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.

Good Eats

Food-just about the epitome of all joy. Probably the essential factor of any successful trip is the food. It is an entirely uncomfortable feeling to be in a new town and be in the dark of “the place to eat”. Naturally, every other person has a different opinion unless of course there is only one diner in the town. Good eats are imperative to this forum because without this section we would all be lost souls, desperately seeking culinary excitement.

I will very quickly list one of my very favorite dining establishments, and at a later time my other top faves in random order and even more random locales. The first is- The Common Man. It ends up that this place is a chain of sorts, but please don’t mistake this for the epidemic of plastic American chain restaurants. We came across The Common Man in Manchester, New Hampshire. While waiting to be seated we were ushered upstairs to the bar/lounge for some samples of cheese spreads served in crocks and an assortment of crackers. The entire restaurant screamed giddy shoulder-shrugging coziness and homey decor. The food was perfection. The satisfaction of splendid well-constructed dishes can be inspiring to even the canned Spaghettios cook type. My delightful plate consisted of roasted/sliced duck covered in a blackberry cream sauce, crisp garlic-sauteed green beans and new potato mash. We shamefully could not bring ourselves to ordering dessert, yet the server came out with the bill delivery, carrying a woven basket filled with white and dark chocolate mounds. The beautiful server, even though I have no recollection of how she actually appeared, continued to shave off chocolate pieces straight out of Heaven.

There comes a moment in your life when you are acutely aware that you have witnessed true culinary perfection. This was just that kind of dinner.