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Posts Tagged ‘Crazy Momma’

Day 10: The Way Life Should Be

04 Jul

This year, as we drove over the Piscataqua River Bridge, crossing into Maine from New Hampshire, we were greeted by a new road sign. It said, “Maine – Welcome Home.” It amused us with many jokes as one of the kids excitedly said, “Well, I guess we live here now!” But I was missing the old sign. We used to be greeted with a sign that said, “Maine – The Way Life Should Be.” That always made me smile. Because all of my experiences in Maine have indeed fit that description. Of course, I somewhat pad the deck by coming to Maine from Florida in the summer. But I have always had this sense of peace in my chest, every time I’ve been here, that this feeling of happiness and beauty would be a welcome way for life to be. Always.

Today, our Independence Day, lived up to the Maine state slogan. Because it was exactly the way life should be. I am ever so grateful to the cottage owner for suggesting I call Paddle Maine to rent kayaks. Even with the delivery snafu, if has been wonderful to have those boats available to us. I started my day like every other one this week, sitting on the porch reading. But when Avery said she wanted to go out in the kayak to explore a rock island that was only visible because it was low tide, I put aside the thing I wanted to do to accommodate her desires. As a side note: I do not always do that. Of the many things I have done badly as a mother, I think the fact that my children are aware and respect the fact that I am an individual apart from them is a triumph. Sometimes it is Mommy’s turn, and I do not have a problem asserting that. But when the baby of the group wants to take out a kayak, and you’re in Maine for only a short time, you change out of your pajama pants and walk down to the beach. We carried the kayaks down the exposed beach to the low water line and paddled out a bit, just messing around and enjoying each others company. It was likely our laughter down in the Harbor that drew Harper out to the beach, decked in her swimsuit and ready to go. I left the girls in the Harbor together and came back up to change and gather things for an extended time on the beach (by which I mean my chair and book!) Eventually, Beau appeared and the day just unfolded in a lazy, beautiful way. Beau wanted to take one of the kayaks and paddle around the point to Land’s End, the tip of Bailey Island. It really isn’t far from our protected Little Harbor, but it does require leaving the safety of the cove to venture into the edge of the Atlantic. I had originally told him that I wanted to go with him, but thinking on it more, I realized that in less than two months, he is going to begin driving a car. It’s time to let him venture forth into scary situations and trust him to handle himself in whatever circumstances arise. While he was off on his adventure, the girls splashed about in the harbor in tubes, we played some catch with the Nerf football, and I even got a few chapters read. Harper also wanted to paddle out of the cove, but I was not ready to give her the same free rein I gave Beau. So once he returned, Harper and I paddled out together, while the other two went back up to the house. We didn’t push all the way to Land’s End, but did paddle a little along the Casco Bay coast, and I was thankful for these sturdy, recreational kayaks, as it was much choppier with the wakes and waves of the end of high tide. We turned back and explored the edges of our harbor, finding an excellent little hidden beach. After beaching and securing the kayaks we also returned to the house. It was early afternoon and time for a late lunch. And because it was the 4th of July, I’m pretty sure it’s part of all non-vegetarian’s pledge as Americans to grill meat! I threw the remaining chicken breasts and hot dogs on the grill, and inspired by Scott’s culinary prowess, sauteed the rest of the onions.

After lunch it was time for Avery’s trip to Land’s End, but this one was achieved via foot. I threw on my bought special for the occasion 4th of July t-shirt (It reads: “Happy Treason Day Ungrateful Colonials” with a large Union Jack flag) and we walked down the road. The Land’s End Gift Shop at the end of Bailey Island is enormous and packed full of all manner of tourist tchotchke. We filled up our arms with t-shirts and postcards and Christmas ornaments. It is our tradition to buy a Christmas ornament at all the places we travel. Which makes decorating the Christmas tree a wonderful trip down memory lane. We also bought Harper a hooded sweatshirt that says “Harpswell”, as that is technically the name of the town we are in. Avery and I gazed out at the lovely coast, and even used one of those old-fashioned view finders, the large silver machines that you feed quarters and essentially gives you binocular vision. It was a very pleasant sojourn.

One of the attractions in Harpswell is a geological formation known as Giant’s Stairs. I knew it was a place I wanted to visit, and the cottage owner suggested we go at low tide, but I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect of this trail. I packed the kids into the van and we traveled the 1/2 mile or so to the McIntosh Lot Preserve. The trail itself is just a narrow dirt/gravel trail along the edge of the cliff, but the real attraction is the vast expanse of exposed rock that is open for climbing and exploring. As a bit of a geology nerd myself, I found the Giant’s Stairs area fascinating. There was a sign at the head of the trail explaining that there are several different types of rock exposed in this area – the majority of which is schist, a light gray, flaky, metamorphic rock, shot through with veins of mica, garnet, and quartz. The Giant’s Stairs themselves are an igneous basalt rock that formed when magma rose to the surface through cracks in the schist and cooled. And even if that explanation did nothing to excite you, I still think you would be impressed by the scale and beauty. There is something so amazing to me about seeing rock that was clearly formed as sediment in a horizontal layer, turned completely vertical. I turned the kids loose and they proceeded to scamper all over the vast formations. It turned into a study in my children’s personalities. Harper, as it turns out, is part mountain goat. She especially loves to climb and scamper over rocks, so she was off like a shot. Beau took his time, picking paths, and spent a good deal of the time either standing still or sitting and gazing out at the ocean in contemplation. Avery was off on her own some, but also spent a great deal of time by my side, in conversation. I was not sure what I expected of Giant’s Stairs, but I am thankful that we went to check it out. What I assumed would be a quick trip turned into an extended, and very enjoyable interaction with nature. Harper even contributed to the collection of cairns (stacked rocks) that were scattered about.

Another attraction in Harpswell that we had been informed of is a little place called Island Candy Company on Orr’s Island. After hiking and scampering about on rocks, we loaded back up and crossed the insanely narrow bridge from Bailey Island back up to Orr’s Island. What we discovered was a gourmet shop dressed in rustic clothing. We will have to return tomorrow, as I opted for Maine Sea Salt Caramel ice cream today, but that Strawberry Balsamic popsicle was also calling my name. We all got a treat, and I enjoyed the conversation with the locals who were running the shop. They also have an intensely lovely garden in front. They said that the roses surrounding the trellis at the opening of the garden typically bloomed a few days before the 4th of July, so they were a few days late this year, but you could see pink buds on the verge, so I wonder if they will be in bloom before we leave on Saturday.

Back at the house I talked the girls into watching a movie with me. As it got truly dark we started to hear fireworks, so we rushed out onto the porch to see if any were visible. Unfortunately our view of immediate fireworks was mostly blocked by the tall trees, but we could see quite an impressive display in the distance. We decided those were likely the ones being set off at the LLBean 4th of July Celebration in Freeport. Then I turned the girls loose with sparklers I had brought from home. They danced in the grass of the front yard, waving their sparklers around and spelling words that left tracers in our eyes. Avery at one point, while watching Harper dance, said, “This is incinerating our corneas, but it’s so fun!” Once they had burned through the sparklers we took advantage of the gas stove and had an indoor marshmallow roast. Then, in true America fashion, I dozed off on the couch while finishing our movie. Overall, it was one of those sublime vacation days. Filled with both ease and adventure. You know, the way life should be.

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Days 8-9: We’re getting the band back together!

03 Jul

What a busy two days it has been! Which seems a strange thing to say since much of it was spent doing nothing. Tuesday morning we went down to the Little Harbor beach – accessible from our cottage via a fairly steep staircase. We took our inner tubes and floated on the ice cold water. There were some serious shrieks emitted as we plunged feet and rear ends into the water. I say it was icy, but really the temp was likely somewhere between 58-60 degrees. Still felt bone-chilling on my butt! After a few hours of messing around in the water and sitting reading on the rocks, we came back up the house. That’s when I noticed that my Keens are giving me the most bizarre tan lines on my feet. I am a Florida girl, so I typically have a perpetual flip-flop tan, but this is something else! My feet are beginning to look like a leopard’s pelt! Mental note: remove shoes when simply sitting on the rocks.

But messing around in the almost deserted harbor is not what made Tuesday so great. You ever have a friend who just gets you? For me that might be a person with which I share a love of storytelling, a similar wicked sense of humor, a distaste of being politically correct, and a love of books, words, trivia, and the all important Oxford comma. I once had this friend and co-worker who fit that bill, and he was very dear to me. But he up and left Florida to return to his home state. And while the loss of having my friend in close proximity has been difficult to bear, lucky for me his home state is Maine! Which made Tuesday and Wednesday feel like old home week. (Reunited and it feels so good!) For one night only, Scott and Krista were getting the band back together! It really is a shame that we weren’t anywhere that a game of bar trivia was available to be played, because we would have crushed it. But then again, when it comes to a place to sit, drink beers, and catch up after an absence, there really is no better place than the porch at Nezinscott. It was truly a joy to just sit and talk for hours – trading stories, rehashing memories, and catching up on our lives today. We also took a walk down to the very tip of Bailey’s Island. It is a beautiful vista, and as we stood on the rocks looking out at the Atlantic and the small islands just off the rocky shore, we realized that there were many tourists behind us taking pictures. Which meant that we were in almost all of their photos. It was so tempting to act out a scene just for their amusement. We could have played a hysterical fake proposal – so many different options to delight and engage a crowd! But instead, we decided to behave as good humans, and move on so others could chronicle the fact they had seen the view. The Land’s End Gift Shop, down on the point of Bailey’s Island, is definitely a place the kids and I will walk down to visit before we leave. It is full of delightful tourist tchotchke and I’m sure I’ll be able to find the perfect Christmas ornament to represent this year’s trip to this sublime little corner of Maine.

Back from a walk out of earshot of my darling little children, we settled back onto the porch for a little bit more until hunger drove us to remove meat from the refrigerator and throw it on the grill. Turns out Scott is a little bit of a cook now – those sauteed onions certainly made the meal! Luckily, I remembered to pack bug spray so that we did not become a meal for the blood-thirsty mosquitos that come swarming up at dusk and well into the night. Being the old people we are now, we decided to call it a night around 10:45pm. As we were getting the couch set up for Scott, we heard noises in the front yard. Earlier in the day I had made reservations for rental kayaks to be delivered. They told me it would be some time after 6pm. I hadn’t really thought about how late it was getting until a little after 10pm and I commented that I guess those kayaks weren’t getting delivered after all. When we heard noises in the front yard, we ran out, and I fumbled to turn on the porch lights (the rest of the house was blazing with light). We got out there just in time to see a pick-up truck with a trailer of kayaks, that was backed into the yard, pulling away. No one had knocked on the door, there had been no communication, and they didn’t stop even though we were trying to flag them down in the pitch black by waving our lit up cell phones at them. Truly bizarre and incomprehensible. But hey, it was almost 11pm, what were we going to do?

After a good night’s sleep, it was, of course, time to sit on the porch some more! As my children began to appear, I talked Harper into making us pancakes. It truly is wonderful having a little chef in the family! After a pleasant morning, it was regretfully time for Scott to hit the road, but not before I roped him into a quick project… Turns out the kayak delivery did happen at almost 11pm, but they had wordlessly dropped the kayaks in the yard of the immediate next door neighbor, who happens to be the owner of the cottage I’m renting. Thankfully he came over after discovering the snafu and told us an easier way to get the kayaks from his yard to the beach (without trying to transport them down the step steps!) Let me tell you, these recreational kayaks are not light, and I am so grateful to Scott for making two trips down and around to the beach carrying these monsters when he was just going to get in his car and drive home without getting to experience paddling out.

And we really did have fun with the kayaks today. The kids came tumbling down to the beach as soon as we had the kayaks in place. After pushing them out, I left them with the instruction that no one was to leave the protected harbor, and anyone in the boat had on a life jacket. While I was up at the house cleaning up and changing into a bathing suit, all three kids were down in the harbor. Stepping out on the porch I could see them, two in kayaks and one in an inflatable tube, playing and carousing together, trading off who was in the kayak, and just generally having a grand time. I’m not going to lie, I lingered in the house just so that could continue. I love it when my children bond with one another outside of my presence. I could hear their laughter from the porch and it made my heart glad. Once I got down to the beach I spent some time reading while they played, and then I had my turn in one of the kayaks. Beau, who is a rather confident kayaker, and I went out to the edges of the harbor, where it touches the open ocean. We explored a little bit, but did not truly venture out of the mouth of the harbor – the wind was kicking up and the tide was about to turn to run out. So we came back into the shallows and Beau ditched his boat on the shore before coming back out into the water to sit like a hood ornament on the front of my kayak. It was a fun bonding experience to spend time being silly with my 14 year old son. And not much sillier than him standing up on the nose of my kayak attempting yoga poses. Impressively, he only dumped off once or twice, but we laughed a lot and for that I am grateful. After securely beaching the kayaks, we stayed in the shin-deep water throwing a Nerf football around. It really was a lovely morning and afternoon.

Once we got back up to the house, I checked movie times in Brunswick. I had promised Beau that he could go see a movie by himself while the girls and I went to see Toy Story 4. Based on the movie times, Beau opted for a horror movie (Midsommar), and the girls and I enjoyed some Pixar silliness. Not for nothing, it was not by a long stretch the best of the Toy Story movies. And it had some horror sequences itself! (If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those things are going to haunt my dreams.) But I’m not crying, you’re crying! It still hit me in the feels. Can Tom Hanks do any wrong? Beau’s movie was significantly longer than ours, so we walked across the parking lot to the Goodwill store, where we found all manner of useless items to entertain ourselves with, and some practical items that resolved deficiencies (those Dollar store flip-flops really didn’t hold their value, so the water shoes from the Goodwill will have their use.) Once we had acquired Beau, we headed back to the house, where I, you guessed it, parked myself back on the porch with a book. Beau sat outside with me for a bit, playing music on his bluetooth speaker. It was a companionable scene. And then the gull returned. I swear, there is a seagull here who is stalking me. I’m sure it’s just that some prior resident hand-fed him, but this massive seagull comes every afternoon and sits on the lawn right in front of the porch, staring at me. Like making direct eye contact staring at me. At first it was more than a little unnerving, but now he feels like an old friend.

It has been a wonderful week thus far, but these days have been the best of it. I am so thankful that Scott took the time to drive over and hang out. I miss my friend. It’s hard to believe this week is half over. But no time to be regretful for the passage of time, time for me to get back out on that porch…

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Day 7: A Case of the Mondays

01 Jul

It seems that there was a case of the Mondays going around today. Heard from a few friends who were not having a good day. Kind of makes me feel bad that mine started off so well. Though the universe did see fit to throw a bit of a wrench into my afternoon. But luckily for me, it all turned out okay in the end.

I was up by 6:00am this morning. Not really my idea, not even sure why it happened. I’m not typically light-sensitive when I sleep. I’ve been known on more than one occasion to fall asleep reading and leave the lamp on the entire night. But I felt fairly chipper even at the early hour, so I gathered up my book and headed out to the porch to read. This view is so terrifically sublime, that it is actually somewhat distracting to my reading. But feels a small price to pay. I read on the porch for almost two hours and then started feeling drowsy. The rest of the house wasn’t yet stirring, so at 8:45am I went back into my bedroom and laid down for what became an hour long nap! Yes, by 9:45am I had already taken a nap! Talk about vacation victory! As the tide was now coming in, I changed out of my flannel pajama pants (my goal this vacation is to spend a tremendous amount of time in them!) and wandered down to the Little Harbor beach. It felt lovely to wade in the water – it was chilly on my feet, but not bone-chilling. I love rock beaches with so many different types of rocks to see and touch. I’m kind of a geological nerd that way. After a nice stroll and wade, I headed back up to the house for more porch sitting. As I went to sit down in the perfectly placed Adirondack chair, I was surprised to discover that we had some authentic Maine wildlife in our yard. But I must admit it was not what I was expecting. It was 4 turkey hens! Which just cracked me up because my parents have wild turkeys in their yard in Mandarin (Jacksonville, Florida) all the time! We come up here wishing against all hope to see moose and whales, even bear, but what do I get? Turkeys! Eventually they flew down off the ridge the house is situated on and I managed to get some funny photos and a very brief video of them taking flight. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen a turkey fly, but they aren’t graceful. They are very bottom heavy, and I just think it was a good thing they were flying *down* towards the beach! During this time Avery was taking her turn exploring the beach and playing on the rocks, so Beau and I sat on the porch have a nice quiet conversation. It was very peaceful and a lovely way to spend a morning.

In the afternoon we ventured forth from the house to fulfill a promise I had made to Beau about re-visiting a record shop we had visited on his 13th birthday. It’s a place called Bull Moose, and it is more than a record shop, but Beau was there to exclusively shop vinyl. Bull Moose also sells CDs (I picked up an Everything But the Girl disc), VHS tapes, DVDs (Picked up a copy of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton because it is silly and Topher Grace talking about Kate Bosworth’s different smiles hits me so deep in the feels), books, and other various pop culture games and paraphernalia. We first hit their Brunswick location as it is closest to our rental on Bailey’s Island/Harpswell. They had several things he wanted, but there was promise of another treasure at a different Bull Moose location. So, after a delicious and incredibly filling lunch at Portland Pie Company in Brunswick, we set Waze for the Middle Street Bull Moose location and started to head south. And that’s when the wrench hit me like something out of Dodgeball. A warning light I have never seen before lit up on my dash. “Check Emissions System” was suddenly glaring at me in bright yellow. Oh. No. The first thing I did was have Beau pull the manual out and decipher the meaning of the light. It basically said, if it turns on see the dealer, if it starts flashing, pull the car over. Luckily for us, it was just on, a solid yellow reminder that all was not well in my world. The next task for him, as I continued to drive towards Portland, was to look up the location of all the Honda dealerships in Maine, and get me connected to the Portland dealership. After a quick phone call, the service department said they could take a look at it if I could get it to them within the next 45 minutes. Since we were so close to the shop by that time, I did let Beau run into Bull Moose quickly. Once he had emerged triumphant with the sacred vinyl, we high-tailed it over to the dealership. Long story short, after about 1 hour and $45 they were able to give me the peace of mind that it was simply a problem with the gas cap not being screwed on tight enough. Phew! Of course, the really funny thing was that we had driven no more than 5 miles from the dealership when the darn light came on again. After a call back to the service advisor (and his brief chat with the service tech), he reported that the only error code that came up on the computer had to do with the gas cap, and the van had cleared all other potential problems. So he encouraged me to ignore the light, assume that it would turn off after another few times turning over the ignition, but if it didn’t I might need to get my gas cap replaced. I sure do hate it when reality intrudes on my vacations!

But I am good at ignoring red flags, so we continued along our merry way, jumping off the interstate to visit the mothership – the LL Bean Flagship store in Freeport. It was weird this year. The store itself seems to be dwindling in stock. Lots more open spaces on the floor. But we participated in our usual rituals – taking photos in front of the giant Bean Boot, and taking the kids’ photo inside the viewing spot of the huge trout tank (starting to be a tight fit for them). I bought a shirt and a pencil pouch (which I, of course, had monogrammed because I get it free with my LL Bean credit card!) But with a store credit from returning a bathing suit, my “Bean Bucks” from the credit card, and the 20% sale they were having, I ended up only paying $8.07 at checkout. That is by far the least I have ever spent in the Freeport store. Ever!

After a brief stop at the Hannaford in Brunswick to pick up a few supplies we missed on the first shopping trip, we were sailing back along those twisty rural roads racing the dying of the light. Not going to lie, I have no desire, nor intention, to drive those in full darkness! With the exception of the scare with the van, it really was a lovely day. And now, other than a promised trip to the movies one evening, I don’t really see us leaving Harpswell again until its time to leave for good. It was a nice day of adventure, but I’m ready for another do nothing day.

And I encourage you to stay tuned, there might be a guest star in the next installment…

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Day 5: Maybe it was Providence

29 Jun

One of the definitions of providence is “a manifestation of divine care or direction.” And today felt like maybe it was providence that we were in Providence. First, if you are ever in need of a hotel in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I highly recommend the Hilton. Not that we actually spent any time looking around Pawtucket, and I hope we didn’t miss anything too delightful, but the Hilton was quite nice, and perfectly located to jump back on the interstate to backtrack slightly to Providence (since we had missed our opportunity to visit yesterday.) We had a casual start to the day, no rush to get back in the car. This was Maine arrival day, but we weren’t allowed in the cottage until late afternoon anyway, so why not take a look around Providence?

Harper has been saying for years that she would like to attend the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for fashion design. So our first stop was the RISD shop for her to procure a new sweatshirt. Then we walked around peeking into the windows of buildings – their Nature Lab looks amazing! As we walked past the RISD Art Museum, I questioned whether or not we really had time for this. But it seemed a carpe diem moment, and I told the kids that it would have to be an abbreviated visit, but we could take a quick spin. And oh how glad I am that we did! They have an astounding collection. Truly. I was actually quite stunned. I was most taken with a Frank Lloyd Wright library table and an unfinished Cassatt. But they had all the big-name impressionists you could care to see, as well as extensive Greek, Roman, and Egyptian galleries. Right now they also had a special exhibit of Gorham silver which was fascinating. And Harper was quite taken with their costume and textile collections, including some student work. Again I felt like I only saw about 50% of the available collection, but any is better than none in this occasion!

After visiting the RISD Museum, the kids and I hiked a few blocks uphill to the campus of Brown. I just wanted to see it, and for them to see it. It was absolutely delightful, and we only peeked in on one quad in all it’s green grass juxtaposed against old, red brick austerity. I wouldn’t be mad if any of my kids wanted to attend either of these schools.

Yesterday, Beau had been hoping to visit a very special bookshop in Providence, but we got in too late. Now, here was my chance to redeem myself as a mother, and get him to the cool place he researched. Their website is weirdprovidence.com, but the shop is called Lovecraft Arts & Sciences, a place dedicated to, as they tell it, “Providence’s own master of Weird tales, author H. P. Lovecraft.” Beau loves the horror genre in general, so this was his kind of place. When we walked in the shop keeper was in a discussion with a very pretentious customer. He was trying to mansplain something about Lovecraft and his genre to her, and she just schooled him. It was very amusing. As a bonus, I bought a cool Rhode Island t-shirt, and Beau got a cool Lovecraft t-shirt. I am a t-shirt junkie myself, so I tell myself this is really just me doing some back-to-school shopping before he starts high school!

Though there were many more things to see and do in Providence (If I was a real US History teacher I would have pulled over at the Slater Mill Historic Site!), we were not just racing the clock to get to Maine, we were racing the tide! Every other year of Crazy Momma’s Road Trip we have rented the same house in Kennebunkport, Maine, a lovely cottage at the end of a quiet street, basically fronting on a semi-private beach along Turbat’s Creek. The house was sold – though seems to be back on the market! (Side note: Any one have $760,000 they want to give me?) But the house was off the rental market, and thus the reason I went looking for a new location and a new adventure in Maine. However, we all have a soft spot for Turbat’s Creek. It has been the location of so many dear, dear memories. And one of the coolest things about Turbat’s Creek is that it is tidal, with huge shifts. When the tide is out, you can walk across the mud flat that was previously underwater during high tide, and ford the now ankle-deep creek to Vaughan’s Island Preserve. I had charted the tides before leaving Florida, and knew that the low tide, and therefore the best time to visit, would be at 3:01pm today. Unfortunately, we lingered a bit too long, and with a fuel stop, we ended up arriving at the creek closer to 4:00pm. We could still walk across to Vaughan’s, but it was no longer ankle deep. And if it’s one thing I know about the tides on the creek, it’s that they move fast. Very fast. And you can find yourself swimming back across from Vaughan’s! So, though it was rushed, and not ideal – the kids wanted to play longer on the rocks and I wanted to spend more time exploring the tidal pools – I’m still so grateful that we were able to catch it at all. After a few more minutes of playing on the exposed rocks closer to the beach, and bonding with a huge, particularly friendly seagull, we loaded back in the van. With a wistful look back at “our” house, we headed into town. Beau had asked particularly if we could get a meal at Roma’s Pizza in Kennebunkport, and I was very happy to comply with that request. Roma’s is authentic, New York style pizza, and it was absolutely worth the drive from Florida!

After stuffing ourselves with pizza – and when I say we stuffed ourselves, I mean it was almost obscene – we got back on the road to our new rental cottage. Our first stop though, was in Brunswick for groceries. We love the Hannaford grocery store chain. We love them for many reasons, especially one involving liquor and another involving cereal. When one is shopping for a week’s worth of vacation home groceries, it is particularly helpful that Hannaford sells liquor, right there on the grocery store aisles! Check! Throw that in the cart. And while I happily buy store-brand most everything else, I am not typically a purchaser of store-brand cereal. We are very big on cereal in my family. We tend to splurge on name brands. But Beau and I fell in love with Hannaford’s store brand version of Crispix, mostly because they are called “Crispy Hexagons.” For some reason that makes us laugh and laugh. But tonight we may have found something even better. Because we discovered that their store brand version of Life cereal is called “Easy Living Oat Squares Cereal.” Easy Living! Yes, please! I am not entirely sure how we managed to fit all of the groceries into our already fairly packed van, but we did. It was an easy and stunningly beautiful drive from Brunswick to the house on Bailey Island.  Very narrow, windy, rural roads, with much greater elevation changes than I expected. We arrived with enough light to unload the car, choose bedrooms, and take a quick walk down to our new semi-private beach. I also had time to drink a cocktail on the porch, sitting in an Adirondack chair, feet on the rail, overlooking Little Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean before I lost the light and a massive thunderstorm came rolling in. I think it best that I tell you more about the house and location tomorrow. I have a feeling that the sun and the children may be getting me up tomorrow much earlier than I may choose. But suffice it to say, we arrived. The sign just past the Piscataqua River Bridge says, “Maine – Welcome Home. The Way Life Should Be.” Sigh. Ahhhhh, yes. Let it begin…

 

 

Day 5: By the numbers

Odometer: 128,275 – 128,506 (231 miles)
Total travel time: 12 hours (most spent exploring – only 4 hrs driving)
States traveled through/in: 4 (RI, MA, NH, ME)
Current standings in the CMRT 2019 Lottery Project: $10 in/$6 out (-$4 loss) – bought tickets in MA & ME, but forgot to play them!
Number of states found in our license plate-palooza: 1 –> Total of 46/51
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Day 3: Civil (War) Commitment

27 Jun

After the late night shenanigans on Day 2, I was glad that Day 3, while jam-packed, did not actually include that much driving. As this is Crazy Momma’s Road Trip – US History edition, it was time for us to delve in! And where better to start our exposure to Civil War history than Northern Virginia?

While a little bleary from lack of sleep, I quite luckily got to start my day with a Pete Tapley omelette. For those of you that knew Pete in college, did you know he is practically a gourmet chef?! Seriously. You know how Barney Stinson (the character played by Neil Patrick Harris on “How I Met Your Mother”) would talk about having a guy for any purpose or service? He had a Suit Guy, a Club Guy, a Baby Guy, and even a “Guy” Guy. Well, I have begun to acquire “guys” ala Barney Stinson – there are certain people who are so good at something that you want them to be the one to make that thing or provide that service always. For example, Joe Tison is my Beam & Coke Guy (See you on July 12th, Joe!) And Pete Tapley is my Omelette Guy. So delicious. And, as it is always a joy to watch a masterful cook in the kitchen, it is fun watching Pete effortlessly chop and combine ingredients, especially knowing that I am going to be the beneficiary!

Once properly fed, it was time to bid the Tapley boys adieu, and make the quick 15 minute jaunt to Manassas National Battlefield. This is the location of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also known as First and Second Manassas, by the Confederate troops). I’m not going to go into a lot of historical detail about the many battlefields here, but suffice it to say that the name of the 45 minute video in the visitor’s center is called “Manassas: End of Innocence.” It was a good, very educational film, and I’m glad we took the time to watch it. They also have a nice exhibit. The only downside of that exhibit was the small boy who was running around crazy, but that blame lays on the parents, not the park rangers. I am staring at a photograph of a dead boy, not too much older than my own teenage son, and this little kid was running around shouting, “Look at them shooters!” (In reference to the display of pistols and rifles) “Shooters! Shooters! Shooters! Pew Pew Pew!!” It was so intensely irritating. I am all for self-expression and youthful exuberance, but not at the expense of or to the detriment of others. Time and place, time and place. Thankfully, we were able to make some space to distance ourselves from that group, and went on to have a brief walk about, seeing the grave of poor widow Judith Henry, the only civilian casualty of the battle, and the statute honoring Thomas Jackson, who proudly held his position “like a stone wall.” While we did not spend a great deal of time, or take the entire tour, I had decided that because we were limited in our amount of time in the region, I wanted us to get a taste of many things, even if it meant not experiencing everything available at a particular site.

So we got in the van and headed off for a return visit to Harper’s Ferry, site of the infamous raid on the armory led by John Brown. It was fascinating to revisit Harpers Ferry these many years later since I have begun teaching US History. However, today was beastly hot and sticky, and the truth was, we just weren’t quite feeling Harper’s Ferry today. We just didn’t feel like making the climb up to the cemetery, or going into the historical tableaus located inside many of the non-air-conditioned old buildings. So, we cut our visit short, knowing that just meant we had more things to see on another return visit, hopefully during the Fall.

Our third, and most impactful to me, visit was to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. This was the location of the bloodiest day in American history. Over 23,000 casualties in a single day. Those figures are staggering. And this made the ground feel hallowed. Again, not even close to giving Antietam its proper due or time, but we walked out to Dunker Church from the visitors center and soaked in the imagery of what it must have been like to look out over those fields and see them filled with clashing armies and their aftermath. Unfortunately, it started raining in earnest, so I did not get a chance to visit the cemetery. Which was actually a big disappointment because I love visiting historic cemeteries. But right before the rain cut lose, we were able to visit the Sunken Road, or “Bloody Lane.” Incredibly moving. And I very much enjoyed driving the loop to Burnside Bridge, even if I only managed to glimpse the bridge because exiting the car would have meant getting soaked.

After Antietam, we were on our way to spend the night in Gettysburg. No, I was not foolish enough to believe I could even sample all 4 in one day, so I intentionally picked a hotel that was pretty close to all the historical action of Gettysburg. The Inn at Cemetery Hill is aptly named, and it will make for easy visiting in the morning. But I have to mention our drive from Antietam to Gettysburg, because it was beautiful. While I only ended up driving 135 miles today, they were not the easiest due to being rural, sometimes twisty, often narrow, roads. But the effort put in, was well-rewarded. Because it was some of the prettiest driving I’ve done since moving away from Lexington after law school 16 years ago. There was an especially beautiful stretch through the Catoctin Mountain Park area – truly lovely. Made me wish that we had time to just pull off the side of the road, pull on boots, and walk into the woods. I know my relaxation time is coming in Maine, but I do feel we missed an opportunity today. Though I will say, I was proud of Beau when I asked him if we should follow the signs that said “covered bridges” and he said, “Yes.” So we took a brief detour off path to cross through the Roddy Road Covered Bridge in Thurmont, MD. It was tiny, but further research shows that it was built in 1856, which makes it imminently cool. We turned around, got back on track, and arrived in Gettysburg at around 6:00pm. By this time we were all a little crabby, rather thirsty, and very hungry. After checking into the motel, we set off right across the street to the pizza place that Beau had scouted earlier in his research. We find a table, go up to the counter to order, and Harper asked her very important food allergy question: “Does your pizza dough have egg as an ingredient?” One affirmative answer later and we are disappointedly seeking a new place to eat. As we walked up through the town, Avery finds a tourist map that mentions another pizza place. We set out in search of it, but can’t find it. We stop at a diner, and after Harper asked her very important food allergy question: “Does your pasta have egg as an ingredient?” Another affirmative answer and we are looking for anywhere to eat! We ask the young waitress if she knows of any other pizza places in town and she mentions that a brand new pizza place called “Upper Crust” has just opened up the street. The minute we step inside we know the universe was being kind to us by making it impossible to eat in those other places. It is a huge, almost cavernous space, with three beautiful wood-fire pizza ovens in an open kitchen space. Harper’s very important food allergy question is answered in the negative and whooping with joy, we put our names on the list for a table. And what do we spy at the back of the restaurant, but skee ball machines and an air hockey table. So, after a brief stop at the bar by Crazy Momma to pick up a local beer, we killed time at the back of the restaurant playing (free!) games. Beau and I were having a rousing, and tied, game of air hockey when they told us our table was ready. The pizza was delicious, even if the Classic did need a few more pieces of their fresh mozzarella. And after dinner we played a few more rounds of Skee Ball (none of my kids could beat my high score, despite there being a $1 bet on the line), and except for one single game that Harper won, I crushed her at Pop-a-Shot.

Our good humor restored, we set off to walk back to the hotel. Beau said he wanted to watch the Democratic candidates debate on tv, and Avery just really wanted to chill, so it was only Harper and I who set back off into the Gettysburg evening to seek adventure. We had discussed doing the Civil War-themed Escape Room in town, but I decided that since it was CMRT – US History Edition and not CMRT – Escape Room Edition (Though, hold the phone! I think I’ve just had a brilliant idea!) we should take advantage of our location and take a ghost/history tour. Turns out, we chose poorly. The tour guide was a very sweet old man, and I have no doubt that he knew some important local history, but the tour group was way too large, they put too much emphasis on pictures that had been taken in the past by other visitors or visiting mediums, purportedly showing ghosts or spectral energy. It was a bonding experience with Harper, though, as we periodically discussed the flawed history while walking from location to location (No, Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. No, York/Yorktown, PA, is not universally recognized as the first capital of the United States just because the Articles of Confederation were written there.) Sigh. History really is so malleable.

 

Day 3: By the numbers

Odometer: 127,720 – 127,855 (135 miles)
Total travel time: 9 hours, 35 minutes
States traveled through/in: 4 (VA, WV, MD, PA)
Current standings in the CMRT 2019 Lottery Project: $10 in/$6 out (-$4 loss) – did not play today
Number of states found in our license plate-palooza: 5 –> Total of 40/51 (One of the two Dakotas down! Come on, North Dakota!)
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Day 2 – Sly as a fox…

26 Jun

One of my greatest joys is when I can surprise my children. I don’t mean with things, though getting that thing they wanted and never thought you’d buy for them can be cool, too, but I like to surprise my children with experiences. And boy did I ever pull that off today! Last summer, I found myself in Asheville with my girls with about 18 hours to kill between two sessions of camp. I thought it would be fun for us to do an escape room together, and when I came across a place called Fox-n-Otter Adventure Escapes, I knew that I had found our place. (Those who know me, know I am veritably obsessed with otters. Come on, they have a pocket in their body to hold their favorite rock. A pocket! But I digress…) I knew this was the place for us and as a surprise to the girls, when I picked them up we went straight to play a room. It was such wild fun, that we immediately booked their other room for the next morning. We were obsessed! Not just with escape rooms in general, but with Fox-n-Otter specifically! The owner is so friendly and nice, the rooms are engaging and challenging without being demoralizingly hard or esoterically disconnected. Anyway, throw in Avery’s obsession with the host’s handlebar moustache, and she was hooked! I have a tradition with my children regarding their birthdays – they can have a party, or I will take them on a trip. Once Fox-n-Otter decided to make their seasonal room a year round adventure, Avery has been lobbying for me to take her back to Asheville for her birthday in October. Here’s the catch: as much as I would LOVE to visit Asheville in late October, it’s kind of a difficult place to get to from Jacksonville if you’re only taking a short weekend trip. So, I decided that we were going to take an early “birthday” trip and incorporate Fox-n-Otter into CMRT. After telling Avery that there was absolutely no way we could go to Asheville this summer, I set about making it happen. But I kept it a secret from her. Her siblings knew, but were sworn to secrecy, and doggone it if we weren’t able to keep that secret!

I told the kids that we had to leave the hotel in Hendersonville no later than 8:15am because we had such a long drive and we needed to get to Northern Virginia by 5:00pm. Avery did not question this. And despite knowing we were in North Carolina for the night, did not seem to question our proximity to Asheville. As we left the hotel, I was gratified to see Avery pick up her Kindle, because I knew she would be head-down for the first portion of our drive. A few crucial times after exiting the interstate in Arden, I kept peeking in the rearview mirror and silently willing Avery to NOT look up, especially when we were at a red light and the massive sign pointing to the summer camp she attended last year was right outside the window! But I smoothly pulled into the Fox-n-Otter parking lot and as I threw the van in park said, “Do you mind if we spend a little time here first?” The look of incredulous shock on her face was priceless. I think I was most giddy about that – her genuine joy upon our arrival. We played their updated Holiday’s Wonder Cabin and it was amazing! Intricate puzzles, unexpected twists and turns, the exact right number of red herrings, fun fun fun fun fun! Oh, and did I mention that we escaped? Working together very well, the Willim 3 and their Crazy Momma managed to break the previous escape record for the room by more than 2 minutes!! Such an exhilarating start to our day! Not only was the activity fun, but I pulled off one of my better surprises. It just felt good all the way around.

Then it was time to get in the car and push. Drive north, keep driving north, and then drive a little further north. Not my favorite part of the day. My knee is thinking that perhaps CMRT 2020 should be the Airplane Edition. I had never forgotten from all my years of commuting to Washington & Lee University from my home in Florida, that the trucks on I-81 are the worst. It is soooooo heavily trafficked by semi trucks. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of trucking logistics, but it can make for some tenuous driving. There were lots of interstate slow-downs on this particular day (I repeat: the far left lane is for passing only!), and that meant in order to make our date in Northern Virginia we had to keep on rolling past Exit 188B. There would be no visit to Lexington on CMRT 2019. And it was breaking my heart. W&L and the town of Lexington hold a place very dear in my heart. Some of my favorite memories were made in Lexington. And I typically make it a habit to bid a wistful hello to the Colonnade, to the Law School, to the downtown streets of Lexington, and try to buy out the entire contents of the W&L bookstore whenever I am anywhere near, but today was not that day. I would be sadder about that if I couldn’t remind myself how much money I saved by not stopping! And I would be even sadder if we were not racing the clock because we were going to stay with one of my friends from W&L, a Mr. Pete Tapley. (Side note: not only did I pass up the chance to visit Lex, we also passed up the opportunity to exit the highway in Luray to visit the Dukes of Hazard Museum! One of these days…)

The reason we were on the clock for our visit to the Tapley residence is because Pete’s 16 year old son, Wim, is an exceedingly talented singer-songwriter who had a gig at the South Riding Inn at 6pm. For years the girls and I have been practicing our “we knew him when” and “I/my mom went to college with his dad” phrases. We’re going to use these when Wim becomes famous. And here was our chance to get to see Wim perform live at a public gig. As much as it hurt my heart to bypass a trip to W&L, this was so worth it! There is no doubt that Wim is a talented musician who clearly works hard on both his craft and the logistics necessary to succeed as a musician. But add to that the fact that he’s just got it. It. That intangible thing that can make someone a star. He is a natural performer, at ease in the spotlight; a cute kid with a bright smile and all the humble charisma to back up the talent. Anyway, if you haven’t already googled “Wim Tapley” by this point, or searched for his music on whatever music platform you use, you are missing out. Recall that he is only 16. And at this gig he was playing covers and originals, including some songs he wrote in middle school! Overall, it was an exceedingly fun night. Good music, good food, good company. My kiddos were not as engaged in the evening’s activities as I was (Two out of three brought books to read in the bar/restaurant), but they bore it beautifully. They seemed to understand how important it was for me to get a night. And it doesn’t hurt that Pete is such a fun guy. After the gig, we went to the grocery store right next door to pick up a few things. Most important on the list? Ice cream that had been promised earlier in the night. It was like having three goofy kids in the store (and in this scenario, Pete is one of the goofy kids, because Beau was, as always, self-possessed and merely amused at the antics.) I think one of my favorite parts was when Pete quite surprisingly threw a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at Beau for him to put in the cart. Thankfully Beau reacted so it didn’t hurt him, despite being hurled at his head, and it led to one of the best quotes of the night – Beau’s pronouncement, “This is like a Will Ferrell direct-to-DVD movie.” Then a proposed foot race back to the car had Avery blowing by a prematurely stopped Pete, saying, “The race ends at the car. Why are you celebrating, loser?!”

While my own children had had just about enough of me and my friend for the night, and rather quickly (after ice cream) drifted off to bed, the grown-ups (and I use that term loosely) stayed up for more conversation. Including a really funny conversation with Pete’s older son, Jack, who just finished his freshman year in college. I must say that the Tapleys have done a wonderful job raising their sons – both are kind, polite, and well-mannered. And isn’t that what really matters?

Anyway, Pete and I talked into the next day. Deep topics and real talk. It was nice. Too often we don’t take the time to connect with other human beings, even the people we know and love. It was nice to answer real questions and listen to real answers. Day two stretched into day three and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

Day 2: By the numbers

Odometer: 127,242 – 127,720 (478 miles)
Total travel time: 9 hours
States traveled through/in: 3 (NC, TN, VA)
Gas stop: $2.69/gal – Salem, VA
Current standings in the CMRT 2019 Lottery Project: $10 in/$6 out (-$4 loss)
Number of states found in our license plate-palooza: 10 –> Total of 35/51 (includes DC)
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Day 1: -Ville to -Ville to -Ville

25 Jun

Welcome back, road warriors! Crazy Momma’s Road Trip: Summer 2019 – US History Edition is now in effect! This morning at 10:15am, we rolled out of our driveway to start one of our most epic adventures yet. It will follow a fairly typical path, with some exciting new experiences ahead.

It was a relaxed start to our adventures this year. Only thing on the docket for day 1, a fairly easy jaunt up to Greenville, SC, to visit with my best friend from college and her brood. So we rolled out of Jacksonville without too much urgency, knowing we had a fairly easy day ahead of us. The weather was glorious – bright, open blue sky without a rain cloud in sight. Of course, I wasn’t thinking it was all that glorious as we stepped out of our car in Orangeburg, SC, and nearly melted into the tarmac. But in terms of clear weather driving inside my temperature-controlled minivan, conditions were ideal. The only problem was, and I think Sartre stated it most succinctly, “Hell is other people.” When is it that people stopped being taught how to drive? Seriously. Is that the problem? That no one bothers to talk about those unspoken (and sometimes mandated by law!) rules of the road? Most importantly, and I really am having to restrain myself from using all caps here, the far left lane is for passing only!! Holy smokes. It’s an issue, people. A safety issue. When I was a kid my best friend, Julie, had this awesome pad of signs that you could show to other drivers. It was shaped like a paddle and you could flip over the message you wanted to show. They were innocuous sayings, to the best of my recollection (which some could verify does seem to be shockingly spotty these days). But I recall us laughing in a very silly manner, and surely we wouldn’t have been allowed to play with it if it was inappropriate, even if it was the early 80s. Anyway, I thought of that today because I desperately wished I had one of those paddles. Every time I used the middle lane to pas a car moving at speed limit in the far left lane, I wanted to show them the sign, “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!” Because they are. They are doing it wrong. To the detriment of us all.

 

One interesting thing that presented itself on the drive was a difference noted between traveling I-95 vs. I-26. We had a good start on our license plate game; the first day is generally quite fruitful. We rounded up half the states, including Montana, one of the more elusive western states. But there was a marked difference between the diversity of plates seen while traveling I-95 vs. I-26. The majority of those 25 states found were seen on I-95. And you might say, yeah, but that’s where you started in Jacksonville, so that stands to reason. But it was more than that. Once we took the turn onto I-26, the diversity in the states represented decreased. The vast majority of plates were South Carolina plates, with a few GA, FL, and NC thrown in. It is interesting to me mostly because I noticed the pattern. Can’t really say it means anything, just seemed a surprising revelation.

Other than the dull ache of arthritis in my driving knee, and some frustrations due to other drivers not understanding the logistics of traffic flow, it really was a laid back, easy drive. Hopefully this auspicious start will be reflective of the trip as a whole.

We arrived in Greenville to meet Erin at a wonderfully cute book store in downtown Greenville called M. Judson on South Main. We were stopped immediately as we walked in the door by the amazing accent wall made of books surrounding their counter. Absolutely mesmerizing. Like using books as Legos. I sense a home improvement project coming on! Once we made our way into the store we met up with Erin and Mary Hazel, to be joined shortly by Charlie, Poppy, and DanDaddy and GranMary McKinney. What a fun time having some gourmet burgers and catching up with this crew. After dinner, the McKinneys headed back to Anderson and their delightful Windward Meadows, while the two crazy mommas and our collective brood of 6 met up with dear Clevey for some after dinner frivolity. Okay, so what I really mean here is ice cream and frozen yogurt, but the best part of the evening was spending time catching up with friends. After some sweet treats, we walked around the always lovely Falls Park on the Reedy while the children scampered off (sometimes because we shooed them away) so the grown-ups could talk. Other than it being insanely humid and hot tonight, it really is a pleasant place to spend an hour or two. It is such a beautiful park, with lots of meandering paths and scenic vistas to the waterfall. But hey, Erin and Clevey, next time let’s do it with beers and no kids, huh?

Too soon it was time for the hot and sticky Willims to jump back into the car and head up the road. I wanted to put a little more distance on the odometer, so we are tonight resting our heads in Hendersonville, NC, making our path today – Jacksonville to Greenville to Hendersonville. This may seem a strange place to stop for the night when tomorrow’s destination is Northern Virginia, but this ol’ Crazy Momma has a trick up her sleeve for tomorrow morning. Shhhhhh, it’s a surprise…

 

Day 1 – By the numbers:

Odometer: 126,795 – 127, 242 (447 miles)

Total travel time: 12 hours

States traveled in/through: 4 – FL, GA, SC, NC

Cheapest gas: $2.29/gal – Orangeburg, SC

Current standings in the CMRT 2019 Lottery Project: $5 in/ $6 out (+$1 profit)

Number of states found in our license plate-palooza: 25 (No, one of them was not North Dakota)

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Day Twenty-Two: Tap Out

06 Jul

The driving day from Hell. Aka, 469 miles of misery. An unwelcome serendipitous deviation. A bad day on the road.

Which was unfortunate, because it actually started off really great. I slept in a super comfy bed, and was not awakened at the crack of dawn. Had an amazing omelette for breakfast. Got everyone in the car at a reasonable time (shortly after 9:00am), and was able to say fond goodbyes to our fabulous hosts. Went right by a 7-11 and was able to procure my caffeine early. Traffic was light on our way out of northern Virginia. Stopped for an early lunch at a Chick-fil-a. Yet somewhere after that it all started sliding off the rails for me…

You might think from my description of our cocktails that my problem today might be of the hangover variety. I assure you, it was not. I paced my previous nights indulgences, had plenty to eat, had consumed caffeine, and had even slept quite soundly, and while maybe not as much as I typically need/prefer, certainly no less than I had any other night of CMRT. But after lunch I was feeling hella exhausted. Like having difficulty keeping my eyes open exhausted. Like (not to start any rumors because this is me speaking from past experience, not current circumstance) first trimester pregnancy exhausted. Not conducive to safe driving. Add on top of that, I started developing a pounding headache, a migraine that is a monthly visitor, coming along in cycle to completely ruin my day. If it was only one symptom, I might have been able to handle it with distractions (music, a good audiobook, talking on the phone with appropriate ear buds), or frequent rest stops, or continued caffeine consumption. But the combination of the two? Just too much. We were attempting to make our way from Chantilly, Virginia, to Richmond Hill, Georgia. Should have been approximately 585 miles. It was definitely meant to be our long driving day. And we were doing okay. But after awhile I was really suffering. And my focus turned to whether or not I should even still be driving. Along the time I started thinking that maybe we should attempt to find a large-dog-friendly hotel, I noticed an ominous gathering of clouds on the horizon to the west. Then I realized that they were actually moving rather rapidly towards us. By the time the rain began to fall, I had already located a Red Roof Inn (always dog friendly!) not too far down the highway. But I was still on the fence, because despite feeling like death on toast, I really, really wanted to make it to our destination. I was still on the fence right up to the point when the first gust of wind pushed my van around in my lane, and I watched as the second gust pushed an 18-wheeler over the center line. I got off the fence right quick. My speed had dropped by approximately 20 mph, conditions were only going to get worse, and while I was feeling more awake than ever, my headache was intense and causing me nausea. I just did not have the concentration, nor the stamina, necessary to navigate the final 120 miles. So, on a stormy evening in Santee, South Carolina, I tapped out.

After securing a room at the Red Roof Inn, I walked Remy, and we settled in. The kids watched a little television as I laid down and took a power nap. When I woke, I felt significantly less exhausted, however, my head was still pounding, and nausea was my constant companion. But despite all that, I needed to find some food. We left Remy in the room (probably not supposed to do that. Oops.) and headed out to procure some quick eats. I had originally promised the kids we might hit the Cracker Barrel, but seeing as how I couldn’t even imagine eating hashbrown casserole, which is one of my favorite things, I told them we needed another option. Beau had spotted a Pizza Hut right across from the hotel, so we ended up getting a pizza to go, to eat in the room. This was a fantastic option, because I fell back asleep, and never even ended up having any. But the kids got a filling dinner (it really did look like a good cheese pizza), and I got some more rest. Waking only long enough to tell the kids to brush teeth and turn off the tv, and briefly walk Remy, before falling back asleep for the night. While I was disappointed not to make it to our friends’ house, it was the right call. It wasn’t safe for us to be on the road; not with the inclement weather conditions, and not with me not feeling my sharpest and most focused. I’m not a quitter, but that was a totally warranted and perfectly reasonable tap out.

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Day Twenty-One: W&L Hospitality Wars

05 Jul

Sadly, our time at Chez Tison has come to a close, and it’s time to get back on the southbound trail. The Tisons were back to work & camp, and the Willims were back in the car. Our first stop? Westport, only a few miles down the road, to retrieve our dear Remy. Because of his “exit bath” he was fluffy and sweet smelling, though anxious as all get out, as we piled him back into the car. I cannot imagine the mental gymnastics this poor pooch has been going through these past few weeks. First I put him in the car for a four days sojourn northbound – including a stop in a home with a backyard like he’s used to, then a hotel room, then a jaunt into NYC and a night in a big city apartment, then arrival in absolute doggie nirvana, where we proceed to spend 2 full weeks. He was clearly under the impression that it was a relocation, not a vacation, and settled into his spoiled existence, where every day included hours of vigorous ball chasing along the edge of and into the water. Then, this halcyon time comes to a close with me packing the car, and driving several hours to drop him off at an unfamiliar kennel, and leave him there for 3 nights. To be fair, it came highly recommended, this kennel, and I did spring for the 3 play sessions a day package, where in addition to his indoor/outdoor run, he got to mingle with other dogs and have personal attention from kennel techs. But then, I pick him up and he realizes that I have not left him forever, just in time for him to go back into the car for another long day of driving. I think maybe we should have shared one of his Xanax.

As we are driving south, I am noticing my fuel range dip lower and lower. Deciding that it was probably best to fill the tank soon, I got off at the last exit before a long bridge, and started looking for a station. I’m in the groove, looking for the best place to stop when Avery pipes up from the back, “Are we still in New Jersey?” I had to think about it for a second, but did confirm that yes, in fact, we were still in New Jersey. When I asked her why, she responded simply, “Because that means you can’t pump your own gas. Someone else is going to do it for you.” For goodness sakes! Good thing I have her on this trip with me! I had totally forgotten that, and would have definitely been yelled at if I had exited my vehicle at the pumps. That was certainly some stress avoided. Who says the kids aren’t paying attention to my ceaseless prattling on with random facts?

Today, as we were hopping from one W&L home to another, the W&L Hospitality Wars were launched. A friendly competition, no doubt, but a fierce one. Well aware of the deluxe accommodations and generous hospitality provided at Chez Tison, there is a very high bar, but Pete, being the competitive sort that he is, was aiming to clear it. For those of you W&L alum following along, especially you class of ’95ers, I am here to tell you that Pete Tapley grew up good. Pete was always a super nice guy, fun to be around, smart, genuine, silly, funny. But I have to admit he was one I couldn’t picture grown up. It could have gone either way. He could have been stuck in immature frat guy mode eternally (you all know someone who fits that bill), or he could have turned into a fully functioning, productive member of society. I am happy to report that he is the latter, but still retains the joie de vivre that made him such a wonderful friend back in the day. Mr. Fitzwell still lives, but now he’s the husband to a beautiful, funny, intelligent and driven wife, and the father of two handsome, polite, funny, and talented teenage boys. And did I mention that he can cook? Wow. He can cook. So much so, that at dinner I was going back for seconds of his roasted broccoli, which is the single vegetable I have never been able to stomach. And his omelettes? To die for. He’s officially my omelette guy. (Don’t worry, Joe, you’re still my General Nostalgia guy. Always.)

Pete is the consummate host, and was gracious enough to take us all in, including Remy the fluffy beast; who promptly thanked him for his hospitality by vomiting on his kitchen rug. Embarrassing. And as I walked in the door, he had the first round of cocktails ready. In a glass emblazoned with the W&L Trident he poured a daiquiri over trident-shaped ice cubes. Off to a strong start. It’s always such fun catching up with an old friend. On a shaded, screened porch over a well-mixed cocktail or two, even better. Round two, was clearly meant to knock me over. Ever heard of a French 75? I probably should have been concerned when Pete asked, “Does gin offend you?” But I knew I was in good hands, and the resulting mix of gin & prosecco, with a little simple syrup and lemon juice was delightful and refreshing! Clearly, the W&L hospitality wars were about pacing. As the third and final round, which I nursed for quite a long time, was a mint julep, made with an abundance of fresh mint. (The Tisons had the multi-night advantage, where the Tapley residence was a single night stopover, so Pete was pulling out all the stops!) Dinner was delicious, and dessert was inspired. Why use marshmallows for s’mores when you can use stale Peeps?! The sugar coating caramelizes in the fire adding a unique and tasty flavor and texture addition. After dessert and some visiting out on the back patio, we headed inside for a little impromptu concert performed by their exceedingly talented 13 year old son, Wim. Remy was loving the attention being paid to him by their older son, Jack, and we all enjoyed listening to Wim play some of his original songs on the guitar. One of them Cherry even got up and sang along. It was truly delightful, and I fully intend to say things like “I went to school with his father,” and “I once had a private concert in his living room,” when Wim becomes famous. Holy cow, can that kid write a song.

It was such a short visit, partly because the drive that was supposed to take 6 hours took a little over 8. Blerg. But it was so pleasant just hanging out with Jack, who I’m hopeful will be playing lacrosse at W&L in another two years. I’d be happy to think of a young man like him being part of the next generation of Generals. And Cherry, who is funny and sardonic, just like me. And Wim, who is darling, and quirky, and soon to be the next huge singer-songwriter sensation (and he darn well better come through on those backstage passes he promised!) And Pete, who grew up good, and continues to be such pleasant and entertaining company.

And the winner of the W&L Hospitality Wars? ME. Me and mine. I feel so blessed to have such beautiful friendships that have spanned the decades with people who are so generous and gracious. I am definitely the winner in this scenario.

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Day Twenty: Happy Birthday, You Little Firecracker! (And you, too, America.)

04 Jul

What can I really say about today, except:

Amazing weather!

and…

Best. Backyard. Party. Ever.

Tina happens to share a birthday with America (or is that the other way around?) And what better reason to summon your best friends to your backyard with way too much food, and just enough alcohol? Celebrating freedom, and the birthday of a super cool person. Not that I should be surprised by this, but Tina & Joe’s friends are, well, in a word, AWESOME! Seriously. I was afraid that even though I felt certain that their friends would be great, that somehow I wouldn’t fit in, or I wouldn’t be comfortable. Well, that was a stupid thing to waste psychic energy on. I loved their friends, and I’m getting the feeling that maybe they loved me, too. It was such a fun party. The perfect kind of backyard relaxed. There were 16 kids between the ages of 7-14. They floated near us from time to time, but parents would answer questions or give reassurances, and then off they would go again. So the grown-ups (or perhaps I should just say, adults, as I’m not suggesting we were always behaving in a mature manner) had the chance to talk and tell stories and laugh our butts off. Harper Kate was the darling of the corn hole circuit, and Avery Cakes, with her brilliant hot tub-based rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads, just blew everyone away. I cannot even begin to tell you how gratifying it felt to have these strangers, who felt like friends by the end of the night, tell me, “Your kids are awesome!” or “Your kids are so cool!” or maybe the best yet, “Great job with your kids.”

Anyway, I hope that Tina had a nice night, and it seemed while she was on the patio dance floor shaking it to the Indigo Girls, and pretending she was at the Buffalo Creek Music Festival while noodling to The Grateful Dead, that she did. I know I did. And I even got a piece of funfetti cake to boot! What a perfect weekend we have had in the company of friends. Grateful beyond measure…

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim