Monday, May 31, 2010

Predatory Instinct, New Jersey style

The minute we walked in the door at Nancy and Jennifer's, Daisy smelled cat.  Olga the gray and white tabby  made a quick escape outdoors, and Meena the brindled calico hid upstairs somewhere safe.  A few minutes later Daisy's pounding feet shook the ceiling and a brown fur blur rocketed down the stairs and into the office, Daisy in hot pursuit.  All humans sprang into action to drag Daisy out of the house. Shortly thereafter, Nancy was off to the emergency room, bleeding profusely from a cat bite received trying to extract Meena.

Twice more that evening, Daisy broke the barriers to the office.  Meena performed a cat circus trapeze act as she swung from desktop to curtain to wardrobe top with no safety net.  After banishing Daisy to the RV,  I surveyed the damage.  It looked as though someone had tossed the room looking for a treasure map.

Nancy is on antibiotics for 10 days and Meena is under house arrest for 10 days, just in case.  Meena is yowling from her basement prison, Olga is living the outdoor life, and Daisy sleeps with one eye on the basement door.  There are three fail safe barriers between her and Meena, and we humans navigate to the subterranean dungeon through the airlock system.

Worst news?  No alcohol for Nancy.  All those Marguerita's on Memorial Day that I am going to have to drink for her....poor me!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Simply wonderful

I didn't mean to be in Amish country, but I am.  There's plenty of crab shacks but not many RV places between DC and Paradise Pennsylvania, so here we are, despite plans to stop near Wilmington and color in Delaware on the RV window map.  Here near Paradise, the Amish mother and her three children drive a wagon through the campground and I buy more strawberries than I could ever eat from a young boy and girl who are too sweet to deny.  The innocent look on their faces is worth the price.
By the time we drive into the countryside after a full breakfast at one of the many Amish cafes, the wash is out to dry at every farmhouse and the ladies are mowing the lawn or off to town in the buggies.  It's hard work being simple.  The men are in the fields, just like they were late in the day when we arrived.  I see young women in gardens, picking vegetables that stock the honor system roadside stands.  We stop to buy tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and potatoes.  And moon pies. 
Less than an hour from busy Philadelphia, the world stands still.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

To Marguerite

Not only does she live where George Washington once farmed on the banks of the Potomac, this lady, my cousin once removed, is descended from seven men who signed the Mayflower compact. Yep, John Alden and Myles Standish included, and an adventurous fellow named Hopkins who reached Jamestown by way of a shipwreck in Bermuda, returned to England and then came back again to Plymouth, where he apparently liked it better and stayed.  No wonder Marguerite is so spunky!  She has determined genes.

If it weren't for Marguerite, I would not know about my 17th century roots. She has earned a lifetime achievement award, awarded by me today, for researching and preserving our family genealogy for the generations to come.

Spunky, vivacious, gracious, engaging,  interesting....and still playing doubles at 82. I wish I had inherited her knees!
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Walking where they walked

When I stand in the sand dunes at Kill Devil Hills and feel the wind, I can almost fly, transported back to the moment when Orville and Wilbur Wright first defied gravity. Scarcely a hundred years ago in the outer banks of North Carolina, these determined brothers made history.
I get chillbumps when I stand where people from the history books walked.  In Williamsburg, I  feel the fire of Patrick Henry.   I stroll the campus of William and Mary where Jefferson attended college, sit in the church pew where George Washington attended the June 1st Day of Prayer.
In Jamestown I stand where Pocahantas saved John Smith from starving in 1608.  She was only 13 at the time.  At 19 she married a colonist and forged peace between the settlers and her father's tribe. What a legacy for one young girl.

Two rivers north, on the Rappahannock River,  my mother's ancestor, a tailor named Daniel Winstead,  born 1647 in Sussex Parrish, England,  came to the new world for a 50 acre land grant in Lancaster County, Virginia.  He was an adventurer, off to a new world, from tailor to tobacco farmer, but he did not live his dream for very long.  He died in 1671, survived only by one young son, Samuel, the first generation of my mother's family born in America.

And today, I am standing where he stood.  History gives me the shivers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why the Atlantic is not the Pacific

I can't help comparing the southeastern Atlantic seashore to the Pacific. It's the same blue water, but the Atlantic beauty is hidden behind man's clutter, 1000 sf of beach house per capita. I'll have to check the latest census, because it might have climbed to 1500 sf.  Put the Atlantic up against the Pacific and I'll take the Pacific, where nothing comes between the highway and the stunning views.

Myrtle Beach is the quintessential example of visual clutter. Retail overdose stretches about 10 miles and I'm guessing per capita feet of neon is over 100 feet. It's probably in the deed restrictions that there must be the following on each block:
  • Retail beachware shop, 10,000 sf or more, preferably a chain, like Waves, with a wave scalloped roof outlined in Neon.
  • One or more Pancake breakfast buffets
  • A pizza place
  • A fish place
  • A miniature golf course

It's quiet here in May, but even in high season I cannot visualize that many mini golfers.  The golf places compete for the GaGa award with pirate ships, dinosaurs, thatched huts, waterfalls and fountains, all spouting an unreal bluegreen dyed water. But if all the courses are GaGa, what makes a mini-golfer choose one over the other?

And where do all those mini-golfers stay?  I found my answer in our RV Camp.  893 temporary camping slots, and 2500 by the day/month/season/year house rentals.  I could choose between the park we stayed in or a dozen others, side by side, right on the beach (technically, right behind the dunes).  I thought about going to the pool, the recreation center, the cafe, the wifi hotspot and the laundry, but measured by how far I was willing to walk down the beach, I was never going to reach them without a golf cart.  And yes, everyone there rents or owns a golf cart.  They  even walk their dogs in a golf cart.

To be perfectly fair to the Atlantic, once you find an opening onto the beach, it's very human friendly. You can walk for miles, even swim.  The Gulfsteam currents keep the temperatures balmy.  You can walk your dog on the beach, something California would never permit.  You can camp an RV width away from the dunes. Never ever ever could you do this in California. You can cross the narrow islands to the intercoastal waterway and wind surf, put your boat in, fish.  And there are lovely bridge top views of rivers and inlets and lighthouses, and ferries that lull you to sleep on two hour rides to the Outer Banks, dolphins that swim beside you and brown pelicans that control crash into the water.

The attraction of the Southeast Atlantic coast is summed up in the name of a wifi network I found while trying to log on the other night:  no shoes no shirt.  If you are in a five o'clock somewhere frame of mind, this is the place for you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How low is it?

When Southern Living Magazine drops into my mail slot, I open it immediately to the house plans. Frequently, the home plan of the month is a "Lowcountry Cottage".  Lowcountry cottages are elevated about 10 feet, and  now I know why.  The Georgia and South Carolina coast is a swamp.  From a satellite photo, the inland waterways reaching out to the coastline resemble spider veins. Rivers and marshes form a web, and the little swatches of land between them are thickly foliaged with pines, oaks, magnolias, sweet gums and palmettos. You could be lost for years in Lowcountry.

I had a misconception that I would have oceans views from Florida to Nova Scotia, but in the Lowcountry, I have to work really hard to see the ocean.  My route so far looks like a blanket stitch pattern, with highway driving north alternated with forays east onto islands such as Tybee for a peak of ocean and a lighthouse.  Those excursions would be ecstasy if I golfed, fished or bird-watched.  Since I don't, I have contented myself with an overdose of antebellum architecture, dripping with wrought iron and laden with graceful porches.  Savannah, spared by General Sherman, is graced with more than twenty oak filled squares around which homes constructed in early 1800 hold court.  Beaufort's homes are even older. In Beaufort, the graveyard at St. Helena Episcopal church, circa 1700, contains graves of soldiers marked by the Union Jack, the Confederate flag and the Stars and Stripes.  The church was used as a hospital in the Civil War, marble grave slabs the operating tables.

With a fort on every island and markers everywhere commemorating the War between the States,  I am in a Scarlet O'Hara frame of mind.  Fiddle Dee Dee, I guess I'll see that ocean a little farther north. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Southern voices

Here on Jekyll Island, Georgia, the winter cottages of the turn of the century tycoons are the tourist attraction. Rockefeller, Morgan, Astor, Goodyear, Pullizer, the who's who that controlled the world's wealth before the Federal Reserve and income taxes, bought this island in the late 1800's for $125,000 for an isolated retreat, a place to escape the Northeast winters and the persistent press. It was an invitation only club that endured only 4 decades until the last of the founders died. The next generation abandoned the traditions of wintering on the island. Some of the 'cottages' still stand, now part of a state park created in the 1940's when back taxes owed were higher than the property was worth.

To me, though, the attraction of Jekyll Island lies in the oaks, hundreds of years old, still standing despite hurricanes that blast this barrier island. They drip with moss, their branches bending like pipe cleaners every direction. They keep the secrets of the ages: the Indians, the Spanish, the English, the cotton plantation owners, the slaves, the soldiers and yes, those of  the very rich.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Living Differently 101

Is it RV life, or is it Florida?  Something about it makes me a little wistful.  Here in Titusville, at the full-time Willow Lakes community with two little lakes, a nine-hole course and a clubhouse, life seems to stand still.

In section A of Willow Lakes, only class A RV's are allowed.  That's the big rock star size busses.  You can own your own lot and in addition to a monster concrete pad and utility connections, you can build a casita.  I've never stepped inside one, but I envision an open living area, maybe a kitchenette, maybe a bath.  Enough to have a recliner, or two friends for cards.   You might build a high porch over your RV.  You might have a tiny garage for parking your golf cart, because if you don't own a golf cart, I don't think you would fit in.

In section B, where we parked, you can have any other class motor home, or just a casita. I could easily walk from my RV lot through a little park to the clubhouse, where at 6 pm, couples were enjoying noodle time in the pool.  There must have been a problem in the past with too many noodles in the pool.  A sign states clearly that you MUST remove your noodle or it will be thrown away.  Most of the couples were gathered at one end talking about big breakfast spots.  But one couple did not fit the norm.  At first I thought it was grandpa and 20 something granddaughter.  Then their behavior gave hints of another relationship.  She giggled at him, and he back at her.  I'll have to say Mr. December was in great shape, all wiry and weathered, that Florida sun skin, the kind that makes me reapply my sunscreen.  His hair, mostly still there, was a sunbleached blonde orange.  He could swim under water the length of the pool, and he told the girl he had saved a man from drowning once.  He demonstrated saving her by pulling her across the pool on her back.  She seemed impressed.  Then he got her to swim across the pool with him with one arm raised out of the water the whole way across.  It was tiring, she said, in a slightly foreign accent. 

In addition to a golf cart, you might have a dog at Willow Lakes, preferably a  Pomeranian that you can take for a walk or just carry.   I don't know where the residents put the dog's daily duty, because there are no garbage cans that I could find, not even near the clubhouse or in the park.  The only garbage I could find was at the 7th Hole, a nice little Par 3 with a can for beer bottles and other empties.  I am sure that it is a first class faux paux to put the dog's duty in there, and if caught, I would be on the agenda at the next homeowners meeting, minutes posted on the club house bulletin board like a Scarlet A.  Do the residents take the duty back into the RV?  Or do they take it as far as the golf cart, which they could then ride to the dumpster I never could find?

Everyone has a different idea of paradise, and a nice little community where you can put your name on a wooden sign outside your casita and enjoy palm trees, oleanders, mangroves and fresh oranges all winter is paradise for the folks in Willow Lakes.  And there's no snow to shovel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Seaching for Atlantis

This day has been on my life list since 2001, when Carl was in Daytona for the 24 hour Le Mans style race and randomly happened on a shuttle liftoff while he was in town. His stories lit the fire in me to see one myself. My first attempt was December 2007; the liftoff scrubbed.  Several weeks after I came home, Atlantis, sensors repaired, took off without me.

Last month, Carl reminded me the shuttle program was ending and suggested I get serious if I intended to see one lift off.  So here we are, once again on a mission in Titusville, Florida.

And today, precisely on time, NASA lit the firecrackers and popped off Atlantis without a single hold.
I am incredulous. It happened so fast I hardly registered the facts as they unfolded. Less than a minute later there was nothing but smoke.I wanted a do over! I wanted to see the rockets light again and thirty seconds later feel the rumble in my chest, the sound reaching me across the water so long after takeoff it was afterglow.

I wanted to imagine I was one of the astronauts, strapped in watching the seconds tick down, then feeling the earth shake underneath me as I went from zero to a zillion in 10 seconds.

I wanted to drop the camera, drop the binoculars and use my naked eyes, my nose, my ears. I wanted it slow motion, so I could register the impact of the moment. I wanted to watch it again and again.

I am afraid that I have formed an instant addiction to shuttle launches, and what will I do? Today was bittersweet, knowing the 25 year old Atlantis will never fly again, that soon the crowds will no longer line the edges of Indian River to watch science conquer gravity. Only two more chances to see a liftoff for families like the one from Iowa with their two young sons here on their second attempt, families like the grandparents from Georgia who brought their grandchildren for their fifth attempt, families with tents and coolers and umbrellas arriving hours before the launch for that one minute of wonder as man leaves the earth and disappears.

We all deserve a do over.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wish it were more exciting?

As I awake in Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana, visions of shuttle liftoff fill my head. But not yet. Here in Frog City RV, the clover has been blooming all spring, creating a clover burr mine field for poor Daisy. I let her out briefly and then we cut burrs out of her fur for an hour. Here's hoping the landscaping at the RV parks changes soon.

We have come only 214 miles on our journey east. It was a late start, plus an overturned 18 wheeler shutting down I-10 in Lake Charles and plus some unplanned last minute diversions, such as forwarding the phone. Who knew that Carl, in a cost cutting move, had canceled call forwarding? That's restored now, and you can call me on our home phone and get me toddling down the road. Our home phone bill is $2 less a month because we restored the feature and several others. Does that make sense? No, but we've already spent the $24 a year. Carl kept asking if we would be insured in Canada. Sure, was my reply. He asked me several times until I called today. We need a Canadian insurance card. Sure, they'll send it to their office in Daytona Beach. All I have to do is pay for the overnight, $25.

All in all, a break even day. Visual highlight, aside from refineries, alligator farms, dirt bike tracks and swamps, was a flatbed loaded with boom headed for the oil spill.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What's for Dinner?

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A love of cooking is generation skipping in my family. My mother basked in the full-bellied contentment of her guests; the more dishes to wash, the happier she was. The gene leapfrogged right over me to her granddaughter, who has refined heredity with science. My niece knows the precise temperature to achieve tenderness in a brisket and can explain chemically why my sugar free cake experiment tastes disgusting.

As for me, the only time I have achieved culinary kudos was cooking for my great nephews in my RV. I packaged my presentations by prefacing all food with the term “RV”, which added mystique. My RV hors d’oeuvres (white bread, buttered and parmesaned, crusts removed, three minutes on high) sparked a feeding frenzy that looked like a Piñata just broke. Since my groupies were the same little guys who could not wait to assist with dumping the black water tank, I temper their compliment as short of a blue ribbon.

Luckily, my husband is happy to make my dinner. When an engineer cooks, there is predictability. Main and side dishes are planned by noon and executed on time and on budget. At 6:30 pm sharp, the salad will be constructed from a bed of spinach one inch thick, precision cut tomatoes, evenly sliced cucumbers, finely diced red onions, and perhaps a surprise spear of asparagus cut into two inch sections. A modern marvel.