Category Archives: vacation

vacation photos

trip photo4,000 miles and 1,300 pictures later, we’re home again. It was a wonderful trip: no traffic, no crowds, beautiful weather the whole way.

I’ve pared the photos down to a representative sampling of 142, which you can view on Shutterfly. They’re in date order. The photo names tell you where they were taken, and many of the pictures have descriptions that will tell you more.

If you’d like to see more scenery (lots more mountains, canyons, and amazing rock formations), or you just really like looking at pictures, you can view 679 pictures on Adorama. (They don’t have descriptions and aren’t entirely in order, due to our using multiple cameras, one of which had the wrong time setting.)

The full set of 1,300 pictures is on CDs. We have 100+ pictures taken in Antelope Canyon (example below), 50+ photos of mules at the Grand Canyon, and much more. If you’re ever around and want to see them, you’re welcome. 🙂

Antelope Canyon

just can’t wait to get on the road again

Tomorrow morning, we leave on a 4,000-mile road trip. Yeah, I know gas is $4/gal. But this is the summer for us to do this trip. We’re heading to the southwest, to see kinds of scenery that cornfields / trees / rivers people like us are definitely not used to.

We plan to post pictures along the way — once we’ve crossed the first 1,000 miles and come to something worth taking pictures of.
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random thoughts on visiting Mickey Mouse day I want to visit Disney World in the off season — say, September or October — when we won’t spend the entire time feeling as though we’re about to melt into the pavement.

Despite the heat and crowds, Disney is still a cool vacation spot, where everyone is friendly and everything is colorful, clean, and fun.

The Disney Dining Plan is one of the niftiest ideas since sliced bread. We paid up front for all our meals, and (given the high cost of Disney food) spent a lot less overall than we would have if we’d paid as we went. Our total savings were something like $400.

If we go on vacation, one of our kids will get injured or sick. (Spring break, last March, was the first exception in years.) This year, our son has strep. Fortunately, the fever didn’t hit until we were on the way home. Unfortunately, that means we’ll probably all get it.

According to my husband’s pedometer, we were walking probably 6 to 8 miles per day for four days. This would explain why on our morning walk with the dogs today, the hills were easier to climb.

If you’re on a walk-intensive vacation with your 75-year-old mother, and she develops a mysterious back ailment, renting an electric scooter is an outstanding solution. The lovely folks at Walker delivered the scooter to our hotel; and for a very reasonable charge, my mother was able to accompany us throughout the parks, into shows, and onto rides.

If you’re going to Disney, it’s worth the price to stay in a hotel on the monorail system, which saves you a whole lot of driving and time. It’s also lovely to ride the little launch boats across the lagoon to and from the parks.

If I could have had one wish while touring the parks, it would have been for all the poor cast members dressed as Goofy, Mickey, Pooh, et al to be able to stand in the shade to greet hordes of fans. Dozens of kids and parents line up for hugs, autographs, and photos, and in almost all cases, the costume-entombed characters were standing in direct sun for long stretches of time. Ditto all the spritely folks singing and dancing in the streets wearing full cowperson regalia or turn-of-the-previous-century garb. My enjoyment of the entertainment was severely limited by my awareness of how incredibly hot they must have been, and my curiosity about how they avoid heatstroke.

Disney’s 3D technology is awesome. The glasses are sturdy and comfortable, and they aren’t red and green — the lenses appear clear. The Muppets and Mickey’s Philharmagic leap off the screen in full-bodied humor. Why can’t regular movie theaters use the same technology and glasses, instead of the extremely inferior version that gets tried every few years?

I can’t deal with rollercoasters because of the way the hills make my stomach feel. But I love speed and curves and dips. Thus my favorite ride is Thunder Mountain Railroad. This year I also went on Test Track at Epcot, which was wonderful; the high-speed outdoor track got going exactly the maximum speed at which I started to think “OK, I’d really rather it didn’t go any faster than this,” and then slowed down.

People who voluntarily submit to dropping 13 stories in the Tower of Terror are nuts.

The Haunted Mansion was closed for renovation, which made me sad. I hope they don’t mess too much with a good thing.

If you’re staying on the first floor and have a patio near the lagoon, and you make it clear that you have crackers available, you can attract as many as 21 ducks at a time, some of which will eat right out of your hand and others of which will nibble your toes in a tickly sort of way.

Most of all, it’s great to go to Disney with kids who have reached the age of reason (15 and 12) — meaning they don’t melt down from fatigue and hunger and start kicking and crying at random intervals. We saw a lot of kicking, crying, and other symptoms of worn-out kid syndrome. People had little babies with them, not to mention the zillions of toddlers who have an extremely limited capacity for heat and walking and won’t remember much of the trip anyway. I can’t recommend strongly enough waiting to visit Disney until your kids are old enough to more or less take care of themselves; able to communicate their needs and wants clearly; and ready to fully experience, appreciate, and remember the trip.

44 hours of driving and worth every second

I’m back from beautiful, warm, sunny, well-nigh-perfect Sanibel Island, Florida, and buffering my return to work by uploading photos and deleting spam email. We ate a great deal of good food, rented bikes and rode them all over the island, kayaked through a mangrove jungle (and right up beside a manatee, which was extremely cool), took long walks, and r-e-l-a-x-e-d.

Our Saturn Vue (an awesome vehicle, by the way) carried two adults, our son, our daughter, and our daughter’s best friend. Packing the car is an underappreciated art form:

The condo we stay in is right on the beach. Every morning we ate breakfast to the sound of waves and watched the pelicans diving for their morning meal. It just doesn’t get any better—except for walking on the sand in water ankle deep, looking for shells. That’s perhaps my favorite part of vacation. Usually when I’m walking I need to listen to a podcast or a book on tape to keep my mind occupied; but on the beach, walking in the water, I’m at peace. Content just to be.

The kids, of course, made themselves completely at home. Behold the bathroom when inhabited by 2 teenage girls, a woman, a nearly teenage boy, and a man. Can you spot the 4 objects in this picture that belong to males?

On our last full day, we went to an art fair organized every year by the local Lions’ Club. At one booth, the Lions offered delicious barbecue that they’d smoked for 14 hours over pecan wood. Mmmmm. Then we noticed the apron one Lion was wearing, which proclaimed, “Everything’s better with a little Butt Rub!” Yes, Butt Rub is a seasoning (they were selling bottles, and I wish I’d bought one); but that catch-phrase has now entered my family’s vocabulary. 😀

The drive down took a total of 20 hours over 2 days; the drive home took 24, no thanks to unbelievably nasty traffic through northern Florida and southern Georgia. Hotel reservations: Don’t leave home without them! (We learned that lesson a few years ago after spending an exceedingly unpleasant night trying to sleep in the car at a rest area.) At 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when we finally arrived at the hotel, a woman every bit as exhausted-looking as me was asking the clerk about rooms there … or anywhere … and being told there was no vacancy at any inn he knew of. She and her party were headed south, directly into Atlanta, on the weekend of the NCAA final games and spring break for half the country. I silently wished them well.

Here’s the sunset view we enjoyed every evening:

Waves … breeze … incredible natural beauty … I know it gets awfully hot in the summer, and they have those pesky hurricanes, but ohh—how I’d love to live there on the Gulf at least part of the year.


Vacation time! I am so going to Florida and be offline for, like, 10 days.

I was hoping to write my blog entry “performing Celtic music for St. Paddy’s: the good, the bad, and the drunken stupid ugly” before leaving, but I don’t have time; it will be coming after I get back.

aprons, football, and birthday cake

One of the definite benefits of loving to cook and always having a houseful of ingredients is that when my daughter’s best friend comes to visit, and I find out that tomorrow is her 16th birthday, I can immediately bake her a from-scratch chocolate cake with fudge frosting. (The cake recipe is here. The fudge frosting is just what it sounds like: chocolate fudge, poured between the layers and over the cake before it has a chance to set. Mmmm.) My son helped me decorate the cake with the friend’s name and “Happy Birthday” candles; then we carried the cake next door to my mom’s house and ate it while it was still warm (mmmmmm!).

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never too old to do something new

Recently, I did several things I've never done before:

  • Put my own worms on a fishhook
  • Removed from the fishhook the fish that I caught
  • Tied a new lure and hook onto the fishing line
  • Filleted multiple fish

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gifts from the sea

It is my profound wish to live next to either a lake or the ocean. I have in my head a very specific view of glittering water seen between the trunks of many large trees, their canopy of green leaves swaying overhead in the same cool breeze that ruffles the waves. It looks a lot like this picture I found of Lake Owen, in Wisconsin (and which I use as the wallpaper on my PC desktop):

my dream view

I want to see this view from the window while I’m working at my computer or preparing food at the kitchen counter, or when I’m relaxing on the deck.

Part of this desire comes from childhood experience — which, like many such experiences, I didn’t appreciate until I was grown. My maternal grandparents lived in Wonewoc, Wisconsin; the year I was born, the state began construction on the manmade Lake Redstone. When the lake was completed, in about 1967, they and their best friends bought lots next to each other. I remember driving on dusty gravel roads through the hilly Wisconsin countryside, stopping at a little store that was more like a shack to buy a cardboard cup full of black dirt and red earthworms, and finally pulling off at the top of the steep hill that led down to the water. We walked (scrambled is more like it) down the wooded hillside, holding on to trunks and branches, until we reached the shoreline. There, my grandfather and I would sit on a huge rock. He would patiently bait my fishhook, I’d toss the line into the water, and together we’d watch for the bobber to suddenly disappear beneath the surface, signalling that another bluegill would soon be ready for my grandmother to clean.

My grandfather died when I was in sixth grade, and he left the lake property to me. But with junior high, high school, and college came more things to do, little appreciation for sitting on rocks by lakes, and a need for money. At some point during my college years my family sold the Redstone lot for a few thousand dollars; I didn’t give it a second thought.

Today I would kill to have that acre of land, where we could build a little house and have our own summer retreat. (Similar property now sells for around $200,000, and lots with houses range from the almost affordable [for tiny cabins] to the completely ridiculous [for beautiful contemporary homes with extensive decks].)

I don’t know whether I’ll achieve my fondest wish of living next to water full time. However, I do spend one week a year within hearing of surf and within sight of a sandy beach; for spring break we go to Sanibel Island and stay in a beachfront condominium at Pointe Santo de Sanibel:

Pointe Santo condo

We leave the sliding-glass door open from the living room to the screened-in porch all day and night, so the sound of the waves is constantly in the background. From the porch, about 20 steps takes you across the thick tropical grass and under the palm trees to the edge of the white sand; and from there it’s about 100 feet to the Gulf of Mexico, depending on the tide.

During our annual vacation we kayak through the mangrove jungle at the island’s nature preserve, we rent bikes and pedal for miles on the bike paths that adjoin all the major roads, and we eat far too much wonderful food at places like the Bubble Room and Cheeburger Cheeburger. But I’m happiest when I’m walking in the water at low tide, just beyond the point where the waves break, in water about knee deep, scanning the beach for shells. My very favorite is the cat’s eye (also called a shark’s eye):

shark's eye

They’re relatively rare on Sanibel. Some years I don’t find any. Sometimes I find heartbreaking partial shells that speak of a whole that must have been nearly as big as my fist. This year I found six, including one that the sea washed up directly at my feet.

The waves gave me another interesting gift this year. I was strolling in the water, and saw a flash of white. I thought, “That looked sort of like money — but that’s ridiculous.” I took another couple of steps, felt a brush of paper in the water against my leg, and put my foot down quickly to catch whatever it was. When I reached down into the cloudy water, I pulled up a fairly new $20 bill. It speaks highly of the sturdiness of American currency that despite having been rolled in sandy waves that routinely break shells and rocks into bits, the bill was intact and in pristine condition. It dried in a couple of hours and bought us breakfast on the way home.

But this year’s greatest gift came in the form of unusually low tides. On several occasions, the water receded so far that we could walk more than 100 feet from shore and never get wet past our ankles.The two lowest tides came at night, so we roamed the newly revealed sea floor with flashlights. The vast stretches of shallow water revealed smooth sand and sea life that we had never seen before, including startling numbers of pale pink sea anemones. These creatures have tube-like bodies about six inches long; they burrow into the sand, leaving only a flower-like array of soft tentacles on the surface. If you touch the anemone lightly with a finger or toe, the tentacles close inward in a flash. Poking sea anemones (or “squishies,” as my son preferred to call them) became a game for my children. (Disclaimer: No sea anemones were hurt in the enjoyment of this vacation.) Touching them on purpose is fun; stepping on one accidentally is extremely startling, because the soft, sticky tentacles immediately grab your toe or the bottom of your foot. Thus our night explorations of the tidal flats were punctuated by my little involuntary shrieks of surprise.

In addition to the anemones, we saw at least five species of crabs, whose shells had widely varying colors and spot patterns; innumerable shore and wading birds, and the small, ghostly white fish they were hunting (they reminded me of cave fish); and many very large, very alive cockle shells, conchs, and welks, the bivalve or univalve gastropods reaching out to investigate the sea floor or inquire as to why they had been picked up for examination.

All this evidence of beauty and life, usually hidden by waves, was exhilarating, especially when viewed by flashlight under the deep black of a sky spangled with bright stars, tiny bright boat lights in the distance, the shore far away across an expanse of night-dark shallows. I could happily walk for hours every night during such a low tide, enjoying the warm ripples on my feet, the breeze, and the new surprises underfoot. I’m never ready to leave at the end of our annual vacation, but this year I wanted more than ever to stay — to claim the low tide as my own special domain, a gift given to me by the sea.

This desire makes me hope more than ever that some day I’ll have my home by the water. I don’t need a $1.5 million condo by the Gulf; any little house will do, as long as I can look out on a vista of trees and lake or ocean, and hear the sound of wind and waves. This is a gift that I hope life will give me.