walls about the history of the narrow gauge railroad in Maine. Good stuff. But the better stuff was walking out across the parking lot to the train that was waiting right on the bay front. Today they were using a diesel engine, though they apparently still use their steam engine on a periodic basis. We entered an open car that had one long bench in the middle – clearly we chose to face the water – and shortly we were off on a brief rail adventure. And by brief, it really was only about a mile or two in length, but we were clacking along the rails right on the waterfront along the beautiful Casco Bay. And our conductor was full of interesting information about the bay and the railroad. It was a bit difficult to hear him over the wheels (it’s not the smoothest rails I’ve ever ridden), not to mention the children asking irrelevant questions like, can we get ice cream today? (Maybe.) Or remember that time when we were playing Candyland, and Harper screamed when I touched her? (No. Especially since that must have been years ago.) There were tons of boats anchored just off the shore, and it was especially fun watching a sailing camp in progress, all these tiny sailboats being sailed by little kids. The conductor told us that further out in the bay was the major anchorage for the Navy during WWII. That the port was full of all kinds of Navy vessels, and that you can still find their anchor pivot points out there today. But most of all the breeze was really pleasant, and considering the amazing walking trail that was the only thing between the tracks and the water, I was considering that Portland must be a really great place to live. When we reached the terminus – the railroad bridge has long been out of service, and sits, with its arm swung open to allow boat traffic into and out of the bay – the engineer stopped the engine and allowed all the kids to climb up and ring the bell. Of course Harper says, what does that do and grabs at a lever. He jumps and says, you can’t do that, there are people in front of the train. I think she thought forget the bell, I want to drive! Got a pic of the kids in front of the engine with Casco Bay in the background. Moment appropriately memorialized, we climbed back aboard. This time the kids wanted to sit in the enclosed car with upholstered seats. The seats were more squishy, and there was a window or two open, but I missed the rush of the breeze. Overall I thought it was a very pleasant afternoon diversion. But by now the weather had cleared, so I was eager to get home to the cottage and pitch the kids out on the beach to play.

We dragged the kayaks out of storage and turned the kids loose in them. This is another amazing feature of our little beach – it is so shallow and has a great little protected cove. It would be no problem at all to get to the kids – though it would be a chilly wade – if they started to get themselves into trouble. But to my mind they handled the kayaks shockingly well. They knew their parameters and managed to turn themselves around every time before they went out of bounds. And believe it or not, with two kayaks and three kids, they actually played and shared very, very well together. So much so that we blew right on past dinnertime because they were having too much fun to come in from the water. I love vacation days like that. Isn’t it the very point of vacation? But soon enough it was time to retire. Get everyone and the gear up to the house. I myself was very eager to hit the rack as tomorrow is set to be a very, very, very long day. It’s going to be a Freeport 4th of July. And I’ll tell you all about it soon…

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Day Ten: These are a few of my favorite things

02 Jul

Ever have one of those days where several things you love just fall into place? Despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact the weather has turned rainy up in Maine, today was one of those days. I woke around 7am and made my way downstairs, stopping long enough to peek into the kids’ room to see that the littlest one was still abed. The older two were watching tv and playing on the iPads. I ate a bowl of cereal, sat with them for a bit, and then realized that if I wanted to continue reading I could just as well crawl back into my bed, under the covers. It was already a dreary, rainy day, so it’s not like we were rushing to get out onto the beach. In fact, it was the kind of day that demands one crawl back into bed. After reading for a short bit I felt my eyelids getting heavy, so I laid down my book, closed my eyes, and fell asleep. I slept hard. For over an hour! What an amazing morning nap. The windows under the eaves were open so I could hear the wind and rain in the trees, the children were quiet because they were glued to the electronic crack that is the iPad, I was wrapped up cozy in a quilt against the encroaching chill. Oh my goodness. That hour of sleep was some of the best sleep I’ve had in the past 10 days. And I woke feeling refreshed. A perfect nap. Accomplished before 10am.

A little later in the morning I headed into the little Dock Square area of Kennebunkport to poke around in the shops. There were a few places I knew I wanted to go, specific things I wanted to acquire. Had to get my annual Christmas ornament from the Christmas shop. I go to the Whimsy Shop specifically for their oilcloth bags. And I go to the delightfully quirky Daytrip Society because I want every single thing they carry in the store. Every. Single. Thing. (If only I could afford it!) But despite a valiant quest, I still haven’t been able to find a local store that carries Tervis! I really want one that says, “ME”, you know, the state abbreviation for Maine, but also a clever possessive to have on your cup. Yeah, that would be a good find. But also acceptable would be the initials for Kennebunkport (KPT), or perhaps one with the outline of the state of Maine, or really, anything at all that was Maine related other than just a lobster. And before you suggest it, yes, I already have an LL Bean Tervis. Do you think I’m an amateur?

Managing to exit the shops before bankrupting myself further, I headed out to my favorite galleries in town. The original Northlight Gallery, and it’s sister gallery, True North. I fell in love with Northlight Gallery many years ago. They carry an artist named Jack Standish, whose work I love so much, I swear that if I win the lottery my first stop will be in Kennebunkport to purchase art for the homes I haven’t yet bought. His lines are full of inhuman control, and his scenes are flooded with light, they have the sense of being occupied, yet no figures are in the scene. As if someone has just vacated the room, or is just about to enter it. I’ve been coveting Jack Standish paintings for years now, and am always excited to see a new one. Northlight, may be the original, and it’s always fun talking to the owner, Harry, who is also a talented painter and actually hails from the Gainesville, FL, area, but the new gallery, True North, and owner Jill, is becoming my new favorite. With a new location right on Dock Square it is cozy and well-laid out, like stepping into someone’s home, someone with amazing taste in art. They also carry some Jack Standish, and I like Harry’s work, too, but I’m digging Jill’s new work. I was especially coveting the painting of the whale weathervane. I really have to remember to play the lottery…

After giving up my prime parking space in Dock Square it was time to head on to my favorite bookstore, but I needed a little sustenance first. Last year someone told me that Market Day made great gourmet sandwiches, and let me tell you, that is the truth. I could lie and say that I had difficulty deciding because of their great selection, but the truth is, I knew immediately upon looking at their hot panini offerings what I wanted. The had me at bacon. They set the hook with Brie. And I was happy to let tomato, sprouts, and citrus vinaigrette come along for the ride. Oh my warm, melty goodness. It may have been a little embarrassing how much I enjoyed that B.B.T.S. sandwich.Was it a little more expensive than my typical sandwich? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Now fed and happy it was time to head just up the street to one of my ultimate happy places, the cleverly named Kennebooks (in Kennebunk!) It is a really great independent bookstore. They have a fantastic selection, lots of tags giving suggestions/reviews, a wonderfully stocked and laid out kids’ section. I was disappointed that they no longer have a weekly kids’ story hour, but that didn’t stop us from spending over an hour inside, with everyone walking away happy with new books.

At this point the boys went off in one direction while the girls and I paid a visit to dear Mainer friends, The Nelsons. We first met Mandy and her girls, Maggie & Birdy, on the beach at Turbat’s Creek four years ago. They were just wrapping up a visit from Massachusetts to Kennebunkport, where Mandy grew up, and for two days the kids frolicked together while Mandy and I sat on the beach getting to know one another. Mandy is crazy. And I say that with love, the same way I self-proclaim the adjective. She is hysterically funny, and so much fun to be around. Her girls are sweet, and kind, and playful, also happening to fold in perfectly with mine age-wise. Mandy & I kept track of each other via Facebook, and when the second annual CMRT rolled around, we were hoping to have a reunion in KPT, but alas, the school schedule wouldn’t allow it. The third year, we got to see them for one blessed day as our visit coincided with a wedding they were attending in KPT. Here we are at the fourth annual CMRT, and what do you know? The Nelsons, including hysterically dry-witted patriarch Dan, are now residents of Kennebunk! So we rolled over to their house, which is still in the middle of a surprise renovation (the kind where you have to strip down to the bones because of unforeseen mold and other problems!) and made them take a break from working to play with us. Okay, so Dan kept working the entire time – did I mention they are doing the majority of the renovation themselves?! Wowza. But Mandy took some time off from scrubbing/painting/drywalling/plumbing/electrical repair to walk me through the house (which is going to be amazing when finished!) and then sit and chat. We had much to catch up on, battle scars of parenting to share, gossip to giggle over. Mandy is a force of beautiful, hysterical positivity, and being around her always buoys me up. And the girls disappeared to play in the play room, and to run around outside. Popping in often enough to be noticed, but not so often as to be disruptive. It was a lovely afternoon, and we stayed later than intended. But it was great to catch up with an old friend face-to-face. Hyperactive, loquacious, nerdy girls like Mandy being my people like they are.

Once home it was time to get the little ones tucked off to bed. I read them one of our new acquisitions from Kennebooks, The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. We LOVE this author. He wrote the Mr. Magee (and his little dog, Dee) books – Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee – and also our favorite If I Built A Car, among others. He lives in Maine and every year when we go to Kennebooks we get at least one of his books (though last year we got two – Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, and King Hugo’s Huge Ego). His rhyming prose is clever, but it’s really his illustrations that are so entertaining. Anyway, I read The Circus Ship, and tucked everybody into bed before heading out for some more of my favorite things. This time it was beer, cheeseburger, and trivia.

As I ate my divine sandwich I was flipping through a local newspaper and happened to notice that there was team trivia at Federal Jack’s on Tuesday nights. There is no I in Team, unless you’re going alone and are a team of one, I suppose. And that’s what I was prepared to do. Go it alone. But delightful surprise, my new friend, Stephanie (remember my friend of a friend?) was available to go, too! Thus, team Difficult Situation was born. (Anyone catch the stilted DMB reference? Our situations are anything but typical.) We weren’t expecting to take the purse, but I think we had a respectable showing. And more importantly, we had fun. Not to mention a lovely locally brewed Taint Town Pale Ale. And I almost choked when Stephanie ordered a Captain and Diet. That was Barb’s drink. My former trivia partner who died tragically last November. I have never met another person who drank that. And I found myself getting a little misty when Stephanie said to the waitress, “Cap’n and Diet.” But it made me smile. It’s nice to remember friends gone too soon, and it seemed like a lovely sign to cherish a new friend. It’s always a wonderful thing to meet someone who understands you. We talked long into the night, long after trivia was over, laughing over our similarities and funny situations we’ve found ourselves in lately. It was, overall, a very good night, and no trivial thing at all.

 

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim