Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Missing NOLA

Four years ago, staring down the barrel at thirty, I did what every not-quite-midlife crisis’er does and created a bucket list. If you know me and my boogie shoes, you won’t be surprised to find out that a large percentage of my list had to do with travel. I’m a wanderer at heart, dead set to experience as much of the world as I can in my time here. I want to gorge my mythology loving self on the Greek Isles, I want to drive Route 66 in a convertible, I want to party in Iceland in the middle of June. But first, I had a little business to take care of Down South:

New Orleans during Mardi Gras season.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, well, what’s wrong with you? There are few places in the world where so many lifestyles blend seamlessly in a kind of steaming cultural gumbo. Where else can you cross yourself with holy water as you exit a Catholic cathedral, only to turn the corner and find yourself in an honest to goodness voodoo shop? It's where the United States meets the Carribbean, where European and African cultures colide in a whirl of color and sound and amazing smells. If you let it, New Orleans will work its magic on you; you just have to let go and let be.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that lately I’ve been jonesing for a trip to the Big Easy? It doesn’t help that I have friends down there, and every mention of beignets, café au lait, and music makes me twitchy. And since Fat Tuesday is officially February 21st, we are under six months til I head on back… so doesn’t it make sense on Travel Tuesday to take a look at a few of my favorite things about New Orleans?

Of course it does.

I've always thought St. Louis Cathedral looks like Cinderella's castle....
... and even moreso at night.
How we got up this high above New Orleans is a secret, but this man's generosity is not. Eric and Alfred talked for a good twenty minutes about Alfred's life before Katrina, where he worked when the storm came, and what he's done since.

Everywhere we go, we hear stories. Maybe we draw them in, maybe there's something about the cameras. Renette was one of those people, one of those stories we won't forget.
My son asked if Smitty lived here....
The first year we happened to plan our trip for the weekend in between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl, and right in the middle of the Buddy D parade. Merriment commenced.
One of the greatest things about our New Orleans trips is the people we meet. This was Boomah- 87 years old and the life of the party!
Looking out from high above Canal.
February, and the scent of flowers was thick in the air...
A lot of people warned us about the crime. It exists in any city, but everyone seemed certain we'd come back in body bags. This was about as scary as it got.
You have no idea what I'd do for a plate of hot beignets and some frozen cafe au lait from Cafe Du Monde right now. The scent of fried dough and sugar mixing with the first rush of morning caffiene is better than any high around.

Be back soon, dear.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Sounds of Silence

I’m at that point where, like Uncle Jimmy says, I need to take off for a weekend just to try and recall the whole year. Is it seriously the end of August? Despite my best attempts to bury my head in the sand, the
proof is in the institutional pudding. Summer is fading and fall is fast approaching.

Clue one: my house is silent.

No arguments over the television, no fights about Halo 3 or whatever the hell it is they’re playing now (that’s their father’s arena. I don’t do video games… well, except Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. I mean, Jack Sparrow actually MOVES like the movie character. How the hell do they DO that?) There are no chicken nuggets to be baked, no playdates to be arranged. School is back in session and, once more, the hours between 9 and 3 become my own.

I know a lot of parents get misty eyed when their kids go off to school, and I will admit I’ve had my moments. I made the critical mistake of watching the 5th grade graduation photo slideshow the day
my new middle schooler went to enroll. Sweet suffering on a water buffalo, that was a bad idea. Pictures of my son’s smiling friends hamming for the camera flashed by, accompanied by heartwrenching music about friendship and memories. The cloying sentimentalism got to me, and soon I was snuffling and dripping all over my keyboard. Attractive.

When the day actually came, though, I was pretty chill.  Chris got himself up at 5:30 (bless that child, where the hell did he get the early morning gene from?), showered, dressed, and even deigned to take the yearly “before school” photographs. When the bus came at 8, he was standing nonchalantly at the stop sign, chatting with a friend, waiting to go on to the next part of his life while I hid in the bushes, watching him go.
Can we just get this over with?
"Pretend they don't exist; maybe they'll go back inside."
No, really. I hid in the bushes. I mean, damn, don’t you remember middle school? If I were eleven, I would have wanted me hiding in the bushes too. You know what I mean.

Yes, those are leaves at the edge there. Don't judge me.
So it’s quiet here, and for the first time in 83 days my house is my own. Today marks the first Monday back to school, and it’s business as usual, I’m sure. No one has called home in hysterics. Zack has managed to
navigate his way to first grade without the assistance of his big brother that was there last year. Chris has yet to be shoved into a locker. They come home with smiles on their faces and stories to tell. Mostly about lunch, but I’ll take what I can get. In the meantime, I blast some Buffett, drink another cup of coffee, and wait for them to come home.

No worries here
Because, honestly? I kind of miss the noise.

Kind of.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Own Particular Harbor

So I disappeared for a while, which I suppose makes me a bad blogger. But I think about three people read my blog regularly, so that's okay.

In the last month we did something kind of crazy, kind of extraordinary, and it didn't even take extra rum to convince me to do it.

We bought a lake house.

By "we" I mean the spouse and his folks. My kids, too, I suppose, since we're spending their inheritance (HAHAHAHAHA!). We're now vacation home owners. Well, vacation garage owners. See, the place is on two lots; the house sits on one lot, the extra large garage on the other. When we went to assign deeds and all of those other important legal things we ended up with the garage. It's a very nice garage.
That's right. Be jealous of my garage.

Luckily enough, my in-laws kind of like us, so they're letting us in the house, too.
We're potty trained, so it's okay to let us in.

And so here it is: I'm officially a Fresh Water Pirate. It doesn't take away my desire or my need for that salty sea air, the sand between my toes and my buttcheeks. But the truth is, for me water is water, be it salt, fresh, or chlorinated. Being on, around, or in it is soothing. Now I have my own little harbor to call home.

Of course, the boys- the big one included- are like Davy Crockett or Bear Grylls on crack. The first thing they had to do, of course, was buy a gun.

What, you weren't expecting that? Neither was I. Nor were the snapping turtles, judging by the "Oh shit!" looks on their leathery little faces.
Dive, Leonardo! Dive! (insert other TMNT references)
It's been explained to me that shooting the ginormous snapping turtles that inhabit our fishing pond is necessary. They eat the fish and screw up the pond's balance. Somehow I don't think Master Splinter would care for that explaination, or my kid's rather unnerving degree of aim. Remind me to take away his clown suit.

I have to say, the whole thing is pretty cool. You wake up in the morning to the birds singing, grab yourself a cup of coffee, and step out onto the deck to watch the world wake up. The fish are biting, the dragonflies are humming, and the world is fresh and new. It's a pretty spectacular feeling. Of course, when you're a part of this crew, by late afternoon you've started making rum punches and Margaronas and the scene is a little more like Summer Camp for Idiots.

"It's taking on water. Go ahead and jump in and let's see how long we can row before we go under!"

It's how we roll, though. And in the end, it's all about family, spending quality time teaching your kid to set a hook without your finger becoming the bait, watching the world wake up around the water, just enjoying the good, easy life.

And watching out for the turtles. Swear to God.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Kitschy Little Secret

Hey there Hot Stuff.
I have a confession to make.

I know where Carmen Sandiego is.

No, no, no, it's bigger than that.

I love Branson.

I do. I love it to death. I can't help myself! Bluegrass! Hillbillies! Kitsch! Barely hanging on celebrities! Beer, Bait, and Homemade fudge, all under one roof! How can you not LOVE something that awesome?
I know, as someone who calls herself the Pirate Mommy, I should be rhapsodizing about the beach, and the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. And truly, there is no place I'd rather be right now than sipping on a rum punch as I watch the tide roll in over perfect sugar sand. Unfortunately, the only tide I see is the kind I'm pouring into the washing machine with the hope it gets that orange popsicle stain out of my favorite underwear (don't ask). In this part of the country, and in my situation- you do what you can do. And what we do is Branson.

I know a lot of people who roll their eyes and outwardly cringe when someone mentions going to Branson. "Hillbilly Nashville? Are you serious?" The expected thing is that you'll roll your eyes along with them and beg for their comiseration. But they're missing everything that makes Branson so incredible, so awesome, so damned much fun. Yes, it's corny. Yes, it's kitschy. That's the beauty of it. You have to embrace it, embrace the insanity, the deep fried twangy goodness.

With that in mind, here are ten of what I think are the best parts about Branson:

10. Look As You Are
A lovely bunch of Teacup Humans, really. Thank god my thighs don't show in this picture.
Look, no matter how much I love my beaches there is always the issue of the swimsuit and overall appearance. While I know no one in Barbados really gives a damn about my thighs, well, *I* give a damn about my thighs in Barbados. So we spend all of this time and energy working to look perfect on a vacation where we should be just letting it all go. Well, in Branson we HAVE let it all go. You're eating gravy and homemade fudge and you don't give a damn. Unbutton that top button and get comfortable.

9. Osmonds! Are everywhere!
It's full of Osmondy Goodness... and really, that's pretty fabulous.
It's true. The Osmonds HAVE LANDED. It's almost as awesome as when Wayne Newton was there. Almost. No Donnie, No Marie... and I realize, for some people that’s like a Jackson Four Reunion Tour. But... but... it’s the OSMONDS. Not that I’ve ever seen them, but STILL.

8. The Wild Woody
It just keeps going and going and going....
OK, so as a Go-Kart track this one kind of sucks. Yeah, it goes really high, but you spend so much time turning you never get to a decent speed. That said... they named a track The Wild Woody and managed to keep a straight face. That alone earns it a spot.

7. "They've got everything in this mall!"
Oh, like you read it as "Shack" the first time you looked at it!
You can find just about anything in Branson. Need a fancy dress for your dinner at the Outback? Got it. Need lures for your bass fishing expedition? Got it. Need a coffee mug with your name on it so you don't keep getting confused at breakfast? Got it. Need a variety of mixed nuts for your dining pleasure? Got those too.

6. Baldknobbers.
You know it's good comedy when there's a man who can eat his own face.
Historically, the Baldknobbers were a group of late 1800s vigilantes. What these guys are, I have no idea. But they're called Baldknobbers. How awesome is that?

5. Dolly Parton Suckers
Dolly Parton Suckers and Pecan Logs. If that's not a match made in heaven...
We'd gone down to Branson for Labor day weekend and were looking for the restaurant we'd chosen for our Sunday breakfast when we drove past the Fudge Shop. Now there are easily a dozen or two different places to buy fudge and candies in Branson, but this one caught our eye for one particular reason: There in the shop's plate glass window was a sign advertising, of all things: Dolly Parton Suckers. We didn't stop that day- frankly, we didn't want to scar the kids- but I am determined to get back down there and find out just what the holy hell a Dolly Parton sucker is. It has to be fabulous, and probably quite artificial.

4. The Lake
We start our crew out young. He's a ruthless little badger out there.
7. The Lake- I'm a water person to my very core. If I'm in, on, or around water, I am automatically more at peace. While I'd love to be sailing the seas, I have come to terms with the fact that I am indeed landlocked. Table Rock Lake gives me a chance to be a freshwater pirate, even if only for a day. It's also where you can rent a boat for a day, nearly drown while learning to water ski, flash a pontoon boat full of elderly fishermen, and end up so burned you can't wear a bra for two weeks. Not that I'd know anything about that, of course.
Getcherself a guitar, some Natty Lite, and head on down to the lake, y'all!

3. Kitschy, Kitschy Ya Ya
Jewelry and Moccasins! Fireworks and Knives!
I like tacky stuff. I can't control myself. Be it a Wings in South Carolina or Ozarkland on the 76 Strip, I am down with the gaudy frames and trinkets that crowd the shelves. Where else can you get an Ozark backscratcher, a pound of fudge, and a picture frame with a hillbilly and a jug of moonshine under one roof? Where else can you buy fringed and beaded t-shirts? As the billboard outside Ozarkland proclaims: Jewelry and Moccasins! Fireworks and Knives!

2. The Beatles! Sort of...
So... which one is the "Cute" Fake Beatle?
So, we're driving back from Branson, on the stretch of 65 Highway that rolls up and down the hills between Branson and Springfield, when suddenly we see not one, but two Volkswagon Beetles cruising alongside us. Inside each one were two Beatles. Well, not the real Beatles because that would be creepy as hell given that two are dead. They're called the Liverpool Legends, and let me just say that when you're going 70mph up and down hills, they look pretty freaking much like the real deal, haircuts, Nehru jackets and all. Beatles in Beetles. God Bless America; No- God Bless Branson

1. Memories... like the corners of my mind...
And a Good Time was had by all.
My parents weren't beach people. We didn't do Disney World or Sea World. We did do Vegas, but that's another story for another time. What we did more than anything was go to Branson. I've got some pretty awesome memories of waking up on a hot July morning and walking outside our door at JR's Little Dallas Motor Inn (old school Motel, yo!) and smelling the hot asphalt of the parking lot below. I remember breakfasts at Molly's Mill inside Silver Dollar City, of climbing nets and diving into ball pits inside Tom Sawyer's Landing. I remember riding the American Plunge with my brothers, my foster sister, and my awesome 76 year old grandmother. My dad taught me how to kick ass and take names while go-karting... I'm a bitch on the track. We'd be stuck for hours in the traffic on 76, and somehow it was always okay. If it took us an hour to drive five miles, well, we'd just look out the window and talk about what we saw. All in all, it was a pretty cool way to grow up. The beauty of Branson is that even though it's changed and matured... it's still not all that different from the place I went as a kid. We may stay at a Marriott instead of JR's, but there's at least one breakfast at Molly's Mill. My kids still get deputized by the Silver Dollar City sheriff. We still look out the windows at the little houses nestled into the hillsides as if they sprung from the limestone overnight. And Z? He's ripping up go kart tracks already.

And really? that's what makes Branson so damned cool.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Behold! The Pod People!

They've come to take over your brain... and they all seem to be congregating around the spinny toys.
My youngest little Buccanneer, the Z Monkey, has this thing with his eyelashes. First, they're ridiculous. We're talking long, curling, thick, Elizabeth Taylor-esque eyelashes. As someone who fights with the mascara wand on a regular (oh, who are we kidding, once a month TOPS) basis, it's sickening. They're just gorgeous.

They're also a pain- literally. The kid has these 4-5 lashes on the outer corner of his left eye that like to get a little rowdy, like to buck the system and actually grow INSIDE BACKWARDS. What that means is that his eyelashes, rather than flashing and curling beautifully like the rest, flip around and grow INSIDE HIS EYELID AND BACK AROUND HIS LITTLE EYEBALL.

I'll pause now for you to shudder and cringe and maybe even throw up a little.

When Z was three, he blinked. A lot. Like he was sending morse code messages to the people around us. At first we thought "well, the kid just blinks." Then we took him to the doctor who said "Huh. Haven't seen that before." Want to feel totally reassured by your pediatrician? Have them say THAT. Makes me feel AWESOME. So they pulled out their magic book, gave us a little card and told us to go see the opthomologist at Children's Mercy the next month, where they'd determine if it was an eye issue or if my kid had neurological problems. Sweet.

Turns out, it was all in the eyes. So impressed was Dr. Olitsky- who happens to be the section chief- that he called in approximately 47 other opthomologists in training to stare at my toddler's eye. "Amazing!" "Incredible!" "They're so long!" I wasn't sure whether I should be proud or terrified. Eventually they called me over to look through the mutant cyclops helmet cam, into my kid's eye. Sure enough, there were four 
lashes, wrapping their way backwards and around the eyeball.

*pause for cringing*

They fixed it that day, and we've been lucky enough to not have issues with it for two years. Then on Tuesday, the Z began compaining that his eyes hurt. They were scratchy. After pinning him to the carpet and bribing him with chocolate, I managed to peel back his eyelid and see that, sure enough, the little curly tentacles of doom were wrapping their way back. So it was off to CMH once more.

If you go into a kids' opthomology department, the lights are all low and soothing, and the first thing I think is "Mood lighting?" Then one of the little darlings scampers up to you, flashes you a smile,a nd GOOD GOD, ITS THE POD PEOPLE! See, they dilate the little buggers WIDE open. So what should be a nice, clean, lovely office waiting room is rendered creepy and uncomfortable. I mean, you try sitting there calmly with all of those creepy little black orbs drilling into your soul, stealing your thoughts, using them to plan the revolution. I'm just sayin.

Once Z was all Podded up and his eyeballs were numbed and turned yellow (yes, yellow. I'm not sure why they did it, but he was really excited that he'd look like our cat), the doc went in with his pokey thing and pulled the eyelashes back outside the eye. Yes, it's as gross as it sounds. Then they have to pluck out the offending lashes. That's a good time. The kid was a trooper though, which always confounds me. I try to take a piece of tape off his arm and he screams like he's being dunked in boiling oil and served up fresh to the demons of hell. A man with a thick Russian accent, saying "You are big boy! Tough, I see!" like some pediatric trainer from Rocky IV, that guy goes in and YANKS OUT HIS EYELASHES... and the kid doesn't flinch. flinched, I'll tell you that. And I'm pretty sure his big brother threw up a little.

Nevertheless, the kid is good for, hopefully, another two years. They gave him the awesome junior version of the South Florida dog track special cataract sunglasses and sent us off into the heat once more... but not before he used his Pod People skills into convincing me that nothing would heal him more than 4 McNuggets and a Dr. Pepper. What the hell? The kid doesn't even get caffeine, and there I was, ordering it up. It's a good thing he's just six and hasn't used his powers for evil. Much.
Only he could make these look good.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ARRRRRRRR!!! (Which is pirate for "Hey, what's up?)

Squinty thing, aren't I?
Most people (and by most, I mean about seven) wonder how a girl who grew up landlocked in eastern Kansas ended up a beach hound. The answer is… I’m not sure. I didn’t even dip my toes in the sea until I was 19 and on spring break with my fiancée. My parents didn’t do beach vacations- something about the Cuban military jets that escorted them across airspace on their flight to Jamaica turned them off of international travel. We did the Vegas thing, all Circus Circus and Shirley Temples.  . I suppose if you think about it, though, I’ve always been a water baby, even if it was just the big old concrete hole in the ground we called a community pool, or hanging out at the lake on a Sunday afternoon.

I’m still landlocked, but I bolt for the coast whenever my meager travel budget will allow. The rest of the time I content myself with being the Captain of this wayward ship. It’s a hell of a job just keeping the thing upright. I’m also the ship’s Quartermaster- yeah, I’m the one breaking up brawls, doling out the booty, and delegating who picks up what socks. Trust me, that’s a bigger battle than most people would think.
I run a crew of six here on the inland sea. Eric’s my First Mate. In truth, he thinks he’s the Captain, but please, child. Sometimes I let him wear the hat and tell the neighbors to walk the plank, just to make him feel good. It’s pretty cute. We’ve got two little Buccaneers- well, they’re not so little anymore. The big one is eleven and, well, he’s eleven. One minute he’s happy, the next minute I’m pretty sure he’s making a shank out of baseball cards and the internal mechanism of a broken iPod. In other words, he’s the perfect pirate! The littler one just turned six, is called “The Monkey” for a reason, and asks at least weekly when we get to go to Jamaica. God bless that child.

Security is maintained by thre e of the most ferocious (read: sleepy and fat) furballs on the planet. Try to board this ship and Jessie will gas you, Maggie will pee on you, and Jake the Wonder Cat will go all Chuck Norris on your ass. I’m sorry, but you can not defeat his kung-fu.

The Jolly Roger has been  hoisted, and you’ve got permission to come aboard, Interwebz. I promise, we won’t throw you off. Well, I won’t. I’m not speaking for The Monkey or Jake.