The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Finally, A Travelogue Post!

Most of my regular readers, have probably already seen the pics and read the haps of our recent vacation over at Highlander's place. In case you haven't, go there first. I'll wait riiiiiiight here until you get back. If you want to dally a bit while you're there, that's okay. He's got some interesting stuff up right now. Especially the political stuff.

Now, while I won't do it better, I'll probably go into more detail. Since you started there first, I'll try to keep the redundancy minimal. I know you'll cut me slack if I babble. At least, you usually do, as I've grown accustomed to the long-suffering sigh and near-constant eye-rolling that accompany your exhausted patience with me.

I'm gonna start at the VERY beginning. That would be the incredibly long drive south in the wrong rental car. Our map indicated that it would be over thirteen hours, but that included no stops. We knew we'd be stopping for food and gas and bathroom breaks along the way, so we were hoping to keep it around fifteen hours each way. While we all get along exceptionally well, that length of time in a confined space certainly will test the limits. That didn't seem to be the problem, though. Likely because we got the wrong rental car.

We'd reserved this car, but when I showed up to get it, they didn't have one available and substituted with this car. For those unintiated (and I'm in that group most of the time) with car stuff, the biggest difference is that the first car has less passenger room, but more luggage space. The second car has more passenger room, but less luggage space. We'd packed anticipating having more space and, well, it was tricky. In the end, though, I think having more space to spread out on such a long trip, made it far more feasible. An extra driver would have made it even moreso, but plenty of Mountain Dew and several breaks did enough.

The long drive down was punctuated with some rain before we were out of Kentucky, a couple of traffic snarls that had traffic completely stopped in Tennessee, delays due to roadwork in Nashville (the land of ETERNAL roadwork), and worst of all, because of the aforementioned delays, hitting Atlanta at 4:30PM. Gads!! It took us about an hour and forty five minutes to get through Hotlanta, and we were ALL tired of it by the time we got on the other side.

I had emailed Highlander's mum that we'd be arriving late. Very late. But the thought of navigating the backwoods in the dark was not appealling to me at all. Consequently, she volunteered her husband to meet us at the main road and lead us in...through the myriad of unpaved their very lovely home.

And he did.

We unloaded the car, put on our jammies and said goodnight.

And that was Thursday.

After spending so much time on the road on Thursday, we opted for a quiet day around Casa Highlander's Mum on Friday. Splashing in their pool and a brief trip to a produce market to pick up a few things for supper were the highlights. While Sunday was supposed to be the day that all the family was coming to meet Highlander's fiancee' and her children, some of them simply couldn't wait. Can you blame them?

On Friday, one of Highlander's aunts (who lives very nearby his mum) and her son dropped by for coffee. Later, her daughter and her two children (who became immediate playmates for Kid #3...evidence on the right) stopped over for a sneak preview. They were all very kind and welcoming to me and the kids, which was greatly appreciated.

Then later, Highlander's mum served up a delectable meal of glazed ham, homemade yeast rolls, salad, and steamed broccoli and cauliflour. Yummy!! She had also baked a couple loaves of white bread, which made some excellent toast the next morning.

The Friday evening festivities involved me mentioning to Highlander that I thought the kids would enjoy some karaoke and that I'd love to hear his mum sing (something that Highlander had raved about many, many times before and about which his glowing review turned out to be entirely accurate).

Being who he is, Highlander arranged it all and, before I knew it, I was singing the Eagles "Take it to the Limit" (badly). The kids were LOVING it. (Not my singing, the karaoke.)

Highlander's mum & stepdad have some great home equipment (the stuff that separates the hardcore Karaoke singers from the fluff) and TONS of selections on cd. Even Kid #3 got to belt out a little "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" (the last of which had EVERYONE singing along).

Before the evening was over I had butchered Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" and the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" (a personal favorite) mostly because I refuse to leave well enough alone, but also because of the constant begging of my adoring fans (aka, Highlander and my kids).

Because he knows I love the song, Highlander did a dedication number to me by singing Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" that put a lump in my throat. I always choke up when a man sings to me. Gets me every time. This may the first time it's happened without the inducement of alcohol, though. Nice touch, H.

Saturday plans were to pack a picnic lunch and head to a nearby beach and then to wander around in St. Augustine. And so, on Saturday morning, we took some of that yummy freshly baked bread and some of that delicious left-over glazed ham, and made sandwiches, grabbed a couple bags of chips, filled the cooler with drinks and hit the road.

It was about a 40 minute drive to the ocean, and though the day was a little gray, it was warm and inviting there. Unlike other oceanfront property I've seen, this beach wasn't garnished with expensive vacation homes. There were some modest cabins dotting the beach, but they did not detract from the natural beauty that the sand and surf had to offer. This was what was called an "old Florida beach". One that hadn't yet succumbed to mass commercialization. I felt very lucky to have seen it that way.

Several locals were out enjoying the last of the season, but it wasn't difficult for us to find a large area to set up some chairs and our cooler. Kid #3 and I walked along the edge of the water, letting the surf run over our feet. The waves were pretty big and I wasn't anxious for her to try to do much more than wet her toes in the Atlantic. The older two were eager to head out a ways and play in the waves, and shucked off their outerwear and took off...after I'd slathered them all with sunscreen.

Kid #3 had borrowed some sand toys and was setting up construction on the beach. And I sat in one of the fold-out chairs and took it all in. The calm, the sounds, the smells of being at the beach. Highlander played in the water a little and took over photography duties, and, unfortunately, wound up with a pretty tender sunburn.

When she'd tired of sandcastles, and her sisters had come in for a respite, the girls and I wandered the beach collecting seashells, many of which made it home with us.

A little later, when Kid #3 wanted to play in the ocean a little, it was Highlander who took her in. You see, I've got a 'thing' about swimming. If one of my kids were in danger, I'd put aside my phobia and be in there immediately. I know I would. But...well...if not, I'm not getting in any water where fish live. And that's that.

Swimming pools are one thing. Oceans, lakes, ponds, creeks, and the like, they give me the heebie jeebies. The thought of a fish brushing my leg or algae touching me, well, it freaks me out. I suppose it's because of the surprise factor and that you don't know what it is down there touching you. Used to be less of a thing for me before 1975...and that movie...

After leaving the beach, we headed about ten miles away to St. Augustine to explore "old city". With impressive Flagler College and Fort Matanzas in view (and both in easy walking distance), Old City (the oldest city in the US, btw) has a wonderful (if more than a little touristy) feel. You look at the buildings and the history just radiates from them. With my construction background, I was impressed when I saw old mud foundations reinforced with seashells, a huge mill wheel, and wooden beams that were hundreds of years old. The main thing about Old City is that it is dotted with tons of little shops and eateries.

While I could have enjoyed spending the day doing nothing but checking all of them out, alas, Highlander was wearing a pair of new sandals that were working some rather nasty blisters onto his feet (on top of the sunburn he'd picked up earlier in the day) and we had MORE early family stopping by after dinner, so we decided to call it a day. Highlander's mum suggested stopping at a grocery on the way back and picking up some pre-cooked chicken. While that didn't sound bad to me, I was feeling energetic enough and wanted to try to take some of the burden off (especially since I love to do it), so I volunteered to cook.

We had to stop at the grocery anyway, because we needed some supplies for the cookout on Sunday, so instead of the rotisserie chicken, I picked up stuff to throw together a pan of lasagna and make some garlic bread. There was plenty of leftover salad from the night before and that seemed to me to be an easy meal that would feed whomever else showed up if need be.

As it turned out, Highlander's cousin (who had stopped by on Friday with her kids) brought her hubby and kids in tow, along with another cousin and her hubby, and another Aunt and her hubby and Highlander's baby brother and his family (including the sweet-natured, adorable baby Ben pictured to the left). And honestly, I felt right at home.

Having grown up with a very large extended family(my dad has 8 sibs, my mom has 5), these types of things feel oddly comfortable to me. Everyone was eating and the little kids were playing (or swimming in the pool) and the karaoke equipment came out and everyone started singing and it was the most homey feeling. I gotta say it was also pretty cool to meet some people I've heard/read about for years and years. Most specifically Highlander's youngest brother and momma. Those of you who have been reading Highlander's blogs for years are hearing the dramatic music playing already. Let me just say that Paul was very quiet, has a lovely singing voice, and clearly adores the woman in his life. His paramour, Dawn, was cordial and pleasant and on her very best behavior for the entire weekend.

Paul, Dawn (Are you dying to see them? I was! Here's a photo.) and Ben spent the night (rather than make the 2 hour journey back to Zephyrhills) and when Sunday morning came, I made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and french toast for anyone willing to risk it, while Highlander's mum mixed up two BIG crockpots of chili and got things ready for the cookout later in the day. After breakfast, I made a platter of cheese and crackers for folks to nosh on during the football game and some con queso dip and tortilla chips as well. And so started the parade of the rest of the (semi) local family.

Highlander's brother Patrick and his family, Highlander's grandmother (who admonished me that there was no reasonable explanation for not marrying), all the various players who'd been there the day before, and another cousin (whom I'd met before) and his family. There were roughly thirty of us in all. And just as these things go in my own family, various factions split off. Several people watching the football game, others visiting on the front porch, the back porch, people grilling hot dogs and brats, people putting together various other food (including potato salad, cornbread, peanut butter cake, banana cream pies, fruit and dip, and a cookie pizza).

There was then more karaoke and various games (Magic the Gathering, some Ping, War! and a boardgame of some type) here and there and then, when the night finally fell, a fire was lit and we roasted marshmallows and made s'mores.

The little ones were even knocking back a couple of cold ones, just like the old folks. It was a full day to be sure!

On Monday, Highlander, the girls and I headed to Silver Springs. A theme park of sorts, specializing primarily in nature exhibits. Lots to see there, including plenty of gators.

We opted to visit on a Monday (and off season) and it paid off big! While there were plenty of people there, there were no lines for any of the attractions and we had an easy time seeing and doing anything and everything we wanted. (The only drawback was the park closing at 5PM!! We got there around noon and despite the ease in seeing things missed a few attractions because the park was closing.)

The main feature is the springs themselves and glass bottom boat tours allow you to see all the way to the bottom of springs that are (in some instances) 20+ feet deep. It's amazing how clear the water is. Plenty of fish and turtles and alligators to see everywhere. We took two different glass bottom boat tours.

In addition to a non-venomous reptile show, we also took a safari jeep tour that revealed that wonder of wonders, the very tree that Johnny Weissmuller used to swing from as he did that infamous jungle call back in the 1940's.

Besides Tarzan history, Silver Springs played host to quite a few film and tv companies. "I Spy" (with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp) filmed a few episodes there, Steve Irwin did two specials there, 122 episodes of "Sea Hunt", THE YEARLING (starring Gregory Peck) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, among others.

During the safari jeep ride, we saw some kodiak bears. After the ride, we were able to see a display like the one pictured and it reminded me that the animals in our local zoo NEVER do this stuff. Of course, as we strolled through the big cat exhibit and heard the ruckus there, it reminded me we NEVER see the animals getting busy there, either.

Before we left, we rode the lighthouse ride and the carousel and had our picture taken in the center of the horseshoe palmtree by a very helpful park employee. Having your photo taken in the center of the tree is supposed to bring you five years of luck. Wonder what it means that the picture wasn't able to be developed?

We had planned to grab some dinner while we were out, but there were no restaurants to speak of between the park and Highlander's mum's place, so we decided to pick up something and cook it when we got back. As Highlander had gotten raves from his Philly steak sandwiches when he'd cooked them up for his mom and her hubby before, he suggested getting the fixins for that. I grabbed a few things to throw together a green bean casserole and some strawberries and raspberries, shortcakes and whipped cream for an easy dessert.

After cooking up a scrumptuous dinner, Highlander and I and the kids started repacking our chattel (which in the few days we'd been there had been scattered over the entire house!) and loading the car. We had planned to get up at 5AM, grab a quick breakfast, load the few remaining items in the car and head out.

The return trip was early and considerably more uneventful. We made it through Atlanta in 20 minutes and hit nary a snarl or weather delay on the way home. The scenery (with the onset of autumn) coming back through the Smokies was nothing short of spectacular and I found myself pointing out gorgeous views left and right while Highlander was trying to finish his latest SM Stirling novel (a very gracious gift from the author himself).

Another exhausting drive behind me, we unloaded the car and got everyone ready for bed. It really was a very nice visit. Highlander's entire family embraced and welcomed me and the girls and made us all feel very much a part of them. Kid #2 remarked after our trip that it had been so much more comfortable for her (and relaxing and fun) than any vacation in recent history. In fact, all the kids seemed to have a pleasant trip. As with any vacation though, while you leave full of promise and adventure, you return pleased to be home.

Now onto getting Halloween costumes and decorations readied and gearing up for the holidays/birthdays between now and the end of the year.

Sorry for the delay getting this down for you guys (and for the length of it once I did), it's been quite busy around here and I just haven't found much time for the computer.

Let me know what you've been up to whilst I've been away...


Anonymous Highlanders mum said...

Glad you enjoyed--we did too!!! Loved the pics-got a great one of H and Ben and will send it your way.

10/17/2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger Liars Dice Master said...

Now I see why I don't do a blog! Really nice, S! Looks like a lot of work.

On my discussion board, people are always after me to write up the events I've talked about. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to give the link to this. Great travelogue!

It was good to see I've been promoted from mum's husband to step dad. Highlander's grandma was married to a man we all called the parrot. He NEVER made it to "Grandpa."

ALL the food - yours and H's - was excellent. Thanks a lot.

We were all so busy enjoying the visit, we really didn't take the time to grade it, but I agree with you. It was a comfortable time.

It was very good for me to see the love and good spirits throughout your family. You are good for each other.

10/18/2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Highlander's Mum -

As I said elsewhere, I can't wait to see your pics, too! And glad you weren't driven completely batty by the FIVE of us invading your digs for days on end.

liars dice master -

I think this is the first time you've posted on my blog, though I know you've stopped in a time or two before! Thanks for the sweet comments, you were such a gracious host and we really didn't want for a thing.

Thanks to you both!!

10/18/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Liars Dice Master said...

SuperFiancee, here are some photos at the following URLs:

Highlander and nephew:

Two Princesses:

As Superfiancee has said, everyone was comfortable:

10/18/2006 11:20 PM

10/18/2006 11:38 PM  
Blogger AaA said...

Glad to hear that a splendid time was had by all. Making it home safe is a great way to finish any vacation, too.

Both travelogues were excellent, and not at all redundant, thanks to the different foci provided by the two authors. You two are perfectly complimentary to each other, like a 30 and a 60.

Nice to see that anywhere, spectacular for it to happen to friends.

10/22/2006 9:18 PM  

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