vacation

Of shooting stars…

Photo courtesy of NASA

I sat on my front stoop alone last night straining to see any of the shooting stars in the sky. I don’t know if it was positioning on my part or the thin layer of cloud cover, but search as I might, none of the beautiful sky show graced my view.

I was not disappointed in my time spent on the porch though. The humidity dropped and a light summer breeze made my skin feel cool and gave music to the neighbors wind chimes. The crickets gave a gentle buzz instead of their normal shouted cacophony.  A bat or two fluttered by scooping up insects drawn by the street lamp on the corner. It was the perfect setting to as Pooh is want to say, “Think, think, think”.

Thoughts of how slowly and yet quickly the summer passed intertwined with visions of what is to come, as I listened to the starlings call out to each other. The night echoed with the summer’s first faint cries of “I’m bored” and the last plaintive whimpers of “I’m not ready for school to start” and all the voices in between those two moments.

We didn’t do anything big or go off on a extended trip like last year (see August 2011 entries). No we stayed close to home and created small, forever memories.

There was the disappointment at not being able to spend time with my daughter Nené on her 25th birthday (ye gads, 25th!). But there was comfort in knowing that we were able to speak to each other.

I loved the quiet, uninterrupted two hour conversation Bashert and I had on our anniversary (15 years, thank you). That was a gift from my Mom and sister Calico Nell who took Yoda with them on the ride down to Savannah for a visit.

I smiled at the memory of Yoda proudly piloting us out of the marina during that visit with my Aunt Spinning Jenny and Uncle Cliff Clavin. Cliff, who is not always that great with grown-ups, excels in bringing out confidence in kids. He had Yoda doing boat doughnuts in Turner Creek by the time our venture out ended.

I again marveled at Bashert’s bravery in conquering her own fears of thunderstorms in order to show Yoda that all was okay sitting on the screened porch while nature lashed all about. She held her own and we laughed and laughed, while Yoda challenged Cliff to yet another game of chess and I shared some Herman’s Hermits music memories with my sister.

Warm fuzzies surrounded me when I thought of the surprise birthday cake my Mom presented to Yoda and me that same weekend.  I love my Mom.

I relived Yoda’s birthday party of just a few days ago when stiff haired, tattooed rock stars invaded our home. Bashert slammed home another theme party with a karaoke madness/pool fête. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen five eight/nine year old boys getting down to LMAOF on plastic, blow-up guitars and keyboards. We now have enough video to grant several opportunities for teenage blackmail.

As I shifted to relieve the pressure on my bum, some sore muscles reminded me of the fulfilled birthday promise I made to Yoda. We spent the day at one of our local arcades – just the two of us. We sort of fudged his age so that he could drive the go-cart by himself. (I’d forgotten what a thrill it is to pretend to be older than you are.) The smile on his face as he zoomed past me was priceless.

That same smile lit up when he introduced me to laser tag. If you ever want a work out try half an hour of sneaking around in blacklight darkness trying to zap fast moving little kids. You automatically go into a half squat and scurry from hiding place to hiding place. Your thighs will thank you. Yoda won two out of the four games, racking up six digit points on the last round, which I found out later resulted mainly from him shooting me! I wondered where that sniper was.

As much as I had dreaded the noise and prospect of dealing with the foibles of other people’s children, I am glad we spent that day. It’s part of this summer I will never forget.

Thoughts of the coming day began to filter in after a bit. Yoda starting his first day of third grade, me returning to work, all the mundane things that need to be taken care of. I pulled my eyes from the night sky, gave a sigh and turned to go inside. Summer vacation was over.

I was saddened not to have seen a shooting star, but I believe I still gathered a pocket full of starlight. Each of this summer’s memories will act as a luminary for any dark days of struggle yet to come and will serve as beacons for the next round of times spent together. Like the song says:

“For when your troubles start multiplyin’
And they just might
It’s easy to forget them without tryin’
With just a pocketful of starlight.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day.”

Vacation Souvenirs

Today I found out that I brought back a souvenir from our family vacation.

Its not a t-shirt or baseball cap (first time ever I did not purchase either of these).  Its not a snow globe or even a miniature replica of the Washington Monument.

No, my souvenir took me to the doctor this morning.

Turns out that all that walking and running about resulted in a stress fracture of the second metatarsal of my left foot.

I should have known something was up when it felt like I was shoving my foot into a 5 inch, narrow toe stiletto instead of my sturdy, reliable New Balance® walkers.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

I wish I had gotten the t-shirt.

For those of you new to these posts, I will explain.

My left foot, and by default I, being attached to said foot, have suffered from chronic Plantar’s Fasciitis for over four years.  Together left foot and I have been through cortisone shots, icing, physical therapy, deep tissue massage, numbing creams, splints and three surgeries.

Its only three months out from the last surgery.  Silly me to apply such performance anxiety.

Dr. S. tried to give reassurance by telling me that there’s basically nothing done to treat this type of fracture.

I just love his bedside manner.

I wonder if I can get a copy of the x-ray?

CafePress® could print it and I’d get my t-shirt after all.

“What I Did On My Summer Vacation”.

Big City Syndrome or Near Death on the Red Line

On our last day in DC we crammed in a lot of stuff.   We walked from the Lincoln Memorial all the way back to the National Museum of Art, with museum stops in between.  That’s the full length of the Mall and then some.

Pretty good for an almost 8 year old and a pleasantly plump, 50 year old who has had three foot surgeries. Bashert is disgustingly in love with walking, so she was in heaven.

Bashert also loves the challenge and excitement of the big city.

She weaves in, out and through busy crowds and streets like a pro.  Yoda and I work hard to keep up.

Bashert admits that the city brings out the serious Big City Syndrome in her. Her mother was pure Alabama, but her father, aside from being first generation American, was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York.

Now on this final, active day, we finally had to make a line change on the Metro.  The station where we picked up the subway wasn’t the line we needed, so we mapped out the train switch we would have to make.  Two stops and we would hop from the Green line to the Red line.

No big deal.  We get on; we get off; we get on.  Piece of cake, right?

Enter the Big City soul of Bashert.

We all got off the Green Line train fine.  We located the escalator to the lower level where we were to catch the next train.  Yoda was exuberant to find it in working order, so that we didn’t have to walk down as we had in other stations.

Just as we hit the bottom of the escalator, the Red Line train pulled into the station.  Bashert switched into Big City mode and began to run for the train.

Recall, if you will, from the first few lines of this blog – an 8 year old and an out of shape 50 year old with a bad foot – I do not run well and Yoda was beginning to panic with the speed and activity about.

Bashert hopped into the last car of the train and got a seat.  I grabbed Yoda’s hand and started to run. He immediately plowed into the stomach of a passenger exiting the car.  He halted in his tracks and began to cry. I heard the warning bells going off that the door was about to close.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do the next thing.  Idiocy of the highest order definitely played a part.

I shoved my leg in the path of the closing door.

The doors continued to press inward and there I was hung in the literal balance of one foot in the train, the other in the station.  Visions began to swim through my brain.

I was either going to be careening through the underground of the city plastered against the skin of the train, fingernails dug into it’s metal sides or I was going to be dragged along, head butting every jutting support that came along in true slapstick form.

My next flash was that I was going to lose my leg. There I would be floundering on the platform gushing blood from my severed femoral artery, while onlookers screamed, “NINE-ONE-ONE, NINE-ONE-ONE!”.  Those doors don’t play.

Next day’s headline: “Tourist killed in Metro Accident, Inquiry to Follow”.  People would shake their heads and say what a tragedy to go on a family vacation and lose your life.

My last horrifying thought was that I was going to be pushed into the train by another late passenger only to look back and see Yoda left standing on the platform all alone. Oh, no that would not do at all.

Just when that sickening thought popped in, a man grabbed the other door and helped shove it back against the ever so polite, recorded voice that was admonishing us to clear the doorway area because the doors are closing. No kidding.

Yoda was still frozen in place, so I yelled in my ‘listen to me now’ Mom voice for him to jump in the car.  He moved on that one.

The gentleman and I followed quickly behind.  The doors slid shut.

Yoda sat in Bashert’s lap and I plopped down next to them, sweat pouring.

Bashert said she couldn’t believe I had done that.  Me either.

I had all the money, the subway tickets, both phones and Yoda.  I could have easily waited for the next train 6 minutes down the line. Why in the ever loving universe did I do it?

Big City Syndrome.

Its not a pretty thing on small town people.

I think our vacation ended at just the right time.

The Butterfly House

In the Museum of Natural History there is the Butterfly House.

It is a small exhibit.  Its on the second floor of the Museum of Natural History just after the insect zoo.

It took a lot for Bashert and Yoda to make it through there.

We saw the Butterflies advertised outside, but didn’t know we would have to pay to get in, after all it is one of the Smithsonian museums.  But it has been 12 years since Bashert and I have been to visit so we found some things had definitely changed.

At first we said no, but Yoda asked really nicely and since we were ostensibly in DC to give him the experience, we caved and said yes.  Bashert wasn’t happy with the wait time or the somewhat surly distraction of the ticket girl, but we forged ahead.

We busied ourselves in line by looking at the freaky array of caterpillar and butterfly species on display.  We had to give that up because even that was a bit much for the other two.  Nature can be mightily strange.

Our time finally arrived to enter the realm of the butterflies.

After the obligatory be careful speech, the door was opened and we stepped into a cool spray of mist.  Beyond that were about six or seven separate little raised garden areas and a multitude of butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colours.

We couldn’t help but smile.

Everywhere we looked there was a butterfly either flying about or warming themselves on the garden flowers with slow waves.

Wings that seemed to be dull camouflage would open up to be the deepest midnight blue I had ever seen.  There were red, orange, yellow, blue and mosaic butterflies.  There were wings that swooped in like hourglasses and other that were shaped like sails on tall ships.

                        

We were for a time transported away from everything but the beauty in that small room.

Yoda was thrilled when one landed on him.  At first he was a bit nervous, but then settled quickly and said that the butterflies must really like him.

Bashert ended up supporting a few herself.  One on her arm, one on her head and another took a liking to her camera.

A lovely blue one took up residence on my back for a little while.

There is nothing quite like being a perch for such a delicate and fragile thing.

It was kind of sad when it was our turn to move on.  The smiles that we had stuck on our faces as we stepped out more than paid the price of admission. Funny how small things can make such a difference sometimes.

Maybe the cranky ticket girl should spend a few minutes in the actual exhibit.  It would sure do her heart good.

Pole Dancing on the DC Metro

I don’t know if I’ve seen Yoda this excited since he was anticipating his first ride on the ‘train’ at the Riverbanks Zoo.

From the moment he found out that we would be riding the Metro, he was practically vibrating.  This was icing on the cake for our visit to DC.

When we got on the red line toward the Chinatown, Yoda was overjoyed to find out that he could stand in the aisle and hang on to the support pole.  The swaying and inertia was great source of entertainment for him, us and 30 or so other passengers, as we were treated to a 20 minute pole dance.

When we finally stepped up into the light of day on the Mall after that long, vertical rise from the subway depths, Yoda squealed with delight.  “We’re in Washington, DeeeeeCeeeee!”.   Again, our kid is not the Disney Magic Kingdom type.

We briefly toured the National Portrait Gallery.  It had been recommended that we see the ‘electric wall’, that Yoda would get a kick out if, so we felt a bit obligated to seek it out. Don’t go see it if you are prone to seizures.

Next order of business was to find the Spy Museum.

After a couple of prerequisite wrong turns, we found it – taking up an entire block.

We toured the museum.  I’d tell you about it, but then I’d have to kill you.  I’ll just tease you a bit and let you know that Yoda loved crawling through the air shaft and the gift store.

The Spy Museum is located in the Chinatown area.  Neither Bashert nor I in all the visits made up here have ever been to Chinatown, so we took this opportunity.

We ate at a place recommended by the DC for Kids guide, The New Big Wong.  What happened to the Old Big Wong, we didn’t want to know.

This could have been a real gastronomic adventure, but we were tired, hungry and feeling very American by this point.  Lo Mien and Sesame Chicken it was, albeit it was true, freshly cooked Chinese Lo Mien and Sesame Chicken.

I was fascinated by the Chinese family that came in and was seated next to us.  They ordered what we were afraid to.  When the dishes came there was a plate full of what looked like still moving squid and another with vegetables I couldn’t quite identify.

When we finished our meal and I mean finished, we walked about Chinatown for a bit.

Lots of restaurants.  Lots of trinket booths.  Beautiful colours and ornamentation.

Yoda and I were transfixed by one restaurant that had a viewing window where we could watch some dim sum being made.  It was also pretty cool that they had the ducks with the heads still on and complete squid soaking in water.  This was the real deal.

Bashert stood back from that one.

After being on the road for several hours that morning, spending time at Echo Park and then making this trip into the city, we were pretty beat.  It was time to head back to Bashert’s cousin’s house where we are being hosted.

The ride back was filled with chatter and Yoda seeing if he could hear conversations around him with his new spy phone.  Bashert and I felt a bit more like the ‘going’ portion of Norman Rockwell’s painting, Coming and Going.

Day one of our DeeeeeCeeeee visit was complete.

Dinner for Three in Colonial Williamsburg

We have left after two days and a half days in Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

A rousing good time was had by all, especially if we are to judge by the fit of pique that Yoda threw last night.  He was so exhausted he was literally screaming into his pillow.

Ah, good times.

It is a family tradition to recap our favorite thing about our vacations.

From this leg of our week’s journey, Yoda declared, “Everything!”; my favorite was my birthday luncheon in the tavern and Bashert chose yesterday’s recital of the Declaration of Independence.

I think a close second for all of us was the dinner we had a Shield’s Tavern on our final night.

We had very late reservations at 7:15 – okay, late for us.

We normally eat dinner around 5 since I have to go to work immediately after, but that’s neither here nor there for this story.

The program we had attended lasted from 5 to 5:30 and we were stuck with almost two hours of roaming around to do after all the shops had closed down.  Bashert convinced me to go ask if there had been any cancellations.

Luckily there had and we made it in to dine about 6pm.

As it had been in the tavern on Monday, the atmosphere was really fun.  The waitress wasn’t near as saucy, but we were seated in the VIP room, so I guess they needed to be a bit more mindful of their manners.

The food was wonderful.  We each ate more than we thought we could, even Yoda finished all his macaroni with butter sauce and found room for ice cream.

We were entertained by a duo that sang a couple of ballads and a fun rendition of
Yankee Doodle”.  We even had a dandy come in and give Yoda a lesson in what it was like to attend school during this time period, as well as, the proper way to bring a drink to your lips rather than tipping the head back.

It was all well worth the heart attack I nearly suffered when the bill arrived.

On our stroll back to the hotel, Yoda brandished his pistol and practiced his proper greeting with his brand new tricornered hat.

A lucky couple walking toward the colonial city was treated to his most elegant and flourished bow.  Yoda said the gentleman saluted him in return.

Bashert & I were glad that we had extended our visit for an extra day.

And that we had chosen the right magic kingdom.

You Say Its Your Birthday; Its My Birthday Too

Today was the magic day.

I hit 50.

Its a tired cliché to say it all went so quickly. Its rather like the vacation we are on now.  You plan and save and it all seems so far away and then voilà there you are.

I can honestly say nothing has gone according to any plan I ever had.  If it had, I would be single, living alone in a small neat house, surrounded by books and antiques.  There would be maybe a couple of cats for company.  And I would have lots of money.

As it turns out, I am happily ‘married’ to the most passionate side of my soul, have two spectacular children, three cats and one dog.  Our house is small, but decidedly not neat and the antiques are in short supply.  Money, well…I do have books.

There are many things I would have rather not gone through to get to this point in my life. Really – many things, but as the other really exhausted cliché goes, I wouldn’t be the person I am now except for those experiences. (Sometimes, I would like to have known that person – the one without the other stuff, but I don’t want to be visited by three creepy guys in the night on Christmas Eve just to see what might have been.)

But here I am, pudgy waisted, greying of hair and happier than any solitary life would have ever provided.  I have 50 years of life and wonderment to reflect on.

Bashert gave me a book of memories and letters from friends and family.  It is wonderful.  Its a treasure for me and those who read this and contributed will be getting thank you notes…eventually.

Bashert gave me a special memory today to put in a new edition. Get your mind out of the gutter, its not that type of memory (at least not yet – day’s not over).

We had been touring Colonial Williamsburg all morning.  We were tired and hot. Yoda had reached his limit and was getting a bit, shall we say vocally high pitched about something he could not have.  So we thought it best to come out of the midday heat and get some refreshments.

We stopped into Chownings Tavern for lunch.

Our waitress was quite delightful and quite the salesperson.  Before you knew it we were all quenching our thirst on some of the tavern’s homemade root beer and dining on the recommended house specialty sandwich (which I will not reveal because I am now going to rot for eternity because I broke the one kosher law I have kept since 1999, but man, was that sandwich worth it!).

We saved room for dessert, but before it arrived at the table, Yoda had to visit the ‘necessity’.  So up the stairs we went, with me explaining the entire way up that he was lucky it was in the house as the lavatories were outside back then, blah, blah, blah.

When we returned, a man appeared at the table side and proceeded to ask who it was who had the birthday.  Yes, they do this even in 18th century Williamsburg.

I was treated to a rousing rendition of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” followed by a lovely tin whistle serenade of “Brian Boru’s March”.

They even brought out my piece of apple pie with a huge mulberry candle in the middle of it.  They let me keep the candle. Yoda asked if we can use it on his cake in a couple of weeks.  Cool.

The waitress then took our picture with our ‘shutterbox’, making sure to move all 21st century items out of the way first.  Except the visitor tags we were wearing and the San Diego Zoo baseball cap I was wearing and well..we have a great shot of the three of us to remember the occasion.

It’s a memory I will cherish. I’m smiling even as I write this.

Thank you, my love.

Here’s to the next 50 years. May the memories keep coming and may I remember at least half of them.

Huzzah!

Drowning in the Desert

We were living in Phoenix, Arizona at the time.  My grandmother and aunt were out visiting from Savannah.

Mama and Tricia’s visits were always an excuse to go someplace interesting.  We’d covered the Grand Canyon, Montezuma’s Castle, Old Tucson and various other sites during their previous cross country vacations.

Now, let me state here that our family is prone to adventures.  Adventures being a relative term for getting caught in unusual predicaments. So when we had a trip planned to go tubing down the Salt River in the month of May, it was pretty much a done deal that something was going to happen.

In May, the mountain snow is still melting and pouring into the river, raising the water levels and increasing the current strength.  But what’s a little extra water, eh?

We were my grandmother, aunt, mom, older brother & his then wife, older sister, younger brother and me.  A stalwart band of eight ranging in age from 61 to 9 and ready to conquer the river.

We tied a series of inner tubes together in a circle with a free floating one in the middle, holding our cooler.  The cooler was of the type that are hard to find now a days.  It had a removable top and a dimpled aluminum handle.  It was the perfect size to shove in the inner tube.  It held our drinks, the camera and my grandmother’s asthma medication.

It really was a beautiful day.  The sky was brilliant blue, the air was clear, the scenery was breathtaking even for an exited eleven year old.  We saw wild horses grazing on the banks between old, gnarled mesquite trees.  Kodak moments abounded.

I remember the water being slightly chilly in the beginning, snow run-off remember?  There were spots where we had to get out and push ourselves off the shoals because the water was too shallow to float us down river.

We hit a few, very small rapids, just enough to invigorate us and give us something to brag about later. But nothing to really build any anxiety.

On a couple of occasions the current would direct us toward the face of the mountains.  Those who were on the rock side would simply turn around, stick out their feet and push off sending us back out to the center of the river and happily on our way.  So much for the powerful currents.

We heard the roar before we ever came around the bend.

We expected to see another set of the rapids we had laughingly tripped across earlier, but instead we were confronted with a swirling, churning eddy drawing us to the mountain face.  The roar of the water filled our ears.

The whirlpool had been formed by the incredible undercurrent meeting the mountain face and a huge outcropping of the old mesquite trees.  As before those facing the rocks steadied themselves to push off.

Each of us has their own story as to what happened after we hit the mountain.

My sister and sister-in-law were hurled standing into the trees.  They said they never touched the water except for where it lapped up between the low growing branches that brushed the river.

My mother, younger brother, aunt and grandmother, who by the way couldn’t swim, were knocked out of their inner tubes and around the mass of main tree roots and branches and were able to guide themselves into the shore line or grab another to help pull them in.

My older brother and I were flipped into the roots of the mesquite trees. He was caught by the ankle in the tangled mess.  I was caught in the undercurrent desperately trying to hold on to the roots, but was torn away by the force of the water.

I was shot out into the middle of the river, alone.

My glasses were gone. I had slices across my fingers and palms where I had tried to grab the roots and my throat was already getting raw. Apparently when I’m in a panic, I scream, “Mommy!”  Nice to know.

Incredibly, there were patches in the river where I could touch the rocky bottom.  My family on the shore line having heard my frantic cries directed me to drag my feet.  I slowed some, but lost my shoes.  I was a strong swimmer but not strong enough to counteract the current.

The original flotilla of inner tubes was still hanging in the eddy, caught right where we hit, however the free floating one containing the cooler was thrown clear at some point.  This is why I remember the cooler in such detail, it became my life saver.  I grabbed it as it floated by minus the top and contents.

Meanwhile, my older brother was disentangling himself from the underwater roots.  He had to remove his shoes in order to loosen his ankles and reach the top of the water.

When he came up, my mother began shouting, “Get Carol! Get Carol!” and pointing to me in the river.  No one had any idea of what he had just been through.

My brother was my hero once again that day.  He swam out to me and was able to bully through the current to get us to shore.  Some strangers who were on the banks of the river helped haul us in.

Everyone was safe.

After it was all said and done, each story came out.

There was the horse head that my sister-in-law pulled up thinking it was one of us stuck in the trees.

There was my grandmother determined to get to the surface and as she said “float all the way down the river if she had to.”  She was a champion floater.

There was my younger brother who said that when he opened his eyes it looked like a toilet flushing all around him – guess who was the nine year old.

There was my older brother, who said that he was not going to let that tree hold him down to drown, especially since he had the car keys in his pocket! We appreciated that.

Then there was that moment standing on the embankment when we all gathered together to physically reassure ourselves that we were okay. As we looked out on to the river, the lid to the cooler popped up from under the water.  It had been trapped for the entire time.

I don’t think most of us really appreciated how frightening the whole thing was until years went by and the stories were told and retold. One of those laugh until you cry then take a breath and say, “wow” in a hushed tone things.

Last year all of us were on a river again.  This time in August and we were in north Georgia. We were minus a couple of our original party, my grandmother who passed away in 1989 and the long ago sister-in-law, but we had gained a wonderful new set of adventurers: both of my brothers’ wives, their daughters, my sister’s husband, my partner and son.

It really was a beautiful day.  The sky was brilliant blue, the air was clear, the scenery was lovely for a slightly more jaded 49 year old. We saw tourists from around the world in brightly coloured inner tubes.  Photograph ops were all around.

The most dramatic thing that happened was getting stuck on a rock outcropping because the water level was so low on the drought beleaguered Chattahoochee.  The only roar heard was that of children’s laughter.

An unusual predicament indeed.

Survivors