Thursday, April 10, 2008

Destination Destin (Part Four)

We arrived about two hours later than we had planned due to traffic, stops, etc. The on-site “owner’s representative” was expecting us closer to 3 or 4. I called her when we got there and she was rather crabby saying she got tired of waiting and went on to do some errands. Oh, really—tired of waiting?!? Lady, I just rode in a car for 8 hours with three children ages seven and under. Whatever. She said she would stop by the next day to pick up the check.

We went to the store and loaded up on food. One reason when we travel renting a house is the best option for us is the kitchen. Our kids never eat a restaurants and it is almost always a guaranteed way to flush $50 down the drain. We need a kitchen to be able to cook—it ensures everyone actually eats and saves us a ton of money, and stress. Did I mention how terrible our kids are in restaurants? No doubt the result of never taking them to restaurants, so the blame is on us. At any rate, we went to the store and vacation freedom was in full force—they could get whatever they wanted, but even with that, I was so pleased with their choices. Phillip brought several things to me and asked for help reading the label and on a few, once I read it, he put it back—even though he had the freedom to get it. Back to the house to put the groceries up, unpack, eat dinner (which consisted of everyone's favorite item they just bought at the grocery store--lots of cereal for dinner that night) and get to bed.

The days that followed were relatively calm. The weather was cool and very windy. But, the sun was out in full force almost every day. The cool temperatures didn’t really bother me, I was just glad to see the sun. After four-plus months of no more than a few hours of sunshine, it does the soul good to see blue skies day after day after day. Ideally it would have been warmer so we could enjoy the beach more, sit on the porch in the evenings, etc. But, it was too chilly. In fact, each morning we would turn the heat on in the house because it had gotten so cold over night; it was dropping to the high 30s low 40s each night.

There was a beautiful pool and hot tub in the complex where we spent most of our time in the sun. The kids played and we relaxed, reading magazines. Andrew spent the first few days watching from the sidelines, but by the last day was being so brave in the water he was making me nervous. There were other kids there and they made friends, playing for hours on end with the toys I brought for the pool or beach, but figured mostly pool.

We went to the beach several times, but often it was too cold or windy to really enjoy it. The kids did still get in the ocean some, but it was freezing and even they shied away from it (except a few brave attempts). But, we did build sand castles, play football, take walks, put our feet in the sand and relax. Phillip loves the ocean, always has. Sam I think, despite how brave and fearless he is, senses the enormity of it and approaches it with a bit of caution. The last day, we were able to spend a good several hours at the beach in the sun—and were warm enough to just be in our bathing suites.

Our first full day there--Easter Sunday--we stopped by the beach in the morning. The gulf was calm, water was clear and the beach was empty. It was cool, but the boys couldn't resist playing in the sand and water.

The mornings were naturally the coldest part of the day, we would usually have a very slow start to the day, lounging around home. Then, we would do something other than the beach/pool, saving that for the warmer part of the day. We really couldn’t handle much more than a few hours of total sun exposure a day, so it worked out nice. No matter how much sunscreen I put on Phillip and what level, he still gets too much sun. I applied 40 three times in a period of about five hours and he still got burned. I moved to the 50 for the kids and it seemed to do the trick. Phillip has Jeff’s skin tones and Sam definitely has mine—Andrew is somewhere in between.

Every day we went to the beach, the flag warnings were the same. Purple was for sea life alert. There were many dead jellyfish washed up on the shore to prove the warning was necessary.

Andrew played delivery man for hours. He would load the wagon with all the beach toys and then take a little walk on the beach. He would return by announcing, "Delivery man" and ask what each of us needed. I might say a blue shovel, he would hand it to me and move on to the next person. Then, come and collect what he delivered and start all over again.

I dug a big hole in the sand and the boys jumped in. While standing, we burried their legs and then they would pop out. I used to LOVE being burried in the sand when I was little.

Sam was practicing writing his name in teh sand over and over--S-A-M he would tell me and then we would watch it wash away.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Destination: Destin (Part 3)

I have a little morning ritual, which I think I have now realized I inherited from my mother, where I have to drink my coffee alone in the morning, at least the first few cups. At home, I work or read blogs in the still of the early morning or sometimes on the weekends, I indulge in morning news shows. When we travel, I get up before everyone else and head down to the lobby to find some coffee and relax reading the local paper or magazines until everyone else is up. So, in Nashville, I headed down to the restaurant in the morning and read some magazines and drank coffee. Everyone else joined me later for breakfast.

As a side note, vacations for our family represent a period of extreme freedom. We loosen up on what the kids can eat, when they can eat it, where they can eat it, what they can watch on television (usually only PBS Kids and Disney are allowed in our house, but vacation means Cartoon Network and the beloved Nickelodeon), when they go to bed, we tend to buy them more stuff—it is just usually a general “yes-fest.” Sort of like how we do birthday days at our house.

So they selected cinnamon rolls and sugared cereal from the breakfast buffet. After breakfast, we went back to our room to pack up and hit the road again. The excitement was obvious--it was going to be a long car ride for sure.

We decided to visit a great toy store just down the road before heading the rest of the way to Destin. I got them some more surprises for the car and Andrew and Phillip picked out these big guns they wanted, like old wooden shot guns. Again, vacation in our family is about stepping outside the rules and having fun—they got the guns, which never would have flown at home. Sam picked two stuffed animals because the 3,449 other ones he has just are not enough.

We hit the road around 9:30AM. Traffic continued to be bad—the whole way. We drove and drove and drove. We stopped for lunch in Montgomery, Alabama. Once we were on the other side of Montgomery, we got on 331—a back roads state highway. Wow. Now there was a look at life I have never really seen, except for maybe driving the hills of Tennessee.

We listened to Radio Disney, watched movies (oh, and the wireless headphones were not working, so we all got to listen to the movies), talked, Sam and Andy fought and Phillip pretty much kept his head down and played his GameBoy the whole time. Pretty much every five minutes, Andrew would ask when are we getting to Florida—even when we were in Florida. Oh, and the pee stops---geeze, the pee stops.
After Montgomery, Alabaman, we left the big highway and hit a smaller state highway that was most of the time two lanes (331). It cut right through the "back country" and provided interesting sites as we drove. Literally shantys and mobile homes so dilapidated I would start to think about the stories of the place--what happened there, why did they leave, where did they go--and then, half of the time, all of the sudden I would realize there were people still living there. Life had clearly passed most of these small towns by.

In one of those small towns with nothing but empty store fronts in its once glorious downtown, we got stopped in a small town in Alabama. Being pulled over with Jeff in the car is interesting. "Put your hazards on," I said. "No, you don't put your hazards on," he said. "Yes you do," I said. "No, you don't," he said. Fine. Whatever. "Just don't say anything," he said. The police officer walked up to the car and asked a few questions. I so wanted to talk. I could hear in Jeff's voice he was slightly nervous. He knew this would be a big ticket if we got one.

They chatted back and forth for a few minutes. The guy was like 100 and giving Jeff a mini-lecture. All of the sudden, I realize his badge says Chief. "Your the CHIEF of police? We got pulled over by the Chief?," I asked. "Yes ma'am," was his response. "Wow," I said, "That's kinda neat."

Within a second, I knew Jeff didn't appreciate my editorial comment. Finally, the lecture was over and he let us go. He was kind enough to extend a professional courtesy and not give Jeff a ticket. I put a tally mark on my mental Jeff's Got Pulled Over sheet (he needed some, as I had pulled ahead with a strong lead after construction on I-70 last year). Finally, we got to the Florida house.

The kids piled out of the van and the second part of the adventure began. There was a great extra lot next to the house (awaiting at least another two houses) with sand instead of dirt. The boys immediately ran there and started playing. We explored the house in amazement. (Andy showing off his gun that he picked out at the toy store. Sigh. Certainly there are worse things in life than boys who like guns, right?

Now, I must say that we had seen the pictures of the house on the internet and knew it looked nice, plus it is pretty new, so we have fairly high expectations, but…our neighbor who owns it is a man of great means but even greater modesty, a bit of a saver if you will. We thought there would be limits to the interior.
But, we were wrong. The house was amazing—huge and everything inside was beautiful. Great appliances, televisions, huge bathrooms, lots of natural light, it was fabulous. There were two full bed and baths we didn’t even use. It was more than enough space in a beautiful neighborhood with an incredible view.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Destination: Destin Part 2

We have never been to Destin, but it is a popular spot with Hoosiers, I think mostly because it is a 12-hour straight shot. Our neighbors and friends own a house there and are crazy about the place. And, so are several other people I know. So, we booked the house and planned to spend our first week on spring break with kids.

Because I don’t like traveling, I tried not to think about the trip until it was inevitable. The week before, I started my ritual list making routine and making piles of things to pack. I made runs to Target, my favorite local toy store and Costco for DVDs. I got in the attic to get out shorts and t-shirts—only to find we really had none.

I think I remember last year when I packed up the summer clothes getting rid of most of them thinking I wanted new ones for the boys. I was so sick of the things Phillip wore and passing them down to Sam and then Andrew. They were dingy and dirty, stained and just tired looking. So when I went to pack, they had nothing but a few pairs of shorts and some t-shirts, all of which I cannot figure out why I kept—they are horrible! So, I also made about three runs to Gap to outfit the boys with summer clothes (check out one of Sam's picks). I got new beach and pool toys and kept them hidden in anticipation of the trip. I made up travel back packs for each child with activities. Jeff cleaned the van out, got the house ready in anticipation of us being away and was in charge of the bikes.

I told some clients I would be away and others I just sort of told I was unavailable for meetings and still others, I said nothing to about it. I don’t know why, but I hate saying I am going on vacation and truthfully, the expectation from most of our clients is that we don’t go on vacation (only they do). I packed up the work I needed to take, my laptop, phone charger and tons and tons of magazines and catalogs I had been saving to read on the beach.

We were scheduled to leave on Saturday, March 22, but really we didn’t have anything going on Friday night so we thought we might as well leave Friday late afternoon. I got on Priceline and got a great hotel room in Nashville very cheap. Usually, I don’t like Priceline (another control issue ahead) because I am so particular about the hotels I stay at, I want to be able to be sure it is the right hotel and they don’t tell you what it is until after they accept your offer. But, based on the description, I knew which hotel it was and I have seen that hotel and knew it was nice (the Marriott near Vanderbilt). I love that area of Nashville and trusted the site—this once.

Jeff got off work at 2 and I had a morning meeting or two, but then was pretty much done. We packed up and headed out shortly after 3PM. Traffic was bad, which it usually is in our area until about 50 miles outside of Indianapolis. But, it never really thinned out much and then, in Seymour (really, not the most exciting place to be stuck), it came to a dead stop on the highway. We had been in the car for literally a little over an hour and the kids were already complaining they were hungry. We had planned on stopping for dinner later on or even when we got to Nashville as the area we were staying has lots of great little restaurants but the traffic was at a total standstill—it was a parking lot, so we got off in Seymour.

We ate at Cracker Barrel and the kids each got a new Webkinz (which brought the Cracker Barrel experience to around $75, there is just something wrong with that). We ask the locals for a short cut to avoid the interstate and headed off again. The rest of the world took the short cut too, so it was another hour or so to get back on the highway. While we were in that traffic, we saw the medivac helicopter come in and land—good thing we got off the highway, it wasn’t good. Back on the road, headed for Nashville.

We rolled in at about 7:30PM. The room was great, but we only had one—which meant two double beds and only one television. Jeff and Phillip ran out to get us all some ice cream and I got the other boys ready for bed. We all ate ice cream in bed and eventually the boys fell asleep. I probably permanently scarred them because I was dying to watch the 20/20 special about prostitution—again, that one television thing was a problem. Really I don’t feel I should have to watch Hannah Montana after 8PM, 9PM at the latest. Tomorrow, we drive the rest of the way to the Florida panhandle. We are driving through Alabama and I am excited! I have never been to Alabama...I have big expectations.