Monday, July 29, 2013

The Avoid I-95 Road Trip Part 2

 Day One of our road trip ended and our small group still had far to go. North Carolina is distant from New Jersey, our starting point. It is also far from Florida, especially south Florida, our destination.

Day two travel meandered through North Carolina and into South Carolina. We discovered a log cabin restaurant and enjoyed lunch, our main meal that day, feasting on hush puppies and grilled local fish. The drive proceeded along scenic roads, whizzing past farm fields and small towns, encountering little traffic, well-maintained roads, and no construction.

We spent the second night at another dog-friendly motel, a Sleep Inn in Mt. Pleasant, just outside Charleston.

Another I-95 Avoidance Day on the Road!

The following morning Hailey enjoyed some outdoor pool time before we climbed back in the car – hub, Hailey, Charlie, the very well behaved golden retriever, and me.

Day three was a long day on the road. Our goal for the evening was Melbourne, Florida, where we were meeting friends for dinner. We started across an impressive new eight-lane bridge spanning the Cooper River, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, opened in 2005. The previous two-lane structure, completed in 1929, became too narrow for modern cars and proved daunting for drivers (like me, experienced decades ago but not forgotten).
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River, Charleston, SC.
The first part of the morning we continued along Route 17, but our pleasurable road trip was nearing an end as we approached the I-95 on ramp south of Charleston. The remainder of day three’s trip – a bit of South Carolina, all of Georgia and a large chunk of Florida, was on that dreaded road.

There was a nice surprise, however. The Georgia section of I-95 is a new six-lane parkway, except around the Brunswick metropolis, where four lanes in each direction reduces traffic congestion. And no construction! The new highway was completed in 2010.

We encountered no bumper-to-bumper traffic, but viewed a lot of cars and trucks. Big trucks. Too many trucks. I realize, economically for the country, that is a good thing – commerce reigns! – but loads of trucks make the trip more stressful and definitely les fun for car drivers and passengers.

About an hour outside Melbourne hub got tired – he did most of the driving by choice. We entered a rest stop, switched drivers, and as we exited saw our first construction mess of the entire trip, lasting almost to Melbourne.

We checked into our third dog-friendly motel, leaving Charlie behind as we headed out to meet our friends. We dined at a restaurant in Cocoa Beach, an informal open-air place serving good food, a family-friendly atmosphere, and a band singing Jimmy Buffett and other sing-along summer tunes.
Hailey took this picture of the Atlantic Ocean from our restaurant table in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Following another morning of a motel breakfast (not highly recommended, but how can you pass them up when breakfast is part of the deal?) and pool time, we journeyed a short distance on I-95 before leaving the thoroughfare for another, more expensive one – the Florida Turnpike. It was a couple of hours drive to our journey’s end, Hailey and Charlie’s new home.

One game played to pass the time was Travel Bingo. An item to find along our route was a cow. We looked carefully, but did not see one cow the entire trip – except for a bogus bovine on a Chick-fil-A billboard.

We drove 1,250 miles in 3 1/2 days, stayed in three dog-friendly, none-budget-busting hotels, enjoyed some delicious meals and some not so much (think unmemorable breakfasts), braved an unending narrative from our granddaughter, and arrived at our endpoint in time for Hailey’s dentist appointment.

The Spirit plane ride home the following day was tight with every seat occupied, but it was wonderful to arrive home to peace and quiet – at least temporarily.

Until the next incursion. It is summertime at the shore… 
It is good to be home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Avoid I-95 Road Trip

The goal: Drive my son and daughter-in-law’s car, six-year-old daughter, and 12-year-old golden retriever from New Jersey to their new home in Florida.

Additional persons on board: Yours truly and hub.

Objective: Avoid I-95 until or unless there are no alternatives.

For drivers lucky enough to have not experienced or endured this interstate, I-95 runs north/south along the Eastern seaboard, the main thoroughfare for vacationers, businesspeople, truckers, college kids, drug runners, smugglers, and others intent on reaching their destination ASAP. Unwilling to pay the price of a plane ticket or forced to haul more than the carry-on freebie allotted to Spirit passengers, thousands upon thousands of vehicles drive some part of the highway every day. The road is often a nightmare around major cities, and there are a lot of them along the East coast.

One memorable Christmas season we spent hours - no exaggeration - in bumper to bumper traffic in Georgia, half of New York and New Jersey intent on either getting to Orlando in time to spend Christmas with Mickey, or heading south to share the holidays with Grandma and Grandpa.

Our current trip began Sunday morning in New Jersey. Attempting to avoid Jersey roads most likely to cause indigestion, arguments leading to divorce, traffic jams, getting squeezed between two belching trucks, and most likely to get stuck in traffic going in and out of rest areas, is a difficult task. I eagerly await the limited access bridge over the entire state to be built from Perth Amboy (entranceway to Staten Island, New York) to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (gateway to Delaware). But I digress...

 We drove south on the Garden State Parkway and eased our car onto the Cape May/Lewes ferry for a 1 1/2 hour boat ride across the Delaware Bay. Charlie (the dog) enjoyed the sea breezes and Hailey (the 6 year old) explored the ship’s three decks and savored snacking al fresco - and that was before the ship left the dock.

We followed the gulls down the Delmarva Peninsula, stopping for lunch at the annual Blueberry Festival in Chincoteague, Virginia, feasting on crab and avocado tacos and blueberries. Continuing south, we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and by early evening headed into North Carolina, settling in for the night at a dog friendly Holiday Inn Express, I-95 avoided the entire day.

Meanwhile the six-year-old carried on a non-stop conversation. She read books, watched movies, listened to books on tape, played Travel Bingo, and through it all the chatter continued. She and I would walk into a rest room, get into adjoining stalls, and the talking continued throughout our rest room doings. 

And while on the subject of rest rooms, there is no such thing as a quick rest stop when stops involve:
walking the dog,
watering the dog,
rest room time for three travelers,
reconnoitering the entire convenience store for suitable snacks, and
fueling the car.

Hub and I have made the trip in two days.

It took us three and a half days.

And we all survived.

After the 9,355 (not the exact number, but close) time hearing “Gramma” I am going to change my name. Any suggestions?

More on avoiding I-95 in my next post.

Friday, July 19, 2013

This Gardening Guru Gives Advice

I am not a gardening guru.

My thumb is beige and pink. Definitely not green.

I do not come from a family of farmers and gardeners. My parents were born and raised in Manhattan and Queens. Corn and wheat fields were history decades before Mom and Dad wandered the concrete streets of New York’s boroughs. Dad, however, became an avid gardener in his later years. One year he planted brussel sprouts. He could not understand why the plants flourished, but not a single sprout appeared. One day a knowledgeable visitor told him to move away the leaves and – behold – clusters of sprouts emerged!
A brussel sprouts plant - picture not from my garden.
Like so many endeavors in life that sound interesting and not too difficult before tackling, gardening can be frustrating. And tiring. And challenging. But there are rewards (so I keep telling myself…).
Rewards! Cherry tomatoes picked today from my garden!
Gardening books and articles do not provide full disclosure. The following valuable tips and nuggets of wisdom were painstakingly discovered after countless hours attempting to bring forth beauty and bounty from my small patch of earth.

Plant at least two of any bush, shrub, flower, or vegetable. One usually survives while the other struggles mightily against the elements, eventually turning brown, shriveling and dying. Plant one and it will without a doubt perish.
Two plants bought and planted together - one lives and one  does not.
The best results from your garden, such as the tastiest tomatoes, are ready to pick when you are out of town.

Perusing seed catalogs is a great way to waste time entice spring. Order seeds in plenty of time for indoor planting. Or wait and buy plants at the local garden store.

Transplant purchased plants as soon as possible, otherwise seedlings have a tendency to wither and die while sitting patiently, awaiting your attention, in the driveway or on your patio.

Check out garden stores for sale items such as tomato cages. Acquired too late to place over tomato plants, use (upside down) for beans, cucumbers, and other climbers.

Annuals that thrive one year will probably disappoint the next.

Want it to rain? Soak your plants.
Want it to stop raining? Pray.

Favorite plants grow excruciatingly slow. Plants least likely to please flourish and spread like wildfire.

A garden requires the most attention during the worst weather; usually a record-setting heat wave.

Weeds love your garden. They sneak up, peek out of the soil and yell “Gotcha!”.

No matter what you do your neighbor’s garden will probably look better than yours.

Do not be surprised if seeds (and other items) carefully stockpiled for the following year disappear over the winter.

If you want your garden to look picture perfect, hire a professional landscaper. 
My non-professional landscaping crew taking a break. 
Otherwise enjoy the time, effort, energy and creativity devoted to your garden. (I will not mention the $$$.) Whatever works congratulate yourself and whatever doesn’t, try something else next season. Most important – have fun!
My most successful endeavor. Looks great all year and requires no maintenance.
May plant more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachman of Minnesota decided not to seek reelection, insisting it has nothing to do with the fact she might lose. In Michele’s Weird World she never loses – she simply moves on. Where she lands is anyone’s guess – a conservative think tank, lobbying organization, FOX News, well-paid speech-making gigs, Hollywood, the View - the American public will have to wait and see…

This year New York City politics is a hoot and a holler, as a New York City native and good friend of mine would say. Two politicians previously felled by scandals are attempting comebacks.

Anthony Weiner of sexting fame, his scandal dubbed Weinergate, resigned and left Washington in disgrace. His crime: tweeting links to sexually explicit pictures. He denied physical relationships with the women tweeted(?), but with his reputation wrecked (at least temporarily) resigned in June 2011. Now he is back, running for mayor of New York City.

Eliott Spitzer, ex-New York State governor, is running for New York City comptroller. Spitzer was outted as a client of an elite Washington, D.C. escort service, resigned the governorship in 2008 and slinked away…and now is slinking back into the limelight.

Presidential politics

Republican Rick Perry decided not to run for a fourth term as governor of Texas, but apparently may try for the Republican Presidential nomination again. His previous Presidential campaign is remembered for a notable debate moment. Discussing the three government departments he would eliminate, naming Education and Commerce, he could not recall the third.

A rising Republican star is about to sink. Conservative Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia is entangled in a number of ethical and monetary lapses, some involving members of his family. From a son being caught drinking and driving, to his wife’s expensive designer gown and his acceptance of gifts, it appears the potential candidate is down and out before the race begins.

As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is active on the lucrative speech-making circuit, raking in the big bucks, rubbing shoulders with potential donors and honing her message, in case she decides to run. Other prospective Dem candidates wait quietly anxiously and impatiently in the wings, not yet willing to rile the Clinton contingent.

After all, the Presidential election is only 1,211 days away.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Am a Research Pawn Part 2

I was accepted as a subject in a medical research program studying Alzheimer’s at a local college (I Am a Research Pawn). My participation involved two hour-long lab sessions.

The research lab was located in a far corner of a classroom building at the edge of campus, the path from the parking lot clearly marked with ‘brain research’ signs. Exactly one minute early for my first session, I was quickly ushered into a two-room ‘brain lab’. Two young people, one recently graduated and the second with one semester of undergraduate work remaining, carefully explained the test procedure, then proceeded to conduct their experiment.

I was seated in front of a computer screen. A large headpiece of knotted beads was carefully placed over my head and part of my face. A picture of over 100 numbered beads in two different colors appeared onscreen. The researchers wet some pieces, activating the beads initially reading no brain activity. Once all the beads were a homogenous color indicating my brain was working (whew!), the first test began.

I sat immobile for three minutes with my eyes closed. My biggest concern was that I would fall asleep. The room was totally silent and, although morning, I can always fall asleep under the right circumstances.

Three minutes later the researcher directed me to open my eyes. Now I stared at the computer screen another three minutes, again motionless, attempting to clear my brain of all distracting thoughts.

Before I knew it the test was over and the headpiece removed. A multi-page questionnaire placed in front of me asked about my behaviors, such as –

·      Organization – on a scale of one to five, how organized are my drawers (kitchen or dresser –not specified, yet definitely makes a difference)  and bathroom? My standards and Martha Stewart’s (another senior who could most likely qualify for this research project) are, I am sure, poles apart. What does my disorganized ways mean?

·      Forgetfulness – how often are names, dates, and appointments forgotten?

·      Exercise – how often and how long do I exercise? (Never was one choice.)

·      Directions – We all know men never ask. At any age. And with a GPS who needs to know or ask anymore?

The hour concluded with an appointment scheduled for the second session.

And so I found myself on the college campus again, ready for another brain scan.

Except this time I was face to face with a professor testing my mental acuity (extra points for using impressive words!). For example…

·      The prof read a list of unrelated words and I repeated as many as I could in any order.

·      A list of numbers was supposed to be repeated in the same order as recited. I am really, really bad with numbers. Particularly remembering numbers. Especially my weight, but luckily that was not part of the test.
·      Remember the Sesame Street game – which one of these doesn’t belong? I was supposed to choose the puzzle piece that did belong; the next one in a sequential series.

And I had to draw. I have never been able to draw. I am artistically challenged.

Hopefully my artistic endeavors will not too negatively affect my test results.

Mind games are supposedly exercises for the brain. So I got a lot of exercise.

The prof could not tell me my test results, but assured me I did very well. What a relief. Really, that seriously is good to know.

The research program may involve follow-ups in the future.

Perhaps I should practice sequential puzzles.

Or work on my vocabulary.

Forget about attempting to improve my drawing skills; that will never happen.

Maybe next time I can sit in front of the computer screen, silent and completely still, for a longer period of time.

I bet I aced that part of the exam.