Zoe’s story

To my dear friends far and wide,

I am turning over the pages of my blog to my niece Zoe (you can read more about the most awesome Zoe here). She wrote this elegant little story, on her phone. about the night she ran away to live the life that SHE wanted, in Hamburg. It’s beautiful. Just like her, and I am honored and humbled to share her words on my blog. Love you Zo xo

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“I’ll talk to you soon!” Then, a black screen. I have to think of a strategy, a way out. Right now. My fingers hastily dial a phone number. “I can’t leave, he’s still awake downstairs.”
-”Then pretend you want to drink a glass of water. When he’s not looking, make a run for it. I”ll meet you at the school parking lot in ten minutes.” The connection breaks. Now I’m on my own. It’s up to me. My whole future depends on it. I can’t take the bag I’ve prepared with my computer. I can’t even get dressed. I have to wear my pyjamas, so I don’t seem suspicious. At least my phone fits into my pants pocket. I stuff my backpack in my closet. I don’t know why, sort of as a final goodbye, I guess. One last look and then… oh, wait. A note. I quickly scribble a few sentences on a small paper. “Don’t worry about me. I’m there where I want to be. This is the only thing I could think of to make you understand.” I slowly open my bedroom door. I jump a little as it squeaks. I’m on the third floor. I have to go all the way down to the first. From there, two doors provide my means of escape: one in the back shed and the front door (if it’s not locked). I listen for footsteps, any signs of life coming from the building. I hear none, but that doesn’t relieve me at all. I know I have to move, though I’m almost paralyzed by the endless outcomes. I could get caught and then what? Awkward conversations (or rather he talks, I listen) and even more horrible silences. I cautiously begin my descend towards whatever awaits me. I flinch every time a floorboard makes noise. Miraculously, I make it down to the first floor. So far, so good. But where is he? Slowly, I enter the kitchen in the next room where I find nothing. I’m glad I don’t have to use the glass-of-water-technique then. I’m not so sure I could have pulled that of anyway. I wonder how he would react if I tried to run in front of him. Try to grab me? Chase after me? Or just let me go? No use thinking about it, I’m not sure how much time I have until he comes back. The flush of the downstairs toilet. Oh shit! I quickly place my note on the kitchen counter and dash towards the back door situated straight through a small corridor leading from the kitchen. The front door may already be locked since it’s about 9 pm. I pray that the back door is still open. Otherwise it’ll all have been for nothing. Is he already following me? Has he seen the note? Faster, faster! I fling myself towards the door and pry open the rusty old handle. And yes, it opens to reveal a patch of muddy grass. Without hesitating I sprint across the lawn, while stretching my hand out, ready to open the front gate. I can feel my heart beating wildly through my whole body. The whole neighborhood must be able to hear it. I can only form one thought, feel the adrenaline pulsing it in my veins: run, run, run! Once I’ve passed the gate, I almost immediately turn the corner onto the school parking lot. The school is conveniently situated right next to the house (or not, whatever way you see it). I scan the space for Jessy’s dark blue volvo, which isn’t hard to find, it’s the only car there. The fresh dew on the grass soaks through my socks. It’s uncomfortable, feeling the soft squish as I run. I’ve reached the car now. I can see her scared face through the window. I open the door and jump in. I thought I could relax a little when I got there, but I’m still as tense as before. There is an ambiance of fright and confusion. We don’t talk much, it’s all just a blur. I can’t concentrate on anything she’s saying. I listen to the engine coming to life and the sound of tires running over asphalt. We start to make our way to the autobahn, where she will be driving me to. We’ve arranged to meet up with two women, later referred to as “the kidnappers” by him, at a small gas station halfway between here and my destination. The heater has been turned on now, but I can’t get warm. The thoughts forming in my head are threatening to crush me under their weight. Is he following me? Or has he even called the police? I may be paranoid but I keep hearing sirens. I hate to have dragged Jessy into my mess. What if this will come back to get her later? What about her children? Have I driven him to a point of rage where he will use any means possible to get me back? Fear is not a word to describe how I feel. I have never been so petrified in all my life. I sit stiff in my seat, frozen in place. I look around for police cars, expecting them to be here any second. The phone rings. A quick conversation with the kidnappers. They’re one their way to the meeting place now. After what seems like a lifetime, we arrive at the gas station. It’s in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for a crime.

My Girl’s Goin to Disney World !

Anyone reading my blog who is friends with me on facebook, or in “real life” (What’s that? :) ) knows that my girl Jordan was accepted into the Disney college program. And they also know that I am so very happy and proud of my girl! So if you are sick and tired of hearing about how happy and proud I am you don’t have to read further…I understand and would probably say “Dawn, shut UP already” if I were you. But I can’t help myself, I feel the need to document my feelings, and explain to anyone who cares to read exactly why I am so happy and so proud. And just maybe, somehow, someone may stumble across my silly little blog and be inspired by Jordan’s story. That would make me even more happy and proud.

I have written before about Jordan’s genetic metabolic disorder…please read this past post if you want more details of how Jordan came to be diagnosed with Very-Long Chain Co-Acyl Dehydrogenase Deficiency, or VLCAD for short. As I wrote, Jordan is deficient in an enzyme that breaks down fatty acids into glucose. So when she’s sick and can’t eat, or if she over exercises, her body can’t get enough energy and the fatty acids build up in her system and that causes many problems (and before her diagnosis, almost killed her).  The disorder is totally manageable now, she just has to make sure that she eats regularly and she probably can’t run a marathon.  She has learned what she needs to do to make sure she avoids trouble, and I think she would agree that on most days it doesn’t impact her life in any major way.

But, as I also wrote, she also suffered mild brain damage from the initial crisis. As I always say, Jordan’s IQ is in the average to high average range, and her emotional IQ is off the charts. And she has re-gained much ground from that dark time of her diagnosis. She’s just a little forgetful at times (aren’t we all?). Math is hard for her, as are most tests (more on that later) She has to work extra hard at some things, is all. Sigh. Even after writing all that, I can’t seem to capture, in words, all that I want to say about Jordan, and all that she’s been through, and why this Disney program means so much to her and to me. So this may sound jumbled, but I’ll try to just write from my heart, and try my best to explain…

Jordan in her signature pigtails with Mickey

Jordan in her signature pigtails with Mickey

I remember the year that Jordan was so sick, it was right after her diagnosis. Again, I will do my best to spare you all the gory details but she developed something called Eosinophilic gastritis. On top of the VLCAD Jordan also had multiple food allergies (we’re not sure at all if there is any relation), and soon after her metabolic crisis it seemed that her food allergies “flared up” to the point that she became allergic to almost every form of protein, which caused the lining of her stomach to swell (the eosinohils), which caused the outlet to her stomach to close almost completely shut…she began to vomit almost everything she ate, which then triggered the VLCAD…it was a nightmare of a time and we ended up rushing her to the ER at Johns Hopkins (only several months after she almost died), and she spent over a month in the hospital, on an IV while they gave her prednisone to relieve the swelling of her stomach tissue so that she could tolerate this special formula that they developed at Hopkins.

After spending over a month in the hospital we returned home (I say we because I spent every night with her there on a “chair bed” in her room, except for the night in the ICU when there was no chair bed and I crawled under her crib because I couldn’t sit up anymore and I refused to leave her and a nice nurse gave me a blanket and pillow) and Jordan, who was almost 2, had to survive on this nasty concoction of formula mixed with this special oil and vitamins that she had to have for her VLCAD. No solid food. Eight servings a day.  So I made it a special time and let her watch videos while she had her “milk”, and she watched every Disney movie I could get my hands on. Over and over, she sat there drinking that potion that was keeping her alive, for months, holding on to her Goofy or Mickey or Donald Duck doll, until we went back to Hopkins and she spent another couple weeks there being reintroduced to food. (For those who are wondering, Jordan outgrew most of the food allergies, but childhood was hard, especially birthday parties because she was allergic to milk and eggs and she couldn’t have ice cream and cake. Sigh. So we’re thrilled that ALL she’s allergic to now is peanuts, which is dangerous, but compared to what she’s been through, a piece of cake).

Here she is on her 2nd Birthday, eating some nasty rice four, egg-less oil cake...

Here she is on her 2nd Birthday, eating some nasty rice four, egg-less oil cake…

And another Lion King themed party...pure Jordan face

And another Lion King themed party…pure Jordan face

So Jordan grew out of the allergies but never out of her love for Disney…she loved all of the Disney films, but the one that really resonated was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Nope, no princesses for my girl, she loved Simba too, but the Hunchback was her fave.  I know that she definitely felt a kinship with him, with anyone who was “different”, Jordan’s “differences” weren’t visible and they weren’t nearly as bad as what others have to suffer, but I know that she must have felt different from the other kids in some way, and so she loved Disney’s Hunchback.

Jordan and her Hunchback, in Dalmatian wear...

Jordan and her Hunchback, in Dalmatian wear…

And for me, it was a balancing act, how to not be overprotective on the one hand, and how to not be in denial on the other hand. I remember the time in Kindergarten, Jordan was in a private (awesome!) school in Boston and I was looking into where to send her for elementary school – I had found this affordable hippie lefty school that I thought Jordan would love – and the oh so kind principal of her kindergarten, who loved Jordan, pulled me aside and said, in her crusty New England direct but caring voice “You really need to send Jordan to a public school -she needs special ed services and they won’t be able to accommodate her in any of the private schools here”. So that was the first time it really hit me that Jordan’s crisis had caused some brain damage, which was confirmed after many visits to neurologists and tests and mores tests, so many tests. She had IEPs and 504s and all of the other special ed acronyms all through school, documents that said things like “Jordan needs to sit in the front of the room and she needs cues to stay on task”. “Jordan needs to be allowed to go to the nurse’s office whenever she needs a snack”. “Please ensure that Jordan has noted her homework assignments”. “Jordan requires additional time on tests”. “Jordan should be allowed to write in the test booklet”…ahh that last one, we finally figured out why Jordan failed all those miserable standardized tests. She just doesn’t fit the model, and in our test-crazy society that meant that she really bombed on the SATs, which, combined with her average grades (I won’t get into how I feel she was let down by her high school, that’s a whole blog post on its own), pretty much meant that she had no choice but to go to community college. Which is a good thing, and many kids do that and I’m happy that she’t thriving there, but she missed out on the opportunity that so many of my friends’ kids had, which was to go live in a dorm with a bunch of other girls…it just wasn’t an option for her. But now, thanks to the Disney College program, she’ll have that opportunity…she’s already been in touch with several girls in the program and they have formed a nice little support system. They ALL love Disney and video games and all the things that Jordan loves. Wow.

That makes me particularly happy because Jordan also suffered from bullying, particularly in middle school. My heart still breaks open when I remember the time she cried over a really mean thing that some of the “popular” girls said to her. It still brings tears to my eyes, because despite all of that, despite everything you’ve just read (thanks for sticking with me!), Jordan has THE sweetest, THE happiest disposition of anyone I know. I wrote on facebook that if anyone deserved to be in Disney World it’s Jordan…she is the only person I know who could tell people all day long to “Have a Magical Day”, and sincerely mean it. I think that maybe that’s why she was teased, she has such a child-like joy in the simplest things, in just about everything.  She just said to me today: “When am I never smiling”? And I had to admit that I can’t think of many times.

When we went to the “real” Notre Dame in Paris last year, she was literally shaking with excitement…and it all started with that Disney movie: “Mommy I Hunchback, you be Frollo, chase me” she’d say, and she’d laugh and laugh as we ran around, me yelling “Come here Hunchback”…I have to be honest and say that so many times I’d think “Oh God, please, I just cannot be Frollo for one more minute”. But now, it makes me smile, and I feel so proud, so proud. Jordan, you are my hero, you with your non-cynical, accepting, non-judgmental nature…all those things make you the smartest person in the room as far as I’m concerned. You deserve this. You rock, and you are my rock…I love you forever, Mommy (aka Frollo)

Jordan as Simba...practicing for her future role?

Jordan as Simba…practicing for her future role?

Jordan and Ariel...led to this:

Jordan and Ariel…led to this:

and I should add: Major congrats to Jordan’s fiance Kevin, who is also goin to Disney World…he made the College Program too and leaves in August, YAY!!

Disney lovin lovebirds...

Disney lovin lovebirds…

Oui Audrey, Paris is Always a Good Idea…

So, yeah, I went to Paris, again. This time I really needed it. I needed to recharge my batteries, as trite as that sounds. I needed to be in my favorite place, that foreign city that feels like home to me, and I needed to have my soul soothed and I needed to be alone and to think and just to be. And Paris, being her fabulous beautiful difficult wonderful self, said ok, come on home baby, I am here, waiting for you.

And so I cashed in my remaining AA FF miles and I went, and was welcomed into my lovely little cocoon in the 11th arr…thank you Denise for your positive review because it was just perfect. And cheap! I miss this view…

my view

This trip was not a sightseeing mission. I went to one, count em one, museum…and I am not apologizing for it. And even then, I had issues. It was a fabulous exhibit at the Carnavalet (the Museum of the city of Paris, free) called (en francais) Roman d’un Garde-Robe: Le chic d’une Parisienne de la Belle Epoque aux années 30, which loosely translated means the novel of a wardrobe: one Parisian’s fashion from the 1900’s to the 30’s.  It contained the dresses, hats and accessories of a trend setting Parisian who helped launch 2 major French fashion houses, which of course appealed to my fashion loving side. So I enjoyed it very much from that aspect.

Some fashions in the exhibit, which was all in French, so I also practiced...

Some fashions in the exhibit, which was all in French, so I also practiced…

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But, as I reflected later, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after as I couldn’t help but wonder about all the workers who sewed those sequins and toiled to make those dresses and hats. I really wanted to see their pictures, and read their stories. I thought about them all afternoon. I guess you can take the girl outta CEPR, but you can’t take the CEPR outa the girl (See here to understand)

And so what did I do in Paris if I didn’t go sightseeing or museum hopping? I communed with my women. I was uplifted and inspired. I laughed and I listened and I was listened to. I am so very fortunate beyond words to have the deep good fortune to have so many good friends who have the deep good fortune to call Paris home, and how lucky I was to spend time with them, along with some fellow visitors who have also become my friends. I needed them and they came through, each and every one, French and American, Australian/New Zealander all Parisian by birth or by spirit. Un grand merci et beaucoup de bisous a Roniece, Nancy, Jane, Kathryn, Sue, Mez, Sylvia, Margarita et Axelle. I so enjoyed seeing you, and drinking with you and laughing out loud with you and breaking bread with you and walking and shopping and talking talking talking. Je vous embrasse. Toujours…

Some of my women...my Muriels...mes tres cheres...xoxo

Some of my women…my Muriels…mes tres cheres…xoxo

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I also wandered, I was lucky to have been spared the polar vortex freeze that has gripped the East coast of the US. Some rain (ah but Paris in the rain is still beautiful), so I was able to wander around and look at the known and not so known places that call to my soul. I spent a great afternoon in Montmarte…I always like to climb to Sacre Coeur and gaze out out upon “my” city and hold her in my hand. I was fortunate to have chosen the weekend of the Fete de Saint Jacques…only in France could you stumble upon a scallop festival.

a walk through Montmarte

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DSC00069 DSC00082A nice young man from India and I took turns taking one another’s pictures

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I made my way through my adopted hoods, the 11th and the 20th - Republique, Oberkampf, Menilmontant. Belleville, Pere Lachaise, Gambetta – with no agenda, just taking it all in. I was green with envy at the markets, one literally right outside my front door. I sure love visiting Roniece in her lovely slice of heaven in the 5th, as she calls it. It is nice, I like it, but it isn’t home. I gravitate to the quartiers listed above, not sure why, just feels like home to me, like me.

My Paris

My Paris

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My apartment building on Blvd Richard Lenoir

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The markets!

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Menilmontant, my favorite hood. Met A at Lou Pascalou, one of my favorite spots in Paris, and ended the night here. We spoke French all night. She is very patient…

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I walked to Rue Sainte Marthe, in the 10th, on the  fringes of my hoods.

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And back to Oberkampf, and a goodbye shot from the second floor of L’EstaminetIMG_0939

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My moment of serendipity came as I was waiting for the metro after my lunch with Kathryn.

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(This is the view from the Pont Mirabeau bridge. It makes me think of you K!)

Anyway, I was in the metro station waiting for the next train, looking at the metro map to pass the time, when an old man started talking to me in French and asking me if I knew who the Gallieni metro stop was named after. I said no, and he proceeded to tell me the story of Gallieni, how he was a general who “saved Paris from the Germans”. When I told him I didn’t know that, he asked me where I was from, and when I told him the US, well, his face lit up and he proceeded to regale me with tales of the Americans who rescued him during WWII. The train came and we sat together and I heard all about his trip to the US and about how much he loved Americans, he thinks we’re so friendly, with our “open faces”. He told me that his name was Jacques, that he was 84 (I think I got that right), As he got off the metro, he told me that he was happy to have met me. He shook my hand and told me that my French is very good. I smiled all the way down line 10.

All wasn’t fun and games as I also worked hard, very hard, to improve my French. Days and years of slogging through classes and reading silly French novels and listening to French on my IPod on the MARC train as the DC Suburbs pass by have left me with decent comprehension skills. But my verbal skills are sadly lacking, so I took a workshop at the Alliance and spent more relaxed evening at a bar at a Franglish event. I would definitely recommend it: For 12e you get a drink and an hour and a half of conversation with 5 native French speakers. It was tiring, but inspiring, and everyone there was super nice…tres sympa ! I am gonna master this language even if it takes me the rest of my life to do so.

And so, another January in Paris…feeling as always grateful that I am able to go back again, and again. And I will be back…Roniece, save me a seat at LPC. And tell Pierre (another dapper 80-something Frenchman who charmed me) that I said bonjour.

La Reine !

And in the meantime, I will spend time with my dear girlfriends on this side of the Atlantic. Candace, Liz, Tamara, Chris, Claudia, Elaine (and on the phone and on facebook, Maureen (my Boo2), and Jo, and Sara and Vickie and all of the rest of my dear Muriels, those great women all around the world, who lift me up every day)…and my mom, and Jordan. My family.

A new year, and a new life. Full of hope and joy and peace and remorse and melancholy, all at the same time.

C’est la vie, n’est ce pas ?

A Different Kind of Journey

I wasn’t sure what to write in this blog post…or whether to write it, or whether to post it…it’s all so complicated, this world of social media. I am a shameless facebook addict, I admit. I put my personal life and my photos and my political views out there…I fly my flags all over the internet. Maybe it’s the result of having been shy as a child, hiding behind my written words and notes but scared to say the same things in person. I read once that introverts are the biggest “sharers” online, because it’s just you and your computer. I don’t think I’m an introvert…I get my energy from being around others…but I do think I share more via the written word than I do in person, for better or worse.

All that to say that I am posting this on my blog to say that I am on a new journey, this one personal. I signed separation papers this past week. The reasons I decided to separate from my husband are complex and personal and hard and tangled and not easy. A life, 13 years with a person and 7 years of marriage. No regrets, but no reconciliation. It’s past that, as painful as that is for me to write (my decision, but still painful).

So this marks a new chapter in my life, and changes the dynamics of my blog. I don’t know what direction either will take. To anyone who met me though my husband and who is reading this blog, I am open to continuing a relationship with you, all of you. If you choose to not do that I will understand; these things are never easy, and while I will never ask anyone to choose “sides”, I understand that people might. It’s ok…you can defriend me, just do what you have to do, And please be his friend…I want all of my friends to be his friend as well.

I saw this quote on facebook once, it’s often attributed to Dr. Seuss, whether he wrote it or not I don’t know, but it’s how I have to think so that I can move forward: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

I hope that all the people who I love accept the above…I hope y’all don’t mind, and that you see into my heart and know that it tries to be open.  I’ll end with another quote from one of my mentors in life, the simply amazingly awesome Reverend Kim Crawford Harvie of the Arlington Street Unitarian-Universalist Church in Boston:

“Let us join hands,
and I will walk this road with you.
May our broken hearts be opened,
and may we love one another with broken-open hearts.”

Amen sister! I love you

I look forward to walking my new journey. I hope you all come along. I love you all with my broken open heart,,,

Love,

Dawn

Back to Paris, with a Mission(oni)

So, I find myself about to go off to Paris…again.  Feeling (as they say on the facebook) blessed. Thank you United Frequent Flier program!!! Thank you for this opportunity to go back to the city that I love most of all, and thank you CEPR for giving me the vacation (not to mention the salary) to be able to take this most needed break, right in the middle of the government shut down. And thank you furlough boy (aka my husband) for understanding that I need to visit my favorite place on the planet whenever possible. Especially this trip, which is a celebration in the true sense of the word.

Because I am going to Paris to celebrate the 15th birthday of my second favorite girl in the world, my niece Zoe. For anyone happening upon my blog for the first time, or for my friends who don’t know, my sister lives in Hamburg, Germany with my niece, the most fabulous Zoe Gissou Niederhauser.  I traveled to Germany a few days after her birth, and ever since that time she has held a special place in my heart.

Here we are, looking at Project Runway I'm sure

Here we are, looking at Project Runway I’m sure…oh, or the bad ass honey badger… that’s  us http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

Both she and my sister have been through A LOT (capital letters!). After my sister’s separation and divorce from my German brother-in-law she has waged many heroic custody battles with the German government. Losing some very important ones. So important that she made the difficult decision to come to the US and stay, with Zoe – believe me my people when I tell you that she was acting in the best interest of her child – only to be forced to return to Germany under a curse of bad timing and worse luck. But as I always say, and as is so relevant in this case, Karma is a BITCH and even though they both had to go through hell and they went back to Germany and Zoe was forced to return to live with her father, the gods (esses) put things right, and she gained the awesome strength to do what few 13 year olds would do, she ran in the cover of the night to her momma. Who won the right to house her child where her child wants to live, with her momma in Hamburg. All I got to say to that is Namaste, mother f*ckers.

And, as an aside, said child is one really talented fashion designer, and in this as in many other ways she takes after her most favorite Aunt Dawn, as I used to want to be a designer as well, having spent countless hours in my room designing the most awesome gowns fit for the likes of Cher, my hopes dashed only due to my complete and utter lack of sewing skills. But Zoe? She has her whole life ahead of her. She may be the most awesome fashion designer, or who  knows what? All I know is that whatever she puts her mind to, she will succeed. She is one of two angels in my life, the other being my daughter Jordan, who also has overcome many obstacles in her life. Girls, you are my heroes.

mes trios filles

mes deux filles

As are you , ma soeur. I won’t even go into your story, how you have always been my hero as well, facing life with a situation that many would have used as an excuse, but not you. So be proud!  I love you.

Me my mama and my sister

Me my mama and my sister

And so, I look forward to taking them to Paris – to sharing my favorite place with some of my favorite people, and that also means my people who live in Paris or who will be visiting when I’m there. I will end this post as I began, feeling blessed.

A très bientôt Paris !!

Chevy Chase’s Vacation Ain’t Got Nothing on Mine

Almost all of my people are away this week…husband and stepsons and stepson’s best girl – are fishing it up in Ocracoke, an island off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, It is one of said husband’s favorite places on the planet (mine being you-know-where), and I do have to say that for a beach vacation, there are few places more lovely when the weather is good and the fish are biting.  Jim took his boys there every year from the time they was babies, and when I came into the picture I was invited along, and it was where I fell in love with said boys, all 3, especially after Tom chased me with a sand crab for the first time.

Here is a picture of said best girl fishing at sunset:

peaceful, non?

peaceful, non?

But alas, Ocracoke is also the place where we had the vacation from hell. An award-winning comedy of nasty vacation badness. And as I was regaling the sad tale to my friend the other day she said “You should write this down”, and I said “yes, I should!” And since she encouraged me to do so, here is my story in all its vacation hellish glory:

The year was 2004. It was the first time that Jordan was able to accompany us on our summer vacation. (FYI: She was 11 about to be 12 and the boys were 12 and 15). Everyone was excited.  Two weeks at the beach! Lots of preparation, and since there were 5 of us we decided to take 2 cars: Jim’s jeep, which pulled his newish boat, and my 4 year old Toyota, which I was ALMOST finished paying for, yea!!  We packed everything we thought we’d need for 2 full weeks of FUN in the SUN!

Aside: Right before we left Jim informed me that he was going to quit smoking (for the 100th time). We were closet sneaky smokers at the time, heading off behind the chicken coop when we thought the kids wouldn’t notice (Which in retrospect I’m sure they did). OK,  I figured I’d give quitting a shot as well, as I rightly assumed that it would be more difficult to sneak off at the beach. This is a very important background fact to the story, as it adds a big ole layered slice of stress to the tale.

Back to the story: As I recall the vacation started off well…everyone was happy and we had one or 2 good days in spite of the nicotine withdrawal. We were happy that our dear friend Doug and his son had decided to take a well-deserved break and spend a few days with us. They arrived and all was well, until, the day after Doug arrived, we awoke to a pouring rain. There had been predictions of a storm but man, this was really quite a doozy!! The winds were whipping and the rain was coming down in sheets, and it soon dawned on us that this was no mere storm but something tropical…could it be a hurricane? Why, yes it could! We later learned that we were not evacuated, as they usually do when there is a hurricane on Ocracoke, because the storm had intensified so quickly that it wasn’t safe for the ferry between Ocracoke and the mainland to operate. But I’m ahead of myself…

We lost electricity but thankfully Doug was there and among his million and one gadgets there was a generator. So we hunkered down feeling smug and lucky that we were among the few power-full. We watched the raging weather as conditions continued to deteriorate.

“Oh, cool! Look at the water, it’s rushing down the street!” ” What a fierce wind”!! “Hey there’s a lake in the yard…Sweet!”

“Umm, why are all those cars parked up on that bridge?” “Uh oh, maybe we’d better check on OUR cars”

“SHIIIIIT!”

Yes, that’s right, by the time we figured out that this was indeed a hurricane, my car and Jim’s jeep had filled up with rain and sea water. Both. Vehicles. Totaled. And we were stuck on the island, as the ferries were not running. Doug thankfully did not lose his truck in the storm, so we did manage to have a few somewhat entertaining moments driving through the water-full streets in Doug’s two passenger tiny truck to go to the store and to survey the damage. But for the most part, the day following the storm was a nightmare of nicotine-withdrawal-fueled angst and calls to insurance agents and trying to figure out how we were going to get back to civilization with 5 people worth of stuff not to mention a boat.

We bid a fond farewell to Doug, who had to get back to work and who left as soon as the ferry to Hatteras opened, and we made plans to take the other ferry, the two-hour passenger one to the Swan Quarter part of the NC mainland, where we had scheduled a car rental. We booked a reservation at the only time slot available, an ungodly 7AM, and since were were car-less we had to walk  a few miles to the dock, meaning that halfway there Jordan started having leg pain (see this post http://sisterofminehomeagain.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/paris-with-my-best-girl-take-two/  to understand why), so the boys had to take turns carrying her and we barely made it on the ferry. Wheeeeee

The next part of the trip was a blur, I guess we made it to the car rental somehow and we rented a car to make the 10 hour trip back home. When we arrived back in Oella we were greeted by our next door neighbors, who, before we could begin to tell of our ordeal, had informed us that the teenager who lived in the house on the other side of our house had decided to throw a party a few days before…in our house. Thankfully nothing was broken and miraculously the house hadn’t burned to the ground, so after a nicotine withdrawled  fitful sleepless night, the next day we drove the rental car to Carmax where Jim bought a truck and drove it out of the showroom that very day, teeth gritted and vowing “I have one more week left of vacation and I am going to have it, damn it!” So we dropped off the rental car and we all piled in the truck to make the 10 hour trip BACK to Ocracoke, where we were greeted with unbelievably beautiful weather. The calm after the storm?

Not really, because Jordan started feeling bad on the way back down, and by the next day she was burning up with a fever. So I took her to the clinic on the island, where upon learning of her metabolic condition, (http://sisterofminehomeagain.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/paris-with-my-best-girl-take-two/) the kindly doctor suggested that I take her to the hospital, in Nags Head…80 miles and a ferry ride away. So I strapped her in the new truck and drove the 2 hours in a state of complete and utter breakdown exhaustion (stopping at the 7-11 to  surreptitiously buy a pack of Benson and Hedges Menthol 100′s, one of which I lit with my trembling hands as soon as I was able to sneak off alone), Anyway, we made it to the hospital and Jordan was diagnosed with some mysterious viral infection (we never did learn what it was) and she had thrush. They gave her an IV and some antibiotics and sent us on our way several hours later.

I can’t remember the next day, or was it several days? Jordan’s illness had sent me over the edge and I was a bundle of stressed-out nerves. Jim was still gritting his teeth determined to have a vacation if it killed him. Everyone tried to laugh and have FUN, I, however, was beyond fun. I was SO ready to be done with this “vacation”.

And what do you know? I got my wish! The day before the official end of the vacation we learned that there was another big storm on the horizon, and they were evacuating the island. We managed to get everything in the truck before it started to pour, of course everything was getting wet because it was piled in the bed of the truck, our jiffy-rigged plastic cover laughing at us as it flapped in the wind. There we were, the 5 of us, Jordan in the middle of the back seat with her thrushy mouth, the boys on either side…Jim still gritting his teeth, trying to drive through a hurricane at 1AM.  Me, a stressed out high strung big ole bundle of nerves shaking in the passenger seat. And hungry, we were all hungry because we hadn’t had a chance to eat. The only thing open was a Wendy’s, so my last fast food meal ever was a Wendy’s fish fillet. Everyone else had a burger, and the last tale from the vacation from hell is actually the most junior high school funny one, as the Wendy’s feast caused everyone to have the worst gas ever, and we couldn’t roll the windows down because of the rain. A fitting end to a foul day indeed.

I went back to work the next day, wild-eyed but nicotine-soothed after having sneaked off for a morning cigarette. My colleagues all asked how I enjoyed my vacation…oh were they in for an earful! :)

Le Béarn et Le Pays Basque…Better Late than Never (J’Espère!)

I am very late in writing this post. Computer issues (blank screen on my new laptop = 4 weeks working from a borrowed laptop, argh!). Work, lots of work…whew, I hope that all this work pays off in donations to CEPR. Family visits, summer, anyway, no time til now to write and reflect on our June vacation to the Basque country. Which is maybe a good thing, as things have settled down and shifted and the most important moments, the stand out highlights, have had time to float to the top of my memory.

So here they are, my random reflections in no particular order…it’s long (lots of pictures though!) I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have had reliving it:

We flew into Bilbao, Spain and spent the first night in San Sebastian. San Sebastian was a nice surprise. A revelation, I like some place that is NOT in France :).  We found San Sebastian to be a lovely town, big enough to be interesting and full of good restaurants and bars and beautiful, and small enough to take it all in.

san sebastian street

harbor

plaza

beach

evening in San Se

old town street

The only downside was the language, I am spoiled by Jim’s fluent and my not-so-fluent-yet-somewhat-passing French.  We know the polite Spanish basics but found our lack of fluency frustrating when trying to navigate the tapas scene…because what a scene it is. We finally figured out how to belly up to the Tapas bars. So delicious, and cheap compared to pricier France. 

jambon !!!

We loved the tapas so much that we came back to spend another (nicer weather-wise) day.

La Cepa, yum

the best anchovies ever

beautiful tapas

Jim

We also went to Hondaribbia, a smaller town across the bay from Hendaye, France. (This is Hendaye):

market in Hendaye

We took the ferry, which took about 10-15 minutes, max.

5.1

And then we were in Spain again:

Hondarribia

Spain/France/Spain/France…or as they say around these parts, Basque Country…

"Tourist Remember: You are neither in Spain nor in France.  You

Gora Euskadi Askatuta !

It was a great little fishing village with great little fish…

7

lunch in Hondirribia

fresh!

The take away? Jim wants to come back to this part of the world, and he gonna start learnin some Español

After our first night in Spain we headed to Monein, a small town in the Béarn region of France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

IMG_0658

We went there in search of Jurançon. What is a Jurançon, you ask? Well, just about some of the most delicious, unique white wine on the planet. And really hard to find here in the US.

me and the Jurancon

We spent our days driving through the vineyards,

vineyards and mountains

2

lost in the fields

visiting little touristed but charming villages like Abos

abos

and Navarrenx

Navarranx

bridge to navarranx

navarranx

and Orloron Sainte-Marie. It was chilly and damp, but it didn’t dampen our spirits one bit…

Orloron

a river runs through it

We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Monein called Entre Vignobles et Vergers  (between vineyards and orchards). The proprietor had had an unfortunate accident and was in the hospital, so he left one of his tenants in charge, the intrepid Daniele, who didn’t speak a word of English and who took a liking to us, the “nice” Americans as we came to be known thanks to Daniele, who was born in Marseille and still had a wicked accent. Daniele took very good care of us, making us a wonderful breakfast with homemade jam every day and greeting us at cocktail hour with a bottle of  Jurançon in hand. She reminded me of my Aunt Val (except that Aunt Val would have been drinking a natty bo)

Daniele et moi

And thanks to Daniele we know everything about all of the casinos in France, including one in Pau, the largest town in the region and a very nice one at that.

Pau casino!

Beautiful and friendly…and good food. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Les Papilles Insolites, where we had a fabulous lunch

pulpe

and were introduced to another great wine of the neighboring region, Madiran.

madiran

Oh so much wine, so little time.

which way to the wine

So besides the wine…let me see, what else?  Oh yeah, we spent a memorable evening at the Fête de la Musique in the town of Jurançon, where we went looking for a village feast and found, well, bad food and a 6 euro (and not bad!) bottle of wine,

yum!

and a memorable evening listening to a quite good French rockabilly band…

good band

followed by a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band…

6

well, you had to have been there to fully appreciate it.  Special!

We bid a fond farewell to Daniele and Jurançon (with a case in the car) and drove back into the Basque country. We stayed in a village called Ciboure, on the Atlantic coast, next to a somewhat bigger town called Saint Jean de Luz. And wouldn’t you know it, they too were having a fête, the Fête De La St Jean. Oh don’t you hate when that happens?

We spent a fun time partying Basque style.fete IMG_0666

band in basque

After all that Fête-ing we took it easy. The weather finally turned and it was glorious. We walked and sat on the beach and walked along the coast into Ciboure and then to Saint Jean de Luz.

Soccoa

soccoa beach

Ciboure

St Jean de Luz

st jean de luz

We ate bounty from the sea.

yum

soupe de poissons

We drove into the Basque countryside, looking for another impossible to find wine, Irouléguy, wonderful inexpensive reds and whites.

I think we found it

We drove into Les Aldudes, heaven on earth.

so beautiful

We bought a bottle and some of the most heavenly cheese, a sheep’s cheese called Ossau-Iraty…oh my, in this part of the world they eat it with cherry confiture…more heaven.

yum!

We feasted.

cheers

Merci les moutons !!! xo

moutons

One evening found ourselves in the middle of a small village called Hasparren, for the cours des vaches. Or, in English, a sort of crazy spectacle that involves drunk people being chased around a ring by cows with horns. An acquired taste, I think…

vaches

On the other hand, we also spent an evening in a little more glitzy Biarritz,

Biarritz

dining on yet more bounty from the sea. This whole trip made me mourn the lack of fresh fish here, in BALTIMORE.,,in caps because we live by the sea and I don’t understand why we can’t have THIS:

fish!!

1a

And, now, I’m left with memories of yummy food and wine and nice friendly people, including a group of singers at a neighboring table in a restaurant in Ciboure, who spontaneously broke out into a lovely Basque folk song. After, I told them “Je veux être Basque !” And, it’s true.

I remember the beautiful scenery

sea scene

1a (2)

and driving around and getting lost, and having a picnic with the wild horses

Jim and the wild horse

And driving through the mountains, listening to Manu Chao…

Merci, le Béarn et le pays Basque. Je t’aime, toujours.  On reviendra

Addendum: Forgot to mention that we got a bonus night in Brussels, courtesy of Brussels Air, who informed us when we arrived in Brussels from Bilboa that our scheduled flight to Dulles had already left…ok, when in Brussels you must drink beer, so we headed off to our favorite part of town

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

for some seafood and some Belgian brew…merci Brussels Air !