You Just Never Know What the World Has In Store For You

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In February of 2012 my father underwent life-saving surgery to repair a burst intestine and stop the resulting sepsis.  His recovery was the second long one he had to endure, the first being after a heart bypass 8 years before.

Although my father’s favorite occupation since his retirement was sitting in a chair watching the Game Show Network, for some reason these long bouts of being home bound really put him in a grouchy mood sometimes.  (See previous post about Dad’s Constipation Expression).

Anyway, I moved into my parents’ house for a month after this operation to help out with stuff while he recovered.  One day he grouchily said, “Yeah, they fixed me up this time, but for how long?  5 years?  It seems like a waste.”

Well, Grouchy McGrouchster, yes, you made a full recovery and lived more than four more years.  In that time:

  1. You spent a week at the beach celebrating your 80th birthday with all of your kids and grandkids.
  2. You got to star in a community production of 1776.
  3. You got to watch The Tidewater Tides play baseball a few times.
  4. You got to see your beloved Red Sox win the World Series!
  5. You celebrated your 60th wedding anniversary with the love of your life.
  6. You saw your last 2 daughters, Meg and Jennifer, find love, get married, and welcome 2 new sons-in-law and 2 new granddaughters into the family.
  7. You got to play FDR in a community production of Annie.
  8. You got to see your granddaughter graduate from Princeton.
  9. You got to see your grandson get married.
  10. You got to see your first great-grandson.
  11. You got to see 2 grandsons graduate from high school.
  12. You got to spend a second week at the beach with kids and grandkids (thanks for paying for that one).
  13. You got to educate hundreds of tourists as a docent at the MacArthur Memorial.
  14. You got to make lots of trips to Holyoke to see relatives and attend school reunions, and host even more relatives in Norfolk.
  15. You got to spend 2 days per week with your college-aged grandson, who loved  you so much he moved from New Mexico to attend college just a mile away from you.
  16. You got to whomp us all in Trivial Pursuit.
  17. You got to reunite with some of your West Point buddies, and write glowing tributes for those that had passed on.
  18. You got to travel to lots of places, including Colorado, where you ate Rocky Mountain Oysters, and saw the Colorado Rockies play while you wore a mullet cap.
  19. You had countless bowls of ice cream, chocolate cake, hot dogs, diet coke, coffee, and all the other stuff you love..
  20. You experienced a renewed energy in your Catholic faith, and even joined a men’s Bible study group at Holy Trinity.
  21. You spent hours and hours with your PIGS group, your Saturday night dinner group, and with countless other friends.
  22. You spent many joyful hours with your loving wife, letting her laugh at your same old jokes, as if it was the first time she had ever heard them, never taking for granted that marrying her was the best decision you ever made.
  23. You exited this world yesterday with pure class and grace, after winning over the entire medical staff that was taking care of you.  You let each and every one of us know how much you loved us, and you got to hear that we all thought you were the best husband, father, soldier, actor, singer, mentor, and movie buddy, and that we were all going to be okay.

RIP, Dad.  Even your grouchiness was funny.

To the rest of you reading this:  Never underestimate what will come your way, even if you do nothing but wait…..

The Constipated Expression – A Tribute To My Father

When my older sister Fritzi was about 12, she discovered “Rock n Roll”.  With 8 children and only 2 parents, Classical music, Broadway Show Tunes, and Petula Clark were soon replaced by The Monkees, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and The Beatles.   Fritzi had a little portable record player where she played her latest 45’s or albums, and the 4 of us girls would sit around and listen to them.  Inevitably my father would come to our room with an annoyed expression on his face and ask “Is someone sick in here?  It sounds like someone has a stomach ache.”  He would pause, and then say, “Oh, it’s just your music.  Turn that down.”  Contentious arguments would follow, while Fritzi turned the music down incrementally until my father was satisfied, and he would turn and walk out of the room with Fritzi wailing, “But Daaaaaaaaad.   Now it sounds tinnnnyyyyyyy!!”

Over the years my father’s annoyed expression made an appearance frequently in our lives.  It became a source of amusement to us, and someone finally gave it a name:  Dad’s Constipated Expression.  A slightly scrunched nose and furrowed brow, as if he had smelled something bad.  Or, as if he was trying to…you know.

Dad’s Constipated Expression was especially prevalent during our teen years.  Whether it was us just being noisy, wearing too much makeup, or talking on the phone too late into the night, there it was.  It was definitely there the time my sister and I broke down on the New Jersey Turnpike and my Dad had to drive from Virginia to rescue us.

My father is a very meticulous person.  Before his heart bypass a several years ago, he used to have a ritual of cutting up squares of cheese and eating them with crackers while he did his logic puzzles in front of the television every night.  One time I dared to grab a cracker when I was walking by, and there it was…full on Constipated.  It wasn’t because he didn’t want to share, but rather because now the squares of cheese wouldn’t match up to the number of crackers.  (A friend of mine suggested he might not have the Constipated Expression if he stopped eating so much cheese).

After his bypass, my mother put the kibosh on eating unhealthy things, so the Constipated Expression would come out when she reminded him one piece of pie was enough, or Activia for dessert was just as good as chocolate ice cream!

This week I sat with my father in the hospital after he suffered a stroke.  He can’t talk very well, but he’ll answer yes or no, and it’s clear he knows what’s going on.  He hasn’t been interested in eating for several weeks, even before the stroke, and he’s not allowed liquids because of a silent aspiration risk. One afternoon he called me over and spoke very clearly.  “Meg, can you get me a chocolate milkshake from Doumar’s”?    I laughed out loud before replying, “Dad, remember you can’t have anything that will melt into liquid?”  And there it was…Dad’s Constipated Expression.  I will cherish it.

A Fondue Farewell

My stepdaughter Shannon has been in town for the last 2 weeks, and the other night we were talking about foods we love.  She said, “I love cheese.”  What a coincidence. I love cheese!

“I really love fondue.”

I do, too!

Once we had established that she did, in fact, like the traditional Swiss kirsch-infused stinkyish cheese variety, I decided to make some for her farewell dinner before she returned to Florida.

Bring in the big guns.   My husband’s best friend Martin is Swiss, currently living in Basel, Switzerland.  And, he is one of the best cooks I know.  6 years ago we went on a sailing trip with him and his family through the Greek Cyclades.  Usually we ate at local tavernas for dinner, but one night Martin went to a tiny market, bought some mushrooms and some other scarce supplies, and whipped up some of the best risotto I’ve ever had.  This is his cheese fondue recipe, but I have dubbed it “Fondue Farewell” in honor of Shannon.

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Fondue Farewell

Serves 4 generously

Prep time:  30 minutes or less, depending on how many dippers you have to prepare.  I parboiled the carrots and potatoes, which added about 15 minutes.

Cook time:  15 minutes

Ingredients:

Fondue:
800 g (28 oz) of cheese, grated.  (I used 2 types of Gruyere and 1 type of Emmentaler to make it authentically Swiss, but Martin also suggested Appenzeller, Brie, or a Portuguese hard cheese with peppercorns)

1 cup white wine or champagne

2 tsp corn starch

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

Splash of Kirschwasser or Kirsch (not the sweet stuff)

Grating of Nutmeg

Pepper to taste

Dippers:
Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, new potatoes, gherkins, french bread, sausage, green apples…the possibilities are endless and totally up to you!

Directions:

1.  Chop dippers into bite-sized pieces.

2.  Parboil any dippers you don’t want to eat raw by bringing a pot of water to boil.  Salt the water and drop the veggies (I did carrots and potatoes and left the broccoli and cauliflower raw) into the water separately for 5 minutes each.  Drain in a colander.

3.  Place cheese, wine, corn starch and garlic in fondue pot or saucepan.

2.  Heat slowly over low heat, stirring constantly.

3.  When the cheese mixture is hot, add nutmeg, fresh ground pepper, and Kirsch

4.  Place the fondue pot on the table with the bowls of dippers, and have at it!

Notes:
– The cooked vegetables will need to be slightly firm so they stay on the fondue fork, so don’t overcook them.
– You don’t need a fondue pot to serve fondue.  I know many people who heat everything up on the stove, then serve it in a bowl, and heat it up from time to time throughout the meal.
–  If you want to speed up the melting of the cheese, you can do it on top of the stove instead of in the fondue pot.
– Do NOT skip the corn starch.  This prevents the cheese from separating.  If you do not have cornstarch, make a roux out of flour and butter.

Pair with a dry Reisling or white burgundy (we had a Pouilly Fuisse), or an off-dry wine that will cut through the richness of the cheese.

This dinner was not only a fond farewell to Shannon, but to our wicked holiday-eating ways….but oh, what a sendoff!

Christmas Tea and Cookies

I am a total sucker for Christmas!  Some time after Halloween I start planning my decorations, presents, making travel plans to spend time with family, and getting events on the calendar that will keep me festive.

This year, we decided to have high tea at a fancy restaurant that is renowned for its Christmas decorations.  The group included my 2 besties, Wendy and Beth, and their 3 preteen daughters; Wendy’s daughter Laura, and Beth’s girls Samantha and Nicole.

A side note:  I knew these women long before they were married and having children.  When they did start to have babies, I just assumed we would drift apart because as a single, parentless woman, I didn’t think our lifestyles would mesh.  Nobody ever told me that my friends’ kids would be super fun to hang out with, and in this case, become my best friends, too.  It’s been that way since they were newborns. 

As the time got closer, someone suggested we should also have a cookie baking day, and with our tight schedules, the Friday night before our Saturday tea date worked out to be the best time.

Friday came, and we all assembled at Wendy’s festively decorated house.

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To be fair, Beth and I don’t really bake, so it was more of a “let’s go to Wendy’s and watch her and Laura make cookies” evening.

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But the little girls did decorate all the cookies with a dedication and intensity that their grownup counterparts don’t display unless there is wine, cheese, or boys involved….

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How about the aprons?  They were all Wendy and Laura’s, one was Laura’s toddler apron, which she wore as a sort of bib.

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There were some piano players…

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…and one of Santa’s elves made sure the Instagram world knew ALL about it.

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The big girls drank champagne, then wine…

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then left the house completely in search of more grownup beverages (within walking distance, silly!).  We left the kids to watch movies.

Such a fun day/night and a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends. 🙂

The next day was high tea.  We brushed the flour off our aprons, took 2 aspirin and headed out to The Briarwood Inn decked out in our finest.  The restaurant was beautiful.

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with good stuff to eat..

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but we had picked names for a gift exchange and were all eager to start.  The girls made a big show of walking around the table “musical chairs-style”, not making eye contact, then  stopping at the person whose name they chose.

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Lots of surprised smiles…

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And lots o’ hugs, too!

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These two days were perfection.  I’m so grateful for these girls.  All of them.  And we clean up pretty good, too!

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I hope you spent some time with the people you love this year!

I Love A Parade!

When I was in my 20’s I was a bridesmaid in a wedding for my college roommate.  The wedding was in Old Town Alexandria, VA, right outside Washington DC.  I distinctly remember looking at the historic homes and thinking “Someday it would be so cool to live here.”  I imagined that privilege was reserved for millionaires or old guard Virginia families and never really thought I would, or could, do it.  Fast forward 20 odd years, and I had purchased a 100 year old home in a historic neighborhood in Old Town.

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The house was super cute, but turned out to be a leaning, sagging money pit that overshadowed any other romantic notions I may have had before I ended up living in it for 7 years.

What never lost its charm was the Old Town neighborhood.  It was walking-friendly, and each morning I would set out on a 4 mile trek to get coffee before I started my day.  I never tired of looking at the historic homes and at this time of year, the holiday decorations.  But the BEST thing of all, was the Parade that kicked off the holiday season and celebrated Alexandria’s heritage at the same time:  Scottish Walk.  I have moved to Colorado now, but still try to get back to attend this little parade every year.  This year my company holiday party was the same weekend as Scottish Walk, and I was thrilled to attend with my sister Donna, my niece Amy, and her friend Becca.

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The Sheriff shows up

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And the beloved Mayor:

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and some real Scottish people from SCOTLAND!  I think these dudes have been nipping some single malt “cheer”.

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A bunch of Scottish clans are represented, with each wearing their tartan plaids.  The favorite is always The Hay Clan, with the crowd yelling “Hay!!!” when they walk by.

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There are some epic outfits, whether you are marching in the parade or not:

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And lots of bagpipes!

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All kinds of characters, including a queen…

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Braveheart represents…

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…a random Christmas/Scottish Darth Vader

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y familia

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..and T. J.  Where else can you see a founding father and Santa Claus in the same venue?

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…an announcement about a water-skiing Santa, who looks more like Elvis to me.2014-12-06 10.56.28

But the best part is all the dogs…..  Alexandria is known as a dog city, with doggy happy hour every week.

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The big, gentle deerhounds were my favorite, and this one in particular.  His name is Teagan. 😉

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There was even a tired dog.  My sister, who is always very encouraging, shouted “Go Lazy Dog!” 

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You know the parade is coming to an end when Mrs. Claus shows up…  2014-12-06 11.00.55

Followed by the man himself..

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Such a great community event, which is hosted by The Campagna Center,
The St Andrew’s Society of Washington DC,

The Scottish Government, and The City of Alexandria.

We weren’t sure if this was our favorite..

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Or this…

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To learn more about Alexandria’s Scottish heritage, and the city’s role in American history, this is a great place to do it: Alexandria’s Scottish Heritage.

Happy Holidays!!

My Summer Vacation: Day 2 – A Wedding

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The next day found us waking up early in the Motor Lodge. The rain had mercifully stopped and while I wouldn’t call it a “sunny” day, we were grateful for what we got.   I have a dream of a husband who, when we travel, wakes up early, leaves the room and returns to wake me up with a steaming cup of coffee.  If there was nothing else to love about him, this would be enough (lucky girl that I am, there IS, and this is just a bonus).

So we popped over to the restaurant The Farmer’s Daughter, which advertised Southern Home Cookin’.  Why waste a “g” in a word if you don’t need to?  It was a decent diner-like place for breakfast, with friendly people who welcomed us in that slow, southern Virginia drawl that is perfectly unique to that part of the country. I’ve never heard that dialect anywhere else.

We hit the road and headed to Fort Monroe, VA. The wedding was held at The Chapel of the Centurion, Chapel of the CenturionFort Monroe is an old Army Fort that dates back to the 1600’s, and remained in Union hands during the Civil War.  It operated as an Army Base until 2011, and my father worked there after he retired from the Army.  The Chapel has been restored to its original beauty. It’s a simple, peaceful structure that has been standing on that spot since 1856 or so. Incidentally, in 1933 the chapel sustained some fire damage during a funeral for a dead man who had previously told the chaplain “If I went to church the chapel would burn up”. Hee hee.

Anyway, we pulled up to the church and I could already see lots of family making their way inside. We patted down our frizzy, humidified selves and followed them in. All weddings are special, but truly this day was one I had been looking forward to for a very, very long time.   Let me tell you why:

I have five sisters. The first sister’s wedding was about 40 years ago (I was still in Junior High).  The most recent sister wedding was in the early 1990’s, so it had been 20 years since a sister got married. Jenny is my youngest sibling, 7 years younger than I, and for 20 years, she and I were “The Spinsters”.   I wore that moniker like it was my job, since I never planned on getting married, and I don’t think Jenny minded it too much either.  But stuff happens, and last December I surprised myself by saying “I Do” at the age of 53, and here at age 46, Jenny was ending this generation of spinsters.

Jenny and Carsten met when they were in a community theater production of “Crimes Of The Heart”. They were the same age, neither had been married before, and the story goes that each was so disillusioned with relationships that Carsten had vowed never to ask anyone out ever again. SHE was going to have to do the asking, and that’s just what Jenny did, because, well, she’s courageous that way. I remember hearing about Carsten before I met him, but wasn’t totally prepared for how, …er…, NORMAL he was. (And I can hear Carsten now saying ‘Hey you take that back. I am NOT normal!”).  Now, we love Jenny. She’s super smart, witty, creative, and cute, but let’s be real. She doesn’t exactly operate in the mainstream. Sometimes you would swear she’s channeling Rain Main, and I don’t mean the Tom Cruise character.  So the fact that she met someone who also loves the theater, has the same strong family values, and most importantly, the same, what I call “REAL” Christian values, and that they met at this time in their life, is quite a little miracle.  I was beyond thrilled for this day to come.

We entered the church and saw lots o’ family:

My sister Fritzi Foster with her 2 kids Andy and Emily, who always class up the place, from Sturbridge, MA:

FostersJose A Olivero, who just got married in January to the lovely Yeffeny, from Alexandria, VA:

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My littlest nephews (who are not little anymore..waaaah!) Tobin and Kelsey Lambert, from Albuquerque, NM:

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The officiant, Dave Johnson, is a close friend of Jenny and Carsten’s, and you could just feel his joy at this day, too.  The ceremony was very sweet and so “them”.

OfficiantThe attendants were all family, too.  Carsten’s sister-in-law Lynn Berndt, from the Chicagoland area, and my brother Dan from Norfolk, VA:

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Carsten’s brother Mark from Chicagoland, and my sister Joanie Ford from Suffolk, VA:

2014-08-02 09.28.10My beautiful mother Joan, and my dashing father, Ed, from Norfolk, VA:

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The best part of a wedding (besides the reception) is when the bride is walked down the aisle.  I know it doesn’t look like it, but my Dad really IS happy.  Can I also point out here that my mother made that wedding dress?  Jenny had a vision, took it to mom, and it became a thing.

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When our tears had dried and Bobby and I confirmed that we had not in fact, set the church on fire, we all headed to the Langley Air Force base Officer’s Club for the reception.

There was much eating, drinking and dancing, including some updated Electric Slide type line dances, which, to be honest, I am normally too cool for.  But it’s a wedding.  Cheese is allowed.

The first highlight of the reception was the Dad-Daughter dance.  My father has been having some trouble with his hip, so when Jenny asked him if he would be okay to dance with her at her wedding, he reportedly said “Yes, as long as it’s not to ‘Daddy’s Little Girl'”, for which we were all grateful.  Instead, Jenny surprised him by choosing “More I Cannot Wish You” from the musical “Guys and Dolls”.  It’s a song my father has always wanted to sing in a show.  He sang it out loud and proud while he danced!

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If that didn’t have you bawling yet, Carsten surprised Jenny by recording a song he sang himself, called “Beautiful You’, from the musical “Adventures in Love”.

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And then we ate cake.

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It was such a wonderful day, but even more special to welcome The Berndts into our family.

Next up:  To the beach!  Will Mark and Lynn Berndt survive a game of Taboo with the rabid Hart Family?  Will Bobby Siegel find a place to get me coffee in the mornings?  Tune in next time!

My Summer Vacation

Growing up, my family didn’t take many vacations.  Our vacations typically entailed moving from one city to another, visiting relatives along the way.  We did take 2 real vacations though.  The first was when I was about 7 years old.  All 10 of us drove across the California desert in our VW van (Bessie), from Arizona to San Diego, CA to stay with my Uncle Roger and his family for a week.  We visited Tijuana and Disneyland, and I treasured my Snow White souvenir for years. The second trip was when I was 13 and we spent a week in Berchtesgarden, Germany. On that trip we hiked, played tennis, ate German food, spied on our parents in the beer tent each night, and enjoyed the German Alps.

So it was quite a surprise 2 years ago when someone suggested we rent a big house at the beach for a week. There is a reason I live in Colorado.  First, we are just about the whitest people in the world and don’t spend much time in the sun, and second, I hate to sweat, and I hate the feel of sand on my feet.  It was quite a surprise that by all accounts, that it was one of the best weeks of our lives. So this year, my father announced that he wanted to treat us all, or as he put it, “spend your inheritance” for another week.  As always happens with these gatherings, a few people couldn’t attend, but we are a large crowd even with half of the family.

In April my youngest sister Jenny announced that the Easter Bunny brought her something shiny…an engagement ring! Her boyfriend Carsten Berndt proposed on Easter Day, and they planned to wed on the first day of our beach trip. The family would attend the wedding in Hampton, VA, and make our way down to Nags Head, NC for the rest of the week.

So Day One of our vacation found us boarding a plane from Denver to DC, then renting a car to drive to Hampton, VA. We had planned to drive a couple of hours, pull over and sleep, then drive the extra hour or so to the wedding the next morning. Having been away from DC for a spell, we totally underestimated traffic on a Friday in the summer, and our commute stretched to 6 hours in driving rain before we finally decided we couldn’t drive one more mile. We found ourselves in the booming metropolis of West Point, VA.   population 3,300. There was a motel in town, and a vacancy at the Washington Burgess Inn.  Shocker.

Let me tell you something about my husband, Bobby.  He grew up in an affluent family, has traveled quite a bit, and has stayed in some fine hotels.  Call it cheap, or reverse snobbery (if that’s a word), or trying to relive his imagined hippy days, (and I do mean “imagined”.  Playing guitar, walking around barefoot, growing your hair long and smoking pot does not a hippy make..but I digress) but to him, the seedier the motel, yes that’s right, with an “M”, the better.  If he had his way our vacations would be drinking a 2010 Chateau Mouton Rothschild in a pricey restaurant, but sleeping in a motel that charges by the hour.

The Washington Burgess is a motor lodge. You park your car right outside your room. It’s the kind of place you see on tv shows where the fugitives hide out, sneaking out to the gas station for watered down coffee and sandwiches.  But it was surprisingly clean and decorated okay.
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We made a quick trip to the 7-11 for a bottle of wine and some snacks, and were just grateful to be safe and dry, and out of the I-95 traffic. Okay Bobby, you win this time but our next stay is The Four Seasons.

An ominus beginning to our vacation. Will someone at the wedding speak up when the preacher says “Speak now or forever hold your peace?” Will Hurricane Bertha beat us to Nags Head? Stay tuned for the rest of this series. Up next….THE WEDDING!