Recently my whole family — all 15 of us — got together for a beach week on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Pensacola Beach is one of my favorite places: The sand is beautiful and it’s the perfect vacation mix of fun-things-to-do versus nothing-to-d0-but-sit-on-the-sand-in-peace-and-quiet. My daughters and I spent many summer weeks here when they were younger, and in recent years we’ve draggedcoerced brought Husband JP and Older Daughter’s Husband along, too. We loved introducing “our” spot to other folks in our family — Pensacola‘s blend of history, architecture, shopping, food, music and sports (baseball, surfing, paddleboarding, disc golf) as well as all things Blue Angels meant everybody in our group found something intriguing to explore. Of course, our three younger members — age 4, 2 and 8 months — were content to stay at Family HQ and chase crabs, dig sand and throw shells back in the surf (okay, our 8-month-old grandson wasn’t too impressed with the surf and really only wanted to eat the sand, but still). We did all the Pensacola things — ate at Peg Leg Pete’s Oyster Bar (where our 4-year-old grandson was slightly disappointed to find out that the pirates there were good pirates), McGuire’s Irish Pub (home of the best fried potatoes anywhere. Anywhere.) and Native Cafe (which we feel paternal towards since we ate there when it first opened and have stuck with it through slow service, lackadaisical service and no service because the food is that good); visited the Naval Air Museum; watched the Blue Angels perform practically in our backyard; shopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood; wandered through Fort Pickens and browsed up and down the happening Palafox Street and Palafox Market. But, of course, as with any family vacation, the highlights involved people more than places: Taking my mom to the World War II exhibit at the Naval Air Museum to see the full-sized recreated Pacific-theater camp similar to one her Seabee father lived in during the war; making sand cities with our 4-year-old grandson; teaching our 2-year-old nephew how to “dibble, dibble, shot,” although since his parents are skilled and accomplished soccer players, he’s much better than me; playing disc golf with-our nephew watching my 13-year-old nephew and his dad zip through a disc-golf course; learning how to-stand-up paddle board watching our two daughters conquer the surf on stand-up paddle boards; getting drenched in the rain at the outdoors Palafox Market with Younger Daughter yet still eating soggy almond croissants baked by an actual French person; and riding around in a golf cart with my husband and the king of Santa Rosa Island — Santa Rosa Island Authority executive director Buck Lee. Good times, good times.
Yikes! I haven’t blogged for so long that WordPress was, like, “I’m sorry. Who are you again? Please identify.” You know, in the same way that your iPhone’s Siri (not to be confused with the unfortunate Suri, bless her heart, whom we all know will rebel against her mother at age 14 and run away to become queen of the Scientologists) gets annoyed when you ask her stupid questions. But I have good excuses: We were vacationing in sunny Florida and then came home to a sick cat. Sadly, Shadrach — our lone male out of the four — turned out to have unfixable kidney disease and so we wished him “safe journeys” and sent him on. He was big and fat and the feline equivalent of a grumpy old man, but he’d stuck with us for almost 16 years and we miss him. My tough sports-editor husband, who yells at AP and makes photographers tremble, practically is inconsolable — he’s like that about pets. For me, Shadrach and his two sisters (we got the fourth one a couple of years after the first three) are a link to when my two 20-something daughters were younger and living at home and we had kids running in and out of the house all the time and all sorts of meetings and rehearsals and practices on our family calendar and I loved every minute of it. We got the cats sort of as a divorce present shortly after we became a single-parent family. I swear that one day in the privacy of our own kitchen, we said, “Oh, it’d be great to have a cat!” and within minutes we were deluged with offers. One of Older Daughter’s friends let us pick from a barn cat’s litter, and of course my firm commitment to ONE CAT ONLY turned into ONE CAT ONLY FOR EACH OF US and there we were. The girls rescued No. 4 from a pizza box at a local swimming pool but our hopes for one big happy cat family never materialized as the three incumbents immediately forged an alliance that’s still impenetrable, even after all these years. With Shadrach gone, we’re not sure how the new dynamic of two sisters versus one step-sister will play out. It’s clear that he enforced some sort of order — possibly by simple virtue of being twice as big as the girls — so who knows what will happen now. I’d schedule them all for a cat-therapy session but they hate car rides and strangers, so that’s not going to work. I’ll keep you posted. Tomorrow we’ll talk about all the cool places to go and things to do in Pensacola Beach, Fla., but right now I think I’m going to find those boxes of old photos and look for the ones of three little scrawny kittens, especially the orange tabby with the big green eyes.
Husband JP and I are newspaper geeks. We met at a newspaper — Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. We work for newspapers — he’s actually fortunate enough to get a regular paycheck from one. We talk and post and discuss and argue about newspapers (and also whose turn it is to clean out the cat boxes and which one of us forgot to buy beer). And we buy newspapers — you know, the old-fashioned kind made of paper — everywhere we go. When we travel, our hotel room is littered with newspapers. We take stacks into restaurants (although not the really good ones). We pile them in the back seat of the car and haul them home for additional perusal. In doing all this, we stumble across some fascinating things. Such as the fact that the May 27 edition of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press — the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — weighed in at an incredible 2 pounds and, when folded, was 1 1/2 inches deep. This is, we calculated, about four times bigger than your average regular daily paper and seemed mainly due to an inordinately large amount of advertising inserts. Most papers, it seemed to us, had a lighter number of inserts for Memorial Day Sunday. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff that fascinates us. Just wait until you hear our discussion on Times Roman versus Times New Roman.
Older Daughter cooperated nicely for the camera, but Grandson Nolan was dealing with an itchy nose and couldn't concentrate on smiling after his recent very cool haircut. That's okay, though. Happy 4th Birthday, Captain Adorable! I know you're way too big for that cute baby name anymore. After all, you can dress yourself, draw a train, dig for worms, caution Mommy about getting lost while driving and help me -- Grandma Kacky -- get past those peskily tough Angry Birds levels. (Thanks for unleashing the Bird Bomb, by the way. Nicely done.) You truly are a big boy, as you tell us emphatically. But to everybody who held you on that cool spring day four years ago, you're still adorable. And you always will be.
Have fun letting your good times roll today — whether you’re eating King Cake (watch out for that baby) or pancakes or paczki or your completely-bad-for-you pastry of choice. Of course, nothing goes better with eating rich fried sugary food than our other favorite activity: shopping. Younger Daughter and I spotted this could-be Mardi Gras wreath in Nellie Mae, an adorable boutique in downtown Tuscumbia, Ala., that’s owned by classmates of Older Daughter. And that sort of threw me. I mean, I’m used to my children’s friends being old enough to check my teeth and fill my prescriptions and give me speeding tickets, but buying clothes and jewelry from people I used to chaperon on field trips takes some getting used to. (Stay tuned for more Nellie Mae photos and other downtown-Tuscumbia finds — so cute!)
"Oh, hi, Mommy! I didn't see you standing there. Tree? What tree? Oh, you mean THIS tree that you happened to have found me in the middle of. Uh ... I guess I ... uh ... I thought maybe Baby Brother was up here and I'd better check to make sure he's okay. Yeah, yeah, that's it."
Normally I don’t get in on nationally historical & happening-right-now political events — I’m generally more of the heard-it-on-NPR type — but earlier this week I got a close-up look at the headline-making Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) movement while I was in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Occupy Chattanooga folks have set up their tents on the lawn of the Hamilton County courthouse, and Younger Daughter and I, being the nosy & curious journalistically inquiring people that we are, headed over to get the full story. And the full story, as far as I can tell, is that we should eat locally and not step on the pansies bravely trying to brighten the sparse wintry landscaping. I didn’t pick up much political angst — it seemed more like a friendly campout where you borrow your neighbors’ chocolate bars to make s’mores — but I wasn’t surprised at that. See, the thing about Chattanooga is that it’s a pretty cool & laidback town where Patagonia, stand-up paddleboarding and organic coffee shops trump pearls, pantyhose and pumps. So it’s entirely fitting that Chattanooga’s version of Occupy (Fill-in-the-Blank) is low-key. But, of course, it was difficult to get the full story since it was a weekday and the site was fairly empty because the protesters were at 1) work, 2) school or 3) back home taking showers, leaving Occupy Chattanooga in the hands of an address-less man who tends the fire and watches over the tents while everybody’s gone. He happily filled Younger Daughter and I in on why the government was out to get us, augmented by comments from another talkative man on a bicycle who offered opinions as he cycled around the tents and whom we later saw riding around town, still commenting loudly to everybody and nobody. But I liked the whole Occupy Chattanooga vibe. I mean, when Imyself Occupy Chattanooga, I tend more toward Julie Darling Donuts and Good Dog beer & fries, but I’m glad there are other folks out there who are making me think about other things and reminding me that not everyone is so lucky — and not to step on the flowers.
When you look at this snowperson ornament — which, by the way, did not make the Christmas-tree cut this year — do you see a) a well-loved symbol of sweet childhood memories or b) a maniacal crazy-eyed snowcreature that makes you very very nervous? I guess it depends on whether you believe you’re looking at a) mittens and a broom or b) hooves and an ax. There’s no denying the crazy eyes, though. And, truthfully, I’m sure “Frosty the Zombie Snowman” will be the Next Big Thing. (Note to self: Ask always-zombie-alert husband if zombie snowpeople would actually carry axes. Or wear holly in their hats.) Before you scoff, know that I am extremely sensitive to the possibilities of Evil Toylike Objects because of the Tree Toys. Would you like to hear the story? Pour some eggnog, settle down by the fire and I’ll tell you. See, when we lived in Alabama and my two now-mid-20s daughters were young, an elderly woman who lived down the street from us would celebrate the holidays by hanging stuffed animals and dolls from a tree in her front yard. With fishing line. Around their necks. People from surrounding states would drive over just to see this because nothing, obviously, says Christmas like a tree in a front yard with dozens of eerily silent teddy bears and Cabbage Patch Kids swaying in the breeze. The woman scoured yard sales and flea markets all year for her Tree Toy collection because, it was said, she wanted to do something “for the children.” However, my children — and every other child around as well as most adults — were traumatized every year and refused to drive, walk, run, bike, skate or otherwise go anywhere near that house during the holidays. Younger Daughter later admitted she’d had nightmares about the Tree Toys coming to life and it was a long and dark time before she could pick up a teddy bear without shuddering. The Toy Tree appeared for several consecutive years … until one year, the tree was empty. Rumor had it that the woman had given in to public pressure and decided to give up her decorating scheme. But it seemed as if her spirit was broken, because no sign of the holidays ever showed up in her yard again. No wreaths. No inflatable snow globes. No Santa Claus standing at the manager along with the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The crowds abandoned our neighborhood and started driving over to the five-acre light extravaganza in the next county. Our street was (relatively) safe again, and all we have left are memories of the Tree Toys … and maybe, with Crazy-Eyed Snowperson here, the start of a new tradition.
I am a bad, bad blogger. I should have my three-year-old WordPress account ripped away and be forced to start all over for not posting in more than a week. That contravenes every piece of blogging advice ever written. But thanks to all who nagged bugged poked reminded me that even though I was BUSY HELPING WITH MY NEW BABY GRANDSON, I could take the time to post photos and share thoughts. You were correct. I didn’t do it, but you were correct. Anyway, I’m back in the decidedly adult home that my husband and I fill with the stuff of our grownup life: Newspapers, page proofs, espresso machines and stacks of to-be-read books along with deadlines, meetings and I-can’t-read-that-right-now-’cause-I’m-late-but-email-it-and-I’ll-take-a-look. That is pretty much my normal everyday life, but for a week I reveled in the precious & priceless world of newborn babies. Of course, you know that by “helping with my new baby grandson,” I actually mean “endless hours of playing with 3 1/2-year-old incumbent grandson Capt. Adorable” — which, it’s true, the new second-time parents (our daughter & son-in-law) considered a huge help. But I did get to sneak in a few rocking-chair moments with Baby Brother. I’m telling you, it was a grandmother’s dream: When I wasn’t playing Cars 2 Tokyo Spin-out Racetrack or building a Thomas train track or jumping on the bouncy thing at the indoor playground, I was holding that sweet days-old baby and breathing in that indefinable newborn smell. And you would be so proud of me. I pretty much almost always usually followed Mommy and Daddy’s household rules, didn’t say anything when they did something wrong chose alternate paths and offered advice only when asked — which, come to think of it, was never. But I was there to help my daughter over the weepy postpartum hump (she cried when she got home and unpacked her hospital bag — we’ve all been there) and when I left, she told my sincerely that she appreciated my being there more than I knew, so I must have done something right. Actually, I’m mindful of being on good behavior when I’m in grandma-mode since my husband has threatened to curtail my visiting rights if he gets any complaints from our daughter, so I rigorously keep to nap-time schedules and limit chocolate-chip cookies to only a couple (or three or four) at a time. And soak up all the grandbaby love I can get.
Everybody here in the South agrees that this is one of the best falls ever. Usuallyf we go straight from summer into winter, but this year we’ve actually had the warm days & cool nights of autumn. The leaves are getting gorgeous, but there are other signs of fall. Such as scarecrows, as pictured on the left. And you thought that was a photo of me on my daily walk through the forest! You should know that I never would pair red devil horns with a red handbag AND red shoes — too matchy-match. No, this actually is “The Devil Wears Prada”‘s Miranda Priestly on the Huntsville Botanical Garden‘s annual Scarecrow Trail. Created by the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama, Ms. Scarecrow Priestly accessories her Halloween look with a zebra-print blazer — and until only a year or so ago I owned an almost identical blazer. You know you need a closet redo when your outfits show up on a devil scarecrow — albeit a stylish one. Fall also is the time when autumnal art work shows up on refrigerators. It’s been a long dry spell between our now 20-something-year-old daughters bringing home their falling-leaves pictures and our 3 1/2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable adding to the collection. The Captain stayed with Husband JP and I a few days ago, and I went through his backpack a couple of his papers from Spanish class fell out of his backpack, so I claimed them. To finish off the refrigerator decor, Capt. Adorable arranged the alphabet magnets into a train, which I thought was very creative and brilliant of him. Genius baby!