Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A visit to the future

Last night I was in the air headed to Boston. I was on the Gogo internet (as I am most flights nowadays - I'm hooked), and got a few emails from my friends Paul and Caesar, and we figured out that all three of us were in the air at the same time: Caesar coming from BOS to SEA, Paul going SFO to JFK, and me MSP to BOS. After a few geeky "oh my goodness" emails, we decided to try to videochat eachother. We weren't able to get a 3 way chat going, but I did have a few seconds of grainy video of each of my pals, where we waved and marveled at the very IDEA that we were this connected, not to mention that we were all flying at 10pm on a Monday night.

It was a very futuristic moment.

I landed at 1045, got to the hotel by 1130 ($45 cab fare) and was asleep by midnight.... but it was a crappy sleep because I had an early meeting.

I was in Boston for a single 1 hour meeting at 8 in the morning - a sales presentation to a new client. The pitch went well. I had walked the 1.5 miles from the hotel to the hospital and walked back again. I had late checkout so I did a few hours of meetings in my room, then started to meander towards the airport. I was in Brookline and started the pedometer. I wandered up Beacon street, up Newbury, stopped for lunch at Sonsie, went up through Boston common, through downtown, to South Station, where I caught a bus to the Airport. I was on conference calls for most of my meander. The Pedometer registered over 5 miles walked, and my final bus fare to the airport was $2.

I'm paying for it with some sore feet, and achey ears.

The next few weeks will be a lot of busy: I was hoping for a quieter few weeks, but one of my partners in the firm has taken gravely ill - he has had a persistent respiratory issue for the past year, which has taken a hard turn and he was put on bed rest immediately, for 6 weeks. The problem is that he was set to start a new project TODAY in Houston, which is a Digital Radiology assessment. Unfortunately I'm the only other person in the firm who has this skillset, so I'll have to add it to my list of things to get done. Hey, it's billing, and I'll consider it a downpayment on my next vacation.

I have more work to get done, but I think I need to take a little break and watch a little of that Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part 3 - Coming Home

Where were we.... Thursday?  

Friday was another slow starter - the wind was strong all morning and it was spitting rain on and off:  Perfect time for me to take a run, right?  I did my 3 miles, up and down the beach, with a powerful headwind one way, and tailwind the other.  By the time I hit home, I was thoroughly soaked in a mix of sweat, ocean spray, and rain.  Time for a shower.  

A lot of the day was spent packing up, but the kids did a lot of swimming and some bike riding as well.  Some friends from Scott Terrace were in a resort just up the road, and we had them over to help me finish up some beers and hang by our pool:  Their daughter Lauren is 13 and is a synchronized swimmer too, so she and Bella were showing off in the pool:  I spied a little girl watching them trying out their moves in secret.  Fortunately, our friends were planning to stay until Monday, so we unloaded a fair number of supplies onto them, including my 1/3 bottle of scotch and our 1/2 bottle of tequila (we didn't make much of a dent in our hooch - we like it more for the taste than the effect, right?).  I got a very happy text from Jason later in the evening thanking me for the Balvenie scotch... 

The cumulative effect of Bella swimming for 3 hours a day in the bright sun had taken a toll on Bella, and she suffered from blurry vision, red eyes, and needed sunglasses for a few hours.  Nothing permanent, but we decided it was time to be done with swimming for the trip.  I think she was in water at least 24 hours across the 8 days.  After dinner out at the Blue Giraffe (deliciously adequate), we stopped at Pinocchio's for ice cream and sorbet.  It is THE place for dessert on the island, and we patiently waited in a line that coiled through the store, and were grateful that the line went past a second counter for espresso, so Papa and I could get a little something to keep us awake.  The ice cream was delicious - two "local flavors" were Sanibel Crunch (with nuts and coconut) and Dirty SandDollar (with malted milk balls and caramel).  My Mango sorbet was delicious, but it turned my mouth bright orange.

Friday night was another beach walk, with some great pictures - the moon was HUGE and bright orange on the horizon (more orange than my mouth even).  It looked like it was watching us...  We took a lot of pictures, but I just don't know if we were able to really capture the depth of field...   still, these full moons were something else - lit up the beach as though it was mid-day.

Saturday it was move-out day - all good things come to an end, and we needed to be out of the condo by 10.  Bella had sorted her shells into keep and return piles, and we made a big show of tossing the "return" shells back into the surf together, hopeful that another girl would find them and regard them as treasures.  

We piled everything into the car (but not before Isaac and I had a few more rounds or riding the bikes up and down the driveway) and were out a full 5 minutes early.  We headed to the end of Periwinkle Way to the Over Easy Cafe - a small, well reviewed breakfast joint...  of course on move-out day it's a pretty popular place, so it was over an hour to wait.  What a terrible start to the day, sitting on benches under a clear blue sky, surrounded by tchochke shops...  actually it was just fine.  The breakfast was well worth the wait - simply fantastic.  A great start to the day (which I guess we'll say started at noon, then?)

We stopped in She Sells Sea Shells for some little souvenirs we weren't able to find on the beach, and marveled at their terrible terrible collection of "shell people" figures.  Pipe cleaners, shells, and googly eyes, in dioramas having these shell people using computers, dancing, playing piano, golfing....  Nothing short of terrifying.  Then it was back to the Ding Darling nature refuge, this time for a guided tram tour of the mangrove estuary.  We had a great tour by a Brooklynite with fun stories and a love for the area.  Of course we loved the mangrove crabs and all of the beautiful birds, but truth be told Isaac was a little bored with the whole thing, especially considering there were no alligators on offer.  We were given a tip, however - the guide had recently seen a few alligators in a nearby nature preserve area...  

After the tour, we zoomed to the other end of the island for a quick photo shoot of Pamela and the kids by the Lighthouse, and we got out of there - the public beach was packed and hot, and we were just not feeling it - especially after our quiet, sparsely populated beach by our condo.  We felt a bit elitist, but also, hey, it was day 8, we were tired.  But not TOO tired 

We had an hour to kill before dinner, so we went to that other nature preserve, followed the instructions the guide gave us, and JACKPOT.  Heres what we saw on our one mile nature hike:  Black Snake!  Several large aquatic turtles!  A big Gopher Tortoise clomping through the brush!  A zillion little lizards (which we called "doo-di-doos"), a flock of snowy egrets, and yes, an ALLIGATOR!  A little guy, not more than two feet long, but an alligator nonetheless.  It was wonderful.

We ended our time on Sanibel the way we started it - with a meal at Trader's (where I had that amazing blackened grouper po-boy on Saturday previous).  Bam had renamed the place "Groupers" in her mind, so that's what we called it.  And the meal was amazing - we all had something we loved - bella got toretllini, isaac had his burger, Bam had a pork chop, and the rest of us had fresh, delicious fish.   I ended with a dessert of smoky Laphroaig scotch, a full belly, and a huge smile.

Given our early departures, we headed OFF the island to a Homewood Suites near the airport - better to have that 30 minute drive out of the way the night before, we figured.  Big clean rooms, quiet location.  We were all asleep by 9pm, having given our hugs to Papabam, who would be taking a later airport shuttle (no point in dragging them to the airport with us at 5am when their flight wasn't until 11!!!).  

And now it's Sunday - we woke up at 4:30am and caught a direct flight home at 6:50.  The kids were zombies and watched movies on the iPads (of course they wouldn't NAP), while I caught a few ZZzzzs and Pamela facebooked using the Gogo inflight internet (a luxury for work that is really worth it now).  We got home around 10:15, I went and picked up the dogs from the kennel and we're all chilling out together - the kids are watching Rango and enjoying frozen pizza...  we forgot about the fact that we'd be returning to a mostly empty house on a holiday, so groceries are scarce.

In all, it was an amazing week (in case you haven't been able to tell from my updates).  So what were some highlights?  For me, it was floating in the ocean - just a wonderful experience.  I liked my late night scotches out on the veranda with the kids asleep, listening to the roar of the surf.  I liked NOT checking in for work for a whole 9 days (I did a few little things, stayed WELL off the radar).   I loved my panama hat and my white italian loafers that I wore every single day (my Teva Man-dals were on my feet for just 2 hours total - they were nowhere near as nice as my loafers, which I had bought as a joke in Fort Lauderdale last year).   I loved watching Pamela help Bella ride a bike.  I loved riding up and down the driveway with Isaac on his BMX.  I loved running on the beach.  I loved walking the labyrinth.  I loved spending 9 days with my family, especially after so much travel recently.  

In short, it was a perfect vacation, and I'm looking forward to returning next year.  Oh, we are GOING!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part 2

When we left the story, Bella had lost a tooth and we were wondering what the Tooth Fairy would bring - and if indeed the Tooth Fairy would find us on vacation! Well, wonder no more: The Fairy did indeed find us, and she left Bella FIVE beautiful sand dollars - two large, three small. It was a great surprise, and Bella was very happy.

After all of the excitement of the previous days, we were up for a mellow day. The kids stayed in their pajamas until 10, watching Harry Potter on the iPad... the family decided to park at the beach for sand castles and reading. I took a run up the beach - 3 miles round trip with a nice breeze, but whew, that sand is rough on the calves. Ok, I ran-walked. Half and half. But don't tell anyone. Then it was some beach reading time - gotta say the beach is one place where that old kindle screen would be a lot better than the Kindle Fire with the LCD screen, but it was readable nonetheless.

What else to report about Tuesday? I think Bella spent most of the day lazing about watching movies and doing artwork. Isaac and Papa and I did go back into the ocean - I'm applying for honorary marine mammal status. I just love being in the ocean: It has a way of both reminding you that you are a very small part of the world, but also that you are a PART of the world. A nice sense of belonging.

We ate in the whole day, and if I left the property in the car, I can't remember it. In the afternoon, we connected with an edina neighbor, with her two kids: Isaac formed an INSTANT connection with the 6 year old Jonah, and the two of them played at their resort (just up the beach) for a couple of hours. It was fun to be in the pool at another resort, but it was a little deeper and more kids there, and a bit more work to keep an eye on everyone, so it was just fine that it was time for them to have dinner and we went home... The rest of the night was mellow - nothing to note...

But as Isaac was going to bed, he heard the TV on in the living room and asked: "Dad, what are they watching? Is is something that would be inappropriate for me?" I just had to giggle.

On Wednesday we were ready for fun again: Up early for shelling on the beach, a warm breakfast of eggs and sausage to get started, and we decided to head to the Ding Darling marine sanctuary: But first, we needed a few things from the supermarket, so Pamela and I got on our rented cruiser bikes and headed on the 2 mile path to Jerry's. It was a pleasant ride, and a fun exercise to figure out how to get all of our groceries divvied into our bike baskets, but it went well. Unfortunately, I got lost in the zone and accidentally left Pamela in the dust as we set off for home. I need to remember to check my surroundings. SORRY! In the meantime, Isaac got a little AM playtime with Jonah... and was severely disappointed with the time came for Jonah to go back to his resort... But hey, it was time to go to Ding!

We piled into the car and headed to the Ding Darling refuge - just a few miles up the island. We were all collected for our tour when Captain Dave came out and introduced himself and the tour... He said "this will be a lot more fun if you all ask questions, so does anyone have a question to start?" Isaac raised his hand: "What do YOU do?" was his question. Captain Dave decided this kid was allright.

The tour started with a petting zoo including hermit crabs, conchs, starfish, and a very antsy horseshoe crab. I was worried about the quality of the tour but then Captain Dave jumped in sharing fun facts about how that conch preys upon that clam: Its strange to think of a snail like thing being a predator, but dang, they go AFTER those bivalves! Then it was on to the boat for a one hour tour of the bay in the hopes of seeing some Manatees or dolphins... of course we saw a ton of egrets and pelicans and learned a lot... but it was a pair of Manatees who stole the show, keeping pace with our boat around 20-30 feet out, surfacing and flopping around over and over for us to see. Not SUPER close, and none of my pictures turned up more than a brown smudge in the distance, but believe me, we were all pretty dang happy.

No dolphins though. But we saw dolphins earlier in the week, so we got that checkmark on our list already. Also worth noting - Captain Dave made a big deal about the fact there IS a bathroom on the boat for emergencies, but ONLY for emergencies. Isaac decided to have an emergency. That's just how he rolls.

The afternoon had us back at the ocean of course, and I ran out to get us all a bunch of food from Schnapper's: 12 years earlier, it was something of a joke with Anne, Tony, and Pamela that I was such a fan of Schnapper's, and history was clearly repeating itself. But when the food came - fish and chips, hot dogs, burgers, fries, rings, and shakes, nobody was complaining. We ended the day with another long shelling walk - almost as far as I ran the day before. By the time bedtime came we were all VERY ready for it.

Thursday started a little slow, but after breakfast we wandered over to the pool for 90 minutes of swimming (and I took a nap... and narrowly avoided being baked beet red). Then we wandered out to the beach to discover there was no beach: The ocean was whipped up into a frenzy and had crept up 20 feet up the beach, creating a nice sand bar and tidal pool where we usually put our umbrella and chairs. It was truly amazing to watch the ocean with more strength. We all kept a little distance - we had no desire to be swept away in the crashing surf, but Papa said it reminded him of his youth in Brighton and plunged in head first - leaping across the breakers and being swept a good 50 feet down the beach in a matter of seconds. He dusted himself off, looking a little shaken, but happy. Even isaac needed no coaching to keep a little distance.

We headed "into town" to Jerry's for lunch (same Jerry's from Edina) and some shopping - and the kids had one idea: With that sort of wind, we needed kites! So we got two kites and launched them on the beach immediately. Bella had a nice diamond kite with a sea turtle that was happy to stay up in the air. It was like a happy pet at the end of Bella's string, just hovering nicely. Isaac picked a delta kite with a jolly roger on it that had an unmistakeable thirst for blood: It would launch up, fly for a few minutes, then do two rapid circles, gaining speed, before crashing straight downward. Its first suicide mission almost took out two retirees, and I had to keep an eye on it... It never got that close to a kill again, which I think broke its spirit - after a while it just decided to give up on even trying. But we tried.

Isaac, after the first few minutes, decided that the ocean was a lot more interesting. By this point the surf had receded so he was back to cavorting in the water, grabbing handfuls of sand and "feeding the ocean".
It was time for a break from the ocean, so we played a little shuffleboard (total time of interest for the kids - 90 seconds), a little catch with tennis balls (around 2 minutes), and more time practicing on our bikes: For those who don't know, Bella has never enjoyed a bike, and at the age of nine is still not happy without training wheels. But on this trip, she asked to try again, and so as of today, we've had three biking sessions with her on an adult sized cruiser bike with the seat low. Pamela has been wonderful walk/running with her to keep her upright. I've been riding up and down the driveway with Isaac, who is loving his rental BMX bike (with training wheels).

We cooked tacos (beef and chicken) for dinner, and then went back out for some sunset beach walking - the full moon was out, and for a while, it looked like mid-day on the beach. We gave the kites another go, and the Jolly Roger resorted to simply being dragged along the beach. It was sulking, we could tell. Bella's kite was happily up in the air. Isaac didn't really care. Got some great pictures of the bright moonlit beach, and came back in for margaritas (and a scotch) to relax. Isaac is asleep, Bella is almost there, and we're not far behind.

The say we might get rain tomorrow, and you know what, that would be ok with us. It's been such an incredible week, we could use the change-up.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Sanibel 2012 Part One

Sitting on my veranda on Monday evening - can this really be the 4th day of vacation already? Wow. It's been a wonderful time so far.

It started Thursday evening - the mom of one of Isaac's best friends emailed to ask if we had a ride to the airport arranged for Friday - could she be our taxi? OF COURSE! And so Friday am, a minivan pulled up and Isaac's friend Reid was standing with a sign for us, wearing a sportcoat and sunglasses. A quick ride to the airport, with the soundtrack of Isaac and Reid trying to say "poopy" as many times as possible, laughing uproariously.

A smooth flight to Atlanta, where we met up with Papa and Bam, with whom we would share a connecting flight to Fort Myers. Lunch at Chick Fil A (delicious despite their politics) was cut short by a series of strange messages: Our flight at 4:20 was delayed... to 4:50... to 6:30.... no wait, it's at 4:20 - BOARDING NOW... AT A DIFFERENT GATE COME ON PEOPLE!!! We got on in time and made it to Fort Myers safe and sound. Our minivan at the ready, we drove to the Harbor View Marriott - just on the Fort Myers side of the causeway, but with a view of the bridge. My points bought the rooms, which were suites (all they had left!) - a room service feast and a late bedtime, with the kids fighting on the hide-a-bed. Such is life, at the end of a long travel day.

Saturday we slept in a little, had the breakfast buffet (which I know well as a Marriott man - they always are the same, but pretty good nonetheless). Then a few hours of swimming at the pools (a colder, chlorinated one, and a warmer salt-water one. We swam for a good 2 hours before checkout. We had 3 hours to kill before we could check in to the condo, so it was off to SuperTarget to stock up on dry goods and last minute hats and crocs. While isaac, Bella, and I had an emergency snack (when we gets hungry, we gets HUNGRY, especially after swimming), a man in the cafeteria was calmly having a heart attack. It was his third so he knew the drill, he calmly sat (sweating and turning red) while the Target people brought him chewable aspirin, cool water, a towel for his forehead, and called people on his list. The EMTs showed up, and it was all very matter of fact. Bella had a lot of questions, and I was able to tell her some things about cardiology thanks to my work.

Then it was across the bridge to Sanibel: A quick lunch with an amazing blackened grouper poboy, and then to the Condo. We're right on the beach, first floor walkout. 2 bedrooms for us, 1 bedroom condo for PapaBam... and it was STRAIGHT to the ocean - suits on, we're going in. The surf was a bit rough but the water was warm, and Bella and Isaac were tentatively excited... It was their first encounter with the ocean, and it is a bit intimidating - so big, the waves so strong, the water so SALTY. The kids actually sort of hated it. They were happy to hit the condo pool - a small warm pool that was more familiar. For dinner, we went to a little hot dog place I remembered from my last trip here 12 years ago called Schnapper's Hots - they do great hot dogs and shakes. Perhaps going to the grocery store for fresh food was pushing it for bedtime, but we survived. Night Night.

Sunday morning began early - Bella was up at the crack of dawn and woke up Papa and Bam to go Shelling while the rest of us snoozed. Isaac slept in a little which was a miracle. There was a lot of swimming - Ocean and Pool - both kids were warming to the idea of the Ocean. Isaac decided the loved grabbing handfuls of sand and hurling them into the sea - he called it "Feeding the Ocean", and he grew to have elaborate dances around the feeding ritual - we watched as he stood facing the sea, turned into a cartwheel, grabbing handuls of sand, then pirouetted and the flung the sand to the water, finishing with a respectful bow. We stayed at the condo all day, leaving only to get the forgotten sour cream to complete taco night, oh and a few tubs of ice cream too. We finished the day with a walk up the beach toward the setting sun. We found someone had built a labyrinth on the beach with sand and shells to mark the path, so we all walked it. We found many shells, and were visited by dolphins on our walk back - two of them out hunting for dinner, letting themselves be seen for just a little while. Then I imagine they were off to collect their checks from the Sanibel tourism office.

This morning the whole gang woke up early to go shelling - Bella, now with her head in braids in proper island style, was in the mood to find more cockleshells, and she did. Isaac decided just a few minutes into the affair that this was not his bag at all, and could he maybe play his Nintendo for a while. That was AOK with me, and we sat in silence with coffee and the sounds of Mario as the shell hunters went on their quest. This was going to be a quieter day...

At 10 sharp, the condo pool was open for business, and the kids were there. At 11, we switched to the ocean, where I showed the kids the amazing thing - it's shallow, then deep, THEN SHALLOW AGAIN. The kids did not want to leave the sand bar for a looong time. Lunch at the condo of frozen pizza and sandwiches... and then we got the brilliant idea - we needed a little downtime and time out of the sun - what about a road trip to Captiva?

Ok - I think Captiva should have a huge sign as you cross the bridge: WARNING: There is no place to park here. If you are in a car and you don't live here, just go home. After a deeply frustrating attempt to find public parking of any kind, we decided to just hit the Bubble Room and have a late lunch, early dinner (and use their parking lot). The Bubble Room was as always charming, but something in the last 12 years, the extra layer of dust on the memorabilia makes it a little creepier than I remember it. Still, the cakes and pies were fantastic. Nobody was in much of a mood to keep walking around the area, so we headed back to Sanibel - while I had my Zillow iphone app open reading off the sale prices on the properties we passed. Somehow Captiva seems less charming when you realize those houses are for sale at $5m and more. Even post-bubble. There are no deals to be had on Captiva, my friends.

We salvaged the afternoon with more ocean time - at least that's what I was told - I hit the bed for a 20 min catnap and was awakened 90 minutes later with the family piling back from the beach. We worked as a team to get these kids ready for bed - Isaac was asleep less than 5 minutes after going to bed (but not before having a bedtime snack of peanut butter toast, waffles, and grapes). Bella and I read two gripping chapters of Mysterious Benedict before she got so excited she lost a tooth! It was off to bed with her, tooth under pillow, and I jumped into the car to assist the Tooth Fairy in finding just the right treasure for the pillow... We shall see what we find when the morning comes!

And so it's a peaceful night, I'm feeling wonderfully relaxed, and content knowing I have many more days ahead of us on this dreamy holiday.