Category Archives: Travel

Sisyphus

The plan was simple. I was to take my mother to Jacksonville on Saturday for the wedding of her godson, the son of her oldest friend, and then spend the night on the same property where the wedding was being held. I felt clever enough to transport her from Point A to Point B and back in a 24-hour period. I even brought a couple of books, on the theory that I would execute my duties so competently I would have time left over to read while gazing at the ocean.

Instead, like the clever Sisyphus, I spent the weekend pushing my mother up the hill of my own hubris.

We left Tallahassee at noon. The wedding was scheduled for 5:00 at Amelia Island, a three-hour drive away. We stopped for lunch at 1:00. Mom preferred to eat at the restaurant, and I thought that with my help we could be in and out in a reasonable amount of time.

Nope.

Most people can cope with the level of stimulus generated by a busy fast-food restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. Not my mother. She was completely overwhelmed by the noises, the lights, the colors.

I pushed.

I ordered for her, helped her sit down, brought her food, filled her drink, and begged her to eat. She sat, staring in the direction of the TV without really seeing it. I had to coach her through every bite. It took over an hour.

I pushed.

Back in the car, I realized that we were now in danger of being late. We pulled up to the hotel at 4:00. Of course, check-in was in the main hotel, and our room was in a distant building.

And here’s where I made my biggest mistake. I had assumed that a normal hotel setup would be fine for mom. She walks slowly and with difficulty, but she does not use a walker or wheelchair. However, there are some very real differences between a truly accessible space and a “normal” space. At 4:20, when I pulled up to the building where our room was located, I almost cried. All I could see were stairs. There were stairs to get to the elevator, which was also located at the back of the building. There were more stairs from the elevator to our room.

I pushed.

I got her out of the car and into the room. I got both of us changed and back downstairs to catch the shuttle to the ceremony site. We arrived at 5:05, just ahead of a golf cart full of bridesmaids. The shuttle dropped us 50 yards from the seating area. The distance stretched before me like a dolly zoom shot from a Hitchcock film.

I pushed.

The ceremony was lovely, and offered me exactly 20 minutes to breathe before tackling the next challenge – another 50-yard walk over unpaved ground to the reception site. We put mom on a golf cart, a process that took three adults and 10 minutes of coaching. Once at the reception, we deposited her in a chair. She did not get up for the rest of the evening. After dinner, we wrangled her back onto the shuttle and I somehow got her up to our room, undressed, and in bed.

Sunday morning, I woke up pushing.

I got her out of bed. I packed all our things, dressed her, and loaded the car. I asked if she was ready to go.

“I’m ready to go back to bed,” she pouted.

I made her use the restroom before we left. The toilet was low, and configured such that I could not stand in front of her to help her up. The awkward angle, combined with her inability to assist, caused me to wrench my back trying to keep her from falling to the floor. I spent the drive home with increasing stiffness and soreness in my mid-back.

Yet I pushed.

I arrived home just after noon and I was a wreck. I had spent every waking moment of the last 24 hours pushing my mother, pushing her to move, pushing her to focus, pushing her to cooperate. Even when we’re at home, I have to push her to drink water, push her to use the bathroom, push her to eat, push her to bathe.

I’m glad we went. It was the right thing to do. The wedding was lovely. But the amount of work required to execute a relatively simple plan was staggering. I consider myself to be pretty smart, but I was humbled by the number of factors I failed to adequately consider. And while I would love to say, “Next time will be better!” I honestly don’t think there will be a next time.

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Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans

Because “Forty Eight Hours in New Orleans with Two Tweenagers and a Toddler, Thank God for Alcohol” is just too long for a post title.

Very occasionally, Jason gets to travel somewhere awesome for work. On Monday, he had three depositions scheduled in New Orleans, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and haul everyone over there. Well, everyone except Hollyn, who chose to stay behind so she could train with her crew team for the upcoming erg sprints. Noble, but foolish.

Every time we go to New Orleans, we do several touristy things requested by the kids – this time, beignets at Cafe du Monde and browsing the French Market. But I also like to try a few new things each time I go, to keep things interesting.

On this trip, we used AirBnB for the first time, and booked an apartment in the Garden District/Freret area. Overall, I was pleased. The price was reasonable and the apartment was comfortable for the five of us.

I am unable to resist a used book shop, and this trip I found one I’d never visited before. The Librarie Book Shop has a well-curated collection of used books and the proprietress was extremely knowledgeable about New Orleans and the authors who call it home (or spiritual home). I picked up A Pattern Book of New Orleans Architecture, by Roulhac Toledano.

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Traditional pattern books were like DIY manuals for amateur builders, especially in areas where there weren’t established architects or designers. They are filled with sample floorplans as well as detailed drawings of architectural elements like mantels, doorframes, columns, and windows. Iconic architect Palladio published one in 1570, and pattern books were an invaluable resource to American colonists trying to build homes and municipal buildings in the wilderness.

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This is not a pattern book in the historical sense, but is nonetheless a great resource. It outlines the various styles of architecture, including floorplans, used throughout New Orleans, and includes vintage real estate advertisements.

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When I put it on the checkout table, the bookseller confided that it was her favorite book in the shop. For a moment, it looked like she might not let it go. I promised to give it a good home.

Monday morning, Jason boarded the streetcar for work (he reports this was an awesome way to commute) and the kids and I headed somewhere new – The Bank Architectural Salvage & Antiques. Located north of St. Charles Avenue on Felicity St., this place was packed with salvaged doors, mantels, hardware, corbels, windows, and other decorative bits from old New Orleans buildings.

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I had to force myself to walk away empty-handed.

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As should be pretty obvious, we love the architecture of New Orleans and seek to incorporate it (in tasteful ways!) in our Tallahassee house. This trip provided plenty of ideas and inspiration for future projects.

 

 

 

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The Day of White Knuckles

We knew from the beginning that last Friday would be a long day. The plan was for Jason to wake up in Wesley Chapel, catch an early morning flight to Hollywood (FL) for a deposition, then fly back to Tallahassee by way of Orlando. 

As you can imagine, things didn’t go as planned.

The deposition ended around lunch time, so Jason headed back to the airport to kill time and work until his 4:00 pm flight.

Around 1:15, I got a breaking news alert that there had been a shooting “in Ft. Lauderdale.” Figuring that Ft. Lauderdale is a pretty big place, and the airport is one of the more secure locations therein, I called Jason and jokingly asked if he was being shot at.

“I was just texting you. That was in the next terminal.”

Record scratch. 

I turned on the news and got off the phone, so he could conserve his battery and pay attention to his surroundings. It’s the second time in my life I have been grateful for non-stop coverage of breaking news. The first time was on September 11, 2001. I watched and waited, occasionally texting Jason for updates. I knew that making my anxiety (rather than Jason’s safety) the focus of my energy was counterproductive. So I tried to stay calm and process the information being broadcast.


There was only one time I nearly lost it. The on-air anchor was speaking with a witness to the shooting, who was still in the baggage claim area. Suddenly there was a commotion in the background, and the witness said an announcement had been made over the PA system that there was more shooting, that everyone needed to get down and stay down. He was choked up, panicking, and I was right there with him. 


Jason had been on the floor of Terminal 1 with everyone else, but eventually that terminal was evacuated as well. He did not run – he told me later that, when you don’t know from which direction your threat is, it’s senseless to run. You might be running right towards the danger. He took his bags to the tarmac – even though he was not freaking out, he had no desire to go back into the airport building. Possibly ever. 


Everyone was moving away from the terminal building, so Jason started walking across the runways and grassy strips towards the hangars at the back of the airport property. At one point, he took shelter under an overpass bridge. A police officer with his group stated that they thought the shooter might be on top of the bridge. After a bit, the group continued away from the airport, ending up at a maintenance building. 


That’s when Jason got lucky. He spotted a cab that had come to the shed for maintenance. He convinced the cab driver to get him out of there, and shared the car with a couple from Indiana. The cabbie took them to a rental car agency outside of the airport property, where he rented a car and started driving north. 

The universe had one more surprise for Jason, though. He drove home through a terrible winter storm that also traveled the length of Florida on Friday. I tried to watch TV. I compulsively checked his location using my phone. I felt the temperature falling. The cold rain beat him home by half an hour, and by the time he pulled into our driveway at 11:00 p.m., conditions outside were pretty miserable. 

He was exhausted, in shock, and angry. He was practically vibrating from the emotional toll of the day. 

Jason says he’s fine. I believe him. He doesn’t like to talk about his experience, because he IS fine. He wasn’t hurt, he didn’t panic, he handled the situation with his usual level-headedness and good cheer. But on the other hand, he did go through an ordeal that was objectively stressful, not to mention devastating for at least 11 families. He was a part, however small, of a national tragedy. It’s a weird place to be. 

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Escape from Tallahassee

I love to travel, and while you’ll never catch me backpacking through Europe on $20 a day, I don’t mind having to vacation on the cheap. To that end, we’ve been utilizing Florida’s excellent state park system to take a few mini-breaks that involve (gasp!) camping. We’ve managed three weekend trips in the last six months.

In September, we went with a group to Fort Clinch, north of Jacksonville. It was our first time camping in the non-primitive areas, and it made a huge difference in our comfort level. We had a string of Christmas lights and our own spigot! What riches!

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We also had unseasonable heat, rain, and an unfortunate episode in which raccoons got into the van and ate a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, so we cut only stayed two days instead of three.

It was Hazel’s first camping trip, and she LOVED getting filthy.

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In December, we were invited to St. Joe Peninsula State Park to camp with friends in a camper. In other words, we leveled up.

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The park is right on the beach, and this time the unseasonable warmth worked in our favor.

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Camping in someone else’s camper is delightful, in the same way that riding around in someone else’s boat is delightful. Don’t worry – we gave them lots of beer for their troubles.

This past weekend, Jason, Hazel and I stayed in a cabin at Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights, Florida. When I was a kid, a bunch of our neighbors used to come here over MLK weekend every year. I was interested to experience the park as an adult.

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The older cabins at this park were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and are just adorable. Ours had a bedroom/living area with a fireplace, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It was furnished and had basic kitchen equipment, but was by no means fancy.

The lake’s a little low this year, but the view is still relaxing.

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Saturday morning we hiked every trail in the park, totaling over 3 miles. Hazel was content to ride in the backpack most of the time, but insisted on getting out for the last half mile or so.

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After lunch at a local barbeque restaurant, we settled in at the cabin for Hazel’s nap. Temperatures started to fall, and we lit a fire in the fireplace. Then it started raining. Guess who didn’t care? Us! We had a roof, and food, and plenty of firewood. We spent the evening reading books, cooking dinner, and playing with Hazel.

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Sunday morning we made a stop in Jacksonville to have lunch with my mom, then headed home.

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One thing I have learned about myself is that I don’t “staycation” well. If I’m at home, I’m looking for projects, worrying about things that need to be fixed, and planning for the next day/week/month. When we went away, there was no laundry to run, no fridge to clean out, no animals to feed. I was able to devote my entire attention to finishing my book and working on a pair of socks I’m knitting. It was perfect.

It was also inexpensive. Major bonus.

I used to say flatly that I did not like camping. I must amend my previous statement, having experienced more than one type of camping in the last six months. I enjoy camper camping and cabin camping. Tent camping is fine with the right equipment. And all camping is made better with an electric skillet for pancakes and breakfast meats.

 

 

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New York, New York

This summer, I asked Tyler what he wanted for his 12th birthday. To my mild horror, he replied that he wanted “to travel.” Specifically, he said he would very much like to go to New York.

It was a lovely, though expensive, answer.

He went so far as to dig up an essay he’d written in third grade, detailing his dream trip to New York.
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(Translation: Have you ever really wanted to go somewhere and planned everything, I have. If I went to new York City I would ride the subway. They are very fast. The first sub I went on I almost barfed. Subways are cool. The second thing I would do would see the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty has about 257 steps. I wonder how big it is. The third thing I would do would see the empire state building it is the second tallest building in the world. It’s in the big apple. The fourth thing is to see the FAO Shwarts. It’s a famous toy store. I’m going straight to the Lego sec-shons (said like this). The third thing would to go to see Uncle Bubba. He is awsome (said like this.). I hope I go to New York.)

From this essay and conversations with the boy, I made a short list of things we had to do:

  1. Ride the subway
  2. Statue of Liberty
  3. Empire State Building
  4. The Lego Store in Rockefeller Center (due to the closing of FAO Schwartz)

I needed to get creative. I found cheap plane tickets through Jet Blue, and my friend Jamie graciously agreed to put us up in her apartment. Tyler’s birthday was August 1, but New York in the late summer is almost as oppressive as Florida, but with far less air-conditioning and far shorter tempers. I booked tickets for late October, and then got to work planning.

After an absurd amount of research, I decided to get City Passes for each of us. This was a good decision. I definitely feel that we saved money on tickets, and there was never any issue using them.
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We flew out of Jacksonville on October 21, arriving on Jamie’s doorstep near midnight after a flight delay and a long Super Shuttle trip (which I prefer to think of as a low-cost tour of various midtown hotels).

Thursday morning we hit the ground running. First up: a ride on the real-live New York City subway. It wasn’t even 9:00 a.m., and we’d accomplished 1/4 of our goals! Winning!

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I decided we should start with the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I was just beginning my senior year of college when 9/11 happened, and it very much shaped the end of my college experience. The last time I was in New York, the site was bare, and I was eager to see what had been done.
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The museum was very well-done. I was surprised by how much of it focused on the building itself – the engineering that made the buildings possible, and the forces that brought them down. My guess is that because the memory is still so fresh, people are not as willing to part with the personal artifacts that might one day find their home in the museum. That said, the dozen or so Kleenex dispensers scattered around the hall were put to good use.  Untitled

After the tour, we headed to City Hall and Chinatown for some lunch at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, which serves (surprise!) tasty hand-pulled noodles in a space the size of my family room. I got pan-fried noodles, Tyler got noodle soup with pork dumplings. Both were delicious.
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Fueled by carbs, we were ready to tackle another list item: The Statue of Liberty. We made our way to Battery Park and caught the ferry to see a real big lady. It was around this time that I began regretting my choice of adorable gray Converses for the weekend. My pinkie toes had already developed large blisters from sock-seam chafing. Needless to say, I was psyched to sit on a boat for a few minutes.

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Tyler and I agree: the Statue of Liberty is surprisingly impressive. I mean, everyone knows what she looks like, but to see her up close is just awesome, in the old sense of the word. Awe-inspiring. We took the free audio tour, which I recommend. I wish we’d had more time to sit by the water and gaze at the skyline, but they were closing up shop by that point.
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Back in Battery Park, we discussed our next moves. We were scheduled to meet a friend in Brooklyn for dinner at 6:30, and she’d suggested walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as an appetizer, so we started strolling up the east side of Manhattan. As the Brooklyn Bridge became clearer, I realized that the pedestrian walkway is above the roadway – and I am moderately acrophobic. I wasn’t going to say anything, but Tyler had a mild freak-out about the height as well, so we nixed that idea in favor of taking a cab across the bridge into Brooklyn.

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Nope.

 

Dinner that night was at Pok Pok, a very nice Thai place, followed by ice cream at the Farmacy, which was straight up the most Brooklyn thing I have ever seen. Ironic mustaches and floral rompers for days, y’all.

Friday morning we headed to the American Museum of Natural History. But first – brunch at Shake Shack. Delicious. I had a caramel shake and fries, Tyler had a chocolate shake and a burger. Don’t judge.
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The natural history museum is a heck of a thing. It has four floors of dioramas, skeletons, and other artifacts. We saw probably 75% of the exhibits on display, and that was exhausting. I developed a new appreciation for taxidermists.

Behold, the bear-seal.

After many hours, we were museum-ed out.  Grabbing street food (falafel for me, gyro for Tyler) we wandered across the street into Central Park and rested our brains – and our feet. Tyler spotted a huge rat and tried to pet the pigeons. Oh, Tyler.

Our next destination was Rockefeller Center, home of Tyler’s new favorite place: THE LEGO STORE.

Several dollars later, we met Jamie at The Kunjip in Koreatown for some authentic Korean fare.  Surprising everyone, Tyler did not sear his own flesh on the hot stone pot in which the food was served. Way to go, Tyler.

It’s funny – I’ve been making bibimbap for years, having never tried the real thing. I was pretty close!

Jamie took one for the team and walked us through Times Square. Quickly. Zoom!

Friday night we saw Les Miserables, which Tyler thought was fantastic. It was wonderful to watch him enjoy something so far outside his normal experience. Now he wants to watch the movie for comparison’s sake (and to hear the songs again).

Saturday we stayed in Jamie’s neighborhood. We had brunch at an Irish place, then met up with another Amherst alum and his family at a local playground. They have two babies, so Tyler was thrilled. He loves kids, especially babies. We ended up spending most of the afternoon with them, which was delightful. Then we walked into Fort Tryon Park before an early dinner at a Salvadorian restaurant.

And then it was time to head back to the airport, which ended up being an adventure unto itself. Part of the A line was closed, so we had to divert to the J train and take the AirTrain in from a far north station. It ended up taking almost 2 hours to get to the airport. Then our flight was delayed – for four hours. We landed in Jacksonville at 2:30 a.m.

To his great credit, Tyler never complained. He was a fantastic little companion on this trip, and I will be happy to travel with him any time.

However.

When I got the dirty clothes out of his bag, I found four pairs of clean, folded socks. That means he wore the same socks for four days.

Oh, Tyler.

Overall, the trip was fantastic. The weather was beautiful, the crowds were minimal, and the food was delicious.

My takeaways from the trip are obvious: wear the most comfortable shoes you own, pack a family-size bottle of Advil PM, and budget extra travel and wait time for everything. You’re all set!

 

 

 

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