Day III-Adios Daytona and the Curse Goes On

I was up and drinking my coffee at my usual 5-ish hour, on the balcony enjoying my treasured solitude. Elizabeth told me she wanted to go “fake jogging” with me, so we took off as the sun was rising leftward.
We bickered on and off because Elizabeth kept walking faster than I was fake jogging and I kept telling her to at least pretend to run, and she kept telling me I needed a brain transplant, and why should she be pretending in the first place. I was not even capable of reprimanding her on respect since I was so out of breath. Let this nearly forty girl peacefully go pseudo jogging on the blasted beach!
When we made it back, cranky and my legs shaking a little, the kids begged for boiled peanuts for breakfast. Why not? It’s better than donuts. They weren’t bad and we even had watered-down lemonade to go along with them. This is one of the best combos in the world, forget pb&j, but no attempt of boiled peanuts stands a chance to the strawberry stand on the way to Myrtle Beach.

The tide was naturally high when we brought our towels down to the beach. Nikos spent a questionable amount of time taking our luggage to the car and finding out if we could check out. I guarantee you he was in the computer room, and likely caught a nap poolside, again. Does he seriously believe that he’s in disguise with a towel covering his face?! He’s like the guy back in the seventies with a paper bag over his head, and I can’t remember which show it was.

Meanwhile at the beach, we picked a spot directly in front of the mile long army of chairs and umbrellas rented out for a shameful $30, which I will never, as long as I live, rent. So far, most of the chairs were empty so I thought it was fine that we parked our towel in front.
Ten minutes later, while enjoying the rare and fleeting moments when the kids are peaceful and getting along, an older couple claimed their chairs which were behind us, and the queen of bitties immediately complained to her husband that we needed to move and mah mah mah…that we were in “their” space. I silently armed myself up with all of the comebacks my little imagination could conjure, my heart racing and clamping my jaws, ready for the verbal attack. They did not own the beach, and I would be swept out by a tsunami before I’d move my big rear for her! I was keenly aware of the curse taunting me. The kids remained oblivious to it all, while Nikolas rambled on and on about getting the surfing started. That sweet boy was up at 4 a.m. thinking it was time to go and surf. I made him go back to sleep, of course.
The husband came over and softly asked if we’d move once the tide went back, and I politely told him I’d surely do just that, but in the meantime, the chairs should not be placed right at the ocean. I heard the couple whispering and the orange tanned hag grumbling and mouthing off until she picked up her chair moved it one inch from Elizabeth’s head, and parked her feet. My sweet Elizabeth never noticed.
After forty minutes, Nikos came by and set up beach camp behind the couple, and had the kids come and tell me to move. Yeah right I was moving, what a good joke! The kids played in the ocean while I kept my mama hawk eyes glued to them. I also took great pleasure when the tide washed up, soaking our towels which didn’t matter, and tan bitty’s belongings, as she went hopping around to collect them. Once the kids and Nikos had migrated to the pool area, I unleashed my resolve and thanked the man for being patient so I could keep watch over my kids while swimming.
I also need to mention that in the early morning, Elizabeth and I witnessed people waiting for the pool to open and then they were running to empty chairs like a Black Friday special. It was incredulous and depressing that human greed is apparent on every dimension. Our towels were taken off of the chairs three times. Nikos needed to speak to a manager to be given more towels, because they were attempting to charge us $25 for each. The most pitiful part of this was that there were empty chairs, yet people wanted what others had.
We had a beautiful picnic lunch of gyros, while we gazed at the ocean. This was the most splendid part of our beach stay. Nikos packed everything and checked out while we took a walk on the beach. I held Katerina in the ocean so that her new found fear might subside, and indeed it did! She was giggling and although clinging to me like a baby chimpanzee, we splashed and played in the warm ocean water. The kids competed for my attention and it was a lovely ending.

The first stop was McDonald’s because I had been craving sweet tea, and we were off to Orlando! We called Daddy on the car speaker phone. He told me he would feed the chickens while we were gone. This put Nikolas at ease because there is no kid out there who is more comfortable with their chickens. He cleans their claws, perches them on his shoulder, and picks them up like a football while petting them. I love those ladies, and they sure are cute!
The Renaissance hotel is just across the street from Seaworld and one of our favorites. You can find great deals on it and they give little Shamu toys, which will delight any kid. The pool even has a water park. Well, the curse continued, and I’d accidentally booked a hotel ten miles away. Nikos called and cancelled and we only managed to get one night at the Renaissance, and for more than we had expected to pay. Our view was magnificent overlooking Seaworld. While waiting in the lobby, I checked my email and was hit with some disappointing news, the most recent agent to my book query informed me that my sixty page sample wasn’t right for their company. It is very difficult to break into the publishing world, and it is a discouraging process, to say the least. I’m sitting on a book I completed several months ago and it makes me question if I did it all for nothing or can even write for that matter.  Actually, just so you can get a feel for how a rejection note goes, here is a copy of the rejection letter:

Dear Rebecca,
Thank you for sharing your work with me. You write well, and I enjoyed
reading this—but I’m afraid that this is not quite right for us.

Still, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work. If
you haven't done so already, you may wish to look at The Jeff Herman
Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents - there, you should
be able to find someone who's a better fit for your work.

Again, Rebecca, thank you for sharing this with me. Best of luck with
this and future projects.

All best wishes,

Jessica

 

There were large glass caraffes filled with water and sliced oranges. I asked Nikolas to get two cups and he came back with seven. I made him return two. He wasn’t even joking. He worries me!


We ate downstairs at Tradewinds. My calamari was delicious but the the service was atrocious. We were at that mediocre restaurant for two hours! I even had time while I waited for my dessert to go, which by the way ended up being a two bit deal, to purchase tickets and get away from a timeshare rep who gave me a free bottle of lotion. The other diners looked frustrated and bored, and laughed when I remarked to Nikos that I’d see him up in the room in two hours.
We swam in the pool, however a disappointment to the kids was that the water park had closed only ten minutes prior. The lush landscape was tropical and a warm breeze blew softly, while we waded around. Poor Katerina began trembling with cold, and I couldn’t find Nikos anywhere. I knew he was in some hot tub. I finally got out of the warm water and froze along with Katerina and found him chatting away with some Swiss dudes. Nikos tried to introduce me but I was in a haggy mood, and was even a little rude. Something about holding a trembling tiny Katerina who needed to be in bed already and also still under a curse cloud, will cause havoc to any good mood. Plus, I couldn’t wait to try that banana chocolate mousse dessert.
Katerina was asleep in one minute, all warm in her jammies, and the excited kids and grumbling Nikos because I’d been rude followed shortly after. Once the kids were asleep, but first announcing the order of rides for tomorrow, I delved into that tiny dessert, which left me wanting more times four.

Day VI-Epic Epcot

The dawn was promising, and I felt we’d awakened in a luxurious hotel.  It is for our modest family, anyway.  I’d picked up some watermelon, OJ and donuts for breakfast at a nearby gas station last night.  I felt smugly resourceful, and Nikos’ smirking tilted head knew it.  We were primed and ready for Epcot, and we planned on staying a full day.

The Dolphin is considered an Epcot hotel, with a boat serving as transportation to a private entrance into the park.  This was a treat for all of us with the open air flowing in.  The captain even wore white like on the Love Boat.  The side with all of countries didn’t open until eleven, so we walked happily around to the giant golf ball, which Nikolas insists is called a “cornwall”.   The landscaping was fabulous!  The kids were more interested in the ducks, but the flowers were arranged in shapes and with vibrant colors.  The weather was perfect, and the park was not overly crowded.  we walked on most of the rides, without a wait.  I just couldn’t believe how different this visit was compared to three years ago.  We had to wait for every single ride for at least an hour last time.  The two exceptions were Test Tracks and Soarin’.

I felt a little ancy until we made it over to the countries, which is by far mine and Elizabeth’s very favorite part.  We went on the Mexican boat ride, put the three kids up front, and told them their parents were on a date.  I love that ride until Donald Duck gets on the screen.  Conversely, Nikolas giggled away, highly entertained by the added animation.

Nikos was beginning to growl wanting to eat.  The kids wanted Chinese but the choices were such slim pickings we mosied on to the next country, and the next.  Meanwhile, we went to the Norwegian ride, which is a little scary for a three year old.  Katerina didn’t even move my hands when I covered her eyes.  She doubled up with her own hands.  At least she relaxed when Nikolas and Elizabeth began singing, “Grumpy Old Troll”.   Caramel wafted through the air and I was hypnotized until we made our way to the caramel shop in Germany.  Nikolas ordered a huge caramel apple and I decided I’d share a caramel shortbread treat with Katerina, but only after lunch.  Nikos was biting his tongue but I could see the irritation growing, so we finally went for lunch in Morocco.  The food was delightful!   After eating more junk food meals than not, fresh lentils, falafel, tabouli, hummus and so on, tasted divine!  We enjoyed our desserts while Nikos took Elizabeth to Japan to get her shaved ice treat.

We played on the drums in Africa, Nikos teased me about the annoying Donald Duck and his pals when we rode the Mexican boat ride once more, and then we headed back over to the rides on the other side of the park in the afternoon.  The kids to played at the shaded playground, and I had to hide the flowers that Katerina had so proudly picked for her Mama.  I felt sorry for Elizabeth. She didn’t really want to play on the small playthings and Nikos and I were hanging out talking about obviously boring things to a thirteen year old.  I realized that this was just a moment in time and our lives would inevitably change.  There will come a time when we’ll no longer visit  Disney or unfathomably, not even want to sleep in a tent.   Nikos was either extremely bored or thinking  he’d have a little romance, but he was going on about how cute I looked in my old Marshall green t-shirt and black capris.  That’s my Nikos.  He more often than not compliments me when I haven’t tried a lick, but when I put some effort into my attire and do my hair, he doesn’t seem to notice.  At least he compliments me after all of these years, however random it is.  As far as what attracts me is when Nikos cleans the windshields with that squeegee at the gas station.  He knows it too.  He pops his head in my window and always says the same thing, “I’ve gotta take care of my little wife here”.  Nikos believes that I also find him attractive when he’s finally motivated to mow the lawn, which of course doesn’t do diddly squat for me. Now, Nikos will never need to know that last piece of information, and I thoroughly appreciate his efforts and a trim lawn. If I’m watching out the window, Nikos makes sure to look back at me and and pretends he’s desperately struggling with our self-propelled mower.  

My feet and legs felt achy, as I’m sure the rest of the family felt.  We went through a gift shop and all Nikolas kept talking about was how much he wanted the cornwall ball.  He made us go to yet another gift shop, and he found it!  He told us that he had wanted it for three years, since our last visit.  It was the first time Nikos and I had both heard about it.  Nikolas is not much of a talker  typically.  Katerina cried after the first shop and then the second.  I began to think she had grown spoiled, since she hasn’t cried for toys up until now.  Elizabeth came outside with me, while I tried to console Katerina.  I explained to her that Minnie Mouse wouldn’t be happy if she knew that  Katerina was so sad in her world.  This just made Katerina wail even louder.  Once her sobbing subsided, Katerina explained, “Minnie Mouse will look at me and say, “That not Miinie Mouse, that Katerina’.  Me need Minne Mouse ears.  Minnie Mouse say “That Minnie Mouse, not Katerina, but they be sparkly ears”.  Bless her sweet baby heart!  Katerina still needs some work on her speech, but that darling girl communicated exactly what her precious brain thought! Elizabeth and I laughed so much.  Of course, we’d get that baby girl some Minnie Mouse ears!

We’d gone on mostly everything by four, and headed back over to where our boat stop was. On the walk back, Nikolas found his thirtieth lizard.  This time he caught it.  He was gasping with excitement, and i realized all that Nikolas for sheer happiness is a lizard to chase around and a cornwall ball.  Overall, it was a wonderful day at at Epcot!

Once we made it back to the hotel, we weren’t hungry yet for dinner, so we headed to the pool, and it’s freezing water.  I’m grossed out by hot tubs because I’ve heard one too many times that you can get an STD in them.  We were all cold, so I allowed the kids to wade in the Jacuzzi, and besides, the only real swimming Nikos ever does is dips in a hot tub, and he seems fine.  Oh now I’m all grossed out! He’d better stop by many gas stations and take that squeegee to wipe away my new visions from my microbiology classes in college!

We quickly dressed and took the boat over to the Boardwalk.  It was a cute area, resembling 1920’s Atlantic City.  We ate at at Greek restaurant, owned by Cat Cora, an Iron Chef celebrity.  We ordered two saganakis (fried greek cheese), Elizabeth and I had pastichio (Greek lasagna), Nikos had soup and a trio platter, Nikolas had grilled fish and Katerina was out after eating two bites of bread.  The food and atmosphere were nice, and we only had a wait of ten minutes.  The staff cheered, Opa” way too many times, but we were in Disney after all.  Cheese factor is entirely acceptable.  The boardwalk was festive with hanging lights, with many people out and spending their vacation money.  We stopped by a bakery and bought some muffins for breakfast.  The hotel was so close, it wasn’t necessary to wait for the boat. This had been a terrific day, and so it seemed the curse just might have slithered away.

I don’t even remember if I turned on the TV before bed.  We were all passed within seconds. The kids didn’t even squabble over their usual contention of bed space.

Day II, Unlikely Hero and Possible Curse

Shew! What a day/night/whatever it was! Once we’d checked in to our three bedroom (it was supposed to be a one bedroom) deluxe ocean-front condo, Nikos and I turned on the TV, locked the balcony door, bribed Nikolas and Elizabeth to make sure Katerina doesn’t unlock the door or do anything dangerous, Nikos and I scattered into separate bedrooms, and collapsed into a much needed slumber after two days of sleep totaling seven hours. I awakened at 9:30 a.m. and for those whom have known me since childhood, this is utterly shocking. I am devotedly a morning person, up before any rooster, reveling in the quiet darkness of early dawn, but not today. The only apparent damage was that Katerina had been in the cleaning closet with the broom and dustpan in the bathtub, the plunger was on the coffee table (blech!) and the door was off of the rolling track due to a toilet brush handle lodged underneath, not too bad… I awakened Nikos because we were at the beach-yippee! I first had him fix the door while I cleaned Katerina’s hands and the coffee table. The door completely fell and landed in the hall. There was some paint which had been scraped by the door down near the base. The kids of course were already wearing their swimming suits, and I quickly dressed, avoided the mirror and made everyone brush their teeth.

Here is where I will go ahead and admit that I haven’t exactly acted with integrity, which I am now suspecting has issued a curse upon us. This is what happened. A few months ago, I was bored and feeling itchy to go on a trip. I was on the computer so I got on Priceline. Elizabeth was coaxing me on as I harmlessly bid on a four or five night stay at a Disneyworld location hotel. The price was accepted and we were then stuck in a depressing and dreadful looking hotel a few miles from Walt Disney World, because I thought I was bidding on a Disney hotel. I began to cry, which always softens up Nikos and helped when he learned about what I’d done, especially because I had just spent the last of our money.
Nikos was in the middle of selling his website and accounts were about to be frozen. The bad luck began at that moment. I wanted out of it, and told him I’d never go all the way to Disneyworld to stay there! please don’t think of me as a snob, but it has been three years since we’ve been and the Disney resorts are as nice as the parks, essential to making the trip a success. No, this isn’t what makes me a terrible person, it’s the next line.
Five days before we left,and I will not mention details, I had Nikos call Priceline and to make a long story short we got out of it. I’m always preaching integrity to my kids and the courage to be honest, and here we acted hypocritically, and I feel guilty. We got our blasted refund, but the Disney resorts went up to an extra $100 per night when the day before they were reasonable. Then this dummy timeshare owner charged us for a three-bedroom, $250/night versus the $150 I’d reserved, and she made the reservation for three nights, even though I’d reserved it for two. The Wyndham resort told us upon check-in that there was nothing they could do, it was up to the owner for correcting the mistake. This was when I began suspecting we might have been cursed. First, the inflated Disney prices, then the clueless or sneaky time-share owner, the four hour trip to Daytona, and it continues.

The outdoor pools were nice yet crowded. The beach was beautiful, that lovely consistent whispering rush, always the same no matter what beach in the world you are. The water was fairly warm, and we played briefly until I decided we should all take a walk.
I’d be in great shape if I lived by the beach, I would walk for miles every single day. We went close to two miles, even Katerina’s little legs swished most of the distance. While playing intermittently and Nikolas disturbing any washed up coral and jellyfish, I warned the kids of the riptides in the ocean. Even writing it makes me cringe, and I’ve had this tremendous fear of the word long before John Irving’s description in “The World According to Garp”. It’s a scary word, in a scary ocean, and I warned the kids not to go past their hips because it was scary for their Mama and a danger to them. Unfortunately, Katerina grasped my fear and decided she was afraid to even touch her feet to the water, when five minutes earlier she was splashing and playing. I guess she will also fear the word, ahhhh! I’m scared to write it again, riptide!!

We left for lunch and wasted a good hour deciding that we didn’t want a sit down restaurant, and finally decided on Five Guys. We sat outside and the kids delighted in feeding the squirrels their peanuts. On the way out I told the kids we could make boiled peanuts if they gathered some. I hadn’t any idea those goofs would come out with a bag weighing three pounds. How embarrassing! Don’t worry fellow West Virginians, the license plate on the car is from Florida,and I’m not wild about Daytona Beach so I doubt I’ll see any of these people again.

The rest of the afternoon on the beach was hazy and dazy and I was grateful for Katerina’s new fear of the ocean because she sat directly by my side playing in the sand while I took two ten minute naps.
We couldn’t find Nikos for a good part of the early afternoon. When we’d taken a break from the beach to go to the pools, we found Nikos, with a towel over his head snoring away. The kids were dripping wet and jumped on him, and I barely, really whispered for them not to. Before any of you who favor Nikos over me begin to feel sorry for him, he slept hours more than I didn’t, thank you! I simply have some resentment when Nikos feels it’s fine to not tell me he has left the beach to go hang out poolside and peacefully nap the day away, while I have the three kids, two of whom are dangerously trusting and loving of the ocean. Yes, I was filled with the satisfaction of a cat sunning itself by the window with a full belly.

Nikolas begged Nikos to rent him a surfboard, and naturally Elizabeth needed one too. Energized by his two hour nap, Nikos set out in the ocean with the kids and helped them try surfing for the first time. Within two or three tries, Nikolas was standing and cruising on the surf board! It took Elizabeth a while longer, which I had imagined the opposite, but they were doing it, and it only cost us ten bucks!

Suddenly, I heard sirens and lifeguards running at marathon speed right where Nikos and the kids had been. That was the moment I remembered the curse! How bad would it grow? Elizabeth ran over close to tears, “Mama, Daddy just saved this kid’s life and now I think he’s drowning!” A sick drop bit my stomach as panic swept upon me. It was difficult to wedge my way through the crowd that had developed to watch the going on. I finally found Nikos and Nikolas still out in the ocean and far beyond were a stranded threesome, and lifeguards swimming at incredible speed. It took a long time, and we all cheered once everyone was rescued and brought to shore.
Nikos told me that a teenaged boy had been way out in deep water, screaming and flailing his arms until he went down and hadn’t resurfaced. Nikos had swum as fast as he could, grabbed the boy off the ocean floor and brought him to shore. Once the kid could speak, he began crying and screaming that his mother was drowning. Simultaneously, the guards had noticed the stranded swimmers. It was crazy! Nikolas just wanted to surf some more. Elizabeth looked out in the ocean, and proudly announced, “Daddy is my hero”! Okay, I felt proud too.

We walked to Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Factory for dinner. There was only a fifteen minute wait, and the food was tasty. Katerina ate everyone’s coleslaw. She ate all of her grilled shrimp which poor Nikolas had been counting on eating the rest, and had devoured his grilled shrimp within seconds. Elizabeth had chicken and mashed potatoes, I had fish and chips, and Nikos had seafood pasta. Mine was so good it brought me back to eating fresh halibut on a picnic at the Oregon coast. I took back to the hotel a key lime pie for dessert, and couldn’t wait for the kids to go to bed to enjoy, which took about thirty seconds for those sweet kids to pass out. I believe I was asleep while eating the pie and fork in hand.

Day 1-Easter and Exodus

We left Easter Sunday for our latest venture, a nine day trip to Florida. First, let me mention that the day was lovely, sunny and essentially a textbook perfect Easter. The kids were up around 6 a.m. immediately looking for their hidden baskets. Katerina’s was easy, Elizabeth’s was under the mountain of laundry which still needed put away, and Nikolas’ was on top of the cat food container in the laundry room. They received some great items, Nikolas could not believe his eyes, he held up with his shocked mouth, a silver eagle dollar. I was exhausted, having slept only four and half hours, and I still had to pack and clean. Nikos was equally as tired, and we were bickering and grouchy, and at the same time trying our best to hide it from the kids.

We made it to the 8:30 service at our church only ten minutes late. The kids needed a wipe down before entering, with chocolate all over their faces. Nikolas even had some chocolate smeared by his ear. It was very crowded and spirits were high! One of the reasons we enjoy the early service so much is the fact that anyone who gets up and goes at this hour wants to be there, the congregation is generally a kick-back, sweet and genuine group. I didn’t recognize half of the people today, ladies with British-style hats, entire families, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the lovely dresses. I wasn’t particularly dressed for Easter, but I’d bought my outfit, after trying on many things (I do not like to shop), simply because when Nikolas saw me with my outfit on outside of the dressing room, he told me I looked beautiful. I enjoyed when the pastor reminded the congregation that we should be celebrating Jesus 51 Sundays a year, not just this day. Nikos was asleep before the choir had even finished. He makes me a wreck in church, always dozing off and then he excuses himself, saying he’s praying! He stays up very late working on his websites and designs, so the early morning is glad to see him during his rare appearances.

Directly after church, we drove down to Ashland to enjoy an Easter brunch at Bellefonte. The food was delicious, but I really need to direct you straight to the dessert, my favorite being the lemon raspberry cake. Had I not been in a hoity toity place, I would have scraped off the icing from the server, and really enjoyed it. They were onto us as it was, with Nikolas being nine and still having issues with operating a knife and fork. Elizabeth was slurping her long gone lemonade, even after I whispered reprimands three times, and Katerina, oh my! Do I need to embellish? We are not country club people, whatever that really is, since none of it is genuine, however that food is so superb, we were forced to join to eat. Furthermore, they have tennis camps, a beautiful pool and it is inexpensive for families living outside its immediate area.
There was an almost obnoxious Easter bunny outside and I snapped some pics with the kids yet she wanted me on her lap and then Nikos. I wondered what exactly was in her tea. Just as the kids were in line for the egg hunt, Jennifer and her kids appeared. They were meeting Jennifer’s parents for the later brunch. I was glad the kids got to hang out for the egg hunt and Will even found the golden egg. While taking some pictures, Will proudly displayed his egg in his shirt pocket. Jennifer’s dress was gorgeous, and I was almost entranced by how well matched Jennifer and Matt were with their outfits. I felt a little embarrassed since Nikolas’ shirt was untucked and totally wrinkled, and Nikos was wearing the wrong pants which were two sizes too small. We’d already been in a rush for church and thus, I didn’t make him change.

I spent the rest of the afternoon, packing and doing my best to leave the house at least clean enough to not be depressed when I return. The kids gathered the last of the coins they could find. I told them that they could collect as many stray coins from the car and house, which would be divided by three, and serve as their souvenir money. Those little nuts gathered $96! We stopped by Walmart to buy two more backpacks. As long as our items are in them, we don’t have to pay for luggage at the airport. Meanwhile, Nikos took the kids to the coin collecting machine to get their cash, and came back with a $96 Papa John’s Pizza voucher. We don’t even like Papa John’s! I’ll let everyone know when we have a pizza party. Nikolas was crying and Elizabeth wanted to call the police, and I just shook my head wondering how Nikos could mess up the simple act of getting coins changed into cash.
At the airport, the plane was delayed by more than an hour. The kids were sneaking their candy, and I caught Katerina underneath the seat, eating some that had dropped. Nikos had to go through security three times. The second was we had forgotten the camera, and the third was a scene-maker. Katerina had darted off and ran through the security gate, with Nikos running after her, the alarms went off like a submarine attack. There were even flashing red lights, synchronized with the “whoop, whoop, whoop”! Bystanders who were in different gates came by to watch the commotion. The security guard took Nikos, Katerina, and Elizabeth because she touched Katerina, all through questioning and security again. I should also add that Nikos is the world’s biggest nerd at airports. I don’t know what happened to him in his life that he behaves like he’s meeting with the president. He checks the tickets repeatedly, won’t budge from the gate, even when we aren’t due to board for three hours, he’s bonkers, and I take great pleasure in disturbing his mental psychosis. He’s also terrified of the employees, all the way down to the luggage guys. For the alarm to be blaring and the scene we garnered was Nikos’ worst airport nightmare.

This was Katerina’s fist time flying and she couldn’t have been cuter! She was so excited and pretended she was on a roller coaster with Elizabeth. The kids listened intently to the rules of safety, something that all of the adult flyers never look up to see, fearing they they will appear as first time flyers. I always watch mostly because that flight attendant arm dance looks pretty cool. I purchased some waters and shortly after Katerina was conked out for the night. There was a toddler wailing almost the duration of the flight, and I couldn’t help feeling a little smug that my sleeping hurricane was quiet. It’s okay, I’ll get my payback for my smugness on the flight back.

We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale airport close to midnight. All of us had slept on the plane, which was a good thing when we found out that Daytona was four hours away. We were off to a bad start to say the least. Nikos rented a Toyota Camry, and we were in for the marathon drive, pure torture. I will go ahead and admit this as my blunder. The kids were squished together like newborn pups, dozing away just as they should be. Nikos was a good boy for not going on about how much I messed up the distance when planning the trip. We stopped a few times, until finally sleeping for a good hour, parked at a lonely abandoned gas station, with weeds decorating the decrepit pumps. The sun was rising and we made made it to our beautiful hotel just in time for a good nap, not caring what kind of trouble the kids got while free in the room.

Peppery Pittsburgh

The kids were out of school this past Monday for President’s Day, so we decided to head to Pittsburgh. As usual, We’d planned on leaving just as soon as Elizabeth was out of school at 3:30, yet we left around 5:30. We left the house cluttered and the bathrooms could have been wiped down, which left me feeling unsettled for two reasons. The first is the devastating idea I wish I could erase from my head but can’t is if we should perish in some tragic accident, I would not want anyone coming in the house and seeing that we left the house messy. What a terrible lasting impression! This concept falls along the lines of never being found with dirty or torn undies. The second reason is that it’s terrible to come home to a messy home after being away.

I was upset over an incident at Nikolas’ school, which has been resolved, yet it had put a dampener on the weekend. This was the reason I threw everything in the luggage bag and neglected the house. It was a beautiful warm Friday afternoon, and I felt guilty that we hadn’t taken sweet baby girl to the park. This February is freakishly warm, and you really don’t want to get me started on the subject of global warming. If you are a non-believer of the dramatic climate change due to our deleterious human practices, take a look at the recession of the glaciers around the world. Please.

Elizabeth started complaining how bored she was, twenty minutes later. She wanted one of those teeny bopper magazines with Justin Beiber’s over-photographed face on the cover. She began arguing about what kind of mother discourages her child to read–exhale, sigh, where’s the rest area? We picked up our oh so healthy dinners from Wendy’s and McDonald’s. What a catastrophe we are in drive-thrus! They all hate us. The kids are yelling out their orders, the staticky drive-thru voice is annoyed and hates their job, and we have to repeat, change our orders, always. It doesn’t help with Nikos’ Greek accent, either. No matter how many years pass with Nikos living in America, he will forever pronounce the McChicken sandwich as “Mack-cheeken”. Nikolas ordered his usual, two baked potatoes with extra butter and sour cream. Elizabeth tried to swipe the potato skin and they fought until we made it to the next exit over it.

We stayed for the night in Morgantown, because Nikos needed to pick up a couple of engines from his friend, Mark. We’ve stayed at the same Comfort Inn before. It is aged and the room made me squeamish. There were carpet stains, stains on the chair, in which Katerina plopped down head first and tried to spin around in the chair. I was spinning with frantic thoughts of what those stains might be. Nikolas had his briefcase (my old college/grad school bag) filled with his beloved coin collection. This is Nikolas’ latest obsession. He has a magnifying glass and goes over his coins for hours. Last week I’d discovered that our yard was chewed up with thirty-plus holes and two shovels beside the latest dig. I knew it had been Nikolas. He’d explained he was looking for ancient Roman coins. Nikolas is a very smart kid, but his sense of geography is frighteningly bad.

I awakened in a sunshiny positive mood. We marched down to the complimentary breakfast, always the same anxious-shushed ordeal, but had to march right back again to drop off Nikolas’ coin-filled briefcase. I should add that he sleeps with one eye open with that beloved thing.  Finally back to the breakfast room, I can’t help it, I look at those plastic serving tools and try my best to not imagine guys scratching themselves and then not cleaning their hands. Elizabeth took half of the microwave bacon, claiming she wasn’t eating anything else. I made Nikolas and Katerina strawberry waffles, and I took less than I really wanted of the bacon, which suddenly looked very appealing. Nikolas took the rest, and I mean every last piece. I had to scold him a few times, and a little louder than I would have for the sake of the annoyed people sitting next to us, who had no bacon, thanks to my greedy boy. Katerina threw her sticky pink waffle at the fireplace, and Nikolas tromped back in that breakfast room, I’m not kidding, to see if the attendant had added more bacon.
Pittsburgh was a mere hour away. The only swimsuit I had forgotten to pack happened to be the little one who goes on trips for swimming and nothing else, Katerina. We were driving to the outlets but Nikos was also looking for a cheaper gas station, and he naturally was lost in two seconds, I was on the phone so I didn’t help him and we drove an extra thirty-five minutes. Nikos stinks at navigation, and there is no other topic that comes close to us arguing more.

Just as we were ascending the hill to reach the mecca of outlets, according to Elizabeth, Nikolas was complaining that Elizabeth had rationed out the Chapstick. He was asking why he had to use the glob off of her finger, and Elizabeth said she didn’t like how he put so much on until he looked like a clown. This is true, but I knew it had to do with her OCD over germs. I got so mad at her, because she’s always bossing Nikolas and he’s so clueless he allows it. I told her she couldn’t go into the outlets with me. This was a partial reason, the second was that I wanted in and out of that depressing place. Elizabeth and I do not share the same liking for outlet malls.

I bought a little something for all of us, Addidas t-shirts were only three bucks, a little leather coin bag for Nikolas, tank tops for Elizabeth to go under some shirts I won’t allow her to wear without them, and Katerina’s pretty little two piece. Okay, outlet malls do have some good deals, and that’s all I’ll give them. We stopped by a Giant Eagle for discounted zoo tickets, but they weren’t selling them. Elizabeth was with me, way sweeter than she had been forty minutes prior. I bought her that ridiculous brainless magazine for the trip home, and only because I found the most lovely white chocolate mini-cake filled with raspberry in the center, and covered in white chocolate curls. How could I resist? I also bought Katerina a ball and Nikos some cookies. I told Nikolas he could get something from the vending machine at the next hotel, and he was pleased enough. He didn’t care, he had that briefcase resting on his lap and he was immersed in his treasure of coins.

We ate lunch at Einstein Bros. A few months ago, I’d taken the kids around Pittsburgh for three days while Nikos was in MN at his business. I thought I was hot stuff knowing how to navigate without that stupid GPS phone (the other woman) of Nikos’. We’d eaten at Einstein Bros. twice when I was on my own with the kids.

It was early afternoon when we reached the zoo. Being that Katerina is great at walking, we decided to skip the stroller. It was a beautiful, slightly chilly day, and I felt tremendously glad to be out with the family on such a fine afternoon. Katerina loved the zoo, especially, and we all love that sweet baby elephant, who has grown since we last visited. For a Saturday, it was not terribly crowded, and there weren’t the self-centered aggressive parents who fight over the window space.

I was tempted to skirt around the playground and save us thirty minutes, until my guilt kicked in. Katerina ran full force ahead screaming, “Look, Paygound, Mama!” Serious guilt filled me after that! The kids played on the slides and Nikolas jumped dangerously on the nets, and poor Elizabeth at that highly awkward age of thirteen, was stuck trying to have fun at a place she is clearly outgrowing. It was nostalgic, even melancholic sitting on the bench smiling and clapping every time Katerina went down the slide with her wild messy hair behind her. What a small window of time it is, and there was Elizabeth’s seven year old phantom, sliding down that same slide. It felt like an Autumn afternoon, bittersweet. Nikolas also seemed a little down, and he commented several times that the animals seem sad to be trapped in their areas. I could bet that he felt exactly as I had at his age, scheming how I’d break in the zoos and set all the animals free.

There was yet another playground next to the kangaroos. Katerina hopped all around that circle claiming she was a kangaroo, until we lost her in the maze of tunnels at the playground. The zoo closed at 4p.m. and we took our time leaving. It was a perfect afternoon, in my opinion.

I wasn’t quite hungry (just get over your shock) but we drove around Pittsburgh for so long it was five when we pulled up to a Cheesecake Factory. It’s Elizabeth’s favorite. I spied a German restaurant just behind it and preferred to go there. The wait for the Cheesecake Factory was ninety minutes, it was freezing therefore impossible to wait. We walked with the griping Elizabeth to the German restaurant which had a three hour wait. Finally, we settled on a seafood restaurant, in which the hostess told us without reservations, the next table would be available at 8:30. She suggested the bar and there was one booth available.

The food wasn’t bad. The sourdough bread wedges helped keep Katerina from being thrown out of the restaurant. Katerina found a space in the booth seat which I’m sure still is holding ten pieces of silverware. Nikos and I shared a lobster bisque, well, the kids took all of the lobster out of it first. It was a little cheesy that the waitress held the bowl, poured a silver pitcher of the soup in the bowl, and honestly it wasn’t that great for $12. I ordered parm-encrusted flounder with extra lemon butter sauce. The sides were garlic sauteed green beans and sweet potato risotto. My meal was delicious. Nikos ordered chicken carbonara for crying out loud-no more comments on that one! The kids each had coconut shrimp. Somehow, I directed the waitress to pick up one of the same cakes I’d described to her that I’d bought, and she seemed pretty excited to get off of work to get it.

We stayed at a Comfort Suites near the airport. Katerina had her swimsuit on before I’d even thrown off the bedspreads. We all went swimming, Nikos reluctantly followed once I gave him a talking to about how the kids will remember how their dad never played in the pool with them and all of that good guilt-induced information. Nikolas has reached that annoying boys stage where he splashes and aggravates everyone around him. There were two more boys at the same stage in the pool. My failed attempt at keeping my hair dry was evidence enough.

The kids fell asleep relatively quickly, once they tired themselves of jumping on the beds and finally would be grounded if they jumped once more. I could not contain my excitement over eating that beautiful cake. It beckoned me and the only thing between us was the fact the kids needed to fall asleep first, so I wouldn’t have to share.

I was awakened at 2:30 by the obnoxious neighbors making an incredible amount of noise which was karma already biting at me for being stingy with my cake. Instead of going back to sleep, I began thinking about the ordeal at Nikolas’ school, involving a boy who has been bullying Nikolas, and I grew so upset. Nikos woke up and told me I need to stop caring too much about the kids and things that really aren’t as big of a deal as I make them. Does Nikos not know after all of these years, that you don’t tell an upset mother, especially in the wee hours when everything is over-dramatized, such stupid suggestions?! I tried to roll him off the bed, he told me I was insane, and I was two seconds away from knocking on our still noisy neighbor’s door and give them a stern talking to. Had I not been wearing my pajamas with the hole in the rear that is shaped exactly like a heart, and no I didn’t cut it, I would have.

Nikos brought me my coffee as he always does in the morning when we stay in hotels. Katerina was awake ten minutes later, sipping up all of my half and half containers I could have added to the bitter coffee. The breakfast was an odd combination of french toast sticks and scrambled eggs, cheerleaders and pageant type moms with crazed looks in their eyes. Nikolas used sixteen packs of sugar in his tea, and it was too late, he had already ingested it before I realized it. Elizabeth followed in Nikolas’ footsteps and ate all of the french toast sticks. Where have I failed? Why are my kids so greedy in hotel breakfast rooms? They need to be threatened at home if they don’t eat more of their breakfast, their punishment being they will be forced to eat school cafeteria food. It works every single time. Katerina was standing in the chair waving wildly at a two year old boy she later be-befriended and bugging the angry looking guy reading the paper.

Our first stop of the morning was Einstein Bros. on the way to the Carnegie Science Museum for our lunch to go, since we needed to stall until the museum opened at ten. Nikos and I then got in an argument over respect and how he doesn’t show me any and instead gives all of his love to that robot lady on his GPS. Yes, I am jealous of an automated voice! Nikos put his phone away and asked how we get to the museum. Well, for once in a hundred, I got us lost. The kids were moaning and groaning at their extremely immature parents still arguing about “the other woman GPS voice”, and in the end she won, that bitty! Those two, Nikos and his GPS she-bot, triumphant together against me!

We started off at the sports complex at the science center. I rode the unicycle on the tightrope, and worried that my cake indulgence might throw me to the floor. I was thirty feet in the air. The kids rock climbed and Katerina tinkled in her pants until I found the restroom, and we rushed a little to make it to the Imax film, “Rocky Mountain Express”. This was the very first Imax film Nikos hadn’t slept! We ate our bagel lunch after, and then we were ready to play. I’d promised Nikolas we’d visit the robotics floor first. My favorite is the miniature train room. Nikos came over and told me that there was a psychotic mom who reprimanded Nikolas that it was her son’s turn first, and then she had her husband play, other son and then herself, and they weren’t even in line, except for the son. Later, Nikos pointed them out and I feigned bravado and said a little over a whisper, hoping they heard me, “Yep, they look like psycho parents!”.

We went to a live demonstration of fruit flambe-making. We’ve been to these before and I knew to get in line for a good seat. There was an East-Indian family who were initially waiting in line, and then had dispersed and the moment we’d arrived front in line, they were back. The mom pushed her son in front so we were standing next to each other, and I was transformed into competitive only slightly psycho mom chanting in my head “we are getting in there first, lady”! These moments bring out the worst in me. I shouldn’t be around people. We arrived at the same time, and for what? Both Nikolas and that boy were the only ones answering questions after questions as if on opposing quiz bowl teams. Admittedly, the other boy won by two questions. Katerina warmed my heart when she answered a question, what her favorite fruit was, she replied loudly, “babanas!”. Elizabeth was strangely shy which amazed me, but she answered a question or two.

Filling our minds with great knowledge lasted until 3 p.m. and it was time to head home. The best part of going to all of these museums is that it fills the parents with such a satisfactory feeling of good parenting. You just can’t help feeling like you have done your good parenting deed for the month. On the way home, I received a sweet e-mail from the principal regarding Nikolas, and all of my sadness and anxiety had been lifted regarding the school issue. Justice and goodness prevailed! We also bought the kids shamrock milkshakes and I had sweet tea to pass the miles by until dinner.

We were all in great moods as we drove home. I only nagged Nikos about his inconsistent speeds twice. It was good to be home in our cluttered house, the chickens were still alive,and our skanky cat hadn’t vomited on the ivory carpet or the bedspreads as she usually does when we leave.