Archive for November, 2010

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I’m going home. My grandmother, Maggie’s mom, passed away and my brother Steve and I both want to be there for her. So I have postponed – not canceled – the remainder of my east coast visits and explorations to go straight back to Massachusetts (well, via West Virginia). Trish agrees we can do the Eat. Pray. Love. Charleston. tour in the spring or summer (as do all my other wonderful east coast friends), so her and the kids bid me farewell.

It was a good day for driving – overcast and drizzling off and on. I watched the temperature on the thermometer steadily drop as I drove north. 50…45…42… I drove into North Carolina, by Charlotte (looks pretty cool) and was making good time until traffic came to a standstill – right near
Mount Airy, home of Mayberry and the Andy Griffith Show.

I sat for a while, wondering what the issue was, and grew more aggravated by the minute as my stomach started to growl. I was complaining to my mom on the speakerphone when I thought I spotted a Subway sign at the next exit. She convinced me it was worth stopping for, so I veered off.

I somehow went right past the Subway, but then something else caught my eye: more cows. I heard Tara’s voice in my head, so I had to get a few pictures. I pulled over and told mom to hold on while I hopped out real quick. I snapped a few photos and ran back to the car. Only the door wouldn’t open! The car’s not supposed to be able to lock from the outside with the car on – and it didn’t seem like the lock was all the way down, yet it wouldn’t open. I had no phone, no jacket, nothing but my camera (and cows) – and mom still on speakerphone inside.

I put my face up against the window and yelled, “mom!’ She yelled back, “Amy! Is everything all right? I can’t really hear you!” I tried to yell to her to call AAA but she couldn’t understand me through the glass, so went to get Mark. I just shook my head at the cows, who were staring at me. I was cupping my face to the window, trying to yell to them again when help arrived. His name was Shane, my knight in the white Honda. He offered me his phone, and with my parents still yelling from inside my car, I called Mark’s cell. Luckily he answered the strange number.

Shane helped me explain where we were (intersection of Hwy 21 and Rena Rd.) and Mark called AAA. Once it was confirmed that they would be there in an hour, I thanked Shane and told him I’d be fine. He insisted on staying with me, explaining that he wouldn’t feel right leaving me because ‘rednecks will be stopping and trying to pick you up.’ He was right in a way – people did stop every few minutes to inquire about what was going on – and I appreciated his company. Clearly my car (with its Massachusetts plates) at the side of the road among the cows was the highlight of the day in Jonesville.

We passed time (and tried to forget the cold) chatting about everything from the Red Sox (Shane’s a huge fan – even has a Red Sox screen saver on his phone) and family to work and traveling. He recommended seeing the Biltmore Estate (dubbed America’s largest home) in Asheville when I return to North Carolina. I’ll definitely add it to my list. I’d also forgotten about the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a wonderfully scenic route. While I had a great time talking to him, my freezing body was very happy when Donny arrived – my knight in the white van. (Two knights in one day – lucky me!)

I thanked Shane and bid him farewell, then waited in Donny’s van (trying to thaw out) as he got my car door open – very quickly, I must add. (Thanks Donny!) I waved to the cows, thinking I was now all set. What I didn’t remember until I got back in the stopped traffic on the highway was that I was running on empty… I almost had to call Donny back to save me again, but luckily inched to the next exit and found a gas station. Phew!

I was so frustrated at the lost two hours (and paranoid about leaving the car) that I only stopped for gas the rest of the way. I made it to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where my grandmother, aunt and family live, by about 8:30 pm. Not bad considering…

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My day started off right: I awoke to a blog message from Nick and Alivia, commenting on my itinerary and telling me they’re proud of me. What more could a mom want? I then enjoyed some tea and conversation with Jen’s mom and Mike before getting on the road.

I got in my car, started the engine and … what’s wrong with Aidan??? I tried to push the plug in to the car power outlet and it seemed to be jammed. I pulled it out and realized the whole thing had come undone. Mike and I both put it back together, but there was no making it work. We think it might be the fuse, but we’re not sure. Whatever it is, the fact is, I’m now GPS-less.

Luckily my phone has navigation, so I set my destination (Trish’s house just outside Charleston, South Carolina) in my phone, and then wrote down the directions. I didn’t want to tie my phone up with navigation. It wasn’t long into the journey that I started missing Aidan. I knew I’d be fine with the directions, especially now that I was on the East Coast, driving 95 much of the way – basically home turf.

But he’s more than a GPS. He’s been my co-pilot. (Sad, isn’t it?) I realized that not only does he direct me, he gives me a nudge when I’m starting to zone and reminds me when we’re two miles away from a turn. And when I make a wrong turn, he says ‘when you get a chance, chuck a u-ey.’ And when I ignore him, he yells ‘bugger!’ Quite the personality, my dear Aidan. I’m also missing the count down in miles left to go (under 300 miles, under 200 miles…) and time (less than 5 hours, less than 4 hours…), as well as the reminders about the speed limit, when no road sign is in sight but a police car is. So I’ll try to find a replacement cord when I get a chance, but until then, I have to go it alone.

As I entered Jacksonville, where I stopped for gas and a drink, I was surprised to see live Christmas trees for sale. I don’t know why, but when I think of Florida, I think fake trees, or palm trees. But there they were, just like in the snowy north. Several cars drove away with them on their roofs. And then they stopped. Suddenly we encountered the craziest traffic yet. I should’ve known it wouldn’t be good on 95. There’s tons of construction (as usual) and, what I’d forgotten, it’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone is travelling for the holiday. Ugh.

I slowly made my way into Georgia, thankful to be just passing through. But then I got to Savannah. My, oh my, everyone was right: I love it! Dad was right, even Scarlett’s Mammy was right. Savannah is the place to be. The old buildings, the waterfront with the riverboats, the artists, the shops, the cobblestone streets – even Nick would have liked it because there’s a Ruth Chris Steakhouse! I spent five minutes taking pictures and got back in my car. I knew any more time would just be more of a tease and I wouldn’t want to leave. I simply need to come back and spend a good few days in Savannah. And I will.

With a smile on my face, filled with a new appreciation of Georgia, I drove on to South Carolina.  I arrived at Trish’s house in Summerville, just outside Charleston, and spent a great evening with her family. It was nice to catch up – it’s been way too long since we were in the same room! And I’m really looking forward to seeing Trish’s Charleston. She wrote me the other day: ‘So I was thinking about your whirlwind Eat. Pray. Love. Charleston. tour. I call it that because we will Eat. Charleston is renowned for all of its restaurants and it will be hard to pick just one or two while you’re here. We will Pray, because Charleston is the Holy City with more churches than you can imagine. And you will Love. You will Love Charleston because it’s hard not to fall in love with this city so rich in history.’ I have the feeling she might be right – I can’t wait!

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Florida fun – Day 80

Driving from my brother’s in Port Charlotte to Orlando on Day 80, it occurred to me that I am not really doing anything touristy in Florida this trip. I feel kind of bad about that, but time just won’t allow it. So to cheer me up, I thought of my favorite things to do here (besides visiting family and friends, of course):

  • I have to start with my all time favorite: Disney. I love all things Disney. I seriously would go there every year if I could. Nick and I have visited several years in a row in the past. Sometimes just for a day, combined with other things, other times for a full week stay-and-play vacation. Nick even played basketball there, in the National competition. While I don’t have one absolute favorite site, we all love Epcot and that’s often the winner if we only have a day. Depends on my mood, though, as I sometimes need to be a kid and go to Magic Kingdom, and other times long for the movie magic of Hollywood Studios (MGM).
  • We did love going to Universal, too, although that will never beat Disney in my book.
  • While I’m on theme parks, we’ve had several fun family trips to Busch Gardens.  Less rides, more animals and nature.
  • One place I absolutely loved as a kid was the Kennedy Space Center. About the same time, the movie Space Camp came out and I wanted to attend. I’ve outgrown wanting to be an astronaut, but still really want to go back to the Space Center sometime.
  • I’ll never forget catching the frisbee that Shamu the whale threw to me at SeaWorld.
  • Red Sox spring training, of course.
  • Florida beaches, in general, are great. Yes, I think all beaches are wonderful, but Florida has beautiful sand and a great variety of shells.

Those were the top of mind items. I arrived in Orlando to see Mike and Jen (from LA) who are visiting family in Orlando and invited me to stay the night with them. Before turning in for the night I told Mike I was going to write this blog entry and asked him to tell me his favorite Florida places. He kind of snorted and shook his head, grinning. “Florida is my Atlanta,” he said. “Well, bad things don’t really happen when I’m here, but there’s not much I like about it!” Thanks Mike, but that didn’t really help. I guess you’ll have to just take my word that there are plenty of reasons to visit the Sunshine State. Oh yeah – the weather is one of them!

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Yes, Kelli and I were among the crazed shoppers Black Friday morning – and I do mean morning! We set our alarms for 3:30 am and were out the door by 4. Let me tell you: doing this in Florida is a heck of a lot easier than in Massachusetts. Here you can stumble outside in a t-shirt and shorts, where as you need to bundle up in the cold north. When the freezing air hits your face the second you walk out the door, you really just want to turn around and curl back into your warm bed!

Since I explained my system to Kelli, she’s dubbed me a professional Black Friday shopper. You see, I treat it like a military mission. You have absolutely no hope of surviving – let alone success – if you don’t plan carefully and follow it through. Here’s what we do:

  • Buy the biggest newspaper with the most ads on Thanksgiving day.
  • Allow plenty of time to peruse the papers, looking through each and every ad the first go round. Set aside any with items of interest.
  • After you’ve gone through the first time, grab a pen and notebook and make lists. (Note: it helps if you’ve made a list ahead of time of the people you need to buy for. You’re less likely to over spend that way.) For each store, put the store name, the opening sale times and the location. Then list the items on sale in that flier, the sale price  and if they’re on sale all day or just certain times.
  • At this point, it’s important to know what’s really a good deal. It helps to have people to call and get advice on certain items from. For example, my little brother Jake, the electronics expert. When I saw electronics we were considering, I called or texted Jake and he gave me the low down on if they were a good buy or not and if I could do better elsewhere at another time.
  • Cross out any items that aren’t great deals or that you don’t really need – don’t waste your time with them.
  • After you’ve done that for every store with items you want (and know what’s worth braving Black Friday for), compare the lists. What is the most important item on any of the lists, the biggest buy? That’s where you need to start. (Note: this is why it’s often better to do Black Friday alone, so you can zoom in on what’s most important to you, unless you both have similar needs. Otherwise, one of you has to be flexible and risk missing the deals you want. I was happy to go with Kelli and simply get what I wanted from those stores, since there weren’t any absolute die-if-I-don’t-get-it items on my list.) Make sure that it’s something that even if you only get that one item, you will feel accomplished and like it was worth going out at that time for. Because it is possible that all the other big items will be gone by the time you get your first item!
  • Another factor to consider is location – even if it’s a little further, drive to somewhere that has a lot of the stores you need close together so during those critical early morning opening hours, you’re not wasting time driving.
  • Prepare yourself: at least bring a bottle of water, all the sale fliers for the stores you are going to and, of course, your list! (Note: some stores, like Wal-Mart, will price match, so having the other fliers could save you time. But always check with someone in the store before wasting time with that. Some stores change policies for that one day.)
  • Don’t forget to clean out your car, too – you’ll need all the space you can get!
  • Depending on how important it is to you to get a certain item is how early you need to get there.

Driving into the Target parking lot at 4 am, Kelli was amazed at the throngs of people lined up, wrapping around the building, and the fact that the entire parking lot – and that of the furniture store next door – was full. We decided we’d rather be at Wal-Mart (next door) an hour early and get those more important deals than wait in line at Target.

This Wal-Mart is open 24-hours so people were already inside, waiting in lines by the items, which were mostly on shrink-wrapped pallets and guarded by Wal-Mart associates. On the way to our items of choice (Wii for Kelli and printers for me) we saw some of the other items on our list were already out, so grabbed them as we went. While waiting at the printer, the two Wal-Mart guys entertained us with stories of earlier that morning (some of the Wal-Mart stuff went on sale at midnight). One guy tried to bribe the worker: he kept offering the guy $5 to give him one of the $1 towels a few minutes early. Yes, $5 for a towel on sale for $1 – and the regular price is $3.99! There was also a fist fight that broke out between customers, and a few yelling matches.

People got antsy as the clock approached 5 am. Even though there were clearly more printers than people standing there, some started pestering the poor sales associate. Geesh – be patient people! As soon as the plastic was cut, people dove for them! I reached in, got ours, and got out of the way! The commotion coming from the tons of people by the laptops was crazy – like a concert. It started sounding like an angry mob. Kelli texted me to make sure I was ok and I assured her I wasn’t going anywhere near that! We went around, got the other items on our list (that were still available) and got out.

That’s another important thing: don’t dawdle! Stick to what’s on your list, check out and move on to the next store. The regular stuff will be there another day. This is no time for browsing!

Kelli and I were most impressed with our full (mostly of electronics) carts and the amount of money we saved. K-Mart was next, and after we got what we needed there (by 7 am), we took a few minutes break and had breakfast. We’d already done so much, everything else was simply a bonus. We did forge on, though, back to Target and visiting the mall.

We were home by noon for Steve to nap before work. I took a nap, too, and then went out again. You see, one of the things you have to watch for are stores with afternoon specials, including coupons only good after certain times. JC Penney was one of them ($15 off $75 ). The mall was much less crowded – more like a regular day – and people had calmed down. A much nicer shopping atmosphere!

Was it worth it? Absolutely! I’m almost done with my shopping, and I had a great day out with my sister-in-law. Talk about great girl-bonding! And you can’t beat the weather. I may need to be in Florida for Thanksgiving and Black Friday again next year…

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I’m spending Thanksgiving in Florida with my older brother Steve and his family. (Nick flew to London to be with Alivia and her family.) Unfortunately, my dad and Maggie had to go to Massachusetts for a family emergency, so they can’t join us, but are certainly here in spirit – as are all our family and friends. Day 77 was spent getting ready for Thanksgiving (Day 78): shopping (including buying a TV over the phone from my other brother, Jake – our own version of Black Friday), baking, doing holiday crafts and generally playing catch-up with Steve, Kelli and the boys. It’s so nice to have so many homes that I feel so comfortable in! It’s just one of the many, many things I am so very thankful for…let me share a few more:

  • The most supportive, loving family and friends on earth. The fact that I can travel completely around the country and the majority of the time be welcomed into people’s homes is incredible. I am so blessed. Thank you all.
  • Having my own home that can put a roof over the heads of my family and friends whenever they need it (even when I’m not there). I may not love my house but I know how lucky I am to have it and how much it has helped others.
  • This incredible opportunity to explore our beautiful country. I never dreamt I’d have the chance to do this, and still can’t believe it. And I’m also thankful for the courage and confidence to do it alone. I know that comes not only from all of my parents, but my son, too.
  • My girlfriends who’ve taken parts of this physical trip with me, but practically all of the emotional journey, by phone, text and e-mail. Thank you for being with me through all the crazy highs and tragic lows, understanding me as I blubber through the tears, reminding me where home is and what’s really important. And for pointing out that the man I thought was Rhett is really Ashley and it’s time to move on. (I’m trying – honestly.)
  • All my parents for supporting me and (deep down) understanding my need to go on this journey, even if they don’t always agree with every aspect of it, and worry every mile I drive.
  • My three fabulous god-daughters, all my nephews, little cousins and friends’ children – all the little ones who make each day an adventure when seen through their eyes! And that we’ll soon have more loved ones, thanks to several of my family and friends who are expecting babies this coming year. They are miracles to be cherished. I can’t wait!
  • I am most thankful every single day that God knew exactly what I needed nearly 20 years ago when he gave me smiley Nicholas George. He is the best thing that ever happened to me. And every day he makes me smile, challenges me and encourages me to push myself. I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming, Nicko, and love you with all my heart.

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Eight hours (not counting stops for gas, food and stretching), 580 miles. All in one state – and I didn’t even drive all the way to the bottom! I really need to remind myself to download another audio book before the next epic drive commences. I have practically every word of every current country song down pat – and practiced several 80s tunes, too (you never forget the words to those – even the ones you hate).

I considered stopping and exploring some of the state parks along the way (Dan recommended some good ones), but my sister-in-law Kelli called and informed me that Hudson and Holden (my nephews) were anxiously awaiting my arrival and would stay up until I got there. I simply couldn’t elongate the journey any more. I didn’t want to torture poor Kelli by having them up too late!

So I had lots of thinking and planning time. I’ve now pretty much reached the east coast, which essentially is home. And for the most part the states there are somewhat easily accessible (at least in comparison to the rest of the country). But I don’t want to just cut the road trip short, beeline it up the coast and bring the trip to an abrupt end. I’ve already done the Miami to Massachusetts 24-hour straight drive when I flew down a few years ago to drive back with Alicia when she was moving home. And that is not a fun non-stop trip. (Never mind the fact that I’m doing it alone.) So even if I don’t dawdle and sight see much, there are still many people I want to visit before I call the trip complete.

I admit I’m eager to get home. I want to get ready for the holidays, and am especially looking forward to our baking and decorating day with all the family/friend kids. (Nick still puts the first ornament on the tree but pretty much stops there, so a few years ago I started having my god-daughters over to decorate it for me and the tradition has grown from there. This year it’s all out holiday decorating and baking with all the kids who want to join in!) And I also know it’s going to continue to get colder the later in the year it gets and the further north I drive.

So I think I’ll just make one last amendment to the itinerary. I’ll proceed as planned as far as Gram’s and Aunt Robin’s in West Virginia, but will go straight home from there. (That also allows me to bring the cat mom wants from West Virginia to Massachusetts. I’m not happy about it, but know it’s the right thing to do.) So it’s just Philadelphia and New York that I’ll skip and I’ll make sure to do them this spring or summer. And actually, I already did New York, so it’s really only Philly I’ll miss.

After determining that, I felt somewhat accomplished and went back to my singing. (I’m sorry, but there’s really no need to play Martika’s Toy Soldiers more than once every few days. It wasn’t even that big of a hit in the 80s.) I also amused myself by watching the scenery – Tara will be happy I saw more cows, but sorry I didn’t have time to stop for pictures – and by reading the billboards. I laughed out loud at the Cafe Risque (‘We Bare All’) signs for the 24-hour adult toy store. Tara and I are always saying we need 24-hour malls, restaurants and gyms, but hadn’t thought of that one. And it’s right next to the ‘Boots and Guns’ store. Wonder if that’s 24/7 too? Of course sprinkled between these are the ‘Prayer Works’ signs and the anti-abortion ads. (Did you know a baby’s heart is beating 18 days after conception? The things you learn from billboards.) By the way, if you’re looking for a field, there are 146 acres available in central Florida. Simply visit www.buymyfield.com. You only get one guess where I learned that…

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Talk about easing myself back into the road trip! Day 75 was one of the most relaxing, peaceful days yet. After sleeping in a bit, we (well, I should say Dan) packed a cooler and we drove down to the water. We launched his little boat into Escambia Bay and took it to White Island (he called it Fantasy Island, but I didn’t see any little men jumping around screaming ‘de plane, de plane’) in Bayou Grande.

The little island reminded me of the small deserted islands my dad and Maggie used to take me and my brother to when we were young. Beautiful white sand, clear blue water, patches of palm trees and shells galore. It also reminded me of the time my 11 year-old brother took me out in the row boat and threatened to leave me off at a buoy in the middle of the ocean. When I told Dan that he said he could call my brother and offer to finish the job for him, but I told him that he is also the same brother that called that morning to yell at me for going to a strange guy’s house and warned to be careful. I guess I’ve grown on him…

We set off to explore our little island and made numerous friends along the way: Harry, the blue herring, Pedro the pelican, Sandy the sandpiper (and gang), Winnie the (plastic) horse and Frank the pink flamingo. Oh, wait, Frank is at Dan’s house, as now is Winnie. We left the rest peacefully in their natural habitat. I admit I did take a few shells, though, but only ones that no creatures were using as homes.

The island quiet was shattered by a sudden thunder: out of nowhere, some of the Blue Angels appeared! They’re the awesome Navy planes that do incredible flight shows. I forgot they’re based in Pensacola. We saw a few different ones fly by. It was great – seeing them is always a thrill.

After a brief siesta on the warm sand, we finished our tour of the island and set off for a ride around the bay. We lucked out as we got back to the boat landing just as the rain began – then drove right toward a rainbow. I wanted to go find the pot of gold, but Dan assured me it’s not in Pensacola. We did see a bunch of money that night, though: it was hanging all over the ceiling at McGuire’s Irish Pub, where we had an incredible dinner. A definite must-stop if you’re ever in Pensacola. Go hungry!

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