Category Archives: travel

Slow Your Roll

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Slow Your Roll

Some observations from a recent road trip returning from the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, Ohio to Bucks County, Pennsylvania…

We left at the crack of 8am, 7:45 to be precise. We both carried an enormous amount of luggage to the car. We are “one trip” gals. You know the type, 12 bags of groceries in the family vehicle and determined to lug it all in with one trip. The husband and kids scatter like roaches when the lights come on whenever it’s time to unload the car.

We’ve been training for this for years. Last week I got eight bags in the house in one swoop. I’m not talking about those plastic bags that you wear up your forearm like the worst bracelets ever invented. These were fully loaded paper in plastic bags filled to the tippy top. The task would have been simpler if only I had remembered my reusable bags. Those things rarely get a glimpse of the world beyond the juice stained, tissue infested floorboard of my car. Naturally, the groceries were bagged in the same order that they will be unpacked because I’m domestic and sh*t. Anyhow, the combined 432 pounds of books we acquired did not alter our “one trip” course. I suspect we resembled Sherpas at the base of Mt Everest but no one seemed to notice.

We decided to just get up and go, hit the road early. No shower, no coffee, no breakfast, surely we will find something on the way. That was stupid. Our first round of disappointment was at an Ohio rest stop. We thought, “surely there will be coffee here”, nope. It was an impressive building from the outside looked like it had been built within this decade. Inside was a cavernous land of empty bathrooms, disappointment and broken coffee dreams. There were bathrooms and vending machines, that’s it. We hadn’t yet reached the – let’s see if there is vending machine coffee – phase of desperation so, we got back in the car, sans steamy nectar of the Gods.

I don’t know how many miles passed before we saw an exit sign that hinted at coffee. It felt like it took two days and we were still in Ohio. We decided to exit the highway and fetch a cup to go. I was drawn to the shiny building. It looked like a 50’s diner, a chrome and neon oasis, surely they will have coffee. They did indeed have coffee.

We waited anxiously at the cash register where we made and paid for our purchase. The place was a blur of breakfast activity, it was clear that we hit the rush hour. It’s fine we’ll just wait, how long could it be? After an eon our coffees arrived and then we were shooed to a side of the counter to deal with our coffee fixins. I can get by with no sugar, I can not adapt to no cream. Our request for cream was met with a handful of those little half and half cups. You know the ones, they have approximately three drops of some mysterious liquid that the lab has passed off as half and half (half and half of what exactly, I’m not sure).

So there we were at the counter, desperately opening the three drops full containers in a frenzy while being bumped into by waitresses hauling enormous breakfast trays. Those creamers require the dexterity of a skilled surgeon to open. It was not graceful or efficient but we persevered. It was clear that the five containers they gave us would not suffice, we needed more half and half. I spied a table with a little bowl overflowing with them. I was tempted to make a request but the occupants were deep in conversation and I didn’t want to disturb them. Eventually we flagged a waitress down and noticing our empties, she gave us a bucket full of creamers. We finally got out of there and it’s barely worth mentioning but…the coffee was not worth the wait.

We were back in the car with mediocre coffee in hand. It was another 40 minutes before we saw the green and white sign. We knew the coffee there would also be mediocre but it would be a level up from the swill we already purchased. This time we opted for the drive-thru. Since I don’t like the coffee at this particular chain, I usually get a chai tea latte. I was still somewhat under-caffeinated and glazed over from the hours of early morning driving and ordered a “chatte latte” which sadly, only exists in my sleepy-caffeine-deprived mind. My friend gave me a quizzical look and I corrected the order immediately. Then we went on a wild tangent and by the time I got to the window to pay for the order, I had laughter induced tears in my eyes. The young woman handing over the steaming beverages did not find us amusing. In her defense, if she had heard the fictitious story about the lumberjack and the negligee wearing giraffe, she may have at least smirked.

Back on the road and did I mention that I got a speeding ticket on our outbound journey? True story and dashboard Jesus was instrumental in negotiating a lesser fine (Thank You Jesus). Anyhow, that tempered my lead footed ways. My friend’s consistent “slow your roll” commentary also kept me in check. We kept driving, sharing bits and pieces of our lives with each other, some stories were a refresher on previous conversations. Other bits were long ago fragments of chapters in each of our stories that we simply hadn’t gotten to in past chats. Each story was told with frankness, without fear of judgement which truly defines this friendship. It is quite magical when that happens.

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I’m pretty sure this is the universal sign for “slow your roll”

In our last stop on our way home we filled up the gas tank and then opted to get a snack. We were six hours into the journey at this point and I stumbled upon the best snack food ever created. I sh*t you not. Werther’s Original Caramel Popcorn (Sea Salt & Pretzel) is a snack GAWD. I have been searching for this stuff ever since we returned. Local stores can’t keep it on the shelves. I may break down and buy it online because I can only find the plain caramel variety and that just isn’t getting the job done. If you want to follow me down this rabbit hole, check out the review I stumbled upon:

http://junkbanter.com/2016/09/20/review-werthers-original-caramel-popcorn-sea-salt-pretzel/

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99 varieties of caramel popcorn and Werther’s Original with Sea Salt & Pretzel ain’t one.

When we were an hour out from our destination I texted my husband, it went like this:

Me: I’ll be home around 5pm

Hubs: OK we have food.

My friend and I were both stumped by his text so we did what women do, we put it under the mental microscope for analysis. Did he think I would cook dinner? Is he saying don’t stop at the grocery store? He can’t possibly think I’ll cook dinner or food shop after a 10 hour drive…

The mystery was solved when I came home and saw that we did indeed have food. Turns out my father in law was in the mood to cook so there was a lasagna and stuffed eggplant for dinner. That was a nice surprise.

My advice for a successful road trip is simple:

  1. Pee before you leave
  2. Bring snacks
  3. Take Jesus with you
  4. A great friend makes the time and miles fly
  5. Slow your roll

 

 

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ROSTE…Dover & Canterbury (Part III)

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ROSTE…Dover & Canterbury (Part III)

On our third day we were determined to get up early and see some more sites. We left Ben in charge and he did not disappoint. We stumbled onto a lovely beach at St. Margaret’s Bay which was surrounded by the white cliffs of Dover.

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We had a small snack at the beach from a stand which was carefully attended to by a agreeable chap named Geeves (totally made up name). Geeves was wearing a tie to flip burgers and make coffee.  This would not happen in the USA. Sure you may get a charmer but a tie, not likely. The food was good, reasonably priced and the whole scene was refreshing.

 

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The beach at St. Margaret’s Bay

After about an hour we were back on the road, this time to Canterbury. It was a little tricky finding a parking place but we persevered and eventually found a spot. Canterbury was charming. It had a gorgeous cathedral and a lively town atmosphere among cobblestone walkways.

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There is a ducking stool perched above the boats in the background of this photo. The ducking stool served as punishment for ‘scolds” (women who dissatisfied their husbands or gossiped. Uh-oh). It was also used to determine if someone was a witch. The suspect would be fastened to the chair and dunked in the river for several minutes. If they died they were deemed a non-witch and a letter clearing their name would be sent (Who doesn’t love getting a hand written note in the mail. It’s always bills, bills, bills oh look, Auntie Mary wasn’t a witch. Damn now I feel bad for missing her funeral). Those with the misfortune to live were considered witches and likely died in another heinous manner such as burning.

We wandered around the town darting into different shops and sites along the way. I’m not a big shopper but I couldn’t resist this –

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Dashboard Jesus. He’s already helped me negotiate a lesser fine for a speeding ticket.

 

We did spend some time in the Cathedral of Canterbury. A curious person could spend six months in there. The new section is circa 1200, the new section.

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The “new” section at Canterbury Cathedral.

Thomas Becket gets a lot of attention in these parts. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until 1170 when *spoiler alert* he was brutally murdered in the cathedral. Things turned sour between Archbishop Becket and King Henry II over power. The King wanted more power over the church and Becket was opposed.

Four knights turned up in Canterbury to take Becket as a prisoner. The Archbishop sought solace in the cathedral and the knights went in after him. Soon after four knights emerged with bits of Becket’s brain on their swords, a gruesome killing.

Here is a great recount of the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas Becket. It’s somewhat tricky to determine who the bad guy is but Becket was canonized in 1173 and is considered a martyr. It does seem that Thomas Becket underwent an incredible personal change once he became Archbishop of Canterbury. You can get into the weeds about it here –

https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/the-unholy-feud-that-killed-thomas-becket/

The cathedral itself is amazing so if you find yourself in that part of the world, I highly recommend a visit.

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Half of England was getting a face lift while we were there. Stone is gorgeous but the upkeep, oh my. Canterbury Cathedral.

We made our way back to our last night in Rye. Our cuisine for the evening was local fish & chips from Marino’s Fish Bar. American friends, chips here are french fries and our chips are called crisps, either way a potato or two get sacrificed.

Next stop, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROSTE…Rye, England (Part II)

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ROSTE…Rye, England (Part II)

The first three nights of our 6 night stay had us tucked in at a cozy apartment in Rye, England. There were 6 in our party – a family of four and a married couple. Our tour guide, Ben, was born and spent his first decade in Great Britain so he was well versed. He and his wife, Sheila, have probably visited England 10 times in as many years.

We stopped at Windsor Castle on our drive over and got to Rye around 6pm. We had a quick stop at a market and stocked up on some supplies. We got the usual – milk, eggs, bacon, bread, water and Mr. Kipling French Fancies. Sadly, I did not partake in the French Fancies because I foolishly gave up sugar for Lent. I had less than a week to go to make good on that decision and I was determined. This meant no scones or desserts of any kind. Boo, hiss.

Mr Kipling French Fancies, 8 packOur friends made a reservation for dinner at one of the coolest places I’ve ever eaten – The Mermaid Inn in Rye. This place has been around since 1156 (cellars) they hit the reset button in 1420. It’s entirely possible that Shakespeare himself visited in August of 1597. The only glimpse I got of William was this bust they have of him.

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Bust of William Shakespeare displayed at the Mermaid Inn – Rye, England

I took a picture of the outside, it was dark and my son photo-bombed me and I may or may not suck at taking pictures.

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I promise he’s a great kid.

The dinner was amazing and the building was a treasure trove of stories. Here’s a link if you want to learn more – http://www.mermaidinn.com/about-the-hotel/It was a gorgeous night for our 15 minute walk to/from dinner from the VRBO.

The next day we got out the door mid morning and hit the road. We drove toward Hastings and made our way through Eastbourne and up to Beachy Head.

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Lighthouse at Beachy Head

I found this guy on the edge of the cliff. So many questions…did he jump? Was he thrown? Was it a voodoo doll sans pins or a scary looking kids doll? Total mystery, I named him Fred.

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Oh Fred, what have you done?

After a bit we got back in the car and headed to Alfriston, a quaint village about half an hour away. We wandered around Alfriston and decided to have lunch at an ancient pub named The George Inn. (Psst…lots of names include George in this part of the world) I had a great sandwich with brie and bacon (totally healthy). I would caution against the sardines though. My daughter loves the tiny filleted sardines she gets at home, these are not those. The sardines here are much larger and come with the head attached. The plate was passed to my husband who has a stronger stomach and “looked” past the eyes staring back at him.

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The George Inn – Alfriston, England. A 14th century pub with the uneven floors and walls to prove it. Food was tasty (minus the sardines). Car not included with meal.

While we were there we were greeted by another customer, Molly. Molly is an English cocker spaniel and her name is pronounced Mahl-LAY. She looked liked the photo below, minus the bunny. She was tethered to the table next to us and did us the honor of letting us pet her. She was pretty busy working another table and sat patiently as the dinners took turns feeding her. I fought the urge to steal her.

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There were a few shops that we slipped into including this one:

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After lunch we made our way back to the car and I found this along the way…no explanation just this in all it’s glory:

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Hey blue eyes, no, you’re not at all creepy…..(quietly backs away)

After a couple of hours in Alfriston we got back in the car. This time we were headed to Brighton Beach. Bear in mind it was off season on a Sunday and we arrived 5pm, not a lot open. Still a fun place to poke around.

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Someone in our party did this “Big Air” bouncing thing…I’m sworn to secrecy on the identity.

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View from the remaining pier at Brighton Beach

The shops were interesting:

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Damn it, I wanted to bet my ass but(t) they were closed.

 

Of course this WAS open, I stayed strong though.

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The Brighton Beach and Piers were closed several years during World Was II after the Brighton Blitz. The West Pier has been closed since 1975 and it was left abandoned. It remained a ghostly presence until much of it collapsed into the sea in January of 2003. This is what remains today:

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After a couple of hours we were set to cap of a long day of touring at our guide’s favorite pub. Here’s a link with some great photos and menus http://www.yewtree-inn.co.uk/gallery

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This place exuded casual hospitality like no other we visited. It felt like visiting a friend’s house. The food was perfection.

And thus, we concluded our second day in England.

 

 

 

Sweet Jesus Take The Wheel

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Sweet Jesus Take The Wheel

I left the house at 6am in a dark, thick cloud of fog. The kind of fog that makes you think of Stephen King movies. Too bad, so sad, I’ve got 555 miles to go before I arrive at my destination.

My first stop was the gas station to fill up my beast on wheels. It was so empty I’m sure I heard it burp when I closed the gas cap. Then off to fetch my partner in crime, (ooooh…foreshadowing) Leah Vidal.

We hit the road at 6:30am sharp and were doing fine for the first twenty minutes until I got turned around on a road I frequently travel. We were busy yapping, I got distracted. Back on track our next slow down was the PA Turnpike. We were caught up in some traffic for the first hour or so and then things opened up.

It’s super easy to lose track of how fast you’re going. The road was clear and we finally had a patch of dry weather and open highway, my foot got heavy. Several hours into our journey we passed a cop on the side of the road. It wasn’t long before the dreaded lights were flashing in my rear view mirror.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, I’ve been pulled over before. I’m a little past my best “flirt-your-way-out” years so I wasn’t optimistic. I decided to stick with super polite bordering on ass-kissing as my tone.

The Officer was calm and measured in his approach. I had the necessities waiting for him – license, registration, and proof of insurance. My passenger and I both smiled at him with enthusiasm when we began our conversation.

Officer: “License,regist….oh thank you.” “Where are you ladies going?”

Me: “Dayton, Ohio sir.”

Officer: “You were doing 87” (that was a shock I had us pegged around 82). Then I instantly flashback to the scene in Planes, Trains at Automobiles when Del Griffith tries to talk his way out of getting the car impounded)”OK are you two sisters?”

Me: “Nope, just good friends going to a conference.” I then do my best game show model arm gesture and point to the dashboard and say “We brought Jesus with us.” (Clearly an act of desperation). I did catch a smirk from the Officer which gave me some hope.

 

It kind of looks like Jesus is flipping me off but he is holding several fingers up, I checked.

The Officer came back a few minutes later after shaving several miles off the ticket, thus saving me some points ($) on my license. We were grateful and thanked him for the discount. I may have touched his arm in a quasi creepy manner and said thanks with more enthusiasm then the situation warranted. In hindsight, I wondered if we should have said we were sisters..would that have resulted in a warning we’ll never know. When we got back on the road, I set the cruise control, Jesus take the wheel.

 

Erma Bound…I’m Bringing Oreos

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Erma Bound…I’m Bringing Oreos

One more sleep until my friend Little Miss Wordy (insert shameless plug: https://littlemisswordy.com/ ) and I make the trek to Dayton, Ohio. It’s an estimated 9 hour drive which sounds awful but Leah and I haven’t seen each other much the past two weeks so we will chat the time away. I’m the newbie on this road trip and I’m pretty excited about it.

This is only my second time traveling for a writing workshop. My first was Writer’s Digest last summer in NYC. That was great but I already know this one will be better. It’s smaller which is a plus and the genre is more specialized. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Erma when I signed up for this event. I’ve been catching up, reading her long ago columns and getting glimpses into her life. I think we would’ve gotten along just fine.

Here’s what I’m packing:

  1. Hope. Hope that I have indeed found my tribe. That I will be surrounded by people that “get” me. A home where my quirky sense of humor is appreciated or at least accepted.
  2. Willingness. Willingness to be open to new ideas and listen attentively to people and concepts that I may not encounter on a daily basis.
  3. Friendship. The spirit of friendship and good will. I hope to bring this with me when I return home.
  4. Kindness. To everyone I encounter on this journey.
  5. The other essentials – clothes, toothpaste, toothbrush, lap top, chargers, 4 pairs of shoes, and a variety of black sweat pants that all look the same to the untrained eye.
  6. Oreos. To sweeten some introductions and to promote my book which has some mention of Oreos sprinkled throughout. Anyone have connections at Nabisco?
  7. My book draft!

 

Here’s what I’m leaving behind:

  1. Ethel. Ethel is the self-doubting prairie dog that lives in my head. She’s awful and sneaky, she pops up from time to time.
  2. Expectation. Keeping this to a minimum.
  3. Impatience. I have gobs of this at home hoping I don’t need it on this trip.

 

To all the friends I haven’t met yet, I look forward to meeting you in person. I’ll be the one with the Oreos probably wearing a hat and perhaps a cape.

Really Old Sh*t Tour of England (ROSTE)…Windsor Castle (Part I)

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Really Old Sh*t Tour of England (ROSTE)…Windsor Castle (Part I)

Just got back from a trip across the pond to England. Went as a family of four along with a couple who are close friends. The husband in our friend couple was born in England so he has some insider’s knowledge and gave us a great condensed tour. We were there for 6 nights and crammed a bunch of sites in for that amount of time.

We arrived at Heathrow Airport on a Saturday morning. We packed up the rental, a Mercedes passenger van, and headed toward Windsor Castle. We happened to get there just in time to catch the changing of the guards which I’d love to link but I’m cheap and didn’t pay for premium WordPress. Google it, there are several versions out there.

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View near St. George.s Gate.I suspect that is a statue of someone important, perhaps King Charles II.

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Moat Garden

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Round Tower – They call it as they see it.

The first photo is the view near St. George’s Gate. Not entirely certain for whom the statue is for near St George’s gate – when in doubt go with Henry, Charles or George, pretty popular names there. The moat garden is not spectacular this time of year but it will be soon. The Round Tower (subtle name) was built by Henry II. The castle began as a motte-and-bailey structure which was built by William the Conqueror (WC) sometime between 1070 and 1086 AD. In case you aren’t familiar with ancient castle terms let me fill you in.

Motte-and-bailey castle – Wikipedia

A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade.

Definition of moat (Merriam-Webster)

1 : a deep and wide trench around the rampart of a fortified place (such as a castle) that is usually filled with water

  • The moat can be crossed by a drawbridge.

2 : a channel resembling a moat (as about a seamount or for confinement of animals in a zoo)

  • A Bengal tiger stared at me from across the moat.

The original structure is long gone but there are nods to it’s history throughout. Many additions and revisions have taken place over the course of nearly 1,000 years. One of the more recent reconstructions occurred after a fire in 1992 which impacted the Upper Ward. Naturally some people embrace the revisions and others do not, think neighborhood association meeting for nearly a millennium. Some feathers are bound to get ruffled.

 

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Windsor Castle on fire, Photo Credit – http://www.windsorexpress.co.uk

An observation about WC, the guy was really into real estate. The first rule of real estate is location, location, location. After the Battle of Hastings, his penchant for castles really kicked in and he started building them all over the place. His castles would have somewhat humble beginnings with a motte-and-bailey to start, once he secured the land he would “remodel” with stone and such. Update the kitchen maybe get a Viking Stove…on second thought they probably weren’t too fond of Viking anything. Many of the castles he ordered to be built are still standing today (stone lasts ya’ll).

 

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The part they don’t let you in at Windsor Castle.

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St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Location of the impending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

 

Here’s a link to a very interesting post regarding WC’s castles in case you want to dive into that rabbit hole.

https://www.tripsavvy.com/castles-of-william-the-conqueror-4051210

I will continue this journey on subsequent posts so I can bore you in bite size pieces.

Notes from the Road

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Notes from the Road

Got home a few days ago from a road trip with the family. We traveled from Southeastern Pennsylvania to New Hampshire during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We took my middle-aged Honda Pilot which has over 150K miles on it. It’s comfortable, yet beat up enough that we can park it anywhere and not worry about bad car neighbors. The hubs filled the tires with air, I brought snacks and we hit the road 2 hours past our target departure, typical for us.

My husband and I like to recreate this particular scene with every uncharted drive that takes longer than 90 minutes. First, we enter the address into my car’s GPS (we’ll call her Sheila). She has proven to be a moron time and time again. We review the directions on the screen and see that Sheila wants to send us over the George Washington Bridge instead of the Tappen Zee. “No Sheila, you’re drunk again and that’s a terrible idea”. The hubs and I go into our usual script.

Hubs: “Why don’t you pull up Google Maps on my phone and see what it says.”

Me: (why didn’t you do this 2 days ago) “Sure, hon.”

Hubs: (What is your problem?) impatiently “Well?” Tries to take the phone “I’ll do it.”

Editor’s note* – the hubs always has a phone 3 versions up from mine so I never know what the hell I’m doing.

Me: (Oh FFS why can’t I get this right, swipes wildly, accidentally closes the app, has to start over 3 times, starts to sweat and feels car sick) “No, you’re driving, if you want to switch places, pull over”. “Hold on” tilts head up in a desperate, silent prayer – please help me God, you know I’m a Luddite. “OK, got it. This says take 202, 287, yup go over the Tappen Zee”.

Some variation of this conversation plays out for every road trip headed North. I am getting better with the apps, the hubs is still impatient and Sheila remains stupid. Personally, I think I should just drive but the hubs gets a bit “cave man” about driving and I don’t mind the naps (I just yawned).

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The miles tick by usually with NPR on for something intelligent or at least mildly amusing. At some point the Radio Gods gift us with wavy static reception and we have to switch stations. The go-to after public radio is usually classic rock. Sometimes we slip in some current pop to make the girl happy. She usually creates a cocoon for herself in the middle row and slips into sloth mode. She’s pretty quiet with the occasional request for current music. The boy is solidly on board with AC/DC.

Whatever station we listen to, I usually know the words to 95% of the songs. If I don’t know the words, I just make them up. And yes I am that person who likes to “perform” when the mood strikes. I had just completed a set that included; Aerosmith (Dream On), Journey (Lights), Pink (What About Us) when my husband turned to me and said: “Are you going to sing every song?” To which I replied, “Well, that was the plan” and then he said something about singing in your head. And then I punched him in the face and he started to….kidding that only happened in my brain.

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A few minutes later Pat Benatar (Hit Me With Your Best Shot) came on and he made a comment “now if you could sing like her”…which was especially insulting since I did that  song at karaoke a couple of months ago. A friend and I sang it at a fund raiser and neither of our husbands stuck around for our performance. My friend saw both of our husbands a few minutes later (hiding in a dark corner, pretending not to know us) and said “did you hear us” and my husband, smooth talker that he is – without skipping a beat said “I thought that was actually Pat Benatar.”

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Funny, he didn’t remember that in the car. I considered divorce for a few minutes. I got over it with some pretty dramatic lip syncing to compensate for the lack of actual singing.

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Observations of a Winter Break (REDRUM)

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Observations of a Winter Break (REDRUM)

The family just got back from four days in the frozen Tundra, also known as New Hampshire. The plan was to spend some quality time snowboarding with the kids and visiting with another family at a mountainside resort. Confession, I don’t snowboard or ski so I basically read and freeze my ass off waiting for them to come off the mountain.

Road trips are painful. Specifically my ass hurts from all the sitting. Just when my coccyx was healing – Boom, 10 hours in the car. I wasn’t the only casualty. My husband managed to poke himself in the eye with an eye drop dispenser. I won’t mention that he was putting the the eye drops in while driving…oops. No worries, I was steering from the passenger seat while this circus act was performing “on the road”.

Our family of four in a hotel room makes me claustrophobic and cranky. I love my family, I do. I just don’t want to be physically tethered to them 24/7. The lack of physical personal space and privacy puts my inner loner on edge. My husband and I each shared a bed with a kid. After years of being physically assaulted by the combative starfish that our children morph into while they sleep, we have devised a system. We use pillows, towels, blankets, anything we can find to create a barrier in the middle of the bed. Sure it takes up valuable real estate in an undersized double bed but, it cuts down on bruising and resentment.

The hotel we stayed at reminded us of “The Shinning”. In fact, rumor has it that Stephen King was inspired by this hotel which used to close each winter. Not The Stanley Hotel in Colorado but the Omni Mount Washington Resort. Who knows if it’s true we just like to tweak the kids a bit, retaliation for the lack of bed space. I may or may not have written R E D R U M on the bathroom mirror when it fogged.

It was cold while we were there, colder than Antarctica during our visit. Antarctica was a balmy near zero while we dipped into double-digit negative temps. I had never experienced those temperatures prior to this trip. It was so cold it made the news:

https://www.boston.com/weather/weather/2017/12/28/mount-washington-breaks-low-temperature-record-for-the-day

The first day we arrived I had a massage scheduled. It only lasted one magical hour. The waiting room was gorgeous with chaises, dim lighting and they had snacks. I didn’t want to leave. I pretended the appointment lasted an hour longer just to soak in the calm and partake in the peppermint tea and trail mix. I foolishly took my phone off of airplane mode and was promptly hunted down by my daughter, rookie mistake. If there’s a next time I’m going to “forget” to bring my phone.

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My not-so-secret hideout for a blissful hour before my daughter tracked me down.

The first full day there the hubs and his childhood friend decided to do a zip line canopy tour. I mean who doesn’t want to dangle on a frozen wire a 100′ off of the frozen ground. It was supposed to be a 3 hour tour. It lasted about an hour and a half because they were the only people “brave” (insert stupid here) enough to do this in -25 temps. When he left, my parting words were “please come back with all of your body parts”…”still attached”. Then I rolled over into the pillow barrier that saved me from countless blows from my daughter (Starfish 2). Starfish 1 luxuriated in having the bed to himself.

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This is not my husband or his childhood friend. Apparently some other fool thought this was a good idea.

While the men were out the moms and kids met up for a historic tour of the hotel. Well, one kid, out of the 4, joined the tour for 20 minutes while the rest stared at their phones while sitting together in the Conservatory. The tour was fascinating and we learned a good amount about Joseph and Carolyn Stickney, the visionary for the hotel and his wife.

Joseph Stickney made his fortune through coal and the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was very passionate about building the Mount Washington Hotel into a grand destination for the ultra rich families that would visit it for entire summers. They broke ground for the hotel in 1900 and it opened in July of 1902. The architect was Charles Alling Gifford, this was his best known structure.  Mr. Stickney hired 250 Italian stone artisans to work on the hotel and some of the artisans family crests still decorate the columns in the main dinning room.mtwash-omni-mount-washington-main-dining-room-interior-overview.jpg

Sadly Joseph Stickney died in December of 1903. Carolyn inherited the grand hotel and became one of the richest women in America. Ten years later she married into French royalty and became known as “Princess Carolyn”.

According to our guide, Princess Carolyn became a bit “eccentric” which is code for rich girl gone crazy. She had a special table in the dinning room. Before entering she would see what the other ladies were wearing from her private balcony. If she felt outdone by a guest she would change, some evenings she changed a handful of times before sauntering down to her reserved table. Once the princess was seated, the dinning room doors were shut and no one was allowed to enter or leave until she departed. I heard this was the inspiration for the Eagles song “Hotel California” – I just made that up do not Google it.

In 1936 Carolyn died and the hotel went to her good-for-nothing nephew. Apparently he was a rich party boy without an ounce of sense in his head. The hotel was shuttered within six years. World War II didn’t do it any favors and the grand property fell into disrepair. By 1944 the hotel switched hands a couple of times and became a host to the delegates which formed the Bretton Woods System for financial trading against the US dollar (which eventually collapsed in 1971). Financial details, blah blah blah the real travesty was described to the tour attendees as the great white paint massacre.

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Prior to the global financial meeting of 1944, hundreds of painters were sent to the Mount Washington Hotel with 50 gallons of white paint per person. The instructions were simple yet profoundly idiotic, paint everything white. The painters dutifully and unmercifully followed their orders as they painted over mahogany columns and Tiffany glass windows with reckless abandon. In 2006, the property was acquired by Omni Hotels & Resorts which, has since poured millions of dollars into the restoring the property and adding some modern perks to keep it viable. It’s a gorgeous property.

Back to our family trip, on the second full day the men and kids went snowboarding (-5 f). The other mom and myself dutifully led our kids to snowboarding lessons like Sherpas. Then we spent the next 8 hours in a crowded frigid ski lodge on the lookout to see if we could spot our kids. How they managed to last that long in sub zero temperatures amazes me. We thought for sure they would be finished after lunch but those fools went outside again until 3pm. We continued our watch and plotted our next family trip, we are both vying for a Southern destination next year.

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I’m pretty sure one of my kids is in this picture. Like 20% sure…nope those are strangers, sigh.

Some how they all made it off the mountain with all body parts intact and no frostbite. Moms breathed a sigh of relief and we all went back to the hotel for a final meal together. This time we ate in what was once Princess Carolyn’s private dinning room. Rumor has it that this area escaped the great white paint massacre because they simply ran out before they got to it. It was a great way to cap off the vacation at the hotel.

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Fun fact the red “Porters Chairs” use to line the hotel’s porch. The hooded top provides shelter from wind. These are replicas. The painting to the left is an impressionist style portrait of Princess Carolyn which she commissioned.

On the road early the next morning, OK 9:15ish that’s pretty good for us. I was up each day by 7am going up and down 192 steps to fetch coffee and breakfast staples. I would also sneak in a few minutes to drink my coffee and stare out the window, not a bad view. That is Mount Washington. The thickest white line is where the cog railway travels to and from the mountain peak. You can read about it here – http://thecog.com/cog_history.php

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You can see the reflection of a light fixture in this photo. Another fun fact is that Thomas Edison attended the Grand Opening to turn the lights on which he designed. On a personal note, I am solidly team Tesla.

Our trip home took a long 10 hours which included a nice lunch in Brattleboro, Vermont. I can recommend the New Englandah at the Whetstone Brewery, the clam chowdah also got rave reviews. The only downer was the state of Connecticut. For some reason they can’t get their sh* together in the traffic department.

I have never traveled through Connecticut without hitting some type of clusterf*ck on the highways. On the way to New Hampshire we encountered several slowdowns due to accidents and rubbernecking, all in Connecticut. On the way back we experienced something really special.

We were traveling on Route 15 and encountered a slow down of magnificent proportion. After about an hour of turtle speeds, we found ourselves near the front of the slowdown where we identified the culprit…a snowplow which managed to take over both lanes of the highway. This was happening to opposing traffic as well. In the twilight, the highway resembled a gaudy necklace with 2 rows each of red and white lights. Here’s the rub, there was no snow on the damn highway at the time. So overtime pay, a bad attitude, drunk on plow power or just mindlessly following orders…we will never know the reason why those plows decided to destroy traffic. It does however, seem like an appropriate way to end 2017.

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Notice the clear roads where the plow can’t reach. This genius was plowing already plowed snow on an 8 inch shoulder tying up two lanes of traffic for miles.

On the Road with Nannie….

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On the Road with Nannie….

I should have known better. Nearly 50 years old and I’ve known this woman my entire life how did I think it would go, really? What happened you asked….I took my mother on a road trip with my teenage son and tween daughter. Our travels included a  flight from Trenton, New Jersey to Chicago, where we spent a night. The next day we drove to Wisconsin to see a beloved family member perform at a dinner theater. Two nights in Wisconsin then we drove back to Chicago to fly back to New Jersey. My kids call my mother Nannie, I usually call her crazy (in my head, mostly).

The trouble started about 3 days before we left. I got a frantic call from my mother, her friend who was going to cat sit got herself into some trouble with the law. Yup, you read that right. My mother’s friend…we will call her Mandy has a mental disorder which makes ordinary tasks more challenging. She is a sweet person she just doesn’t have a solid grasp on financial matters. She got sucked into some predatory loan trap and ultimately wound up trying to cash a fraudulent check which may or may not get her into a heap of trouble. Anyhow, Mandy was going to cat sit for my mother while we were away but my mother fired her due to the aforementioned steamy shit pile.

Mom was nearly crying on the phone worried about her cat and who would take care of her while we were away. Don’t get me wrong I like animals. I house a dog, a gecko and a gold fish we got at a fair a year ago (that thing thrives on neglect and malnutrition only explanation for it’s longevity). I get it you need someone to feed the cat but we’ll only be gone for three days. Do you really cancel a trip that someone else paid for so you can see your granddaughter in a starring role because the “regular” cat sitter is unavailable? My husband over hearing this conversation, graciously volunteered to feed the cat. My mom was still shook up but was slightly relieved. She started to mention the litter box and I shushed her on that. The hubs changed his fair share of diapers but I knew the litter box was a deal breaker. She left him 6 paragraphs of handwritten instructions. He followed the important one, feed the cat.

A few days later we were on our way. Now I will admit it….I’m a part time control freak. I say part time because my personal desk is far too messy to be claimed by a full time control freak. That said I go into full on freak mode when it comes to being on time regarding air travel and such. I’m also out of practice being the alpha on these types of trips. My husband prefers to drive and I’ve gotten used to letting him take the reins on family adventures. I typically do 90% of the planning then he executes the transportation in all of it’s forms. This time it was all on me – kids, my senior mom and a shitty GPS.

I had the kids and our stuff packed and in the car, it was time to get Nannie. She lives 10 minutes away from us so that part is easy. She wasn’t ready on time, she never is, it gets padded into the schedule but still manages to piss me off. As I was sitting in my car waiting I realized that I did not have my passport. Which I wouldn’t need anyway except the rental car paperwork specified that two forms of photo ID were required so back to my house we went. With the Nannie waiting, going back to get my passport (which my husband accurately predicted I would not need……but the paperwork said…blah…blah) and going to the Trenton, New Jersey airport for the first time, we still arrived about an hour and 40 minutes before departure. This would not be a ridiculous buffer time if we were at a normal airport. This airport is tiny, about the size of an average size grocery store. In hindsight we could have gotten there 10 minutes before the flight and still been fine, live and learn.

My mother packs a ridiculous amount of shit for three days. Sad part is she needs most of it for the various aches, pains and injuries she’s collected over 72 years. She had enough pills and supplements to supply a Walgreen’s. She also packed a heating pad type of device. It’s a tubular shape and has beads in it that you can heat in a microwave. This got my mom a pat down and a thorough bag search at both airports. After all that we still had an hour and a half to wait. Had a snack, checked my email and read a book, relaxing stuff. Nannie decides she has to use the bathroom the minute they start making the boarding announcement. By this time everyone in the tiny airport was standing up in predator mode ready to pounce when their row was called. Now, if my mother was the type to rush in and rush out that would be one thing but I have seen her go into a public restroom before and not come out for 20 minutes. Luckily she realized this would not work out and we boarded.

The flight was quick, a little bumpy but nothing like the horror stories I had heard from some friends regarding Frontier Airlines. We arrived on time and did the schlep through O’Hare to get to a taxi. The ride was slow but enjoyable, we had a charming driver from West Africa and the weather was pleasant, so far – so good. We checked into the hotel around 4pm. My mother immediately left the room for parts unknown despite my requests that we stay together. We found her about 10 minutes later in the lobby and we all ventured out together.

I read about architectural sight seeing tours on the Chicago River and thought it would be a good use of our limited time. It was a bit chilly walking toward the Navy Pier and I saw the ticket booth and mentioned the tour. Everyone was in except my mother, she declined. She did it once 13 years ago didn’t need to do it again. OK I got the tickets for the kids and I and decided we should eat right away as we had an hour and 10 minutes before the tour.

We went to a chain restaurant at the Navy Pier. My son made the unfortunate selection of pizza. I say this as someone from the NJ/NY area, our standards for pizza are different. He felt sick after one slice. Soldier through little man and I will feed you later, pinky promise. I asked my mom if she had her cell phone on her and she told me she left it home. She was under the impression it wouldn’t work in Chicago or Wisconsin. Um, OK. I paid for the meal, gave my mom an extra key card for the hotel room, said a silent prayer and hoped for the best. The hotel was a few blocks away and was in a straight line so I was somewhat confident she could make it back.

The kids and I had a great time on the tour. Chicago is such a unique city and the architecture is varied and interesting. The guide was great, he gave us tons of information and trivia about the area. We walked back toward the hotel as soon as the tour was over. Mom was sitting in the lobby. When I asked why she wasn’t in the room, she said her key card did not work, it required an “app”. I was baffled by this statement as I had used my key card to get in without incident. We went up to the room and gave hers a test drive and it worked. Not sure where the “app” reference came in or why the front desk couldn’t assist while we were out but we got back in.

My son still needed food so I was preparing to go out again. Nannie was already sprawled on the couch watching CNN and declared herself done for the night. She declined my offer to open up the sofa bed. My daughter also stayed back so it was just the two of us. My first priority was to walk to the Hyatt where I would get the rental car the next day. A gentleman at the Hyatt showed us a list of restaurants and we settled on Catch 35. We had an outrageously good meal there and enjoyed the evening lights of Chicago. We were back in the room by 9:30. Nannie was snoring on the couch with her glasses still on her face, fully dressed with CNN blaring. I gently removed her glasses, turned down the volume and turned off the lamp near her head. I left a hall light on so she could see where the bathroom was, shut the bedroom door and we all called it a night.

The next day I got the kids up for breakfast and let Nannie sleep in. Breakfast was lousy but at least there was coffee. I brought some back for Nannie. My son wanted to explore some more and I was game so out we went leaving Nannie and my daughter behind once again. We walked along the river and just enjoyed the views. We snaked our way back to the hotel taking a different route to see more sites and then it was time to pack.

We had an 11am check out time so I was ushering everyone in my group out at about 10:59. I asked my son to stay in the lobby with the bags and Nannie while my daughter and I went to get the car. We got to the Hertz counter and we were told the car would not be ready before our reserved time of noon, fair enough. My daughter and I walked back to the hotel lobby and found my son alone with everyone’s bags. Nannie decided she needed to get the New York Times. Not sure why, she doesn’t read it at home but the desire to get the newspaper propelled her out the door on a solo mission. She got back about 15 minutes later with a bump on her head. What happened mom? I asked. She apparently lost her balance on an uneven portion of sidewalk and was helped up by two strangers (thank you fine sirs). Do you need a doctor, Advil, ice? “No, I’m fine” was the reply I got. So we went to the Hyatt to get the car. It still wasn’t noon yet so we waited in the lobby. My mother went to use the bathroom and I followed after to see if she wanted to rethink the ice/Advil/doctor situation. She said she was OK just a little banged up.

With no immediate medical need I was back to focusing on getting the rental car which didn’t arrive until 12:30. I was just about to ask them to extend the return time when the car showed. I plugged in the GPS I took with me from home and it didn’t work. More likely I didn’t give it time to acclimate to the new location, it’s an older model. Luckily I had printed out directions (because I’m old) and off we went.

Traffic in Chicago can be somewhat spectacular. I’ve driven in NYC, Philadelphia, LA and DC so I’m no light weight. I can get my native Jersey Girl in gear behind the wheel when necessary and it was necessary. The sound effects coming out of my mother made it all the more entertaining – intermittent gasps, mild cursing and the virtual braking were a real time commentary on the ever changing traffic conditions. After about an hour the traffic eased up and the scenery shifted from city skyline to farms. We made a couple of stops and a failed detour attempt to find food in Madison, 4 hours later we arrived. My mother started reading each road sign we passed at one point and I didn’t think I was going to make it but I persevered.

The hotel was outdated in the common areas but in a charming old fashioned way. The room itself went from shabby chic to depressing pretty quick but hey it was only two nights. The accommodations included a private bedroom with a king size bed and a room with two queen beds and a tiny sad looking bathroom. I gave Nannie the private bedroom so she could listen to CNN without keeping the rest of us up. My son got his own bed and once again, I slept with my daughter who turns into a human starfish when she sleeps.

I called Peanut (the person we came to see perform) and was quickly out the door to pick her up. I then rounded up the rest of the crew and we went out to eat. The place had a fun atmosphere and we ate outside watching a family with 3 young girls all under the age of 4. The one girl lost 5 balloons in the time we were there, another one fell off a chair while the baby crawled on the table. I was frankly getting tired just watching them and twitched a little recalling the toddler years with my kids. Glad that phase is in the rear view mirror. It’s an adorable and absolutely exhausting phase.

During dinner my mom requested an update on her cat “Mademoiselle”. I texted my husband an quickly got a reply. As luck would have it, he was taking care of her the instant I texted. She looks happy to me (featured image). It put my mother at ease and I replied with a “You’re a saint honey.”

It was all going well and then out of the blue Nannie asks Peanut how much she weighs. I said mom you can’t do that, she’s an adult. You don’t just go up to other female adults and ask how much they weigh. She shrugged me off. Peanut evaded the question and we moved on. The thing is my mother has become obsessed with weight the past 5 years or so. This isn’t the first time she asked Peanut or me how much we weigh. It’s weird. She also weighs herself constantly and makes announcements – 107, 103, 106 “I really need to watch it don’t want to get fat again”. She was never that fat. I have gained some weight the past few years and she will make random insulting comments about how much I eat or how I shouldn’t wear stripes whilst gifting me with a striped shirt, I don’t get it. I exercise regularly and I am within the normal weight range, back off lady.

After dinner, Peanut, the kids and I decided to go to some outlets near our hotel. I asked mom if she wanted to go. She declined. The TV wasn’t working and she wanted to wait to get that resolved. I came back to the room to see if she was sure. Yup, going to wait here.  OK , we leave to go to the outlets. We wander around the outlets for an hour or so and whom do we happen to bump into, Nannie. Yup, the same woman who face planted in Chicago that very same morning decided to walk to the outlets in shoes that weren’t very comfortable. Nannie wanted to “look” at shoes, $40. and a Bass pair of walking shoes later, we were driving Peanut back to her place.

At 2am I awake to a very loud alarm clock playing a Kid Rock song…..”Gonna paint the town red and paint his wife white…” I half open one eye and see my mother walk out of her room where the alarm clock is blasting music and watch her casually saunter to the bathroom. I go into her room turn off the alarm clock and go back to bed. I mention this in the morning.  The kids heard it, Nannie did not. Sleepwalking?

The next day my mother is reviewing her clothing options and comments that “it looks like I slept in these”. She did in fact sleep in her clothes each night on the trip. She typically just falls asleep in the middle of some activity, usually watching TV and whatever she has on at the time is what she wakes up in. If she brought pajamas I never saw them. She took a shower that morning and the three of us listened to her curse a blue streak at the faucet which was not adjusting to her needs in a timely manner. This day we were scheduled to see Peanut perform so we were out the door around 11am.

The theater was really nice and we were all super excited to see the show. The show started at 1pm and we had lunch as part of the experience. At one point Nannie went to the bathroom and about 15 minutes later she could not find her purse. It’s about to be showtime and I am saying silent prayers that she doesn’t lose her mind at this point because I might lose my shit over the timing. I had my son check the car and my mom and I checked the bathroom. Fortunately a staff member found the purse and all was right in the world for the next 2 hours. That was a close call. The show was amazing and worth every blip encountered along the way.

After the show we walked around the town and took a short walk along the river. We had a nice dinner out and Peanut shared some Nannie stories of her own with my kids when Nannie was in the bathroom. Nannie has a long history of disappearing when caring for children, inappropriate comments, loud TVs and unsolicited political commentary. After dinner, we dropped Peanut off and wished her well. Then we hunkered down for our last night.

The control freak in me was up at the crack of dawn preparing to leave. I needed to get the rental car back by noon to avoid a surcharge. Since I didn’t know what the traffic situation would be I wanted 4 hours to get there, knowing we would make at least two stops on the way. We made it back with time to spare and had a solid 3 hours before our departing flight. Nannie was once again pulled aside by security for the heating pad contraband plus she just looks suspicious. It doesn’t help that’s she’s made bomb jokes in these situations.

I tried to keep an eye on her as the four of us took turns watching our bags and wandering. She sauntered off a few times but always made it back. The real kick in the pants was after we landed in Trenton I could not find my car key. It’s gone somewhere in Chicago or Wisconsin or perhaps tucked away in Nannie’s bag somewhere accidentally on purpose. I still can’t find the damn thing, good thing the hubs had a spare.