There Were Three Jovial Huntsmen )

Beware, as mostly griping ensues. Today I went to get labels printed for the Bar Mitzvah invitations, something I expected to take maybe an hour or two even if some great crisis arose like Staples being out of clear labels and Kinko's not having the right templates installed...ended up at Office Depot, after having lunch with [ profile] apaulled and the kids out due to the lack of working cable all morning, and waited literally for hours for the guy to fix first the computer with the MSWord templates, then the machine capable of printing color onto labels, finally gave up to print them in black know, this is not worth reiterating. I cut my hand on the side of the plastic laundry basket somehow yesterday in the midst of the hundred thousand laundries, and it stings far more than it seems to me like it should, and I have two swollen lymph nodes on the back of my head right where my skull meets my neck and no idea whether there is a connection -- I don't think I have any infections and can't figure out what would be making my lymph nodes so painful right now. Can a two-and-a-half-week-old spider bite on my foot that appears to be scabbed over and healing cause the lymph nodes on my neck to go berserk?

Anyway, I'm not feeling well physically and have SO much to do -- I don't know how much is caused by stress and weird eating patterns. The cable was back tonight, thank all higher powers, but I didn't make a dent in mail, comments, etc. piled up from previous days and now I'm totally zotzed. Tomorrow mother is taking older son to be measured for a suit while I get all the invitations stamped and mailed, along with all the other mail I owe (yes, [ profile] beeej, I'm sending the Dawson's Creek, and mailing the penguin postcards I was supposed to mail while traveling)! Am trying not to be all spazzed and focus on things like how good the invitations look, but I feel...mostly just stressed.

French & Indian War Souvenirs )

In the mood for these because we were watching The Revolution on The History Channel. I love stuff about Washington.

Yeah, we got suckered into the family photo at Graceland -- might as well have one for the trip. Full trip report, with links to photos with relatives and friends in them, is here.
Post-Vacation Tristesse )

We're home. Had a pretty good drive -- LONG wait for lunch since hubby only wanted to stop somewhere within a mile of the highway and through much of NC, there aren't any places within a mile of I-95, but no traffic to speak of and the weather was good. We watched Eight Below (which upset younger son for awhile as some of the doggies suffer greatly, but had a lovely happy ending like March of the Penguins) and read the end of The Dark Is Rising and most of the first half of Greenwitch. Had Subway for lunch when we finally stopped (by then it was nearly 2 p.m. and I needed Excedrin, as I had not eaten since 9 a.m. and then all carbs because there were 100 people for breakfast in a lobby designed to seat 20).

Got home to what I can only describe as a mixed reception. Mother is going to describe me and family as filthy screaming ingrates so I may as well begin with that. At some point between the time [ profile] perkypaduan left, having taken wonderful care of my cats for more than a week *grovels* and our arrival, she had not only come over with her cleaning lady and had the house cleaned -- very nice, on the one hand, but on the other hand it would have been so much nicer had she done this WHILE I WAS AROUND so I could ask that certain things not be meddled with, moved or otherwise knocked out of place. And she replaced my kids' sheets, comforters and pillows -- I am sure she was very pleased with herself, oh, look, I got them the nice things their parents don't bother with, again WITHOUT ASKING ANYONE. My kids were both hysterical at bedtime -- wanted their old comforters back, things they chose and have slept with for years and years. The tags are off the new stuff -- it's not even like we can exchange them for new things they picked out themselves. I spent all afternoon being all "Oh look, how nice that you have new stuff!" and watch, I am going to get blamed for their rejecting them -- my father is going to give me guilt about how much money my mother spent because we never bothered to get our kids nice new cheesy sports-theme comforters.

My mother has already announced that we must spend time at the beach planning the table decorations etc. for son's Bar Mitzvah. Once again I am thisclose to accepting Kali as my personal Destroyer just to get away from all this bullshit. I don't even want to go to the beach, and that is really saying wondering whether I will be stricken with appendicitis if I think about faking appendicitis just to get out of going, and have to remind myself that that is the God my mother believes in and made puh-puh-puh noises in fear of all my life who does things like that, not the one I believe in. I cannot believe I feel this oppressed in my own HOUSE within hours of returning from vacation.

A chipmunk at the Pittsburgh Zoo, because chipmunks always make me feel better.

I am told I missed a huge amount of fannish wank while I was gone! Huzzah! Hope I never find out exactly what it was all about. *g*
From Dewy Dreams )

Sunday was a somewhat chaotic, though enjoyable, day. After breakfast we parked in a satellite lot and took a shuttle into Beaufort for the America's Sail festival. While we were on the bus we met people who had had tickets for the day before but couldn't even get on the docks, there were so many people. While one had to have tickets to board the ships, there was no sort of entry to visit the piers, so there were hundreds of people who'd paid hundreds of dollars and couldn't even get near the ships since the police kept shutting down the area due to overcrowding. So we went to see just the ships docked in Beaufort -- all of which were closed to visitors -- but the Morehead City State Ports were closed completely and the old Beaufort Seaport was only open intermittently. Rumor has it that ticket prices would be refunded for people who couldn't get to the ships, so we're hoping this is true.

Since we couldn't board the ships, we looked at the skipjack Ada Mae, schooners Compass Rose and Serenity and ketch Three Belles and visited the North Carolina Maritime Museum in downtown Beaufort, which has exhibits on southern coastal maritime history, local marine wildlife and Blackbeard's connection to the region, including exhibits and artifacts the wreck of a ship believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge. We also saw most of a film about a voyage around Cape Horn in the 1930s. There was a "Pirate Encampment" in the middle of historic Beaufort (home to Civil War leaders and the like) with reenactors in pirate costume and cannons and such. We had lunch, then decided we were too overheated to wait another two hours to see if the docks reopened and took the shuttles back to the van.

We had plans to meet up with [ profile] vertigo66 and her family in the evening since they were coming to North Carolina for a week at the beach, but since they were just arriving, we decided to go to the Pine Knoll Aquarium, since we could get in for free with a reciprocal zoo membership. This is a lovely little aquarium, part of a group of which we had visited another when we were in the Outer Banks several years ago. The focus is on local marine life, meaning that there are sharks, jellyfish and a variety of fish, but our favorite exhibits were the outdoor boardwalks over the salt marsh, where we saw several varieties of crab, turtles, fish, egrets and various other animals. The aquarium also had reproductions of local underwater shipwrecks and what they looked like surrounded by fish, crabs, eel, etc.

We went to Emerald Isle to meet our friends and went to the beach. My first venture into the Atlantic for the season was entirely successful: we caught and released sandcrabs and little burrowing clams, found scallop shells and came back to [ profile] vertigo6's beachhouse with so much sand in the kids' clothes that it required sweeping the bathroom floor twice. The kids bonded over GameBoy and making lots of noise. Then we had pizza and drove back to Jacksonville to get ready for the long drive home Monday. We're on the last pages of The Dark Is Rising, heading into Greenwitch.

Beaufort, Sail America, Maritime Museum, Pine Knoll Aquarium )

We're in an utter piece of shit Best Western -- the cheapest rat-hole within an hour -- so I am dialed into an AOL connection that keeps crapping out and can't open half the pages on the web. Will get comments when I am home, assuming my internet connection there works since I hear it was crapping out last week as well!
Seen at the Biltmore Estate's historic toy shop:
-- Tara's Trunk Porcelain 11 Inch Doll with Trunk
-- Trudy Traveler Doll and Trunk by Showstoppers
-- Cinderella Doll and Trunk by Showstoppers

Also, if anyone ever wanted to get me the Franklin Mint Galadriel or Eva Peron doll or Madame Alexander's less realistic but still pretty Eva Peron doll, I would be grateful beyond words. I remember seeing an ad for Galadriel when the doll was first manufactured; it cost nearly $200 then so was never a real possibility. Alexander's Evita sometimes shows up on eBay for under $75 but I always miss her!

Tara's Trunk
Trudy Traveler
Eva Peron
Franklin Mint
Eva Peron
Madame Alexander
Franklin Mint

As for Barbies...I would love the 2001 Tales of the Arabian Nights Barbie & Ken set, the 2001 Munsters Barbie & Ken set, the 1997 Olympic Skater Barbie & Ken set, the 2003 James Bond Barbie & Ken set, the 1999 Grand Ole Opry Barbie & Ken set and especially the 1998 Phantom of the Opera Barbie & Ken set! I also love all three Barbies in the Celestial Collection, the Essence of Nature collection and however many there are in the Birds of Paradise set that included the Swan, the Peacock and the Flamingo. Whoo!
And I Lounged and Lay on Their Beds )

We went to the Biltmore Estate on Saturday, billed as the largest home in America -- more than 250 rooms in the mansion, 43 bathrooms! The grounds are magnificent -- the house is at the top of a hill surrounded by woods, which is in turn surrounded by the mountains -- and the mansion is almost beyond belief. The first floor felt very British to me -- a lot of the decorations were brought from Europe and are older than those in Castle Howard, including medieval tapestries and wall panels. (I somehow never put it together before that the Cecil who married a Vanderbilt was a descendant of Lord Burleigh and the English Cecils.) George Vanderbilt also apparently had a French Revolution and Napoleon fetish -- he has a chess set that belonged to him, several paintings and prints and rooms decorated in various French styles.

I must admit that I found the servants' rooms on the very upper and lower floors more interesting in some ways than the huge magnificent living rooms that dominate each of the first three floors or the canopied Vanderbilt bedrooms; they are plain, though not outrageously small, but surrounded by big alarm-type bells so that people can be woken at all hours of the night. It looks like for all the bathrooms in the house there was only one for every ten servants, so everyone had bedpans and pitchers in their rooms. The kids were getting bored by the time we reached the bowling alley and swimming pool and were quite disinterested by the time we got to the numerous pantries and kitchens in the basement, so we rushed through those, but we got a good look at all the Sargent and Renoir paintings and the amazing interior decorating.

We had lunch in the courtyard -- we had brought sandwiches, but we got drinks and chocolate from the stores there -- then walked to the conservatory, which has lilies and orchids in the hothouse, plus hundreds of flowers in several outdoor gardens both formal and wild, the landscape designed by Olmsted and featuring several ponds and the creeks that run through the property. Then we drove to the winery a few miles from the mansion, which has a little tour -- the buildings were a dairy until a few decades ago, and have been converted for fermentation, storage and sale of a variety of wines which can be tasted in a massive wine bar. There are also samples of fruit juice, salad dressing, cheese and other local products, and more excellent chocolate. We had to hurry to drive over 300 miles so we didn't have time to see the inn, the stables, the whitewater rafting or any of the numerous other things to see and do on the estate -- there's several days' worth of things to do there.

In keeping with our *ahem* tradition from last year trapped in the Denver airport, we had our anniversary dinner at McDonald's! We were en route from Asheville to Jacksonville, somewhere outside of Raleigh -- we went by the exits for Wake Forest, Duke and Chapel Hill but couldn't stop to see either, and now we are five minutes from Camp Lejeune which we saw from several angles while lost for an hour trying to find the hotel amidst various military installations. The dinner McDonald's had a McCafe -- an attempt to move in on the Starbucks market -- that had wireless internet, which was a revelation to me! And the chocolate muffins looked about as good as Starbucks', which is to say not the best but good enough for a fix.

When we finally made it to the hotel it was too late to swim, so we watched a special on leopard seals on Animal Planet which had lots of penguins but things ended badly for many of them so younger son was quite unhappy. He was already in a bad mood because he had just finished the last of the ten Warrior Cats books (which ended on a cliffhanger) and must wait till September for the next sequel. Reading Susan Cooper was only small consolation.

The Biltmore Estate )

Sunday we are going to the Tall Ship Festival in Beaufort and hopefully to the maritime museum, and then maybe the beach!
Sa nuit d'ete )

Friday morning we drove from Nashville to Knoxville, losing an hour in the process. We therefore had to wake up very early to get to the Nashville Zoo in time for the penguin feeding and meet-the-keepers. Knoxville has African penguins -- seven on display and several more not out in public, including the oldest penguin in captivity at 42 years. There is also a lion cub no longer with its mother because it wasn't nursing sufficiently, so it's in the mole rat exhibit in a cubbyhole with stuffed animals and blankies, a very active tree sloth that was climbing all around the bars of its cage and a trio of squawking macaws that could be heard as far away as the zebras.

We had a picnic at the zoo and then drove through the Great Smoky Mountains into North Carolina, stopping to take photos at a welcome center. Then we went to Asheville, where we visited the Basilica of St. Lawrence, a 1909 Catholic church with a magnificently decorated altar and pulpit, the life of Christ in stained glass in a circle around the sanctuary, and the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. (I love beautiful old churches of any denomination.) Then we met [ profile] cara_chapel for dinner, and she pleased the kids immensely by directing us to a Chinese buffet, one of their favorite things. I hadn't seen her in at least a couple of years so it was great to be at the same table! After dinner we came to the hotel to swim and discovered first Whose Line Is It Anyway on ABC Family and then Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The Pegasus" on G4, so of course we had to watch!

Knoxville Zoo, Smoky Mountains, St. Lawrence Basilica )

Saturday is my 16th wedding anniversary. We are visiting Asheville's Biltmore Estate -- having skipped the Breakers Mansion when we were in New England, we figure we should visit at least one Vanderbilt mansion! Then we are driving through Raleigh to Jacksonville so we can be in Beaufort on Sunday.
Nashville )

We woke up Thursday and drove from Memphis back to Nashville, which we had passed on the highway from Kentucky but didn't stop. Our first stop in the city was the Parthenon, because how could we resist? Though the building itself and its giant gilded statue of Athena are very neat, I was also pleasantly surprised by the art museum inside -- a decent collection of American landscape artists, Church, Bierstadt, et al, and a special exhibit on a Virginia painter, Elliott Daingerfield, who appears to have been a student of both Hudson River School artists and their peers (Inness, Gifford) and the Pre-Raphaelites, so I found his work very appealing. We had seen most of the originals of the sculpture from the Parthenon -- Tennessee's are copies of pieces in the British Museum for the most part -- but the giant temple is still an amazing sight!

The kids had strongly vetoed the idea of going to the Country Music Hall of Fame and [ profile] apaulled and I were ambivalent -- it's expensive, and while we listen to some country music, there aren't really any musical stars of whom we'd call ourselves real fans except Johnny Cash. So instead of going there, we drove around Music Row, where the studios and publishers are located, and went to the Tennessee State House, which was closed to the public but a guard let us park in one of the handicapped spaces long enough to get out and look at the building and take photos. Then we came to the hotel to check in and let the kids swim so we could go out in the evening.

We ate in Opryland Mills across the street from the Grand Ole Opry House -- an enormous mall with a 20-theater multiplex including an IMAX, a Barnes & Noble, Tower Records and all the expected mall stores from anywhere in the US, and several restaurants including one with live music and the one where we had dinner, which is now younger son's favorite restaurant in the world -- the Aquarium Restaurant. There are two little aquariums in front, including a tunnel like the ones in the Cincinnati Aquarium, but the restaurant's centerpiece is a 200,000 gallon tank with sharks, rays, giant eels, a "guitar shark" named Gibson and dozens of species of fish and coral. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable both about local music and about the fish in the tank, and the restaurant also has a wandering magician doing card tricks, balloon man twisting balloon animals, and its own arcade with a ray touch-tank and sea-themed arcade games and a carousel, plus a gift shop rather like the Rainforest Cafe's -- there was one of those in this mall too, but the food at the Aquarium Restaurant was vastly better than I've ever had there (we had three different kinds of shrimp, I couldn't bear to eat salmon while looking at a fish tank). Considering that it was a free visit to the aquarium the prices were reasonable and the kids had a wonderful time.

We paid a brief visit to the Grand Ole Opry House which was closed tonight -- there are only performances certain nights of the week, and we didn't try to time our trip around them because again we thought the kids would get restless and it would be a lot of money. So we didn't linger, but went to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which my in-laws had had seen and told us we might want to check out. The place is beyond description -- it's like a city, with its own indoor river and boat rides in one section, an enormous jungle room with waterfalls in another section, a recreation of a Southern city with little shops and fountains, three swimming pools, indoor and outdoor courtyards, numerous restaurants, all the mall-type stores not in Opryland Mills itself...a convention center, an enclosed theater and a public courtyard where at 8:30 a troupe of Chinese acrobats performed. It was like a Southern Las Vegas without the sleaze (though I must note that for such a Southern Baptist city, there are a lot of porn shops and gentleman's clubs advertising prominently around Nashville!)

Nashville's Parthenon, State House, Aquarium Restaurant, Grand Ole Opry & Gaylord Opryland Hotel )

Friday we will be seeing our last group of penguins this trip, at the Knoxville Zoo, and later [ profile] cara_chapel!
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