Roadtrip Hotlanta: The Conclusion!

UPDATE: I AM HOME FROM MY ROAD TRIP!!!

Yes, I do realize it’s February 2016 and my trip ended last year.  But I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten about you.  I really tried to blog from the road, but after 2 nights pecking posts onto my iPhone, exhausted from driving and my wonky ear, I said FORGET THIS.  Road trips are supposed to be fun!  So please just sit back, pretend it’s 3 months ago, and enjoy the ride.

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Snow Tubing

Friday we got another foot of snow.  Yeah, I thought spring was on its way too, but HAHAHHAHAHAHHHH!!  We live in Maine.  So yesterday (Saturday) we decided to put all this white stuff to good use. Via SNOW TUBING.  We drove to Seacoast Snow Park in Windham.  Only 25 minutes yet a world of fun away!

Here we are at the bottom of the hill.  When we first started we were feeling perky and WAY EXCITED!  So we hoofed it up the hill.  I overheard a family walking alongside us saying it was GOOD to walk, that we were all doing it the old fashioned way.  (Old fashioned = code language for WORK OUT)

Here we are at the top.  I cannot tell you how much FUN!! it was cascading down.  Snow spraying hitting your face, the wind in your hair.  I felt positively giddy.  As you can see, there’s not a huge wait for a lane.  This is b/c there are 12 lanes to choose from. And snow tubing sessions are divided into 2-hour blocks.  Only *so many* tubes are sold per session, so things keep moving.  Single riders can go in any of the 12 lanes, but if you want to link your tube up with other riders, you have to choose the proper lane: 2 riders, up to 6 riders, or more.

The four of us hoofed it up the hill once and rode down.  Then we hoofed it up again and went down again.  After this we were TIRED.  The hill’s not that high but it ain’t that short either. So we decided it was time to be carried.   That’s right; CARRIED!  Not on the backs of sherpas but via conveyor belt or rope tow!  The conveyor belt works just like you’d imagine.  You step onto it and stand with your tube as it whisks you up the hill.

Image: Seacoast Fun Park

We didn’t use the conveyor belt method. Mostly b/c all the double tubes had to be carried that way and the wait was much longer.  As we were all using single tubes, we opted for the rope tow.  The rope tow line was fairly short and the method more appealing.  You sit in your tube and relax.  A handle connected to your tube is looped onto a metal claw attached to the rope.  You and your tube are yanked up the hill to the top, where at a specified location you toss yourself off your tube and proceed a few steps to collect your ride.

Image courtesy of Geoff (maybe that's his kid?)

Here we are waiting at the bottom of the hill in the rope tow line.  You can see the mechanism to the left, pulling the happy tubers up to the top.  The wait was short and while waiting we listened to music over the loudspeakers.  They were playing “The Q” – the Top 40 radio station here in Portland.  Very toe tapping / booty shaking music, sure to put you in a good tubing mood.  My younger daughter is a BIG Q fan – but that’s for another post altogether..

Me & “Greenie”

Here we are back at the top, waiting in line for Lane 1.  Lane 1 is the best lane – single riders only – it’s curvy and has a mogul in one spot.  Worth the short wait.

After this I couldn’t take anymore pics b/c my iPhone camera stopped working.  Personally, I think it got jealous of the fun we were having and decided to stick it to me.  So I didn’t get any shots on the rope tow, or while tubing down any of the lanes.  But that’s probably for the best.  We went a total of 9 times in our 2 hour session, mostly linked together in a big mass of four tubes.  The added weight only served to increase our speed, velocity & fun — so together we FLEWWWW down the hill, Whoopping & hollering and having a BLAST!!  I’m glad I couldn’t take photos — for once I simply sat back and enjoyed the ride. 🙂

Max

My dog Max died two weeks ago.  Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected.  We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy!  Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed.  He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs.  My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom.  Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass.  He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times.  His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.

John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside.  We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves.  We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip.  Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end.  Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.

His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family.  Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years.  He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.

We miss him terribly.  But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives.  I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach.  Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard.  2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree.  And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.

A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss.  Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

Thanksgiving is ALMOST HERE!

Hello everyone! I hope that you’re enjoying the crisp autumn weather, as the days grow shorter and snowflakes begin dotting the air. As our thoughts turn collectively to turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, I wanted to touch base for a quick run-down of Thanksgiving recipes.

The holidays can be especially hard for those on salt-restricted diets – but they don’t have to be. With a little preparation and ingenuity, these times can be the best – and healthiest – you’ve ever known.

So let’s talk TURKEY. When it comes to the bird, think fresh. Although most free range fresh turkeys are expensive, they’re worth it. Not only will you be getting a bird much lower in sodium, but the animals themselves are also treated much more humanely. WIN-WIN. Whole Foods Markets, as well as many food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and butcher shops are selling fresh birds like hot cakes this time of year. With a little leg work, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find one. If you haven’t or can’t purchase a fresh bird though, don’t despair! Most supermarkets have a whole array of options. In the past I’ve opted for kosher birds, which tend to be lower in sodium than the standard butterballs. But don’t limit yourself. Roast chicken is a healthy substitute, as are guinea hens, duck and quail. And many butcher shops have fresh birds that have not been treated with the broth/salt injections commonly afforded the processed birds.

Or, if you’d prefer skipping poultry altogether, I highly recommend this fabulous recipe for Roast Pork with Dried Plums.

Not to overlook vegetarians, I have recipes for several meat-free entrees that are sure to please. Vegetarian Holiday Loaf is adapted from a Vegetarian Times recipe of the same name. Vegetarian Lasagne, Zucchini Cakes, and meaty Gorgonzola Portobellos are all delicious, and there are a ton of other vegetarian entrees at THE DAILY DISH.

But – as usual – I’m getting ahead of myself! Why not start at the START with a delicious soup or salad! Soup makes any meal more memorable, and I have recipes for some serious stand-outs. Butternut Squash Soup will have your guests raving. As will the phenomenally gorgeous Beet Soup or Apple Butternut Soup. If greens are more your speed, try this tasty Warm Asparagus Salad or Simple Autumn Salad.

Now, let’s talk sides. No turkey dinner is complete without Cranberry Sauce and Stuffing! Baked apple slices are delicious with fowl, and are a sure hit with kids. Another idea is topping Mashed Sweets with some marshmallows, baking, and serving as an irresistible sweet potato casserole. Or you could try your sweet potatoes roasted, as in Fingers and Sweets. Creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes are FABBBULOUS, as are the always popular Twice-Baked Potatoes. Winter squash is also wonderful this time of year! For an extra showy and delicious meal, I highly recommend both Stuffed Acorn Squash, as well as Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots.

Since most of us love some bread with our meal, try the simple rolls I made this summer with my daughters. Incredibly easy and delicious – and a great time even if you don’t have children of your own.

And what holiday meal is complete without DESSERT? Pumpkin pie is a must-have at our house. But there are some other absolutely delicious pies to consider as well – Squash and Pear Pie and Sweet Potato Pie are particularly popular this time of the year. I also highly recommend Pears in Wine, which look (and TASTE) divine but are supremely simple to make.

Finally, don’t forget beverages! I recommend a nice chilled white wine to complement the meal, but if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to feel deprived. Try some sweet milky Chai Tea with dinner or dessert.

Just remember, Thanksgiving is set aside as a day for giving thanks for all of our blessings, enjoying friends and family, and celebrating life. So don’t let your kitchen time stress you out so much you lose perspective. If things burn, flop or turn out just plain ugly, laugh and put your feet up, knowing you tried your best. There was always plenty of cursing around the kitchen while I was growing up, and my mom often sat simmering long after the meal was over. But there’s no reason to sweat the little things. So enjoy yourself, and enjoy a big satisfying meal without having to worry about the aftermath.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

New York, New York

Saturday – in honor of John’s 37th birthday – we went to NEW YORK. Almost a year since our last visit. October 2007, boarding the Norwegian Spirit on our way to New England & Canada. As exciting as that trip had been (taking in the sights of the NYC passenger terminal and Penn Station), this time we wanted MORE.

Behold the American Museum of Natural History.  Isn’t she PRETTTY??  YES_SHE_IS!

We got to the museum early. We’d debated the merits of driving v. taking the train and finally decided just to drive. Mostly b/c it allowed an extra hour of sleep. There’s a parking garage located conveniently beneath the museum, so we were able to park all day for just $46 bucks. WOW. My lovely friend Pannonica had set aside Super Passes for us and let me tell you. NOTHING BEATS FREE. The “insider touching privileges” and executive washroom access were just icing on the (proverbial) bday cake. Make no mistake, Biologists are ROCK STARS.

The museum is massive, so we had to prioritize. Several sections are similar to the Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philly, as well as the Penn Museum and the Smithsonian. So we skipped those. NO NOT ALL OF THEM.  A few we walked through, doing the YES I AM PAYING ATTENTION dance. The place is just way too big to see in one day. So we did the best we could. We took in the scenic tour of the Food Court. I recommend getting there as soon as it opens, before the bagels are fondled too much. At lunchtime the place is an absolute zoo. I wanted to try the empanadas, but as the line was 5 deep, I gave up. The half of a bacon cheeseburger I pried away from my husband was o-kay. But not an empanata. We checked out one of the gift shoppes. The girls wanted cool moving-picture book marks, which were indeed neat, but at $6 a piece left me aching for an empanada.

2 meals in the food court and one gift shoppe visit later, we took in the actual museum. Which is very quiet and clean 1st thing in the morning. Disintegrating into a combination swap-meet/ Macy’s parade atmosphere as the day wears on.  We saw as much as humanly possible w/ 2 children in tow and swarming hordes of on-lookers. The highlights included the breathtaking Hall of Ocean Life. Also, the Dinosaurs Alive! IMAX film, which positively enchanted my older daughter, though not my husband. Always a critic. We all very much enjoyed the Lizards & Snakes: Alive! special exhibit, which, I confess, has left me longing for a Burmese Python. The whole museum – from the dioramas to the miles-long array of minerals, to the beauty of the building itself – is awesome. Fascinating. Overwhelming.  By the time we left, I felt like someone who’d tried digesting 5 billion years of history w/ one too few Tums.

BUT THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR DESSERT.  And what trip to New York is complete w/out a visit to the sweetest place on earth (at least for a child) – FAO SCHWARTZ.  We made our way through Central Park, ambling towards 5th Avenue. It was simply lovely. The undulating trunks of the American Elms, the couples in love, the roller dancers making fools of themselves. AHHHHH. What a day to be alive.  Even the teeming crowds outside the Plaza weren’t enough to throw off our bliss.

Until we arrived at FAO SCHWARTZ.  I must confess that my daughters were MORE THAN A LITTLE skeptical regarding this particular store.  They kept asking, over and over – What IS THIS??  WHERE ARE WE GOING??  IS THIS FUN>> IS IT FOR KIDSSSS>????  As though we’d lost our senses.  TRUE the name does sound more like a financial institution than a toy store.  But once we stood outside the glass walls, and the girls had spotted the doorman dressed as a toy soldier, they knew GAME ON.  Once inside, we managed to make our way through the two stories and come away unscathed.  The ladies agreed to one small Playmobil set each. I was awed by the life-size Lego recreations of Chewbacca, Hagrid and the Harry Potter gang. But enough is enough.

Next stop: American Girl Place. Anyone who knows me can JUST IMAGINE WHAT I WAS THINKING. And you would be right. But I kept it BUTTONED. Through 4 floors of crass commercialism, personal shopping, doll hair salon, and cafe. I simply smiled weakly and let Daddy treat his daughters. Afterward I needed a drink. BAAAAAAAAD. We walked up 5th Avenue, past stores I will never be able to afford, surging with the crowd. We ate dinner at a cozy Irish place, which YOU KNOW HAD ALCOHOL. We stood in Times Square, gazing open-mouthed at all the neon and craziness. And then we walked, slowly, back to the car, taking in the sights. Watching the blocks morph from tacky souvenirs into respectable stone. And silently wondering what life must be like for those fortunate enough to live in such splendor.