Monday, August 23, 2010

Day Eighteen: We Hope Jack White Has Prepared the Fold-Out Couch For Us

Hello, faithful Aeron-chair travellers. I haven't blogged the past few days because we were staying and visiting with Gainesville friends; I am (a) respecting their privacy (they did not ask not to be blogged - I am just choosing not to put them in the position of declining to appear on my stupid blog and making them feel shabby when they quite rationally do) and (b) trying to restrict my blogging activities to times when they don't interfere with other experiences I should actually be having. No worries on that count right now; we're in the Comfort Inn Music Row in Nashville, TN after a nine-hour-plus day in the car. We got a nice early start this morning and arrived here at about 5 local time.

Can I just state for the record: Tennesee, you are a lovely beauty-queen of a state. Of all the attractive landscape we've driven through in this Great Nation Of Ours, Tennessee is the current belle of the ball, unseating even stunning North Carolina. Rivers, mountains, rock formations, picturesque trestle bridges, the whole ball of scenic wax. We found our cheap hotel with ease and are just a short hop downtown. If it weren't 100 degrees out, it would be a nice half-mile walk to the very picturesque neon-cowboy-boot center of everything. But we drove, to a place called the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. My Trusty Guidebook said that it would be a good place for the kids, and despite the fact that it's a chain (didn't know that before we went!), I figured the path of least resistance might be wisest after nine hours in the beige Camry. I also did not realize that there seems to be some sort of preseason football event happening in Nashville this evening, and the place was crawling with special-event-parking foofaraw and jaywalking fans. We felt right at home!

HUGE NEWS. Anyone who knows me even slightly knows that for the past year-and-a-half I have been mentally beating myself up for brazenly, a-holishly stealing someone's parking space almost one year ago this week. I've been passively surrendering parking spots to others in an attempt to atone but still felt guilty. This evening, I got a PERFECT, FREE on-street parking spot a block away from the restaurant. As I was waiting to back into the spot, another car was hovering and continued to hover as it seemed as though I wasn't going to be able to make it into the spot. I was, of course, parallel-parking being my one and only special talent. But here's the thing: the exact same circumstances arose, and the other party did not steal my spot! The universe appears to have forgiven me on this, the anniversary of my major sin. I am still truly sorry and will NEVER EVER EVER steal a parking spot again. It is simply not worth the guilt.

Our meal was uneventful except for the fact that we ate it inside a trolley car that was situated in the middle of the Old Spaghetti Factory's dining room. Ike did not eat his macaroni and cheese, opining that there is a fine line between mac and cheese (desirable) and fettucine Alfredo (despicable, to Ike). Neither boy likes Spumoni ice cream, which makes sense, since it tastes like nothing identifiable and its name sounds like a synonym for upchucking. But downtown Nashville is as charming as can be, even in the throes of football idiocy. As longtime residents of a town - and state- populated by slavering football morons from September to January, we are able to see Nashville as if all of the NFL-related activities are painted on a transparent cel which can be mentally peeled away from the entire city, showing us what a swell place it is when there isn't a game on. The boys are pictured above on a typically superb-looking Nashville street, on which every other storefront is vending some sort of cowboy gear. They have decided that their fondest desire is to own cowboy boots, which dad has vetoed. Cowboy shirts, however, may be on the agenda tomorrow.

Also on the agenda: fried chicken, barbecue, and Mexican popsicles. And sleeping late. And stalking both Jack White and his lovely wife Karen Elson, who seem to have forgotten that they were hosting their best Wisconsin friends these two days and did not leave the key under the flowerpot for us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Days Thirteen and Fifteen: Karaoke, Ukulele, Cake

The night before I had my Very Scary Hospital Experience was, in fact, full of frolic and amusement that DID NOT GET BLOGGED, which within the parameters of this particular trip is not to be tolerated. Especially when that frolic takes place at the FREAKING MOOSE LODGE. Of which my mother is a proud member. Shown above is a photo of the three youngsters in our party posing in front of the Moose Lodge's Bingo board. The Moose Lodge was not featuring Bingo on the evening of our visit, but EVEN BETTER it was both Taco Night and Karaoke Night. Nobody has to twist my arm to perform karaoke; afterwards, the audience may wish to perform hara-kiri. My niece Eileen and I signed up for two songs apiece and after essentially no arm-twisting whatsoever, both of my boys put their names in as well. Little did I know that karaoke at the Moose Lodge is a no-messing-around type of event. Every last person sang. The notion of a second song was just a silly fantasy, which is a crying shame since my second song would have been "Private Eyes" by Hall & Oates. Eileen performed the Carrie Underwood revenge-ballad "Before He Cheats;" Ike warbled "Eye of the Tiger" and brought the house down. Oscar's initial pick, "Seven Nation Army," was rejected by the karaoke dj as being "too hard rock," so he performed "Enjoy The Silence" by Depeche Mode to a somewhat baffled elderly audience who clearly did not get how extremely emo Oscar is.
I had no idea how much retired people dig their karaoke. People brought their own CDs. Country-western music was heavily represented, both old (George Jones, Patsy Cline) and new (American Idol C&W). This was perhaps the only karaoke sesh ever held where "Sweet Caroline" would have constituted a bold choice. At nine o'clock, all action in the Lodge came to a screeching halt so that a small xylophone could be sounded to herald a special prayer, accompanied by the illumination of a dangling star above the stage: "Let the little children come to me. Do not turn them away." And so on. After which a Moose approached our table and informed us that, because it was nine o'clock, the kids were going to have to leave. Seriously.
Yesterday was Oscar's ninth birthday. I was feeling a bit low-key, so while Oscar spent his special day watching a meticulously-crafted roster of videos, I flopped around on the couch, read an appallingly stupid book and ate foods high in potassium. Above you see Osk with his birthday cake, made by grandma, and the fireworks with which we marked the event out in the driveway. Little boys + fireworks = true love 4ever. Also, he was subjected to the traditional Bedford family ukulele serenade of "Happy Birthday." Today we are back on the road, heading north to Gainesville and then on to Nashville in our trek home, hoping to encounter cooler temperatures and fewer medical emergencies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day Fourteen: You Know You're Giving Me A Heart Attack-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack

In today's blog post, space and time will be warped. I am skipping the account of day thirteen of the epic road trip to give you all my excuse for not posting on day fourteen: emergency hospitalization (SPOILER ALERT: I am just fine). Here's the story: I was out for lunch with Mom, Ron and the boys at a local Venice pasta joint called Luna, which features walls plastered with cheeseball Italian-American paraphernalia and mementoes. Having consumed a light breakfast in preparation for Luna's legendarily massive portions (which they do not bill as "family-size" - they seem to enjoy the bait-and-switch involved in making first-time visitors think they're getting a normal plate of pasta and then GOTCHA! An entire pound!), I dug into the garlic bread with gusto. Shortly thereafter, I started feeling something like the sensation of eating a peanut butter sandwich too quickly and having it get stuck on the way down (not that this happens to me ALL THE TIME or anything). Went to the ladies' to take a breather amidst several signed "Moonstruck" posters when I started feeling like I was going to pass out. Poked my head out the door and encountered Ike, who was en route to the men's. He went to get mom and Ron, who got me into a chair and hooked me up with an ice pack, etc. At that point, I was thinking I was having some heat-related episode, since the entire state of Florida is heated with molten lava during the month of August and as you all know, I am a delicate flower. Half an hour later, I was being spirited away to the Venice ER in Ron's ginormous blue pickup truck.
So the first thing that happened was that my blood pressure was determined to be through the roof. I think it would have qualified as "through the roof" even if we had been in the Capitol Rotunda. They installed me in some sort of exam room and I spent the next hour or so laying prone, staring frantically around that the cast of thousands running all over the place and sticking enough needles in my arms to make me a suitable villain in a horror-movie sequel in which I'd be called "Pin-Arms." (this is a Wes Craven reference; try to keep up) At some point, I was informed that I had probably had a heart attack. WHA???? (Imagine record-scratching sound-effect, if you are old enough to know what that sounds like). Suddenly, the bottom dropped out and I began to think this wasn't going to be one of those IV fluids, try to eat more cheeseburgers types of doctor visits of which we ectomorphs are so fond. They had me sign a release form that started with a cardiac catheterization but also extended to angioplasty and open-heart surgery, if necessary. I am not lying when I say that I thought, "I never imagined I'd have anything in common with Dick Cheney."
So they wheel me up to the cardiac catheterization lab, which oddly-enough turned out to be my happy place. But not at first. The initial five minutes or so of my visit involved the four dudes who run the joint standing around me on the gurney and marveling at my relatively-young age for having a FREAKING HEART ATTACK. Sample quotes: "37? I thought that must be a misprint. 73 is what we usually get." and, accompanied by head-shaking, "Too young. Too young." Because I lament every grey hair and age blotch I accumulate with the passing years, the irony did not escape me that here I was, being kvelled over for being so youthful, and not only could I not enjoy it, I was not even wearing a cute dress from Anthropologie while it was happening.
They gave me a choice: hang around (indefinitely) and be "monitored," or be catheterized and "clear this thing up once and for all." I asked Head Cardiac Cath Dude (who looked like Jim Carrey, but less manic) which choice gave me better odds of getting home that night to the kids and sleeping in my own bed, and thus ended up selecting door #2. As it turns out, getting a cardiac catheterization - not so bad. They did it through my arm and I didn't feel a thing. I also got to see my blood vessels on television, which is cooler than you can possibly imagine. Add in the fact that I was sedated (YES, I did sing the Ramones "I Wanna Be Sedated" on the gurney; would you not have been disappointed with me if I hadn't?) and the additional plus that there was NOTHING AT ALL WRONG with my heart or blood vessels, and you have a fairly kick-ass cardiac catheterization experience all-around. No heart attack, no Cheney-stent, no swearing off cheese for the rest of my natural life.
We now move into phase two of my stay at the Venice, FL hospital. Theme song: "The Waiting Is the Hardest Part." The m.o. at this point was three-pronged: get my blood pressure down, get lots and lots of potassium into me, and incrementally deflate the very cool, Janelle Monae-esque clear plastic inflatable bracelet that was holding my cardiac cath wound shut. Prong one took the longest, but prong two was the worst. Did you know that intravenous potassium KILLS? Take my word for it. The second-worst pain I've ever experienced in a hospital, including giving birth with no anesthetic, was having a blood-pressure cuff tightened onto my filled-with-IV-potassium left arm. (worst: getting arterial blood gases taken. Avoid if possible) Also, I was seriously exhausted but could not sleep due to (a) my headache, and (b) the mechanized blood pressure machine that kept going off to alert the staff that my BP was still insanely high. I turned down the optional morphine LIKE AN IDIOT. Eventually, everything settled down and they let me go home at about ten PM, feeling wrung out but relieved. My entire epidermis is covered with every imaginable variety of medical adhesive. I have an unanticipated piece of souvenir jewelry. My kids and husband are certifiably freaked out. So what are the take-aways from this experience?
(1) The Venice FL ER does not mess around. You would have thought my swoon was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them. I had enough medical professionals in my room at one point to field a basketball team.
(2) My mom is (a) a hero for hanging with me in the hospital with no reading material for nearly eight hours, which I consider worse than what was happening to me. At least I was being distracted, and (b) such a hard-core dyed-in-the-wool conservative that she could not resist buttonholing various nurses and asking them if they didn't agree that my situation was a perfect example of why health-care reform is a terrible idea? What surprised me the most is that the nurses were all, "Oh, yes, I saw on Fox News that blah blah blah." I do not want to make my ER saga into a political discussion, but would just like to point out that after years of working for the City of Madison in a job where it is verboten for me to discuss politics with library patrons, it was very weird to hear hospital staff doing it. Even though Madison is a nearly uniform shade of blue and it's pretty safe to presume that every stranger wants to give Barack Obama a big, wet kiss, it still bothers me when library patrons put me on the spot with their political views. Even if I agree, I still try to respond with something like "It's interesting that you feel that way." It makes me feel like a therapist.
(3) For some reason, people kept asking me how tall I was. Every single nurse and doctor asked me this at some point. I am of a tallish but normal height. Plus, because my brain is warped by law school, I started thinking, "Isn't that a kind of leading question? How tall am I? Wouldn't it be more neutral to ask, 'What is your height?'"
(4) jokes of mine that fell flat in the heart-catheterization lab: (a) telling the doctors that I wouldn't object if they could come up with a medical pretext for shaving my head, since I've always wanted to see what it would look like; and (b) when the doctor asked for a "French 3 catheter" (apparently the unit of measurement for heart catheter tubing), I asked him if she shouldn't be calling it a "Freedom 3 catheter." HAR! Well, they can't all be winners.
(5) things that went though my head while swooning in the Italian-American restaurant festooned with signed movie posters: (a) wouldn't you think an Italian restaurant would not mis-spell Vincent Gardenia's last name? and (b) isn't it a stretch to consider a movie poster for "Dante's Peak" to be a piece of Italian-American memorabilia? Despite the fact that Dante Alighieri was Italian?
That is all. I apologize for the excessively long blog post but I don't want anybody to be worried about my health, which is fine. When I return to Madison, I do in fact plan to procure a book on how to format in Blogger.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day Twelve Point Five: A Controversial Coif

Yesterday, after going to the Mote Aquarium, I took my older son Oscar to SuperCuts to get a mohawk. Reaction to this shearing among friends and family has been wildly mixed, a nearly 50-50 split between enthusiastic and appalled. I was initially surprised, but upon reflection have a greater understanding of the consternation. Here's the thing: crazy hairstyles and I go way back. I've been doing demented things with my hair since I was old enough to wield a jar of Dippity-Do and a curling iron. In junior high, my desire to resemble a punky Molly Ringwald drove me to use vast quantities of glittery copper-tinted mousse to craft my mane into an asymmetrical, glittery, immobile sculpture. So convinced was I that I was, in reality, a redhead that I resorted to henna and Clairol Nice N' Easy throughout high school to make my follicles align with my deep, inner redheaded soul. I also thought that I should have been named "Audrey" and used to put sweaters on hold at the Danbury Fair Mall's Benetton store under my "real" name, but that's another story.
After I let go of my redheaded alter ego, I spent the better part of a decade shaving, cropping, tinting, growing (my hair grows at the rate of kudzu) and then pruning feet of hair. Because Locks of Love is willing to work with wookiee hair, I have sent them my trimmings more than once. Nowadays, I look... normal. Have had natural-colored hair for as long as my husband has known me, and have sworn off the drugstore dye bottle. But my flirtations with crazy hair have given me more happiness and fun over the years than I can possibly express. If my husband did not have an opinion on these matters, I'd currently be sporting the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 'do. Hair grows back. It's easy and cheap to change. If you don't work for a multinational corporation with a dress code or live in a Lubavitcher community, you have unlimited freedom to mess around with it. Oscar and Ike have wanted mohawks for years, and were insanely jealous of the one kid in their school who sported one last year. It's summer vacation, and we're several states away from anyone who knows them. It will take approximately five minutes on the back porch for Oscar's dad to shave his shaggy 'hawk down to the level of the rest of his hair, giving him the haircut he normally has (a bristly quarter-inch buzz). Famous mohawks nowadays include Rihanna, David Beckham and at least one of Angelia Jolie's passel. And besides: Oscar looks so freaking cute.
I think, based on nothing at all except personal experience, that kids need an outlet for sartorial self-expression. Oscar can have whatever hairstyle he wants in high school as long as his grades are good. And if it scratches his rebellious itch enough to keep him away from the tattoo parlor, I feel I've succeeded in some small way. I remember the first time I ever saw Cyndi Lauper circa the She's So Unusual album, sporting her half-shaved, half-orange-and-yellow hairstyle and feeling something click in me - like I had spotted my familiar in the pages of People magazine. Oscar has his entire life to wear a suit and tie and a high-and-tight. For the last two weeks of the summer, he is letting his follicular freak flag fly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day Eleven Point Five/Day Twelve: Sonny's and The Mote

Here we are still at my mom's on day twelve, taking in the many sights of Venice, FLA. Yesterday's as-yet-unrecorded event was our first meal at Sonny's, a Florida barbecue chain that my mom and her husband frequent and my boys LOVE. No small part of the appeal of Sonny's is the seizing of many packets of crackers from the salad bar and subsequent crafting of makeshift appetizers using said crackers and the multiple flavors of BBQ sauce available on the tables chez Sonny. Ike can be shown fashioning one of these humble amuses-bouche in the top photo above. I like to get a pulled-pork sandwich on garlic toast, which Sonny's offers with a side dish and drink for an insanely low price. This meal is delicious but makes one want to eat raw kale salad for several meals afterwards in penance.
Today, we went down to Manasota Beach in the morning; the trip was a bust. One of the kids had open cuts on her body, which were aggravated by the salt water. Another of the kids (Oscar) was more interested in the outdoor sand-removal showers than in the ocean itself. Only Ike saw the charm in the particular surf offered by Manasota, which I found just dandy: gentle swells, which could be floated in to replicate the sensation of being rocked like a little baby. *sigh* But insufficient to propel a boogie-board, so sub-par for the little-boy set.
Our afternoon outing was to the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, which was just grand. Above, Ike is displaying the seahorse tank. He is, in fact, attempting to pose in such a way that the seahorses appear to be resting in the palm of his hand, which has become a photographic meme on this trip. We have taken numerous pictures in which one or both of the kids appears to be presenting some interesting sight like one of the ladies on The Price Is Right. They never get the hand positioning quite right. We saw, among other things, convict fish, sharks, cephalopods, pompano, a preserved giant squid that should be nicknamed Dirk Diggler if it isn't already, dolphins and two manatees, which are my favorites. They look so blobby and unformed, like a rough draft for some more articulated sea mammal. Oscar looks miserable in front of the manatees because a thunderstorm began mid-visit, and he spent half of the visit covering his ears and fretting about being hit by lightning. His spirits were lifted by his post-aquarium haircut: a long-desired mohawk, crafted by the fine people at SuperCuts. He now looks just as though his mother secretly thinks she lives in Brooklyn and pops next door to borrow a cup of sugar from Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Also, today we saw baby seahorses the size of fingernail clippings. AMAZING.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day Eleven: Library Geekery and Other Entertainments

It's our first full day in Venice, FLA, staying with my mom and her ebullient husband, Ron. They have a pretty nice setup; their home has a big netted-in patio with seating and a pool (this type of thing is referred to around here as a "cage") and, as you see above, a tricked-out entertainment system that can only be described as SWEEEET. You can see it above: ginormous TV, Netflix on demand, all mod cons. Ron loves to watch tennis, so they chose their set based on what type of display would best allow him to scrutinize line calls. It also receives, among others, The Sacred Channel (Cartoon Network), although we passed a happy mid-day hour today watching "Junkyard Wars." Ike spent that hour diligently maintaining his faux-hawk, pictured above. I am both tempted and reluctant to equip him with the hair gel that would allow him to fully actualize his coif. I have informed the boys that if a real mohawk is desired, now is the time to get short. Dad is not present to object, and the noggins can be shaved clean in enough time to sprout a respectable stubble for the first day of school. No takers so far, but I'm working on it.
The first day in Venice would not be complete without the obligatory library trip. The Jacaranda PL is very close by, so we went brandishing my mom's card and checked out stacks and stacks of kids' books. I may have mentioned the fact that I have something like fifteen books in the trunk of the Beigemobile, so I was only inspecting the shelves out of curiosity. You can see the picayune number of holds sitting on the Jacaranda's shelves for pickup - presumably the number burgeons during the winter months, although if my own circ-worker experience is typical, all of the snowbirds are misguidedly trying to check out books at their own up-north libraries in the fall and asking daftly, "I'm going to be in Florida/Arizona/Texas for three months. Can you check this out to me for that long?". Um, no. Get a Florida/Arizona/Texas card. They have libraries there. I think.
On books and travel: so I don't have a Kindle or iPad, and will probably be behind the curve in getting one. I just love books as objects. Their heft, their covers, turning pages, seeing and feeling the accumulation of read pages and the dwindling of unread ones. Long books are heavier than short books. Trashy books have embossed covers, some with nifty windows through their outer jackets to reveal a cameo of the bodice-ripping portrait underneath. Books books books. I have been reading Justin Cronin's "The Passage" for a week and am on page 559. It is rip-roaring. Books I have seen others reading on this trip: "How To Win Friends and Influence People"; "Firefly Lane"; the new Atul Gawande; some piece of lady-friendly dreck by Kristin Hannah (more than once); lady-friendly dreck by Danielle Steele; "Killer Angels"; "The Catcher in the Rye"; two passengers on the DC Metro, strangers, one reading the first Stieg Larsson and the other reading the second. Yes, I have been keeping a mental list. Once, on a Caribbean cruise I saw a young woman reading a Chuck Klosterman book, "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" and it made me unaccountably happy.
The thing is, at least the people reading the dreck - or what I snobbishly consider to be the dreck - are reading something. Lots of people can be seen sitting around on the beach reading NOTHING. Just sitting there, staring vacantly at the unchanging horizon for hours on end. Perhaps these people are just incredibly Zen and have bottomless reserves of calm and the capacity for deep contemplation the likes of which I will never, ever experience. Or maybe they have the brains of molluscs and require nothing more than the line of demarcation between ocean and sky to occupy all of their grey matter. So right on, Danielle Steele readers. Godspeed, people who desire to Win Friends and Influence People. And a big wet smooch to library patrons everywhere!

Day Ten: Cannonball Run Across Florida

Yesterday was Day Ten of the Epic Road Trip. It started with yours truly awakening an a bed all by herself for the first time in ten days, in a room looking directly out onto the ocean. I felt as though I had woken up in the middle of an Oprah Book Club book, in which an extremely well-to-do woman takes the radical step of moving into her luxurious beachside home for a year in order to achieve self-actualization and pen her inspirational memoirs. I mean this in a good way. We spent the morning with the fabulous Lauren and her adorable son on Crescent Beach, my kids boogie-boarding and Beck doing toddler-type things in the tidepools. You can see from the photos above that the beach was stunning and practically deserted, like an eerie paradisical dream sequence. However, there were many awesome animal encounters to be had. One large hermit crab, a school of small fish being pursued by a large fish in a tidepool, a gopher tortoise who had strayed from his neighborhood (pictured above) and many subterranean clams.
A few words on the subject of Beckett: not only is he adorable, as you might expect a two-year-old would be, cuteness being a standard factory-installed feature of toddlers, but he is also the successful result of a controlled experiment in which a child is shown to thrive when every bite of food that crosses his lips and every cultural product that enters his brain is of high quality and unimpeachable wholesomeness. I will never forget seeing him, on an earlier visit, scarfing down pieces of raw red pepper as if they were candy. Lauren and her husband Clay have WAY better willpower than I have in resisting the urge to give their kid a Snickers bar or let them watch Ren and Stimpy just to blow his freakin' mind. The result of this is, of course, a kid who does nothing but pester you for candy and cartoons. Like mine. Beck inhabits a Shangri-La in which these things simply do not exist, and he - and the world, probably, when he grows up to cure cancer or suchlike - is the better for it. It makes me feel a bit, by comparison, to those parents you see in the aisles of Walmart smacking their kids and letting them drink Hawaiian Punch. (Angry cease and desist emails from both of these companies will no doubt be winging their way to me shortly)
After our beachside idyll, we drove across the state of Florida as fast as we can. The boys did not notice us driving right past Disneyworld, absorbed as they were in the Nintendo DS (see what I mean about my parenting?). We stopped in Sarasota to buy what I suspect was the only issue of the Sunday NYT in the entire Gulf Coast region (they kept it behind the counter at Borders, like pornography), and made it to my mom's at about dinnertime. Above you see a picture of Ike in grandma's pool, the real "Happiest Place In The World." Cousin Eileen is here visiting as well, so the boys have some welcome older-kid company. We'll be seeing Beck and his kick-ass parents again on the swing back Northwards through Florida.
ps if these pictures seem depopulated, it's because (a) the beach was quite empty, and (b) I'm trying not to plaster pictures of my many gracious hosts all over the internet unless they expressly request it without my even asking.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day Nine Redux: Ye Olde St Augustine

I didn't update this blog yesterday because I was having such a splendid time visiting and catching up with Lauren The Estimable Novelist and Her Adorable Brobdignagian Toddler, Beck that I did not have time. So here is the belated update. We stayed in a beach house owned by Lauren's in-laws, who kindly let us crash there for one night. The house has a name - Solstice - which means either (1) that Lauren's in-laws are tree-worshipping pagans, or (2) maybe it's a reference to some sort of astrological phenomenon that has to do with the longest day of the year, which takes place in the summer, and - yeah, it's probably (2). It was GORGEOUS. House on stilts, vast expanses of glass overlooking a picturesque beach that made Myrtle Beach look like the ugly stepsister of beaches. The sand was like talcum powder. A sweet wooden walkway led from the house over the dunes - DUNES! - to the shore. We took the boys down to the water, which they promptly jumpt into in their clothing.
Afterwards, we rode in Lauren's car into St. Augustine, the oldest continuously-inhabited city in These United States. There was clearly a surfeit of historical interest, which on a geekier and less child-encumbered road trip I would have eaten up like so much educational soft-serve ice cream. The boys were less interested, although you seen them above posing for a rare family photo in front of Ye Olde Wooden Schoolhouse. St Augustine was touristy, but in a somewhat classier way than Myrtle Beach. An analogy: Myrtle Beach:tattoo parlors as St. Augustine: Thomas Kinkade galleries. We ate at a restaurant that had the word "Cracker" in its name. Ike ordered gator tail, which he is pretending to relish above but was in fact too spicy for him. I ate most of it (yum. gator tail). Subsequently, Lauren's son and mine had a race to see who could melt down first.
The big success of our evening was Oscar and Ike's purchase of the badass-looking shark-tooth necklaces they are modeling above along with their best intense tough-customer expressions. They would like to never, ever remove these necklaces again. I can think of no good reason not to grant this wish.

Day Nine: Driving, Not Blogging

Yesterday we drove seven + hours from Myrtle Beach to Crescent Beach, FL. The boys Nintendoed almost the entire way. I was up late visiting and chatting with my friend Lauren, in whose in-laws' beach house we crashed for the night, so no time to indulge in cyber-navel-gazing last night. I have many photos and will update soon, but in the meantime my many, many readers (including, apparently, one in China!) will have to content themselves with this photo of Ike, staring meaningfully at you with his limpid gray eyes and looking into the depths of your soul(s).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day Eight: The Warmth of the Sun, b/w Stormy Weather

Today was a solid day at the beach from start to finish. I built this day into the itinerary with the intention of (a) breaking up the long drive from DC to Florida, and (b) seeing a bit of the Atlantic coast. My original plan was to stop at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but when I crunched the numbers, it turned out that South Carolina was closer to the midway point. I chose our hotel out of a Frommer's, Myrtle Beach because one has heard of it (I think it was one of those places Bugs Bunny used to mention when he'd pop out of the ground after tunnelling aimlessly around underground and then, after looking around, say, "Eh, this don't look like Myrtle (or Pismo, or whatever) beach!"
So this morning we slept in. The boys were up late watching the Cartoon Network (or as Oscar refers to it, "the sacred channel." Breakfast was cereal and yogurt in our room. Our mini-fridge runs VERY cold so our milk was slushy and my yogurt was a fro-yo. Not a problem; temps down here have been in the 95 range the past two days, so we take the refreshment where we can get it. My biggest concern today has been the avoidance of sunburn. The sun down here is fierce, and my cheap Target beach umbrella was shredded to flinders within five minutes of being erected yesterday. We managed to avoid lobsterdom through the liberal and frequent re-application of sunblock and, for me, the draping of numerous towels while sitting in the sun. I spent a LOVELY day alternating between warm sun and cool ocean, reading "The Passage" in between frolics with my boys, whose bodyboards were perhaps the best $20 ever spent.
Big events of the day: having to temporarily exit the water because of a school of fish (which, the lifeguards claimed, meant that "bigger fish" would be nearby. SHARK! SHARK!); finding the first usage error in "The Passage" on page 399, just as I was starting to appreciate how meticulously proofread it was ("gate" instead of "gait"); and finally, a crazy crazy thunderstorm that kicked up at about 4:30 and sent us fleeing for our hotel room with the wind dramatically whipping the palm trees. This just ten minutes after Oscar pointed out the encroaching storm clouds and I passed them off as "haze." It was in fact a short, vigorous thunderbuster, which Osk spent wrapped in his quilt with his ear-protectors on. He did not even want to leave the hotel to get dinner, so we ordered a pizza in. Imagine my shock when, later in the evening, both boys elected to go out bodysurfing again. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I got some nice pictures which I'll post tomorrow.
I don't have much snarky or clever to say on the subject of Myrtle Beach aside from the general loveliness of our stay. There is certainly a profusion of the tacky and ridiculous around here - a Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, mini golf with volcanoes spewing dry ice, enough piercing and tattoo parlors to seriously comparison-shop - but we steered clear of all of that in favor of the beach itself. Dynamic but not dangerous surf, warm water, populous but not crowded - an all-around grand vacation spot. We never felt like we were competing with the masses for limited resources, and did not see a single incident of unfriendly or boorish behavior. Right on, Myrtle Beach.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day Seven: The Atlantic Is Not Just A Fine Periodical

This morning, the dudes and I managed to depart DC right on schedule. An early wake-up got the boys and I out of Eileen's apartment bright and early (although my boys managed to disrupt her AM meditation practice with a spirited discussion of ballistics right outside her door) with approximately one ton of various luggage, the toting of which has crushed my stature by at least an inch. The weather was FINE when we went into the station at Gallery Place, but by the time our train emerged to cross the Potomac, the skies had torn open in a cataclysmic downpour of Biblical proportions. We got into the airport and onto the parking shuttle without getting wet, thanks to the covered pickup area. All got slightly drenched traversing the six feet from the shuttle bus to the shelter nearest our car, and I got soaked to the skin bolting to the car on my own. Gear stashed, parking paid, and sopping wet, we departed DC at 8AM on the nose. Which was my plan. Heh heh.
The drive to SC was uneventful except for the astounding traffic jam heading in the opposite direction: commuter traffic heading into DC, backed up for miles upon miles. About two hours from our hotel, our route diverged from the Interstate for the first time in our travels, and we spent the rest of the trip driving on two-lane through rural(ish) NC and SC: tobacco fields, ramshackle barns, and the music from "Deliverance" never far from my mental soundtrack. The first time we passed a picturesque roadside stand selling boiled peanuts with a hand-lettered sign, I said "Look, kids! A local delicacy!" The second time, I said, "Hey, kids! Let's stop and get some boiled peanuts!" I figured I'd have a few more kicks at the cat on the boiled-peanut front to wear them down, but there were NO MORE STANDS. A missed culinary opportunity.
So here we are at the fabulous Driftwood Lodge Hotel, a pick from a guidebook that was spot frickin' ON. Our room is $89 per night. It is directly on the ocean and has a little pool overlooking same. The parking is right outside. Our chambers are very spacious and clean and feature a microwave and generous fridge, which we are going to use to cheapskate the hell out of our meals. The ocean is warm. We spent the afternoon wave-jumping. Oscar has finally come to admit that he is enjoying the road trip more than he would have enjoyed staying home. Provisions have been laid in for the next day or so. Splurge: boogie boards. We have cable and wifi and air conditioning and DID I MENTION WE ARE ON THE BEACH? A worthy idyll on the way down to Florida, stumbled across through sheer dumb luck and the judicious use of a Frommer's from the public library. TOMORROW: We get salt and sand everyplace it is possible to get salt and sand on - and in - the human body.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day Six: In Which the Boys Are Underwhelmed by the Charters of Freedom

Today I discovered that, while to me we are leaving DC with barely a teenytiny scratch on the surface of the many wonders that are here to behold, the boys have a limit when it comes to awe-inspiring relics and historical artifacts. This morning, we started with the National Archives, a place that makes me geek out like you have no freaking idea. Their slogan should be, "Come for the Constitution, Stay For the Wicked Fascinating Exhibits." It's a bait-and-switch of the best kind. There is always something amazing on display once you've paid your respects to the Charters of Freedom, as they're called. I was for the second time in twelve hours unable to instill in the dudes an appropriate level of wonderment at something of this nature. I could not help but feel a bit worried about the Declaration of Independence, which looks to my unschooled eye to be in rough shape (as one might expect). I now have something else to wake up in the middle of the night concerned about. "Argh! The writing on the Declaration of Independence is getting less legible by the minute!" What the boys really dug was the exhibit that enabled them to edit together their own snippets of D-Day footage into personalized short films. Constitution, Schmonstitution.
My strategy throughout our stay in D.C., souvenir-wise, has been to defer spending money by telling the boys that on our last day here, we would return to the place where the thing they wanted most was located and, within reason, buy it. So despite the fact that the gift shop was the first place they wanted to go in every museum, we managed to spend ZERO DOLLARS on gimcracks until today, when Osk decided we needed to return to Air and Space in order to get a remote-controlled airplane. I managed to haggle him down to a $12 model plane and Ike to a $10 set of toy helicopters and am feeling like I got off cheap in that regard. We bought ice cream treats, pictured above. The red-white-and-blue frozen pop Ike is enjoying is no longer called a "Bomb Pop" as it was in my youth, because post-9/11 we do not refer to frozen desserts as "bombs," especially in our Nation's Capital. It is now a "Patriotic Rocket Pop," which to me is like the "Freedom Fries" of kids' ice cream.
On the way back to Eileen's, I dragged the kids through the West Wing of the National Gallery (the old stuff) and into the East Wing, hoping to captivate the boys with some modern art. You can see above that they were utterly nonplussed by Richard Serra. More entertaining was the lunch we had at a downtown McD's, where the street theater was nonstop and CRAZY. The establishment in which we dined required one to BUY A TOKEN to use the bathroom (because of vandalism, according to the signs) and had a strict condiment-handout policy keyed to the size of the meal ordered (one sauce for six McNuggets or fewer, two sauces for ten or more). Do people try to cadge free BBQ sauces and attempt to subsist thereon?

Not pictured: the return trip to retrieve Aunt Eileen's quilt. Pictured: Oscar diligently assembling his model airplane and then engaging in "creative play" with same. Sound effects: "Whoooosshhhhhhhhhhhh pow pow pow Whoooossshshshhhhhh!" etcetera. Dude loves his airplane. Swim. Dinner. Off for gelato (another treat I've been saving until the end). In the morning, we depart for Myrtle Beach, SC where we will engage in Ike's new favorite pastime: chillaxing.

Day Five and a Half: 24-Hour Party People

After our late-day swim and cable-TV session (Eileen has mad cable! And on-demand! There are SO MANY CHANNELS!), I persuaded the boys to sojurn out yet again. You see, in DC there are monuments. They are awesome, in both senses of the word. I have never seen them at night, and it is said that one must. I had been planning to take the boys to be stunned into respectful silence by gigantic Abe Lincoln on this trip, and the sweltering heat reinforced the decision do to it after dark. I nerdtastically looked up the sunset: eight PM. After overcoming Oscar's perfectly reasonable protest - "I think I've done enough today" - we Metro-ed down to the Washington Monument. A word on buying Metro cards: we are operating primarily with a credit card, which is dandy, but the Metro card machines will only let you make two purchases with the same card before it determines that you are running some kind of short con and cuts you off. This makes refilling metrocards problematic when one is travelling in a group of THREE.
So down we schlepped. A long discussion ensued at the Wash Mon on the following two subjects: (1) why, despite the proliferation of eminently skateboardable structures around, would it be disrespectful to grind a wicked ollie at the Washington Monument? (this from younger son, who does not skateboard except in his active imagination, in which he is Tony Hawk 2.0) (2) please do not ever, ever, EVER take me up to the top of the Washington Monument in that elevator (guess who?).
Oscar has been wanting to visit the WW2 memorial for months and months. You can see them dipping their feet in its waters above. We determined that dipping feet was OK, but wading was disrespectful. Strangely enough, this somewhat overblown piece of monumentry came as close as anything to imbuing in the dudes something approaching reverence. Oscar has suggested that we return to "worship" there again. His word, not mine.
August+ reflecting pool=gnats.
So I stopped the boys on the steps of the Linc Mon. I took out my Droid. I tried to show them YouTube video of the "I Have A Dream" speech right there on the steps. I thought this was a wicked cool idea. Not very interested. They did, however, stand in something approaching attentiveness during my dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address. I managed to get the boys to hike a mile in 90-degree heat to the metro (rather than take one of the cabs that were swarming like, well, gnats) by persuading them that we could only pay with a credit card, which DC cabs tend not to take. I even let Oscar flag down a couple and ask. Whatever works. We made it to the Metro, me piggybacking Ike some of the way and becoming DRENCHED with sweat.
By this time, it was after nine. I was hungry. I wanted to freaking eat at Jaleo, which sits rightacrossthestreet from my aunt's place, taunting me with its tapas and quesos and cured jamon. So in we went. We ate at the bar. Our bartender was from Ohio and refilled the boys' Sprites in perpetuity. I had (in ingles) chicken croquettes, garlicky shrimp and piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese. The boys gamely tried all but the latter. Also: the oily sauce in the bottom of the plates, soaked into some bread, was SO. DELICIOUS. Almost better than the tapas themselves. At last to bed at about 10:30. Tomorrow, we are seriously going to relax. And pick up the quilt at the dry-cleaners.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day Five: Unexpected Dry-Cleaning Errand, Military History, Sweltering.

The theme of today's post is: terrible photography. Top to bottom, my (and 25% my kid's) barely-competent pictures depict our day, starting with the unplanned trek around downtown DC trying to locate a laundry/dry cleaner. I would be a poor mother indeed if I revealed to my readership, small as it is, that one of my kids sometimes does not make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I would be an even worse mother if I felt even the slightest molecule of irritation about having to spend a big chunk of a 90-degree-plus morning in downtown Washington, DC trying to find a place that will launder my aunt's comforter so that we can simply place it back in the closet so that she would never know the difference. I am completely within my rights to be annoyed at Yelp!, which misled me into thinking that a laundry was located within two blocks from where we're staying, a location which turned out to be a traffic island with no laundering capabilities whatsoev. A friendly guy at a gelateria down the block told us about Happy Cleaners, a place two metro stops distant where I had to haggle - Me! Haggle! For real! - to get the quilt clean by tomorrow afternoon. The top picture depicts us across the street from the yellow-awninged Happy Cleaners, a place which made me not-at-all-happy.
From there, off to the Museum of American History, where Ike got to try a John-Kerry-Campaign-Simulator (aka "Windsurfing Simulator") and Osk got to gratify his military history jones. And I got to visit Julia Child's kitchen (again) and fail to impress on my boys the epic radness of the J.Ch. Theme of the trip: Me launching on a fulsome speech about the awesomeness of some historical artifact or locale; boys walking away; bystanders chuckling knowingly. Wash, rinse repeat. Some of it is sinking in, however, or we would not have spent three full hours in the Museum, just looking at stuff. The kids were such troupers throughout the schlepping aspects of the morning that I not only got them McNuggets for lunch, I let them fill their cups at the soda fountain with whatever disgusting mixture they could dream up as long as they would promise to actually drink it. Hey, it's really hot outside. Dudes need to stay hydrated.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day Four Continued: Regrettable Chinese Dinner

Above, in chronological picture format, is the second half of our first full day in D.C. After a relaxing mid-day swim, we headed over to the Air & Space Museum, which is pretty much Mecca for nerdy little boys. The first exhibit we took in featured a GINORMOUS SLIDE RULE and was all about the role of computers in aeronautical design. The entire A&S Museum (as Oscar referred to it all day, although to me "A&S" will always mean "Abraham and Strauss") was much more boffin-friendly than I remembered it, and the Star Wars memorabilia I had seen on a previous visit has either been mothballed or returned to the Skywalker Ranch from whence it came. You can see Oscar above, worriedly examining a vintage plane-spotting schematic so that he will be able to tell a German Fokker looking to strafe our house from a friendly British mail-plane.
We then went, after a bit of arm-twisting, out to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where free performances take place every weekday afternoon in the summer. I had chosen the most kid-friendly of these to attend: a revue of numbers from the musical "Mary Poppins." So had every single parent of children in the entire city. After schlepping out to the Foggy Bottom subway station and from there taking a shuttle bus, we found the Center mobbed with parents and their kids, most of whom were little girls. On the up side, the Center itself is just a stunningly grand place, worth a visit just to soak up the unique vintage-y poshness of the surroundings. I have never had the pleasure of treading on a more plush stretch of carpeting. We took a photo in front of the distinctive sculpture of JFK's Gigantic Head, done in a style that makes him look like a Claymation work-in-progress.
Ike requested barbecued pork buns for dinner. I was happy to try and oblige; we're staying very close to Chinatown. However, I was trying to save money, hoping to light on one of those cheap, revelatory hole-in-the-wall joints with paper tablecloths and sensational, flip-your-wig food. You know, the kind that don't exist. We went to a place called Chinatown Express, which had received wildly mixed reviews on Yelp! but managed to distinguish itself from all the other grotty Chinatown holes-in-the-wall by featuring an actual guy making actual noodles in the window. There was no crowd watching Noodle Guy when we went in, or I might have thought to avoid it, but you can see above the postprandial noodle-watching crowd, including Ike in the tie-dye. My veggie noodles were quite oily and not very good, and Ike's pork buns were not BBQ at all - sort of like vaguely garlicky/gingery meatballs in dough wrappers. Oscar, however demolished his plate of dumplings and is now hectoring me for a return trip to Chinatown Express for more. Not happening.
Ike's fortune-cookie fortune read: "You will set foot on the soil of many countries." This blew his freaking mind because, as he said repeatedly as we walked home from the restaurant, "It's true! My fortune is true! It's actually true!" I was not given a fortune cookie (another black mark against Chinatown Express) but if I had, it might have read, "You already regret paying twenty dollars for this meal." We are SO going to Jaleo tomorrow, if I have to DRAG THEM THERE BY THEIR HAIR.