Friday, July 30, 2010

Disney World Or Bust aka The Summer Of America

When I was  four years old, we drove from Michigan to Florida.  It's the first family vacation that I have any memory of.  My mom's favorite aunt and uncle were living there, so the plan was to visit them, go to Disney World and spend some time at the beach.  Disney World opened in 1971, so it was less than a year old at the time.
The Cover of Life Magazine in October, 1971

Because I was so young, I only remember bits and pieces of the drive, but I know we took the station wagon and that my grandparents followed us in their car.  This was, of course, a long time before cell phones, so we kept in touch with them by holding up signs in the back window of the car.  I'm not sure who wrote out the signs, probably one of my brothers, but they would say things like "Gas station, next exit".

I also remember that as the summer of America.  Not the country, the band.  It seemed that every radio station along the way was playing "Horse With No Name".  We must have heard it a hundred times.  It's probably the first rock song I ever knew all the words to.  Even today, when I hear it, I think of that trip.

Our hotel in Florida was oceanfront, which was amazing to me because I had never seen the ocean before.  I'd seen my share of lakes and rivers, but I hadn't even imagined how huge the Atlantic ocean would be.  My dad took us down to see the beach shortly after we checked in to the hotel and I asked right away if I could touch the water.  I suppose my dad thought I was going to stick my hands or my feet in it, but for some reason, I waded in and sat down.  In all my clothes.

My aunt and uncle lived in a mobile home park for seniors, so there wasn't much for my brothers and I to do when we visited them.  Someone suggested that we could take some bread to the pond and feed the ducks.  I don't think it was very exciting for my brothers, but I loved it.  The ducks were used to being fed, so they would come right up to you and take the bread from your hand.  It was fun until we ran out of bread and tried to head back to my aunt's house.  The ducks wouldn't leave me alone.  They followed me, squawking and begging for more bread.  My parents have home movies of me upset and yelling at the ducks to go away.  If I knew how to upload the footage, I would.  Or not.

Disney World was the best part of the trip for me.  As soon as we passed through the entrance we were greeted by Minnie Mouse.  Being quite a fan of Minnie's, I ran up to meet her.  I don't remember what we talked about, but we had a fairly long conversation.  Then I took her hand and walked off with her.  My dad came and snatched me back, but you have to wonder where Minnie was planning to take me.  I've been a little suspicious of Minnie Mouse ever since.

She looks a little shifty to me

On one of the last days of our vacation, we woke up to find the beach covered with blue and pink things that, at first glance, looked like children's bathing caps (remember those?).  When my brothers walked down to find out what they were, a man showed them how to deflate the things by hitting them with rocks.  Once hit, they would burst into a spray of liquid.   My parents were none too pleased when they discovered the "things" they were Portuguese Man O War, which is a poisonous jellyfish.

The rest of my memories of this vacation are pretty fragmented.  My mom wearing a big orange sun hat and huge sunglasses.  Swimming in the hotel pool with some other kids.  Finding shells on the beach.  My grandma making a plate of cheese and crackers for me to snack on.  Sitting on the statues at Sea World.

And the desert.  On a horse with no name.

~All photos courtesy of Google Images~

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ode To The Family Vacation - Then And Now

Then: Back when I was a kid, in the 1970's, family vacations were a little bit different. First of all, in those pre-internet days, you couldn't just sit down at the computer and look at different destinations. If you didn't have a specific destination in mind, you would probably start by looking at the road atlas. Once you found a place of interest, you would usually go to the local AAA office and get a travel guide for the area. From there, you could call or write to the different hotels/motels for lodging information. A week or two after that, you would start to get letters and brochures in the mail from the hotels/motels you contacted. There were no travelers' reviews to help you make your final decisions, so you had to hope the brochures were good representations of each establishment. Having once stayed at a motel where our room overlooked the town dump, I can tell you that many were not.

Now:  Sit down at the computer, Google the name of your destination or type of vacation you're looking for.  Spend a few hours reading travelers' reviews, decide some people will complain about anything, and choose your hotel.  Find their website and book your reservations online.

Then:  Once your reservations were made, it was back to the AAA office to get a triptik, which is a map, broken down into pages that are bound together at the top. Instead of having to unfold a great big road map, you could just flip from page to page along the way. AAA would create your triptik for your specific starting and stopping points.
Actual triptiks

Now:  You're going to drive?  Seriously?  No one does that anymore!  Have you seen the price of gas?  If you still insist on driving, go to mapquest and type in your home address and the address of the hotel.  Print out your map and the 5,274 steps (talk about detail!) to get you to your destination.

Then:  I suppose there may have been families who traveled by air instead, but I didn't know any. The favored mode of transportation back then was the family station wagon. It was a law that it had to be loaded the night before you left for your vacation (okay, probably not a law, but that's how everyone did it). The only exception to this rule was the cooler. While its contents had to be prepared the night before, it wouldn't be filled and placed in the car until moments before backing out of the driveway.

Now:  Visit one of the many websites that list flights and airfare.  Mumble (or shout) expletives when you see what your flight will cost.  Strongly consider the option of driving instead of flying.  Picture 18 hours with your kids in the back seat asking/whining "How much longer until we get there?"  Find the least expensive flight and run for your credit card before the price quote expires.

Then:  The seating arrangement in the station wagon varied by the number of passengers, but, in most families, the youngest kid(s) sat in the very back. If you weren't around back then or never had a station wagon, there were no seats or seat belts in the back (some cars didn't have any seat belts anywhere in the car). This was the 70's, man! We weren't worried about people or objects becoming projectiles in the event of a crash.
Not our actual 1970's station wagon
Now:  You'll need transportation from the airport to the hotel, so now is the time to decide if you're going to rent a car.  Your hotel may have a free airport shuttle, but what about sight seeing and going out for dinner?  Yes, you'll probably want a car.  Search one of the many travel websites for quotes on rental cars.  Mumble (or shout) expletives when you see what the car will cost.  Reconsider the option of driving instead of flying, yet again.  Choose the least expensive car (which may or may not accommodate your family and their luggage) and frantically enter your credit card information before the price quote expires.

Then:  The first day of vacation has finally arrived.  The kids (and the cooler) would be loaded into the car just before dawn (I really think this may have been a law). 

Now:  The first day of vacation has finally arrived.  You didn't pack the luggage into the car, yet, because you've heard thieves watch for this type of behavior and may break into your house while you're on vacation.  Mumble (or shout) expletives while trying to inconspicuously jam suitcases into the back of your SUV.  Squeal out of your driveway because you're running behind.  Drive five miles from home, turn around and go back for the plane tickets you left sitting on the kitchen counter.  Cross your fingers and hope you don't miss your flight.

Then:  Most radio stations were AM and you couldn't always get a strong signal on the road, so you would sing songs like "Ninety-nine Bottle Of Beer On The Wall" and play games like 20 Questions and License Plate Bingo to pass the time.  Everyone was excited about the trip.  The whole family was relaxed and happy.

Now:  Get to the airport and figure out the diabolical parking lot.  Grab children and luggage and run for the terminal.  Inside, stand in line for 20 minutes to check in.  Mumble (better not scream at the airport) expletives when you find out how much they are charging you for your checked, and now, carry on bags.  Move to security checkpoint, take off your shoes, empty your pockets, panic that you might have left something lethal like nail clippers or tweezers in your carry on bag.  Reassure your children that the man/woman screaming at them to let go of your hand and pass through the metal detector alone is really a nice person.  Really.  Put your shoes back on, gather your children and bags, move on to the waiting area at the gate.  Survey every person sitting around you.  Make mental notes of all those that look suspicious.

The actual lot where we actually park

Then:  After a few hundred miles of driving, you would stop and eat. This is where the cooler came into play. It would be packed full of sandwiches, fresh fruit and drinks on ice. You would stop at a roadside rest area, find a picnic table and have lunch. This was in the days before zip top bags had been invented, so no matter what method you used to wrap the sandwiches (plastic bags, foil, waxed paper), they were usually soggy.
Not my actual family
Now:  Sit next to/behind/in front of family with screaming baby.  Give thanks that your children are no longer screaming babies. Mumble (do not scream, Federal Marshals may get involved if you do) expletives when you find out drinks and snacks are no longer free.  Also, the beverage cart does not accept cash.  Consider going into the restroom to scream, but realise you can't get past the beverage cart.

Not an actual flight attendant

Then:  Everyone would make a quick trip to the bathroom before getting back into the car.  Refreshed and ready for more adventure, you would get back on the road.

Now:  Get off plane, flip a coin to decide who goes to baggage claim and who goes to the rental car counter.  Three hours later, leave airport with all of your children (hopefully), most of your luggage and the only rental car left on the lot (not the one you reserved).

Then:  You would enjoy roadside attractions as the miles passed on your way to your final destination.

Now:  Get lost on your way to the hotel, oblivious to roadside attractions. 

Then:  After sopping up the mess from the leaking cooler, you would check in to your hotel (which looked almost nothing like the pictures on the brochure they sent you), change into your bathing suits and find the pool (which was likely to be crowded and often, poorly maintained).  This was the 70's man!  There were no travelers' reviews to warn you about a dirty pool. 

Not a hotel I've actually been to (as far as I know)

Now:  Check in to your hotel, change into your bathing suits and find the pool.  Be pleasantly surprised by how pristine the water is.  After a quick dip, grab a complimentary towel and relax in a beach chair while the kids play and have fun.
The actual pool where we actually stay

Then:  You would spend your week visiting over crowded, over priced and over hyped attractions.  With no websites to warn you, you may even have ended up wasting money on something called "Singing Waters".  While the billboards may have made it sound like a once in a lifetime opportunity, it may have turned out to be a sprinkler with a light shining on it while music played.  I'm not saying it was.....I'm saying it might have been.  Okay, that's what it was.

Now:  Flip open your laptop in the comfort of your hotel room and find places in the area to visit.  Read all reviews and make notes of those with poor ratings.  Make online reservations for dinner and enjoy your week.

Then:  The last day of vacation has finally arrived.  It would be time to pack up and make the same trip in reverse.  Everyone would be tired and cranky and not looking forward to the long drive home.  You would pray that it didn't rain, because there was no air conditioning in the station wagon and the all the windows would fog if you had to put them up.

Now:  The last day of vacation has finally arrived.  It would be time to pack up and make the same trip in reverse.  Everyone is tired and cranky and not looking forward to the ordeal at the airport.  You pray there are no storms to divert your flight.

Then:  Your cranky family would finally arrive home and pile out of the hot station wagon and into the hot house.  I suppose there may have been families who had air conditioning, but I didn't know any.  This was the 70's, man!  You would put fans in all the windows.

Now:  Your cranky family finally arrives home and piles out of the air conditioned SUV and into the air conditioned house.

Then:  You would have to take dozens of rolls of film to the drug store to have them developed.  In a week or so, you could re-live your vacation.  If you wanted to share memories of your trip with friends, you would have slides made and invite everyone over for a slide show. 

Not my actual slide projector

Now:  You can re-live your vacation any time you want because all of your photos are on a memory card.  If you want to share memories of your trip with friends, you can email them and/or post them on Facebook. 
Not my actual camera

Then and now, both have their pros and cons, but in the end, they were always fun (or at least made for some great stories).  I'd like to share some of my favorite vacation stories over the next few days.  If you have a story you'd like to share, email me at and I'll include it in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Simple Pleasures And A Magical Moment

You know what I'm doing right now (besides writing my blog)?  I'm sitting on my back porch watching the sparrows come and go on the bird feeder.  I'm also watching a few butterflies that have taken a liking to the shrubs on the other side of the porch railing.  The sky is blue, there's a nice breeze and for the first time in a few weeks the temperature is a mild 79 degrees with low humidity.  There's nothing earth shattering about any of it, but it's good.  Simple, but good.

The best thing about simple pleasures is that you don't have to go far to find them.  More often than not, they find you.  A little while ago, for example, while I was sitting here quietly, a hummingbird stopped by to check out the petunias in my hanging baskets.  This amazing little creature hovered effortlessly above a flower, not more than six feet away from me, for several minutes.  It wasn't the first time I'd ever seen a hummingbird, but it was a wonderful surprise.

Back in February, when temperatures were in the single digits and it seemed the snow would never stop falling, I promised myself that I was going to enjoy every last bit of summer this year and make the most of all the simple pleasures that summer brings.  As promised I've spent many a lazy afternoon swimming or just floating around in the pool. We've gazed at the night stars from the comfort of our new (older, but new to us) hot tub. I've kept the majority of our plants and flowers alive and looking good. We've cooked on the grill numerous times (though we do that year-round). We've watched movies, eaten meals and listened to music at the bar on the back porch. We've been to the flea market. I've spent hours watching and identifying the birds and butterflies that frequent our yard and I've talked and laughed about things that matter and things that don't with my husband and my children.  I couldn't ask for much more.

But there is more.  Last week was overcast.  We didn't get much rain, but the sky was dull and gray for days.  On Friday night, around 8:00, the clouds started to lighten and the sky took on a pink and yellow cast that was just beautiful.  We stepped outside to get better look and we were instantly amazed.  The light had a magical quality that I can't even begin to describe.  It changed the colors of everything in the yard.  There was a soft, pink glow everywhere.  Flowers that are normally purple were pink.  Our neighbor's yellow house was peach.  Every detail, from the smallest blade of grass to the tallest tree seemed to be standing out in a muted, yet somehow vibrant technicolor.  Remember when Dorothy steps into Oz for the first time?  That's what it was like.  As cheesy as it sounds, I told Mr. Willoughby that the world had taken on the color of memory.  He said it felt like being in a rainbow.   It was softly faded, but brilliant.  Fleeting.  And truly magical.  You definitely can't ask for more than that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It Doesn't Sound As Funny Once You're Used To It

The other day, Mr. Willoughby said "I miss your blog."  You know what?  I do, too.  So here I am.

It Doesn't Sound As Funny Once You're Used To It

When you've lived some place for a while, you get used to the names of cities, towns and streets around you.  Even the most ridiculous names become commonplace and you stop noticing how funny they really sound.  Even if it's just a simple case of mispronunciation.

I live in Michigan and my little town has a perfectly normal name.  Nothing funny about it at all.  Same goes for the street I live on.  But if you go to the edge of town, you'll run into a road called "Gratiot".  If you're not from this area, you may not know how to pronounce that name.  Phonetically, it's pronounced "Grash-it", but if you're giving directions over the phone, it often comes across as "Grass Shit". 

Now if you go north of my little town, you will eventually run into the town of Port Huron (we'll get to the humor behind that in a minute).  On the way, you will pass a street called  "Ankrapp".  I have no idea of the proper pronunciation, but whenever I hear someone mention it, it always sounds like "Ann Crap".

Back to Port Huron.  If you say it correctly, there's nothing funny about it, but, people with a more pronounced Michigan accent tend to say something closer to "Port Hurin" which comes across as "Port Urine" or (even worse, in my opinion) "Porch Urine".  I always wonder what happens when people who say it that way go on vacation.  In a casual conversation with other tourists: "So where in Michigan are you from?"  "We've lived in Porch Urine for the last 20 years."  Nice.

I used to work in a big office building that was located on a street called "Big Beaver".  No, I'm not kidding.  When I was a legal assistant, part of my job was scheduling depositions, so I was constantly giving out the address.  I can't tell you how many times I had to repeat and then spell the name of the street.  Everyone thought they had heard me wrong because, surely, no one would name a street "Big Beaver".

And just to make it a little more fun, we had a sculpture of a huge head in front of the building (again, not kidding).  Giving out directions sounded something like this: "When you get off the expressway, go east on Big Beaver until you see the building with the giant head."   Some people would ask if it was a human head or a beaver's head.  It was a human head.   I know you're curious, so here it is.

If you should, by any chance, be planning a trip to Michigan and you want to see more than Grass Shit, Ann Crap, Porch Urine, a Big Beaver and a huge head, you can just go to Hell.  Really, you can. 

There's a city named Hell, Michigan.  It's about 40 miles away from Eden.  I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.

*All photos courtesy of Google Images.