Canino-Pieve Family Trip

Canino-Stemma Almost two years ago my father floated the idea of family trip to visit his family's ancestral homelands. He turned 60 this year and wanted to take us all to see the towns our family emigrated from. I became the family travel agent, researching hundreds of rental apartments, flight options, and car rentals.  Nine of us were coming, a ages ranging from 60 to 7. Over months of email/chat conversations we hammered out a itinerary and we contacted our Corsican family about visiting them.  A wonderful friend from Church translated a dozen emails for me as we decided on when to go, and whether it would be possible for us to visit the family home in Corsica. By March of this year we had most of the essential details set and booked, and we could just sit and wait for our departure date to arrive.  

As our departure date approached people kept asking me if I was excited and all I could muster was apprehension.  The last trip I had fully planned for my family had been a road trip from Calgary to Vancouver 5 years ago, and while it was enjoyable trip, I took personally my family's tendency to like to gripe about details.  So this time I made sure everyone had a opportunity to chime in on the planning, and I planned on letting the little gripes (which is gives my family so much joy) fly right past me.  Still as they day approached I was concerned about how much responsibility I had taken on and really hoped things didn't fall flat. Mercifully they didn't. It was a wonderful trip.  There were odd hiccups here and there, but everyone pitched in to make things work,
from conferring on trains about what to do if we needed to jump the turnstiles at our destination, or everyone speed walking to the Eiffel Tower once again so we could get a group shot, or respecting the need of others to stay behind once in a while or finding a cab driver willing to cram the 9 of us into their taxi so we could get to the train station  or being willing to make the grocery run or simply taking the hand of one my girls as we crossed busy road.  My family is still on the trip, they had a extra week, but our trip together was wonderful.

France 066 First Stop: Paris

My family is scattered, so we discarded our original plan of meeting at central airport and flying over to Paris together.  Instead we found  the best fares we could from our various airports. We flew from Rochester, to NYC to Dublin then onto Paris. It was a long trip, but our girls are awesome, and they dealt with it like the traveling pros they are.

 France 072 Our arrivals were staggered and we each found our way to the apartment of A and D, our awesome Paris hosts.  Despite the threats of a rail strike we all got there safely.  They live in the 16th Arrondissement just a quick walk from the Metro. The apartment was comfortable accommodating 9 extra people without too much extra effort and a couple of air mattresses. The Apartment has large comfortable bathrooms (a luxury on this trip we would later realize) and beautiful french doors and balconies overlooking a quiet street.

 A and D's neighborhood was wonderful, restaurants, several bakeries, cheese shops and green markets within effortless walking distance. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc of Triomphe were less than 15 minutes of shaded sidewalks away. We settled in easily with little jet lag discomfort.  

Our first outing was of course the Eiffle Tower. 5885005033_3d1270c43e_b

The girls got a huge thrill out of it. Honestly I think they could have turned around and gone home then and there.  We walk down the steps of the Torcadero and did the line to ascend to the middle section of the tower. We were treated to fantastic views and our first ice cream cones of the trip. The girls eyed souvenir Eiffel Towers and their Papi Jean haggled with the vendors till he scored them handfuls of Eiffel Tower key chains.

In Paris we ate in mostly, A is a great cook, and between her meals and the meats, cheese, bread and fruit from neighboring shops we ate really well. In Paris we also ventured to the Louvre (where the girls hunted for Egyptian artifacts, inspired by their most recent reading obsession, Rick Riordan's The 5885578970_c4c99ffb12_b Kane Chronicles), Arc de Triomphe (where Aay and I saw two scammers try the very same ring trick on a pair of tourists), Versailles (where are girls were completely captivated by audio guides and would refuse to move on till they had hear each and every entry), and the Centre Georges Pompidou, a collection of modern art museums in a striking building in Central Paris. 

Chris and I enjoyed one evening away, dinner for two at small parisian restaurant. Chris had his first Foie Gras and we loved every minute of it. We came home to find the girls enjoying their second movie of the evening and the rest of the family giggling over many bottles of wine and plates of cheese.


Paris was a fantastic time. We could have easily France 154 spent twice as long as we did there. The City was so easy to navigate, with great signage, easy to access Metro system and the weather was fantastic. It was a bit overcast when arrived and there several small downpours, but nothing that dampened our spirits and temperatures lent themselves perfectly for walking. Were it not for the ever present smokers, the city would be perfect.

Were blessed on numerous occasions by running into Spanish speaking Parisian residents, transplanted Spaniards and Dominicans who gave us advice or encouragement. And on our last day when Chris and I ventured off on our own to see the Musee du Orsay, a kind museum official had us skip the several hundred people long queue after spotting Zee falling asleep on Chris's shoulder. It really saved that outing, as it allowed us to see our favorite Impressionist painters and still make it back to the apartment in time to pack up to head off to Corsica.

It was a huge treat to visit Paris this way and I am incredibly thankful that I got to share with my family. Below you can find a slideshow of some of my pictures from the Paris leg and a link to some of my awesome Brother-in-Law Kendall pictures from the trip.

Christmas Pictures

During out trip, I misplaced one of our cameras. Ironically it was the camera Frontier gave me when I signed up for their service last year and I lost it the same week I switched over to a new phone company.

Christmas 008 Although I lost a photo card with our Christmas day pictures, I thankfully didn't lose many pictures from our time with family since I had brought a backup camera and the girls had their cameras, so our pictures were spread out between several photo cards. I will be posting pictures from their cameras soon. I am sad to have lost a great portait of A at the school candelight service. Somehow I forgot to download that too my computer before the trip and now the camera is missing.

We had a very good time on our trip. The evening and dinner with Opa and Oma was wonderful. We had great conversation, fantastic food and of course just enjoyed the love of family. I am so happy the girls now get to visit several times a year. I will have to make sure they get a chance to go up this summer.

On Boxing Day we drove to London Ontario. We normally take the 401 to the 402 and exit on the farside of London, but about 20 minutes short of London all traffic ground to a halt. We later found out that tractor-trailer had overturned and caught on fire, causing a three hour delay. Althought we missed exiting at the first Ingersoll exit, we managed to exit about 2km down the road all because we managed toChristmas 016 move to the exit lane. Thankfully we had our trusty Canadian atlas in the car and we managed to leave the highway and use backroads into London.  All told we lost about a half-hour which is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I am so happy we were able to have Christmas with Grandma Marianne, and Chris's siblings. We haven't done it since A. was less than a year old. I felt a bit bad about the fact that I didn't have a great gifts for the adults, I hadn't realised the adults were also exchaning gifts. Oops.  I do appreacite the nice thoughtful gifts were were given and I look forward to hanging our new bird feeder out later in the year.  The very best thing, other than just enjoying Chris talking to his siblings, and hearing them tease eachother was having the girls all disapper together.  I think it is wonderful that they are so close in age. They are going to be a force to contend with when they all hit their teens!

Despite a ton of fog we made it back home safely. And have been sleeping in late and playing wii and house cleaning since we came home. I planned to may be break the routine a bit today, and head out to the museum of play, but the 3 inches of snow that greeted me this morning have changed my plans. I think I rather have more staying in. I have lots of other great projects to do at home, and lost more comcis to needs to go out and drive in the snow when I have a full fridge.

I hope you all have a happy new year. It is sort of non-holiday for us, Chris has a service at church, and we are going to put the kids to bed early. But I am looking forward to a visit from Rosie and Kendall this weekend!

Saskatoon Bound

Apparently my last post, Food Musings was my 500th post, which I guess is okay, since it is a typical post for this blog.

Chris, Aay, Zee and I are about to head to Saskatoon for the weekend.  Chris doing an exchange with the Saskatoon Pastor (actually 5 pastors are trading Churches this weekend. We will be at the Radisson by the river. It is about a 6 hour drive. We will have our phone, and we should be back by late on Sunday night (10 pm ish).

Heading to Egypt

One month ago, Chris and I got up early, caught the hotel shuttle to Calgary airport and head off on our first leg of very very long trip to Cairo.

On the afternoon of the 23rd our good friends, Anna-Marie and George Luchies picked us up and drove us to Calgary. The girls were watching tv when I left them. I had my eyes brimming with tears as I settled into the back seat of the Luchies' truck. We had a nice drive to Calgary and by happy coincidence the restaurant George had already been planning to take us to was attached to hotel where we were spending the night. After a hearty meal and friendly conversation Chris and I decided to go to sleep early.

The next morning we were glad for the night of rest as we checked in for our flight. We thought to ask and see if they would be able to check in our luggage all the way to Cairo, so we wouldn't have to claim them and lug them all around JFK that evening. They were able to, even thought it took the combined efforts of 3 customer service personnel.

At Customs our smooth morning came to sudden stop. The computers for the whole Customs and Immigration offices in Canada had apparently crashed, slowing the vetting process to slower than usual grind. It did give Chris time to run out to the Harveys in the main ticketing area, grab a coffee and so breakfast before we advanced much in the line. He was able to smoothly rejoin the line a few meters from the official entry doors. Once the computers were up and running the pace quickened and we sailed thru.

We were so comfortably early that I volunteered to be "random" check person. The screener pull me from the line, checked thru and swabbed my bags, wanded me with the metal detector before Chris even caught up with me.

Trip_001The flight to Minneapolis was  uneventful and we had plenty of time to stroll thru the airport, browse at a nice bookshop, have a sit-down lunch, pick up a paper before lining up for the JFK flight which had a lot more people on it than our first flight of the day.

Once we landed in NY, I immediately turned on my phone (like nearly everyone had done as soon as the plane landed) and checked for message from Rosie and Kendall. It took about 15 minutes, but we soon found each other, thankfully we were both in the same terminal, and at one point had been less than 3 feet from each other, only there was a big column (see it behind Rosie in the picture) in the way and we were facing the wrong direction.

Rosie and Kendall were nicely settled into a corner table at the edge of one of the food court sitting areas in Terminal 4. We grabbed the other free chairs and caught and compared notes on the trip so far while waiting for the others to start arriving.

Juan Daniel was next, and was soon showing off his brand new SLR digital camera.Trip_004 I got such a kick out of Juan Daniel and Kendall comparing notes on the camera that I made them pose for this picture. Kendall approved of Juan Daniel's choice and reminded him that all of Kendall's high powered fancy lenses were compatible with Juan's camera.

Papi Jean and Rosalia soon arrived, and like Juan Daniel they had all their luggage with them. We decided that it was time for Dinner and so we relocated to a restaurant/bar at the other end of the terminal. We had bottle of wine to celebrate the beginning of the trip and tried to made wise choices from the menu (keeping in mind the long flight ahead). At dinner dad distributed our tour-packets, the Globus sanctioned carry-on bag (nice size, with two useful water-bottle mesh pockets) and our itinerary. Some of us chose to immediately transfer some our carry-on items on to the new bags, while other stashed them in their luggage.

It eventually was time to head over to the Royal Jordanian ticket booth. When we got there we found the line already long, and full of people dragging oversize and overburdened luggage. I enjoyed people watching at this point, noticing the wide variety of clothing choices, especially among the women. Every style was represented from conservative to provocative, although conservative predominated as did men who outnumbered women here, as they did the rest of the trip (the convent in Old Cairo, the only exception).  We eventually made it to a ticket agent. managed to confirm that our luggage was in their system, and were all assigned seats. Unfortunetly no effort was made by the Customer Service Rep to assign us seats anywhere next to each other.  We all ended up in the same side of the plane in the same seat block but scattered about. We ended up mapping our seats and were able to get at least two seats together between the 7 of us. Before boarding I ended up buying some food for the flight, (including several expensive (3.50!) Luna bars that were god-send later on.

20070425101841 I didn't end up doing too badly despite it all. I have kitty corner from Chris, so close-enough to talk to him, and trade reading material and water bottles, and my row mate was  nice woman from Lebanon, heading home for 6 week visit. On the flight there I tried to sleep, I caught about half the movies, and tried to choke down some of the food. It was surreal to see your day completly slip away. We left at 11:30 am ET time and landed in Amman at 5:30 pm the next day. After a confused attempt to secure at Jordanian visa for our Aquaba entry later in the week, we eventually wandered thru the Amman airport, crossing the Duty Free Shop that connects one end of the airport to the other and settled in the cozy chairs of cyber-cafe. We bought water and some snacks and updated each other on how were faring and compared notes on the amount of sleep, and food consumed on the flight. Rosita broke out her bread (she was carrying a loaf of bread,among dozens of other snacks in her carry-on).

As we sat there we all took the opportunity to observe our fellow passengers, many of who were relishing their newly lighted cigarettes under  placards that read "No Smoking".  We also had our first exposure to the soon to be common sight of the bathroom attendant  and the hilarious 'security' measures. Women are apparently not worthy of x-ray machines and metal detectors and instead always had to march thru a separate booth to be frisked and our bag rummaged thru. Even thought the signs clearly prohibited water, our bottles which were in plain sight were never taken. We actually went thru several mini-check-stations, before arriving to holding area. We knew it was boarding only because, a man briskly walked thru our seating area, loudly announcing something in Arabic and everyone else got up and rushed after him. We loaded up into a bus that went no more than 100 feet before stopping  in front of our plane.

The flight to Cairo was short and uneventful and we were again scattered about the cabin, but it was easy enough to find each other upon deplaning. In Cairo, we exchanged money, paid for our visas and we went to gather our luggage only find out that Chris' bag was no there. It took some doing, and lots of paperwork and photo-copying (including distressing moments where agents would walk away with vital paperwork like Chris's passport and plane ticket and stay gone for a long time.)

As the process dragged on we decided to let  Dad, Rosalia and Juan Daniel go on ahead to the hotel. They in turn arranged for transportation for us. The eager to please tourist van agent met us at the Lost Baggage desk, took us back to his office to fill out a receipt before we walked back thru another terminal to the mini-van. Our driver was a nice, chatty man, who pointed out every single military instillation and government building on the drive to our airport while trying to evade our queries about various large mosque's on the route.  The drive took about a half-hour and we eventually made it thru the metal detectors at the hotel lobby doors and got ourselves checked in. We found the Papi, Juan and Rosalia, and after dropping off our bags and changing clothes (sadly not a option Chris's had) we met at the English Pub in first floor for a late dinner and some drinks.

Even later (now nearing midnight) we headed back to the room and hoped that the lost luggage would not be a omen of what was to come...

-to be continued-

Vacation in review: Florida

Dsc01851 This part of the vacation was simply Chris's favorite. Sure he enjoys the beach, but what can compete with a baseball/hockey double-header?

On Tuesday April 17, we headed off to Tampa from Puerto Rico. My brother instead of meeting us there was now actually flying home with us, thanks to his decision the week before to fly down to Puerto Rico to join us. He even benefited from our extra luggage allowance, and dragged a new domino table and various treasured knick-knacks from Puerto Rico.

The Florida leg of the vacation got off to bumpy start when we arrived in Tampa only to realize that my brother's house keys, car keys and phone were all missing. Thankfully we had a car already rented, and we all loaded up in there together and found Olive Garden near his house to go have dinner at until his house-mate Dsc01864 came home. The phone turned up that evening, and I drove Juan back to the airport to get it, and the next morning I was able to drive him to the airport to pick up his car and get another key made. It wasn't how I planned to spend my time in Tampa, but it was nice quality time with Juan as he ended up showing me several different ways to get to and from the airport.  After that busy morning of errands we finally got back to the business of relaxing.  After all, I had bought Mami, Juan and my crew tickets to that afternoon's Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Baltimore Orioles game.  The girls had a good time, sampling cotton candy (Aay found it too sugary and Zee loved it), grandma's nachos and many other stadium snacks. I am glad Chris enjoyed the game because I have to admit I didn't get to see much of it, since I spent most of my time explaining things to the girls and catching up with Mami.

After the game I followed Mami to her house in Orlando while Chris and Juan Daniel met up to go to the NJDsc01872 Devils/Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Playoff game. This outing was nearly unplanned. Chris asked Juan to go with him the night before and they had a great time. Juan Daniel who has had very little exposure to Hockey suddenly appreciated how fast, exciting and explosive the game can be. After the game Juan Daniel drove Chris to Orlando to Mami's house. Meanwhile at Mami's house the girls were in heaven again. They love Mami's place, with all her arts and crafts about, and the presents. Mami had two beautiful dresses for the girls, Easter themed ones, and two floral print ones, with matching doll dresses. They went to sleep on clouds of happy feelings. The next morning Mami went off to School, Juan went off to PT with the Marines and Chris and I took the girls (wearing their new dresses) to Disney (ouch!, this was the first time we had to pay an entrance fee for Zee!)

We had a great time at Disney. We stayed for hours past the time I expected we would have headed home, because the girls were so well behaved. Chris believes the key to our great day wasn't just the fact that were have become Disney pros (Yea! for Fastpass) but because months ago, Aay came up with a scheme to earn her own money.  Her friend Charis has a chart  at home where  they keep track of her chores with stickers, and once she has filled her chart she gets to open a box with a prize. This inspired us to create a chore chart for Aay where she would earn money for doing certain tasks around the house. Zee not to be left out asked for a chart of her own. The girls then spent the next month and a half Dsc01907busily building up good habits, like practicing music or sleeping in their beds, while earning money. This meant that while at Disney they each had a purse full of spending money. And that translated to a peaceful day and a remarkable lesson about spending money wisely. After a few rides, Aay asked to go shopping. She was trying to choose between two Minnie stuffed dolls. She asked me to read her the prices, one was $28 dollars or nearly all the money she had earned and the other smaller doll was $14 or only about half her money. She deliberately put down the more expensive doll and judged the smaller doll to be the better buy. We had a such a nice day. So nice in fact that after taking the girls back to Mami's house for dinner, Chris and I headed back to Disney for a few hours just the two of us.

The next day we took the girls back to the Orlando Science Center, where they jostled with a pack of kids on a school trip, but still had a great time there. They spent nearly an hour at the orange production corner of  the KidsTown Exhibit. Chris got to feed baby Crocs and Aay sat thru her first Imax film (a documentary about Hurricane Katrina and the Bayou in Southern Louisiana). Afterwards we met up with Mami, had a nice lunch at the Macaroni Grill and got ready for the drive back to Tampa.

Wow, looking back on it, we were so busy those few days in Florida, it is a true blessing we got some rest in Puerto Rico, or we would have been too tired to do all that we had scheduled for ourselves in Florida.

{next up, the whirlwind turnaround days between Tampa and Egypt}

Change of Plans

So a couple weeks a go I wrote how Chris and I had passed on my father's offer to go with him to Egypt and Jordan. Well things change. We are going. My mom is going to come up here watch the girls for the 2 weeks and change that we will be gone, and I am going to be praying at lot, at least every time I think of the girls while staying a world away.

It has been a bizarre emotional roller-coaster. I really wanted to go, but I was working on feeling content about not going, and pretty much everyone I talked to since then heard my laundry list of reasons for not going. And then we decided to go. I called my dad, asked if it was too late and then I was giddy. Woohoo. And then last night around bedtime, I started to feel a little scared, a bit like being torn in half. I still want to go, but the reality of being so far from the girls for two weeks started sinking in. Irrational fears and that junk. So I prayed, and prayed some more. And today I am feeling good. I still mentioned it to my dad, how I suddenly panicked a bit last night, and he assured me it still wasn't too late. But that is okay. We still want to go. I will still be amazing. I was being invited to go off and do the Amazing Race, I would do it in a heartbeat, and this isn't that different (yeah, I know no million dollar payoff or challenges) but you understand what I am saying.

So what's left...

Plane Tickets to Jordan and Egypt.
Plane Tickets to NYC from YYC, to meet the rest of the group.
Plane Tickets for my mom to come and take care of the girls.
Travel Clinic at Community Health to make sure we are up to date on our vaccinations.
Hotel reservations in NYC for our return trip.

What is done:

Emailed the Jordan consulate to make sure we could acquire all necessary visa at the airport in Amman.
Spent too many hours evaluating flight options on
and hours of phone calls to nearly every member of my immediate family.

What's ahead:

Two months of family routine.
A trip home to Puerto Rico and Florida.
and hopefully amazing experience.

Vacation in Review: Week 2, Part 2

This is the hardest part of the trip to summarize or the easiest.  Short Version: Chris and I finally met some of our invisible Internet friends and we talked for hours. Great time.

Long version:

After earlier than expected start out of Nashville we arrived in Memphis mid afternoon at the home of our friend Andrew Smith. We first go to know Andrew thru his Captain Comics web-page that Chris and I stumbled on to nearly 7 years ago. Since then we have corresponded with him via email and later message board. We eventually were asked to join the moderating team of at the Captain Comics Message Board. So we talk to him on line every week. Yet we have never met in person and here we were showing up at his house to spend the next 3 days.

During our time in Charleston reactions from my family about this half of the trip were mixed. My sister has previously travel around the US to meet people she met on line so she didn't find anything out of the ordinary about the visit. Rosalia however was much more worried. I can understand the worry because I remember when my friend Carmen got romantically involved with someone she met on line. The possibility that some is misrepresenting themselves is very high, but I felt the length of our interaction with Andrew and the other we were to meet that weekend meant that the risk was lessened. After all you can get to know a lot about someone by the way they talk to and about others on line. I think it is fairly hard to fake kindness and intelligence and all the folks we met were both on line.

Andrew and Joan went out of their way to make us comfortable at the home. Andrew had a box of action figures including a batmobile and X-men jet for the girls to play with in addition to access to a long-box full of their favorite comics, Johnny DC's Power Puff Girls. Because of his work as comics journalist  most of the those were sent to him as review comics and they girls were free to tear into them. He also unearthed some review DVDs sent to him by Cartoon Network of the Power Puff Girls Christmas movie and Krypto: The super-dog premiere. The girls had plenty to entrain themselves with while Chris and I spent the next 10 or 12 hours talking to our friend. On the Saturday we were joined by Holly Simpson and Bill Beechler, Carlin and Renee Stuart, Jeff and Tracey Plackemeier, Karen and Matt Williams, Peggy and Tim Cousar.  We sat out in Andrew's Memphis backyard and enjoyed extremely nice weather for our encounter, we feasted on BBQ and later on Lithuanian specialty Shisliki (Sp?) brought over by Sara and Vite friends of the Smiths. While we never  got out for projected outings to Graceland and while all that we ever seemed to was talk at the end of the night I felt  I could have and would have talked with everyone even longer. On Sunday Afternoon those who hadn't headed back to their regular lives gathered again at Andrew's house for even more talking.

I went with Joan and got everything I need to make Picadillo and Rice and Beans (one of jumbo cans my mom brought for me from Florida). I had fun making it and everyone seemed to enjoy eating it. After food  Jeff and Tracey had to head out to the airport, so Andrew took the opportunity to show Chris and Doc Beechler his local comic book store. The Stuarts then invited us over for dinner and drinks at their house.  The drink was Chocolate Martinis, which have the distinction of being the only martini I have ever liked. Eventually we head back to Andrew and Joan's house, where Chris and Andrew hung out some more while I got the girls to bed and did my best to pack everything again. We ended up leaving a a great deal of leftover travel/car food at their house and hopefully they found either some use for it or a place to dispose it.  We said our goodbye at bedtime, since we planned to leave for the airport early in the morning. And that was a good thing, because despite the fact that Joan and Andrew tried to get up extra early to see us off we still left the house before they were out and about, mostly thanks to the girls who opted to wear pajamas over their pants to the airport.

I had lots and lots of fun. I talked everything from Comics, to politics, to cross stitch and knitting, immigration, to career and education to parenting. It was a diverse crowd and it was great to laugh and share with them in real time. I also enjoyed reading the majority of Cap's Wonder Woman archive No.1, with all its wacky original tales and looking at his collection of Wonder Woman comics and marveling at collection of comics and toys that weight more than your average SUV.

It was a good visit, the kind that makes you want to do it all again tomorrow. In fact I am floating the idea of another gathering in the future where we host, either here or in Puerto Rico.

We didn't see much of Memphis, didn't get anywhere near Beale St or Graceland but I got just what I wanted out it anyway.

Vacation in Review: Week 2, Part 1

On Monday May 8, Chris and I woke up early as we had all vacation long, and finished cleaning up the kitchen and loaded up the van. Check-out time was 11am, so we had originally planned to take the girls to the beach one more time before packing everything up and heading inland. But the day was cloudy and wet, just like the evening before. By 9:00 am we had packed the car and cleaned out the cupboards and the fridge. I started calling my brother, who wasn't answering his cell. We dropped the keys to the house off the Dunes Properties office and drove out of Folly Beach heading to North Charleston and the suburbs where my brother was staying at his girlfriend Brandy's house. I had talked with my brother the night before arranging to exchange our left over a perishable groceries for the the girls beach toys that he had unwittingly kidnapped the day before. He had given me sketching directions that  I had neglected to write down because I figured I could just confirm them in the morning as we drove up to the house. Yet as we passed exit after exit I got no answer at either of their phones. After trying a few exits hoping to recognize the road, Chris over in frustration. I got out of the car and walked over to a open Boating store and asked to borrow their phone book. I suspected there would be no listing under Brandy's name but I did study the maps in the front of the phone book before returning to car and convincing Chris to try one more exit before giving up and driving onto Columbia without making the exchange.  The next exit did turn out to be the right one and I soon recognized the turns and drove up to Brandy and Juan's house.

Brandy answered the door, newly awake and graciously accepted our groceries despite having to inform us that Juan had left for his first day of May Term 2 hours earlier and had taken our beach toys with him once more. As we had wasted enough time driving around and Juan wouldn't be out of class till noon, we opted to skip driving back into town to meet him. I chalked it up to Juaness and shook it right out of my head. Finally on the road out of Charleston, it didn't take us long to get cheerful again.  We had a smooth drive to Columbia. Juan called to apologize as we neared Columbia and I could hear in his voice that he was disappointed not to have been able to say goodbye once more in person. I am really glad I had a chance to see him. In Columbia we stopped at Applebees near a mall and had lunch. We then stretched out legs by walking thru the mall and letting the girls ride on a Carousel in the food court.

We got back on the road and easily made it Asheville, NC with only neatly timed rest-area stops on the way. Aay really did well with this part of traveling. I had already told her that she needed to tell us as soon as she felt it was time to pee, and not to wait to the last minute because  when we were on unfamiliar roads we would have to take some time to find a bathroom.  At one of those rest areas I picked up a motel guide and semi-randomly chose a hotel with a pool not to far from the highway.  It was also conveniently close to Shoney's so we took the girls to their first ever Buffet. We followed up that first by taking Aay and Zee to nearby mini-golf. Aay got the hang of it very quickly and even got hole in one at a special prize hole. If Aay is ever in Asheville again she go play there for free. Zee are figured out that the point of the game was getting the ball in the hole, so her technique involved starting off at the mat and walking her ball to the hole where she would neatly drop it in.

On Tuesday morning we set out bright and early for Smoky Mountain National park. We got off to a rocky start as Aay threw up her hash-brown minutes after consuming it. Thankfully we were able to contain the mess after a stop in a Church parking lot we got on our way again. The road to the park was very very curvy and we worried that Aay might get dizzy again, but she survived.  As we drove we continued to collect license plates. We started as we left Charleston. These are the plates we collected before we arrived in Memphis in order of appearance:

Hawaii, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Ohio, New York, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri, Ontario, Washington, Iowa Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, Rhode Island, Alberta, Montana and Connecticut.

North Carolina as whole was beautiful. We enjoyed every minute we drove in that state. Really one of my favorite States in the Union. The mountains were lovely, and there were wildflowers everywhere. On the NC side of the park we stopped at a The Mountain Farm Museum which would have been very dull had they not had all sorts of interactive items out for class who was doing a field trip. We tried out Corn-cob darts, played Marbles and Checkers at the Farm games station, played around with an ax and old-fashioned iron by the wood pile, and then had a chance to watch a Blacksmith at work.

After consulting with the rangers at the welcome center we decided to cross the park into Tennessee and to the Laurel Falls trail, a paved trail with easy ranking.  But before climbing we decided to stop in at Gatlinburg and have lunch before turning back to the park. That was a good choice because despite the shortness of the walk we took over 1.5 half to do it while pushing strollers up hills. The trail was popular one with families despite some steep drops and we weren't the only ones pushing strollers over over 1.5 miles to the waterfall. We stopped at the visitor center on our way out and noticed that they had "1st Amendment protest areas" set aside in front of the visitor center which was an odd sight. I can't imagine was protested there but I imagine they must have had protest in the recent past . The girls finally spent some of the Christmas money their Great-Grandma Mary Ronda sent them last Christmas. They both bought small puppets of mouse and owl, which the ranger/clerk reminded us are natural enemies in the forest.

It was a bit shocking to get out of the pristine forest and land in Pigeon Forge which was about as tacky and loud as vacationing area can be outside of Kissimiee and Las Vegas. There was also a large amount of "Going out of Business" Roadside stands selling incredibly large pink ceramic pigs. It was surreal. After about 45 minutes in "construction" (they were resurfacing improbably small curve) traffic we made it back on to the highway. Chris commented that the highway time between Asheville and Knoxville is only about 90 minutes but we managed to stretch the drive a whole day. We found nice hotel with a indoor pool (this is theme for us) and called it a night. I made the girls soup in the hotel room and Chris brought take out in for me. I started reading "The Secret Life of Bees" which was available at the hotel's lending library. Opted to stay in Knoxville a second night rather than continue on to Nashville so they girls could get a chance to recuperate. On Wed morning we went to Knoxville Zoo which was very pleasant despite being overrun by 5th and 6th grader from neighboring Kentucky. The Zoo had a new kiddy play area and Zee and Aay had tons of fun climbing all around the playhouse and digging in the giant sandbox.

On Thursday morning we finally set out for Nashville. We had hoped to stay right in downtown to facilitate sightseeing but all the hotels we called were fully booked up or way out of our price range. After spending the afternoon touring The Grand Ole Opry and having a look at the  Opry Mills Mall we ended up at hotel on northern outskirts of Nashville. Not the best choice, but we were tired and eager to stop. Either way our sightseeing portion of the trip was done as we were about to head to Memphis to our friend Andrew's house.

to be continued...

Vacation in Review: Week 1

The worst part about a good vacation is coming back. Even if you are ready, and even if you like you regular life, it is still hard to get back in to routine. For us coming home usually involves a long flight and long drive home, followed by a week of messed up bedtimes, weakened immune systems, and lots and lots of housework. Yet we do it every year twice a year, and look forward to it and enjoy it every time. You always pay the piper but it still worth it.

I was looking forward to this vacation for a very long time, and dreading it at the same time. Instead of going to Puerto Rico as we usually do with our Spring vacation, we were going to a new location, Charleston, SC. My brother worked very hard to graduate from the Citadel and after missing his High School graduation I wanted to make sure I was there for this one.

Two years ago I planned a two week trip with my family thru Western Canada, I did all the reservation and planning, and while I enjoyed the vacation, I spent too much time having to explain my choices to rest of the family. And even thought I know my family enjoys complaining it caused me a lot of stress. I swore off ever planning another non-cruise vacation with my family, yet when this trip came up I once again volunteered to play family travel agent. Before you think I am complaining let me clarify that I am not. I love all aspect of travel planning. I love the enormous opportunity to research and compare location, to shop for the best fares and the best travel schedules, and I spent the greater part of the last 6 months indulging myself as I browsed hundred of vacation rental listings. But as the vacation date approached I prayed and hoped that the decisions I had made for everyone would be accepted and praised, and Thanks to God they were. 

Our rental house was amazing. Beautifully located just off the main road in Folly Beach, close to the beach but secluded from the beach traffic. The house was roomy but not ginormous, and was decorated in a easy beach style that allowed us to relax and sprawl without feeling like we had to worry about ruining the furniture. The only aspect about the house that didn't really end up pleasing us was the pool. The pool cleaners arrived on our second day there and spruced it up, but its shaded location meant it was too cool to enjoy in May. It is probably a very nice pool in July, but we didn't get much use of it at all. We did get lots and lots of use out of the screened in back porch and the rockers in the front porch. By the middle of the week I had my sister, my dad's girlfriend Rosalia and Chris all come up and tell me how nice the house was, and how comfortable they felt there. We made lots of use of the kitchen and the laundry room (once we found it). I think I have converted them all to the vacation rental as the ideal kind of travel lodging. It allowed us to spend time together in a way that being in the same hotel did not, and allowed us to have lots of flexibility. My family is pretty slow moving and they take a long time to get organized for outings, but that meant that in the morning when my family was still getting out of bed and ready for the day, my Dad could go out buy the paper to read, while Chris and I walked the girls to the beach for a few hours of digging in the sand and collecting sea shells. In the evening it meant that while Chris and I took turns supervising bath-time and bedtime we could take turns joining a game of Settlers or Trivia Pursuit.

My mother didn't stay at the rental house with us, but down the same road on the other-side of Folly Beach. She stayed at the beach house of longtime family friend. The girls really enjoyed going over there and collecting sea shells with my mom on her stretch of beach and sitting on the porch swing. The air there was wonderfully scented by Carolina Jasmines. My mom also hosted us there for a post grad lunch, that was very good and tasty. Our girls tired too soon, but I was very glad I got to share some more time with my mom on Sunday morning when she came over for breakfast.

During our week in Charleston, we saw some sites on our first full day together, Brandy my brother's girlfriend took us down to the Market Street area, and we had lunch a neat seafood place. I had stuffed bacon wrapped Shrimp, that go down as the only kind of shrimp outside of Paella that have ever liked.  We ended up spending nearly 5 hours in that area as we took a very long walk down past Rainbow Row and up the Battery. The sun was bright over head but the temperature was pleasant. Some might have complained of the humidity but I was thrilled as my dehydrated skin and hair just soaked it up.

The next day Chris was sick, after a slow morning we went our for BBQ with Brandy, drove out to the Citadel for the quickest most uncomfortable tour ever (my brother was out of uniform and painfully paranoid about being spotted) followed a quick stop at Brandy's house for refreshments. It was at this point where my brother realized that it was Wed not Tuesday and that he had missed a ton of required programing back at the Citadel. Flash change into his uniform later we drove him back to the Citadel to drop him off and then followed Brandy back to downtown Charleston were we returned to Market Street for those who hadn't gotten a good chance to shop. Kendall and my dad joyfully skipped this and walked with me to a small play-park we had spotted down by the Battery. The girls enjoyed playing on the equipment for a while before we started walking back. We decided to walk down to shaded linear park down by the harbor. It ended at this magnificent kid friendly fountain, where they girls got thoroughly soaked. Rosita and Rosalia soon joined us there and we stripped the girls down to their underwear for the drive back to Folly Beach. My mom arrived in Charleston roughly around this time and came over later in the evening.

On Thursday I went over to my mom's place and then went shopping with her and had lunch with her close friends, Ruth-Anne Hammes and Ruth Glover. Ruth Glover is a gem, a true southern lady, with a very sharp wit. Miraculously the girls ate their food and peacefully played thru long long lunch. I had a lot of fun with mom and her friends although I felt like a little girl for great parts of the time when they took to referring to me as the "little mama".

On Friday, Rosie, Kendall and Chris had long adventure trying to just get Kayaks so they could explore the marshes and the Folly River. Finally getting in the water about hour and half after the intended. The came back exhausted, sunburned but exhilarated after spotting several dolphins and getting a great opportunity to see the marsh up close. I went to the store with Mami, and then for a walk with Dad and Rosalia. Dad and Rosalia walked with me and the girls to the end of Ashley Avenue and to the Folly Beach Recreation area. We walked up to one of the boardwalks leading to the beach and admired about 4 large kites flying overhead. Sadly at this point Zee's Buzz Lightyear was abandoned on the top of that boardwalk, a fact we didn't discover till about 12 hours later. By then he was long gone, and Zee has had to deal with the fact that her favorite toy in the whole world is lost. She has been calm only crying a few times, and clings to the hope that either Grandma Elba will get her another one from Disney or that her old Buzz might find his way back to her is the way only 2 year olds can. That afternoon we loaded back into our rented Toyota Sienna (which seat 8, a fact we frequently exploited) and gathered on Campus for the Long Gray Line parade, where the graduating class is honored by the core of cadets and Juan Daniel metaphorically joined all other Citadel graduates. It was impressive exercise and I got teary watching Juan and his battalion march around. He looked handsome, happy and proudBrandy's son Derek was there and finally got a chance to meet him. Post march we all headed back to the house where we ordered Pizza.  Derek and our girls got along great and they just tuckered him out with attention.

Saturday Morning was busy and exciting, we left early for campus to we could meet up with Brandy, who had all our grad tickets. While we waited for Mami, Rosie and I enjoyed people watching noting the large percentage of girls who had strapless summer dresses on, and how the dress code varied greatly from fancy suits to football jerseys and blue jeans. The graduation was very very long over 3 hours and I was very grateful that I had chosen to leave the girls back at the house with Chris. The Joint Chief of Staff for the USA spoke at the graduation. He gave them good solid advice about what awaited them in the real world, how they had worked very hard for the right to start back at the bottom, and how the should evaluate themselves and what they believed so that they will be ready for all that life would shortly throw at them. The finally started handing out diplomas after a half-dozen honorary degrees and other short speeches. Rosie and I entertained ourselves while we waited for Juan's name to be called and for the ceremony to end by clapping extra loudly for the 2 dozen girls that graduated with Juan, especially if we thought they weren't getting enough vocal support from the audience. We also enjoyed seeing how a full fourth of those girls  had their father or grandfathers hand them their diploma. We mused how in about 2 decades from now some of those girls might return to hand their sons or daughters their own diplomas.

After fruitlessly searching for Juan's missing hat, thrown into the air at the end of the ceremony, we headed back to the house. I quickly drove to the Folly Beach Park to see if I could find the missing Buzz, but I came back empty handed. We eventually made our way over to my mom's place were we gored ourselves on Surrullitos and Lasagna. It was a day of goodbyes. My brother said goodbye to the Citadel, and to being "a toy soldier in someone else's pretend army" and we said goodbye to each-other as Dad and Rosalia backed up for their early morning flight. The rest of us still spent sometime together Sunday morning before mom started to drive back to Florida and we drove Rosie and Kendall to the airport for their afternoon flight. That evening Chris and I started clean up, so we could embark on the second half of our vacation the next morning.

What I am looking forward too:

  • Laughing with my sister as we watch the girls play.
  • Playing games with Brother-in-law.
  • Talking Politics with my Dad.
  • Walking with my mom.
  • Meeting some of my invisible friends
  • Watching my Brother walk up and claim his diploma.

I don't have the "I need to go on vacation right now!" itch I had about a month ago because the weather has turned beautiful and I just don't get moody or bummed out when the sky is blue and sun is warm. I think I am physically unable to get sad or depressed in the summer. But I am still eager to feel the arms of my family around me, for them to have a chance to enjoy our girls while they are still little, fresh and adorable. Life is good. (It helps that the Red Wings won tonight and Chris is out of his funk).

My garden will still be here when I get back, my girls music and gymnastics lessons will still be in session and my sewing projects will still be waiting for me, so I afford to get away sit on the porch with my family for a little while.