Friday, November 30, 2007

It Didn't Smell Like Teen Spirit

Not knowing where we wanted to go, having any map or directions of any kind and no plan other than to find some southern cooked supper and a bed, we drove along the interstate until we reached the Canal Street exit. For some reason, Canal Street stuck in my head as being important and near the French Quarter so I listened to my mind. My guts on the other hand were singing a different tune with the cramping which had got progressively worse as the day wore on.

It wasn't what I had expected. All along Canal Street, there were lots of restaurants and bars but always surrounded by gangs of sour looking individuals that appeared to be looking for a fight or some 'easy money'. People were sleeping on the streets, others urinating in not so darkened corners and I guessed that if I were to exit the van, I might last a block before my wallet became lighter or my heart stopped pumping. We kept going. We drove to the end of Canal Street hoping it would get better but it never did. We were disappointed and hungry. I figured I had a half hour before I needed my next stop.

So we drove back the way we came and found a nice Motel 6 in the sane looking suburbs and holed up for the night. We did drive down the road until we found a little hole in the wall that served Cajun food and Chinese food, mostly because the two cooks were Cajun and Chinese descent. I ordered up a catfish and shrimp po'boy that was excellent.

The next day, we retraced our steps to Canal Street that had completely changed with daylight. All the bums and street fighters were gone and the only traffic was the occasional business person or tourist. We drove down the length of Bourbon Street looking for a place to stop but the French Quarter appears to only open up in the afternoons for the evening crowd. We ended up parking near the French Market area and taking a stroll around, starting by walking along the dike holding back the Mississippi river.

It was a beautiful day and I was fascinated watching the big ships make their way around the bend heading toward the ocean. The architecture down below us in the French Market was beautiful and the city seemed impossibly clean. I was in love with the city. Only when we headed towards the French Quarter did my tune change. My wife took the steps leading down the dike to the street and I pushing Little Abbey in a stroller took the wheel chair ramp. As soon as the ramp got away from the steps, it started reeking so bad of urine that my eyes began to water and I started coughing the smell out of my lungs. I literally ran down the ramp and back into the street where the air was cleaner.

The entire morning would be characterized by things of beauty and then near any little alcove or even just a planting on the street, this incredibly strong smell of piss as if millions who had passed by before me had used it as a urinal. It was disgusting and we definitely tried to avoid touching anything.

We eventually found a couple shops open that we looked into and even a park at the Square Cathedral that smelled clean if you stayed towards the open center where we sat to soak up the city while Little Abbey ran around. We probably could have spent the rest of the day, especially since my intestinal problems had cleared up during the evening, but we wanted to get back up to my brothers place. We walked back to our van, steering wide berths around the many piss smelling alcoves and sidewalk plantings and left New Orleans.

Our plan had been to find an authentic Cajun place for breakfast but nothing was open and once on the interstate, it looked like a crapshoot at the exits. So we drove into the state of Mississippi a ways and pulled off at a nice sized town and drove several miles away from the road and the fast food joints. We eventually found this little dive looking place which if it weren't for my wife's insistence, I would have passed by. Inside, it was immaculately clean and the service was outstanding, the best of the trip. I had a southern breakfast complete with grits that was outstanding.

After we left, we debated on whether or not to buy some fresh shrimp from a nearby roadside stand but since the menu for the night was planned already, we were cooking, we opted against it. Besides, we had it on pretty good authority that we would get our fill of fresh shrimp in two days. We drove back through the millions of acres of tree plantations, nary a cotton field to be seen and called it a day. We had finally seen the Crescent City, smelled it and will probably never go back.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Crescent City via Waveland

On Monday morning, Little Abbey woke up crabby and kept crying almost non-stop. We later found out that she wasn't getting enough sleep due to her increased size and smallness of her crib and that was causing her crankiness. I was suffering a second bout of intestinal cramping since my arrival that I later diagnosed as the local water since every time I had bottled water I was fine and both of my parents had suffered from the same thing. With all this going on, I wasn't enthused about going anywhere but being cramped up in a house with an invalid, a crying baby and someone visiting the bathroom at frequent intervals was driving my parents crazy so we made the decision to hit the road.

We drove south to Mobile, Alabama and then wound our way along the coast to Waveland, Mississippi. The reason for this destination was two fold. Waveland was perhaps the worst hit town due to the winds of hurricane Katrina and my parents had done some humanitarian work there and I wanted to give them an update on the progress. So we drove through town, parked on a vacant house lot next to the beach and played in the sand for a while.

Waveland and other towns along the coast have pretty much cleaned themselves up from the destruction. Broken trees have been cut up and burned, broken houses bulldozed down and hauled off, and the major businesses have returned. But signs of the hurricane are everywhere. Seventy-five percent of the lots are vacant, most with For Sale signs stuck in them. Lots of small businesses remain boarded up and many city streets are still nothing more than two track roads in the sandy soil. Although there was some city utility work going on as new lines were buried, there wasn't a lot of construction going on. Those who could rebuilt, and it appears that those who couldn't, never came back. I think I saw one McDonald's, that viral company that invades everything, being built and that was it. Outside of town the signs are still readily available in thousands of acres of shattered trees and barricaded highways that evidently lead to nowhere now.

However, on the beach with your back to the destruction, everything was as it should be. The sun was shining, green foamy waves from the Gulf of Mexico were lapping along the shore and we were soaking it all in. Little Abbey didn't like the sand because she kept sinking in to far for her tastes as she walked. When we brought her down to the firmer sand next to the water, she didn't like the waves and always kept one of us between her and them as we combed the beach for a few shells to keep as souvenirs. Had the temperatures been higher than the mid-fifties, I may have kicked off my shoes and waded around for awhile but the thought of all the sharp objects washed out of Waveland several years ago and buried in the surf kept me out as well.

We drove on to New Orleans having passed across two major bridge structures, the one across St. Louis Bay before Waveland, Mississippi that had been widely shown on the evening news after it collapsed from the hurricane and which now had been completely rebuilt, and the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain which seems to be getting another bridge built next to the two already there in use. Just as we reached the outskirts of the Crescent City, the last of the sun slipped below the horizon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Final Hike

For the three years that my brother has lived in Alabama, all I've had was a street address that was quite ordinary. So it was with surprise that in the last few hundred yards of my directions to his place, I had to turn into a country club. My brother lived in a country club? He did indeed however, it wasn't like any country club I have ever been too.

First, there were not lots of nice houses set back from nicely paved streets and surrounded by lush lawns. Instead there were only a few very widely spaced houses that were for the most part, just ordinary houses ranging from your modern ranch to a log cabin to a small shanty. The houses were mostly in small clearings cut from the pines and hardwoods surrounding them and the lawns were mostly pine needles and rocks with a few clumps of grass sticking up here and there. The community had a few feeder roads that were roughly paved and hard to push a stroller on with smaller two-track gravel roads with weeds growing in the center leading to most of the houses. Yes, there were even lots of cars up on blocks and junkyard dogs roaming this country club. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that country clubs of the south are a lot different than those of the north. You can whip a rebel in a war but you can't refine them.

The first morning we were there, we spent much of it cleaning puke out of the van, off car seats and doing laundry. Not a pleasant task. So when the opportunity came later when my parents asked if I wanted to go for a walk, I jumped at the chance. I was standing there ready in tennis shoes when they finally asked if I was going to get ready. Sensing I had erred in my belief that we were going for a walk down relatively flat trails, I found out that we were going for one of our more normal hikes. Properly attired in leather hiking boots and with a couple bottles of water, we set out for Horn Mountain in the Talladega National forest.

My brother has done a lot of work there to establish habitat for an almost extinct woodpecker that prefers old growth forest. So as we hiked along, we got to inspect some of his handy work. He has been credited with finding one of the oldest stands of long leaf pine in the state and we walked by the stand. I have a picture of it but haven't had the time to process it yet but will hopefully post it on my blog later. We hiked for several hours enjoying the beautiful weather. It would be the last hike I would go on over the next six days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Road Out

We woke up early on Saturday morning and quickly loaded the van while Little Abbey continued to sleep. Just as we got the last of our things loaded, Little Abbey appeared at the head of the stairs crying. I assumed she had wakened from a bad dream but when my wife got closer we discovered the real reason. She had thrown up during the night and was wearing last nights dinner of macaroni and cheese. Since we had cleaned out the refrigerator, all Little Abbey had to eat was that and she ate it with gusto, in fact eating as much as she typically does for three meals. So when we found it all over her and her bed, we decided she had simply over eaten and was fine. We took care of the bedding, got her cleaned up and into her car seat and took off south while Little Abbey ate breakfast.

We had gone perhaps a hundred miles when it happened again and Little Abbey threw up. She was happy, talkative and fine one minute and the next she is mewing like a sick kitten and then throws up her cheerios and milk. My wife having suspected what was coming had her cupped hands waiting to catch it all while I tried to focus on the road and not the sounds coming from the back.

When you have planned something for so long, I think your brain shuts down the better judgment part of the cortex and allows your flimsy reasoning to lead. We decided that her stomach was still probably a little upset and she needed to take just little amounts of food and liquid to let it settle down. Forty minutes later, my wife was staring at that food in the palms of her hands in a half digested form. By this time we knew the truth that Little Abbey wasn't well. But since she was bubbly and happy in-between times, we decided to keep on going stopping now and then to grab more napkins and to get more clothes for her out of her bag in the back.

After the third incident, things appeared to settle down and when we stopped for a late lunch, Little Abbey successfully kept her food down. We had already made the decision by her second incident to head straight for my brother's house in Alabama instead of the long way via New Orleans and the coast. So despite her being back to normal, we were already committed and kept on plugging away at the miles. Kentucky and Tennessee went by and suddenly I found myself in Alabama. Though it was dark and we had been delayed quite a bit for Little Abbey's incidents and for a traffic accident south of Nashville that plugged the Interstate for about forty minutes, we were within spitting distance and decided to go for it. Nearly 14 hours after we started, we pulled into my brother's place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Kickball and Sorels

Being born in the fall means either starting kindergarten having just turned five or just turned six and my parents chose the latter. Being older than my classmates combined with my genetic code that said I was tall, I was like most tall and gangly kids, not very athletic. Thus I was usually near the last picked for the recess kickball games. But I didn't mind because I enjoyed the game just the same. Besides the unathletic issue, another sore spot were the huge rubber sorels my mother made me wear in cold weather. They were bulky and certainly not geared towards running so when morning recess came, I went from near the last to dead last when being chosen for teams.

Our team lost the flip and was outfield first and the sorels lived up to expectations by causing me to be slow in retrieving the ball. When we finally got our three outs, I knew without a word that I was going to be the bottom of the lineup so my turn to kick didn't come until late during the recess period in the third inning. The ball was rolled and I kicked it squarely with the hard-rubberized toe of the sorel on my right foot. The ball took off like a rocket, soaring way over the heads of the outfielders that had cheated up on their positions when it was my turn to kick. The ball finally started on a downward trajectory and gave one bounce before disappearing over the hill where it rolled clear to the bottom and into the yard of a house across the street well over a hundred and fifty yards from home plate. Despite my slow lurching gate caused by the heavy boots, I had more than enough time to circle the bases and complete a homerun before the ball was retrieved.

Since we usually kept the same teams for the rest of the day so when my turn came at lunch, everyone was excited to see a repeat performers. The outfielders now cheated backwards, tried in vain to cover the gap that the ball headed for but narrowly missed it and I had my second home run. At afternoon recess, it was clear that I wasn't going to get another turn before the bell rang so a couple of my teammates disappeared before it was their turn to kick so that I had to move up in the batting order to fill in. The third time, the first, second and third base players were also dropping back in the deep outfield in an attempt to stop my then becoming inevitable homerun. The ball was rolled and I misfired kicking the ball so it went sailing down the third base line before slicing hard to the left and out-of-bounds. I ran like I never ran before and due to an overthrow at third base, I was still able to get my third and final homerun of the day.

I would like to say I was picked higher up in the pecking order from then on but sadly that wasn't the case. Others started bring one sorel from home to use as a kicking boot, putting it on unlaced only when their turn was to kick. As their foots momentum carried forward after the ball had been kick, the boot would go flying allowing them to run with one tennis shoe on one foot and just a sock on the other. Eventually we got tired of chasing the balls and having huge scoring games that we decide to either ban the use of sorels or lengthen the bases. The former one out and I had to bring a separate pair of tennis shoes to school if I wanted to play. Of course, I was still near the last to be picked.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Miss Independent

Little Abbey has an independent streak in her a mile wide and thus obvious for me to see. She could just be lifted up on the couch with her favorite book for me to read but she always has to climb up herself. This is just one example but there are many more. So one day, I decided I would give her some of that independence that she is always looking for. I decided I would convert her crib into a daybed.

Her crib is just a cheap model given to me by my mother and not a family heirloom so I knew I could modify it some without destroying it so that we could possibly sell it later at a garage sell. This is important because even with the mattress in the lowest setting, it wasn't low enough for Little Abbey to get back into bed. She is remarkably brave at getting off tall things but unless she can get her knee over the edge, she can't get back in. So with my cordless screwdriver, some drill bits and some miscellaneous screws, I set off for her room one sunny Saturday afternoon.

I had to work around two more restrictions in where I could lower the mattress frame and thus the mattress. The mattress needed to be high enough that there wasn't a gap between the bottom of the rails and the mattress creating a choking hazard and I could drill in where the side rails butted the front rails because they blocked the hardware. But I was able to find a location where the mattress ended up about fourteen inches off the floor and soon had it installed.

The side railing originally could slide up and down but because of its height, wouldn't allow her to get in with it slid all the way down so I just removed it and the hardware it attached to. I ended up with a crib that had a low mattress and only three sides to it. Little Abbey immediately spent the next couple hours jumping in and out of bed with a look of sheer delight on her face. I knew I had done the right thing until later that night. About a couple of hours after Little Abbey went to bed, we heard a soft thump over the monitor and then a cry and we immediately knew she had fallen out of bed. We put her back in thinking she would realize her new boundaries but it happened again later. In fact, it happened a couple more times before we finally just blocked the opening with some cardboard boxes for the rest of the evening. Mind you, no children were hurt in this endeavor.

The next day, I hit upon a solution to this problem not willing to give up that happy smile of her new found independence. I put the sliding rail back on but slid it over about sixteen inches so that it overlapped the bed on one end and left a sixteen-inch gap on the other. I easily could screw the one end to the head of the bed but wasn't so sure what to do with the other end near the gap to make it solid and not a hazard. Finally I found that if I screwed a 1/2 PVC pipe U-clamp to the backside and threaded an adjustable pipe clamp through that and around the mattress support frame, I could lock it on tight. All I was left were the sharpish ends of the railing that might pose a hazard if she knocked them hard in the middle of the night. We looked around for some soft padding to put around it and quickly hit upon a solution… diapers.

Little Abbey excitedly tried out her knew bed and that night when she remained all night in her bed, we knew we had a winner. For the first week, she would get up and stand in the middle of her room crying until we said her name from the comfort of our bed across the hall and then she would come running. Eventually she learned that she could come over at anytime and has been happy ever since. Only recently she has learned that she can come over anytime she wants, meaning very early so we have started closing her door. Now she will quietly play with her things if she wakes up early until we open up the door. She loves it. We love it. She now has some more of the independence she craves. I'm doomed in another dozen years or so.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Day In My Eyes: Little Abbey at 17 Months

When I wake up in the mornings, it depends on what time I wake up on what I do. If I wake up really early and it is still dark, I just hang out in bed until I hear mommy or daddy make some sound and then I get out of bed by myself and go running into their room. If it is light out already, I just go directly there. Sometimes I would get confused and cry in the middle of the room while holding my bear blankie but now that I'm a big girl at 18 months, that rarely happens anymore.

If it is the weekend when daddy can sleep in, I go to his side of the bed first because he will always lift me up to snuggle and play on the covers in-between them. But on the weekends, I have to run all the way around to the other side. Mommy always laughs because she can just see the top of my head bouncing up and down around the edge of the bed as I run over there. Mommy sometimes just watch me read books and play on the floor from the warmth of the covers but eventually she lets me romp on the bed too.

Eventually I start to get hungry and we all go downstairs. Mommy and daddy can walk down the stairs upright but every time I have tried, I have fallen down them so I still prefer to go backwards. I don't mind because I can go just as fast even pulling a blanket, stuffed toy and whatever else I bring from my bedroom downstairs.

Breakfast is usually oatmeal, cereal, fruit, leftover waffles that daddy made or a combination of them. I really love my oatmeal and even cereal if I get cheerios. Right now they are trying to feed me some rice crispies and I don't like them as much.

When breakfast is over I get to go play for a while. Right now my favorite toy is a little plastic scooter that my parents found at a garage sale. It looks brand new and must have cost a fortune but my parents just say it cost fifty cents whatever that means. I like to go scooting around the house and occasionally put my feet up in the holders and have someone give me a big push. It even has a basket on front to store my blocks and socks when I don't feel like wearing them.

Depending on what mom is doing for the day, I can tell whether I am get to stay home all day or go to Mrs. Z's house. I like staying home but going to Mrs. Z's house a few times a week is a special treat because I get to play with lots of other kids my age and learn new things from them. Today mommy is getting me dressed up in clothes and not letting me play in my pajamas so I know I'm going to Mrs. Z's. I help her out by going to fetch a pair of shoes when she asks and even try putting them on myself. Then I grab my bag and meet her out in the garage where I hop into my blue stroller with big tires for the walk, at least for mommy, over to Mrs. Z's house. As soon as she sets me down, I'm off to find the other kids and get started on playing.

In the afternoon, daddy and mommy come and get me with the blue stroller again but because it has been so nice lately they take the long way home. Sometimes they walk around town pushing me for thirty minutes or more and they have to walk 15 minutes just to get to Mrs. Z's place first! I like riding in the blue stroller staring off at the world around me and watching the leaves fall from the tree. Sometimes I even practice my counting to five but I keep forgetting four and sometimes three. My favorite is to say five, which I shout.

When we get home, I usually have a snack while telling about my day to dad as he sits on the floor with me. Then I play with my toys until one of my parents starts to make supper. Then I like to go into the kitchen and play in the cupboards and drawers to see what kind of mischief I can get into. I really like the metal tongs for some reason but I will always be fond of the Tupperware drawer where I am constantly unstacking and stacking all the different shaped plastic containers.

The evening is always my time to play. Daddy will read me any book that I bring to him. My favorites are the Hungry Caterpillar where I get to count with him, the Yakkity Yak book and the Animal Picture book. I used to really love a Popup Bugeyes Alphabet book but because I ripped off or destroyed most of the popups, I don't like it so much anymore.

When it gets late and I start getting tired I let mommy and daddy know. I sit more still and let my eyelids sink lower over my eyes. Eventually I tell them I'm ready for bed and start climbing the stairs. First we go to the bathroom where I brush my teeth and take a bath if it is bath day. I really love my baths and wish everyday were bath day. After I get my teeth brushed, mommy or daddy will lift me up to the sink where I rinse it out, perhaps do some more brushing and then tap it out on the edge. Then I head to the bedroom where I get changed into my pajamas. Once again, I will go find a book or two to be read to me and then I walk over to my bed, find my bear blanket, crawl onto it in bed and lay down. Mommy and daddy will cover me up with a warm blanket, say my prayers for me, kiss me good night and turn off the light. It's dark in my room but I'm not scared because I'm a big girl now and can just get out whenever I want and go across the hall to their bedroom. But like I said, I'm a big girl now and I only do that in the morning when it is time for them to get up anyway.

Hope you all enjoyed one of my days!

Little Abbey