Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Road Trip: New Territory

I’ve been gone from my blog longer than I was gone from home, but no apologies.  Why bore us all with pointless garden updates or repetitive kitten pictures?  (Just in passing, she’s growing more than it is.)

Nope, I’ve got something more interesting to share, finally.  Last week I made a loooooong drive to meet up with my brother’s family on the sunny shores of Delaware.

Now, when I think “beach getaway,” Delaware is far from the first state that comes to mind.  I never even thought of Delaware as having a shoreline, sandy or otherwise.  Or, more honestly, I didn’t really think of Delaware at all.

But through an old friend, my brother learned of a small, secluded town by the name of Lewes, and he and his family have made a tradition of renting a house there with friends every summer.  Every year my sister-in-law invites me to come stay with them, and every year I had to tell her I’d already scheduled all my time off.

This year, however, marked my fifth one with my company, which means I now have a third week of annual vacation.  (A far cry from my teaching years!)  So I hoarded some extra days to finally make the connection, and invited myself up.  After all the driving I did in June, I was not looking forward to making the trip, but it had been fully two years since I’d seen my nephews and niece, and I was not about to miss the chance.

Unfortunately, Miss Chef is smack in the middle of summer quarter, so she couldn’t come with me.  That would have made the trip so much sweeter, between sharing the driving adventure and playing with the kids, both of which she’s exceptional at doing.  So on Wednesday morning I kissed her goodbye and set my GPS for Cape Henlopen Circle.

The drive took me east across North Carolina, then up into eastern Virginia.  I was avoiding the DC area, so I was aiming for Norfolk, VA, followed by a long slog up a state highway through Maryland into Delaware.  Now, while DC is a notorious traffic nightmare, Norfolk is no picnic either, and the fact that my navigation app stopped working right in the middle of it didn’t help.  But I eventually made my way out and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

That’s a whole lot of words to describe a whole lot of engineering.  I knew there was a toll—a rather steep one, at $12—but that was all I knew.  So it was with great curiosity and eagerness that I finally drove onto the bridge.

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If you look into the distance, you’ll see a huge container ship heading into the bay.  Yes, it’s a very, very long bridge.  But how, you ask (being very perceptive), how is that ship going to get past the bridge?  Surely it’s not high enough for international cargo ships to slip underneath?

No, in fact, they slip over top.  Because this is the Bay Bridge Tunnel.  After a mile or two…or maybe more, I wasn’t counting…you suddenly come upon a man-made island right in the middle of the bay.  In the center of that island is the entrance to the tunnel in question.

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My intensive Wikipedia research tells me this tunnel is a mile long.  Oh, and after you come out onto the bridge again, and drive another couple of miles, there’s a second mile-long tunnel!  This creates two wide shipping lanes for those ships we were looking at above.

The total bridge-tunnel distance is about 20 miles.  Here’s a shot from the northern side that I took on the way back, as I was coming down a long slope from a higher portion of the bridge.

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You can see the northbound bridge on the left, and behind it, the two roadways curving into the distance.  If you embiggen the picture, you just might be able to see the silhouettes of the two tunnel-entrance islands.

But enough about the drive, it was long enough to live through.  10 hours, give or take, which was an hour and half longer than I had been led to believe.  Boy, was I happy to finally find the house with its New Jersey-plated cars parked out front.

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Yes, it’s a big house, but keep in mind there were already ten people staying here, several of them teenagers.  I, being number 11, got to sleep on the foldout bed in the living room.  I was so exhausted, I wasn’t in the least bit disturbed to have this fellow watching over me the whole time.

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I thought this was hilarious.  It reminds me of every Scooby Doo episode I ever watched, and I was amazed to find people actually hang these in their homes! 

That first night all I managed to do, after the meet and greet, was eat dinner and go for a stroll on the bayside beach.  I returned the next couple of mornings and took some pictures by daylight.

This is how close to the water we were (taken from the upstairs balcony).

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Yeah, big houses are pretty much de rigueur for this neighborhood.  It’s a private neighborhood that’s not exactly lower-class.

The entrance to the beach…I love the blue color of the house on the right.

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To the left, you can see the ferry leaving for Cape May, an hour’s ride away.

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To the right, a lovely view of seaside Americana.

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Out in the bay, a tall-masted ship is available for half-day and daylong tours, or so I was told.  This photo’s a bit fuzzy because I zoomed in so far.

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On the beach, my oldest nephew, Alex, was fascinated by the numerous horseshoe crabs left near the high-tide line.  This one was still alive, and after chasing his friend down the beach with it, Alex finally tossed it into the water.  It really does look like something from another planet.

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My first full day was taken up with a trip to the other beach, facing the Atlantic shore.  We were staying in the vicinity of the green arrow in the map below, and had just a few miles’ drive east into the state park to reach the slightly larger beach and bigger waves.  And slightly colder water.  Brrrr.


Besides warming up the ocean with our body heat, there were some frisbee and soccer games…

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…and of course, someone had to get buried in the soft, warm sand.

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The evenings were mostly spent back at the house.  Of course, with the kids, there was plenty of this…

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…smartphones, tablets, laptops and game systems, screens of every size.  One day Mom declared “screen-free Thursday,” with moderate success.  Even baking a late-night batch of brownies didn’t slow them down.

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I didn’t mind, I learned about a couple new apps to check out!  Gotta stay up to date if you want to relate to the youngin’s, you know.

The next day we walked over to the state park and checked out some bikes for a pretty easy 4-mile loop through the coastal forest.  Though I spent half my childhood biking country roads, it had been many a year since I mounted up on two wheels, so I didn’t even think about taking pictures or video while we were rolling.

We did stop a couple of times, though.  Once, at the top of a short but steep hill, we waited for the younger kids while overlooking the preserved barracks from World War II.

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This was a military area, built to observe and defend against possible German U-Boat attacks.  You can see one of the large guns on the left—pointed the wrong way, I noticed.

Up another hill, we arrived at the top of what is apparently the largest sand hill between Cape Cod and my own state of North Carolina.  Having just driven from there, I found the distance impressive.  Anyway, we stopped here from some group photos.

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The two in front are Ethan, 11 (and very light-sensitive, poor guy) and Keira, 6.  In back are my sister-in-law, me, my brother (two years older), and Alex, 14.  Oh, and I forgot to mention Lily, the stuffed cat.

That was about all the adventuring that I photographed.  The animated game of Sorry! was far too engrossing to stop for pictures, and by the time the poker chips came out, I was half-asleep on the couch with my book.

I do need to share my most favorite picture from the trip, though.  Keira got tired on the way home from our bike trip, so Daddy stepped up to help her out.

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Ring-a-ding-ding, all the way home.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday Evening Flowers

Adapted without any kind of permission whatsoever from Bossy Betty.

It’s not just you.  Even I am growing a bit bored with my garden reports.  For weeks I’ve been going out most days of the week, harvesting a small handful of beans and cherry tomatoes, muttering to myself about the declining health of my squash and brandywine tomatoes, and occasionally pulling some weeds.  It’s high time I got out of that horticultural rut.

My obsession with my little plot of dirt has also distracted me from something I meant to do earlier this summer, which is to document the abundance and variety of blooms that make Charlotte such an attractive city in the summer.  I missed capturing the mimosa trees, I’m sad to say.  But we have such a long growing season that there’s still plenty to enjoy.  So when I took Rosie for a walk this afternoon, I took my camera along, determined to share some summer color with my small coterie of faithful readers.

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This may look like a pretty unremarkable American neighborhood—and it mostly is.  But if you look closely, you can catch the last act of one of our standout players, the crape myrtle.  If you know just where to look, there are four different trees visible here, each with a different color.

They are all somewhere between not-quite-red and not-quite-purple (please forgive the poor framing of my shots, as I had a leash in my hand, attached to a dog on a mission).  This one’s finishing its season.

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But this one is still going strong.

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If pinks and purples are not to your taste, I’m afraid your only other option is white (taken contre jour, which is to say, in the wrong direction).

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After a glut of corals, pinks and purples, this can be quite refreshing on a hot, humid afternoon in the South.

Regardless of color, the flower bunches are so omnipresent and reliable, I forget how delicate they can look up close.

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As with the crape myrtles, there are other flowers I never knew in the north, and have grown quite fond of since getting my hands into southern soil.  Like my happy-go-lucky gaillardia.

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They have been blooming happily for three months, and if I can get myself out there to keep dead-heading, I might get another month out of them.  With some help from the brown-eyed susans, they have made beautiful bouquets this summer for one of our famer friends who’s been battling it out with some medical issues. 

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Another southern favorite which many of our neighbors have planted are these bounteous knockout roses, or lenten roses, which I hear are worry-free bloomers.

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I don’t know what kind of roses these are, but they had such delicate variations of shade I just had to stop and snap a picture.

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I don’t know the variety, though I do know this is not a flower.



Neither is this, but I know it’s a yellow swallowtail, and they like to lay their eggs on parsley.


(I cropped the bejeezus out of this picture.)


I just love this little patch of vinca flowers that come back every year.  A couple of years ago they were late in sprouting, and I later happened to see the homeowner and told them I was worried they had decided not to plant them that year. Turns out, they are coming back of their own accord, year after year.

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When I got home, I took a moment to appreciate our own little Rose of Sharon tree…

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…and the ridiculously bright pink geraniums at my own front door.

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Oh, and here’s another glimpse of some furry family time: