Category Archives: travel

I Left My Heart…

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I Left My Heart…

We just returned from the land of Tesla, Sweaty Betty & Rothy’s, aka, San Francisco. The hubs had a business meeting and the kids had spring break so we turned it into a family vacation. In my former life, I went to Cali on the regular for work, mostly Irvine and Oakland so I squeezed in plenty of LA and SF weekends and Geezus that was like 17 years ago already. (Takes a moment to shake the cobwebs from her mind and contemplate the time space continuum, that was an intense 3 seconds.)

I must confess that I’ve gotten really lazy about planning trips. I used to create schedules, print out maps and have a list of recommended restaurants on the ready. Now I’m like F-it, Google will tell me whatever I need to know in the moment. So maybe Google is making me more zen or maybe it’s just the lazy or her step sister, tired. (insert yawn it feels like 5 am to me, what time zone am I in again?)

The trip starts out in the usual way, complete chaos with undertones of panic, dread and excitement. The timing of the trip meant that we would get in late Saturday evening and host Easter dinner twelve hours after getting home. That meant cooking and cleaning ahead of time (chaos). The panic and dread come from flying alone with my kids (the hubs went out ahead of us). This isn’t new, I’ve been traveling with my kids alone since they were 1 1/2 and 3. They are teenagers now, some things are easier. They can amuse themselves with inflight entertainment on their phones and I don’t need to walk them to the toilet or “assist”. The days of sticker books, toddler snacks and Max & Ruby videos on a continuous loop are long behind us.

I still sit in the center seat to preempt fights over the arm rest and “accidental” elbows to the ribs. Our seats were in row 39 (of 40) for both flights with a round trip dose of screaming babies in row 40. Of course at some point during the flight I envision all three of us dying is a fiery plane crash….or worse, the scenario where I get sucked out through the disgusting excuse of an airline toilet, plummeting to my untimely death with my pants around my ankles, kids watching in horror from an airplane window as they shove at each other to get a better view…..part of me is at peace as I speed to the permanent sleep, knowing I won’t have to referee anymore of those fights.

All kinds of awful scenarios go through my mind, I suddenly have the imagination of Stephen King. I glance at the horrors of my own making, then I  crumple them up and toss them into a mental trashcan until the next flight when I’ll pluck them out and unfurl them again…like some dreadful relative that stalks the periphery of your life. Wow, that went dark for a hot second, moving on.

We stayed at a really cool place, the Inn at the Presidio built in 1903, it has been repurposed from it’s original use as housing for unmarried officers. We were fortunate to get one of only 22 suites in the main building. The amenities included continental breakfast and daily happy hour with wine and cheese (& OMFG good chocolate chip cookies). The inn is located within a park, truly an oasis within San Francisco. Once you’re tucked in for the night, you forget that there is a bustling city within a 10 minute walk. We would have forgotten we were in SF all together if not for the distant fog horn gently reminding us throughout the night. It was glorious.

Since I’m married to a nerd, he scheduled a tour of the Tesla factory. Knowing my daughter would roll her eyes so hard that they would actually exit her body during the tour, we opted out. So the boys went to Fremont and the girls walked over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito.

We had a beautiful sunny day which is not a given in SF. Parts of the walk were daunting….OK, scary as hell. The bridge was fine, loud but safe, the descent into Sausalito, not so much. When you get over the bridge, you shadow the freeway traffic until the exit for Alexander Avenue. Once you get on that road, walkers are on a narrow shoulder getting buzzed by a swarm of bicyclists with varying degrees of skill (or lack thereof).

I find it amazing that a city will rent out so many bicycles to people who clearly have no idea WTF they are doing. The bike shops give them a map, a pat on the head and wish them well in one of the most heavily trafficked areas in the USA which by the way, has a tendency to be shrouded in fog. What could possibly go wrong? We were thrilled and grateful when we made it to the sidewalk in Sausalito which posed signs forbidding bicycles. No bicycles on the sidewalks, thank you!

Sausalito is gorgeous. It is a quaint town overlooking Richardson Bay and the Golden Strait which, fun fact, is why that famous International Orange colored bridge is called the Golden Gate Bridge. Back to Sausalito, it’s expensive as hell. The median house price hovers around $1.4m which honestly seems low for the area. That calculation includes a cluster of houseboats which are interesting on their own.

My daughter and I got lunch – I ordered an $18. cheeseburger and she ordered from the kid’s menu (under duress) and we switched meals. Let me tell you the kid’s fillet of sole was delicious (I sounded like a cannibal when I read that out loud). After lunch we went out in search of socks because my daughter wasn’t wearing any with her Converse and at about mile 7 that was getting annoying. She picked out a pair that featured the GGB and screamed tourist with flair. A couple of hours in we were ready to take the ferry back to San Francisco.

While waiting for the ferry I decided to sit on a bench next to a heavily bearded man and his little dog too (I really hope you read that last bit like the Wicked Witch of West). At first he just seemed like an eccentric street performer. He started teasing his dog who was having a cookie and wasn’t willing to share. Then he picked the dog up and they had a full on shouting match. After a few minutes he started saying disparaging things about his ex-wife and her parents which prompted us to leave and get in the ferry line half an hour early.

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My daughter and I found seats on the ferry and I left to get us water and a snack. My parting words were “save me a seat honey”. I got back 10 minutes later and all three seats were taken. I asked my daughter what happened, assuming she just forgot about me, she had a slightly panicked look on her face. I hovered close by. When the person in the aisle seat moved I took that seat leaving one person between my daughter and I, we will refer to her as Typhoid Mary. Actually she probably had the flu or a bad cold, there was a lot of coughing and nose blowing. TM did not appear to speak or understand English so a seat exchange wasn’t in the making. After several persistent coughs followed up with some serious nasal discharge, I decided to move. I got up and aired myself out. My daughter stayed in her seat and amused herself with her phone seemingly unaware of the cootie circus happening within her orbit.

When the ferry was getting ready to dock I came back to check on my daughter and encourage her to exit so we could get ahead of the 80 bicyclists that would also disembark. I got more panicked looks with some rapid hand movement and overly expressive eyebrows….not a lot was said. She’s half Italian so she’s pretty good with the hand signals. I got the gist of it, she wasn’t leaving early.

Eventually Typhoid Mary got up and exited the row. That’s when I saw my daughter’s beloved Panic at the Disco beanie sitting in the sit that TM just exited. She sacrificed the beanie to save me a seat. The interesting bit is that the beanie had a small glass bottle filled with erasers in it which, didn’t seem to bother our recently departed friend. Also, my daughter mentioned that she plucked a bug off her own eye in transit letting out a muffled scream that I missed. I was either in the beverage line or gazing at Alcatraz as we went by.

So we left the ferry with all of our items and a bag of unopened pretzels that were no longer wanted. San Francisco has a big homeless population so I suggested that we give the pretzels away to someone who might be hungry. The first homeless person we encountered resembled the giant from the Game of Thrones during the Battle of the Bastards.

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Seriously the dude was maybe 4 inches shorter than the giant and vomited into a garbage can in front of us. We decided to keep the pretzels a little longer.

A few minutes later we passed by a bench that had a shopping cart next to it filled with blankets and random items. I suggested we see if that person wanted the pretzels. I approached with my daughter next to me. He was a big guy (smaller than the giant) with the largest nose ring I have ever seen. I asked him if he wanted the pretzels and he snatched them out of my hand with a grunt. We didn’t stick around for idle chatter or philosophical conversations.

At this point we were making our way to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf aka, the biggest tourist trap in San Francisco. I didn’t mind my girl wanted to visit the sea lions. At this point my cell phone was under 20% so I turned it off to conserve energy. The plan was to take an Uber back to the inn once we finished at the pier. We were about 11.5 miles into our day at this point.

While we were walking on the pier my daughter mentioned that she would like to get some more sassy socks and *poof* behold a sock store appeared. We got lost in there for half an hour and left with two pairs of socks and an idea of where the sea lions hang out. Ten minutes later, satiated with our sea lion viewing, we were ready to go back.

As I was opening the Uber app, my phone died. Totally dead, barely a warning just snapping a photo of a sea lion one minute and fade to black the next. Fortunately there were taxi cabs at curbside so we pretended it was 2008 (before Uber ruled the roadways) and went back to our room. It was a fun day and I hope my daughter will reflect on it with the same fondness I will….so maybe, I left a wee bit of my heart there…in San Francisco.

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Rub My Belly

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Rub My Belly

For those that are new, Blanche is the made up name of my real dog. I’ve recently introduced her to the Super Cringe series on my blog. Super Cringe is the alter ego of my pen name. I probably should have suggested you take a seat before you tip toe into my thought process, sometimes it gets surprisingly deep in the shallow end. Anyway, if you’re still here, thanks. Here’s a recent conversation:

Blanche: (Super excited greets the family at the door. All 90 pounds of her is wiggling with joy) Oh my God your back! I was so worried, you’ve been gone for like a year, I thought you deserted me.

Super Cringe: I told you we were going away for a few days. We missed you too buddy!

Blanche: WWhaaaat – why do I smell dogs. G-damn it you were with other dogs.

Super Cringe: It’s true we stayed with friends and they have two dogs.

Blanche: (Stands up on back two legs, crosses her front arms in front of her chest) Right and I’m supposed to be OK with that….you should have taken me.

Super Cringe: We can’t take you on a plane, you don’t even like going in the car. Seriously you are the only dog I ever met that doesn’t enjoy sticking her head out the window. What’s up with that?

Blanche: I would have gone on the plane. I could have pulled off the therapy dog thing. I have a sensitive nose the window thing is too much.

Super Cringe: You’re 90 pounds I can’t stick you under the seat in front of me, you aren’t a lap dog.

Blanche: I would be a lap dog, you won’t let me.

Super Cringe: You are 5′ 3″ when you stand on your back legs. I’m pretty sure the cut off for lap dogs is 3′ 6″ on hind legs.

Blanche: That sounds totally made up.

Super Cringe: Maybe…

Blanche: And stop tossing my weight around. Do you want me to start telling everyone how much you weigh?

Super Cringe: I don’t even know what I weigh, how would you know?

Blanche: I know stuff. The squirrel that was eating the molding, he gotten taken out by one of the hawks.

Super Cringe: Really! Wow, what else ya got?

Blanche: The UPS guy has a sinus infection and the neighbors kid was doing laps in our driveway again.

Super Cringe: You are a fountain of knowledge. You want a belly rub?

Blanche: Yeah, I want a belly rub (assumes the belly rub position).

Super Cringe: We cool?

Blanche: Yeah, we’re good, a little to the right.

Super Cringe: (sighs) I wish every relationship was this easy.

 

Je’taime Montreal

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Je’taime Montreal

Just got back from a family vacation which included 4 nights in Mont-Tremblant and one night in Montreal. The hubs and kids snowboard, I don’t. I prefer a more moderate indoor climate with all of my body parts intact. This was our annual holiday trip which we take with another family (the other family includes my husband’s childhood friend). Since I don’t participate in the sport, my husband does most of the trip planning and basically has to keep both our kids alive on an icy mountain.

I read books, watched Holmes & Holmes and set a goal to walk 5 miles each day. That last bit gets a little weird around 10pm when I realize I’m 2/10 of a mile below my goal. Then I wander the hotel halls in a frenzy trying to get my steps in. Luckily it was a big property although I did bump into a maintenance guy twice within 20 minutes, he gave me a puzzled look. Speaking of oddities, while watching Holmes & Holmes, I saw an advertisement for a Cannabis Summit which featured former Speaker of the House, John Boehner. At first I thought it was some Canadian version of SNL making fun of the USA but nope, that sh*t is real friends. I don’t watch much daytime TV so the whole cannabis summit was news to me, I Googled it when I got home to be sure – The American Cannabis Summit It’s about as weird as when Bob Dole started doing ads for Viagra (apologies if that is new information). Bob Dole ED commercial (warned ya)

My favorite part of our holiday was hands down Montreal. What a fun quirky city that isn’t afraid to let her freak flag fly, I fell in love. We stayed in the Old City section and the boutique hotel had a lot going for it – spacious room, nicely appointed (two sofa beds and a separate bedroom), great location and plenty of hot water. Downside – no elevator (not so bad 4th floor, getting my daily steps goal wasn’t a problem), no onsite parking (hubs saw a cop next to our car when we parked briefly to unload the bags, he ran down to avoid getting a ticket or whatever they do to you in Montreal when you illegally park) and across the street from train tracks (uh-oh, foreshadowing).

Within an hour of checking in, 8 of us were out wandering Old Montreal in search of lunch. We found a place that looked great but didn’t open until 4pm so we went to look for an alternative. La Cage lured us in with their popcorn machine. Baskets and popcorn were in hand before we were seated. The service was slow and I was restless to explore. My husband said why don’t you go out and we’ll catch up later (I love that man). I catapulted from my seat before he could change his mind. I quickly asked my kids if they wanted to go, they chose food over me, I didn’t try to change their minds. Before I left I got the single hotel key and bid au revoir and sprinted for the door.

I have to mention that my family had crappy cell service during our trip. We were dependent on WiFi because our cell phone plan sucks (Consumer Cellular). It’s great when we are home but outside of the USA, it’s pitiful. So I was off the leash in Montreal with no consistent means of communication, like in the olden days before cell phones. It was glorious.

I went to Victoria Square in an attempt to find the underground city. I was distracted by Starbucks and an interesting Santa exhibit. There were several displays and each featured a variation of Santa from different times and locations. This is going to sound odd but, if I was going to toss names around for a round of who would you rather, I’d definitely pick Black Peter. He was in charge of “persuading” the naughty children to change their ways, the henchman for St. Nicholas. Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…

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Black Peter, Henchman for St. Nicholas

Sadly the Starbucks didn’t have Chai which is my beverage of choice at that establishment. So I got a regular coffee and used the WiFi long enough to agree to meet at Notre Dame. I was the first to arrive so I got in line. It was a long line which snaked halfway down the block when I hopped on. I didn’t think the hubs would be up for waiting but I decided to stick around until we caught up. I chatted with my line mates the gentleman ahead of me was from Texas and the group of guys behind me were from New York. I overheard my NY friends say that the entrance fee was $6, cash only (uh-oh no Canadian cash on me).

About 20 minutes into my wait I spied the family and shouted my husband’s name. He has an unusual name so that did the trick. The line was still too long for him and everyone else in our group so they didn’t want to go in. At this point I was committed and asked him to get me some Canadian money for entry. He did and we agreed to meet at the hotel at 5pm (I kept the key). Notre Dame is gorgeous, it was worth the 40 minute wait in frigid temps. While I was in there, I lit two candles and said a prayer for my father and father in-law who each passed away in 2018.

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On my way back to the hotel I noticed the dogs of Montreal because they were all dressed better than me. I got my North Face coat for $39.99 at Marshalls two years ago and then it was marked past season, it probably stopped being fashionable 6 months before I bought it. I swear I saw a Chihuahua wearing Patagonia and a Boxer, Oh FFS, it is he in Canada Goose? For the unfamiliar, Canada Goose is the Holy Grail of outerwear the median price point is a grand. My first car was $450., I can’t abide. Of course if I lived in a freezer for 6 months a year and spent significant time outside, I might sing a different tune. Certainly that tune would involve sobbing of some kind.

Later that night we had a great meal a Bevo. We were seated near the kitchen (basically the restaurant version of the kiddie table, thanks Mom). We watched a constant stream of servers exit the kitchen at the intersection of funeral procession meets high fashion. Everyone was wearing black with trays of food which housed various shades of crimson. Is this a nightclub or a restaurant? Even the bathroom made me feel shabby. It featured a wall which is cooler than I could ever hope to be (featured photo).

After dinner we wandered Old Montreal some more. Went to a square where a woman was in a life sized snow globe, people were skating on the pavement and music was being played, very festive. On the way back to the hotel we found an alley which had lights projected onto the street which were interactive, a green blob of a spotlight trailed my daughter, it was fun. It was a lot packed into one day and we were ready to call it a night.

We were all tucked in by midnight, about 3am a metal screeching sound woke the hubs and I up. At first I thought it was a garbage truck in need of some serious repair, 5 minutes into it I looked out the window and saw an endless stream of cargo train cars loudly lumbering by. That slow loud parade lasted 15 solid minutes. The next one came around 5am and was brief in comparison. It reminded me of an I Love Lucy episode –

Aside from the disrupted sleep, Montreal was wonderful and I’d love to go back.

Observations from Down Under

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Observations from Down Under

Fresh off the plane from a trip to Australia. Well “fresh” may be the wrong description, zombie-like is more appropriate. We traveled as a group of 21 made up of five families including eight children ages 6 to 15. Our trip included several stops along the eastern coast of Australia. Here are some observations:

Jet lag is the devil

My body and brain are too tired to calculate the math to figure out what time zone my weary body thinks it is in. It is currently Thursday where I reside, it’s Friday in Australia. We traveled back to the states on a Monday which means we had two Mondays back-to-back. Mondays suck the first time around, they don’t improve with an instant repeat.

Jet Lag + PMS = Apocalyptic Meltdown. I’d rather not discuss how I acquired this knowledge.44724555_s.jpg

A jet-lagged version of myself with a touch of the Australian Plague. Sadly my hair did not look this good in Sydney, hard water.

Proper toilet use

Apparently there’s more than one way to use a toilet and it isn’t as intuitive as I thought. This was made clear by a consistent display of diagrams showing the dos and don’ts in female toilets across Eastern Australia. Oh and for those that are wondering about the circular direction of toilet water being flushed, the jury is still out. All of the toilets I encountered used a method of front & back water flushing action so the counter clockwise debate remains a mystery. For the record, the flush mechanism was superior to that in the USA.

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Two buttons give you the option for a moderate flush on the left or serious business on the right.

 

Baggage

We all have baggage issues. A few in our group got over zealous packing for the trip. I think one person had at least seven pairs of shoes and he had big feet. Big feet equals heavy shoes, that’s all I’m trying to imply. They were over the weight limit for every domestic flight we took and paid dearly for it $$$. I had another problem. My suitcase was intact when we flew from Sydney to the Gold Coast. Upon arrival, it looked like a dingo ate it.

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Exhibit A: A dingo leaving the scene of the crime.

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Exhibit B: My suitcase upon arrival.

Kangaroos & Koalas

Two images that come to mind when someone mentions Australia are kangaroos and koalas. I am happy to say we saw both in our travels. The good news/bad news on these creatures….

Good news – They are mostly docile and have soft fur. That said I didn’t encounter the “Big Red” variety of roo which I hear are quite intimidating. I met the soft, smallish, fluffy kangaroos that have been hand fed by humans their entire lives. These were more like pets than wild animals. They were free to roam around and eat as much kibble as their bellies could hold. When they grew tired of people they could hop back to the Kangaroo Rest Area where kangaroos could enter and people were forbidden. It was wildly popular with the roos.

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Feed me human.

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This is the roo hand signal for – “OH FFS human I can’t eat another bite.”

 

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Residents of the rest area. The ones in the back look shady to me.

I saw a kangaroo crossing sign along the side of the road. Sadly, I was not able to get a photo of it but I found a better one (note the skis) –

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Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bennymarty’>bennymarty / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The koalas were pretty mellow. They reminded me of Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, they all looked really wasted. My kids each got to hold one and they said the koalas were softer than they expected. I’d post pictures but they’re teens so naturally they would kill me.

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Bad News –  The koala my son held pooped in his hand which explains the “dafuq” look on his face in the photo I can’t show you. Apparently that happens a lot. Our friend who planned the trip informed us that koalas do three things: eat, sh*t and shag. His greatest wish is to be reincarnated as a koala next go-round. If his wish is granted, he will likely have a raging case of chlamydia. All that shagging has it’s consequences and those furry sluts are not immune. Seriously, nearly all wild koalas have chlamydia.

More bad news…kangaroos are considered pests by some in Australia. In fact about a million of them are culled each year in an effort to slow crop damage and car accidents. I assume this is where some entrepreneurs get the kangaroo bits to sell to tourists. There were kangaroo balls and paws (which look remarkably like hands) for sale as souvenirs. Australia is deeply divided regarding this practice. I didn’t buy any of those items. Kangaroo also was featured on many restaurant menus and I was informed that it tasted like a beef steak.

The People

The people we encountered were great, all courteous and helpful. One bus driver in particular had a delightful sense of humor (Rated R). They all said perfect (pronounced PuuurFECT), superb and brilliant. They smiled when they spoke and made direct eye contact, it was refreshing.

When we got home my daughter discovered that she left a beloved stuffed animal behind. This bunny is dear to my daughter because it is wearing a bandana that belonged to her grandfather who passed away in May. We determined which location it was likely left at and I sent an email. Sure enough they found it. I even asked for a photo of the bunny to make sure it was the right one (proof of life) before I paid for shipping. They complied and I’m happy to say that bunny is home bound which is just puuurFECT.

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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

 

 

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.