Sunday, September 11, 2005

Flyin' High Again

Ben fussed much when we first got on the plane yesterday. He was very tired and had only about a 45-minute nap that morning.

About 15 minutes before we left his grandparents' house, Ben got a last-minute gift from Grandpops. We had stopped at a woodcraft store in Bethany Beach our last day there, and found a wood truck with various shapes as cargo. Grandpops bought one for Ben and one for Ben's cousin. When Grandpops gave it to him, Ben grabbed it and played with it until we left.

We sat and ate a bite in the airport before getting in the pre-board line. Ben's age gives us the privilege of getting on before everybody else. On Southwest, that's a good thing, because the tickets are general admission. We ended up waiting in the pre-board area for about 20 minutes, where Ben got very restless. Shannon walked him down past another gate or two, then back. More waiting. I walked him past those gates, up the escalator, then back down the escalator, which he loved. He kept saying, "ecksater, ecksater" after I had to pick him up and carry him back to our gate.

Following a short bout of crying on the plane, Ben calmed down as he played with his horse, dinosaurs, and books. All in all, it was a good flight. We had to stop in St. Louis, but never had to change planes.

We were very glad to be on the ground again, even though it was a humid 91 degrees at 7 o'clock. Shannon's aunt and uncle took us to their house, where we put Ben to bed, ate pizza, and hit the sheets.

The trip is over and I sit typing as Ben sits on the living room floor playing with cars that stay in this house, along with his horse and dinosaurs. Evidently one of the dinosaurs was having issues, because Ben is now saying, in a reassuring tone, "Okay, di'saur. Okay, di'saur."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Last Full Day

We played outside with Ben some today. Except for a quick run to Kmart to grab some pictures and some blank CD's, that was the only time we left the house today. Oh, and Ben's gramma went to get something she left on the boat.

I sit watching David Letterman as I type this entry. They're putting away the Late Show bear. I already prepared and uploaded the photos for today.

Morning came without major event. Shannon got up with Ben today (yippee for me!), so I slept in until about 8:20. Grandpops woke up feeling bad and never felt any better all day. Gramma put pork ribs in the slow cooker mid-morning.

We tried to watch some photos on the TV by using their D-Link wireless DVD/media player. It's a DVD player that has media card slots and a wireless network card so it can stream music and/or video from a computer straight to the TV. We never got it working, and nothing we did would reboot it. It just sat there with the word "WELCOME" on its LED screen. None of the buttons, even the power button, did anything. Grandpops could not figure out which power cord to pull, so he saved himself a little time and just started flipping breakers and asking us when the power was off. When it came up again, it still would not work. That's a D-Link DSM 320RD, in case any of you thought about buying one of these nifty gadgets. You might want to avoid this one.

About an hour or so before dinnertime, we took Ben outside to walk around in the back yard. We walked out onto the pier over the cove, where we flushed out a great blue heron and a white egret. Ben was not happy about having to hold somebody's hand on the pier. He walked and ran in the grass, went up and down the deck stairs, and helped his gramma water her flower gardens.

After Ben lost interest in watering, Shannon and I took turns following Ben around. Along with the cove right off their back yard, there are a couple other spots that he could get hurt, so at least one of us always had to be ready to jump up and follow, and he's getting quicker by the day. At one point, he started headed full-tilt toward the pier. I caught up to him and said, "Ben, if we go out on that pier, you have to hold my hand."

He didn't like that idea, and protested. "No hold hand!" I stuck to my guns and held his hand all the way out. He stopped whining about halfway down the pier and was fine after that.

Later, he grabbed two toy cars and headed off toward the pier. As I caught up to him and asked where he was going, he immediately turned around and headed the other way. I guess he knew a hand-holding was coming.

Ben and I found a propane line access hole, and inside was a small frog. Ben liked seeing the frog there, but seemed more interested in rolling one of the toy cars into the hole.

We ate our homemade rib dinners outside, where as usual I was the first to start getting mosquito bites. I stopped eating long enough to find some bug repellant. In other words, I put some Off! on. Sorry.

We leave at about 2:15 tomorrow to catch our plane in Baltimore. We have only one flight, nonstop, all the way to Tulsa. It should be an adventure.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

On the Chesapeake

Ben had a slight meltdown tonight (Thursday night), but he got a second wind and came through like a champ.

When I got up with Ben, he asked for eggs, so I whipped up a couple and microwaved them. Although this method uses less energy than a stove burner, I prefer using a skillet. It’s how I learned, and when I microwave an egg, it makes me wait, but not long enough to accomplish anything while I wait. I prefer being active, not just sitting and waiting. Even if one route to a destination takes 5 or 10 minutes less time, I’m more likely to choose the route that keeps me moving instead.

This morning at about 9, Ben’s grandpops said we should plan to leave at 11 a.m. That way, he said, we would be sure to leave by noon. We put Ben down for a nap at about 10 a.m. while we were doing the getting ready thing. At about 11:15, we got him up, threw everything into the Suburban (A.K.A. “T-rex”), and headed out at 11:30. By 12:00 we were on the boat. By 12:30 we were underway. Part of the holdup came when we realized that the child’s life vest they had was for kids considerably larger than Ben. We ran to a marine store and grabbed one – with Scooby Doo and Shaggy on it.

Their marina is right next to a major highway bridge and drawbridge. Pic is online, along with others, of course.

There isn’t much to see on the way to St. Michael’s, and a cruising boat does not a speedy trip make. One thing that amazed me was the shallowness of the Chesapeake Bay. No, I don’t mean that it talks about how a woman with that kind of figure really shouldn’t wear a blouse that shows her midriff. I mean literally the depth of the water. In places during our 1.5 hour cruise, there was less than 8 feet of water between the bottom of the boat and the Bay floor. I never saw that number greater than 30 feet, but I know it gets a bit deeper than that. It just doesn’t seem it could be that shallow when I see the size of it on a map, and think of all the historic battles that have taken place on its waters.

Ben did well on the boat. He only got upset when we hit the wake of a passing boat. He would stumble, but managed to keep his feet. Still, it scared him just enough that he whined a bit and needed some comfort.

St. Michael’s was fun, even though we only ended up with a little over an hour to walk around. Grandpops wasn’t feeling up to walking around, so we went with Gramma. Just before he turned to go back to the boat, though, he pointed out a plane flying overhead. I could see it was big, and he said it was a C-5. Once a day they see the C-5 fly over, on its way to an area Air Force Base with American Soldiers – in body bags. On that uplifting note he bid us a good time and turned back for the boat.

Ben loved stretching his legs, but did great in the stroller when we needed him to. Most of the stores would not allow us in with it, so I would hang out with Ben, maybe take a picture or two. In fact, that was a great deal for me. I preferred it to walking around inside the shops.

After Shannon and I struck a whacky pose behind one of those paintings with the face cut out, we headed back to the boat and took off for dinner at the Kent Island Yacht Club. The trip back was better. We saw two sailboats, which Grandpops identified. I don’t remember things like that after hearing it once, so I can’t tell you what they were. Just look at the pictures. One was a gaff-rig jack, or skipjack. It wasn’t a flapjack. The other was one of the tall ships, the kind that bring to mind pirates.

That brings to mind a story…

On our very first to Shannon’s dad and stepmother’s place, which also was the first time I met them, we saw one of these tall ships under full sail. We got very close to it as Shannon’s dad went on and on about how it was the first time they had seen that. We were very excited about it, and I was hanging out over the edge of the boat shooting frame after frame on my 35mm Canon AE-1. The grace of that ship, moving with such power and speed with only the sound of wood creaking and water splashing. Crank, click. My dad, who once was an avid sailor and won many races, would love seeing these pictures, especially considering he was the one who got me started in photography. Crank, click. The beauty. Crank, click. I risked taking spray on my camera to get pictures of this majestic ship sailing along just as it would have in the days of the Revolutionary War.

In the car on the way back to the way back to their Virginia home, I took a look at the picture count on my camera to see how close I was to the end of the roll. It read 48. How had I taken 48 pictures on a 36-exposure roll? To confirm my worst fear, I clicked the shutter and watched the film spool wheel on the left as I thumbed the film advance lever. The film spool wheel didn’t move. I started to get sick. I almost cried out, but somehow kept it to a mere, “Oh, no.”

“What happened?” Shannon’s dad asked.

“I was shooting all those pictures without any film in my camera,” I replied, literally holding back tears.

The ribbing started immediately and has not stopped in the 10 years since. The family forever will remember the day I took pictures of an historic boat on a rare solo sail across the Bay, with a phantom roll of film. You know, cracks like, “Boy, that sure was neat to see that boat under sail. Wish we had pictures.” Sometimes it’s simply referred to as the ghost roll. These days, though, it’s, “Sure you have a memory card in there, Mark?”

Today, we saw the same type of ship, but it was running on engines, without all its sails down. I got plenty of pictures, but they just weren’t the same as those I took but didn’t take a decade ago.

Ben got fussy on the way back, because he was tired and hungry. We let him munch some Peppridge Farm Goldfish (those baked and not fried fishies) as Shannon held him in her lap.

The restaurant went great. After a brief fussy period, Ben got fed, got ice cream, and was in prime attention-getting form. At least it was the good kind of attention. One woman said he was going to be a heartthrob, and another kept talking to him from her table, telling him he was just a delightful little boy. I only hope that his little brother or sister, when and if he has one, will take after Ben. Although we’ve had our tough times with him, we consider ourselves fortunate to have such a pleasant little boy.

On a funny note, a man doing some work in the restaurant walked by with a ladder. After he walked by our table, we heard a loud clank. He had banged his ladder against one of the chandeliers. His comment was, “That’s kind of close, isn’t it?” Sure. Close. Whatever you say.

Gramma says we’re just going to relax tomorrow and hang out here at the house. Sounds good to me. Maybe we can take Ben out to feed carrots to the horses again. Did I mention we did that yesterday? No? Well, we did. There’s a picture somewhere for that.

The National Aquarium

I sit here as Ben plays with cars, trucks, and other things for toddlers his age. He has had me up at 6:55 the past two mornings, and for some reason I haven't taken Shannon up on her offer to get up with him in the morning. I will have to do that tonight. We had a great time at the National Aquarium in Baltimore on Wednesday, but more on that later. As usual, see the pics for a visual aid.

The Cookie Incident

Before I get into what we did Wednesday, let me tell you about something that happened the night we got here. I was standing in the kitchen, looking around, and saw three cookies in a cookie jar. They looked like Oreo's, except they were half vanilla, half chocolate. I almost always sneak a cookie when I can, so I took off the lid and grabbed one. I bit off half of the cookie and it was a bit soft, as if it had sat in the jar too long. Although it wasn't very sweet, I finished off the cookie and then enjoyed the rest of the evening with everyone.

Fast-forward to last night, when I saw the same cookie jar on the kitchen counter. The two remaining cookies were in there, but with something piled on top of them. My stomach sank. In the jar with the cookies were several Greenies, dog treats shaped like oversized green toothbrushes.

"Um, why are Greenies in there with those cookies?" I asked.

Ben's gramma got a concerned look on her face. "Mark, you didn't eat one of the cookies, did you?"

"Um, yes. The night we got here."

"Mark, around here, you really should ask before you eat something," she said.

Long story short (I know, too late), to start off our trip I had eaten a dog cookie. No wonder it had seemed a little stale, and not particularly tasty. It would explain, however, why I was so interested in the gourmet dog bakery section of a store called "Yuppy Puppy" in Ocean View.


Big Fish, Little Fish, Swimming in the Water

Yesterday, we just hung out here at Grandpop's and Gramma's house for about the first half of the day. Gramma wasn't feeling well, and said it was fine with her if we went out without her.

The remaining four of us went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Ben loved the fish. Each viewing tank had a small step for little kids to use for a better view. That was Ben's favorite way to look at the fish.

The first room was built around and over a large open tank with lots of different types of rays -- sting rays, manta rays, and many others I can't remember. They looked like they were flying through the water, and Ben liked to watch them. There also was a green sea turtle, but because of an infection, she was missing her front left flipper. Small hammerheads and other small sharks swam around the tank. We had to lift Ben up for him to peer over the railing at them -- a move I wasn't crazy about because seeing him plop in there would at the very least ruin our day and his.

We next saw a large tank with large sharks of all kinds. Ben just called them all sharks, which he tended to do with all large fish for the rest of the day. Besides fish, though, we saw a number of colorful frogs, lizards, a rain forest with exotic birds, and a whale skeleton. It's amazing how much the whale's flipper bones look like human hands.

Ben loved the Puffins. At first he called them "pengens," but by the time we left that area, I had him calling them by the right name. He sounded like he was saying "persons" with a British accent, but it was the right idea.

The dolphin show was cancelled for the day, but we still got to go watch the dolphins swimming around and playing with various toys. By that time, we'd been at the aquarium about two and a half hours, so Ben had pretty much run out of energy and the "wow" factor was gone. He was a trooper though, and had fun with Grandpops in the gift shop.


Baltimore has Crabs

Maybe you've seen or heard about the cows all over Chicago? They are actual-size sculptures all over the city, painted with polk-dots, or paisley, or a firefighter's uniform. Just about anything you can imagine, they've been painted to resemble. Even that quilt your grandmother made for you. The cows have been on tour, and we happened to see them "live" in San Antonio a few years ago.

Baltimore, however, has crabs, and they are much larger than life. The Chesapeake Bay area is know for its blue crabs, and these sculptures depict the crabs standing up with all their legs extended straight out. Some were simply painted, while some were encrusted with tiny, colorful mosaic tiles. One held a harmonica above its head. The one we posed Shannon and Ben with was painted to look like the U.S. flag, and held a pearl above its head.

Downtown Baltimore, near the harbor, is a great place to see. Short canals run from the harbor to the first major street. As we walked over the bridges between brick sidewalks, we passed mostly office workers bustling about their busy daily lives. The city manages to include usual big-city tourist traps like the Hard Rock Cafe without making it look garish. If an oversized guitar atop a building qualifies.

The USCGC Taney, a retired Navy and Coast Guard cutter, served as a floating maritime museum. We left it for another visit.

Today, we're taking the boat down the Chesapeake Bay to St. Michael's, Maryland. Ben's first boat ride! Then, dinner at the Kent Island Yacht Club. Yeah, we're really roughing it on this vacation.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ocean View Wrap-up

Today was a great finish to our beach house visit.

Back to the Beach

To start, I woke at 7:30 to the sound of my watch alarm. Ben wasn't up yet, and Shannon and I had agreed we could kind of wing it in regards to getting up with him. Usually, she takes weekdays, because I work, and I take weekends. Bath and bedtime is vice-versa. My mission was to take some beach pictures during the good morning light. Well, it turns out I missed the best morning light, but I got a couple that I posted.

My solo trip to the beach was good, but not perfect. The temperature was cool and the wind blew harder than it had the day before, with gusts hard enough to kick up sand. The sun was not where I expected it to be, so some of the photos I envisioned were not going to happen. I snapped a few frames of some sea kayaks and a couple of early beach goers.

As I took a few pictures that didn't make the cut, a woman asked me if I had seen "the sea turtle." I said, no, and she pointed out where it was. I had never seen a sea turtle in the wild, and they are one of my favorite animals. I walked over and saw a large sea turtle with a barnacled back. Something didn't look quite right about the way it was moving on the surf. After watching it wash up and then back out a few more times, I realized that it was dead. So, I got to see a sea turtle in the wild, but not a live sea turtle.

As I returned to the parking lot, a man in uniform asked me if I knew where the dead sea turtle was. I figured he was some kind of animal control officer, or maybe even a biologist for the local authorities. I pointed it out to him, and he said somebody was on the way to get it. He then returned to his job of emptying the parking meters. I guess even in a small resort town like Ocean View, they still have some separation of duties.

Later that day Shannon's step-brother and his family went to the beach. They said that the turtle was still there, and that a team of biologists and other authorities were there running tests on the body before removing it. That was several hours after I had been out there.


Shopping and the Boardwalk

Shannon and I hung out with the family for a while after I got back from the beach. The guys and I made a McDonald's run to grab breakfast. In the parking lot before we went in, Shannon's dad showed her step-brother some of the features of a GPS unit he evidently had handed down to him. I had read a lot about them, and thought they might be useful in backpacking, but that was the first time I had seen one in use. They're very slick. I must have one.

After we all stuffed ourselves on unborn chickens and long-dead pigs, Shannon and I decided to head down to see the shops and the boardwalk. Her dad chimed in that he'd like to go, so away the three of us went while Ben stayed behind with his gramma and his great aunt.

The shops were nothing we hadn't seen in any beach or resort town, until we paid attention to the folks behind the counters. The first shop featured a tall young woman who spoke with what I thought was Russian accent. Then, another young woman walked in speaking to her in what sounded like Russian. When we stopped on the boardwalk for a cold drink, Shannon's dad struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter. He was Lithuanian. Later, when we finally found a place open that served ice cream, we found that one of the women behind the counter was from Poland, and the other from Hungary. Quite a variety of Europeans work in Ocean View, Delaware. That's kind of fitting, considering Delaware was the first state in a country that prides itself on welcoming everybody with open arms.

We heard also from Shannon's dad that a lot of the local merchants hire foreign college students who come over here for the summer to raise money for back home. Some of them are treated well, but some are mistreated by landlords who overcharge them for rent, or by employers who do not treat them fairly. Hey, welcome to America, right? Sheesh.

Back to the ice cream. There are at least five places that serve ice cream and/or frozen custard, and most of them said they were closed on Tuesdays. Huh? One had a sign that said it was closed because it was the first day at a new school. Okay.

The weirdest one, though, was the candy shop that had fudge, saltwater taffy, and ice cream. It was hand-dipped, Edy's brand ice cream, on display just like in a Baskin-Robbins. You pick the flavor you want, and they scoop it out while you watch. They were open. When we walked to the area where you pick your flavor, one of the two women (this is important later) said, "We are closed for ice cream today."

What the heck is it about Tuesday that keeps these people from selling ice cream? They could sell us fudge, which contains ingredients not wholly unlike those found in ice cream, yet they couldn't sell us any ice cream. Besides us, there was one couple in that shop. The reason the woman behind the counter gave for not selling us the frozen treat we so desired? "I can't sell ice cream when I have only one person behind the counter. It would be too busy." Okay, we were looking at two women behind the counter. But, even giving her the benefit of the doubt, like maybe the other woman was just a friend hanging out with her, we didn't see that they were all that busy. Was the separation of duties here so stringent that those skilled in the making and selling of fudge and taffy couldn't scoop out some ice cream? It boggles the mind.

We found another candy shop, staffed by the Polish and Hungarian women mentioned above, and they gladly sold us scoops of delicious ice cream and a pound of various flavors of fudge. The lady in the other shop did sound American. Maybe she could learn something from these visitors.

The time almost out on our parking meter, I pumped in a couple more quarters so we could see a few more shops before returning to the house. Once there, we quickly packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed back to Queenstown, MD.

Ben loved sitting up front again with his grandpops, who amused him with a back-and-forth shouting game. I'm not sure who had more fun.

We had a great barbecue dinner from a local restaurant and watched a little TV. I sit now, with Frasier muted on TBS, finsihing up this entry for all the readers out there.

Stay tuned, because I think we might be in for a boat ride to Baltimore Harbor (site of the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem), and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. After visiting it and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, which is supposed to be one of the best, and the Dallas Aquarium, Shannon and I collectively agree that the National Aquarium is the one to beat. We may also see some of the best lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay, including Thomas Point (but don't expect me to happen to be there for the conditions in those pictures).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Beach Pictures Up

The pics from the beach are online. I didn’t notice until looking at them in the computer that I inadvertently caught a couple making out in a few of the pictures. Above is a detail of one of those photos. Another thing is that the lifeguard’s chair was flying a Dangerous Surf flag. This afternoon, after spending a good amount of time cleaning the sand off the boys and ourselves, we kicked back a bit and relaxed. I went out with the other guys to get the stuff for grilling out.

Now, you need a little back story to understand why this took us a little longer than you might think.

Granpops is a Ph.D physicist, and his step-son is a civil engineer. They wanted to look at the repair work in progress at a bridge over the Indian River inlet. They liked the huge cranes and the huge sand pumps, and discovered that the workers are preparing to replace it, not just repair it.

Back to real life.

We came back after getting the food and grilled it out back. While the burgers and hot dogs (including veggie burgers) sizzled, we let the boys and the dogs play in the side yard. The weather was amazing, as a couple of the ladies had to put on long-sleeve shirts to keep from getting chilly. That was a very nice feeling, and something we will not feel in Texas until mid to late October, from what we’ve heard.

By the way, I also realized thanks to the local license plates that Delaware was the first colony to become a state.

I sit in the living room typing this as the TV blares a rerun of one of the many CSI incarnations. Everybody but Shannon, her aunt and I have turned in for the evening. I don’t know exactly what the plan is for tomorrow, but I will update when I have the chance.

To the Beach

Ben absolutely loved the beach. He didn't like getting too close to the water at first, but once his mommy grabbed his hand and we assured him it was okay, he got closer. We first took a quick stroll just along the waterline, which of course is not a straight line. A couple times the water came up over his feet, and he didn't like it. In fact, once it was enough water that it rinsed the sand out from under his tiny feet, and he fell over. Shannon had his hand the whole time, and most of the water had rolled away by the time he fell, so he didn't get soaked. Good thing, because as chilly as the water was, he might have been shocked enough to have a bad memory of the beach.

We walked along like that, with Ben's grandpops, trying to find the rest of our crew. As we approached a fence with a privacy notice on it, we realized we must have passed them. Back we went -- almost all the way back to the spot we had first stepped onto the beach, and found them.

The boys played in the sand, played in the sand, and then played in the sand. They loved it. Ben made a game out of grabbing a handful of sand (or two) and walking over to Shannon to dump it into her cupped hands, then did the same with Grandpops. I took lots of pictures and video, then put all that stuff away and rolled around in the sand myself. Good times. Going downtown now. More later.

Ben's Day of Firsts in Two States

We managed to see the beach on our first full day here – sort of.

Remember, I’m posting these on Eastern Time, and I’m posting them late at night, sometimes after the calendar says it’s tomorrow. Did that make sense? The point is, if it says it was posted at 12:15 a.m. on September 4, that entry probably covers September 3. Got it? Oh, and don’t forget to check out the pictures.

In Maryland

I got up with Ben this morning (Sunday) a little later than the normal time he usually wakes me up on the weekend. Difference is, over here in the east, it was 9:20. I liked that. It threw us off a little because when the in-laws said we could sleep in, I don’t know that they considered that our bodies were still thinking on Central Time.

While Shannon slept in a bit, I took Ben to the kitchen for a breakfast of firsts. He chowed down on some Waffle Dunkers – tasty treats from the frozen foods section. It was his first taste of waffles, and he liked it. He also liked the veggie bacon his gramma microwaved for him. He didn’t seem to notice that it was pig-free.

The in-laws’ house is in a great location. There is a huge field out front, probably about the size of two football fields, and a horse ranch beside their property. Behind the house is a tidal cove that rises and falls twice a day. It connects to the Wye River, which runs into Chesapeake Bay. They see many water birds and bald eagles back there.

The house itself is very nice, too. Evidently it was a topic of discussion amongst the neighbors living in the area before they bought the house. In some cases, one half of a married couple had wanted to buy the house, but the other one had not. There was just too much work to be done on it. Their work paid off, though. In addition to repairing it and completely re-doing the kitchen, they added a large deck and screened in most of it. After Ben finished breakfast, he played with toy cars out there as we drank our coffee. The cool breeze was a nice change from the hot Texas summer.

Before we left, Shannon’s stepbrother and his wife dropped by with their two boys. One is only nine weeks old, while the other is about Ben’s age. They don’t really play together at this age. They sort of play near each other, independently. Although, at one point they gave each other a huge – a big, bear hug, and lost their balance. Ben ended up crashing on top of his new buddy cousin, but both boys came out with smiles. They really just bounce around at this age.


On the Bus

We left for Delaware at about 2:30. As the in-laws prepared the RV for takeoff, Shannon and I took Ben outside to walk around a bit. He saw the RV and said, “bus.”

The “bus” ride went great. Ben sat in the front passenger seat, as that was the only spot with a seatbelt needed to secure his car seat. In fact, the only other passenger seating in the RV was furniture like you would see in a living room. It was a nice ride. Ben’s gramma gave him a cup of dried banana chips and cinnamon dried apples. He gobbled them up. Ben loved taking in the sites (i.e., corn and soybean fields) as we made our way down and to the right on the map. He fell asleep about 45 minutes into the trip.


Shannon Gets Carded

Just before we got to Ocean View, we stopped at a liquor store. I stayed put with Ben, who by this time was awake, while the other three went into the store. He said, “music,” so I hit seek on the radio and just left it on a hip-hop station. Shannon opened the door to the RV singing, “I got carded, I got carded!” She does look young for her age, and I’ve heard some places say their policy is to card anyone who looks younger than 27. Where they came up with the number, I have no idea.


In Delaware

After the RV was still and level in the driveway at Shannon’s aunt’s house, we walked over to see some of the family in a vacant lot. It’s just a field mowed short, and Shannon’s aunt and uncle keep it as extra space for their dogs and maybe a buffer from neighbors. Ben liked watching the dog Gibson chase a Frisbee. It’s great watching all these things through a child’s eyes.

I misspoke earlier when I said that it would be my first time to see the Atlantic. On our Key West trip a few years ago, I saw the Atlantic. Oh well. There’s plenty of fun on this trip without that particular first.

Like watch about 20 pairs of bugs mating on one plant. That’s right. On one particular flowering plant, this one type of bug was all over the place. Most of them had a partner, doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel.

We all hung out for a while as the Mediterranean lasagna baked. The boys had a great time playing in the large living room as the adults caught each other up on life’s little details.

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit, we spent an entire evening without watching, hearing, or reading news of it. Until we got here, it was either on the TV back in Maryland, or on the radio in the RV. Nobody mentioned it all night.


The Beach

After eating, it was off to the beach. The sun already had begun to set, so we rushed to get out of here and get our feet in the sand. The town was very crowded, as most beachfront towns in the U.S. are on Labor Day. The parking lot was almost empty, however, as was the beach. Just a couple of fisherman with large poles standing at attention (stop it) were there to see us. We let Ben walk in the sand on the way to the water. Thanks to the near-dark lighting and the unknown surroundings, he got a bit scared by the crashing sound of the surf. Shannon lifted him up, where he rested his head on her shoulder while the water rushed over her feet and back out to sea. The breeze blowing off the ocean made me feel more relaxed than I have in a long time. As Ben and I walked back through the sand toward the parking lot, I leaned down to ask him if he liked the beach. He said, “Yes.”

I have no pictures of that, as the flash would have lit up only the people. It was dark enough that even my video camera couldn’t detect an image.


Winding Down

Back at the house, we put the boys to bed and then watched “National Treasure.” It was entertaining. I have a feeling the producers wanted to get it out there while The DaVinci Code was popular, but before it became a movie. Now, unfortunately, millions of moviegoers who never read that book will probably see the movie and think it’s a lot like “National Treasure.” They both deal with a prized treasure that has been hidden for centuries (even millennia) by a secret society. Different prize, different secret society, but cryptic clues are found and adventure is had by all. Hope I didn’t ruin those stories for anybody. I don’t know which will be remembered as the better movie, but I know which story I liked the best. Hint: it’s not the one that takes place in the U.S.

Today went much better than yesterday, and Ben will like the beach even more when he can see more than faint shadows with the occasional white breaking wave. I sit in Shannon’s aunt’s home office typing as everyone else sleeps. I’ll sleep well knowing that we have five full days of vacation to go.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Ben's First Flights

Ben’s first time flying went great. For a little while. See a picture of the peaceful times, one the calm before the storm, here.

We took off from Tulsa without any trouble. The plan was for us to leave his stroller right outside the plan door for the crew to load in the belly of the beast.

We didn’t know until we got to the pre-board area (nice benefit for parents of children under four) that our plane would stop first in Kansas City, trade out some passengers, and then continue to Chicago. We were to change planes there and complete our trip to Baltimore. Seems like a lot of steps just to get to the next time zone.

Ben did great on the first two flights (both on the same play, with a stop in Kansas City), and the strategy of pulling out toys he had never seen before worked very well. Thanks to Ben’s Aunt ‘Manda for that suggestion. The pretzels from the flight attendant helped, too. Ben loves him some pretzels.

Unfortunately, Ben self-destructed on the last leg. I ended up loading our secret weapon – The Little People DVD – into my laptop. That mesmerized him for a while, but then his ears started bothering him during the pressure changes. Up to that point, he had been sitting snugly fastened into his toddler car seat. He wailed and cried, “Ears, ears,” and “Help! Help!” Those of you who have heard Ben cry know how loud he is compared to most children. I don’t just say that because he’s our child and I hate to hear him suffer. He’s just plain loud.

Shannon was stressed that he would bother other travelers. I’m sure he bothered some of them, and I’m sure they’ll know exactly how ridiculous they were being if they ever have children of their own.

Finally, after Shannon had taken a turn at holding him, he fell asleep in my arms. He had been up for about 10 hours without a nap, and that spells trouble for almost any two-year-old who doesn’t know how to make his or her ears pop. He slept as I carried him off the plane, while we waited for his stroller (which we loaded down with our carry-ons), while we waited at baggage claim, and on most of the 40-minute drive to Shannon’s dad and stepmother’s house. I don’t know why I’m not using their names. Privacy, I guess?

The flying day took about 6 hours, including an hour and a half to eat and walk around in Chicago’s Midway airport. Even that was not very relaxing, because the Potbelly’s sandwich shop was crowded and playing music loud enough that Shannon and I had trouble hearing each other. Man, that makes me sound old. Also, Ben wouldn’t touch the $5 peanut butter and jelly sandwich we bought him. He ate some kind of sesame crackers from our snack bag instead.

At the end of the night, though, we agreed that Ben did great, and the in-laws smiled as Ben played with the toys they already had at their house. I sit in bed in the Key West room of their home, Ben sleeping soundly in the next room, and Shannon doing the same right beside me. Tomorrow, off to the beach!

Friday Night Drive

Quick note about Friday night first. On the way to Tulsa in the minivan, Ben announced “piece coa.” Fairly certain Ben didn’t want to join the Peace Corp, I looked around until I saw a police car on the right shoulder of the road. We acknowledged it and said that it was a police car, very good. He repeated this over and over for several minutes. Not far up the road, after he had stopped, we saw another (they were out in full force for the Labor Day weekend). He started repeating it again, “piece coa, piece coa.” Later, after he once again had stopped, Shannon saw one and told Ben about it.


Although we were trying to talk about something since we finally had a large chunk of time to cover topics from the past week, it didn’t bother us. We just rolled with it and he eventually tired of it.

When I was inside a convenience store for a “pit stop,” Ben looked at my laptop computer bag and said, “Daddy purse.” Well, my lovely wife knew I would not like that, so she said, “No, Daddy doesn’t carry a purse. Girls carry purses. Daddy’s a man.” I don’t have many hang-ups about what is appropriate for one sex versus the other, but living in Texas, you just don’t want your son telling people that his daddy carries a purse.

“Daddy mayun,” Ben said. He repeated this a few times after I got back in the van.

Shannon told him, “Mommy is a lady.” I let that one slide.

A mile or two down the road, Ben said, “Mommy yady,” and repeated it. Shannon loved it and encouraged him.

I carried it one step further and told him “Ben is a boy.” He repeated that back to us, then started making the declarations repeatedly and at random. “Daddy mayun, Ben boy, Mommy yady.”

We started dreaming of other things we could start teaching him when his brain is such a sponge. They are amazing at this age. I sit in the living room of Shannon’s family’s main Tulsa gathering spot, alone and up way too late, typing this after preparing the online photo album and the links to connect it all.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

We're flying Southwest tomorrow out of Tulsa, thanks to the Wright Amendment here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that only allows Southwest to fly to neighboring states. We'll land in Baltimore, then spend time in Queenstown, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay, and in Ocean View , Delaware, just inland from Bethany Beach. Ah yes, the Atlantic, which I've never seen in person. Click the map to make it bigger. Bethany Beach is in the lower right corner.

I'll try to keep the narrative a little more exciting than in my Wyoming trip blog, but I can't guarantee the scenic pictures will even come close. Understand that we're also visiting family and taking our 26-month old boy on his first plane and his first beach.

Stay tuned for the first full post, coming Saturday night at the soonest!