Archive for the ‘Virginia’ Category

After Monticello, we hit the Cracker Barrel for dinner, then cruised on into Lexington for the night. Diamondqueen got sick on her chicken fried steak (she always gets sick on anything fried and greasy, but does that stop her?) and had to leave me and the Hooligans at the hotel’s indoor pool where we took a final swim. We had the pool to ourselves, which was lovely, although I had to watch the Hooligans like a manic hawk. J.Hooligan relaxed and swimmed the best he had all vacation, and S.Hooligan was all too confident in her floaty, clinging to the pool wall and inching herself around the perimeter of the pool, including the deep end. Even with that, it was relaxing and fun.

We skipped “eating out” next morning and partook of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, which was surprisingly good. Then came the long, long drive home.

One of our pit stops was in West Virginia about a half hour outside of Charleston. It was one of those “service areas” with a massive gas station and combined bathrooms/gift shop/fast food restaurant. While Diamondqueen filled up the van, I took the kids into the store area. S. and I waited outside while J. used the bathroom. There were some arcade “prize” games, and little did I know that S. was observing her surroundings and making some choices.

When Diamondqueen arrived, she took S. into the bathroom, then they joined J.Hooligan and me in the gift shop. I needed the bathroom myself, so as I entered the Women’s, Diamondqueen rationed out a few quarters so the Hooligans could play the arcade games.

When I returned, I was astonished to see S.Hooligan holding a stuffed animal. She’d gotten it from one of those claw machines that you just assume are rigged against you. Typically, rather than thrill S., this reinforced a notion that threatened to doom us: Since it had been so easy to get this animal, she reasoned, it would be just as easy to get the one she REALLY wanted, a pink stuffed cat in the back.

There was no telling her that this would be impossible. “Just get it,” S. kept insisting as we each took a try at grasping the kitty with the claw. Her voice was taking on an edge of hysteria that meant an ugly scene would soon erupt.

Meanwhile, J.Hooligan was disgruntled because S. had a toy and he didn’t. He had his eye on a machine full of rubbery, spiky ball-heads with goofy faces. Winning one similarly seemed impossible to any rational creature, but I shoved quarters into the machine and gave it a shot. When I failed and saw the disappointment on J.’s face, I drew from my stash of quarters left over from our aborted visit to the arcade on Saturday night and handed them over so he could give it a try himself.

At the claw machine, Diamondqueen was using the last of her quarters trying to win the pink kitten. She was drawing a couple of dollar bills out of her purse for the change machine when we both looked at J. He was holding up one of the garish spiky rubber heads in a fluorescent yellow-green the shade of toxic waste. “This was exactly the one I wanted!” J. said happily, his eyes sparkling with pride.

Diamondqueen and I just stared at him, murmuring “I don’t believe it,” until S.Hooligan brought us back with tearful impatience. I made a few miserable attempts with the claw (almost winning a different toy, which actually would have made everything worse), then turned the machine back over to Diamondqueen.

“Honey, it’s just about impossible to win that kitten!” I implored. We tried to explain why our attempts were failing, pointing out how the toys slipped out of the claw as it swung toward the chute. “Just pick it up and drop it in!” S.Hooligan cried. She’d done it once. There was no reason it wouldn’t happen again.

And it did. After a couple more tries, Diamondqueen pinched the pink cat by one ear and managed to plop it down the chute. S.Hooligan, her faith rewarded, cuddled her new treasure while Diamondqueen and I, weak-kneed and incredulous, herded the kids and their prizes out to the car. (Of course, we didn’t want to even attempt to calculate how much those sorry toys cost compared to what we could have purchased in a good discount store. Then again, how do you put a price on the look on the Hooligans’ faces?)

In Charleston we stopped for lunch at a Lone Star, then finished the last long leg home (it seemed so much longer than when we had set out). For the last two hours the kids asked continually when we would be home. When we arrived at last, pulling into the driveway, J.Hooligan said, “I almost cried when I saw our house.” I turned around; sure enough, his eyes were almost teary with the joy and relief of being home.

Earlier, though, I’d asked each Hooligan what he or she had enjoyed most about the trip.

“The indoor pool,” S.Hooligan replied immediately and confidently.

After some nervous hesitation, J. said, “I can’t pick one thing that was best.”

“Well, just tell me three things you really enjoyed,” I replied.

J. smiled. “One, swimming in the ocean. Two, swimming in the ocean. And three, swimming in the ocean.”

All things considered, I think it was a pretty good trip!


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There were two things Diamondqueen really wanted for herself out of our Virginia sojourn: to go to the Dooney & Bourke store at Prime Outlets in Williamsburg and to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. Since Charlottesville was along our return route to Lexington, where we were spending our last night on the road, Monticello was an easy side trip.

When we purchased our tickets, we found out they offered a special tour of the house just for children. In addition, this tour was going to start in 15 minutes or so, whereas the usual house tour would require about an hour’s wait. Diamondqueen chose the children’s tour, and we hurried to the shuttle bus.

On the grounds of Monticello, under those huge, old trees overhanging the left side of the house, we had just reached the meeting point for the children’s tour when S.Hooligan complained her stomach hurt. We’d just been down this road the night before, so Diamondqueen didn’t delay. J.Hooligan and I stayed behind with instructions to let the guide know she’d be back shortly, and Diamondqueen swept S. toward the bathrooms.

The guide arrived, an elegant elderly gentleman with the demeanor of a kind university professor. When I told him my sister and niece had made a sudden run to the bathroom, he said, “Don’t worry, we won’t be leaving for several minutes.”

Several minutes passed and Diamondqueen and S. didn’t appear. I kept sprinting from the tour group to the stop of the stairs. Finally I spotted them, but S. couldn’t be rushed. Nothing significant had happened in the bathroom, Diamondqueen said, but S. still didn’t feel well. “You go on with J. on the tour and I’ll wait out here with S.,” Diamondqueen directed. She had visions of S. upchucking on Jefferson’s antique carpets.

For me, though, it was unthinkable that Diamondqueen wouldn’t get to see Monticello. I’d been inside once, about 10 years ago. I’d been looking forward to seeing everything again, but I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it under these circumstances. “I’ll stay with S., you go,” I said.

Finally Diamondqueen agreed. As the tour group followed the guide toward the house, I looked down at S., who was sitting listlessly in the grass. There was a lovely boardwalk-like side porch with benches. I convinced S. at last to go up there with me to sit.

Light rain showers were falling with distant thunder rolling across the mountains. I sat on the bench with S. curled up next to me. It was exceedingly pleasant — hushed, cool, and refreshing after our long drive all day. We changed benches once when the rain came down a little harder, although I was wary of sitting under the trees in case of lightning. There was a small building at the end of the porch. I convinced S. we should go peek in the windows and see what was in there. Then I got her to go look at the fishpond nearby. We were at the back of the mansion now. I pulled out a nickle and showed it to S. “See, there’s the house where we are on one side, and Thomas Jefferson on the other.”

S.Hooligan perked up at having this unusual visual aid, and she became interested in exploring around the outside of the mansion. Rain was falling in earnest and the thunder was becoming louder, so we went from covered porch to covered porch. By peering in the windows, I saw some of the decorative Items I’d hoped to see from the inside, and S. enjoyed studying the back of the nickle and saying, “First we were here, now we’re here,” as we moved about. We’d visited all four sides of the mansion and were on the columned back entry again when Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan appeared.

I hadn’t missed going on the tour at all. It was fun to explore with S., seeing everything through her almost-five-year-old’s eyes. With Diamondqueen and J., we further investigated the tunnel and adjoining rooms under the mansion, then we went down to the gift shop. I wanted a charm for my bracelet. What I had in mind was a silver miniature of Monticello itself, but what I purchased was a replica of a nickle, in silver, including the image of Monticello on the back. That’s what I will remember most fondly from the visit: Studying a simple nickle with my young niece as we ventured here and there around the great man’s home. 

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We were all ready to go home by Sunday morning. We had a good time, but even the beach can wipe you out after awhile.

While Diamondqueen took a load of bags down to the car, I snapped a photo of the hippos and Dooney the cheetah on our room balcony. Funny, they didn’t look tired at all.

We still needed to get breakfast. The night before, Diamondqueen had dug out the local phone book and discovered two listings for Krispy Kreme stores. So instead of starting out along the Mapquest-recommended route, we started up a parallel boulevard, keeping our eyes peeled for one of those miraculous green and white stores with the neon sign announcing hot doughnuts. (We had them for awhile in the Cincinnati area. One burned down and another closed. We can get Krispy Kreme just about anywhere, from Kroger’s to the Shell station, but it’s just not the same.)

It felt as if we were driving forever, but intense pursuit has that effect. At last, we spotted Nirvana. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw that there was a line that nearly ran out the front door. So strong was the attraction, though, that we went in anyhow.

Most patrons were taking their doughnuts with them, so we were able to get a cramped table near the front windows. I’d forgotten how amazing a hot, fresh glazed doughnut tastes.

While we were eating, we kept our eyes on a pair of dogs outside. They appeared to be a golden Lab and maybe a weimaraner, and they were sitting in the back of a pick-up truck inside a camper cap with the back window open. They gazed continually at the front door, and it was easy to imagine they were anticipating a doughnut eventually. One kept resting his/her chin on the top of the tailgate. They were adorable. We kept hoping their owner would come out so we could see how the dogs reacted, but they were still waiting as we cleaned up our things.

They were parked next to the van, so of course Diamondqueen had to say something to them. “Aw, are you waiting for a doughnut,” she cooed in her sweetest I-love-doggies voice.

In a flash the golden Lab-like dog transformed into Cujo, barking ferociously with tremendous warning and authority. Diamondqueen recoiled as she was opening the van door for J.Hooligan, and we grimaced in horror at one another. Hours later, halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville, she muttered, “I’m not talking to any more strange doggies!”, still taken aback by the encounter. Maybe the poor beast simply hadn’t had his morning coffee yet.

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After spending several hours at the beach late Saturday afternoon with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans, with the smoky wind swirling and the waves the roughest we’d seen yet that week, I was ready for another meal like this one. We weren’t sure if the dining room downstairs would be crowded at that time on a Saturday night — Hooligans don’t wait well in line unless it’s for a ride at King’s Island — but we got them cleaned up anyhow and herded them toward the elevators.

As S.Hooligan passed me on the way out the door, she had a strange, upset look on her face. While we waited for the elevator, she burst into tears and said her stomach hurt. This happened just as the elevator doors were opening, so we all stepped in as we were asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” instead of waiting to see what was up with S.

We soon found out. Seconds before the elevator doors opened downstairs, S. vomited. I immediately grabbed her and scooted her out into the marble-floored foyer; I figured that might be easier to clean up than the carpet. Good thing, because S. cut loose again.

Diamondqueen, who was trying to hold the elevator so it wouldn’t return upstairs with a nasty surprise for someone, told J.Hooligan to go tell the guy at the desk that S. had thrown up. J. hesitated, then shook his head. “I’m too nervous,” he said, almost tearing up.

“Excuse me,” I yelled across the lobby. “My niece just threw up in the elevator!”

The desk guy looked at me quizzically. “Is she okay?”

Yes,” I said, “but she made a mess in your elevator!” I guess we should have been grateful for his concern, but he didn’t quite get the point. Diamondqueen was still blocking the elevator door with her body and barring hotel guests from entering.

S. cried when we said we’d take her back upstairs. I said maybe if we waited she’d calm down and we could see how she really felt. We sat in the big lobby chairs as the desk guy commandeered the soiled elevator himself and a maintenance worker was summoned for clean-up. Finally S. admitted she wanted to go back up to the room. J. wanted to go with his sister and mother, so I said I’d go take a walk and meet them in the lobby later.

It was crowded and noisy out on the sidewalks, and I saw that most of the local eateries were geared more toward parading young adults, not families. And they were crowded besides. I was worried about S., so I returned to our hotel and went back to our room. As it happened, I rode up in the elevator S. had vomited in, and I was relieved to see that there was no evidence of the accident.

S. was a little subdued but happily watching TV with J. We gave up on dinner out and decided to indulge in room service. Unfortunately, the room service menu didn’t include the delicious shrimp and grouper I’d had the night before; however, they DID offer frozen margaritas! I settled for the fried shrimp. At least it would come with that spicy cocktail sauce.

By the time our food arrived 45 minutes later, S. had recovered and hungrily gobbled her fries and hot dog, and even had a piece of J.’s leftover chicken. After that we ventured out again to see how we could entertain ourselves on our last night in Virginia Beach. Both streets and sidewalks were jammed, and we saw some interesting sights. There were buskers playing a variety of music every block, which added a festive touch to the hubbub along the storefronts.

When I was out walking before dinner, I’d found a smashed penny machine in the fudge shop that offered shark pennies. J. had to have one, naturally. S. chose an angel penny, although she’s not really that familiar with the concept of angels. Diamondqueen, indulgent to the last, bought them still more souvenirs: acrylic shapes filled with colored liquid in which dolphins dove and tumbled. There was an arcade nearby, so we went in. The kids played a few games, but while J. was shooting dinosaurs in a Jurassic Park game, Diamondqueen sprung up and said, “Let’s go when he’s done.” The vibe of the place bothered her. It definitely wasn’t geared to young children. Fortunately, the Hooligans seemed content to leave. We stopped back at the fudge store for candy, then returned to the room to finish off the evening just as we had all the other nights that week — watching Indiana Jones on cable.


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It seemed so simple. Rather than go out and get our third consecutive breakfast buffet somewhere, why not get some Krispy Kreme doughnuts and bring them back to the room? There was a Haagen Dazs store right across the street from our hotel, and in the window was a neon sign advertising Krispy Kreme. We all love Krispy Kreme, although J.Hooligan and Diamondqueen seemed particularly thrilled with this plan. I got dressed and headed downstairs for what I assumed would be a simple donut run.

The first thing I noticed was the smoky haze in the already hot mid-morning air. We’d heard about this possibility on the news the previous night: There were fires in North Carolina, and the wind would be blowing from the south on Saturday, carrying the smoke right up to where we were. Sure enough, smoke! It was an indication of what an uncomfortable day lay ahead (not to mention the temperature).

The real dash to my spirits came, though, when I approached the Haagen Dazs store — they weren’t open. Who the hell advertises Krispy Kreme doughnuts and isn’t open in the morning to make them available for breakfast (and a late breakfast at that)? I debated whether to go back to the room right away. Instead, I turned north up the avenue and started scoping out other options.

After three blocks I’d found several big souvenir shops, a fudge shop, a restaurant I thought might be a possibility for dinner until I saw a sign for pole dancing contests on Wednesday nights. And there were two informal eateries with, of course, breakfast buffets.

Still hopeful, I turned my feet back toward the hotel but peered through the smoky air to see if the Haagen Dazs store had opened yet. It had! I hurried inside, scuttled back to the Krispy Kreme display, and it was empty. Empty. What the…

Resigned, I returned to the hotel room. The Hooligans and Diamondqueen looked up hopefully, until I announced, “I am SO friggin’ mad…”

We decided to head down the street to one of the breakfast buffets. J.Hooligan was crushed; he’d had his mouth all set for Krispy Kreme chocolate doughnuts. We dangled the promise of souvenir shopping to get the kids to move down the street through the thick air.

The breakfast buffet was fine. Both kids stuffed themselves with bacon. S.Hooligan fancied some little sugar cookies. I got some more good watermelon, and drank two iced teas and a glass of ice water, already dehydrated from walking in the heat. We found more stuff to buy at the shops, then looked around for a miniature golf course.

I knew there was one just around the corner from the hotel because I could see the big pirate’s ship from our fifth floor hall windows. On our way to the restaurant, though, we also saw something called Jungleland Golf. J. and S. seemed to find that name appealing, so we headed up to the next street.

It was blistering hot, even with the shade from the palm trees and the enormous animal figures. J.insisted on getting a bottle of soda before we even started. Diamondqueen couldn’t breathe because of the smoke. But we played all the holes, then went into the game room to cool off before returning to the hotel. “Ah, a cool, dark game room is so refreshing after a hot golf course,” J. sighed.

He and S. played some arcade games. They both seemed most interested in one that spit out small colored rubber balls after the balls went through an elaborate obstacle course. At least they got something for the money. These machines didn’t even spit out tickets to exchange for little pieces of junk like most arcades.

When we got back to the hotel room, everyone collapsed, even the kids. And they were content to watch TV and let the beach wait, which was a big relief to Diamondqueen and me. We crawled between the sandy sheets and took naps and didn’t even worry about what the Hooligans might be doing with their chips and candy.

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After our dinner in the hotel restaurant, Diamondqueen, the Hooligans, and I went out for a stroll on the boardwalk. Naturally, we had to take the two hippos with us. After all, they’d come with all their beach gear and were ready for a good time.

J.Hooligan dressed Harold the Hippo in his shades and muscle tee. Since the boardwalk was as crowded as a state fair midway, we went aside on the brick walkway of the old Coast Guard Station so Harold could surf unperturbed. J.Hooligan looked on proudly.

S.Hooligan’s hippo wore her new bikini. (I’ve lost track of the  hippo’s name now. At first it was Nancy. Then it was Zoey, and possibly Lily. S. is fond of naming things Zoey and Lily, including one troublesome imaginary friend.) S. agreed the hippo could pose splendidly on the Coast Guard long boat.

Finally, I got the Hooligans and hippos and Diamondqueen to pose around the big anchor near the amphitheater. Friday night in Virginia Beach on the boardwalk — those hippos know how to live!





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Somehow we’d developed the habit of skipping lunch during the trip (the kids were always snacking in the hotel room, and eating a big breakfast late kept Diamondqueen and me going). By Thursday evening, though, I wanted a real meal, preferably seafood.

The night before, S.Hooligan and I had walked two blocks down to McDonald’s and carted back sacks of burgers and Happy Meals to the hotel room. That morning we’d had the breakfast buffet, but now I was ready for something that involved a salad and an entree.

After we’d rested from our hours at the beach, everyone cleaned up and we went down to the hotel restaurant. Our “window table” turned out to be a half table against against the wall of windows that faced the patio, so that we sat in a half circle and could all look out on the boardwalk and the beach.

We’d already placed our dinner orders when I glanced over the drink menu. Suddenly, I wanted something alcoholic. I have about eight drinks a year, usually a glass of wine with dinner or a Guinness. “If you get a frozen margarita with me, I’ll buy,” I offered Diamondqueen. She readily accepted, so when the waitress brought our soft drinks and iced tea, I added to our drink order.

Diamondqueen LOVES frozen margaritas. I’d never had one. I like regular margaritas well enough because I like licking at the salt on the rim of the cup. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a frozen one. To my surprise, it arrived in a thin plastic cup, like a beverage at a church festival. The salt on the rim was pretty skimpy, too. But my first sip was pure love. It was like a margarita ICEE! I was delighted, and compensated for the lack of rim salt by continually putting salt in my slush and mixing it in. (No, I really don’t have a big thing for salt. However, I do like it on watermelon and in margaritas.)

I personally enjoyed my grouper and peel-and-eat shrimp combo very much. As usual, S. had a hot dog (sans the bun) and a few french fries. Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan shared a steak. J. grazed through several pieces but wouldn’t touch anything else. In fact, he said he was “too full” and started in with his my-gag-reflex-has-just-been-triggered schtick, puffing out his cheeks as if he was about to blow. (He’s not kidding when he does this, although it is one of his little manipulations.)

 Since S.Hooligan was on the verge of finger painting everything with ketchup, among other hijinks (she especially likes to wipe her mouth on the back of my blouse), Diamondqueen decided to scoot the kids out to the van to bring in a few things she needed. That left me alone at the table with several fat, succulent shrimp and the nicely seasoned grouper. I’d long since sucked up the very last frosty bit of my margarita, so I made do with iced tea, nibbling at the remainder of my meal and enjoying a little solitude as the beach parade passed by outside. It was a lovely couple of minutes.

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