Category Archives: travel

Best Job In The World

I know many of you are aware of the contest promoting a gig as a caretaker in the Great Barrier Reef, since several people sent me the link to apply. Unfortunately, I’m not able to do so, but last night I found out that a friend and former coworker of mine has applied. Beth has a background in marine biology and she has spent considerable time traveling and working abroad. She would be perfect for the job.

So, if you have a few minutes to spare, watch her video application and vote for Beth!

Hilarity Ensues?

Guess what? Infidelity is still not funny.

Yesterday I posted my opinion of a travel article featured on MSNBC promoting the best hotels for conducting an extramarital affair. In the comments, I mentioned a poster on a forum I sometimes read had written to the author of the hotel piece, explaining how very painful and unfunny it is to be betrayed by your spouse. This is the e-mail my fellow forum member sent to author Danielle Pergament, and the alleged response she received. (Note that I say alleged only because the e-mail was not sent directly to me, not because I doubt its veracity.)

Ms. Pergament:
It is unfortunate that you actually put your name on the article that appeared on concierge.com “Best Hotels for an Affair.” You and the editors who accepted it for publication should be ashamed.

Infidelity has become a joke, something to gossip about and laugh about – until it happens to you. I hope it never happens to you. I hope you do not have a significant other who would sneak off to a hotel – any hotel – to have a quick little romantic romp while plotting your demise. I especially hope you don’t have children who would become devastated by being discarded by a parent.

In the event your life is ever touched by such a heinous betrayal, please visit us at (name of site removed by request). We will be there to help you pick up the pieces of your devastated life. In fact, come visit us anyway. We would welcome the opportunity to show you just how horrible this is and what it does to people – not just the one who has been betrayed, but to the betrayer as well as the friends and family in their lives.

And the flip and defensive response she received from the author:

In fact, infidelity has been a part of my life – several times and to several degrees of horribleness. I find it unfortunate – and ridiculous – that you would presume to know anything about me. That you think the article was in any way ernest when it discussed “plotting your spouse’s untimely demise” is frankly absurd. I was no more advocating infidelity than I was first degree murder. It was clearly intended to be a joke. I’m sorry you didn’t take it that way.

Sincerely yours,
Danielle Pergament

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Well, Ms. Pergament as someone who has recent experience with this particular sort of horribleness, I would welcome some advice from you on where to find the humor in the situation. I would also love to hear more about your particular experience with infidelity, specifically what makes you qualified to be so rude and dismissive in your response to a reader who reached out to you, obviously still in pain. Assuming you have already been compensated for your work, would it have killed you to have shown your outraged readers a shred of compassion?

In case you have fabricated or exaggerated your own experiences with infidelity,or perhaps you’re approaching this issue from the point of view of the Other Woman, let me assure you that betrayal of the my-ex-boyfriend-kissed-another-girl-and-he-liked itvariety pales in comparison to the pain suffered by spouses who learn after years, and often decades, of marriage, that the person they love and trust most in the world has gone out for some extramarital fun.

Frankly, I do not see how anyone who has ever looked at their small child and wondered how they can forgive that same small child’s unfaithful parent, could find your riff on cheat suites amusing. Nor could a 70 year-old who just learned his wife of 40+ years has conducted a decades long affair with another married man. Or maybe the woman who learns her husband has been sleeping with her sister might find your pithy write up worthy of a chuckle?

When you sat down at your desk, wondering how to repackage the information on several high end hotels languishing in your research file, combing the current headlines for inspiration, what convinced you that pairing these properties with Elliot Spitzer’s dalliances and infidelity would make a great pitch? Who was your target audience?

That you Ms. Pergament, would claim to understand the horribleness of infidelity, strikes me as ridiculous.

Let me reiterate: Infidelity is not funny. Your joke is in extremely poor taste and your readers deserve an apology.

WTF is wrong with MSNBC

For running a travel article promoting the Best hotels for an affair ?

And more specifically, what the fuck is wrong with the author, Danielle Pergament, for making light of wandering husbands and wives plotting their spouses deaths?

Built in 1845, it’s the kind of house you duck into, wearing a hat and maybe those short little gloves, to rush into your lover’s arms and plot your spouse’s untimely death.

Extramarital fun, my ass.

Most disturbingly, she seems from her website to be a serious journalist, with enviable clips. Why on earth would she need to stoop so low to garner attention and hits? There is nothing remotely cute or funny about infidelity, Danielle. Nothing.

I’d write more, but I’m not sure WordPress or your readers can handle the combination of expletives racing through my mind at the moment.

Auto Erratic

It has now been almost a month since a young guy plowed through a stop sign and almost totaled the Honda Pirate. A mostly auto abstinent month. Our neighborhood does not have a subway stop. We’re suburban enough to be dependent on buses or a 30 minute walk to Lechmere or Davis. Thankfully it is possible to walk to several playgrounds, the library, a few small shops and Bloc 11.

I am so fucking bored by these same urban strolls setting the tone and structure for our days. While you certainly can lead an enjoyable car free existence in Boston—I did for several years—doing so with a small child, especially a small child who is accustomed to long road trips and last minute dashes across town to a favorite swimming pool, wears thin.

Toss in the exhausting marital drama that I am unable to write more about, an exploding water heater, a laptop missing it’s “T”, a dog that shits in the dining room when I leave for 10 minutes to walk to the library, my tendency to want to be on the move, and you have one cranky, stir-crazy mother.

A weekly date with fleet of handsomeZipcars has eased the pain and boredom a little. So far I have driven a Toyota Matrix named MacDonald, had a one night stand with a Honda CRV whose name I never got, fika’d a Volvo S 40 named Schmidt, and have holed up for the weekend with Victor, a neon blue Nissan Versa.

The Matrix was spare but serviceable, with surprising pick up for such a small car. The CRV provided a bit more room, and a familiar Honda sensibility, but I felt as if I was cheating on my Pilot with a lower rent substitute. One that pulled to the left and threatened to tip over while making left turns or encountering a mild breeze.

The low-slung Swede has been my favorite so far, which should not surprise since most of my miles have come from that part of the world. While Schmidt was obviously not a full-blooded Swede, showing signs of being a true Taurus in the design details and body mass, he was stiff and powerful like most of the other Swedish tanks I have powered down the road. Schmidt also came equipped with a fancy radio system that provided song and artist info, as I impatiently spun the knobs.

Victor the Versa is fast, cheap and fun, and waiting for me to finish this entry, place my hand on his gearshift and crank his engine.

The Honda Pirate better come home soon. I’m feeling lonely and neglected and vulnerable to trading in for a new model.

Putting The Voyage Back in Mom Voyage

As some of you know, life has thrown us a few curves lately. I do not want to discuss the specific challenges here, but I need to clear my mind and hell, before prices at the pump soar past $10 a gallon, I need to hit the road again.

So, in mid-July, after my baby brother’s wedding, and Grunty willing, this not-so-young mom will once again go West. And North. And probably in circles, with shaken fist aimed at the GPS goddess in the sky.

Since we’re wandering with a bit tighter budget and aiming to camp this time, suggestions for campgrounds and slightly off the beaten path inexpensive things to see and do along a yet to be determined Northern route very much appreciated.

Free Night of Camping

If you’re down with KOA–I know, it’s kamping lite, but the playgrounds and clean restrooms are nice with kids–several locations are offering a free night of camping next weekend. I’m trying to decide between several participating locations in New England, to break in ournew tent.

Details here. You need to reserve an overnight stay for Friday, May 9th, and the following night,Saturday, May 10th, is included free. This is a fund-raising event to generate money for KOA Care Camps .

Button, button

I picked up a copy of the April issue of Parents magazine yesterday. No excuse, really. I am a bit compulsive about buying magazines, even ones that have annoyed me in the past.

Page 25 suggests that readers with “Some bunny to love”, get over the disappointment that their infants cannot indulge in Cadbury Mini Eggs this Spring by noting “…you still get to celebrate the holiday by dressing her up real cute.”

Real cute.

Yes, I know there is another rag titled Real Simple, but I have always hoped it was intended to read as two separate words.

I decided to chalk up real cute to insidious marketing copy and paged past to a piece designed to provide helpful suggestions for taking a vacation with your friends and their families.

Leslie Pepper, your content is fine, but can you explain why the young girl in the red bikini in the center of the group shot on page 192, smiling broadly into the camera, is missing her belly button? Perhaps a medical procedure is responsible? I sincerely hope magazines do not airbrush the bellies of young children.

It is irresponsible enough that the article about postpartum weight loss on page 151,shows a svelte mother struggling to button a pair of skinny jeans, in spite of her flat waist and the obvious extra material around the waistband of the pants.

Real cute, Parents. Real cute.

Post-travel Depression

Hell, if I can suffer from post-partum depression, certainly post-travel depression is a valid diagnosis, right?

It probably does not help that my full-spectrum lightbox is nowhere to be found, or that Max kept me awake all weekend and I of course managed to come down with the bubonic plague or giardia or whatever other shit he brought home from pre-school bundled up with wet mittens, and elbow macaroni glued to construction paper.

I have sat here most of the morning, staring at a document I created with ideas for articles and appropriate places to pitch. Just staring. No writing. Unless you count sending my friend Jenni an e-mail response that consisted solely of JPEG attachments of a bong and several bottles of tequila as writing.

Really fucking useless, this depression thing. Especially when it starts to shape shift. Or when the cat throws up on the sofa next to me and grabbing a few sheets of Bounty seems a monumental task on par with securing a visa to Bhutan.

Send the sun, a goddamn dozen palm trees, a new passport and the wind at my heels.Or just come over and kick my coughing, sneezing, feverish ass. Because if you don’t, it is cat puke, laundry and utterly banal self-flagellation here in Somerville.

Thank You, Whole Foods

For making the decision to stop offering plastic bags.

Before you roll your eyes and scroll on to the next post in your reader, I understand that convenience frequently trumps ideals. When I learned that the majority of plastic items ever made still exist –including that headless Barbie I used to drag around or those plastic butterfly barrettes that were all the rage in 1977–I was shocked into pushing myself to be more aware of how much plastic I consume.

Also, consider that switching to reusable shopping bags is a relatively painless way to limit your consumption of plastic. I cannot tell you how many miles of highway we passed that were littered with all manner of plastic garbage, but the damn plastic bags by the sides of the road outnumbered tumbleweeds in many parts of the wide-open West. Even in areas you would expect some respect for wildlife, such as Everglades National Park, dirty plastic bags were more prevalent than egrets and herons.

Don’t Stay At Home, Mom

Oh, you’re so brave! I could never do that. My child screams in the car on the way to the grocery store/husband cannot wash his own socks and would never let me leave for that long/What if we got lost? I have no sense of direction/weren’t you afraid?

Several people have asked me how and why I decided to take an extended road trip with a highly active three year-old and my sixty year-old mother. Most assume that my son is an easy child,that my mother and I never get on each other’s nerves, and that I have endless reserves of patience and courage. They are wrong on all counts, especially the last two.

So before all of the details of the trip fade and are forgotten, I am going to explain exactly how I was able to pull this month long road trip off.

The first thing you need is inspiration. I have always loved to travel, yet something about my transition to motherhood dimmed that desire. Fear loomed large in everyday life– Was my child eating enough? What about his poop? Is he so cute that some sicko might kill me and steal him right out of the grocery cart in the middle of Trader Joes and no one would even notice? What if he somehow finds his way to our roof and falls off? And Dr. Meyer, have you ever noticed that his pupils are different sizes. I believe his has congenital anisocoria (And he does) but want to make sure he is not dying from some rare form of fatal cancer of the eyeball. To say I check all of the doors and windows and stoves and lights and the knives to make sure they are pointed sharp side down before I go to bed each night is an understatement.

Quite simply, I am not that brave.(And I sure as hell am not patient!) But the side of me that aches for adventure was clamoring too loudly to be silenced by the neurotic part of my personality that likes to imagine the worst possible scenario and plan accordingly. So, I turned to search engines to help me find examples of women who travel alone with their children. While I did find a few intrepid mamas, most people traveling with very small children–at least those who write about it–are couples.

Since my husband works full-time, and was also planning to open a comic book store during my proposed period of travel, I decided to invite my mom, who was between jobs and in the midst of a nasty divorce. Having driven cross country once before–with James when Max was an infant–there were so many things that I wanted my mother to see and experience.

My mother and I have always had a complicated relationship. She sometimes put relationships with men before her children and made a lot of other painful choices that quite frankly, I resented her for making. When I first lived in Boston in the early 1990s, we did not see one another for almost two years, even though we lived within driving distance of one another. Our personalities can clash violently. In short, I am a typical, brash Aries and my mom a stubborn, quiet Taurus who sometimes has to be prodded to reveal what she *really* wants, needs or would like.

This made for some interesting arguments along the way.

But back to traveling with a small child, since I suspect most of you reading are more curious about how to pull that off.

The answer is relatively simple: you do it at home, everyday. If you are a stay at home mother or if you work any number of hours outside your home, you have to deal with the little people’s shit anyway, right? Changing the scenery does not change that fact, although the lack of housework and/or office politics might just tip you in favor of taking a trip. You do not have to head out for a month or more, if that seems overwhelming or you simply cannot find the time or the money. Although on the last account, you need much less money than you think to have a good time traveling with your children.

One of the best ways to save time and sanity is to do a little advance planning. No, I am not suggesting you draft detailed itineraries, jam-packed with twelve hours worth of non-stop fun, fun, fun–because let’s face it, if that is how you roll, you will not enjoy packing up the little ones and heading off into the sunset. What I am suggesting is that you spend some time looking for state parks or playgrounds in the areas you will be visiting. Kaboom, a clearinghouse of places to play around the country, was one website I visited nightly. Also keep in mind that most elementary schools have playgrounds, and if you stop after school has let out or on a weekend, the chances of anyone busting your ass for playing are slim to none. State park signs in many parts of the country feature a helpful playground logo, so keep an eye out for these as you’re barreling down a four lane highway listening to I’ve Been Working On The Railroad for the 17th time, while your small child yells Stop the cah! Get me outta heah!Now!

Just keep in mind that some states are so proud of our national treasures that they will post a sign 300 miles away from the actual park.

The next step in remaining relatively sane on a road trip with the under 5 set is to limit the number of consecutive hours spent strapped into the car to 2 or 3 at a time. Remember that trip you took with your best friend years ago, where you both took turns driving, driving, and driving stopping only for more gas and a pack of Twizzlers to share? Now, forget about it if that is what you think of when someone says Road trip!

I found that for us getting a very early start worked best. Max tends to be an early riser and this proved no exception on our trip. If you are staying in a hotel, being awake early will also make your time at the breakfast buffet a bit more bearable, since the likelihood is high that none of the other guests will be awake to hear your child loudly insist that a chocolate frosted, sprinkle coated transfatty donut is an appropriate breakfast. And, guess what? Sometimes such a donut is a fabulous breakfast for a cranky preschooler. Even if you lean towards food snobbery and obsessive label reading at home. (As I do.) While we are on the subject of food, every morning when you get into your car, do not drive away unless you have a couple of snacks and small toys located in the front where you can quickly pass them back to your child. It is a rule of the road that even a child who ate a full breakfast just 15 minutes earlier will decide to have a growth spurt and beg for food in a voice and tone straight out of the most pathetic Dicken’s novel as soon as you try to merge into oncoming traffic. Be prepared.

Another advantage to rolling out of your hotel as early as possible, is that you will probably avoid the stress of navigating the morning commute in an unfamiliar city or town. When we stayed in hotels, I tried to find those a bit outside of major urban areas–both to save money, and if timed appropriately, to limit the likelihood of getting stuck in a traffic jam. Google maps was very useful for locating slightly smaller towns outside of major cities, and for figuring out where we could plan to break for a playground stop or local attraction.

I was just interrupted by both boys in my life, so forgive me, as my train of thought is now completely shot. Two more quick, unrelated practical bits of advice.

Number one: while most hotels have on site laundry for guests to use, they usually only have one washer and one dryer. If you have accumulated more than one load you will most likely be better off finding a local laundromat and washing all of your clothes at once. (The good news is that you will probably only generate a load or two of laundry each week.) At a Best Western in Galveston, Texas I nonchalantly threw in a load of laundry one morning before breakfast, switched it into the dryer and started another load only to come back down later to find that not only had workers decided to cordon off the laundry room and paint everything associated with it, but the dryer was a total pussy, and I was left standing there watching over my sopping laundry for the next hour and a half while trading angry stares with some dudes who wanted to paint the floor.

Number two: There will be many, many things that you would have otherwise loved to do, see or experience that will need to be saved for another trip. Example: I love to snorkel. Max can barely hold his breath under water and is given to grabbing my bathing suit in a panic and shouting Boobies!. Guess who was not able to explore the reefs at
John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park.

There is always next time!

ETA: If you have any questions, fire away and I’ll answer in the comments. I know this was a bit disorganized, but there are several living things clamoring for my attention at the moment.

Got tents?

Discuss.

I’m trying to decide if I should invest in a top of the line 3 season tent or look for a small pop-up or Class B for our next trip, which will hopefully be the northern jaunt into Newfoundland, Labrador and then who-knows-where that I had initially planned for our recently ended travels. I am leaning towards a tent, because well, we’re sort of broke at the moment, I think I might be able to earn enough on my own to fund a camping trip, and hotels for all of their conveniences can be pretty boring.

A Brief Overview: The Good, The Bad And The Downright Pathological

Approximate trip mileage: 10,100 Chance that this includes at least 1500 miles spent driving through small, strange towns searching for a playground: 4 in 5.

States visited: 25 Chance that one of those 25 was Idaho: 0 Probability that Max insisted were were in fact, in Idaho: 100% Sonic limeades purchased and consumed: Too high to count.

Amount by which estimated fuel consumption exceeded budget: $600 Areas with the most expensive gasoline: The horrible route between Las Vegas and San Diego, and the Overseas Highway to Key West, Florida. Areas with inexpensive fuel: 0.

Serious accidents barely avoided: 12 Odds that my Honda Pilot will need new brake pads when I bring it in for service tomorrow: High.
Average number of driving hours per day, not including overnight stays of more than one night: 5-6. Longest driving day: Galveston, Texas to Pensacola, Florida. Approximately 9 hours.

Prettiest state: New Mexico Best surprise: Little Rock, Arkansas Biggest Disappointment: The Strip Malls of Ye Olde Key West, Florida and Sedona Shopping Malls of Arizona. Unless you like your red rock photographs to include a larger than life Dress Barn sign, and want to buy key lime pie at a McDonald’s drive thru.

Percentage of spectators that will get wet in the splash zone at Sea World? 100% Shell out the $6 for the stupid plastic poncho.

Chance that someone is lying if they tell you that the beach-side vacation condo they have rented will charge a steep fine for noisy children: Total crap-shoot. Odds that you will learn that such a fine is a complete selfish lie: Very high, especially if said resort is overrun with screaming children, and you happen to take an elevator ride with a friendly couple who is traveling with seven boys under the age of 10. I’m just saying……

Hours it will take you to leave after finding out about said lie: 6, and only because you require a few hours of sleep before hitting the road.

Odds that you will spend at least one night in a chain hotel, in spite of promising to seek out inexpensive accommodations with character: 100%, if traveling with very small children. Mid-range chain hotel with the most consistent quality and service: Hampton Inn. Likelihood that I have racked up enough Hilton Honors points that Paris herself will bring that next bottle of water, USA Today and vendor-sized bag of Chex Mix to my room the next time I make a reservation: 77%

Chain hotel to avoid: The Best Western in Cottonwood, Arizona if a crusty old guy named Marc is working, because he will bust your ass and share horror stories of previous guests who destroyed the self serve waffle makers if you dare to grab a cup of juice for your child 3 minutes before the breakfast area Officially Opens. Even though he has most of the lights on, and the morning news is blaring from a giant screen television overhead. Odds that you will suggest he go fuck himself: Pretty damn high.

Odds that the employees of a Taco Bell will actually give you a bean burrito without cheese or meat: 50/50. Probability that they will insist all the burritos have meat and cheese if you politely explain that you do not eat meat or cheese: 100%, if you visit a certain Taco Bell in South Carolina.

Odds that D’Lish in Sedona, Arizona serves a juicy tempeh burger so good that one bite makes you cry and causes you to question whether god might really exist? 3 out of 3. At least for our party of 3.

Best vegan roadtrip snack: Primal Spirit mesquite-lime vegan jerky.

Best farmers market: Daytona Flea and Farmer’s Market.

Likelihood that you will want to stay and buy a cute little adobe with a kiva fireplace at the foot of the mountains if you visit Taos, New Mexico: Very high.

Chances that you will be stung by a jelly fish: Very low. Unless you are me.

Paging Doctor Google

It is difficult to see the sting in this photo, but earlier this afternoon after building sand castle # 312, complete with bridge and access road, Max and I ran into the waves. Only one of us ran out;screaming and carrying the smaller one.

What the hell were hornets doing in the surf, tattooing a white, hot itchy band around my ankle?

Trying not panic, since I am allergic to bees, I showed Grunty and leapt into the hotel pool, assumed a discreet yoga pose and peed all over my leg, nodding as an elderly couple I chatted with last night slowly made their way to a pair of pool chairs to sit and admire my toilet.

According to Dr. Google,I will survive. There are several hospitals nearby, but unless I suddenly cannot breathe or my left leg develops pre-eclampsia, I am just going to suck it up. And drink gallons of unsweetened iced tea from Publix.

There is one other thing to be grateful for: At least I did not sit down in the surf and pull Max into my lap as I had considered moments before the nasty invertebrate reached out and swatted me.

ETA: Now Dr. Google has informed me that Portuguese Man o’ War jelly fish are common in the area of Florida in January. Fuck. Guess I may head to an ER after all, as my sting site most closely resembles those of Man O’ War, and apparently you can seem fine, only to wake up the ext day covered in some kind of mysterious stains.

Near Misses

We drove past this section of Interstate 4 yesterday afternoon, and passed by the brush fire in it’s infancy. At that time it was small, and we thought it was a controlled burn as a small plane circled overhead and numerous road crews were scattered along the highway. This morning it has become a 40 car pileup, with several tankers and trucks on fire.

Earlier in the trip, we avoided an 80 car pileup on I-40 in Amarillo Texas, by a couple of hours as well.

In New Mexico, we watched several cars try and force one another off the wide open highway, only to find them a few miles later scattered along the median, and watch in horror as the occupants of an SUV that had been spun around and dragged by a tractor trailer truck, miraculously climbed out unscathed.

On the drive from Las Vegas to San Diego on Boxing Day, we saw six separate crashes. ON ONE FUCKING STRETCH OF HIGHWAY!

Scary.

I’m not going to mention how many hundreds of crosses and round Drive Safely markers we have passed in Florida alone, or how many idiots I have seen weaving in and out of lanes without signaling, and then blowing past everyone else 100 mph in the slow/exit lane. Or how many kids we have watched test the upper speed limits of their crotch rockets,including one in Tennessee who traveled at high speeds in the wake of a tractor trailer truck,hanging inches from the truck’s back end for reasons completely unfathomable to me. Pair this with the drivers who are terrified to merge, older than dirt, stoned or just so plain unskilled that they drive 40 in the passing lane of a 70 mph zone, and it is little wonder that we have seen and narrowly avoided as many wrecks as we have.

If these are your driving habits, know that your time will come, and sadly you’ll probably take several innocent, responsible drivers and passengers along with you. Assholes.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

After almost a month,8,000 miles on the road,more than a dozen serious car crashes passed by and barely avoided, the California leg of our trip cut short–long story– and countless hotel check-ins met with disappointment because outdoor pools were closed for the season,my old traveling sense has finally kicked in. For $80 a night, Grunty not included.

The pool is heated, the kitchen in working order, our balcony clean and safe,stars are visible in the night sky and someone left a couple of plastic dump trucks and a play ball poolside. Bliss.

How Do You Like My Swamp Now

Cori?

We drove the Overseas Highway to Key West this morning, and indulged in some decidedly non-vegan key lime pie–tried but could not find any, and personal ethics be damned, I was too curious not to nibble– from the Blond Giraffe.Someone please make and sell vegan key lime pie so I can indulge without feeling like a guilty hypocrite.

Afterwards, we drove past the Hemingway cat museum and decided to keep on driving as there were several tour groups of very elderly folks crowding the sidewalks and snapping shots of the maniacal roosters and chickens that rule the streets of Key West. Key West is not without charm, but it is largely manufactured and ye olde strip malle-ish.

Forgetting completely to take our picture next to the marker which denotes the southernmost part of the continental United States, we drove back up the Keys towards Bahia Honda State Park, and whiled away the afternoon swimming in the clear turquoise water, chasing more butterflies and sipping pink lemonade.

Bahia Honda was very reasonably priced, and also hosts an RV park. If I have one regret about this trip so far it is that we did not bring our tent to use in Florida and the Southwest. In addition to spending more money on decent, yet bland,accommodations, we have missed out on the opportunity to be closer to nature, and spend more time outdoors.


The Overseas Highway in the background.

Grunty–my mom– and Max.

The old Overseas Railroad bridgeat Bahia Honda.

Everglades

I have very little time to post tonight, but if you have the chance to visit the Florida Everglades, do so. Aside from being able to wear shorts, chase butterflies and roll down your car windows in January, here are a few reasons:

Before anyone rings CPS, Max was not as close to this gator as it appears in the photo. The viewing area at the State Park Oasis is raised several feet above the water.

Texausianippibamada

Very long driving day today as we left Galveston and passed through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama before arriving at our first stop in Florida. I am….what was I saying? Where am I again?

A few pictures of Max from an accidental visit to Tickfaw State Park, after he insisted I stop the car in the middle of Interstate 10 so he could play on the median with roadkill, beer bottles and shards of truck tires. Tickfaw is located about 11 miles off the interstate, just past a slaughterhouse. My stomach lurched as I drove past , yet the park itself was lovely and was redolent only of pine and moss, with a very nice RV area,tent camping sites, and a pair of playgrounds.

Eventually I will write more about the actual trip, but for now uploading pictures and sharing a quick daily update is all I have time and energy to do.

Another long drive tomorrow.

Greetings from Galveston

Where it is unseasonably cold, and the skies and surf are both rather menacing.

Inside with the sea turtles, it was a balmy 90 degrees with high humidity, and a chance of blurries. We did not stay for the entire tour, and opted to explore a little on our own before the scheduled lecture began. Max was excited to make the connection between these turtles and the books he has at home describing their life cycle. The turtles were very friendly, or rather they were until they realized we did not have shrimp.

Stewart Beach felt suspiciously like an earlier trip to York Beach, Maine. I think it may be warmer in Maine.

Max shared a piece of pizza with a boat-tailed grackle.

Houston, We Have A Problem

Your downtown area is charming. Your Whole Foods fully stocked with dairy alternatives and rows of beautiful produce. However your drivers are the spawn of Boston and Greater Los Angeles, combining hair-raising lane changes and lack of signals with high speeds. Not what I wanted to navigate at the end of a seven hour drive, dying from terminal menstruation while my three year-old screamed for his musical Thomas toothbrush.

Thankfully Galveston is much lower key. Here’s to a couple of days of rest, relaxation and walking everywhere we need to go.

The Gulf of Mexico framed by roof construction next to our hotel. Not the most scenic of shots, but it sure beats Jersey barriers and squealing brakes.

Queen of the Wild Frontier

Greetings from a small town in the middle of Texas, where the locals are friendly, yet slightly obsessed with Davy Crockett. The Lone Star State redeemed itself a bit on the drive from New Mexico with continued desert, mountains and the all important semi-clean rest areas, complete with large, blinking signs warning patrons to watch for snakes. Also, the speed limit in these parts is 80 mph. Fun!

We pulled off the highway and found a playground for Max. Unfortunately there were no kids for him to play with, but there was a purple dinosaur and lots of aging metal structures to climb and get tetanus on.

Speaking of tetanus, next to our hotel is a colony of feral kitties. Poor things. I walked over to have a look,crumbled up a few dog biscuits I had in the back of the car, and noticed half-a-dozen cats perched on rocks and garbage.

So we drove down the street and bought some water and a bag of cat food. As I walked towards the brush, I noticed the colony was probably closer to a dozen cats, most of them still kittens, wild-eyed gaunt and scared. This little grey tiger is a total sweetheart. His friend the black long-haired was also friendly, so I can only assume between their demeanor and the empty, open pizza boxes laying about that other people have left food for the cats as well. The other kittens hid in the brush behind the fence, and only came out to eat and drink when I backed away.

A White Sands New Year

I fucking love New Mexico. Earlier this morning I was planning the next leg of our trip and it broke my hard little heart to search for accommodations in Texas. I fucking hate Texas, or rather I hate what little I have driven through previously.

Earlier today we drove to White Sands.

The White Sands gift shop was doing a brisk trade selling thin plastic snow saucers to slide on the sand for $12.98 each. Max would rather roll on down the dunes anyway.

And ring in the New Year with a hotel pizza party.

Happy New Year!

Checked out of the Hotel California

Change of plans: we left California this morning, a week earlier than originally planned and have checked into at a kitschy hotel with a space age theme, overgrown palm trees and a lot of character. Remember: if an itinerary or other aspects of a trip are making you miserable, cut your losses. Vacations should not be stressful. Eat a dozen vegan donuts, poke sticks in rattlesnake holes, get dirt under your fingernails and jump on the bed if it makes you happy. You only live once.

On a totally unrelated note, my outgoing e-mail is completely fucked and I have been unable to reply to messages. Also, I have a sunburn. In late December.

Beam me up.Grunty and I are having far too much fun tonight teasing Max about aliens.

My purple slips were abducted by an alien life form earlier this evening.

Jackass Acres

Found by taking a random exit in Arizona yesterday, hoping for a restroom.

As we neared the border between Arizona and Nevada, we spent two hours waiting to cross the Hoover Dam. Two damn hours in a Hoover Dam traffic jam. A few cars ahead of us, a woman who was at least 15 months pregnant kept hopping out and dropping trou to pee next to her car. She looked so embarrassed. Poor thing.

Max and his cousins–two girls who are 3 and 5–have been racing around like identical mischeivous blond triplets. The resemblance between these three children is uncanny: similar features, expressions and activity levels. Look out, Las Vegas!

House on the Hill

Or rather house in the hill. Montezuma’s Castle.

Yesterday we went to Sedona. I was disappointed by the suburban mall-sprawl vibe–the first view as we drove into town was a Dress Barn sign marring the natural beauty–but the red rocks, and tasty tempeh burger from D’Lish made it worth the trip.

Photographs. All I’ve got is photographs.

I am so tired that I just bent down to pet an invisible kitty/green fleece jacket curled up on the chair next to me. Lots of driving and wandering today, and not enough sleep.

Painted Desert.

Wigwam Motel.

The Mother Road. Indeed.

Park It

Lest the post below sound as if we’re spending all of our down time having playdates at Donald’s house,here is a picture of Max enjoying the facilities earlier in the trip at Panther Creek State Park in Tennessee on an unseasonably warm day. In addition to immaculate, heated restrooms Panther Creek even had a merry-go-round.

One caveat about visiting parks with playgrounds: do not announce that you are going to be at a playground in a few minutes after passing an exit with a teeter-totter symbol tattooed on the state park sign. Why? Because the next park we tried to visit after Panther Creek was 213 miles off the highway. We only found out after driving a few miles and finding a more detailed sign.

Grunty and I decided that major highway rest stops should all have a simple play area. Most of them have an area to walk dogs, so doesn’t a swing set or slide sound like a welcome addition? Alternatively, an enterprising person could launch a franchise of indoor-outdoor playspaces near those odd pseudo highway exit villages that exist solely to hawk fudge, genuine souvenirs and t-shirts 3 for $12.99.

Here’s hoping for nice weather in Arizona and lots of well-maintained parks and playgrounds.

She Who Stops at McPlaylands

Before we left Somerville, I was certain of two things: one, we would not darken the doorstep of McDonalds or Walmart on this trip, and two, Max would be just fine without a DVD player.

We stopped at our first McIndoor Death Trap Playland on a rainy afternoon in Western New York on the first day of the trip. We have stopped at half a dozen others since, including this evening. I nursed a flat diet Coke and Max made friends with several adorable local kids who were dressed up in starched white clothes for a school Christmas program. Somehow, none of them left splattered in ketchup.

We made it to Tennessee before I caved and bought an inexpensive portable DVD player and a few movies. At Walmart.

Extended travel with very small children is challenging. There will be many times when you have to find a suitable place to stop and let them burn off energy, and many more times when you will find yourself paying $25 planning to spend several hours exploring a pueblo, only to leave 45 minutes later because your small child is covered in mud and begging to go play at Donalds.(OK, I will admit that while I am having a blast, it is fucking insane to take your three year-old on a cross country trip.)Max has held up surprisingly well, save two minor irritants: he is a bossy backseat driver who occasionally demands that we“go home now, just for a little while”or insists that I need to “turn left, goddamnit!”, and he handles crossing timezones by waking up ravenous at midnight and again for the day at 3 am.

Always call ahead to confirm that the gorgeous indoor pool featured on the hotel’s website is in fact open. Otherwise you may find yourself trying to console a wailing child who wants to swim, and prostrates himself on the floor in front of the reception desk and screams “What is wrong with the pool? Did the water go down the wrong pipe? Did someone poop in the pool? Will it open later?” as a crowd of amused post-menopausal onlookers laugh in your face.

Without a pool, you will find yourself anxiously scouring local websites searching for children’s museums, and wondering if an out of order pool is an emergency worthy of busting out the bribe of last resort: a pink plastic tube of mini M&Ms.

This afternoon we visited Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo is gorgeous, peaceful and muddy. I felt very large and blonde and conspicuous, with my Rebel and photography permit slung around my neck,clutching Max as he begged to run free with the throngs of wandering dogs.

The Pueblo is home to approximately 150 people, a few of whom were outside working on various projects. I’m certain they think visitors are both annoying and slightly insane for paying the entrance fees, but little did these Taos Indians know that they were in the presence of Grunty Who Flees Bad Man, one quarter Sokoki (St. Francis Abenaki), Crazy Bitch, one eighth of same, and Son of Crazy Bitch, Who Sleeps Little And Argues Often. Unfortunately, we lack papers as my great grandfather was a mean Irish bastard who was embarrassed by his wife’s heritage. Fucker.

After leaving the Pueblo, we decided to drive out past the Taos Ski area just to see what was there. In addition to pines weighed down by gobs of marshmallow snow, we passed a young guy and his dog, obviously homeless and hitchhiking. Grunty noticed that the man had taken off his coat and placed it under the shivering pup. We decided to stop and grab some groceries and dog biscuits if we passed a store on the drive back from the ski resort. We did not find a store, and when we neared the intersection, the young man and his dog had moved on. Or so we thought. As we neared the outskirts of Taos proper, we saw the man again, leading his dog on a leash as the sky began to darken and the temperature noticeably dropped. I stopped at Cids, a local market and bought a jar of peanut butter, some bananas, cheese, milk, english muffins and dog treats and we turned around hoping the man and his dog were on the same stretch of highway. We were unable to find them, and can only hope some kindhearted person gave them a ride or helped in some way. It is very cold here in Taos tonight, and this man and his dog were only one of several down-on-their luck wanderers we have spotted since arriving.

Girls Got Film

New Mexico, and particularly the drive into Taos are so incredibly beautiful that I find myself at a loss for words, grinning like a fool, with my suitcase stuffed with real estate brochures, dried red chiles and pinon wood.

Yes, I took this while driving, hence the smudgey windshield.

Moonrise.

The Pilot needs a bath.

Taos churches. Yes, I’m still an atheist, however, there is something to be said for the simple beauty of crosses pointed towards a painfully blue sky.


While driving out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridgethis afternoon, I looked out my window to see plumes of smoke rising from the area near the Taos municipal airport. A nervous flier with an overactive imagination, I snapped a couple of pictures as several firetrucks rocketed past me, into the horizon, followed by a pair of ambulances. So far, there has been nothing on the local news or online, so I’m not sure this was a crash. However, while I was taking more pictures of the moon rise, a professional photographer setting up his gear in the direction of the fire mentioned that he thought a small plane had crashed. I was unable to get close enough to see wreckage of any kind, and my Canon Rebel lacks the goods–or I lack the knowledge–to get a detailed shot from a great distance.

What do you think?

This looks like a runway to the right.

As we made our way back to the hotel, we passed another mishap. Luckily no one seemed to have been injured.

And just because, a few pictures I snapped when leaving Tucumcari this morning.

The Blue Swallow Hotel, which is currently closed for renovations, so the sign was not lit during our time in Tucumcari.

Crazy vehicle and cactus in the adjacent lot.

Tucumkarrie tonight!

Get your kicks.

Largest Cross in the world, Groom, Texas.

We made it to Tucumcari, New Mexico today. Tucumcari is the gateway to New Mexico, about an hour’s drive from the border with Texas, and billboards announcing Tucumcari tonight! begin to appear on the side of the road just outside of Oklahoma City. Tucumcari is a sleepy town, at least this time of the year. Lines of people streaming out of the local Post Office were complaining about the cold. There were small patches of melting snow here and there, but wiith temperatures in the 50s, we promptly stripped to our undies and cruised around town with the windows open and mariachi music blaring.

Actually, we tried to go to the Mesalands Dinosaur Museumbut since it is closed on Mondays, we drove around trying to find a playground, and found the Tucumcari Historical Museum instead. With several outbuildings, a chuck wagon, a caboose visitors can walk through, and an ancient airplane the museum was a fascinating place to spend an hour poking around.

Finally, this sign made me laugh. If you look closely, the name of the pharmacy is a variation of our name.

See Aloha!

First, where would you apply this product?
While I was doing a quick load of laundry at our hotel this morning, Grunty turned around to find Max with it smeared all over his lips, vehemently insisting that it was a BIG lipbalm.

Later today we visited a tropical forest

Located in a beer can

Little Rock On

I decided to take it easy today and so it was just a hop, skip and a bumpy jump down Route 40 from Memphis to Little Rock. Tennessee roads are well maintained and easy to drive, so the pothole puckered stretch of highway connecting these two southern cities caught me off guard. Heavy downpours and fog cemented the decision for a short day on the road.

Our first stop was the Rivermarket area of Little Rock. While waiting for the Arkansas Museum of Discovery to open, Max, Grunty and I strolled around the surrounding area, stopping for an excellent cup of coffee at The Boulevard Bread Company. After reading several disheartening tales of very limited healthy dining options in Arkansas, the Boulevard was a welcome find. Noticing that my coffee cup was green and designed to decompose, I decided the tattooed and pierced guy making lattes would not laugh at me if I asked for soymilk. Not only do they have soymilk for coffee–you need to ask–but they also have a clearly labeled vegan sandwich option. In addition, a local free magazine gives The Farmer’s Daughter Cafe a rousing write up. While the menu does not have specifically vegan options, several items look vegan friendly, and with a focus on locally grown, organic produce, I’m sure anyone who appreciates good food would be able to eat well there. Since we needed to stock up on a few road trip supplies, I programmed our GPS to find the local Wild Oats, which is quite small compared to what I’m used to, but has a nice salad bar, and plenty of vegan groceries. Prices are also noticeably lower here in Arkansas compared to other states we have passed through so far on the trip.

The Rivermarket.

Grunty enjoying the Museum of Discovery.

Max. He has these gears at home and was thrilled to see a section of the museum devoted to gears and magnet letters.

The Rivermarket Trolley.

Interesting restaurant sign. Note the outboard motors recycled as lights on the right side of the building.

After the Museum and lunch, Grunty and I braved the wilds of a Little Rock Chuck E Cheese, to let Max burn off some more rainy day energy. This may be additional proof that all the long days of driving powered by Sonic limeades are draining my mental abilities, but I actually enjoyed myself shooting hoops and helping Max scoop up plastic bumblebees at the CEC. Scary!

Now I need to make a decision of whether to risk driving through Oklahoma tomorrow, or detouring further south on our way west. Any advice?

If Your Motel Door

Looks like this, leave, no matter how tired you are, and no matter how loudly your child is screaming that he has to poop.

This is the view as we fled just before 4 am this morning. It seemed ok yesterday afternoon, when we pulled in, exhausted, but as darkness fell, Grunty found pubes on her pillow, blood on a blanket, and a splotch of snot a previous occupant had hocked against the wall. We took turns dozing as the ladies of the evening left their truckers, and sirens cried out in the night. All of those sleepless nights with Max over the past three years have been excellent training in the fine art of functioning with very little sleep. A couple of hours after fleeing the hovel, we watched the sun rise near Abington,Virginia.

I’m currently ensconced in a rather non-descript, semi-cushy chain hotel with free wireless, clean beds and hot showers, after enjoying a fabulous lunch at The Tomato Head, thanks to a tip from Adrienne. Knoxville has a good vibe. We walked around in the rain for a little while in the area near the restaurant, admiring Christmas decorations and the general prettiness of the neighborhood.

Speaking of pretty, yesterday we drove part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stunning does not do this drive justice, nor do the pictures below. One caveat: the drop offs are so sudden and vertical that most parts of the Parkway do not bother with guardrails. Instant death.

The views are worth the risk.

Calling all Southerners

Any tips for places to see and things to do in Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida* (particularly the Panhandle) and the Carolinas that I might miss thumbing through tourist guides? Particularly goofy fun things that a 3 year old might enjoy, as well as hole in the wall breakfast spots, and good places to watch a sunrise or swim. (Yes, I know the water is probably cold now, but you’re talking to a crew who has swum with snow falling, and has to be forcibly dragged out of the waters in Massachusetts and Maine in April.)

*Grunty used to live in Key West, and my brother lives in a small town on the Atlantic, so I think we have the rest of Florida covered.

More Norge, Less Content

For Alison, who commented below that she wants to go to Norway now. Go!

And in case Norge is not your urge, perhaps Turks and Caicos?

Or Nevada?

Max Has Been There, Done That

A few people have questioned my sanity after hearing that I’m driving cross-country in December with my son. But Max has already been there, done that.

In December of 2004, when he was only four months-old–and never sleeping more than two hours at a stretch– James, Max and I embarked on a whirlwind trip to Vegas along the northern route, swinging into Canada, and back down to Chicago, and over through Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, and Northern Nevada before heading south to Las Vegas.

On the return, we stopped for a quick peek at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon one evening at sunset. I am rocking the PPD in this image. Guess what irrational fears I was consumed with as James snapped the shot?

Tip #1 For Traveling With Small Children

A good rule to follow is to spring the news about an upcoming trip no more than one hour prior to departure for every year of your child’s life.

For example: never tell a three year-old child about an upcoming trip more than three hours in advance. Otherwise, prepare to spend the next month or two explaining why it is not possible for you to swing by Nevada, pick up his cousins and head to Disneyland on the way home from preschool.

If your child is named Max, also be prepared to provide detailed descriptions of all hotel swimming pools you may encounter several weeks from now, including, but not limited to, the numbers on the side of the pool , water temperature, and whether or not there will be other kids there. Also be prepared for your child named Max to fill a backpack full of markers without their caps, dried bits of PlayDoh, and a brand new winter parka from Hanna Andersson, as he packs for the trip.

The one hour per year of life guideline may also prove useful in months featuring holidays featuring ninja costumes, poking pumpkins with butter knives, and demanding candy from your neighbors.

No.

IT. IS. NOT. (NOT!!) HALLOWEEN YET.

(Please stop asking.)

An Afternoon in Brattleboro, Vermont

Packing your child, husband and half-a-dozen Emergency Cliff bar rations into the car at the crack of dawn almost seems worth it when this is the view from your first traffic light. (Somerville, Massachusetts.)

Our trip to the Sunapee Region of New Hampshire, and divorce court in Brattleboro, Vermont was whirlwind, exhausting and stressful. Finding vegan nirvana in the well-stocked, clearly marked deli counter of the Brattleboro Food Coop made the trip worthwhile. After stopping for breakfast at a dive in Claremont, New Hampshire, where I was able to order a semi-brown banana, I devoured spinach sauteed with garlic and gomasio, spicy peanut tofu and steamed vegetable dumplings in the Coop’s cafe. My sister and Max split a chicken and cheese quesadilla with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. We finished our lunch with steaming mugs of fresh ginger tea.

After lunch, Max enjoyed hunting for leaves and playing King of the Mound-of-Dirt on the Brattleboro Common.

Brattleboro is home to a pedestrian friendly downtown, and several interesting shops and restaurants. Unfortunately on this visit, we did not get a chance to do much more than window shop. If you go, be sure to stop by Beadniks (crafts,unusual gifts and postcards), and the three independent bookstores clustered along Elliot and Main street: The Book Cellar, Brattleboro Books (used), and Everyone’s Books.

We spent the night at the Best Western Sunapee Lodge. The Lodge is rather rundown, the mattresses lumpy and soft, but the staff was friendly and the swimming pool clean, warm and well-maintained. Breakfast was about what one could expect from a standard chain hotel in a semi-rural area. Max was entranced by the large plastic container of “O’s in funny colors” (Froot Loops), and picked the chocolate chips out of a large, greasy muffin. James downed a breakfast sandwich made with American cheese, and I took a few bites of Rice Krispies covered in soy milk from my secret stash, before realizing they did not taste very vegan. The coffee, thankfully, was freshly brewed and fairly strong.