A brief interlude

IMGP2184I got a chance to travel to Florida this weekend to a friend’s wedding, a long-time compatriot from my newspaper days. She was the matron of honor at my second wedding (or third, depending on how you count it), and I’m the godmother of her first son. That being said, we haven’t been closely in touch for years, though we do manage to have a face-to-face at least once every couple of years.

Florida is beautiful and sunny in May, though the temperatures were considerably higher than I was used to, after a long winter in the IMGP2180frozen Northlands. The wedding itself took place on the beach in Melbourne. Both the bride and groom wore white–before Memorial Day! *fans self*  Most of my lady friends in the South would have fainted dead away. It was short and sweet, and the view was delightful. The ceremony was followed by a small but energetic reception with some of the best food I’ve had in awhile–jerk IMGP2181chicken, reggae shrimp and this lovely cake:

I also fit in a trip to my dear friend Edde’s in Fort Pierce, where we had lovely weather except for the last night, when IMGP2190some serious dark clouds rolled in over the ocean, dragging thunder and lightning with them. But we still had a nice visit. She was feeling a good deal better than she had been in December, when last we visited, so that was something to be grateful for.

Little Miss spent the weekend with her dad, which I hope did them both some good. Certainly a little “me” time was appreciated. And of course, nothing says Florida like this:IMGP2172

Not something you see every day….



Summer trip, Part Two

DSCN0611I’ll start with the view from our campsite at Curry Hammock State Park which was interesting in a number of ways, including how close we were to the beach, although pursuing the wildlife was much more fun. The park is “green”, so the restroom/shower facilities were all specially designed to fit with the local ecosystem.

The wildlife that popped up all around our campsite included some fabulous green iguanas like this guy:

igianaThe area, though is known for its blue crabs, which had hideyholes in the ground all over the place, several around the campsite itself. My daughter had the chance for prolonged conversation with some in the mornings, since she is an early riser, but I didn’t get to see so many.

Out time in the Keys sadly came to an end, and we headed north, where M and kids rented a car to head home, while we stayed in Satellite Beach with a friend of mine from the old newspaper days. It was two days full of fun, great food and success!new adventures.

Linda’s friend Rob was so generous with his time–one afternoon, he took the girls to his neighbors’ dock. Here’s the result–they each caught one!

success strikes againAnd yes, Mr. Redfish was delicious.

While we were there, we also had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center. Yurie was excited to go there because of the rocketships and the history. Little Miss just went for one reason:

DSCN0637Yes. Angry Birds in Space. A whole building devoted to it, with a maze, and games, and the opportunity to sling birds at pictures of pigs. What says space travel more than that?

She actually did pay attention to several of the other exhibits (though she was still pretty obsessed with the Birds), as she demonstrated in later conversation. We took a bus ride out to see some of the outbuildings (including the one where Rob works!) and then came back to sit through a mock-up of a moon landing, which was cool (especially for those of us old enough to have watched it on live tv) .


DSCN0632It was great reconnecting with Linda. We’ve both gone on to interesting lives, she as a counselor/teacher and me as an attorney/writer. But to take just a moment to relive those escapades as young writers–driving out onto the flight line at the air force base, checking out the drug hangouts in Florida City and nearly getting nabbed by the DEA–was awesome.

Then a sad day as we drove to Miami for Yurie to catch her plane home to Japan. We all survived the logistics of getting her to the airport during rush hour in Miami in a giant RV, AND of getting her multiple suitcases to the baggage carrier successfully (and the fact that the Miami Heat apparently won some sports event and we could have been marooned in city traffic for days, but we didn’t know it at the time). Goodbyes were tough. We’ll miss you, kid.  😦

The next leg of the trip was to Fort Pierce to visit another old friend of mine. We were both a little worse for wear for the years that had passed, and both dealing with chronic pain. But it didn’t stop my friend from being a delightful hostess, and we had a wonderful couple of days. Here she is with her friend going to a Mad Hatter party:

DSCN0642She looked great, and I’m so glad we stopped to see her. She lives in a beautiful condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and invited me to come stay with her on a more permanent basis. Have to admit, I’m keeping that in the back of my mind. There are worse choices.

Little Miss was more delighted with the two miniature dogs living there:

DSCN0644They were cute, but definitely fonder of her than of me or other visitors.

Finally, north to Asheville, to complete our travels, to visit with K and her lovely partner L. We always have a good time with them, and they work so hard at creating a life together with L’s son, even though the state of North Carolina is much less than helpful in its acceptance of gay rights. We took the chance to do nothing a lot of the time, preparing for the long drive home, and took advantage of the KOA’s nice facilities, pool, park, etc. to just let go.

DSCN0654poolAnd of course we visited L’s new job–Asheville’s Ultimate Ice Cream shop. With unique flavors like goat cheese and bing cherry, chocolate and ginger, and even caramel with blue cheese (to DIE for…), it was an amazing tastefest. That was before we got the maple and bacon ice cream.

Yes, I said bacon.

It was unbelievable. Please put it on your bucket list. Right now. I’ll wait while you get a pen.

Hard to believe all this fit into 16 days, but it had to come to an end eventually. What didn’t come to an end, of course, was the pile of work waiting for me when I got back. But then that’s what the real world is about. Time to start dreaming of next year’s vacation!



Florida fun!

Travel is really one of my thrills, and I was thrilled indeed to make a pilgrimage to my old stomping grounds in south Florida last month, with some new experiences thrown in!

My traveling companions included the ever-faithful Little Miss, but we also had our exchange student Yurie, who packed DSCN0542and re-packed her belongings for her trip home at the end of the visit, and daughter M and her three children.
We missed the worst of the rain, but we did get the south Florida heat square in the face–after all my intervening years as a Yankee, I have to admit I was a bit of a wuss!

Also it was my first long solo trip at the helm of the RV, so I was a little stressed and intimidated by that for awhile, since I’ve been the only one who’s managed to run into something with it. BUT NOT THIS TIME! YAY!


We landed at Pensacola just long enough to pick up our passengers, then headed out to the Florida Caverns in Marianna. I sat with the cocker spaniel in the RV while the rest took the cave tour. Little Miss, though, will always remember how the tour guide showed the control panel with the switches for the lights and the one he said was for self-destruct. Apparently she screamed at him not to push that one, in a dead panic. Overall, not bad advice, but still…we do tend to take things literally. 🙂



Then south to Naples, and east to Everglades City, where we took a trip on an Everglades airboat–something I’d always wanted to do but never had, while we lived there. I was thankful there were headphones for those with sensory issues, and it made it so easy to ask questions! We saw a manatee, some pelicans, and of course alligators:



But I think we all were excited by the race through the mangroves–not exactly the tour of the “River of Grass” I’d envisioned, but still quite an adventure:DSCN0553




Then it was on to the Florida Keys, where we’ve spent many happy weekends.

Camping was easy at the state parks, thanks to M, who’d made our reservations many months ago. We were joined, by fortunate coincidence, by daughter D, whose family happened to be going the same time we did, and though we all didn’t fit in the RV, we did camp next to each other at Bahia Honda (one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida) and we shared a big dinner one night, which was nice.DSCN0571

The water off those bridges in the Keys (even the Seven-Mile one!) is SO gorgeous, tones of blue, green and everything inbetween.


We took one day away from those wonderful beaches and went to Key West, where I researched an upcoming romance book with pirates. It’s always been one of my favorite places–we honeymooned there. Still as beautiful today:



Here’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had a fabulous royal Poinciana tree blooming in front. DSCN0585




Also a giant banyan tree, where the roots grow down from the branches into the ground:

Of course we stopped at the Southernmost point in the continental United States:







After a bit of shopping, we went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant with the whole gang:







But the real beauty of the scenery was just to sit and take it in. Especially at the quiet points of the day, like this moment at Bahia Honda with Emma:




More on the second half of the trip coming in Part II.  🙂

When in the swamp, do as the swamp folk do

DSCN0349 In our impromptu family reunion trip to the South, we encountered many different new experiences. We checked out Pensacola’s white sands, we visited the Black Water River State Park, and even braved the array of fresh seafood from the Gulf, including some awesome seafood nachos at Flounder’s on the beach:


Some of us traveled to the exotic Waffle House for cheesy grits and fresh ham, even.  The South is a marvelous blend of interesting tastes and experiences!

DSCN0428Then there’s the swamp.

My son-in-law was excited about the possibility of seeing alligators in the wild at the Black Water River Park, but although we did see several living things, an alligator was not one of them. So we went to Alligator Alley across the border in Alabama instead.

This place advertised over a hundred alligators (at least the adults…there was a slough of young’uns, too), and we got to see quite a few.

DSCN0424 Of course, as in any swamp, alligators were not the only occupants:


And of course, the day would not be complete unless everyone got to hold an alligator!!



And of course, the obligatory, “Will the guy get eaten feeding hunks of hairy wild pig to the wild alligators?” DSCN0435On the way out,DSCN0437 Yurie had to check out the other wildlife–glad that fence was there. That guy looked like he meant business!

So we counted to make sure we had all the children, and left the swamp, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and also so much we hadn’t seen, that lived just under the water’s shadowed edge…



Downhill time…and up hill…and downhill…and up hill…

So here’s the thing about a huge chunk of the Wild West. It looks like this:

Every time I cruise through this wide open land I think of all those places in the world where we keep hearing that people are living overcrowded and have no room to breathe. Brother, they could breathe here. Well, depending on the altitude. (shaking my fist at my continual nemesis…thin air)

This one is in Idaho. So is this one:

Space…once again a frontier.

Now I suppose someone owns all this. They probably wouldn’t want to donate it. But  geez, it seems like such a waste to just have it all hanging out there.

The other thought that crossed my mind as we drove through hundreds of miles of dead brown land in Utah and Wyoming was an historical one. What if you were a young lady from Pennsylvania or Kentucky or Indiana and your husband insisted on taking you west by wagon train to a place that looked like this? I mean, really?  “My dearest, we now own 36 acres of this scrubby barren land. All our own. Isn’t that wonderful?”

I think I’d have been telling him to pack me back on the next train east. Speaking of trains…out here they double-deck them:

Reno is a delight, thanks to a sweet young lady named Penelope. 🙂

Nana and Penne

We didn’t have nearly long enough to get to know each other, but I’mhoping this is the first of many visits to come. Her smiles are radiant; her mother and father practically glow in the dark from lack of sleep, but she’s just turned three months old, and she’ll be on track before you know it. I’m just pleased we met.

On the way home at last…and we change plans at the last minute to avoid wildfires in Colorado.Arches National Park will wait for us another day. Our detour through Utah takes us many places…across the Oregon Trail, through a lot of high desert, where we found these silent sentinels:

Then we came across the Bonneville Salt Flats , which are an awesome sight–just white all across the desert, almost like snow or a sandy beach, but when you walk down to it, it’s a crunchy crust of salt. A very different vista, and one that leads shortly to the Great Salt Lake and the desalinization plants.  The next couple of days we spent tuned to the news, trying to make sure we didn’t catch up with the fires.

I heard something about a C-130 crashingvery near where we were in the Black Hills, working in the effort to put the fires down.:(  We saw huge swaths of burnt ground and a couple of places where fires were actively burning. Here’s hoping for a good dose of rain to get them all put out!

We make our second visit to Mount Rushmore this trip, securing E’s big X on his bucket list. Little Miss showed him all around, even under the mountain in the workshop. Because of the holiday, they had actors portraying the four presidents, walking around and greeting people in full historical costume in 100-degree weather. Bless their overworked hearts.

We leave you with the quintessential picture of Little Miss…destressing in her usual manner:

A breath of fresh air

This weekend the Cabana Boy and I took a break. We left the children with my daughter’s day care business and we went out of town. Not far. Just to Pittsburgh. But as far as we were concerned, it was a world away.

Not only did we deserve it; our kids deserved it, too.

Respite is something a lot of parents of children with special needs hesitate to do. We worry about what might happen to our children in the care of someone else. We worry about what our unruly children might do in someone else’s care. We worry about …well, we worry about everything. That’s what we do, pretty much 24-7, and exactly why we need respite in the first place.

In the past month, I’ve been busy coordinating the dispersion of the children to their various therapeutic units, one from7-3 each day, one from 8-4 each day, one from 8-11:30 Monday through Thursday, and then arranging care or activities for the half-dayer the rest of the week. I’ve kept track of who needed what medication and when new needed to be ordered and picking it up so they had it. I’ve run Dr. Doo-Be-Do through a new evaluation so he can have some mobile therapy and TSS before school begins, per the recommendation of his camp folk. This on top of the usual, back-to-school shopping, my work, dad’s work, running a garden to feed a dozen people, and daily life with fibromyalgia. (I’m not even counting the book stuff. That should be icing. Kind of.)

So the Cabana Boy and I were a little whipped.

But by Friday afternoon, our attitudes improved considerably, just knowing the children would be well-taken care of, and we could drive south, debating plot lines in the Elf Queen sequel (which he’s very good at, btw) and feeling the tension melt as the miles passed.

Getting two solid nights’ sleep–priceless.

A little flirty, alone time? Ditto.

Meals at Bahama Breeze and Jimmy Wan‘s that did not involve either Happy Meals or macaroni and cheese? Simply amazing.

Shopping through thrift stores for special bargains without wondering who was getting lost and yanking on the sleeves? A real blessing.

But the best benefit of the weekend is coming home refreshed and able to handle all the threads that bind up our lives anew. I’m sure when we’re stressed and crabby, we’re not all that attractive to the children, either. So we could come home to them with new clothes for school and special treats, and they’re happy and we’re happy. Sounds like a winning proposal, right?

Hopefully you have family or friends nearby who can help you out with a night or weekend away. If not, there are professional organizations who provide respite services. This autism site has a valuable list of questions on how to choose a respite provider and some direction as to where you might go, if you don’t have anyone in mind.

The important thing is that you stand up for your chance to take care of yourself. Because when you suffer, so does your child. And no one wants that.

Two days, two zoos

In the few short days between the time Little Miss’s school let out and summer school starts, I wanted to take her someplace, you know, just Mommy and me kind of thing. So we went to the Erie Zoo.

Compared to the Miami Metrozoo and even the Cleveland Zoo, Erie’s is pretty small. But it’s also intimate. Time after time, we came right up to the animals–the kangaroo exhibit is a walk-through where the kangaroos are all loose and hopping around where people are!

Little Miss got a chance to get close to her favorite, the giraffes:

The zoo also has a fabulous carousel with exotic animals of all kinds. Little Miss, of course, chose… A warthog?? What? Instead of a dragon? A panda? A giraffe??? Oh well. At least she’s diverse.

She also enjoyed currying the goats; not the same as goat curry, which you should not mention at a petting zoo, I’m sure:

The next day, my daughter S came to Pittsburgh from her home in Tennessee, with her new man. They were headed for the races, but they took time to visit the Pittsburgh Zoo, as he is particularly fond of such things. They’ve been to zoos all over the eastern United States. But Pittsburgh has something really incredible in the PPG Aquarium at the zoo, (see the website for video) where you walk through a tank of sharks and other fish as well as get a chance to see the polar bears swim right over your head.

I hadn’t seen her for several years, as we were out West last year when they came here, and she looks wonderful, having lost a hundred pounds after surgery. She’s back in school and working hard as a single mother trying to improve herself. And I appreciate that she’s taking some time to relax and have fun as a grown-up as well. This is a hard balance for all of us to maintain. She seems to be getting it right.

Here’s all of us enjoying the fishies:

Now if we could only figure out why all the monkeys were so excited after we left their area…and where Dr. Doo-Be-Do has gotten to….  hmmm….

Saying yes

I’ve had quite a bit of conversation in recent days about my travels, and the extent of my potential insanity for making them. The subject came up again when my two sisters and I got together for the purpose of wishing one of them hail and farewell as she heads out to New Mexico to graduate school.

She’s leaving a settled job to return to school, as she has a couple of other times before. She and I have both traveled extensively around the country, we’ve moved to far-flung points, we’ve jumped into opportunities with both feet and half a parachute from time to time. She mentioned that she is having similar conversations about “How brave you must be!” with friends and co-workers.  But we both agree it’s the way to really live.

She has wanted to get back to Albuquerque for years, and I think just gradually she was able to turn her eye, her resources and all her desires to point in that direction long enough that it finally came together.

I’m a sincere believer in that, too. Over my years as a published writer, I’ve found that being confident things will happen, connections will be made, and that yes, I can publish a book someday, has worked for me. But it doesn’t stop there.

This month, after the fabulous Wild West trip, I had some fantastic photos of our journey, and I finally said yes to entering them in a national contest.  I’m sure they’ll get thousands of great photos, and I know my chance of winning isn’t guaranteed.  But even the knowledge that I’m participating in something larger than my little sphere is stimulating and exciting!

My sister said she had recently seen the film “Yes Man,” with Jim Carrey, and  found it very meaningful for just this reason.  It is much too comfortable to sit back and live the same way every day, never changing the routine. That may be life, but is it LIVING? Surely it’s right to take interesting choices, allow your path to twist and turn, run uphill and down? Isn’t it?

Now, no doubt there are going to be those big “gotchas” occasionally when you let your gut take you on a merry ride.  Like the time she just HAD to have that huge Dodge truck. Like the time I married that guy–again.

On the other hand, she raised a great son by herself against a lot of odds and now has a bachelor’s, a master’s and is going for the Ph.D even though she dropped out of high school.  I left my job as a reporter/editor when I was a single mother of two and went to law school, and as a result have helped literally thousands of people over the last 20 years, including an awful lot of battered women who are now living in safety.

I think that’s what encourages me to care for these kids I have now, with their special issues.  When I had the opportunity to add them to my life, I said yes, and over the years my family and I have been able to help them make incredible progress. We say yes to therapy when it works, and yes to our own abilities when we need to take time off. We say yes to vacations that would throw other families into a tizzy and then beam when Little Miss can now tell you every president on Mount Rushmore and show you every state she went through in the Wild West.  Take that, fourth grade geography teacher!

As I think back on my life, there were many times I said yes that perhaps I shouldn’t have, and there have been repercussions that have been dealt with.  But I know in my heart I much more regret the times I’ve said no and should have gone for something instead. So I’ll keep on saying yes. Give it a try–you might learn something wonderful about yourself!