At last Carter and I had an easy last leg of our trip arriving in Maine this morning in record time. It helps that we left Stori’s house in Hamilton at 8 in the morning and that Thursday is not the most popular time to travel to Maine, even in August.
We met our friend Warren at the Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, which is a magical place. The summer flowers were in full bloom. I am jealous of the cool night air here that helps the plants, but then again I am not jealous of the short growing season.
Visiting the extensive gardens helped me get about half my daily steps as we walked through the birch alleé, the rhododendron garden and the fairly garden. Getting all my steps is not a big priority on vacation, but then again neither is my restraint from naughty foods, so maybe I need to reconsider the amount of exercise I am getting.
After Carter got her fill of old people and flowers she begged for lunch so we went into Booth Bay Harbor. Due to the luck of a parking place we ended up eating at a cute looking, but very old fashioned menued restaurant called The Tug Boat Inn. I was feeling fine about my food choices of a salad and seafood chowder and was perfectly satisfied, then Warren mentioned that we might want to stop at Round Top for Ice Cream on the way home. Might?
Maine is the only place I let myself eat ice cream. I don’t know what happens to cows here, but they really make some serious cream and when humans add sugar and other yummy flavors, well it’s trouble. I ordered the ginger since it is a Maine specialty, but I also tasted the Almond Joy and now am craving it. Hopefully this was my only ice cream of the season, but I know that is a big maybe. If I walk enough for the next few days maybe…
We finally made it back to Warren’s house at Rockport and spent the evening on the porch watching the tide in Clam Cove go out. We cooked dinner and made enough food for thirteen rather the three. At least we know what sides we will be having with our lobster dinner tomorrow night since we have great leftovers of summer vegetables, goat cheese and pasta and zucchini casserole. No wonder I love coming here for vacation. The food and the view are spectacular, but nothing compares to the company.
Carter and I spent many too many hours in the car making our way from Baltimore to Hamilton, MA without putting one tire on I-95. Although we avoided the inevitable traffic jams and truck squishing of one particular route we had our fair share of road shut downs and bridge repairs that added hours to our trip.
The worst part of the trip for me was in the state I grew up in, Connecticut. Although the highway had three lanes most of the time and signs instructing drivers every few miles that the right lane is for slow drivers, the middle for travel and the far left for passing, not one, well maybe one car actually paid attention to what is normal highway etiquette. Not in Connecticut — The left lane was completely full, all the time with drivers who were not the fastest, the middle had the slowest and the right lane had the passers. I can bet you the psychology of those drivers in the left was, “do you know how many taxes Ai pay in this state? I own this road. I am going to pass someone because it is my right. Who cares if I should actually be a different lane. I like this one and AI am from Connecticut.”
After eleven hours of driving we finally arrived at my boarding school friend Stori’s house. Stori has a daughter Samantha who is Carter’s age and this is the first time they have ever met. Stori and I have been talking about this happening for a long time, but somehow it never happened, until today.
It took about forty two seconds after meeting and they were off, discussing their shared love of music, Sam even likes Jake Bugg, Carter’s favorite obscure Brit, how crazy their mother’s are and life as an only child. After dinner they walked themselves to get ice cream and came back best of friends. It was like the friend you make when you are three because you realize you both have pink sandals on and therefore must be soul mates, but even better because they are old enough to know if they really like each other.
So Stori and I were quickly dismissed. Now here we sit thrilled that our daughters, who are the same age we we’re when we first became the best of friends, have met and formed an instant bond. This outcome is more than worth the hellish drive and the entitled Connecticut drivers I endured to get here.
For years now Carter and I have taken a road trip as a precursor to our family vacation. We have a few rules about the trip. First, is that there are no rules. Second, if we see something we want to do we stop and do it. Third, treats are allowed and there is no treat shaming.
This year our girl’s trip is up the East coast to Maine. Carter got to choose our first stop and she picked Baltimore. Neither of us could remember why she wanted to come to Baltimore, but it has been fun nonetheless. Not because we have done too many B’more things, but mostly because we are staying in a nice hotel, ate at a nice restaurant and did some major damage shopping. The Under Armour Brand Store is the bomb.
There are three great things about our trip so far. One is Carter can help with the driving. To keep the stress level down and the scenic value up we came up the northern neck of Virginia and skipped I-95 all together. Carter liked the towns like Frog Level and Bowling Green. The lack of big trucks makes practice driving less stressful.
Two, Carter is able to search the web in real time and find local, non-chain restaurants for us to eat at as we are driving through a town hungry. We originally thought we would make to the Charm City for lunch, but our meandering ways got us only to La Plata Maryland by 12:45. Carter announced that the number 2 rated restaurant in town, Marie’s Diner, was the place to go. The review that said, “Don’t be thrown off by the looks,” was good advice. I have to say that the crab soup was worth the visit. Carter did well.
The third good thing is that according to Carter’s snap chat story she posted at lunch “It has been five hours and we have not killed each other yet.” I can report that it has been fifteen hours and we are still both alive and on good speaking terms. Mother’s of teenage daughters will understand the significance of this.
One of the treats of our trip is that Russ made our reservation at the hotel chain he keeps in business. When we arrived they fawned all over us and asked when Mr. Lange would be getting here soon. I hated to disappoint them and tell them he was at a sister property in Chicago. They still gave us the “Russ Lange, You are the Man” upgrade, including the already in the room welcome fruit bowl, snacks, drinks and personal letter from the GM. They also upgraded us from a room with two double beds to a room with two double beds and a bunkroom with a TV and X-box. Carter declared she was taking that room and immediately took a nap on the top bunk.
Nothing says vacation like a nap.
Summer camp is more important for kids now than ever before. Nowhere else is there a place that kids are truly unplugged. As much as Carter loves Tumbler and her British You Tubers, she loves camp more. For an only child camp is the best dose of the-world-does-not-revolve-around-you and offers a chance to have great “older siblings” in her counselors.
I am truly grateful to her last session counselors Bekah and Shaefer for creating a fun, warm, accepting environment for what Carter says was the best cabin ever. For someone who is way more introverted than extroverted camp could feel overwhelming since you just don’t have that much alone time. But if you love the people you are with your energy is increased being with them rather than zapped.
I am proud that Carter did her solo night outdoors even if it meant that she had to kill what was reported to be a copper head snake. Thank goodness she had her Rafki stick nearby. But completing the ten-mile hike up Stone Mountain really makes me happy. As I walk on a flat treadmill with no switchbacks in my site I try and imagine how hard that hike was for Carter. Doing something out of your comfort zone with a group of great friends is the kind of thing that stays with you.
I remember a time in the 80’s that I climbed the Old Rag Mountain with a group of friends. I was in way worse shape than I am now and the idea that I could shimmy between two giant vertical rocks to reach the summit seemed impossible. But my friends encouraged me and never left me behind. It gave me the feeling that I could do anything, well except jump off high places.
I hope that Carter will take what she learned about being a good counselor from the ones she has had and applies those lessons to her life. The impact that these young people have on kids is tremendous. I know they don’t do that job for the pay, or the sleeping quarters, or the time off, but for the happiness they get back from creating a family out of the gaggle of girls they are given.
Thanks Camp Cheerio for Carter’s six years as a camper. She got to learn to be the best of herself. Her times there are life changing.
On my way home from Washington I bought a watermelon for a dollar from some kids in southern Maryland. Of course I never got around to using it and here we are on the cusp of leaving for vacation. There is no better way to use up leftovers than soup. The whole watermelon may not exactly be a leftover, but a lot of what went in the soup was.
6 cups of watermelon –deseeded
25 mint leaves
10 basil leaves
1 inch of fresh ginger- grated
1 whole jalapeño- I left the ribs and seeds in for spiciness, but you can cut them out if you want.
¼ c. limejuice
2 big pinches of salt
Put everything in a blender and whirl it on up until all the herbs are pureed. Chill and enjoy.
If laundry were an Olympic sport today I would medal in it. In speed laundry I might get a bronze, in endurance laundry a silver, but in freestyle folding I would definitely take the gold even if the Russian judge’s scores were included.
Russ and I picked Carter up at Cheerio this morning after five weeks of camp. I was practically knocked over as Carter ran to hug me. The first words out of her mouth were, “I don’t want to leave camp, but I do want to go to Maine.” The crying and hugging and long goodbyes from a very successful 3 sessions reminded me of how much I loved camp. Meeting Carter’s friends and hearing the long wails of ”CARRRTER, don’t go…see you next summer” as we pulled out of camp made me sad and happy all at the same time. This was her last summer as a camper.
In two days comes our trip to family camp. Although it is not the same as the camaraderie of sleep away camp with just kids it is a really fun way for a family to get to act like kids. The only problem is the turn around time of camp clothes for me and thus the laundry sprint began as soon as we opened the garage door.
The good news is for my laundry is a walking activity. The washer and dryer are in the garage just steps from my office. It might be better if they were more steps, but it keeps my ear close to the alert that the cycle is over so I can move one load from wash to dry in record time and start up another wash in the blink of an eye.
I am not doing the fastest washes since the dirt level of five weeks at camp clothes is very high. I am pre-soaking, pre-washing, double rinsing and in the case of the shirt Carter obviously wore “Mudding” double and triple washing. I am not sure the white sock will ever be white again, but that is little price to pay for her camp happiness.
The best thing is since I spent the first six hours of my day mainly sitting in the car needle pointing while Russ drove both ways the use of the walking desk as my folding station has helped get my dearly needed steps. I have become a pro at grabbing from one basket folding and placing in the appropriate pile all while going three miles an hour. NASCAR laundry has got nothing on me.
Since I still have the sheets, blankets and towels to go after these first five clothing loads I am certain to get all my steps and have camp cleaned up well before dark –At least my part of it. Carter is old enough that she has to take the basket and repack herself for Maine, pack up her camp trunk and take it to the attic. Her time line and mine will vary greatly so I think if it gets done before school starts we are doing well. I don’t even care, I’m just glad to have my girl home.
When something happens at lunch at a restaurant and a friend announces to the table, “You are going to see this on the blog tonight,” you can bet what happened was not good.
My friend Jan from Texas is visiting and her best Texas friends, Mark and Mary Jo happen to be here for a wedding so Jan thought it would be a good idea to try and go to Poole’s diner for lunch since I was in Raleigh for a Food Bank meeting. Two other friends Lee and Laura also wanted to go since they had read the blog account of the last time Jan and I went to Poole’s. There was only one glitch in our plan; Poole’s is not open for lunch. You would have thought that one of might have checked.
Since I got there first and discovered our mistake I called Jan and she, Laura and Lee with multiple smart phones searching decided that 18 Seaboard, another highly rated farm to table Raleigh restaurant would do. I weighed in positively and off we went to meet there.
Upon everyone’s arrival to a fairly late lunch we ordered fast, three of us all getting the grilled chicken on salad with beets, blackberries and goat cheese. It was a variation on my standard favorite lunch. The food arrived quickly and without any editorializing from the staff.
A few minutes into eating Mary Jo asked Jan and me if we had any beets in our salad. Careful dissection reveled that no beets were to be found. Now the beets were a major seller of this particular dish since we had already discussed our love of beets before the meal arrived.
You know who furiously worked to get the servers attention, finally having to ask a co-worker to send her over to us. She further examined the salads and declared the beets to be missing. After a few minutes in the kitchen a different young woman came out and introduced herself to us as one of the managers, perhaps even an assistant manager.
“The chef said he did not get beets today so he left them out,” she told us.
“Too bad,” I said. “Since the beets were a major part of the salad we were looking forward to.”
“Is there something else I can get you?” She sheepishly said.
“We don’t know what else you have,” I said leaving the door open for her to give us a list.
“Let me know if there is something I can get you.”
I let the whole thing go at this point. We were having a nice lunch and I had already done my restaurant customer service-training blog for the week.
After we finished the meal the server asked if anyone wanted dessert. Mary Jo and Jan said they’d split the peach cobbler. No mention was made of the apology dessert they were going to be bringing us. But sure enough when the cobbler arrived so did two additional desserts, orange cookies and a blueberry panna cotta with some basil cookies. Lee declared that if they wanted to give us a free dessert she wished they had brought the chocolate cake in a mug.
Yes, being asked what we might want is a better idea than just bringing us something we did not ask for. What I really wish is that restaurants would stop making mistakes but if they do not try and solve it with fattening desserts, which I really don’t need. If someone orders the least caloric thing on the menu then don’t try and pacify her with the most fattening item.
Clearly the chef knew he did not have any beets. Communicating that to the server so she could let people know at time of order is the easiest and best way not to disappoint customers or worse make them write blogs about another bad customer service experience.
In two days Carter will be home from five weeks of camp. It seems like a blink of an eye. I had such big plans of what I would accomplish while she was away and in typical fashion I only completed about ten percent of my list even though I never slept late one day or lazed around one evening. Sleeping in and lazing around were even on the list. Of course I did go on the best vacation of my life so I think I can double count that in my achievement matrix due to its high quality.
So here I am with two days left to myself trying to pack as much in as possible. I have every moment accounted for in military like fashion, but today I just adverted sure disaster in my well thought out schedule.
I started today having my annual physical. Knowing that my doctor can get way behind on his schedule I tried to get the first appointment of the morning, but was thwarted and ended up getting the 9:30 slot. Surely there could not be too many other people in front of me then.
I have a small window of time to get my exam because my daily medication prescription is about to run out next month and I need to fit the visit in before my next vacation. It’s not that I could not wait until after I go to Maine to see the Doctor, but I happen to be at a low weight and I know this is the thing that makes me have the best exam. I hate to go to Maine and not get to eat lobster because I have to be weighed the day I get back.
I also had a school related meeting today that was fit in because I had screwed up and double booked two meetings at the same time earlier in the week. Then came the fun of the week and something I purposely planned to do right after my physical weigh-in, go to Afternoon Tea for my friend Mary Lloyd’s birthday. See all eating for the month had to be planned to take place right after I saw the Doctor.
I had also planed out my eating for the day since Afternoon Tea does not include one single thing that might be considered diet friendly, save the actual tea. The day was going to go like this; get up, don’t eat breakfast, see the doctor, grab some fruit at Whole Foods on the way to school meeting, solve the problems of the world, pick up friends for tea, indulge, come home, feel guilty and do my walking and all my writing assignments.
I got to the Doctor’s office early and was immediately concerned when I overheard three other women who came in after me register to see the same doctor with appointments before mine. Being a good eavesdropper does not help my blood pressure. I asked the receptionist exactly how far behind he was already and her response was, “Not as bad as usual.” I asked if I could get my blood work done before I saw him to at least get that out of the way. Nobody in the doctor’s office likes an ex-efficiency expert.
I made it through that task by a hair and still was able to grab fruit and get to the next meeting. While I was still in that meeting my friend Christy called to say that the birthday girl had a child with an ortho issue and she was off to our favorite x-ray spot. What to do about our Afternoon Tea? Since it was paid for we decided to go and stall the server as long as we could in hopes that the birthday girl would get there. Thanks to most potential children’s broken bones happening at sleep away camp this time of year, Mary Lloyd was able to make tea only half an hour late so we enjoyed our naughty, but yummy celebration fully. It was a good thing because I had promised her that we would do a make-up tea if she missed this one and my thighs can only handle so many Afternoon Teas a year.
So now I’m walking and writing my blog rather than my magazine work. I just feel a little too bloated to write something nice about a wonderful person doing good work in the world. I do those stories much better when I’m feeling a little deprived. This is going to have to carry over to the already too busy tomorrow calendar.
Last night I went to a local establishment with four friends to celebrate my friend Sara’s birthday. Celebrating with food is a regular occasion around here. I have to be very careful to remember that someone else’s birthday is not my excuse to go off the rails so I try and stick to my normal eating even at parties, which is not always easy.
My trick to evenings out is that I order two starters and try and withhold from the rest. I must admit I did dip my spoon in the complimentary birthday desserts and they were well worth whatever thousands of calories they had.
But let’s back up and talk about the rest of the meal. I started with a favorite, Burrata, the mozzarella cheese with the cream center, served with yummy tomatoes. It was the perfect summer taste on a hot night. To follow it I ordered the Ahi Tuna with peppers, as did two of my other friends.
After enjoying such a good first course I was completely taken aback when a small hunk of white tuna was placed in front of me. Since I only planned on eating two small starters I wanted every bite to be perfect. I looked at the very over cooked fish, which should have been served dark red and barley warmed on the outside and knew it was wrong. The other two servings to my friends were the same hot mess.
I took a bite and declared it inedible and announced I was sending it back. My much nicer friends were not as inclined until the I summoned the waiter who had not delivered the fish and showed him the bright white flesh. An audible gasp came from the waiter. “This is not right,” he said. Then all the fish went back.
From my vantage point only I could see the chef as she looked at the dishes and threw a towel at the sous who was obviously responsible. It took just a few moments since the cooking time on the dish was supposed to be barley a minute, but some perfect tuna arrived at our table with the apologies of the chef. Following that course the kitchen sent an unordered dessert with their compliments — An apology without making a big deal of it.
I know I am a difficult customer. I am quick to voice my complaint so that an establishment has an opportunity to make me happy right then and there. I also will return and give them more business. What I do the next time is give implicit instructions about how I want my order. So to ensure this same mistake does not happen to me I will tell them that I want my tuna very rare.
I eat lunch every Wednesday at the same place where I play Mah Jongg with my friends. I always order a salad with the most specific instructions on how I want it — extra lettuce, freshly grilled hot chicken, dressing on the side. I am sure the kitchen has a dartboard with my picture on it, but I am saving them many thrown away salads because they get it right if they follow my request. I can’t expect people to be mind readers and know exactly what I want. It is much easier to tell them and be happy than it is to get something disappointing, keep my mouth shut and never return. Yeah, there is little chance I will ever keep my mouth shut, I just hope my friends will still eat with me.
I am a big time drinker. When I say big-time I mean that I down almost a half-gallon a day. I am addicted. I wake up in the morning and it is the first thing I have. I do it all day long until by late afternoon when I just have to stop so that I can sleep at night. Everyone who knows me well knows about this addiction and many aid me in getting my fix.
My addiction is iced tea. Thank goodness it is unsweetened. I am fairly picky about how I take my iced tea. I like Lipton regular ‘ole tea bags that have been steeped fairly strongly. I like crushed ice, sweet ‘n low and lots of limejuice, but lemon will do. All and all it is a cheep and calorie free drink if you believe that artificial sweeteners don’t make you gain weight. I think that they actually act just like sugar but since it is my last vice left on earth I am going to keep it for now.
In Durham and most of the real south this is a common drink, easily found in exactly the way I like it almost everywhere. The only real issue in iced tea around here is how an establishment may cut the lemons. I want a wedge that is one sixth of a fairly big lemon, or as mentioned before, a lime. Don’t give me a half moon sliver of lemon. Just the mere cutting it that small has caused most of its juice to end up on the cutting board. Also I have to have a good friend with me when drinking tea in public since I am allergic to touching lemons. That is a whole other story.
Now to my worry — When I was in Washington DC this past weekend I had a hard time finding my regular, not green, not sugared up, not peach, not Nestea, not from a fountain, iced tea. Washington used to be south of the Mason-Dixon line and thus was full of people who knew how to make tea properly, but not now. The influx of Yankees and folks from other lands has so diluted the real iced tea lovers so now establishments no longer know how to make the highest profit margin item in the place.
Soon I am going to be taking our annual driving trip to Maine where only about 3 percent of the population has ever even tasted the perfect iced tea, let alone even know how to make it and sell it. Bad iced tea makes me crankier than no tea at all, which is something close to living through a nuclear meltdown.
I have searched the web for iced tea ratings and maps of where to buy my preferred drink and that site does not exist. The problem is that iced tea is not regulated like Coca-cola. Chick-fil-a in North Carolina might make a good drink, but the ones in Maryland use the wrong kind of tea and theirs stinks. If I pull up to a drive through and ask the person at the other end of the speaker what brand of tea they use they have no idea. Also, just because someone uses Lipton does not mean it is good, it could be three days old and then is starts to taste rancid.
In order to ensure my family has a good vacation I am gathering all the supplies I need to make my own tea for two weeks away. I feel like I need some kind of doctor’s note to say that for medicinal purposes I should be allowed to bring my own drink into a restaurant. I would be happy to pay for a big cup of ice, but if everyone wants to have a good day please let me make my own tea and not be disappointed, disgusted or furious with your lack of skills.
This morning on my way to the gym I heard a snippet of an NPR show about a book written by Sarah Lewis called The Rise – Creativity, the gift of failure and the search for mastery. The little bit I heard was about how not coming in first compels people to try harder and do better.
After working out I went to Chris Rosati’s house to interview him for Durham Magazine. Chris is the Durham guy who has ALS and has made national news multiple times for his Krispy Kreme heist and his acts of fun and goodwill. Not to spill the beans on my article but Chris talked about how his failed entrepreneurial ventures helped him get where he is now, a very happy guy with a purpose and a great life except for that little ALS issue.
It seemed as if there was one common thread being pulled in my universe today. Try new things, many you will fail at, but it will lead you to something new and better.
I feel as if I am approaching a crossroads. I have just finished being board chair of the Food Bank. Although I still am sticking around as past chair my role got easier. I reached my major weight loss goal, which I am trying to maintain. I did set a new
slightly lower goal just because if I don’t have a target I can easily get off track. I have planned all the major travel for the year and only have one big and one little trip ahead of me.
My list of regular stuff to get done is long so I am not really looking for a major new adventure, but is that wrong? Am I better off trying new things, especially ones that I may not be naturally good at so I can discover my next big thing? Or is it all right not to have a big thing for a while?
Before all you non-profit friends get the idea that I am available, I am not. I am not looking to jump into someone else’s dream. I am just thinking I need a few good naps so I can come up with my own new dream.
Most days I am home for lunch I eat a salad for lunch. I have a standard favorite of arugula, chicken, caramelized pears and blue cheese. Since it is not pear season and peaches are cheep and abundant I decided to see what caramelized peaches would be like. In a word, YUMMY.
I took two peaches and cut them down the middle and pulled the pit out. Then I sliced them into ¼ inch slices with the skin on. I lay them on a foil covered cookie sheet sprayed with pam. I put them in a 250-degree oven for 30 mins. I could have left them in a little longer to dry them out a little more, but I was ready for lunch so I ate them and thought that they were a great addition to my lunch. Balsamic vinegar goes perfectly with peaches so I had just the right amount of sweet and tart in the salad. I also added a couple of cashews for crunch and now I have a new craving.
It’s a jungle out there. I’m not talking about a place with a bunch of wild animals, but the roads full of Lexus, Mercedes, Fords and Chevys, not to forget the International Freightliners and Mack Trucks. I spent most of today driving home from Washington so I could make Susan’s 50th birthday party.
I came home the Southern Maryland 301 route to avoid I-95 all together. It took a little longer mile wise but traffic wise it was much better. When I drove up to DC on Thursday I looked across the median of the interstate to see the southbound traffic at a practical standstill for over 90 miles. My DC friends say the southbound traffic is almost always horrible between Washington and Richmond night and day everyday of the week. What none of us can figure out is why it is so much worse one direction than the other. Don’t people go one way and have to eventual turn around and go back again?
The traffic in DC is a nightmare these days. Yesterday, after the memorial service I went out to see my sister Janet’s business in Rockville, Maryland. She is the President of Reaction Retail, a business that makes private label cosmetic gift boxes for stores. I had never seen her operation and it was fun to meet all her employees and see how they manufacture all the various products. The only problem with going there was the drive.
Back in 1983 when I first moved to DC I had a sales job that had me driving between Delaware and North Carolina. I knew every exit on I-95 and many back routes through the DC Metro Area. Although the traffic could be bad back then, I often had a reverse commute since I lived in DC and went to visit customers outside the city. But DC traffic now has no reverse commute advantage. It is bad going every direction all the time. And forget secret back routes, what with GPS maps everyone has access to all the alternatives in real time.
If I still lived there I would have to become a shut-in or face certain time in women’s prison for a road rage related incident. Prison might be a step up from DC traffic. At least you would not have to worry about getting anywhere is a reasonable amount of time in a car.
Being home in little ‘ole Durham I am ever appreciative of the small radius of my daily life and the fact that I don’t have to fight with my fellow citizens just to get to the grocery store. I like visiting jungles with real animals, but I don’t want to live in a concrete jungle full of cars.
When my friend Danny passed away I pulled out a photo album from our wedding to get a picture of him. I opened it up and as I flipped through the pages I came upon the one I was thinking of. Strangely the three other pictures on the same page were all of friends of mine who all left this world much too early. My college roommate Lauren who died of breast cancer, my friend Herb who I went to school in France with who had an aneurism and my beach housemate Art who died of AIDS. All those friends went in their thirties. Now Danny with cancer at 59. Somehow it seems like way too many good people dying too young.
I guess that these people had done what they were put on this earth to do fast. At Danny’s service today there was a universal feeling about what a wonderful guy he was and not just because he was gone. He truly was always kind, thoughtful and full of humor to every person. Based on this ratio of the really good people going young I am going to slow down my doing any good works, cause if the good die young I’m going to be bad.
After the emotional roller coaster of this day I went back to my friend David and John’s for the comfort of old friends. We went to a great new restaurant and followed it up with a walking tour of the neighborhood. When we got home we celebrated David’s birthday with some tiny tarts. I broke down and had one bite of the chocolate and one of the lemon curd. I think this counts as my being bad for today, but I’m going to have to find some non-food ways to be bad if I am going to be alive for the next forty years.
I spent today in the car driving to Washington DC so I can attend Danny Koch’s memorial service tomorrow. Since I lived in DC for ten years, coming back is like coming home. Add to that I am staying with my friends John and David who I introduced and have been best friends for the last 30 years.
David was out on a trip when I got here but John welcomed me as only a friend who has known me since college could do. We went to meet my sister Janet and her girlfriend Sophie for dinner at a great restaurant called Range. At last I got to meet Sophie. Since I was sick on Christmas day I am the last person in my family to get to know her. I have really been missing out. Even John knew Sophie long before I did since he is friends with Janet. It is funny how the people in my life intersect without my being involved.
After dinner John and I went back to his house and David arrived from the airport. Suddenly I am twenty five years old again. I may have had to make this trip for the saddest of reasons, but the silver lining is I am having a wonderful reunion with so many people I love.
Life is short. We never know when our time is going run out. I am going to use this opportunity to spend time with people who make me happy, make me laugh and make a difference in my world.
As I am trying to whittle down my thousands of photos from Africa to a few hundred for a photo book that won’t bore the casual friend who asks about the trip one thing is clear; the lighting is almost the most important factor in determining a great photo from a so-so one. This is not news to me and out in the bush I had limited control over what I could push my camera to do. If only I had taken more lessons on actually how to use the powerful equipment I owned I might have been able to do more, but overall I think I got more than enough great material.
As I age I find that lighting is a crucial element in my everyday life. When I was younger I did not appreciate how great my eyes were. So many times my father would say something positive about my “young” eyes and what they could see. I never had to wear glasses until I was about 45 and then the deadly readers became required.
At first if I had bright enough light I could make due when trying to read tiny writing on a hotel bottle of shampoo, or is that body lotion I am about to put in my hair? Now even a thousand watt bulb does not help me in that situation. Why don’t hotels realize that old farts in the shower are not wearing their reading glasses and at least make the “S” in a 32 point font or bigger?
Today, while playing Mah Jongg in the dark Dover Bar at Hope Valley, yes we play games in a bar when it is closed to drinkers; I was doing my normal multitasking and needle pointing while playing. Since I was already working an 18-mesh canvas, which to you non-stitchers means the tiny little petit point canvas, I had my strongest readers on. The ornament is one of Africa in celebration of our trip and it has a grey mountain as well as a different grey elephant on it. In the dark of the bar I stitched two whole threads of one grey called Heron, on the mountain and then two whole threads of the other grey called Steel Grey on the same mountain.
Only when I went to pull a fifth thread from my bag did I realize that I had used two different colors. I showed my friend Christy the canvas and asked her with her young eyes to see if I in fact had made this error. Even she at first thought it was all right, but did question it. I went to the next room where I could use the power of the sun to examine my work. Yes, I had used two different colors — it was a rookie mistake.
It was then that I pulled out my “Bra Light”, actually a baseball cap light Russ had given me, and clipped it to the ever-steady intersection of the underwires of my bra at the center. Bright light shone on my gaff and I was able to cut away the offending yarn and start over.
Why was I not wearing my bra light in the first place? My eyes are too old, the existing light was too dim, and my Mah Jongg friends needed something good to laugh at. Me with an illuminated cleavage is good fodder for ridicule. Here is what I know, I want good strong light when I have tiny work to do, I want soft gentle light when anyone is taking a picture of me and I want just enough light to recognize my winning Mah Jongg tile as it is being thrown. All that light is not the same; perhaps I am doing too many things all at once.
I’ve decided that sitting is not my natural position. If you asked me two years ago I would tell you that one of my favorite things was do was sit, but now I know better. Since it takes me so long to walk nine miles everyday and I also like to get a good night’s sleep that does not leave much time for just sitting, even if that sitting involves doing two things l love, eating and needle pointing, just not together. I still have not succumbed to eating or needle pointing on the treadmill.
My trip to Africa proved how much I need to be upright and not sit. Of course there were the many airplane flights where thanks to terrorist passengers are now expected to sit quietly in our seats and not move around. Then there were the safaris where thanks to wild animals I was expected to sit in my seat for three and a half hours and only move to take pictures. Lastly there were the boat rides in the Zambezi river where I had to sit still because falling out of the boat meant certain death by crocodile, hippo or waterfall.
When I got home I got back to my regular walking life, but my hips were killing me. My muscles were tight and they started screaming at me. I called my massage therapist, Brandi and begged for help. Brandi is no regular mamby bamby masseuse, but a corrective Exercise Specialist.
I went in to her new office at A Stronger Tomorrow today and sure enough she was able to work miracles. Pushing and pulling, rubbing and kneading and after an hour my hips were happy again. I’ve been able to walk today without the pain I came home from Africa with.
When I was a kid I thought that massages were for old men at the Athletic Club in New York who got a rub down after a steam. I was awfully old before I discovered the restorative nature of a good massage. Before Brandi I had some massages that felt good while I was getting them, but afterwards it made little difference to my body. But Brandi is more knowledgeable about finding the causes of my aches and pains and working the string of muscles is a whole different animal.
So thanks Brandi for wiping away two weeks of sitting. I know that it will take me years of study to really learn how to stretch and foam roll myself into feeling as good as Brandi can do.
So many naturally skinny people I know say things to me like, “Don’t you love summer? It’s just too hot to eat.” Somehow I don’t think we grew up on the same planet.
I can remember back in the dark ages of my childhood, the time before ubiquitous air conditioning, when it was so hot in the summer that the Pool Moms would say things like, “It’s too hot to cook.” Now that made sense. No one liked turning on the oven to add suffering to an already insufferable room. But the lack of desire to cook did absolutely nothing to my desire to eat. When it was too hot to cook it just meant we were having gazpacho and icy pops for dinner.
I actually find the summer to be my worst eating time of the year. First there are the longer hours of sunshine that makes my brain say, “Hey it’s still light out and you last ate four hours ago. Isn’t time for another meal?” Second, there is the vacation eating where we start talking about what we are going to do for dinner at breakfast setting me up for thinking about food all day long. Third, I dream of the ice cream truck coming down the street, bells-a-ringing, and I have a silver half dollar from my Dad in my hand.
Well, yes fifty cents would not get me much these days, but back in 1966 when the Good Humor man drove down Crystal Street in New Canaan I could buy anything on the truck with that one coin. Staying away from cool treats is easier for me in winter. Somehow in summer I am right back to being five years old. I think the heat brings out the child in me.
For some people who are over concerned with how they look in a bathing suit the summer is the best thing to happen to them. Not me. Isn’t that what the cover-up was invented for? Sure I write a diet comedy blog, but that does not mean I really care what I look like. I do this for my health, and the jokes.
Maybe in the olden day the heat meant food spoiled faster and there was nothing more unappetizing than ptomaine poisoning from eating potato salad with mayonnaise in it that had been left on the kitchen counter too long. Sure, if I had been sick all night from eating something bad then I might equate hot summer time with not wanting to eat. With today’s refrigeration technology at an all time high I am yet to make myself sick with food.
So it is hot out. It was over 100 degrees multiple times today, but it has had little effect on my appetite. In fact, I think I hear some bells ringing down the street. Hold me back, I’ve got a silver dollar.
Freshman year of college in the first month or so I met a girl named Tricia Reilly who happened to be born on the same day as I was. We became fast friends, joining the same sorority and after college both moving to Washington DC. Tricia had spent a semester in DC during her junior year and while she was there she met one of the truly greatest men on earth, Danny Koch.
Danny spent seven years trying to convince Tricia to marry him. I can remember in those early years of their dating saying to her, “Tricia, there is no better human on earth than Danny. What are you waiting for?” She eventually said yes and they married in a beautiful ceremony at the Greenbrier on Halloween. It was the wedding of the decade.
Danny was one of the best listeners I ever knew. He also was a great laugher so put those two things together and that meant I could spend hours with him. Danny was always supportive of whatever crazy thing I was doing in my ten years in Washington. Going to Danny and Tricia’s house was like a moment in sanity for me during those years. Tricia was one of my bride’s maid in our wedding and Danny was always there to throw a good party or hold a bag or just listen.
Tricia and Danny went on to have four wonderful children, Reilly, K.C., Max and Jenna. In the strange way life happens, Jenna was born just 18 hours apart from Carter, so mother’s born on the same day had daughters born just hours apart.
Danny died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday after a brave two and a half year fight. He had so much to live for and made it much longer than most people diagnosed with stage IV cancer. I am certain that God realized he needed to let everyone who ever met Danny have more time with him, yet it still was not enough.
I was in huge denial that this day would come. I feel truly blessed to have known him and shared so much time over so many years with him. He was always kind, truly humble and ever supportive. The world lost one of the greats and I am very sad.
This past week when Carter had a small accident at camp I had the bonus of getting to actually talk with her. The good news is she is fine and has nothing seriously wrong with her. The better news was she actually said some words to me that no self-respecting fifteen year old ever says out loud to a mother, “I miss you.”
Even though she called me and woke me from a horrific jet-lagged induced nap I recognized this vulnerable moment as an opportunity for Russ and me. “Honey, we can come visit you on Saturday during your stay over day.” That was met with a, “I would love it.”
Camp stay over is a way to stay at camp more than one session and Carter has reported that it is a big time fun part of camp. So much so that she cobbled together three sessions this year, two weeks of all-girls, one week of co-ed followed by two more weeks of co-ed. Knowing that stay over kids get to leave camp for a group trip to Wal-Mart to spend $5, then go to the movies and out to dinner I did not want to mess up all that fun. So Russ and I left the house early this morning and drove to Roaring Gap to get Carter at 10:15 and take her to lunch and have time to get her back to camp to join her friends on the bus to Wal-Mart.
This jaunt to the mountains for lunch meant that we were going to be away from home for ten hours so we had to take Shay Shay with us, plus Carter would have given us a lot of S%#$ if we did not bring her dog for the visit. Luckily when we pulled into camp Carter jumped up from her friend group and ran to hug us like we had not seen each other in years rather than weeks. Carter proudly introduced us to her counselors and friends and Shay was a popular pup with the crowd who missed their dogs at home.
We knew our time was short so we got in the car thinking we would go to Mt Airy for lunch since I had found a restaurant online that was dog friendly. As Russ went to program the GPS in the car it told us that although Mt. Airy was only 22 miles away it would take an hour to get there. I should have figured this out before we left camp and the little bit of phone signal we had.
We decided to drive towards Sparta hoping to find a restaurant or Internet. Neither could be had. We stopped at a coffee shop that boasted “free wifi” in the window only for Russ to discover the woman working there did not know the password. That was when I remembered an article from “Our State” magazine that listed the best place to eat in every county of North Carolina. My recollection was the Allegheny place was off the Blue Ridge Parkway and might have had some outdoor seating. I went back in the coffee shop and asked them if they knew what that place was and of course they did and it was only eight miles down the road.
Back in the car we meandered route 18 looking for Laurel Springs. As we turned a bend we saw what had to be the place, a biker bar and motel combo that had a travel trailer park behind it and a biker “Leathers” flea market set up in the parking lot. Sure enough, they had two picnic benches outside and the good news for us was they were both free.
This was not what Carter had in mind when she agreed for us to take her to lunch. Me either. I never would have worn white pants and a pink silk top if I had known I was going to a biker bar. Talk about standing out.
I have to admit that the bar staff could not have been nicer when I asked if they had table service outside since we had a puppy. Turns out some bikers bring their dogs too. As we were leaving an old couple on a big hog pulled up and let their shitzu out of it’s carrier bag on the back of their Harley.
We enjoyed a fine lunch, which shows that Allegheny county has little competition in best places to eat. I had brought my computer so Carter could see some of the pictures from Africa and after too short a visit we had to get back to camp. As soon as we returned some friends called out Carter’s name and she was off. So much for really missing us. A three-hour visit satisfied that itch and then she was ready to get back to the business of camp fun. I have to say it was worth the trip for me. Five weeks away without talking or seeing her face is just too long.
It was easy to get my steps done today since I spent almost all day trying to whittle down my over 5,000 photos from Africa to something more manageable. That task is hardly done. I have just looked at three days worth of pictures and flagged the first cut. How many Rhino pictures do I really need? I have a hard time telling one beast from another. But when you start talking about the baby elephant pictures or the leopard shots, then more is better.
My friend Lynn met me for lunch and we looked at some of the pictures while we enjoyed a Thai chicken salad. Lynn immediately picked up something x-rated in a photo that I had not noticed. See if you can see what she pointed out.
The more I look at the pictures of these beautiful animals the more amazing the whole trip seems. It feels like I just went to sleep and all these huge animals came to see me. But then I realize that I was actually right there with them, not touching them, but close enough to smell them.
Amazingly most of them do not smell bad. The hippo that lived outside our cottage in Zambia, whose name is actually Horace, not Olles, as I first wrote, did not smell at all. I would have thought that a hippo would stink. The smelliest animals were the baboons. You could catch their terribleness a mile away. It can’t serve them well since every potential predator could also smell them.
I have a new found appreciation for the sense of smell after leaning how the animals depend upon it. While I was cooking a corn, asparagus, shallot and tomato dish for dinner tonight I closed my eyes and smelled it. I felt like it was missing something so I added a chopped jalapeno. I took another big whiff, still missing something. I added a bunch of chopped basil. One more big sniff. Smelled good, smelled right. I added salt and pepper and tasted it. Yummy!
Now it might have tasted good before the jalapeño and basil, but the smell was not that complex. I was working on satisfying my olfactory sense, which in turn would satisfy my taste buds. I was just trying to connect to the animal side of me, just not the way the baby monkey was.
Perhaps the longest recipe title so far, but it explains it all. I gained two and a half pounds on vacation and lost half of it on my first full day back. Getting right back on the wagon is the only way to do it. I have to break myself of sugar craving since desserts are my downfall and I certainly ate plenty of yummy treats while I was away.
One strategy is that I bought many kinds of fruits right when I got home, cherries, cantaloupe, mangos, raspberries and blue berries to help wean me off processed sugar with natural sugar. I have to be carful not too eat too much fruit since it too has calories, but it does a good job to make me forget cakes, tarts, cookies and puddings.
The other strategy is to eat filling, crunchy, full flavored foods. This salad satisfies all those things and Russ likes it as well. – This will make four servings
Half a head of green cabbage- shredded
3 green onions chopped
Big handful of chopped cilantro
3 T. red wine vinegar
3 packets of Splenda
2 T. lime juice
Salt & pepper
Mix all these things together and set aside. This will be the base of your “Taco Salad”
Four 4 oz. pieces of codfish or any other white fish
Wondra – best flour for coating fish
Salt and Pepper
Mix a ¼ cup of Wondra in a small bag with lots of salt and pepper. Put the pieces of fish in the bag one at a time and shake it around until the fish is coated.
Heat a non-stick fry pan on high and spray with Pam. Add the fish to the pan and cook on one side for two minutes until browned. Spray the top of the fish with Pam and flip it over cooking it another two minutes. If you are using Cod and it is a thick piece of fish turn the fish a quarter turn and brown the sides for about 30 seconds each side.
Toppings for the Salad
Pica De Gallo
Put the cabbage mixture on a plate, lay a piece of fish on top and sprinkle with avocado, salsa and cheese.
This morning was the first time I had gotten on a scale in 12 days. I knew that there was no way I had not gained weight in Africa. Try as I did not to eat all that I was offered, the food was often, plenty and plenty good. To give you an idea of what I was up against this was a typical day while at a Safari camp.
5:30 AM -Be woken up by a guide bringing a tray of coffee and fruit and nut rusks (think tasty biscotti) to our tent or cottage.
8:30- Game drive stop for morning coffee and another yummy coffee treat out in the bush
10:00 – Breakfast that consisted of a table of cold treats, yogurt, fresh fruit, muffins, cheese, meats, cereal, juices, on and on. Then hot breakfast, eggs, meats, vegetables, toast, oatmeal, and on and on and on again. More coffee or tea or cocoa.
1:30 – Lunch- really the healthiest meal – salads, sandwiches or wraps or savory tarts, fruit and cheese. No dessert because that will come at teatime.
3:30- Tea with something sweet and naughty and fruit for the sinless among us.
6:00- Sundowners while on a game drive- adult beverages and hors d’oeuvres
7:00 – Dinner of many types of meat, double starches like potatoes and rice and many vegetables, a green salad and dessert.
Fall into bed at 9:30.
No real exercise because we can’t go out in the bush on foot. In one camp we did do a morning bush walk back to camp after our outdoor breakfast. Our great guide Forman would bring the riffle with these big ass bullets the size of hotdogs to protect us. We never walked very fast because he was teaching us stuff as we went along. One day we had a large heard of elephants near by during our walk so we had to quietly pick up the pace and get the hell out of there. That was the most exercise I got all trip.
All our food and drinks were included in our room rates so there was no reason to say skip a meal to save money. You know I also like to get my monies worth.
The day of reckoning came this morning. I got on the scale. I was prepared for a five-pound rise, but was pleasantly surprised that I had only gained 2.5 pounds.
I have a theory that newly gained weight comes off much faster than lbs that have been hanging around for a few years or decades. According to my copious records it took me about six weeks to loose the same amount of weight I gained in two weeks, but those pounds had been with me for six years at least. The experiment that this African vacation affords me is to see how fast I can lose these fast put on pounds. I need to lose them at the very least before I leave for my next vacation to Family Camp in Maine in three weeks since others will be preparing and serving me food that is outside my regular healthy range. I am hoping I can do it in less time than that. I will report the news as soon as there is any.
So now it’s back to puritanical eating and regular exercise and walking, walking, walking. My hips hurt from all the sitting I did and my muscles are tight, but I must admit I really miss the coffee tray in bed.
I was just in the middle of a great dream during my jet lagged induced nap and I heard a phone ringing. A phone ringing? I had not heard a phone ringing for the last twelve days while in Africa. Where I am? I instinctively reached over to my right and picked up my cell phone and said hello.
“Mom?” It was Carter !!! Oh no it was Carter at camp, where she does not have access to a phone unless something is wrong. “Mom, I’m alright, but I fell and hit my head.” Still feeling drugged up from thirty hours of flying starting in Zambia yesterday through Joberg to Atlanta and finally home today it took me a minute to process what was going on. After talking to Carter a few minutes she passed me on to the camp Doctor who told me she thought Carter did not have a concussion, but they are taking her for an x-ray just to see how they might need to modify her camp activities.
I asked to talk to Carter again since I am now an expert at telephone diagnosis when she falls. This fall did not involve a horse, thank goodness, but just a low ropes course and a group of tires. Carter did not sound confused or disoriented in anyway, but just getting to talk to each other after two and a half weeks of camp induced silence did make her sad for us.
There is nothing worse than being away from home when you are sick of hurt. Mom and Dad are really the best medicine. Two years ago when Carter went to Taiwan during the summer and lived with a family and went to school she got a stomach bug and was sick for a day. Russ and I happened to be in Seattle celebrating our twentieth anniversary and got a call from Carter halfway around the world. Of course she was fine by the next day, but at that moment she just wanted her Mom and there was nothing I could do about it but reassure her that this too shall pass.
Five weeks away from Carter is a long time for me, but she wanted to do these three back-to-back camp sessions so badly and she is at the age where she wants to spend more time away from the family than with the family. So while I had her on the phone in this vulnerable, head injured, I wish my Mom was with me state, I asked her if she wanted me to come and see her Saturday when she had the break in camp sessions. “Could you do that and bring Daddy too?”
“Of course. I’ll call camp tomorrow.”
“Are you allowed to that?” she asks, having been living in the rule following world of camp for the last two and a half weeks.
“Yes.” I reassured her.
No easy re-entry back into real life. Our perfect vacation, really the best trip I have ever been on in my life is over. We got home and the house was fine, only my vegetable garden took a beating from lack of rain, Shay was excited to see us and I got four really happy letters from camp filling me in on Carter’s first session. We unpacked our tiny suit cases and put all our safari wear in the laundry, happy not to half to wear khaki. I went to the grocery store and bought nine different fruits knowing that the scale will be unhappy with me in the morning, but I would not change a thing about our trip. We saw so many amazing animals and birds, met the most fun and interesting people, we ate really good food and now it’s back to reality. It bites.
Yes, we did have three elephants jump in the Zambezi river on our first night and swim to our island. They stayed all night eating the vegetation by the boat landing. Our valet, Charles told us they tried to get in the kitchen hut because the door was left open and there was a basket of fresh fruit by the door. Luckily the chef woke up and closed the kitchen door so we had plenty of fresh fruit for breakfast.
I missed getting any photos of our island guests because they swam away at six am and hour before Charles brought our coffee tray to us which we enjoyed in bed while gazing our over the river with sounds of birds and monkeys greeting the sunrise. Actually, the moneys seem to be screaming at the sun, “We’re not ready to wake up.” I really could get used to having Charles around if we stayed another few days.
We needed to get an early start yesterday so that we could get to Victoria Falls before the crowds. We had no idea when we booked our trip that it happened to be a national holiday in Zambia so the Falls were going to have more visitors than usual. Russ and I joined our new British friends, Vickie and her husband Nathan, her sister Katie and their mother Jo at breakfast then we all went together by boat up the river to get to the Falls.
Our driver and guide Godfrey brought full length MacIntosh raincoats which were definitely needed since the river was high and that meant the spray was dramatic in parts. We walked the paths that gave us good views of all seven waterfalls, but we could not see the full 1,000 feet to the bottom because the spray was so prolific. We had to keep our cameras under our coats lots of the time but we still got many good pictures.
The people without rain gear were more than soaked and the dumbest person we saw was a Chinese man walking across the foot bridge in the middle of the falls with his I-pad out of it’s case, no rain cover, using it to take pictures as water poured off the screen. I wonder if it still worked by the time he reached the end?
The falls are a the countries biggest tourist attraction so there were the requisite stalls of “crafts” with guys saying, “no pressure, come in and look.” Their idea of no pressure and mine is a little different. I purposely had only brought a few five and ten dollar bills so when I bargained I could show them that I did not have any more money. NO matter how much bargaining I did I still over paid, but I was not unhappy and neither were they.
After seeing the Falls from the front Russ and I were dropped off at the very Colonial fancy Royal Livingstone Hotel where go got a boat to go to a private lunch and tour of Livingstone Island. David Livingstone the missionary who was the first white man to see the falls named them for his Queen – Victoria, and in response she named the tiny island in the Zambezi river overlooking the falls for him.
It was definitely worth the cost to go to Livingstone Island. There were only 12 of us divided into two groups, each with two “lifesavers” as our guides. They first had us take our shoes off and gave us the standard issue Green Mac rain coats, then they lead us in a single line, holding hands through the rocky parts of the river to a larger rock formation to look right over the edge of the falls while they took our pictures. The sound was almost deafening as the water fell just below our feet. i will not lie and say it was not a little bit scary. We recovered from the fright with a lovely lunch under a marquis, that is British for tent before heading back to our little island paradise.
After enjoying our honeymoon retreat with tea from Charles and the best hot outdoor shower in the world we went to our bush TV fire circle to have drinks before dinner with our British and Australian island friends. It was then that I discovered that Vickie and Nathan’s last name was Lang! So there we all were, started as friends but really were obviously long lost family. We stayed long after dinner enjoying the fire and staying up later than we had all week, sad that this absolutely perfect holiday was going to end. Even though we had seen the most magnificent animals and wonders of the world it was all the people that we met on this trip that made it a trip of a lifetime.
I know I am really in vacation mode because I have lost all type A qualities and have relaxed into a nice-laid back-go with the flow-whatever you say-I’m totally happy person. If you have known me and don’t recognize me I’m with you, I hardly recognize myself.
Two days ago I asked Smiley if I could have a pot of tea so I could make myself iced tea. He brought me a small pot with two tea bags in it and said, “I decided to make you Ribose.” My response was, “Great Smiley, I’ll take whatever you want me to have.” I don’t even like Ribose Tea, but I did then.
when we arrived at the Zambian Airport the customs agent asked me where I was going. “I have no idea,” I told her and that was the truth. I had a great travel agent plan the whole trip including having drivers meet us and ferry us everywhere. I have gotten so spoiled by this that I just stopped paying attention to where I was going and just followed whomever was holding the little sign marked “Lange.”
When Russ and I got to our hotel they took us to a terrace to serve us lunch. As I was photographing the vervet monkeys who were throwing tree nuts on the ground, Russ got up to look for a bathroom. He went off in the wrong direction despite my instructions since I had just been there. I did not bother to correct him due to my newly acquired lack of bossiness. Our lunch arrived and rather than be angry that he was not there so I could start, I just pulled out my needlepoint and stitched by the beautiful Zambian river waiting for him. Russ came quickly down a staircase and sat down in his chair. “I just walked into some British couple’s room by mistake.”
“What?” I laughed.
“I was following a sign that read ‘treehouse’ and I did not know that was the name of a room and it was all open, no walls or windows and I practically fell over the bed. The Brits were a little upset that I just walked right in.” I just laughed. “I guess they did not let you use the bathroom?”
After lunch a young guy named Roland came to get us and told us he was our boat driver. “Thanks Roland, but why do we need a boat driver?”
He explained that we were staying on the island 25 minutes down the river where there are five cottages, and a small camp.” Since I had stopped paying attention to any detail of my vacation about six days ago I was a little surprised that I had let this big detail get by me. I also was a little worried what it was going to be like, but in my current “whatever you say man” state I just got on the small boat.
Roland explained about the Hippos and the crocodiles in the water and the elephants on the shore. “Be careful not to fall in this fast moving water, it is hard to get to shore before something gets you.” No Problem.
As we neared the island I did not see a dock, but Roland skillfully drove us up a sandy place. Russ and I got out and were greated by Charles, our valet and Brian the head guy on the island. We were give a yummy drink and were shown around the public areas where we will eat and hang out at the island TV circle, better known as the fire circle. Brian then gave us the really big news that the island had a resident hippo, named Olles, who was living next to our cottage so we had to be very careful and quite when we went there. “How exciting,” I uncharacteristically said.
Instead of going the regular, scenic route to our room, Brian and Charles asked if it was OK for them to take us through the staff camp so we would not disturbed Olles. “Why not?” We did have to eventually tip toe in single file past the huge animal and that was when I got the best surprise. Somehow we were booked into the honeymoon suite, a thatched roof, open air cottage, with a huge deck with a hammock, an out door claw foot tub, outdoor shower, and a toilet with the best view of our sandy yard with huge trees offering cover and a view up river. Heaven.
After meeting the other nine island guests and the seven staff we went off on a sunset cruise with a delightful group of Brits. When we returned our valet Charles met us at the boat and informed me he had drawn up a bubble bath and had champagne waiting for us. It only took me a minute or two to strip down and jump in the pipping hot bath and enjoy an outdoor bath with the sounds of the river.
Russ took a little nap and then it was time for island TV before dinner. Russ and I ate dinner on a little dock and thought we heard the sounds of something big jumping in the water. Our server Brenda told us that the elephants sometime swim to the island and we might have some guests in the night. Since our cottage was on the other side of the tiny island we decided it was time to get there and retire before the elephants arrived. So now I sit writing in our big giant bed with the mosquito netting all around while Russ sleeps. The sounds of frogs, birds, monkey and elephants sing out all around me. The only thing that is silent is Olles, our hippo, who I know can not climb up on our deck and visit. I can hardly wait to see what excitement tomorrow brings. Whatever it is it will be fine with me.
We arrived in Zambia for our last two nights in Africa to discover we are staying on an island in the river above Victoria falls without any internet connection. So consider this my abbreviated posting for today as we are about to be taken by boat to our cottage. I’ll make up for this shortness when we have 5 hours in the joberg airport in Two days.
Sadly this is our last day at Tanda Tula in the Timbavati Game Reserve. We have one last game drive this afternoon, a farewell dinner, one last night in out cozy bed kept warm by the electric heating pad in our lovely tent and one last waking by our friend with the tea tray in the morning. This has been a magical place.
Here are just a some of the things I will miss in no particular order:
Being surprised by a troop of elephants coming to drink at the watering hole right in front of the pool while I enjoy an afternoon tea.
Riding up high in the back row of our Land Rover as our game ranger, Foreman pulls off the dirt road to traverse the bush in search of the baby leopard snuggling with her beautiful Mama.
The warmth and generosity of the staff with fantastic names like, Smiling – the barman, Happiness & Pinky- servers, and Scotch a ranger.
Enjoying Chef Ryan’s yummy creations too many times a day, especially the duck, the mushroom tart and all the many salads at lunch everyday.
Taking the morning walk after breakfast with Foreman teaching us about animal tracks and poop and being below eye level of the elephants as they traverse behind us at a safe enough distance.
Meeting so many friendly people from all over the world and sharing the excitement of seeing this beautiful part of the world together.
Sitting at the edge of the outdoor lodge overlooking the dry river bed as a perfect breeze blows sweetly through the trees and I watch the antelope grazing.
Spending so much time with Russ sharing all the magic of being so close to God’s gorgeous creations.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is the new friends we meet. Staying in small camps and lodges here in Africa we are spending lots of time doing game drives and eating with other guests. We have really lucked out so far and met so many nice people.
In the “it really is a small world category” we met a man night before last who had grown up in Chapel Hill and had gone to Durham Academy from sixth to eighth grade. He told us he went to boarding school because DA did not have a high school, that’s how long ago it was.
Our second small world encounter was Cynthia, a retired Coke exec who had worked with my college roommate Lauren and Pat, a friend of Russ’. She had brought her grown niece and nephew Julie and Jay here as belated graduation presents. I hope my sister Janet is taking a note of this.
Russ and I are usually on the same page about who we are drawn to and who we just assume steer clear of. For the most part we can tell within moments of that initial handshake and introduction if we want to invest any valuable holiday time getting to know someone. Russ also has a shorthand for sussing out interesting but yet shy people. I, of course, like most anyone who will listen to a story. I think I met my story telling match at Tanda Tula.
Yesterday after the morning game drive all the other guests departed and we were the only “old ones” left. We were sitting by the pool when new people arrived. You don’t get to choose who is in your safari vehicle and you stay with the same guide for your whole stay so we looked over the new people hoping to get a good match. Two new couples came out to the pool and we introduced ourselves. They were Joss and Jono, a young married couple who are living in South Africa while Joss is doing her research for her PhD and her parents, Stella and Robb. They are Brits, but had lived in South Africa for years, and are now back in the UK.
Being the Anglophiles that we are we hoped that they would be our safari partners and they were. Stella and Robb had come to visit Joss, their only daughter and she surprised them with this trip to Tanda Tula. The small world connection with them was that Joss has many UNC students in her public health program here in South Africa and Joss and Jono met at the University of Durham, just not our Durham.
As we went out on Safari and through dinner Robb regaled us with many stories about their years living here in Joberg and what life was like during apartheid and when Mandela was elected. The history here is so interesting and complicated. I think I had finally met my story telling match. As dessert was being served the staff came our blowing a kudu horn and singing happy birthday. Turned out it was Stella’s birthday and Joss had arranged the surprise for her.
One of the nicest things about our new friends was the sweet relationship between Joss and her parents and how well Jono fits in. I wish that Carter had been here to take good daughter lessons from Joss. Unfortunately as quickly as they came they had to leave after our morning game drive, bush breakfast and walk back to camp. Now we wait for the next new arrivals and what interesting people we will meet this afternoon.
Riding in Safari vehicles six hours a day is no real exercise. Add to that the issue of staying in a camp in the middle of the timbavati game preserve with no fences around camp and I just don’t get enough opportunity to walk any distance. Now I don’t have a scale so I have no idea the amount of damage I am possibly doing. Try as I may I am certainly not eating like I do at home.
One reason is the lack of High Protein Special K in South Africa. That being the case I am forced to eat the cooked breakfast provided me. Add to that I am eating three hours after I got up after being out on Safari in the cold searching for animals to photograph so I am hungry when breakfast comes.
At out current camp they serve breakfast at a bush camp down the dry river bed from the main camp. We arrived at breakfast this morning to a beautiful spread of fresh fruits and yogurt, cheeses, cereals and other cold items along with the hot foods cooked on the grill, eggs, sausages, baby marrow which is like zucchini, sweet potatoes and bread toasted over the flames. I was hungry and succumb to the enticing hot foods. There is nothing like wood smoked scrambled eggs and smokey toast with local honey.
After breakfast our guide, Foreman, offered to escort us with his loaded rifle for a walk down the river bed back to camp. At last a chance to walk! It was no power walk because Foreman took the opportunity to teach Russ and myself what all the tracks were as well as giving us a poop identification lesson. My too favorite tracks were the monkey tracks because they were not just foot prints, but a dragging tail line along with feet and the giant owls tracks where we saw where he landed, walked a few steps with giant talons and took off again.
After our return to camp and a good hot shower in out outdoor shower I joined Russ at the pool since the day had warmed up about 30 degrees. As I sat on a chaise lounge four warthogs came up on the grass by the pool to join us. I think I should have joined them in grazing on grass rather than going to lunch. This life is going to catch up with me, but at least I won’t know it until I get home.
This morning we went on out last game drive at Leopard Hills before setting off for our tented Safari Camp. We had our regular gang and were joined by the Honeymooners, an Italian and half Brit half Brazilian who had just married on Saturday and arrived at camp yesterday afternoon without their luggage.
Our drive was incredible. We set out to find rhino which involved following fresh tracks that circled and crossed and eventually led us into the bush where we found two adults and a three year old. Before we found the rhino we happened upon a fresh kill. Skip to the next paragraph if you can’t handle this section. Yesterday we saw two female lions who had blood on them. Hugo, our guide said that he heard on the radio that the lions had wounded a zebra, but had lost it before they could bring it down. That left the zebra vulnerable to the hyenas it met this morning. When we found them two female hyenas were making short work of their new meal while a young male skulked around trying to get a bite. Hyenas have the most powerful jaws and were incredibly efficient butchers.
This paragraph is about sex so if you are under 18 close your eyes. After the rhino find we tracked a male a male leopard where the female was busy trying to get the male to give her what she wanted. In the leopard world the female has to bug the male into taking care of business. After a few failed amorous attempts the male leopard finally jumped on top gave a half a second push, bit her neck and fell off. Uneventful would be my best description. We learned that the female works at him multiple times to try and have a baby and have no need for him for a few months.
After have our morning coffee in the bush we were back to camp for another fabulous breakfast over looking the Savannah. A quick shower and we had to leave our glamourous oasis for our trip to our new camp.
We moved from the Sabi Sands preserve to the Timbavati. Instead of the Ritz Carlton like accommodations we are staying in a tented camp. that means we have a permanent tent with a real bathroom. We got here just in time for a delicious lunch of salads and fruit and the kind of things I need to eat. We have half an hour before we are out on our first game drive here. I am looking forward to seeing the difference. So far one thing is similar, it is the friendliness of all the South African people we have met. You need to come to this country to see the animals, but you will come back because of the people.