Thursday, January 28, 2010

the electricity bill has arrived...

I've been checking the SCE&G website at least 12 times a day since I saw the meter reader here. I mean, really, how long does it take to upload a few readings?

I checked again just now and saw numbers where there had previously been nothing. And guess what? Setting your thermostat on 62 (no, I'm not kidding) and running the gas logs nearly all day (but not at night) on these cold days works. Sure, it's a little nippy in the morning when we wake up, BUT my bill was just $22 more this month than last month even though we had much colder temperatures and a longer run of these very cold days than normal.

Guess what I'm doing to celebrate?

I'm living large and turning the thermostat up to 63!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

a great parenting lecture

Last night I attended a lecture at Porter-Gaud that was co-sponsored by Pinewood. The lecture was titled "Raising Children in Challenging Times", and while I thought I might learn more if it were titled "Raising Challenging Children in Challenging (or not-so-challenging) Times, I went anyway and I am SOOOOO glad I did.

The lecture was presented by Robert Evans, Ph.D., of Wellesley, MA. This guy is so funny and smart and wise about parenting, and I want him to move in with us. He can bring his wife and kids and grandkids, too, but he needs to live with me.


I have been in a funk lately with regards to rearing my precious bundle of love, aka Mac, and really needed to hear what he said tonight. The pressure of single parenting is tough and my hat is off to anybody who does it for longer than this measly year term I'm currently serving. It is a thankless, exhausting job from which you emerge battle-weary and scarred after hearing your 7 year-old tell you that "it's always all about you, Mom". Your tongue has permanent teeth marks from where you've bitten it in order to not list all the ways that it's not all about me, Mac. And then I must contend with Mac's perception of his absent father who with each passing day of absence, apparently grows more powerful and important and funny and sportier and smarter than dear old Mom who's at home trying hard to keep those home fires burning.

But I digress.

Back to Dr. Evans.

Nothing he said is earth-shattering or groundbreaking, which is exactly what reassured me. I am doing at least some of this stuff right (or at least adequately) and it was just nice to hear confirmation that age-old, tried-and-true, consistent parenting works. I kept thinking there was a magic bullet out there that I was missing, but there's not.

But I'd still like him to move him with me so he can keep reminding me...

winter farming

(suburban style)

electricity meter reader

The moment I have been dreading is just about upon me.

My electricity bill last month was really high. We are talking astronomically high for the shoebox we call home (but not, I'm happy to report, as high as my neighbor's was for the same period.) I know it was cold, but we were out of the country for 10 of the roughly 30 days.

Now that it's been even colder and we've been home the whole month and I've been using my gas logs (having no idea what that'll add to the bill), I am terrified of what my bill is going to be.

I just saw the meter reader sneak down to the meter on the side of my house. A thought crossed my mind:

If I tackled him, I could probably steal the meter reader machine from him and hire a young hacker person to change the reading to reflect an abnormally low reading.

It's pretty cold and windy outside, though, and I don't know any young hacker people off the top of my head and he'd probably come to before I had a chance to get the thing out of his hands, so I just watched him leave instead.

Just another day in suburbia.

Monday, January 25, 2010

i. hate. running.

This morning I talked to Jimmy and he asked me how the running was going. Doesn't he know proper telephone etiquette when phoning your spouse from Afghanistan? You do not ask about things that induce stress. You ask if the flowers are still alive that you sent last week because you were just getting ready to hit Pro Flowers on your speed dial to order more. Then he went on to tell me that I had spurred him on to run and he'd just finished a 4-mile run.

Dump me in a war zone with no movie theaters or Target or Starbucks and maybe I'd take up running too.

But I felt guilty.

And I hate feeling guilty.

So after Mac finished his homework, he got on his scooter and I got on my big girl pants and we went out to exercise. It was enjoyable to be outside together and Mac was patient to wait for me while I was huffing and puffing along. I didn't even mind so much hitting the 50 mph headwind on the run back home because my boy and I were having a good time. But between you and me, I was awfully glad to see his friend Zachary riding his bicycle to find Mac so they could play. Surely as the Madre del Año, I shouldn't be off gallivanting around the neighborhood in my running shoes while my boy is in the backyard playing with a friend, right?

(And yes, I did download the Spanish program today. Were you impressed by my bilingual posting? I haven't actually done any studying yet and I had to google how to translate "of the year", but at least I knew the Madre part right off the top of my head. Muy inteligente.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

foreign languages

Speaking foreign languages and I go together like oil and water - it's just not my thing. I fancied myself a French scholar after my required semesters of high school French, but then got to college and heard people speak real French and knew I didn't stand a chance. That part of my brain just isn't wired correctly.

So when we first moved to Mexico, I went with zero espanol and thought I'd be fine.

Until I realized I wouldn't be after about 22 minutes in the country.

After a lot of gnashing of teeth, I finally realized that I had to get with the program. When in Rome and all that jazz...

So I took classes at a little school in Guadalajara and then did online courses with the University of Maryland. I got the basics but that was about it. I made myself a promise that I'd never go to another country to live again without the language. The promise was kept with Mozambique because I was able to do full-time Portuguese training with Jimmy at the State Department before we moved there. And even though there was a 4+-year gap between Portuguese classes and our arrival in Brazil, I hoped the Portuguese synapses were still firing. And they were, well enough to get by.

And now, of course, we're going back to a Spanish-speaking country. I'm afraid any Spanish that's still lurking in my brain is so damp and mouldy that there's no way it's coming back out. The Portuguese has taken over.

I thought it would be a good idea to take a class at the local community college, but then I decided that was more commitment than I needed in my life right now.

Then I remembered that counties have adult education programs. I remember Arlington, VA had a comprehensive and wonderful selection of adult ed classes. And when I was in Boston, I picked up the book (no exaggeration) of adult ed classes offered by Cambridge. You could study anything and everything from Thai cooking to Finnish.

Not so in Dorchester County, SC. Your choices are basically ESL or school bus driver training. No joke.

So I shelved the Spanish training until yesterday when Mac and I went to Target. While he used the restroom, I checked out the $1 section right in front of the store where I found this:
Isn't that brilliant? Quick and for dummies and cheap. Just what I was looking for.

Well I started "studying" last night in the bathtub. There's some funny stuff in this book. I thought you might like to improve your Spanish along with me. You should make sure you're locked in the bathroom with the fan on so nobody hears you making these sounds. Here goes three short lessons for your enrichment...

I was so inspired by "putting my mouth in a rounded position, as if to breathe a kiss over a flower" (WHAT?!?!?!), that today I bought a Berlitz program at Barnes and Noble. Since I can't seem to muster the mojo to start my running program, maybe I'll do Spanish instead...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

clarification on yesterday's facebook post

My posting was not an attack on Republicans. We're a country, for crying out loud, that was founded on political and religious freedom.

And even though we're also a country of free speech, I just can't stand to see political commentary - written by liberals or conservatives - that's juvenile and involves calling names that could have been made up my 7 year-old. I am not kidding - the post that was my undoing involved name calling that probably is circulating around the 3rd grade. So while we have the right to post what we want on Facebook, I have the right to not read it.

I love Republicans; I'd miss out on a lot of family dinners if I disassociated myself completely. So I will not de-friend you just because of your political association alone.

But if you send a gun to me...

Well, all bets are off then.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I have been a Facebook user for a year and a bit now. I was a Facebook holdout for a long time because I thought it was for teenagers who wanted to IM their friends. Even the term "social networking" sounded phony and plastic to me.

But then I joined and got suckered into the whole concept. I loved reconnecting with people that I hadn't seen in decades. Because we were living in Brazil at the time, I felt so much closer to people when I could read their status updates. You can really learn a lot about people by what they report. And some people feel the need to share the minutiae of their lives, so you really learn more than you ever wanted to know.

When I joined Facebook, I asked to friend the most central people in my life - those that I had frequent contact with, some in my email address book, friends from home, State Department friends from over the years, etc.

The thing with Facebook is that once you are friends with one person, other mutual friends see that and sometimes you get subsequent friend requests from those mutual friends.

Which opens a whole nasty can of worms.

I felt like I needed to confirm every friend request I received as long as I knew the person.

Or had some vague, distant recollection of them tucked away in the recesses of my overly-packed brain.

Jimmy, on the other hand, was more selective and told me I should be, too. To which I said, "I was nice to everybody in high school, so why in the world would I suddenly start picking and choosing who I was going to be nice to on Facebook?"

Now, some year and a bit later, I can say there's a large, extreme, humongous difference between being polite to people when you run into them at the grocery store and friending them on Facebook.

So I have started de-friending (or is it un-friending) people.

There are people who play this game called Mafia Wars on Facebook, which I find ridiculous, but can live with people who compulsively waste time on this game because we all waste time in our lives. Until one of them sends me a gun on my Facebook. Hellooooooo? I couldn't figure out how to get it off my page, even though I find it so offensive. I blocked the application so nobody else can send me a gun, and I immediately de-friended the guy.

And I've started de-friending people who make comments that I find socially or politically offensive. I feel really, really awful that I de-friended an older woman from my mother's church yesterday, but I'm tired of reading her political commentary. I get it that she's a staunch Republican and I can appreciate that she wants to share her views everyday, 12 times a day. I just don't need to read it anymore, so I hit that little "x" button by her name on my friend list.

I feel empowered.

If you're reading this and we're friends on Facebook, I promise I won't de-friend you. Because I love you. Just don't send me any guns.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

a little love as we get nearer to Valentine's Day

This afternoon I got my hair cut by my favorite hairdresser of all time. I won't call her by name because I'm going to tell a little story about her (but if you're in the area and need a great hairdresser, let me know!). We'll call her Jo for purposes of this story.

Jo is mid-40s, divorced, and has 4 children who range in age from early 20s down to elementary school. Jo has been dating this man for awhile now and so today, I asked her how it was going. She said really well. He's a teacher and a really nice guy and while she lets everything bother her, he lets nothing get to him, so he's a calming complement to her stress. He's good to her children (he has one child in college) and he's good to her.

She said that it made her sad that she'd just met him because all she can think about is all the years of her life that she wasn't with him that she can never get back. Isn't that sweet?

a new year's card from us to you

Monday, January 18, 2010

a very busy weekend

Well, we have just survived a weekend that surely puts me in the lead for Mother of the Year 2010.

Back in December, I bought the Be a Tourist in Your Own Town passes that are sold annually by the Charleston Visitors Bureau. If you're a resident of the Lowcountry and have any interest whatsoever in seeing a lot of the sights, you should invest in this pass next year. For $20 per person or $50 for a family pass (for 4 people), you get a one-time admission to 33 area attractions and discounts at 24 local restaurants. The only catch is that you can only use the pass in January.

Our first outing on the pass was to Middleton Place the first weekend of January when it was about 25 degrees. Not such a pleasant experience, but I figured we'd almost gotten our money's worth with that one little excursion so it didn't really matter if we didn't spend much time there.

And then of course, last weekend we went skiing so we wasted one whole weekend of the pass but it was yet another vote for my Mother of the Year reign.

I was determined that we were making up for lost time this weekend and boy did we ever.

On Friday, Mac had a play date after school with his best friend here and then we went out for pizza at Andolini's with the play date family. (Not on the pass but surely a vote for MOTY).

On Saturday, we went to Mac's first Upward basketball game. After a quick lunch with my mother at Atlanta Bread Company, we were off to the WW2 aircraft carrier Yorktown in the pouring rain. The Yorktown is my least favorite tourist attraction in all of Charleston and perhaps in all of Earth. I hate this place. It smells funny, you have to walk up and down tight little staircases, and it feels claustrophic even if you're not claustrophobic. Naturally it's the place Mac wanted to visit the most. MOTYs don't complain; they just do. So I did, and I kept my mouth shut and did not complain about the awfulness that I think the Yorktown is and guess what? Mac is his moma's boy: he didn't really like the Yorktown either! Which is a very good thing because as we were leaving, all these Boy Scouts were coming on with sleeping bags and suitcases for a night aboard the Yorktown. Can you say "that will never happen with the Story scout while his moma is the only one around to chaperone?"

On Sunday, we went to church and then to the Charleston Tea Plantation. The plantation is way over on Wadmalaw Island, which is one of the most beautiful places in the Lowcountry. Our trip there definitely gave us a walk on the wild side. As we were driving there, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and driving the 55 mph speed limit, a deer ran out of the woods at full speed. Thank God she was a smart deer and/or had good peripheral vision because as I slammed on the brakes she veered to the right and crossed the road ahead of us. Needless to say, Mac thought that was the highlight of the day. We arrived safely at the tea plantation and enjoyed a wonderful, very professionally produced tour of the factory before heading out on the tram ride. Did I mention it rained A LOT the day before? Well the tram bogged down and we all had to walk back to the visitor's center. When we left the tea plantation, we went to Angel Oak, a nearby live oak tree that is believed to be some 1500 years old and the oldest living thing west of the Mississippi. It was very impressive (photo of the tree was taken by Mac).

And today, Mac and I went with Friday's play date family to Charles Towne Landing, which has been redone in the last few years. It was a great afternoon of beautiful weather and good friends.

(Speaking of beautiful weather, my car thermometer yesterday said it was 69 degrees, which is a whopping 56 degree swing upward from last weekend. Do we dare hope that spring is on the way?)

Anyway, I know some of you other mothers were hoping to take the Mother of the Year award, but I think I've got the market cornered at least for the voting in our house. I even got flowers from Jimmy this week with the following card attached:

And that card came before this weekend's Charleston version of the "12 European countries in 7 days" tour.

But don't worry: I burn out fast and I'm not even sure I can get to February when the pass expires before I take to the couch for weekend afternoon napping.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

random musings on this Thursday afternoon

1. Do you know how much geese poop?

I was going to join a running group at the local Y because they said it was for experienced and beginner runners. I was all set to go today to start with "Moms on the Run" and then got a long email from the leader answering my questions, about such things as do you run inside or outside (you have to dress appropriately) and was it really okay for beginners.

The email explained that some of the moms are marathoners who are trying to get back into marathon shape, so they regularly run 10+ miles on these runs, but that there were other people who only ran 3-6 miles.

Ummm. 3-6 miles? Are those the beginners?

So do you have anything for whatever is lower than beginners?

I decided I wasn't up to running with these Moms. So I started my own program today. The neighborhood where we live has wonderful paved bike paths all through the place. Someone told me there are 5 miles worth of trails. I don't know that and I surely didn't see 5 miles of trails today. I did a pathetic little run/walk combo that would have been the envy of some geriatric person who is mobile only with assistance from a walker. But I did it and that's the main thing.

Now on to the goose poop. There are a lot of ponds in this development and the Geese of White Gables must move around to use all the ponds. And they apparently use the bike paths surrounding the ponds as their port-o-lets. I've never seen so much goose poop. You really had to be vigilant to avoid stepping in it.

2. I made butternut squash soup for the first time today and it was delicious. I don't know why making homemade soup intimidates me, but from start to finish, it took an hour and now I have all these bowls of yummy soup in my freezer.

3. My absolute favorite orange juice (if I have to buy it in a bottle)? Tropicana Pure Valencia with Pulp

When you live in a place like Brazil where you can order the most delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice at literally any restaurant, sandwich shop or fine dining establishment, it's a rude awakening to return to processed orange juice.

So imagine my delight when I found this stuff. It's the closest to fresh that I've ever tasted without cutting and squeezing the oranges myself. At $4.49 a bottle, it
can get a little expensive when you guzzle glass after glass as I have been doing (I tell myself it's for the extra Vitamin C to ward off colds). I figure I better drink as much of it as I can stomach right now because with the damage to the orange groves in Florida due to freezing temperatures, it'll probably cost $16 a bottle sooner rather than later.

a reflection on Haiti

I am so overwhelmed with sadness when I see these newscasts and online photos coming out of Haiti. The helplessness and hopelessness these people must feel weighs on me. The not knowing the whereabouts of your friends and family - or even whether they're still alive - has got to be heartbreaking. And then if you find out that your people are alive, but injured, can they even get medical help? Can they get food? Can they get clean water?

The Charleston newspaper ran a story in this morning's paper that ended with telling about a man who had just flown to Miami from Port-au-Prince before the earthquake struck. He left behind a wife and a young daughter for a short business trip. When he landed in Miami and learned the news, he started calling them. His quote: "I call. I call. I call. No one answers." Can you imagine how helpless this man feels? Or his wife and daughter if they're trapped under rubble? Or if they're alive and trying to get in touch with him and can't, knowing that he must be worried sick. It's the stuff of my nightmares.

I have never been to Haiti, although Jimmy was assigned there before our move to Brazil. He was due to start French training in Virginia when he was offered the job as the regional environmental officer in Brasilia. That job became open very unexpectedly because the woman who held that job was diagnosed with a very aggressive, terminal cancer. In the blink of an eye, our fate changed and we never made it to Haiti.

So while we've never been to the poorest country in the western hemisphere, we have lived in a country that is slightly poorer than Haiti in terms of GDP and per capita income. While there were a handful of wealthy people in Mozambique, the overwhelming majority of people there live in a kind of poverty that I could never even imagine in my most horrible nightmares. Today in Mozambique, the average per capita income is $320. And in Haiti? $400.

Do you understand that?

They have to spread out 400 measly dollars over 365 days. They have to raise their children on $400 a year. They have to eat, clothe themselves, provide shelter. That is less than 92 cents a day to survive.

And then an earthquake comes along and snatches away any little bit of anything they have.

I have heard the arguments that people give about these poor countries: the people must not be industrious, they must be lazy, they must be stupid.

These people are none of the above. They are simply trying to survive one day at a time. There but for the grace of God was I born to parents in the United States. Any of us, but for the grace of God, could have been born in the Haitis and Mozambiques of this world.

As bad as this awful global recession is in the developed world - and believe me, I am not minimizing the devastating effects that it has had on many, many people's lives - we all still live in a relatively comfortable world that's light years beyond what these people live in the best times their countries have ever seen. If you're reading this, you're on a computer, which means you have enough money to spend at least the $300 that the cheapest little computers cost now. In Haiti, that little computer would be 3/4 of your annual income.

This morning on the way to school, I heard the deejay on a Christian radio station talk about comments made by televangelist Pat Robertson. I haven't been able to get the full transcript. But here's part, in case you haven't heard these inflammatory comments.

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," the controversial televangelist said during an interview Wednesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"They were under the heel of the French...and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.'"

Robertson continued: "True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other."

Robertson went on to note that though Haiti shares the same island with the Dominican Republic, it remains desperately poor while its neighbor is "prosperous, healthy and full of resorts."

"[Haitians] need to have a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy, I'm optimistic something good may come," Robertson said.

He also called the earthquake "a blessing in disguise".

I think Mr. Robertson and I must be watching different coverage. I have seen footage of spontaneous prayer services and singing that have sprung up in the midst of this despair. I don't worship the devil, but it didn't seem like devil-worshipping to me. This is exactly the sort of stuff that gives Americans in general and Christians in particular a bad name all around the world.

I will get off my soapbox for now. I hope that you're remembering those people in Haiti, whether it be with your prayers or your financial contributions. They need it more we can imagine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

up in the air

Today I went to the 12:05pm showing of "Up In the Air". I wanted to see what all the hype was about after hearing that it was the best movie of the year. It was good, but I thought it was terribly sad. Yes, there were lots of funny parts, but overall, I just felt it was sad.

Anyway, that's not why I'm writing. When you go to a 12:05pm movie, you usually encounter one of three types of people if you're not alone in the theater: 1) old and/or retired people; 2) stay-at-home moms; or 3) out-of-work people.

Today was my day for the old people. I walked into the theater about 12pm and there was just one other couple. They were talking at normal conversational levels, so I heard everything they said, despite the fact that I was one row down and 5 seats over and despite that fact that those loud pre-preview commercials were running. They talked about "the best golfer in the lowcountry", "Mr. Simmons", "doing work with the DAR", something about "business models", etc.

They were bad enough.

Then three old people came in just before the previews started. I will be the first to admit that the volume might have been a little on the loud side. But when the first preview ended, I heard the man from the back row say really loudly, "well, I hope they got that sound up loud enough."

To make it even worse, the people on the row behind me talked at normal conversational tones and volume the entire way through the previews and into the opening scenes of the movie. Now I know a lot of people hate previews, but I happen to be one of the few who love previews. And I particularly love the opening scenes of movies, so do us all a favor and shut up as soon as the announcement comes on that says "Be courteous and zip your lips" or something to that effect.

And then, to make it even worse, I could hear one person in each group having to explain the dialogue (some of which was racy) and repeat lines to the men in the group every so often.

Maybe I need to push back to the 2:30pm showings?

Monday, January 11, 2010

the stars are aligned against me

Today was the appointed return to my cardio tennis class. I didn't appoint this frigid day; the coach did. So I got dressed in all my new cold-weather running gear that I bought last week before the ski trip and went to the class, only to find out that the coach conferred with local tennis clubs and they all have this rule of not playing if the temperature is under 40 degrees. So I was up and dressed for nothing.

So I returned home, disappointed that the tennis class had been postponed because I really enjoy that class (and it's a great workout).

And then I decided I was dressed for cold-weather running, so why not run? After all, the new year isn't getting any newer and I've made that pesky running resolution.

So I came in the back door, dropped off my bag, and went out the front door.

Where I saw ice on the sidewalk. (Remember the frozen water from the neighbor's sprinkler? Well, I now think that's my sprinkler.).

So I stepped on the part of the sidewalk that looked dry.

Can we say invisible ice?

I must have looked like a cartoon character.

One foot slipped out from under me and I put the other one down to try and catch myself and that foot came flying out too. I think both legs were horizontal at some point as I came down for the crash landing.

The good news? I threw my arm out to lessen the impact and only have soreness in my elbow and not my head which I was sure would crack against the sidewalk.

The bad news? I think I'm going to have a serious bruise on my left cheek (of the derriere, not the face) and I think one knee is a little bonked.

I realized I couldn't sit on the ice all day. After all, I wasn't wearing my ski pants. So I picked myself up, turned around and went straight back into the house.

Clearly, it wasn't my day to exercise.

(And I have never been happier to live in one of those new urban developments where they make people park behind their houses instead of in front. I don't think anybody saw me.)

the ski trip

The short post on the ski trip is that I had a surprisingly great time skiing (and have no broken bones or bruises to show for it).

If short posts are your thing, stop reading here. If you want more detail, continue on.

We left Friday afternoon as planned and pulled into the Comfort Inn parking lot in Mars Hill, NC about 4 hours later. The Comfort Inn is your basic Comfort Inn, but it was clean, serviceable, had breakfast, and is near the ski place, so that's really all that mattered.

This trip was pretty spur-of-the-moment, so there wasn't a whole lot of research that went into it. But I made a crucial error in not researching Mars Hill better. I knew it was a college town for a college of some size, so I assumed we could actually eat in this town.

When we checked in, I asked the check-in lady about restaurant options. Our choices were Hardee's, Subway, Osaka Japanese, Wagon Wheel, Latin Grill, and some other restaurant. Oh, but the Wagon Wheel and the other restaurant closed at 7:30pm (and it was currently 7:20pm). What restaurant closes on a Friday night at 7:30, especially in a college town????

We made the choice of eating at Subway because it was closest (and I was paranoid about driving too far in case it got icy - the temperatures were in the teens at that point).

Guess where the Subway was?

In the Shell gas station.

I have a thing about eating in gas stations. It seems so dirty and gross. I only go to the bathroom in gas stations under extreme duress, so eating there really stresses me out. But I had a great turkey melt, right there in the Shell station. And the attendant was very nice and friendly. And Mac got to play in the dirty snow in the gas station parking lot. And Mac learned how to spell "Bud Light" from studying the neon signs in the Shell. To think of all the educational opportunities I've missed over the last 7 years...

After all that excitement at the gas station, we went back to the Comfort Inn, settled in and went to bed.

On Saturday, we slept in, had the free breakfast and headed to the ski resort. We got our gear rented, lessons signed up for, and had lunch before Mac and I headed out to meet Jordan, our young instructor. Now Jordan, who looked young enough to be my child, has been skiing at Wolf Ridge since he was 11 and said this was his 4th season as an instructor. It's just dawned on me that Jordan very much reminded me of my old hairdresser Rus, both in looks and in speech. And Rus would have a son his age by now, so maybe Jordan and Rus are father and son? Anyway, Jordan thought we were beginners, but quickly recognized our talents and we progressed to the "magic carpet ride".Mac and Jordan

When I first learned to ski, you got pulled up on the bunny slope by a T-bar but now it's a little conveyor belt, aka the magic carpet, that you just hop on and ride up. It's all good until you get near the end where the angle gets a teensy bit steeper and slicker. At that point, you may backslide which sort of defeats the purpose of riding up.

After our one-hour lesson with young Jordan, Mac and I skiied by ourselves. Now Jordan thought it best that we stay on the bunny slope and try the harder runs on Sunday. Fortunately we weren't skiing on Sunday so that ruled out using a chair lift to go to a higher and presumably harder run. Yea for me!

We had such a fun time and it was easier than I remembered. The snow was fabulous. Soft and fairly powdery but definitely not icy and crunchy. And it snowed lightly the whole time we were out there. Frankly, I was so brilliant to go this weekend. It must be my royal-ness that allows me to be so brilliant.

And guess what? Those ski pants make a difference. I didn't get cold or wet the whole time I was skiing. And the temperature before the windchill maxed around the 15 degree F mark, so there was plenty of opportunity for cold and wet! Scotchguard has just lost its place on family ski trips.

We never made it to the snow tubing place, but Mom did come out on the bunny slope - not to ski but to watch Mac ski.

And for those of you who were worried about my having to eat in the gas station again, we went to the Latin Grill (aka El Dorado) and it was very good. Mexican/ Cuban/Latin food and the chef is from Colombia so we got to chat with him, which was nice. He gave me some good vacation tips for our tour there, none of which involve snow or cold.

A good time was had by all and we'll go again this season if another "good snow" opportunity presents itself. We've got to get our money's worth on those ski pants!

Friday, January 8, 2010

random musings from my midday ride through Summerville, as seen from the front seat of my car and photographed by my trusty Blackberry

1. Okay, there's no photo for this one, but I just saw a man driving a convertible with the top down. Two potential reasons cross my mind:

a. The convertible is stuck in the open position;


b. The driver, like me, thinks that 47 degrees F feels downright balmy after 22 degrees F.

2. Two photos, neither of which will do this truck justice.

Now Crystal is obviously the passenger in this truck as evidenced by the arrow pointing from her name to the passenger side window. The window is detailed with "C-n-D", so although I couldn't get a look at the driver's side, I imagine there's a D name, like David, with an arrow pointing to the driver's side window. And "D" is obviously the so-called "Country Boy" as noted on the tailgate. I don't know if D had an idea to start writing on the "top line" of the tailgate and then changed his mind or why there's that scribbling that looks like he tried to write Bubba. Maybe D goes by Bubba? Thankfully, we know that D, aka Bubba, aka Country Boy, can survive. And he'll always be able to find his truck. Let's just hope Crystal is a permanent fixture in his life.

I know you can't see the sign up close. There was too much traffic for me to drive and click while passing by. This photo is from the now-defunct Checkers hamburger joint. The sign, which is made sadder by a missing letter, says:


My question is do they mean:
a) (we're) CLOSED (permanently but we do so want to say) THANKS (to you) SUMMERVILLE (for all the years of your patronage);


b) (we're) CLOSED (permanently now). THANKS (for nothing) SUMMERVILLE.

to the snow!

We took Mac snowskiing in Argentina last June (southern hemisphere summer for anybody who didn't excel at geography), and he loved it. And he was good at it. He kept asking to go back, so I promised him a year ago that during our year at home, we'd go skiing.

We had a young Marine friend in Mozambique whose motto in life was "go big or go home." So I thought we'd "go big" on the ski trip and head out west to the Rockies.

And then the underwear-explosive bomber struck, airport security went nuts, and Mac and I made our pact not to get on an airplane anytime soon.

As you might imagine, there are zero snowskiing options in South Carolina. You can waterski to your hearts' content, but no dice on the snow. But North Carolina has a few ski resorts - not Rocky Mountain-quality skiing - but you can drive there so it fits the parameters.

I originally thought we'd go next weekend, a holiday weekend, so we could enjoy an extra day. But then my neighbor, who went to college near the ski resorts, said not to go because every church youth group in the tri-state area would be there.

So I thought why not go this weekend? I've checked the weather forecast there all week and they've gotten fresh snow everyday, so I figured (at least fervently hoped for my sake because I hate cold and it's been awfully cold here for the last week) that this might be the best chance of the season for good, fresh snow.

We are going to what is probably the worst of the resorts. But we chose it because it's closest and requires the least amount of secondary road travel (which, for those of us without experience in winter weather driving, is crucial).

The biggest drawback to this resort is that they don't have the same level of children's programs that the Argentine resort had, or even the other NC resorts for that matter. In Argentina, Mac took a couple private lessons but he also entered this children's program for a few hours where they took the kids out on the slopes for group lessons/skiing.

At this NC resort, group lessons start at age 8, so I plan for Mac to take a private lesson - not old enough for group lessons - but then what to do with him after that? They have a "kids club" but they only play in the snow without any skiing. The kid wanted to ski; he's going to ski. So no kids club.

My mom is going with us and as much as I have tried to convince her that taking up skiing would be a great adventure for her and one that she could uniquely share with her grandson, she didn't buy it. So I think this means that I am going to have to ski.

You need to understand that there is no love lost between me and skiing. First of all, it means you have to pay for the privilege of being cold. Have I mentioned that I hate cold? Second of all, you generally get wet, and wet and cold don't go together at all in my book. Third of all, I am just terrified by skiing because of a near-death experience I had on my first ski trip.

I am prone to exaggeration, but in my memory, it was really near death. My first attempt at skiing was in NC on a church youth group retreat. I took lessons and practiced on the bunny slope until I deemed myself professional and ready for a chairlift. The problem as I recall from a couple times of skiing in NC is that the snow isn't really good-quality snow. It's this icy, granular nonsense. No powder in sight. So up I went on the chairlift and when it came time to jump off, I jumped off and started sliding on my skis on icy snow. I was out of control and only was stopped when I fell over into a fence that blocked off some trees from what is really the ski trail.

I managed to get down the mountain, mostly on my backside, and turned my skis in. I think I went back for another youth group retreat or two and never had any more fun in the snow than that first trip. I also skiied in Australia - yes, they have snow there - and again, got overconfident in my abilities and ended up on what seemed like a nearly vertical-drop mountain. D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R!

When we went to Argentina, Jimmy planned to ski and did ski a little, but the snow was awful. It was early in the season and they hadn't gotten good snow yet. Very icy, miserable snow. I went on that trip with no intention of skiing and did not, in fact, ski.

Now we've got a father who likes to ski in Afghanistan; a child who likes to ski going on a ski trip with his mother; a mother who hates, detests, abhors skiing taking her child to ski; a grandmother who says she's not taking up skiing at her age; and a kids club that doesn't allow the kids to ski. You do the math. Somebody's got to take the boy up skiing.

There's no way I can address the sheer fear I have of skiing except by doing it (or maybe by medicinal assistance but it's too late to get a prescription for tranquilizers). But I can work on being cold and wet.

You might wonder why we got so cold and wet when we went on youth retreats. Well, it's because we Scotchguarded our jeans. How LAME is that? Only a couple people's parents went out and bought them ski clothes. The rest of us invested in a can of Scotchguard and sprayed those jeans to within an inch of their lives.

Allow me to tell you that Scotchguarding your jeans doesn't really ward off the wet, and it certainly doesn't help with the cold.

So to my friend Donald: you'll be pleased to know that I bought a pair of ski pants for Mac and me (I bought two pairs; we're not going to share one pair). That's right. There's no more Scotchguarding in my future! We've got the bonafide goods here. I have no ski jacket because those aren't on sale yet and while I'll shell out $25 for a pair of ski pants (what a sale!), I will not pay $100+ for a ski jacket for one day of skiing.

We're off to NC this afternoon when school gets out. If you think of us tomorrow, say a big prayer. We'll be skiing at some point and partaking of this cool snow tubing adventure they have as well. Even my mom - who bought ski pants too! - is going to do that. On second thought, say as many prayers as you can!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a few of my favorite things...

I, like Oprah, have a few favorite things.

I, unlike Oprah, am not going to give them away.

Just sharing the thoughts, not the goods!

All-Time Favorite Thing for Winter: Land's Ends Dory Jacket
Before we went to NYC for Thanksgiving, I realized very last-minute that I didn't have appropriate outerwear. This happens when one has been living in Brazil for nearly four years. I checked Land's End, found this jacket, which was rated for temperatures 5-25 degrees F. The best part? The price. At just $30, it's a steal.

I splurged for quick shipping - remember this was last-minute - and was very dismayed when the Land's End envelope was delivered and it was so thin that it looked like it might contain a pair of wool socks. Certainly, there was no way my new cold-weather jacket could be in that very thin package.

But it was and after confirming the temperature rating on the Land's End website (the rating assumes you'll have a shirt and sweater underneath), I took it to NYC, sure that I would need to buy a heavier coat there.

I have road-tested this thing now in NYC (in pretty moderate temperatures), Chicago (in windy, windy cold and blowing snow), in England (in temperatures below freezing and in really, really cold and windy rain), and now in SC (which might be -surprisingly - the biggest test of all!), and this jacket is a modern miracle. It's dressy enough to wear with dressier outfits but casual enough to wear with jeans. Best of all, it's warm and SO THIN. You don't feel all uncomfortably bulked-up. And for the price? Well, it's a no-brainer. I LOVE IT!

A Favorite Thing When Traveling With a Child: Apple iPod TouchWhen we moved back to the US, I spent entirely too much time trying to decide what cell phone to buy. I really wanted an iPhone but could not bring myself to pay the price for the newest generation of iPhone that had just come out plus I heard discussion that AT&T customers weren't happy with the coverage in this area. I bought a Blackberry Curve instead (it was only $49 at a Verizon promotion!) and have been very well pleased.

As our England trip got closer and closer, I got more antsy about not having Internet access. When you buy a Blackberry Curve, you are basically saying that you will never go to Europe and expect to have a working cell phone. I knew this when I purchased it and didn't care about a working cell phone. Internet? Can't live without it.

So I went to Best Buy to study the iPod Touch. As you know, I am not a technological whiz. In fact, my skills rank right up there with those of my nearly one year-old nephew Blair. We just smile on command and try to look pretty without spitting up on ourselves. Salespeople in Best Buy in December are as hard to find as Mark Sanford on the Appalachian Trail, so without anybody there to help me and answer my questions, I called our friend Jeremy, who walked me through the finer points of iPod Touch-iness.

This thing is a dynamo and you do not have to be a techno geek to figure it out. Not only have I backed up every CD we own - yes, our entire music collection - on this thing, I have added some game applications for Mac and I even figured out how to rent movies from iTunes so Mac could watch them in transit and during the vacation (it has a very decent battery life). A real lifesaver when you just need a few minutes of quiet during stressful travel. The best part for me (besides the quiet)? Having access to the Internet wherever there was Wi-Fi (like in our rented cottage in the Cotswolds). I'm an insomniac when Jimmy's not home, so I keep it on my bedside table so when I can't sleep, I can read emails or surf the web.

My Favorite Guilty Pleasure - little crunchy ice and a Coca-Cola from Zaxby's or Sonic

Really the drink is just a vehicle by which you get the ice. As much as I warn Mac about the perils and long-lasting consequences of chewing ice, if I had a Sonic or Zaxby's next door, I would just hang out there all day long to use the ice machine. I think a Coca-Cola tastes better on that little crunchy ice, and those little ice pellets just chew up so nice and easy. God bless the small pleasures of life.

You know, on second thought, I will do an Oprah giveaway. Next time you come to see me in Summerville, I will take you to Zaxby's or Sonic - your choice - for a Coke on crunchy ice!

Monday, January 4, 2010

baby, it's cold outside!

I'm pretty excited because I figured out how to light my gas fireplace logs yesterday afternoon. And since they're forecasting nightly lows in the 20s for the next 10 days (!!!) and high in only the 40s, I'm hopeful that using the gas logs will help out my electricity bill, which seems abnormally high for this shoebox we're renting, especially considering how low I keep the thermostat set on anyway.

My real concern, however, with this frigid weather is that the Geese of White Gables will decide they need to move to a locale more southern. I have developed an unnatural affection for these birds. I'm not an animal lover, more like an animal tolerator, but I really dig these geese. I'm afraid they're going to decide they're still in Canada and head further south to somewhere warm, like Brazil.

The only highlight of this cold weather - for Mac, at least - is that there's a very slim chance of snow here on Thursday night. Wouldn't it be nice to have a snow day on Friday? And in SC, to have a snow day, really there just needs to be a flake sighting. So hope reigns supreme. If the snow doesn't pan out, my neighbor's sprinkler system is still operating and so this morning in front of our house, we had a small ice skating rink. Mac loves the idea of ice skating, so I'm thinking to just send him out there to slip around and we'll be able to check off "ice skating" from our to-do list.

Needless to say, work on Resolution 2010 has yet to commence. I thought I might go to the sporting goods store today to buy some cold-weather running gear, but quite frankly, it was all I could do to go out ahead of Mac this morning to turn the car on to get it warmed and defrosted, take him to school, go to the grocery store before we starve to death, and come back home to get warmed up. I heard on the Today Show this morning that you're more likely to follow through on your resolutions if, among other things, you watch less than 10 hours of tv a week. Shoot, when it's this cold, all I really want to do is lay on the couch in front of my gas logs and watch tv. I could probably do 10 hours a day. Could that be a resolution? Can there be limiting factors on making resolutions? Like if it's above 60 degrees at the time that I must run, I will run. Otherwise, I'll lay on the couch and watch tv. I'm pretty sure I could guarantee success!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

some things are just better in theory

For his November birthday, Mac asked Bubby for a pottery wheel that he'd seen in a kids' toy magazine. As I am not the least bit artsy, I was so pleased that Mac picked this out that I wholeheartedly, but foolishly, endorsed it.

I have successfully put off opening the box until today. After church, Mac and I went to Middleton Place on our "Be a Tourist in Your Own Town" ticket and there was a potter who took entirely too much time explaining to Mac the intricacies of throwing your own pots. (We were among the handful of people with rocks in their heads who thought it would be fun to tour the stable yards and gardens when the pre-windchill temperature was 36 degrees, so the potter had plenty o' time on his hands.)

Needless to say, Mac thought that going home to try out his pottery set would be a good idea. And I, in the interest of capturing Mother of the Year 2010, said okay.

I mixed the clay, read the instructions, and away Mac went. It wasn't nearly as easy as it sounded in the instruction booklet. Mac got frustrated, and I got antsy about him slinging wet, muddy hands around the dining room. He decided he just wanted a little teeny bowl/pot. In all fairness, we tried to raise the walls of the bowl up once and the whole thing collapsed. Did I mention Mac got frustrated and I got antsy about him slinging wet, muddy hands around the dining room?

We then prepared to remove the pot from the wheel. The clay cutting string that is included in the package is all knotted up and I lost patience trying to untangle it. So we used the old standby, dental floss, to detach it from the top of the wheel. When we tried to lift it off, it was awfully wet, so we're just letting it dry for awhile before trying again.

We're taking orders for next Christmas for original pottery. I'd put my order in early if I were you as I am sure the demand is going to be HIGH!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

basketball and Dippin' Dots

This afternoon Mac and I enjoyed a College of Charleston (my alma mater) basketball game with and courtesy of Caroline, Willie and Isabel. Jimmy took Mac to his first college football game in October, and I am proud that I have accompanied him to his first college basketball game. Mac had a great time, particularly with Isabel, to whom he is betrothed, unbeknownst to any of the interested parties except for me. Mac and Isabel also enjoyed Dippin' Dots, those little ice cream ball things that are like something you'd find at the gift shop at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Based on his hyper behavior since the consumption some 3+ hours ago, I am pretty sure that Dippin' Dots contain at least one controlled substance.

Friday, January 1, 2010

new year's resolution

This posting is going to be convoluted, so stick with me and we'll see if we can come full circle.

I hate making New Year's resolutions. You're usually doomed to fail. I mean, 365 days is a LONG time to commit to something. If I'm honest with you and myself, I have a hard time committing to the 40+ days of Lent and that's a mere fraction of a year. So I always figure it's better to just live your life the best you can (exercise, diet, etc) instead of saying that 2010, for example, will be the year of Susan Story's vegetarian experiment.

Except that I hate to exercise, so I don't do that on a regular basis. And I like junk food and french fries and pizza so cutting out all that yummy stuff is never going to happen. And I just threw out that vegetarian thing as hyperbole. There's a greater chance of Mac telling me he must eat brussels sprouts every day of his life to feel complete than my becoming vegetarian. In other words, not going to happen.

The singular example of my making a resolution and actually following through with it in my almost 39 years of life occurred a decade ago when I committed to training for and running a marathon with my best friend Caroline. We were approaching Y2K, she was turning 30 (I wasn't actually 30 until Y2K+1 but who's counting?), and she decided to run a marathon.

Now I wasn't a runner and never had been. I played high school volleyball for 2 years and used to get cramps in my ankles from running wind sprints in the gym. Seriously.

So I did what any BFF does. I said running a marathon sounded like a great idea and I'd do it with her. We were living in Guadalajara and she was in Charleston, so we were going to be long-distance training buddies and then meet up in some great city for the big event.

I went to bed knowing for sure that within 2 days, Caroline would decide this was the stupidest idea she'd ever had and she'd back out.

Except she didn't.

And so eventually I had to tell Jimmy what I'd committed to doing. I hadn't actually started running yet, so he didn't suspect that anything unusual was up. And to his credit, when I told him, he didn't laugh at me. But he did point out that I didn't run and he asked if I knew how long a marathon was. I had researched the actual length of a marathon so I was able to answer that with a great bluster of confidence. So then he said he'd run it with us.

Well, shoot. Now there were three of us involved in this thing.

New Year's Resolution Rule #1: It's much easier to not follow through with resolutions if no one holds you accountable. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable.

So now there were 3 of us in this thing, one of whom who lived in the same house as me. We also worked together, ate together, and went to the gym together.

In Guadalajara, we were members of a very nice club that had a very nice gym. The kind of club that people on soap operas go to (the actors on the show, not the actors in real life). You know the kind - there are lots of attendants who wait on you, you get fresh towels to use in the shower, there are ball boys to fetch your tennis balls, etc.

I can distinctly remember going to the gym on January 1 to start this New Year's resolution. I actually had never entered the gym part of the club. I took tennis lessons from a nice young man who wanted to play in the US and I sat by the pool and I ate at the restaurant. I didn't do the gym. I had never even stepped foot on a treadmill in my life. I didn't know how to turn it on or set it up. Best to start out slowly, but who walks on a treadmill. Crank that baby up. Except that I went the equivalent of about a block before I was huffing and puffing.

How many blocks does it take to make a marathon? Clearly this was impossible.

New Year's Resolution Rule #2: Don't lose the forest for the trees. A small setback does not render the entire thing impossible.

Well I started out one block at a time on that treadmill. A block turned into a 1/4 mile which turned into a 1/2 mile which turned into a mile. I was not fast and it wasn't pretty, but before I knew it, I was off the treadmill and running long runs in Guadalajara neighborhoods. We ran a little race in Guadalajara and then it was October 2000 and we met Caroline in Chicago for the Chicago Marathon.

26.2 miles.

Holy heavens to Betsy. What were we thinking? Jimmy was a much faster runner than I, so he had great ambitions as to his time. Caroline was also a much faster runner than I, so she had greater ambitions as to her time. As for me? They closed the finish line down after 6 hours, so I just wanted to be done in 6 hours.

I knew I wasn't going to be tearing up any records, so I was going more for the experience. I ran with a little fanny pack that contained chapstick (never leave home without it), kleenexes, a disposable camera (I'd read that tip in Runner's World, to which we were then subscribers, as a great way to capture various sights, the people, etc), and money (my Aunt Elaine's good advice in case I got tired and needed to call a cab or in case I got hungry and needed to buy a hot dog).

The gun sounded and I, along with some 29,999 of my closest running friends, set off. Caroline and I started out together but she soon took off because my pace was glacial. I had a great time at first. I climbed up on barricades and took photos of this huge surge of runners, I was appreciative of the people who cheered us on through the streets of Chicago, I enjoyed the water stations. In other words, I looked for any excuse to slow down.

One mile turned to two, which turned to ten, which turned to twenty and so on. It was the hardest physical thing I've ever done in my life. My body has never hurt so much and my toes have never looked so bad in my life. The last little bit of the Chicago Marathon is a really slight incline but after 26 miles, it looks like Mt. Everest. I was sure there was no way I'd make it, but then you realize all these people are cheering you on to the finish line, which is just in sight. And then you hear the announcer say your name - Susan Story - and you know it's you because he then says "of Laredo, Texas". You're not really from Laredo, Texas; you just have a post office address there through the State Department. But that doesn't matter because suddenly you feel like an Olympic athlete. You get a surge of energy and you know you must look peppy with your arms held overhead. Runner's World has told you to look peppy as you cross the finish line. Your official finish line photo needs to show a peppy you and not a nearly dead you. This is for posterity, after all.

Once I crossed the finish line and slowed down from slow jog (my feet had to look like they were in motion for the photo, remember?) to wobbly, jiggly leg speed, I wanted to keel over. So I found a patch of grass and collapsed.

New Year's Resolution Rule #3: It's better to keep moving even when you feel like there's not a stitch more movement in you. Inertia is very hard to overcome.

I finished the marathon in about 5 hours and 15 minutes. As I lay on the grass, I spotted Jimmy walking by. Since he'd finished the marathon about 3 days before me, he was looking very refreshed. If I recall correctly, he'd even had a massage. I lifted my head up (the only part that could still move on its own steam) and yelled for him and thankfully he heard me. There is no way known I could have gotten off the grass if he hadn't pulled me up.

New Year's Resolution Rule #4: Those same people who hold you accountable will also be your biggest cheerleaders and supporters.

So I checked off this resolution in the "completed" column, hung up my running shoes and have never looked back.

Until "The Biggest Loser" entered my life recently.

Do you know this show? Really overweight people enter this contest to lose the most weight or the biggest percentage of their weight or something like that. They work out with a trainer and eat only healthy food and they work on their "issues" which led to their obesity in the first place.

I only caught the last few episodes of this season but I got hooked. These people lost so much weight. One guy lost like half his body. Crazy.

Then they leave the fat farm and go home where they have to continue exercising and eating right, all while living their real lives.

Nothing earth-shattering for me here until they made them run a marathon. Now I trained for 9 months before running a marathon and I didn't start out at 400 pounds. These people were at the end of 6 months on their weight loss journey and some of them did weigh 400 pounds when they started. They hadn't trained for a marathon but they were going to have to run one.

Well my curiosity was piqued. Could they really do that?

In a word, yes! Some of them took a really long time, but they still did it. But the real kicker for me was that one of the 400-pounders (who weighed 200 and something pounds by then) finished the 26.2 miles in a faster time than I did and I had trained like a maniac specifically for this race.

How could this be? Is there no justice in the world?

I have a latent competitive streak that surfaces at the oddest times, like when I'm watching "The Biggest Loser" competitors run a marathon.

So I decided that if they could do it, so could I. And then I remembered how painful it was to run that marathon and how I swore I would never ever do that again. Marathon-induced pain is not the same as childbirth pain: you don't ever really forget it.

Then I contemplated a half marathon. That was actually a length that a decade ago I actually enjoyed running. It will probably feel like 40 miles now as opposed to just 13.1, but it used to seem a whole lot better than 26.2.

So today, January 1, 2010, as we celebrate the start of a new decade and as I approach the end of my 4th decade on earth (that makes me almost 39, people, not 49), I hereby announce my New Year's resolution of running a half marathon this year. I figure if I cut my race length in half with each passing decade, I should be able to run to the mailbox (but not back) by the time I'm 79.

I can't give you specifics on what race I'll be running as I have yet to figure that out. A late-summer move to the southern hemisphere messes things up a bit in terms of ideal time of the year in which to run a race. Bogota has a half marathon but it's in early July and we won't be there by then (and besides who wants to run at race at 8500+ feet?). And all the good races here in the US (by which time I could be trained and ready) aren't until the fall and we won't be here then. So logistics must still be figured out. I'm going to revisit my faithful and trusty running expert Hal Higdon to get started, but I'm putting it off for a few days. I'm a wimp with the cold so I have to wait until this little cold front passes through. I absolutely cannot start a running program when the high is 45 degrees and the low is in the 20s. Unless I buy a new running wardrobe which is an interesting thought.

I hope I've brought you full circle without boring you to tears.

Happy New Year to you and yours. I hope this year provides you the challenges you need to get out of your comfort zone at least a little, but gives you the comfort you need when you're out there facing those challenges.

my winter vacation, part 2 by Susan W. Story

Day 6 - Dec 22, 2009 (Tuesday)

We spent a few hours at nearby Warwick Castle, which is considered to be the finest medieval fortress in England.

high up on the ramparts

self-portrait of us at the mound, the oldest part of the property!

Day 7 - Dec 23, 2009 (Wednesday)
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

... if you wear a lot of red and live with elves. (In case you can't see the fine print, the car read -4 degrees Celsius.)

Frommer's Guide rule #189: Don't go to Stonehenge. Period. But if you decide to go, don't go in the pouring rain when temperatures are near freezing. It will be a memorable experience, but not in the way you hoped.

Day 8 - Dec 24, 2009 (Thursday)

Our lovely old neighborhood butcher preparing our leg of lamb

St. James Cathedral, a 15th century church, where we worshipped at their Christmas Eve service

the Christingle Mac received from the rector (see earlier post at Christingles)

Our Christmas portrait, taken after Christmas Eve dinner at the Eight Bells Inn

Day 9 - Dec 25, 2009 (Friday)

The Cotswolds are famous, among other things, for their great "rambles". You can basically just walk these "public footpaths" that cut through people's properties. It's you, nature, and the farmer's sheep, and surprisingly, nobody gets shot!

After opening Christmas presents and playing the Wii for a couple hours, we headed out on a Christmas Day ramble before cooking dinner.

not your mother's Christmas dinner - roasted leg of lamb; roasted potatoes, parsnips, carrots and brussels sprouts; and yorkshire pudding.

after popping our Christmas crackers, we donned our crowns and took a self-portrait

Day 10 - Dec 26, 2009 (Saturday)

Boxing Day provided us another strenuous day of playing Wii, rambling, and eating a late lunch at the Eight Bells where we had the pleasure of meeting an older English couple named Jill and Peter (affectionately called "Petey" and "Speedy" by Jill). They made for an entertaining couple hours.

Day 11 - Dec 27, 2009 (Sunday)
We drove back to London, returned the rental car, and had dinner at the Maynard's local pub.

Day 12 - Dec 28, 2009 (Monday)
Monday was a sad day for us. We said goodbye to Jimmy, knowing that we won't see him again until late March or early April. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Monique suggested that we go to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, an amusement park set up for a couple weeks over the holidays. Surely an amusement park can bring out the smiles, right?

Mac and Caitlin as they prepare to get on a ride

Day 13 - Dec 29, 2009 (Tuesday)
I had promised I'd take Mac on one of the double-decker tour buses in London so he could see "the white palace" aka Buckingham. Naturally we had beautiful (but cold) weather on every day we were in London until the final day, the appointed day for the tour. It was freezing cold and raining and miserable. Not one to back out of a deal, we left the warmth of the Maynard's house for a day of cold, wet misery. Even my trusty umbrella that I've had for years could not withstand the London wind and died on this day. We never got off of the hop-on, hop-off tour because neither of us could muster the courage to brave the elements. So we rode around for a couple hours, saw a teeny little glimpse of the white palace, ate lunch afterwards, and called it a day! I have no photos to share from this day as it was difficult to get any good pictures from the inside bottom of the bus with the windows covered in rain!

The Conclusion

We had a PERFECT vacation. It was so relaxed and marched to its own rhythm, which was a very slow, very peaceful beat. Exactly what we all needed.

my winter vacation, part 1, by Susan W. Story

Day 1 - Dec 17, 2009 (Thursday)

London taxi ride from airport (Mac in the jumpseat!) with newly shaved Jimmy

Snow, glorious snow!

Day 2 - Dec 18, 2009 (Friday)

catching the Tube to the London Dungeon

arrival at the London Dungeon

SCARY ride at the London Dungeon - Extremis Drop Ride to Doom

...and a partridge in a pear tree (Burrough Market)

the most fabulous cheese in the world - Comte from France (Burrough Market)

Jimmy's pork belly sandwich bought at Burrough Market; it was love at first taste for Jimmy!

one of the greatest joys of life: catching up with old friends. One of Jimmy's Georgetown roommates, Shad, lives in London and we caught up with him on Friday night for drinks and dinner.

Day 3 - Dec 19, 2009 (Saturday)
Trafalgar Square with great friends, the Maynards, who also happen to be the most gracious hosts and wonderful tour guides.

the hustle and bustle of nearly last-minute Christmas shopping

Day 4 - Dec 20, 2009 (Sunday)

En route to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, we stopped for lunch and a quick walk in Oxford where we bought Mac an Oxford hoodie and rugby shirt. You can never start too early for college preparation.

We lunched at a pub that was frequented by literary types, including C.S. Lewis, who reportedly read from The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time inside the pub.

Christ Church at Oxford University

us in front of Mac's future institution of higher learning

our most fabulous and charming cottage for the week: Little Orchard Cottage on Hoo Lane in Chipping Campden

Day 5 - Dec 21, 2009 (Monday)

We started the day thinking we'd celebrate the winter solstice at Stonehenge, but quickly changed plans and went to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Shakespeare's birthplace and Anne Hathaway's cottage.

Shakespeare's birthplace

Jimmy and Mac by the nearly frozen Avon River

Susan and Mac in willow arch in the forest walk at Anne Hathaway's cottage

Part 2 will follow!