Surf and Turf

Not yet 8 a.m.  Vacation Man heads to the beach to set up camp for the day.  He’s not the first.  He has been spurred to action by another Vacation Dad hauling beach gear down the street.  Yesterday, he set out after eight and barely found a good spot. Today, while he claims his turf, the procession of Vacation Dads begins, probably spurred on by seeing him. Half a dozen WonderWheelers lumber down the street.  Not on the sidewalk, mind you, but down the middle of the street.  It is that early. They rumble and creak, piled with chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards.  

Toys and towels will come later, with the women and children.  But we are hours away from that. Lifeguards won’t report for duty for another two hours.  Sleepy-eyed children are still slurping cereal while watching cartoons. Comatose moms nurse their coffee.  Early risers are just now coming home from their runs, coffee and even newspapers in hand.

But Vacation Dads are out providing for their families.  

A good beach position is important.  You want to be juuuuuuust beyond the high tide line, at the crest of the rise of soft, fluffy sand.  Not only does this put you in front position, but this is where the breezes are best.  For families with young children, this position enables parents to supervise children from their beach chairs.  If they are too far back, some parents will still try to supervise their children from their chairs, but their cries of supervision can only be heard by the annoyed adults sitting around them.

Yesterday, it went something like this.  Little Dillon (never saw the boy in my life but I know his name now like I know my own) wanted his cousin/aunt/young female adult person who was used to doing his bidding to come out of the water and tend to him.  He is maybe four years old.

“Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!”  He shouted this over and over and over and over again.  Louder and louder and louder.  But still, his little voice did not reach Emma, who was rolicking in the waves with other young ladies her age.  We (and the couple next to us) could hear him because he was sitting in front of us. Mom was behind us, in her chair.

“Dillon!  She can’t hear you!”  Yeah, well, Dillon couldn’t hear Mom either.  “Dillon! Dillon! Dillon! She can’t hear you!”  This went on like a recording on repeat.

Oh. My. Gosh.  It was all I could do to stay in my seat.  I wanted to tell the mom to get off her butt and talk to the boy quietly.  Or tell Dillon to quietly wait for Emma to come out of the water.  Or even go into the water myself and tell Emma that Dillon needed her. 

No, one does not correct other families at the beach, anymore than one gives unsolicited advice to people being attacked by seagulls while eating.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to laugh when a teenage girl’s cry of “Gack!” is followed by “And this is why I hate the beach!”

Beach rules: Don’t correct other families.  Don’t give unsolicited advice.  Stake out your spot early.

I don’t know that other beaches adhere to the early stake-out rule.  It might be unique to the Cape May neighborhood we frequent, where families rent by the week or month and have routines.  It reminds me of Baltimore rowhouse neighborhoods during snowstorms.  There is no law that says you can stake out your parking spot with lawn chairs just because you shoveled it out.  But woe to the obnoxious neighbor who parks in a spot that someone else shoveled.  

Like parking spots after snowstorms, people at our Cape May beach generally accept that the early bird gets the prime location.  Even if the early bird won’t sit in it for hours.  It’s part of the beach culture here.  And astute Vacation Dads pick up on this quickly.  Is it a desire to keep the Woman happy?  Or is it a testosterone-driven competition?  Whichever, with every successive day, the WonderWheeler parade gets an earlier start.

Based on the number of prime spots already taken by 7:45, today’s parade must have started at dawn. 

A Sauna-dweller travels to Colorado

I should have packed eye drops, but I forgot that Colorado air is dry enough to suck out all your eyeball juice.  In Colorado, no one says, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” like they do in Baltimore.  In Colorado, when it is hot it is dry hot. Sweat doesn’t stick to skin like a wet blanket.  No, the air in Colorado is like a hot towel fresh from the dryer. Perspiration wicks right into that hotness, tricking one into thinking it isn’t happening at all.  At dinner, I chug two tall glasses of water and realize that I am just as dehydrated in the Dry Land as I am in Sauna Land.  

By Day Two, my sinuses are disgustingly crusty, reminding me of a visit to Spain where tour group members from Las Vegas complained about the humidity while Baltimoreans were discretely dealing with dried up bloodied boogers.  Ah, but on a brighter side, the tiny persistent patch of maybe-poison ivy is drying up.  Too small for a prednisone cure but too stubborn to succumb to over-the-counter cortisone, it seems to have met its match with 20% humidity.

Day Two is also when my body notices that there is hardly any oxygen at 5430 feet. I was born at sea level (ok, maybe fifty feet above, if you allow for whatever floor of the hospital I was on). The altitude of my hometown is 6.9 feet above sea level.  I currently live a whopping 689 feet above sea level.  I forego hiking today. Instead, I ponder the mysteries of the universe at the planetarium.

By Day Three, I can enjoy the low humidity and oxygen-deprived hike trails all at the same time. I think I am adjusting.  I overhear a clerk at McGucken’s Hardware telling a co-worker that she had to move “back down” because her oxygen levels were too low.  “Down” in Baltimore refers to “Downy Ocean, Hon” where we rinse our sticky sweaty skin in salt water. In Boulder, it means to come down off the mountains.  Yeah, the struggle is real.  

I think my eyeballs are drying out. I miss my eyedrops, the ones I use to treat excessive screen time.  They are in my other purse, the bigger one, the shoulder breaking one, the one I downsized because I do not need to constantly carry with me stuff for every possible contingency.  But dry eyes is a contingency I forgot to plan for.  

I did plan for my usual skin care. Still, the little tubes of moisturizer in the hotel that I usually stash as souvenirs in my suitcase to keep in my desk at work?  Gone. Every day, my skin soaks up the whole dang tube.

By the time I get semi-used to Rocky Mountain air, it is time to come home.  Reentry to Sauna Land is delayed by a band of thunderstorms in Baltimore that prevent our departure from Denver International Airport by an extra two eyeball-sucking hours. We emerge from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport into a slap-in-the-face literal 100% humidity.  As we drive home, steam rises from the highway.  Closer to rural home, puffs of low lying clouds hover barely overhead, and as we drive through the cornfields on our road, we see that the cloud puffs emerge directly from the field.  Rainfall is evaporating but there is no room in the air for it.  

The air, full of oxygen and saturated with water, is heavy to breathe.  I understand now how my (few and far between) houseplants feel when I finally relieve them of my neglect (all the more desperate since they often sit right by a sink).  I am like those dehydrated toy sponges in a capsule that come to life in a bowl of water.  Hydrating and blooming, I will be bloated again by morning.  

I think of the family from Austin, Texas, that sat next to me on the plane, who had vacationed at Yellowstone and were now visiting friends in Baltimore.  They must think they are drowning.

Ah, but they won’t need eyedrops.

Looking Up

My tag-along trip to Boulder while John is taking a class here got off to a near disastrous start. And by disastrous I mean epic fail,  I should have stayed home. But the ticket was bought, and it’s Boulder, so how bad could things be, right?

Premonitions of disaster began when I checked our hotel website.  We had stayed there five years ago and it was perfect for me five months after a new hip.  The hotel had a pool, beautiful grounds, and backed up to the Boulder Creek walking path.  The only downside was that breakfasts were not included and we had to pay extra to get a mini-fridge in our room.  Now, the website alerts guests that the pool is closed for repairs.  Grrrrrr. Then I read reviews from a month ago that said the main front revolving door was broken,  as well as the elevator, and the landscaping consisted of weeds. But we’ve stayed there before and people can be such whiners, you know?

I was working on having a good attitude, when, on our way from the airport to the hotel, our rental car got pinged by two road stones.  The windshield looks like the victim of a driveby shooting.  The bad vibes on this trip were increasing. (Attempts to reach a human being at Avis have so far been futile.)

We pull up to the hotel and, yes, the “landscaping” consists of weeds.  The main revolving door is still broken and a sign at the front desk informs us that the elevator is not working either. We retreat to our pock-marked rental car to think.  Thinking takes about 2 seconds. There is no way we are staying at the Millenium Harvest Hotel.  Every thing about the place screams “cash flow problems!” The pool repairs are inconvenient, but there is no excuse for a front door and elevator to be broken for a month.  And the weeds, hey, if I wanted weeds I could have stayed home. They at least have to be interesting. 

(I found the following weed at Sawmill Ponds.)

 John pulls out his ipad and pulls up the list of IBM approved hotels in Boulder.  The list is long and almost completely booked. Ah, but there is a new Hyatt on Pearl Parkway with a vacancy. We grab it and hightail it out of the nearly vacant Millenium parking lot.

We arrive at the Hyatt and the receptionist hails from  northwest D.C. We hit it off immediately.  She informs us that the only room available for immediate check-in is a corner suite with mountain view. Would we like to see it? There is a slight charge to upgrade. I totally agree to pay the $25/night upgrade that IBM won’t cover.  

The suite is awesome.  John and I are giddy with delight and disaster averted. The suite is probably larger than our first apartment. Kitchenette with fridge and microwave.  Real coffee mugs and glasses and dishes and stainless flatware. A living room and separate eating area. Comfy bed with phenomenal pillows. (How can a pillow can be thick and heavy and squishably soft all at the same time?) There is an indoor pool that opens to a courtyard.  All the amenities of a good business class hotel, tasty breakfasts included. Nothing gritty about this place.

The view? Mountains and a sky full of puffy clouds.  And oh, yeah…Barnes &Noble, Whole Foods, and a wine shop.  What more could I need?  Last night, after a stressful day, we dined in on wine and cheese.  This morning, after dropping John off at class, I stopped at Sawmill Pond Trailhead for a wetlands walk with mountain views.  This afternoon I will read by the almost outdoor pool, and this evening we will have dinner with our favorite Bouder resident, niece Colleen.

Things are definitely looking up.

I don’t know why I photo’d geese when I see geese everyday at school!

This little bee enjoyed the cactus-y weed. Like a clover blossom or chive blossom on steroids.

Nougat Non-Non

I should have bought the salted caramels.  Then I would have some to share because they would not have ended up in the trash can at Paris Charles DeGaulle airport security.

We were vacationing in Port en Bessin, Normandy. After enjoying coffee and pastries in the brisk morning sun at Café du Port, we explored the weekly open-air market.

Oh la la! Cute little quail eggs! And next to them, live quail in a cage.

“Do they have names?” we asked.

“We have 600 birds, madame.  Non, we do not name them.”

Ok, moving on to the dairy vendor.  French cheeses galore.  And fresh yogurt.  In cute little glass jars! We bought…as much for the jars as for the yogurt.  (And oh, such yogurt!) On to tastings of charcuterie, where hubby John had to show the vendor photos of his charcuterie. We meandered past chickens roasting on spits and wide pans of simmering paella towards a tasting of Normandy’s famous distilled apple apératifs– calvados, pommeau and eau de vie.

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The calvados (apple brandy), pommeau (calvados/cidre blend), and cute little yogurt jars made it home safely!

Directly across from the calvados tasting was the nougat vendor.  He, too, was giving samples– from wheels of nougat the diameter of car tires. It was impressive.  It was really tasty. It paired surprisingly well with the calvados we had just been tasting at 10 a.m. Yeah, I’m thinking my reserves were down a wee bit.

I decided to buy some.

“How much do you want?” he asked.

I had no idea.  He was selling in metric measurement.  I’m American.  I can handle the French language, but numbers are completely beyond me.  I fumble through rough pathetic calculations.  A kilo is 2.2 pounds.  Une livre is half a kilo.  How much nougat is in a kilo?  Chocolate I can guestimate.  Salt water taffy I have a handle on.  But nougat?

I ask for une livre. He whacks off a big honkin’ piece. But I want it in two flavors. He whacks off another big honkin’ piece.  He is only half listening because this whole time he is luring in customers with free samples.  He wraps the two bricks of nougat (which now I really don’t want) but he’s busy and he’s wielding a huge knife with the skill of a guillotine.

“Ca fait 37 euros, madame.”

Thirty seven euros?  For nougat?

He did say it keeps for a whole year in the pantry. “Not in the refrigerator, madame. That will ruin it.” Ok, ok, we will enjoy it this week and take the rest home to give to family.

The week goes by with barely a nibble of nougat.  I keep forgetting it is there.

Fast forward to the airport and the now-expected body pat-down, this time by a woman who also has had both hips replaced.  She knew exactly where my body was going to ding. We laugh. One can bond with people in the most unexpected circumstances.

My carry-on bag rolls through the scanner and the guard pulls it off.

He needs to check the bag.  I can’t imagine what could be a problem in my carry-on bag.  It’s not like that time I forgot I bought a letter opener in Florence for my son-in-law.

“Madame, will you please take the knife out of your bag?”

“Knife? What knife?”

Security guard turns the x-ray screen around to reveal the shadow of a very lethal looking Renaissance dagger.

“Oh, that knife!”

Yeah, that time all Mario got was a story.  This time the guard pulls everything out of my bag…books and scarves, cahiers for my French 4 class, souvenir magnets for the fridge.  Finally, at the bottom of the bag, he finds two bricks of nougat.

They look like a kilo of plastic explosives.

He unwraps the nougat.  He sees that it is nougat, although an unusually large amount of nougat.  He smiles at me and says, “Madame, you can bring hard nougat in your carry-on.  But next time, pack the soft nougat in your checked luggage.  I’ll ask if you can keep it.”

Off he goes to ask a higher authority.  Back he comes, shaking his head.

“But you can stand here and eat it, if you want.”

So now I am tearing wads of nougat for our group of six.  I am offering nougat to total strangers, who look at me like I am a crazy person.

The bulk of the nougat ends up in the trash.  We continue toward our gate with nougat-sticky fingers.

We pass a kiosk for Ladurée, the famous Paris patisserie.  As a consolation prize, I decide to buy a box of their renowned macarons.  And there at the register, what do I see?  A beautifully wrapped single serving bar of…nougat.

Yup. I bought it. But I am not sharing. It cost me dearly.

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My consolation prize for the contraband nougat.

Slightly Off the Grid

Dueling blog posts, that’s what I’m envisioning.  My sister-in-law and I will  be in France for two weeks, and I just know that all the amazing décor over there will inspire endless blog posts from her over at Now That You are Home.  But someone has to chronicle the other side of the trip.  For instance:

  • Will we get to France on the Air France operated Delta flight or the Delta operated Delta flight?  The next 24 hours will tell whether the Air France pilot strike is affecting our direct flight to  Paris.
  • Will the Seine recover from its 32 year high flood levels in time for us to take our deposit-paid dinner cruise?
  • Will there be gas in gas stations to fuel the two count-em two rental cars we reserved to get us to and around Normandy?
  • Will Paris clean up the strike-induced piles of uncollected garbage before we arrive?
  • Will the Tour Eiffel be safer from terrorists with all the extra security for the Euro Cup or should be stay clear of the humongous fan zone set up on the Champs de Mars?
  • Will it stop raining?
  • And the big question: will the Wilson siblings be able to use normal people indoor voices for two whole weeks?

Inquiring minds want to know.  My mom wants to know.  I want to know.  And I don’t want to constantly re-tell the stories when we  get back home, because there is usually one version that is the best.  The others are boring repetitions.  I hope I can get the best one recorded here.

So, after a year of non-blogging, it is time to resurrect this thing with a fresh identity.  My cousin suggested the new name.  It was he who thought Maywood Living was a retirement home and said that I was neither a true pioneer nor all that reluctant, but I am slightly off the grid in many ways.  Ok.  I agree.

This not so reluctant non-pioneer is leaving the slightly off-MapQuest-grid house for adventures abroad with spouse and siblings.

Let the blog-fest begin.

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This is not a stock photo!  I took this my very own self in 2010.