Thursday, September 17, 2009

Please Sir, May I Have Some More?

Okay so here's the scoop, or in this case, the ladle. I'm temporarily putting the humor blog on hiatus. An LA sage has me rethinking and retooling. So in the meantime, lest I go rusty, I shall blog some things of interest that I don't particularly care get shanghaied.

Two friends today, one tangible and one virtual, wrote to me about my soups. I may be known for several things, some good and some bad. One of the "good" is my soups. So tonight I'm blogging my two absolutely favorite soup recipes. What could be safer than soup?!?! The first is Suzanne's "Oh So Gouda Seafood Chowder"... a so-tweeked-it's-now-original recipe I think I tore out of a magazine about 20 years ago. I always double it because it's such a rare treat that if you're going to make it you might as well make a ton of it!

The second is my signature soup. Back when the Pennbrook Ave. neighbors were at their finest, we would have an annual Oktoberfest in our backyard and this soup would always be served and devoured. Sad that my signature is readily available on the web. What makes it "my" signature soup is that I double the mushrooms/onions and triple the curry. I love curry. And even tripled, this is still very mild, curry-wise. But if you're of a sensitive constitution, you may want to stick with the original amount listed. The way I make it, my husband calls it a "delicious fart in a bowl." So here you go. Enjoy.

Suze's "Oh So Gouda Seafood Chowder"

* 6 T. butter

* 3/4 chopped celery

* 1/2 c. chopped onion

* 1/2 c. shredded carrot

* 1/2 c. flour
* 1 t. thyme
* 1/2 t. salt
* 1/4 t. pepper
* 6 oz. can tomato paste
* 4 c. milk

* 14 1/2 oz. can chicken broth

* 1/4 c. water

* 1/2 c. dry white wine or sherry

* 7 oz. shredded Gouda
* 12 oz. crabmeat OR clams

* 12 oz. cooked shrimp (small)

In a heavy large pot, melt butter and saute vegetables over medium heat until tender. Stir in flour and seasonings until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in tomato paste and gradually add milk and water. Bring to boil for 1 minute over med. heat, always stirring. Reduce heat to low and add cheese. Stir until melted, then add seafood until warmed. Stir wine in just before serving. 7 servings

Suze's "Fart in a Bowl"
Curried Pumpkin Soup

* 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
* 1/2 c. chopped onion
* 2 T. butter

* 2 T. flour

* 3/4 tso. curry powder

* 3 C. vegetable broth

* 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin

* 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
* 1 T. honey

* 1/2 tsp. salt

* 1/4 tsp. pepper
* 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
* Minced chives

In a large saucepan, saute the mushrooms and onion in butter until tender. Stir in the flour and curry powder until blended. Gradually add the broth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Add the pumpkin, milk, honey, salt, pepper and nutmeg; heat through. Garnish with chives if desired. Yield: 7 servings. (7 too-small servings. Just go ahead and double the darned thing! And TRUST will be worth sleeping in separate bedrooms to triple the curry!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eureka! I mean, You Reek, Uh!

I was shopping at the local market this afternoon for classroom cupcakes for my 1st grader to take to school tomorrow. As any mother can tell you, there is no such thing as running into the market for one thing and coming out with only that one thing. You start off with a basket, and end up with a cart. About $75 deep into this “cupcakes only” expedition, as I’m about to check out, I remember I’m completely out of all laundry products. Bleach, buy generic. Detergent, buy whatever’s on sale. Fabric softener...hold your horses! When did the fabric softener section of Aisle 6 become a dessert buffet? Melon Lotus Flower, Peach Blossom, Sweet Almonds, Wild Orchid and Vanilla, Orange Cream…I opened everyone and breathed them in to make my decision. I went with “cheap and unscented.” I was afraid if I bought any of the others that I’d be tempted to mix them with rum and ice in a blender. But the myriad “flavors” of softener instantly gave me this blog entry idea: We Americans are OBSESSED with the way we smell.

Think about it. If you’ve ever been to Europe in the summer, or quite frankly, in a New York taxi anytime of the year, you will have noticed that the rest of the world’s citizens are not as into over-perfuming themselves as we Americans are. It’s not good enough that we are offered products that do their job: toothpaste that cleans your teeth, detergent that cleans your clothes, and so on. We have to smell like something else in the process. Detergents leave your clothes smelling like a tropical rain forest or an orange creamsicle. Toothpaste and mouthwash in every scent from bubblegum to vanilla bean; deodorant from “Cucumber Melon” to “Fresh Orchid.” And don’t even get me started on the feminine hygiene products! Douches, wipes, powders and crotch sprays in every scent imaginable! Tropical Rain…Delicate Blossom…Country Flowers…Morning Paradise…Island Splash! I’m sorry, but that’s just going too far. I’m not a religious person, but I’m pretty sure if there’s a God, he didn’t intend for a woman’s vagina to smell like a banana daiquiri. (I can guarantee that one line means I’ll be receiving an email from my mother tomorrow.)

Rather than be content that we just don’t smell like anything at all (which is actually quite unnatural), we Americans insist on dousing ourselves in other scents that sometime seem to battle each other. A cucumber pitted, coconut haired, vanilla gargled, almond laundered, apple-blossom douched woman just should not be! If we must over-perfume, at least let’s coordinate our scents. Orange everything, from top to bottom. A floral extravaganza from follicles to feet. A symphony of vanilla from visage to vulva. Or, we could save a few billion dollars a year and just use soap. Now if you excuse me, I have to go soak my delicates in Lavender and Sandlewood to compliment my Morning Paradise..I never said I was any better than the rest of you!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Time for a Time Out

I teach pre-K to 17 four- and five-year-olds. It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. Some of the children have been angels, some quite frankly NOT, most just lie somewhere in between. But no matter what their temperament, they all must be treated equally and nurtured so that you know you’ve done everything in your power to help ready them for what lays ahead. So that you know they’re on their way toward becoming decent human beings.
We have simple rules to follow in pre-K. It may take some time, but eventually most of the kids remember the rules, follow them, and come to understand why they’re necessary. This week in the “real world” there were a couple of very naughty boys who just don’t seem to get these rules and we’ve all seen the outcome. I’d like to talk to these naughty children, Rep. Joe Wilson and singer Kanye West. Have a seat boys, Miss Suzanne has a couple of reminders for you.

1.Everybody Gets a Turn: Kanye, if it’s little Taylor’s show and tell time, you should sit nicely and listen to what she’s saying. Give Taylor a chance to shine. You might think your friend has a better show and tell. Maybe she actually does. But you’re not in charge of those decisions. You don’t get to yank little Taylor’s show and tell away from her and give your friend a holler instead. And Joey, if it’s little Obama’s turn for show and tell, and you don’t like what he’s telling, you wait your turn and talk about it afterward. You don’t scream out in front of everybody. Now sit back down on the rug you two before you get a time out.

2.You Are Not the Only One Who Matters: Everybody in class is important. I know you like to be the center of attention. Most of the kids do. But now is not the time to jump up and try to make everyone watch you. You’ll get your turn soon. Standing up, being pushy and giving a shoutout to a friend or loudly and falsely accusing another kid of being a liar is really just you trying to get attention for yourself, isn’t it? We’re not dumb. We could see it coming and we know why you keep doing it. Now sit back down on the rug you two before you get a time out.

3.It’s Not Nice to Hurt Others' Feelings: Doing or saying something that you know will make a little girl cry, become embarrassed or upset is just mean. It doesn’t matter that you may think you have a point. Same goes for yelling out mean things at someone in front of everybody. Even if you completely believe in what you're yelling out. If you do something in a mean way, the meanness is all anyone will remember. And saying you're sorry only counts if you actually mean it. You fellows don’t mean it. Now sit back down on the rug you two before you get a time out.

4.Don’t Suck Your Thumb in Public: Sometimes some of you kids like to do things that make you feel comfortable or secure. Things like sucking your thumb, carrying a blankie or constantly tucking your hand down the front of your pants. That’s OK, but you should try to not do it around other people because it just looks bad and makes you seem silly and immature. Sometimes grown-ups do these things to. Sometimes when they grow up they swap their thumbs for bottles of Hennessey. Sometimes they swap blankie carrying for yelling out. Either way, don’t suck your thumb in public. Makes you look dumb. Really, really, really dumb. Now sit back down on the rug you two before you get a time out.

5. You Only Get So Many Warnings: If you keep doing #1-4, then you’ve had enough chances. Talking to you isn't working any more. Time to move things along. Get up off the darned rug, Kanye and Joe. You’re both grounded.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Suburban Sumo

This was a week of political division of colossal proportion. A week that started with uber-conservatives accusing our president of trying to brainwash our children after he had the audacity to want to speak to them directly while they were in school. Sure the speech proved perfectly reasonable, completely innocuous and highly motivational. But that didn't matter. Obama's a Democrat. He's "wrong." By midweek, the division widened on the night that "You Lie!" rang around the world. To South Carolina's Rep. Joe Wilson it didn't matter that he was a symbol of his state and its people, that the leader of our country was speaking and that the entire world was watching. Obama's a Democrat. He's "wrong." As a parent, and a Democrat, I had just about had it by Friday. So it was a nice change of political pace this sunny Saturday afternoon in Podunk, Pennsylvania.

Actually, we're called Lansdale. We're a borough of about 16,000 people in the Philadelphia suburbs of Montgomery County. We have a train station. We have more banks and pharmacies than a town as a right to or a need for. And we have plenty of political division of our own on local issues. But on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2009, those divisions were put aside for an hour to raise funds for our local food bank, Manna on Main Street. Candidates in the upcoming races for borough councilmember and mayor decided to settle things old-school, Sumo style. I don't know how things will turn out for real in November, but today in the park, blue-helmetted Democrats kicked red-Republican tail. And they all still managed to shake hands in the end, as one candidated invited everyone in the park over to his place for a beer. We may be small political potatoes here in Podunk, but I think we could teach the Senate and the rest of the country a thing or two.

Now turn off the playlist on the left and enjoy the video...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vieques' Route 995...the Miracle Mile

Rainbow over Puerto Ferro, Vieques
photo by friend John Hathaway, lucky island transplant

Bioluminescence, coqui, privacy, free-flowing rum, wild horses, geckos…some of the things I’ll remember fondly about Vieques. But what I’ll remember most is Milagro.

On the ride back to our hacienda after swimming in Bio Bay, our jeep blew a tire. I mean we blew this tire out! Ordinarily I could have changed a tire myself. I’m just that kind of broad. Problem #1: We were on a very dark and isolated road. Problem #2: We had no jack. Problem #3: Our spare tire had been stolen.

Ordinarily again, this wouldn’t have been a big problem either. We had the phone number of the people who rented us the jeep and they could come and bring us a spare. Problem #1: I didn’t bring my cell phone, I didn’t want it to get wet. Problem #2: My sister didn’t bring her cell phone, she didn’t want it to get wet. Problem #3: Our mother didn’t bring her cell phone, she didn’t want it to get wet. Problem #4: Sister’s mother-in-law didn’t bring her cell phone, she didn’t want it to get wet.

My sister’s mother-in-law who knows the island well, took off down the dark road looking for an illuminated door to knock on. My sister went with her for safety. My mother and I stayed behind. “Whoever gets help first, call Mike to come fix the tire,” was the deal. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Problem #1: I don’t speak Spanish, I speak French. Problem #2: Mom doesn’t speak Spanish, she speaks French. What happens next proves what a small island Vieques is and how great its people are.

Five minutes after the blowout, I saw the first set of car lights coming our way and we flagged down the driver. I managed to remember one of my few memorized sentences in Spanish. “Hable Ingl├ęs?” (My other Spanish sentence you ask? “Donde esta la playa nudista?” Don’t ask why I know that.) Well fortunately the couple who stopped indeed hable’d. We explained our situation and said we needed to call Mike and named the hotel he owned. They not only hable’d Ingles, but they had Mike’s cell phone number on speed dial! They called, we thanked, they left and we waited for the other half of the cell-less travelers.

Ten minutes later they emerged from the dark, bringing back a Milagro.
Milagro is Spanish for “Miracle.” It’s also Viequesense for “woman who lives down the road and brings her entire family to help strangers.” Milagro, her husband and their two young boys only spoke Spanish. And only my sister’s M-i-L spoke Spanish beyond being able to order tequila shots or find nude beaches and libraries (hey, you need a good book on the beach!) While Milagro’s husband tried unsuccessfully to repair the blowout with a can of Fix-a-Flat (which is almost a form of currency on Vieques), Milagro started talking rapidly to the four of us using a lot of hand gestures. Now, I admit I didn’t get 90% of what she was saying. But even with limited Spanish, I could get the gist: “What the hell are four women doing driving on a dark road late at night with no cell phones? No cell phones? Silly white women from the mainland with your sunburns! SPF 60! Where’s your spare tire? Why are you wet at 10 p.m.? You all smell like plankton.”

When Mike arrived, he had a spare. He had no jack. He also had no patience or sense of humor. He did have yet another can of “Fix-a-Flat.” I don’t know why men think that a can of pressurized goo will fill a gaping hole in a tire, but they all do. Second can wasted. Fortunately, Mike’s companion arrived moments later with not only a replacement jeep, but a jack. As they stood there arguing with each other on the stupidity of traveling without jacks or cell phones, Milagro’s husband changed the tire. Milagro’s husband, who had absolutely nothing to do with this mess, changed our tire. Did I mention it was Milagro’s husband who changed the tire?

As the four silly wet white women got into their jeep, Milagro came over to say goodbye. Again, I don’t speak Spanish, but I got the gist. “My name is Milagro. If you ever need any help while you are here on the island, you know where I live. Knock on my door. This is my phone number. Go with God." There has never been a more aptly named woman. Vaya con Dios, Milagro.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Protozoa

No, I didn't take these because my tiny camera couldn't handle the darkness.
I could have lied and said they were mine.
But I'm a former scout leader and am supposed to be "trustworthy." Right.

Ask any first-time visitor to the island of Vieqeus, Puerto Rico what the highlight of their trip was, and (unless they’re an idiot or a complete chicken shit) you most likely will get the same answer: "Swimming in the Bioluminescent Bay." What exactly is the Bioluminescent Bay? Well, it’s a glow-in-the-dark part of the ocean. The water itself doesn’t glow. The billions of microscopic protozoan living and thriving in this mangrove lush section of the Caribbean have a natural defense mechanism called bioluminescence. When agitated or “attacked,” the movement in the water around them causes a chemical reaction that makes them produce light. In nature, their light would attract larger predators who would then eat the smaller fish attacking the protozoan. In Vieques, their light attracts tourists.

Now I freely admit that until a few days before leaving for Vieques, I had never heard of not only the Bio Bay, but of bioluminescence (I am a close kin to the aforementioned idiots from the first paragraph). When I put on Facebook that I was going to Vieques, a high school chum from Canada wrote that swimming in the Bio Bay at Vieques was on her life’s to-do list. Now when you read that you're four miles from something on someone's "Before I Die" to-do-list you immediately go to Google to find out what the hell that someone is talking about! I’m so glad I did. Thanks Michelle, you wonderful Canuck. Go BMHS! (Now the San Francisco Ritz Carlton. Go SFRC!)

On our second or third night in Vieques (there was a lot of rum on hand, days started to blend), our quartet of mid-Atlantic moms drove to Esperanza at dusk to begin our adventure. We boarded a tropical, doorless version of the Partridge Family bus for a brief bush-whacking ride through Sun Bay to the board the motorized pontoon boat. Why dusk? Because things don’t glow in the dark when it’s not dark, stupid. That’s also why you try to book this tour as close to a new moon as possible. About 20 of us boarded the boat for the brief ride to the glowing bay. Along the way we heard a brief lecture on plankton, protozoa, constellations and light pollution. Some of us listened. Others yacked and snapped gum (damned Texans). The entire time, the pontoon was operating without lights, guided only by the stars and a well-practiced guide and operator.
Soon we could see lightning bolts in the water. These were the illuminated reflections of fish swimming through the bioluminescent plankton. Then we were “there.” The area with the most concentration of bioluminescence. At least that’s what they told us. How would we know, really?

The operator announced that we could now jump off the boat and swim in the dark if we'd like. "Not on your freaking life," was heard coming from one older male passenger. But my sister, her mother-in-law and I shot up like we’d been hit with a cattle prod and bolted for the stairs to the water. A minute later, we were swimming in the dark, in warm Caribbean waters, gazing up at the Milky Way that not one of us had ever seen before. And we were and glowing. We were absolutely glowing, inside and out.
There’s no way to describe swimming in the Bio Bay other than to say you drip diamonds. The water doesn’t glow unless you move it. Then, it’s like you’re making dayglow snow angels in the sea. The microscopic glowing plankton cling to any surface, so when you lift your arms out of the water, they trickle down each hair (YES, I have some forearm hair!) back into the water, glowing the whole way down. It’s like you’re shedding miniature diamonds from your skin. We swam, and glowed and laughed for about 15 minutes. And then our mother got the gumption to conquer her fears, don two floating belts and a life preserver and join us. For another 15 minutes we four floated, gazed at the cosmos and then laughed hysterically wondering whether peeing in a bioluminescent bay would cause a glow-in-the-dark trail that all the others could see. (It did not. And I won’t say who tested the hypothesis for fear of retribution.)

When our guide announced it was time to re-board, everyone was disappointed. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of us and it was sad to see it end. The swim was over, but the show was not. As I said, the plankton cling to surfaces and glow as they trickle off. So as we re-boarded the pontoon and searched for our towels in the dark, some of us looked down into our swimsuits and started once again laughing hysterically. It was like a LED display on the fritz in our bras. Those little suckers would glow until they rolled downward. One of us (again, I’m not saying who because I’d like to be invited back!) said, just a hair too loudly (no pun intended), “Oh my God! My pubic hair is putting on a light show!” This just-a-tad-too-loud utterance set off a giggling chain reaction of “Did you hear what she just said!” among the pontoon. The one who laughed the heartiest was the still-dry grandfather who had said “Not on your freaking life!” when first offered the chance to glow-and-swim. So at least that gentleman got some thrill from the tour. Even if was only from hearing about my sister’s glowing pubes (Oops, I said too much!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dive In!

Vieques Vacation Toes~~~~~~Treasures from the Beach~~~~~~Colmado Parking Lot

Vieques is an island of only 9,000 permanent residents; and a hell of a lot of visitors during the “Turkey Day to Tax Day” tourist season. We were visiting as far off-season as you could get. Now, going off-season has its drawbacks. Half the restaurants are closed, and the ones that are open have extremely limited menus. After all, this is a place where EVERYTHING needs to come by ferry from mainland Puerto Rico. Why bother stocking your restaurant pantry completely when you’re not sure if you’ll have any customers that week? But if you’re of the ilk that doesn’t mind playing it by ear or living off the cuff, the kind of traveler that loves dining at roadside Pastillos stands in front of brightly-painted houses and getting supplies at the local colmado (corner store) then I think off-season is the way to go. Sure, your hair will never dry and you’ll sweat bullets in the August heat. But what’s a little (OK, a lot) of sweat and a limited menu when off-season also means completely private beaches?

When I say completely private, I mean completely private. Vieques beaches vary from nearly-still turquoise waters to rough surfs. But in late August, no matter which beach you choose, you’re alone. Fine, fine…we weren’t utterly alone. On one beach, we had a horse wander from the bushes, walk along the water’s edge and then check out our beach chairs. And on another we had a jeep pull up, notice our jeep, and turn around. But other than that, beautiful solitude. Breasts came out of suits. Mine stayed in their Lands End underwired wonder, but someone else quickly dropped her top. (Hey! How are you? Do you read this blog? No? Good! Yes? Nice tatas! Boob burn peeling yet? How did you explain that tan?) Fortunately, our mother kept them under wraps as well. There’s not enough rum in Puerto Rico…

In Vieques, in late August, the haze is a deceptive fiend. You can be swimming out in the azure ocean for two solid hours, lamenting that the sun is hidden and you’re missing the opportunity for real tanning. Then you drive home up the horrifying hill, strip down in the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror, and scream out “Holy Crap!” as you notice for the first time that you’re a lobster with strap marks. Just as there isn’t enough rum in Puerto Rico, there isn’t enough Jergens to soothe the pain of the first burn. It doesn’t mean you won’t willingly go out and do it again tomorrow though. I mean, after all, this is Vieques! A good hour in the hammock listening to a friend’s tunes (you’re listening to some of his canciones de la guitarra right now) and it was soon the “Golden Hour” in Vieques.

As the wife of a photographer, I know all about the camera’s golden hours: the first or last hour of sunlight when the lighting is diffuse and warm and shadows long. What I dubbed the “Golden Hour of Vieques” is the time when the myriad chickens and roosters settle down for the evening and the coquis come alive. When the crowing subsides and the “coqui-coqui” chorus begins. When the Golden Hour passes, that means it’s time to head into Esperanza for some local fare, a stroll, and a bottle of rum from the “green store” to bring home. Day 2 done. We’re officially chilled and starting to lament that there are only 4 days left until back to the “Real World.”

Tomorrow: Oh, who the hell knows! I'll think of it tomorrow!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Now We're Talkin!

Vieques basically has two towns, Isabel II and Esperanza. The ferry lands in Isabel. The “place to be” is Esperanza. Our hideaway for the week, “Hacienda Herman” as we affectionately dubbed it, was a hilltop home in the Bario Florida neighborhood between the two towns. But this was no ordinary hilltop. Close your eyes and picture this…no wait, don’t close your eyes or you won’t be able to read. Keep ‘em open and imagine…dodging wild horses and loose dogs on the “main road.” Making a hairpin turn into what appears to be a tree. Ascending what at-first looks like a paved road nestled amidst vines and overgrown greenery. The “paving” was probably last touched in the late 1970s. The five homeowners on the hill have a made a conscious decision to leave the road in as poor, yet drivable, condition as possible to discourage curious locals and tourists from trekking up the hill. A trek only a 4-wheel-drive could handle.

When I first started up the hill (I was the driver for the week), I thought to myself “If the road is this crappy, the houses must be awful!” Then, just about when you think the jeep engine will blow, you see the first “house.” A four-tiered, gated manse complete with rooftop pool and sauna. Preconceptions shot to hell. A hundred feet higher, a smaller yet equally lush and brightly painted massive home still under renovation and nestled into the hillside. Climbing higher. “Keep your arms in ladies,” as vines whack against the car on all sides. Sharp turn. And there’s Hacienda Herman. A bright pink two-bedroom tiled getaway with an unbelievable view from three sides. Perched nearly at the top of this “hill,” you could see for miles. You could watch the clouds roll in and the ferries pull out. Rooms were picked, bags unpacked, shoes removed and we all plunked down to catch our breath after the world’s longest travel day. Then the sound hit. Chickens. They were the daytime soundtrack of Hacienda Herman. You thought they’d drive you nuts. But somehow the constant crowing and clucking just became part of the scenery.

We briefly considered suiting up, heading back down the hill and diving right into the Caribbean, but we were all so exhausted (someone had the genius idea of going to an 11 p.m. comedy show the night before our 7 a.m. flight...actually, it was terribly fun!) that a quick dinner in Esperanza was all we could muster before we all needed to come “home” and pass out. The sun had set, the chickens had retired and the clucking was replaced by the chirping of thousands of elusive yet vocal Coqui frogs. I don’t know if it was the sleep deprivation, the heat, the journey, the two pina coladas at Bananas or the lull of the coqui, but I slept 6 hours without turning. May not sound like much to you, but for a chronic insomniac, it was a miracle.

Tomorrow: Dive In!

Suze on Walkway in Esperanza

Bananas...the eatery, not a diagnosis

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Up, Up and Away

click to enlarge

There are few things I enjoy more in life than going through airport security. The adrenaline rush you get when you take off your sneakers in front of 100 strangers and everyone in line notices the hole in your sock that you yourself somehow missed that morning. The thrill of digging through your overstuffed purse in search of the boarding pass that they said you wouldn’t need again, but you do. The exhilaration of making the metal detector beep because of your damned underwire bra. Short of a cavity search, there’s nothing like getting past the TSA for sheer excitement. And here begins our journey to Vieques, Puerto Rico on the flight from hell.

Now I am not a white-knuckle flyer. I’ve flown dozens and dozens of times. Across the country, across the Atlantic, across Europe. Delays don’t bother me. Bad movies don’t annoy me. Even turbulence doesn’t make me blink. But when you’re 50,000 feet up and you’re suddenly caught in a lightning storm, you blink. Then you gasp. Then you briefly wonder whether you're sure you're an agnostic. Finally, you instinctively grab the knee of the hairy-legged man in cargo shorts sitting on your left and you squeeze. Oddly enough, he seemed to be expecting this from me. His new wife was squeezing his other knee. I apologized, we all laughed, another bolt hit close and both our hands went back on both his knees. I’ve never flown through anything like that before…lightning so close that with each bolt the entire cabin of the plane would become blindingly bright. The storm lasted less than 10 minutes, but it was terrifying and my hand frequently grabbed that poor man’s knee. He said his name was Rick. I wonder if he’ll call.

After spending the next few hours nursing a couple of $7 Bloody Marys, listening to music on my iPod (there is no such thing as an in-flight movie anymore) and occasionally apologizing to Rick for the nail marks, we landed in San Juan and arranged for a “publico” (taxi) to take us about 40 minutes away to Fajardo to catch the ferry to Vieques. An uneventful ride except for the family of wild horses crossing the major highway. Having never gone to bed the night before and working on my 36th hour of consciousness, I of course fell into a 75-minute coma on the refrigerated ferry, and awoke in Vieques. Passing several mangy dogs, a blind horse, a 3-legged cat and countless chickens on the way from the ferry dock to our dilapidated and dented rental jeep, I knew an adventure was about to begin.
Tomorrow: "Now We're Talkin!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Road to Vieques...starts in Delaware?

Let the Puerto Rico blogging begin!

And of course, all blogs about trips to small Caribbean islands naturally start off discussing casinos and Delaware, and this blog is no exception. Today’s entry will have absolutely nothing to say about Vieques. Get over it.

You may have heard via beautifully crafted Facebook or Twitter entries that Vieques is an island with only one ATM, so going with a wad of cash is a necessity. (Damn, I did end up mentioning Vieques today!) The day before our crack-of-dawn flight, my mother and I met my sister at her home in Delaware so we could all leave together the next morning. Three women, each with a stuffed wallet, two miles from Delaware Park racetrack and casino. Can you see where this blog entry is going? I bet you can. I bet $5 you can.

First, let me say that if you’re feeling down about being in your early 40s, you MUST visit a casino mid-week and mid-day. You will feel like a freaking teenager among a sea of bluehairs and liver-spotted men toting oxgen tanks and pockets full of nickels (God I hope those were pockets full of nickels). I kept thinking of a friend of mine who’s completely fixated on “coots.” She would have suffered an OD seizure at this place. And for the gambling geriatrics of lesser means who can’t part with a nickel, there were plenty of penny slots. Yes, penny slots. I didn’t know they even made them. You’d see the a women hit a “jackpot” and get so excited she’d knock over her walker. Of course the “jackpot” on a penny slot was $2.87.

After losing the $20 I had allowed myself at the poker slots (after all this wasn’t even the official start of my vacation!) and downing two of the strongest Jack Daniels and soda I’ve ever been served, my sister and I decided to head outside to check out the race track. It was teeming rain, but one of us wanted a cigarette. (OK, I was on vacation. I wanted a cigarette. My kids don’t read this blog, I’m safe). As I stood there in the blowing mist looking at the beautifully landscaped track with fountains and hedges galore, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the horses. Sure, they’re bred for the racing. That’s not what I felt bad about. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew they weren't in the Kentucky Derby, but rather were running their hearts out for a bunch of bored suburban housewives and bus loads of folks who soak their teeth at night and gamble copper coins. Next time I go, I’m going to wear a giant feathered hat. Let the ponies think they’re at the Royal Ascot. It’s the least I can do.

Tomorrow: “The Flight from Hell.” Or: “How sure are you of your atheism in a lightning storm at 50,000-feet?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Dude" Used to Be My Baby!

Click to enlarge

For those of you who know me well, you're probably aware that I am a terrible procrastinator. If you don't know me that well, then I meant to tell you about that flaw but I just didn't get around to it yet. Well, school starts next week and I could finally wait no longer. Today was my annual version of Dante's Inferno: "Back to School" shopping. While I didn't have to toil through all nine circles of suffering, I did have to battle other putter-offers in several small hells: Old Navy, Marshalls, Payless and Target.

I have two sons.
Even though both are as laid back as recliners, they are entirely different when it comes to clothes and shopping. 12-year-old Evan has never been a "fashion plate." School shopping for him has always been a breeze. He never wants to go; just gives me simple rules to follow. Shirts: No buttons, no stripes, no flowers. Pants: No cords. That's it; he's done. Piece of cake.

Ben, however, came out of the womb with a sense of style. Rejected Luvs diapers as "boring" in favor of the more happenin' Huggies. Potty trained in just a week so he could start wearing those super-chic "Bob the Builder" briefs. Yes, Ben is a fashionista. He's known throughout Lansdale for his collection of Hawaiian shirts. That is NOT an exaggeration. The little mellow-man is famous for the Hawaiians. He was the only kindergartener with an ironing pile.

Today's journey into the bowels of consumer hell started out as expected. Evan: "Why do I have to try these on, they're fine!"..."Can I wait in the car?"..."Where's my iPod? Remember, no buttons!" I thought Ben would want to hit the thrift store for a bevy of "new" vintage Hawaiian shirts. But it turns out that over the summer Ben decided to take his "look" in a new direction. Blue-eyed blond Ben is now apparently a surfer dude, with a just a hit of rock star. Check out the dude's collage above. He picked out those all on his own. One of 'em doesn't even fit! But he HAD to have the one with the palms. "It's so Cali!" He's going to be the only surfer-dude in Mrs. Persons' 1st grade class in suburban, landlocked Pennsylvania. Go ahead mothers, blame me. Too much LKK in the car all summer. I just thank God that at least I'm not into Adam Lambert. Ben could have ended up being the only 1st grader with eyeliner.

Note: Yes, I know. "What about Puerto Rico?" Workin' on it. Workin' on it!