Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

A Reason To Celebrate Birthday Number 150

Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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West Virginia is turning 150, and true to form, many Mountain State residents will be celebrating.

Thirty years ago, I would have rolled my eyes and questioned why anyone would care about a state’s birthday.

But thirty years ago, I didn’t know West Virginia.

At the time, I was a shy, awkward adolescent trying to recover from culture shock after my parents moved our family from Oregon to West Virginia.

I was truly baffled when complete strangers acted as though they already knew us. I understood common courtesy, but West Virginians were truly friendly to everyone.

I argued that the nickname Mountain State was inappropriate. To me, real mountains reached higher than 10,000 feet and were snow-covered all year. You couldn’t convince me that the steep hills were ancient mountains that were worn but wise with age.

And I was afraid I would pick up the distinct West Virginia accent that television and movie actors never get quite right.

Yet at some point, despite my resolution not to become attached to West Virginia, that accent began to grow on me.

West Virginia had befriended me by charming me with its character, its beauty and, most of all, its history. As a state born out of the Civil War when it seceded from Virginia, its residents have never forgotten what the motto “Mountaineers are Always Free” really means.

I may never understand the appeal of a pepperoni roll, why anyone would want coleslaw on a hot dog or the allure of the smell of ramps, but I will always be awed by the New River Gorge Bridge, the gold dome of the state capitol building and the eery beauty of Dolly Sods.

Living in the narrow strip of land between Maryland and Virginia, I often cross state lines several times a week. Yet every time I cross back into West Virginia, I  always break into song.  John Denver wasn’t from West Virginia either, but “Country Roads” expresses the feelings of so many who call the Mountain State home.

It may not be Happy Birthday, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be singing those lyrics tomorrow.

It’s Not Personal. It’s Business.

Monday, July 25, 2011
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A secluded beach. Looks peaceful, doesn't it?

In the days leading up to our annual vacation on the Azalea Coast of North Carolina, I posted my feelings of frustration on the Mommyhood’s Facebook page.  Endless loads of laundry, packing for four people, securing pet care, fighting with children to stay out of suitcases, running errands, making lists, arranging for a housesitter, and notifying clients that I would be without email access for several days.  Are we having fun yet?

A reader replied that one of her favorite lines from the TV show, Modern Family, summarized the experience perfectly: “I’m a mom traveling with my kids. For me, this is not a vacation. It’s a business trip.”

Exactly.  I’m on the job whether I’m on the computer or on the Turnpike.  And, with all due respect to my husband who paid for this excursion, he had the luxury of getting in the car and driving to the beach.  Did you pack my flip-flops? Yes — and your underwear, swim trunks, favorite tee-shirts and baseball cap.

When we pulled into our home away from home, we lugged suitcases and canvas tote bags, boogie boards and toys to the doorstep.  After I put everything away and briefly greeted the Atlantic, we returned to the car for a trip to the grocery store.  We needed milk and juice, items for breakfast and sandwich meat and bread for lunch.  We needed bottles of water to survive the 105-degree heat index.

The next morning, we made our  way to the seashore, setting up camp for a day in the surf.  Towels, sand shovels, buckets, molds for sand castles, magazines, hats, rash guards, a cooler of cold drinks and bags of Goldfish crackers, Lunchables, the camera, his and her iPods, and two door keys — one to lose and one for spare.  I sprayed each girl with enough Water Babies lotion to put another hole in the ozone, gluing their faces with sticks of SPF 50+.  They raced off to the water’s edge, and I reclined in my chair under oversized sunglasses to block the light. With feet up and head back, I began to lose track of time. I listened to the pounding of waves and felt hair-blowing breezes. And something cold dripping down my chest.  It wasn’t sweat.  It was a child.

“Mama, can we go to the pool?”

Vacation Day 2:  We started off by the outdoor pool, a marquise-shaped body of turquoise water that hadn’t yet achieved the oily sheen of Panama Jack.  I saved two chairs with our striped towels, tucked our cooler away from the sun’s melting rays, and handed out the girls’ supply of fun: Goggles and scuba masks, diving sticks and squirty toys.  More sunscreen.  I lay back in my chair and turned to the first page of the August issue of InStyle magazine, eager for shopping inspiration.  Page two.  Page three.  Page four.  Life was good!   Suddenly, a shadow moved across my 10 a.m. UV rays.

“Mama, I have to go to the bathroom.”

That night, we visited the indoor pool to work off the girls’ energy, which never seemed to tire despite record-setting heat and the abusive waves sent by Tropical Storm Brett.  No sunscreen.  No sand-coated feet and hands, scraping lotion onto noses and backs.  No boogie boards to chase in the swift current.  No $2.00 sand buckets with broken handles containing shells and dead crabs.  I chose a chair in the corner of the room and listened to the piped-in favorites of Bob Marley.  This isn’t so bad, I thought.  Early dinner, evening swim, maybe even a movie when the girls are asleep. A familiar voice broke through the raggae beat.

“Can we go to the playground?”

The next few days passed in similar fashion: Powerwashing sand off little bodies and out of green-tinged hair.  Hanging gritty towels over the banisters like outdoor flags.  Dishing out cereal.  Taking away candy.  Rinsing out swimsuits.  Chasing children with bottles of chilled aloe vera. Clearing dunes out of the bathtub. Begging children to eat their overpriced Lil’ Captain’s Platter.  Straightening someone else’s condo, fearing a cleaning fee upon checkout.

Vacation Day 6:  Our last full night at the beach was spent getting everything ready for the long ride home.  Repacking suitcases, finding places for new purchases and space-eating shopping bags, tossing broken sand shovels and ripped kites into the trash, filling laundry bags with saltwater-stiffened clothes that had soured beneath damp towels.   The next morning, we piled into the car after saying goodbye to the ocean, and traveled exactly 45 miles when I felt tapping on my shoulder.

“Mama, I’m going to throw up.”

And she did.  And again.  And one more for the road.  Our youngest suffers from motion sickness, and even though she had chewed a half-tablet of Dramamine, her stomach rejected its helpfulness.  Luckily, I was prepared as previous experience taught me to be, keeping a “yuck-it bucket” by her feet.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hit it.

We pulled into the parking lot of a gas station and began the process of cleaning the area around her. We unpacked the cooler to retrieve a bottle of water so she could rinse her mouth, then a tin of mints, a package of Wet Wipes to wash off her face, hands and legs, and then a barely-clean beach towel to protect her seat (and sister).  Everyone got back in the car and for the duration of the trip, we fought bumper-to-bumper traffic and a two-hour crawl through Wytheville, Virginia.

Finally, we “arrived at destination” according to the GPS device, and the process of moving back in began. After everything was put away or thrown down the basement steps, I flopped onto my beloved couch and let out a deep sigh of exhaustion mixed with relief.  A 7-hour trip had consumed a 12-hour day.  I needed a break from the family vacation.  Both girls sat down beside me, their faces evenly tanned and their blond hair highlighted by golden strands. Home is where the heart is.  There’s no place like home. 

Ava rested her head on my shoulder and took my hand.

“What’s for dinner?”

Missing in Action

Monday, June 27, 2011
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After reading Cara Bailey’s post about family vacations (epitomized by Clark W. Griswold), I added a comment that I never visited Disney World as a child, and I don’t have any desire to visit it as an adult.

A friend replied that I should really give The House of Mouse a chance, particularly the parks that offer more than stroller-to-stroller traffic and two-hour lines to ride two-minute rides.  I blamed my hatred on annoying princesses that ruin $29.99 buffet breakfasts, but that’s not exactly fair or factual.  The truth is…I’m scared of amusement parks.

And with good reason.

When I was nine years old, my parents and I loaded our suitcases in one of the first generation Dodge Caravans for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  My mother said that she would grant me a day at Busch Gardens IF I toured a few historical battlefields with her in Old Virginny.  My father said that he would grant me a day at the beach IF I toured the naval base in Norfolk with him.  No one had any idea that Mother and Country would be the theme of the experience.

Now, these were the days of tri-fold brochures that you requested by postcard mailing, pulled from the back pages of a well-worn Southern Living magazine. My parents didn’t fully understand the scope of Busch Gardens — home of the thrill-seeker’s mega coaster.  The park was (and still may be) divided into European territories with the Rhine River separating that great land. The minute my hypertensive father took a look at the size of twisted steel and looping tracks, he made it very clear that it would be a short day.  Due to his medical conditions, stressful fun wasn’t going to be possible.  My mother, fearful of heights and the width of her bouffant hair, offered to ride the train. But anything else on the park map would have to be ridden alone…or with another singleton in line.

They spotted a familiar attraction near the front entrance of the park — a gondola ride that resembled something in the Swiss Alps.  Still a tad too high for my easy rider dad, they put me in the car and waved as I took off, high atop the trees.  The ride seemed to take longer than the one at Camden Park — you know the one — the ski lift that carries people above the parking lot, providing a view of rotten boards once nailed to the Big Dipper.  When my #19 car lowered to the ground, I stepped out to slightly different scenery.  Nothing looked familiar.  No one looked familiar.  No one spoke the same language.

I had traveled abroad — not around, as we all assumed I would — from England to Germany.  Miles and miles away from Mum and Pop.

Did I mention that I was nine?

As a mother to two children ages eight and five, just typing the words “lost in Busch Gardens” makes my heart pound louder than a team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses.   A nine year old girl — lost in an amusement park — separated from her parents — last seen getting on a gondola ride — the car returned empty.  The first assumption was that I had fallen out.

I remember searching the crowd for my parents. I remember the rush of fear after realizing that I had been dropped off at the wrong stop.  I remember asking the teenage attendant who opened my door where I was.  I also remember that he didn’t offer to help me get back to my starting point.

So, I walked. And walked. And walked.

For three hours, I walked.

I don’t remember park police or seeing anyone dressed in uniform, but there were plenty of people dressed in costume.  I saw George Washington.  I saw Benjamin Franklin.  I saw Thomas Jefferson.  And thank God, I saw Dolly Madison.

I asked Dolly how to get back to England, and she told me to keep following the brown-planked road.  I remember passing the Loch Ness Monster, the yellow-nightmare of a coaster that dipped riders’ feet into the river as they pulled back up to the Williamsburg-blue sky. I remember worrying that I’d never see my mother again.

Why is it always the mother we search for? We love our fathers in ways that can’t be explained…but when it comes right down to it…we need our mothers.

Sometime later, I climbed the steep hill that welcomed me back to England. And there were my parents — still standing in the place where I left them.  “Here she is!” my mother screamed.  And then I cried.

After being reunited, I discovered that park police had been alerted, officers were out looking for a nine-year-old girl with brown hair and hazel eyes wearing a red Polo and white shorts, last seen on a flight to Germany.  My dad had searched the entire park, but my mother had stayed put.  She wasn’t going to leave without me.

Our next stop was to a pub for the largest lemonade ever poured.  I gulped every drop and then asked if we could leave.  My parents were in total agreement that we had been through enough for one day — and there would be no touring of battlefields after the 150 acres I had just crossed.  It was back to the Fort Magruder Inn, where we stayed for the next five days, in the shallow end of the swimming pool.

And the rest of the vacation was history.

Time Off for Good Behavior

Monday, February 21, 2011
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There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…

After serving seven-and-a-half years of home confinement, I was released on February 5, 2011.  You read this correctly.  Until this particular Saturday, I hadn’t been away from my children overnight since the day they were born.

Electronic tracking kept people informed of my whereabouts (thank you, Facebook), such as at Kroger, Target, and on occasion, Charleston Town Center.  Email and text messages allowed me to chat with friends and family, but for the most part, no one had seen me in a long time.  Was I a recluse? Not at all. I went out and did things, but my daughters were (and still are) almost always by my side. I simply didn’t have a motive to leave my children, and if we did travel, there was no reason why they couldn’t join us. Recently, though, I decided that my dear friend’s 40th birthday party at Café Cimino was justification to seek parole.

Let me be clear: No one told me I was grounded.  This was self-imposed. I wanted to be with my children as often as possible, and if I needed a break from parenting, an hour in a bookstore cured what distressed me. This time, however, I got a little excited at the idea of buying a new cocktail dress and positively lethal stilettos, and celebrating with three women who have, without judgment, allowed me to be a distant friend. Mothers themselves, these “girls” have been accepting of me bowing out of beach trips and concerts, because they know being with my family makes me happy.

But something nagged at me.  While I worked well with others, I honestly didn’t play well with others. I talked on the telephone and chatted with people at the store or at school, but that was it.  So, I decided that it was important for me to step away from motherhood for a short while to enjoy my friends…and myself.

Café Cimino, a charming country inn overlooking the Elk River, was the perfect setting for a mother’s mini retreat. Exactly 66 miles from my own front door, I felt less anxious about being away in case something happened at home. It was strange to pull only one bag out of the car, since family vacations require me to take the show on the road. We were welcomed by the most lovable golden retriever ever bred, and shown to our blissfully quiet rooms by a gracious innkeeper who took care of us like a favorite aunt. And dinner? Spaghetti night was transformed into pasta with sun dried tomatoes, feta, garlic, basil, and pine nuts. It was a guilt-free weekend, even down to the dark chocolate cupcakes (and Cosmopolitans).

My “Sutton in the City” weekend was filled with roars of laughter and juicy conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. It was so much fun getting all dolled up with my life’s versions of “Carrie”, “Miranda” and “Samantha” (yes, I’m a “Charlotte”). While it wasn’t my 40th birthday, I have to admit, it was the best present my friends could have given me.

And many more.