Sunday, July 26, 2009

Redemption of the Strip Club Ficus

We have been sooo sooo busy the last four weeks pulling together a coffeehouse service for Grandma Elsie's church. Between making sure we had the musicians, equipment, projector, coffee, and decorations to turn a fellowship hall into a coffeehouse, we've been running ourselves ragged. But as of yesterday morning we still needed one more fake ficus tree. Fake ficus trees are very important in fellowship-hall-turned-coffeehouse decor. You have to have something to put the twinkle lights on. We had picked up one ficus last weekend -- Dez was out shopping garage sales when one literally jumped off someone's driveway and into the path of her car (and by "literally" I mean literally). It only cost us $3 out of the "Loaves and Fishes Coffeehouse Fund" (the "LFCF") ("Loaves and Fishes" because it kept miraculously replenishing itself). Dez stood by that tree in 90 degree heat for an hour waiting for Joe to get over there with the pickup truck. (Dez also found another $3 tree at the same garage sale, but once we got it over here to our house it really looked more like a gigantic marijuana plant, so we decided not to use it.)

Some other friends of ours graciously loaned us another tree this week. But we still had need of one more tree. We had already shopped on Craigslist last weekend and seen a listing for someone who was selling silk plants on Dale Mabry somewhere, but we figured it was like one of those tents you see in a mall parking lot where they sell art and rugs and try to con you into thinking that their price is cheaper than what you get in a regular store with air conditioning, so we didn't pay much attention to the ad. We figured they would be out of our price range ($10 per tree). But by yesterday morning, the day of the actual coffeehouse, it was crunch time and Dez pulled out all the ads we had decided not to pursue the week before -- we still had $20 budgeted for trees, but since our friends had loaned us one, we could use the whole $20 for one tree. We decided to zip down to Dale Mabry to see if the guy selling trees out of a tent would make us a deal.

Dale Mabry Hwy. is a four lane highway running north and south through much of Hillsborough County and it's lined with strip malls, restaurants, and when you get near enough to the stadium, strip clubs. So we got to the block where the address should be on Dale Mabry, but couldn't find the "tent" or any sign talking about silk trees. We turned around two or three times and finally found the address, but it was a strip club -- the Alibi. We were getting ready to scrap the idea when we noticed that there was a tiny little storefront next to the strip club that was advertising itself as a thrift store.

Despite the relative creepiness of the location, we felt safe enough because Jesus, Mary, and a giant computer were watching over us.

Well, actually, we felt only safe enough to send Dez in while I stayed in the car with the kids. As she got out of the car she said, "If I'm not back in 5 minutes, call the cops." Plastic Mary, Jesus and the giant computer were not very comforting to her apparently. She came back out in a few minutes and said that the store did, in fact, have a great ficus tree and that it was $25. The only problem with my coming in to get it was the fact that the tree was surrounded by porn. I guess that's what they keep in the back room of thrift stores next door to strip clubs. The kids probably didn't need to see that, so I gave Dez the money and she went back in to get the tree. A few minutes later she came back out and told me to drive around to the back, but I'll tell you I felt a little bit shady driving into the alley behind a strip club with my kids in the car. This ficus apparently had Plastic Jesus and Plastic Mary's blessing, so I didn't really have much choice.

So after I auditioned (I didn't get the job -- apparently they like girls who don't bring their kids with them to the audition), I headed around back and got the tree. It pretty much filled up the car.

And it had kind of a funky smell. But I'm pretty sure it accepted Christ last night at our coffeehouse -- so our visit to the strip club thrift store was worth it.

The strip club ficus is the one on the right. Doesn't it look redeemed?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Boating on the Intercoastal -- or is it Intracoastal?

We have a boat, which is for sale. All boats are for sale, by the way. So far as I can tell no one in Florida actually ever keeps a boat. There are only two states of boat possession here: the first is shopping for a boat and the second is selling the boat. I've never said to anyone on the lake, "Hey, I like your boat!" without the other person saying, "Thanks! It's for sale if you're interested!" So, of course, our boat is for sale, like every other boat in Florida.

In the meantime, however, we take it out every 8 months or so. Last weekend was one of those occasions. Mace loves the boat.

Casey, not so much:

He doesn't like to go over 2 mph in the boat and tells Joe, "Dad, not too fast! Not too fast!" in an obsessive-compulsive manner the entire time the boat is moving. He doesn't enjoy himself until we get there.

See how happy he is? On this particular trip, we met up with some work friends of Joe's and boated out to a tiny little island in the intercoastal waterway. Four or five other boats were anchored there as well and my children learned some new words. But they had a good time. Casey made a friend, like he always does. He doesn't care where we go so long as other kids will be there. Neither Joe nor I were like that as kids, so I'm not sure where his friend-seeking genetic material came from. Though, really, I think he likes to make to new friends because he likes to have new people to boss around. So maybe he has my DNA after all.

Mace really didn't like being confined to floating around with me.

He preferred swimming on his own.

Someone is being very careless with that child. Where is his parent?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Vacation Log: Day 3? 4? (I can't remember)

Here's the thing about a vacation log, or really any log at all, if you are truly logging -- your notes regarding your vacation (or experiment, or navigation around the globe) should be somewhat contemporaneous with the the vacation, experiment, or global navigation. Otherwise, you forget what happened on your vacation, or what chemicals you combined to result in the explosion that killed your chia pet, or at what longitude and latitude you took a wrong turn.

For example, here are some pictures I took during the last two days of our vacation, from which we returned over a week and a half ago. Already, my memory of our vacation is fading to the point where I actually tell people, "Oh yes, we had a great time!" and leave out the part about the leaking trailer and leaving North Carolina a day early because it was raining. Had I logged the trip properly, I would have spent a few paragraphs on Day 3 describing how the bar across the street from the campground was having a karaoke contest until 2:00 in the morning and it was too cold to run the air conditioning in the trailer to drown out the noise, and for some reason the propane heat wasn't working so we had to use the "emergency heat" function on the air conditioning unit which was really more of an "on/off" concept and not a "select a temperature where you're comfortable" concept, so I had to get up six or seven times between 11 and 2 to turn the heat off because it got too hot, then back on a few minutes later because those dang rednecks were still singing, "Love in an Elevator" at the top of their lungs. But because I did not log properly on Day 3, I have forgotten all about that and only remember my children sleeping in until almost 8:00 the next morning, which was fantastic.

I do, however, remember stopping at the J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake on the Georgia/South Carolina border on our way back to YaYa and Pop Pop's house after we fled the rain in North Carolina.

And look at the composition in this next picture! Are you not impressed with how I have framed the curve of that wall in the photo so that it calms your restless spirit and draws your eye to the three people gazing out at the lake? I thought you would be impressed. I am very impressed with my accidental framing of that shot as well.

Later that same day (probably only about 2 1/2 hours later to be more precise) we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere to get the kids ice cream. And who is that pretty pretty lady in the picture? Do you know her? Me either. She needs some makeup, a shower, and a tan on those legs for pete's sake, that's all I know . . .

Because we'd left North Carolina a day early, we were able to spend an extra day with my parents in Douglas and I was able to see a good friend of mine from junior high/high school. This is her daughter with my two kids. They all look a little tipsy if you ask me. That sweet girl (my friend's daughter) is Casey's soulmate -- they both have the vocabulary of a sixth grader and you should have heard her singing! It's too bad we don't live in the same town, I think those two would be lifelong buds.

The restaurant we're in is Danny's Pizza, a Douglas, Georgia institution. No lie. They have the BEST sweet tea ever. Better even than (dare I say it?) Chik Fil A. I drank six glasses of it (no, I didn't sleep that night, thank you). I think it's the ice that makes it so great -- when I was in high school, we used to call it "rat turd ice." I know it's crude, but you know now exactly what kind of ice I'm talking about don't you? Anyway, Danny's Pizza has all kinds of Trojan memorabilia on the walls. If you're from Douglas, you know I'm talking about the Coffee High School Trojans. Our marching band (of which I was a proud member), wore those helmets with the four-inch tall maroon brushes on the top. They were heavy. And hot. And after one year of wearing that on the field and pretending to play my oboe while marching, I decided to try out for the flag corps, 'cause they got to wear itsy bitsy skirts with cool gold belts and white knee high boots. It was a much better gig.

So here's my friend Dana and I in Danny's.

When we were in high school, you had to be thin, popular, and beautiful to work at Danny's. It helped if you dated a football player. When we were there last week I didn't see that their hiring requirements had changed much, but unfortunately for you, I also didn't take a picture to prove it. Dana and I didn't work there when we were in high school. I can't remember where Dana worked, but I worked at the Golden Corral and wore a brown uniform and a handkerchief on my head. I wore a name tag, as if everyone who came in the door didn't know me already, and at the end of my shift each night, I would reach into my apron pocket to pull out my tips, and all the tea, cracker crumbs, and ranch dressing that I'd been wiping off the tables all night and apparently into my pocket where they would become a repulsive paste, would squish up underneath my fingernails and stay there until I could get home to the shower. I can still remember the smell of that paste -- yeasty, tangy, and bleachy. Ick.

But like our vacation, memories of the repulsive paste have faded to the point where I never think about them unless I see a 1979 Chevy Malibu (my first car, paid for with Golden Corral tips) or get disgusting things under my fingernails (now that I'm a parent, that happens more than I care to admit, actually). In my wisened (wizened?) years, I am becoming more and more a fan of selective memories, reinvented memories, and repressed memories. Junior High -- completely repressed memories. High School -- some repressed, some selective. College -- all selective, except for that one repressed memory. Graduate School -- all repressed, except for memories of Joe, which are selective. Law school -- repressed mostly, a few reinvented. Facebook is not really helping me in this regard, because every time I turn around, a repressed memory is trying to "friend" me and a reinvented memory is unreinventing itself. This analysis is wearing me out. I need another vacation -- our last one was great! Have I told you about it?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Helpful Camper Towing Tip

If you are planning to travel with a camper, here's a helpful tip: make sure all the cabinets are securely closed before you pull out on to the road. If you don't, you may find that when you reach your destination, even if it is only 100 yards down the road to purchase new windshield wipers for your tow vehicle, that the cabinet that you failed to properly close has violently expelled its contents all over your trailer. Not that I would know what the inside of your trailer might look like if an entire six pack of A&W Root Beer was flung out of the cabinet above your trailer's refrigerator and been tossed about, spewing sugary root beer goodness all over everything. I always securely fasten my trailer cabinets.
I'm just sharing a helpful tip.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Vacation Log: Reunion Day

On Day 2 of our vacation (I should stop here and note that this was not really "our" vacation -- it was mine -- we didn't do one thing on this trip that Joe would have chosen to do -- I need to send Joe off on a real vacation where he gets to race cars or go sailing and not haul around a camper), we hung out at camp.

I got to see old friends -- this is Susan, she flew all the way from Idaho for the reunion. She was actually living in Idaho while I was also there for four years, but neither of us knew the other was there, living only an hour or so away from the other. Now we are separated by the country again -- I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere about keeping up with your friends and all that, but it's really late and I'm having trouble making life-lesson connections.

Here are Casey and Mace all decked out in their "Future Ridgecrester" shirts. Let the indoctrination begin!

Here's Mace having some RC Cola while watching the boys play four square. He's really sitting about 20 feet away from me and the camera, in the middle of the road that cuts through camp. RC Cola and Four Square -- he's already halfway indoctrinated in camp ways and he's not even three years old!

The alumni association auctioned off camp "memorabilia" (i.e., old signs, 30 year old T-shirts worn by a long-time director of the camp, and the rattle off a rattlesnake that the same long-time director had killed one summer during a sock war) to raise money for scholarships and building projects. The sign above sold for over a $1,000. I think the sign below, a newer version of which hangs on a tree beside the campfire area where a sign just like it has always hung for as long as most of us remember, sold for almost $2,000.

I'm usually not serious in my blogs, so you'll have to forgive me this moment -- but those signs sold for so much money because they are reminders to hundreds of girls (now women), of the place where they grew up spiritually. I know God like I do now because of Camp Crestridge for Girls and it wasn't necessarily Johnnie Armstrong's campfire talks, or the Council of Progress that helped me along. I think it was just being in a place God so obviously cherished that I felt cherished too. While I was there this weekend, I realized that what I want most out of these reunions is the chance to just sit by myself for a while by the lake or in the chapel or on the porch of the dining hall without worrying about who might be waiting for me or what I had left undone at home and feel cherished by God again. I know that I'm cherished by God anywhere I am and location is irrelevant, but God feels closer on that mountain.

(I only had to pay $200 for my sign.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Vacation Log: Day 1 1/2

I get that I've already let you down by not posting last night on the first 1/2 day of our vacation, but you'll understand, I promise. Remember that little water problem we had in the camper that I was content to let slide because I didn't see rain in the forecast? Well, Joe, being the incredibly responsible Flamingo that he is, decided to fix it:

But that's not why we didn't leave at 3:00 like we planned. Note that in the photo above, it was still raining, as it had been for the previous 72 hours, so Joe rigged up a tarp to keep the camper roof dry while he worked on it and that took a good deal of time. But that's not why we didn't leave at 3:00 like we planned either.

While Joe was up on the camper roof he leaned/fell/tripped onto the cover for the air conditioning and it shattered into about 36 pieces. So we spent a good deal of time trying to tape it back together (yes, with duct tape, but not the kind of duct tape that is currently holding my mom and dad's coffee machine together -- real duct tape). That didn't work because the broken pieces of the air conditioner were like the pieces of a monochromatic 3-D puzzle that takes neurophysicists entire semesters to put together. And that may have contributed to our leaving late.

But it was the having to drive an hour out of our way to get to Camping World by 6:00 p.m. to buy a new air conditioning cover that actually made us so late in leaving -- 6:15 to be exact. We were smart enough to take the ladder with us to Camping World so that Joe didn't have to pull up next to someone else's camper that had a ladder attached to it, climb it, and then jump to the top of our camper (though wouldn't those have been some great photos?). Here he is having completed his repair (note that he also brought the drill with him -- always thinking ahead, that Joe):

And in case you can't tell, he's smiling. I know -- I don't get it either -- he's usually still very cranky at this point in our trip -- we haven't even really left town yet. Weird.

So we got to YaYa and PopPop's at 12:30 a.m. last night -- and get this -- the children never went to sleep. They got in bed at 1:00 a.m. And then they woke up at 6:05 a.m., on their own. In the big scheme of things, that's great, because they then woke us up and we left by 8:30-ish. But in the little scheme of things, what in the heck?

We stopped at several interesting tourist attractions today on our way to the mountains: the BP Gas Station on the outskirts of my parents' town, the Burger King somewhere near Augusta, GA, the Rest Area just over the North Carolina State line (Mace could not figure out why he was having to work so hard to walk up the sidewalk to the restrooms and we realized it was because he's just never had to walk uphill before), and the caboose in Alston, Georgia (and their volunteer fire station):

We did eventually make it to the mountains and to my camp reunion. Did I tell you that Joe and I got married at the chapel at this camp lo' those many 13 years ago? Here's Joe contemplating the last 13 years of our life together outside the chapel where we got married:

He's at a loss for words, don't you think? What he's really thinking about is how he's going to have to walk our two kids around for the next hour while his lovely wife of nearly 13 years sits in that chapel with a bunch of crazy camp alumni singing songs like "A Man Without A Woman" and "Give Me A Man Who Is Tall Dark and Tan." So how, how, can that possibly count as a vacation?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

V Minus 1 And Counting

The Flamingos are supposed to be going on vacation tomorrow. It's been touch and go on whether we'd really be going -- we needed new tires, new brakes, and a new serpentine belt for the car. As you know, those things cost money. So does gas. Campgrounds. And food. But as this is likely the only vacation we're gonna get this year, we're forging ahead and acting like we're really going. God willing and my clients' checks clear, we'll be on our way to North Carolina tomorrow.

Today was V Minus 1 Day And Counting, so that means Flamingo Joe had to pull the trailer out of its little spot by the house where it has been slumbering peacefully lo' these many months and make sure it was in tip-top towing shape. Since we purchased it a couple of years ago, we've actually hooked the trailer up and taken it somewhere maybe four times -- and one of those trips doesn't really count because we only towed it up to church to use as a prop for a tailgate party (if you want more explanation on that I really can't help you). Other than that, the Airstream serves as the Adult Beverage Trailer for Christmas parties and other events. It's also served as a halfway house for one of our good friends for a month or so. So it's not like it's never getting used. But we haven't really been out there in a couple (four or five) months.

After Joe pulled it out today and parked it in front of the house steps (for maximum packing convenience), he went inside it and realized that it was leaking from the ceiling in several spots. If you live here, you know that it has been raining for about 72 hours straight. So I'm guessing that for the last 72 hours water has been pouring into the inside of the camper. The mattresses and cushions were nearly soaked and the floor was a big puddle. And it was still raining, so there was no sealing the top of the camper in the rain. We solved the problem the old-fashioned way (no, not with duct tape!):

That's a tarp. Thankfully, it has stopped raining now, but we're expecting more here tomorrow. I checked the weather for the next four days in the two places where we'll be parking the trailer and there's no rain in the forecast there, but I'm going to make sure the tarp comes with us.

I'm hoping to update the blog every day on our trip (who is that laughing?), and if I do I will keep you posted on Flamingo Joe's Cranky Level as well as the weather. FJ is not really a good traveler -- that's usually my fault because I make him take vacations where he has to do work and he's not having a good time on a trip unless . . . well, unless he's not having to do any of the work. I get that -- it's supposed to be a vacation, after all. And as much fun as camping is for the kids, who totally love it, it's a lot of work for the adults, especially Joe. Also, Joe doesn't consider parking a trailer at a KOA "camping" so I'm sure he'll leave a comment about how he wouldn't mind doing all that work if we were really "camping" with the kids (yeah, right, like I'm signing up for that!). But kids love campgrounds and I like hauling the food with us so I don't have to take the two year old in a restaurant if I don't feel like it (and I never feel like it).

So I'll keep you posted. I hope.