Monday, June 26, 2006


THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

After six states and 2500 miles, I'm back from my trip to New England. It was awesome. It's different driving with a friend than driving with your spouse and two kids (all which have extremely small bladders). No, it's WAY different. Even though we drove a lot of miles, we took our time, we noticed the scenery, and more importantly, we got off the interstate.

Taking the road less travelled started in New York when we decided we needed to see Lake Erie. We got off on a highway and drove by the most amazing wineries. Field after field of grapes--in New York! When we finally made our way to a beach so we could stick our toe in the lake, we saw several people lying, fully clothed in the sand with no beach towels. As Shirley snapped my picture, I noticed the enormous dead fish inches from my feet than the dirty factory just yards away. Hmmm…I wondered the rest of the trip if we should've checked to see if those supposed sun bathers were breathing.

We ended up in Syracuse our first night (it was far too chilly for my sequin-eyed flamingo jammy top but the bottoms made the point quite effectively). We drove around the city the next day and saw very little of the university due to lots of construction and one-way streets. We were told that the Erie Canal Museum was quite interesting but found it to be closed because it was a Monday. So we were back on the interstate but not for long as we decided to get off on a highway and drive through the Adirondack Mountains. I couldn't believe how beautiful New York could be! The lakes and little towns sparsely built up around each were so quaint. We ended up in Lake Placid for the night and I couldn't take the scenery in enough. The mountains were reflected beautifully in the clear still water of Lake Placid. There is a thriving downtown that Shirley said reminded her of Park City, Utah. We got to see where the 1932 and 1980 Olympic hockey teams played as well as many other winter venues including the ski jump towers which made me almost pass out (I'm no good with heights). I wasn't even half-way to the top and I couldn't believe anyone in their right mind would do that--willingly. Monte has always wondered, how do you know you're good at ski jumping? And what was that first jump like when you figured out you're not?

The next day we were on to Vermont and had the pleasure of riding a ferry across Lake Champlain. I've been on a ferry before, but never with a few cars, a Winnebago (pulling a PT Cruiser) and several motorcycles. It took an hour but the time flew since the view was fantastic. One surprise: the people in the Winnebago were my age! Once in Burlington, we drove around the University of Vermont and took several attempts at guessing what type of cat their mascot was. It wasn't until we were in Stowe that someone told us it was a cougar. A note for the University of Vermont officials: it's not an effective mascot if no one knows what the heck it is!

Vermont is one motorcycle and car hauling a canoe on its top after another. It seems as if the entire state is set up to be outdoors all the time. And there are moose crossing signs everywhere! We even saw one bear crossing sign! But no moose or bears did we see.

Stowe, Vermont was a cute little town set up for all seasons of tourists. Our hotel looked like a cheesy one-story motel but our room was enormous. There was a badminton court in the back. You could rent kayaks down the street and we passed several closed ski resorts. I guess the fall brings a ton of foliage seekers. I can only imagine how beautiful the mountains would be snow covered or splashed with the reds, yellows and oranges of fall because seeing how green and alive everything looked in June was stunning. "How did God know to do this?" Shirley asked me one day after enjoying the scenery on one of our roads less travelled. We imagined ourselves pioneers and riding in wagons through dense forests and than discovering one of these tucked away lakes mirroring the image of a bright green mountain. We know now why not every young man heeded the call to go west.

Right smack dab in what we thought was the middle of nowhere was the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. Of course, we had to stop. We took the tour of the small factory where they amazingly make most of the ice cream for the world with a few exceptions--Israel has their own factory. I tried a new ice cream flavor: Turtle Soup. It was vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls and chocolate covered cashews. I'm kicking myself that I didn't try their new Strawberry Cheesecake flavor. I thought I'd step outside of my ice cream flavor box but that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Speaking of wrong, their was a Flavor Graveyard on the grounds of the factory with tombstones of the flavors no longer in circulation. Each stone had a cute rhyming epitaph describing why it bombed or just ran its course in popularity. Let's just say the cleverness behind the epitaphs was far more powerful than that behind the Turtle Soup.

With ice cream still on our breaths, we discovered an Apple Cider shop. Even though the cider was fantastic, it felt like lead in my stomach in combination with Ben and Jerry's. But we were off again to the Von Trapp family estate. Wow! I expected a corny themed restaurant with people in lederhosen singing "Doe, a deer, a female deer". Not even close! This place was like a chateau in Switzerland. I can see why they chose to settle in that spot after fleeing Austria--those hills were most certainly alive with the sound of music. Dartmouth was having a reunion for the class of 1956 at the main hotel. I poked my head in their party just to see what money and privileged education looked like old. Not any different.

We had a ball in the Von Trapp family gift shop. Shirley collects charms from her travels. She has over 18 bracelets (before this trip) that she never wears but treats as her own personal scrapbooks. It's such fun helping her find them--sometimes she pays dearly (like the solid gold hockey player charm in Lake Placid) but she always makes a buddy in the cashier or fellow shopper after telling of her collection. Right now, she's waiting for the gal from Ben and Jerry's to mail her a black and white cow charm.

After Stowe, we were off to Bretton Woods to ride the Cog Railway. I was leery from the start when Shirley said we HAD to ride it, but even more so after the hotel front desk lady told us of a terrible crash in 1967 that resulted in several deaths. She needs to learn the art of exercising judgement. The Cog Railway is just the most bizarre concept (nevermind that its 137 years old). It's a steam engine (think Thomas train but without the scary face) PUSHING a wooden car that looks like something in the streets of San Francisco. No big deal? It PUSHES the wooden car (containing me, Shirley and just a few others under the age of 85) along the tracks UP the mountain. Going 3 miles an hour. It's like when you ride a roller coaster and you click, click, click your way to the top of the highest hill to add anxiety and suspense before you scream your head off on the way down. But the click, click, click part lasted an hour and a half and we stopped (yes, STOPPED) three times, once at a 37% grade incline. The little conductor guy, Jaffi, had us stand up (pretty difficult when your eyes are shut tight and your legs are noodles) so we could see that the people in the front rows were 12 feet in the air higher than the people in the back rows. I wasn't impressed. I wanted the flippin' heck off. We did get off, at the peak of the mountain (elevation, 6300 feet) where we could eat and shop at the lodge. Shirley made friends with the flirty "fire man" of the train (he scoops the coal for the engine on the way up and pretty much chills out on the way down). I asked him about the wreck in 1967 (he was so not even close to being born then) and he said he's not allowed to talk about it on top of the mountain, only at the bottom. That wasn't encouraging.

In the lodge there were many weary hikers sleeping at their tables. The weather was foggy and in the 40s (it was nice and warm down below). They claim the weather at the top of the mountain is the worst weather in the country. In the winter they STILL run the Cog Railway! You can buy a one-way ticket and ski down the mountain waving to the train's passengers along the way.

When we got back onto the train they had flipped the seats around so we could see the engine. Apparently, there's no easy way to turn those bad boys around. We got to go a whopping six miles an hour on the way down with only Jaffi controlling the brakes with a steering wheel. He posed for pictures and chatted with people which was just a far too lackadaisical approach to his job than I would've preferred. Not cool, Jaffi, not cool. The ride down was so much better than the ride up because each few feet we made without becoming a runaway train, was one closer to being on the ground. Shirley asked me, "Where have you seen a view like this?" "From an airplane!" I screamed for we were above, WAY above the treeline. Only for Shirley.

Halfway down the mountain, when I realized we weren't going to die a horrible mangled bloody death, I actually enjoyed it. But never again--not even for Shirley.

After our crazy ride, we drove through rain to get to the ocean in Portsmouth. I had to have a lobster roll straight from the source. It was heavenly--and Shirley's first. After the ocean we headed back through the southern part of New Hampshire making stops here and there for Exeter Academy and my friend Andrea's hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. We fell in love with Bennington, Vermont with its painted moose sculptures and artist palettes everywhere. Robert Frost is buried there, so of course we had to pay tribute to the man we had been quoting all week.

Through rural New York we almost hit a turkey crossing the road. We didn't see a sign for that one or the pig who gave Shirley a ticket for speeding in a work zone (she was going only 10 miles over). He wasn't at all nice about it.

The trip was one amazing view after another with trees, lakes and church spires that could inspire the most uninspirable to pick up a brush and paint. We talked until my jaw ached and laughed until I thought I would wet my pants and we ate the most amazing seafood. Largest jug of syrup in the world excluded, it was a most successful trip.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

ROAD TRIP

I'm leaving tomorrow on a road trip. I'm going with my 4th grade teacher Shirley Snapp. She is retired, single and has no children so her schedule is much easier to work with than other friends in similar mommy boats like me. Plus, she is a hoot. Her laugh is loudly uninhibited and completely contagious. Last year I convinced her to accompany me to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother and we had a ball. I'm not sure when I've laughed that hard. This year, I convinced her into another trip but I allowed her to choose the location. Tomorrow she's picking me up and we're driving to New Hampshire, Vermont and possibly Maine. She wants no itinerary, no hotel reservations just her and I on the open road ready to pull over and check out anything that interests us. Shirley loves the off-the-beaten path points of interest. Last year, she made my brother pull over to see the second tallest cypress tree in the world. Not the first, but the second.

As much as the no intinerary thing goes against how I usually plan trips, it is so freeing. I'm not anxious about flights (I hate flying all of a sudden) or packing light or having all the right confirmation numbers (that I usually keep in a folder with area information). This time I only have an atlas and a few points of interest that friends from the area have recommended. How wonderful! I did have to get new underwear though. I'm not sure why, but when I go away on a trip I have to have new underwear. I don't do that when I go away with my family on Spring Break or to the beach in the summer, just when I go away on my own. Take that one to Freud or Oprah.

I also had to buy new pink flamingo pajamas. Shirley LOATHES flamingoes and the color pink. Last year (while I was buying new underwear for the Portland trip) I stumbled upon a pair of flamingo PJs that I couldn't resist. Our first night in Oregon I strutted out of the bathroom flamingo-clad to a very shocked Shirley. Her reaction was priceless. For all the same reasons you wouldn't wear the same dress to the ball two years in a row, I was forced to buy new very pink, very flamingo jammies. I can't wait to see Shirley's reaction this year--the large flamingo's eye on the shirt is a black sequin!

When I get back I hope to have loads of stories of wonderful seafood meals, interesting sights and tons of pictures to prove it. I've heard there is the world's largest jug of syrup somewhere in Vermont. Hmmmm…that may be worthy of a pull over.

Friday, June 09, 2006



GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Atlanta has always had a special place in my and Monte's heart. For me it was where I developed into a post-college adult, made a name for myself in my career and fell in love, all in the steamy hot, magnolia-scented, southern drawl of a fast growing city.

Monte and I met at the corporate office of Waffle House. He was in risk management and I was in corporate communications. I wrote him into my Waffle Chatter newsletter as a reoccurring character called Safety Man. As glamourous as it was to have my own column called Dear Karmen along with a hotline for questions that drunk grill operators would call and leave lewd messages on at 3:00 am, after a year I had to get out of the Waffle House. It wasn't until I was picking up my last paycheck that Monte revealed his love for me. But I moved back to Indiana anyway and left all my belongings in a storage unit in Atlanta (Monte's idea).

Oh, how I missed the city, and the way it empowered me to spread my wings. In Indiana I was eternally a kid, in Atlanta I was independent. Its draw was irresistible.

After Monte and I married, we lived in a 2-story condo building in the heart of Buckhead. It was partially furnished and bleakly painted. It was a 2-bedroom, 1 bath (the toilet and tub were gray) with a stackable washer and dryer right inside the bathroom that took approximately 22 hours to dry two pairs of jeans.

The woman who lived across the hall HATED us. Judging by the 47 bumper stickers she had on her hatchback Toyota, she hated most everyone--especially men who might not care about the near extinction of the spotted owl. She had a habit of blasting opera music in the early hours of the weekend and knocking on our door to ask for pinches of spices I'd never heard of. She used to ALWAYS catch us holding hands or snuggling in the hallway and would stomp off huffily muttering to herself things I'm sure we did not want to hear.

That apartment was drab, the linoleum kitchen floor could not be cleaned (my mother tried every visit) and the gray toilet sported hopeless rust stains. But we LOVED it. I remember spending an entire day making cornish hens in this terra cotta cooker thing we got as a wedding gift. By the time they were done I was famished but ate alone to the sounds of Monte retching mucous in the bathroom from a bad sinus infection. Good times.

Our next apartment was on the 6th floor of an 18-story high rise. There was a pool, and free tennis lessons from a pro every Saturday morning. The doorman (what was his name?!) did so well at Christmas that it bumped him into a different tax bracket. My best friend lived with us in the 2nd bedroom which allowed us to save and buy our first home a year later. Monte's best friend lived in the penthouse where we watched 4th of July fireworks practically at eye level. It was like we were out the script of a sitcom.

The building was an interesting mix of young singles, newlyweds and single seniors not quite ready for a nursing home. The building hosted several happy hours and buffet dinners which was always attended by a resident we swear was Bea Arthur.

Our first home was walking distance from our apartment building in Buckhead but was smaller than either of our first dwellings. But it had a yard--horribly sloped so that hard rains ran right into our crawl space, but a yard (containing gorgeous azaleas) nonetheless. It only had one bathroom and no garage. There were bats in the attic and a colony of yellow jackets in the front yard that Monte unknowingly "disturbed" while mowing and was stung multiple times which he handled in true Monte style: he wildly thrashed about screeching that "they" were after him and made me call my mom. Here's a tip she shared with us: meat tenderizer mixed with water makes a paste that takes the pain and swelling out of a sting (it also is an important ingredient in my mom's cheese ball recipe). Interesting tidbit: yellow-jackets take off and land like fighter jets and their sting is worse than any other an insect could inflict (or so Monte says). We watched from the window at 5:00 am while a man with large gloves and a black garbage bag removed an enormous hive from the landscape timber in our front yard. He later told us that it contained 40 queens. Those weren't the type of queens we were used to in Atlanta. We had no problem paying his outrageous removal fee.

But we loved that little flesh-colored house with the red door with a romanticism that only two idiot people in love could. We hosted huge parties where no one had enough places to sit or relieve themselves. We mourned the loss of my grandfather there, planned our trip to Paris, celebrated birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. We brought home our first baby knowing she would never grow up in the tiny nursery we painted to look like the ocean. We moved to Columbus when McDaniel was just one month old--ironically, it was April Fool's Day.

Monte just got back last night from a business trip to Atlanta. He took pictures of that first apartment building and first home and the good memories have surrounded me like mosquitoes on a steamy southern night--but I don't mind the swatting. The apartment looks exactly the same--down to the small mailboxes. Gone is the flesh-colored paint of our home replaced by a preferable white. Thank goodness the red door remains. But this time Monte left the city with no longing to move back. The honeymoon is so over. It took him 25 minutes to drive one mile (with no sidewalks to get out and walk), everything seemed overly built-up and it was stinky hot. Columbus is our home now, we can finally say it out loud. This is where we are going to raise our family and have the quality lifestyle we want. But breaking up is hard to do…I need to tune in to an opera station on the radio, eat some scattered, covered and smothered hashbrowns at the Waffle House and plant a magnolia in the backyard. I know it may not survive the midwestern winter, but it's worth the romantic, southern, fragrant memory-laden risk.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

ADDENDUM TO I SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM

I am an equal opportunity ice cream eater. It was brought to my attention that my earlier blog on ice cream was not fair and balanced. While I do love my cheesecake ice cream at Graeter's I do have other local/national favorites that I failed to mention. It was also brought to my attention that I needed to try out a new shop that has been doing some very inventive things with ice cream. Of course I was game and we tried it Sunday after an afternoon of yard work. Oh my! I was intrigued with Jeni's shop the second I walked into the Grandview location with its milk glass bottle lights (from Jeni's own collection) and the barn siding wall salvaged from an Ohio farm (that she planed and brought back to life with stain). But bring on the ice cream! As a family we probably sampled 10 flavors before deciding on our combinations (2 flavors are encouraged as they work together to please the palette the same way fruit does in a good Chardonnay). This is no Baskin Robbins. The flavors I chose were Salty Caramel (yum-yum-yummy-yum!) and Lime Cardamom (a Jamaican spice). I know what you are thinking--eww, but it was delicious! The lime cut the heaviness of the Salty Caramel like sorbet does in between entrees at a formal dinner. And speaking of sorbets, Jeni has several as well as frozen yogurts. My husband had Passion-fruit frozen yogurt with Salty Caramel. The Passion-fruit is amazing and will definitely be one of my combination picks next time. My daughters chose Lime Cardamom and Raspberry frozen yogurt and Blueberry/Lemon and Raspberry. I was proud my daughters bypassed the chocolate and vanillas and didn't even ask if they had sprinkles. They too were caught up in the tasting and combining of interesting flavors. To check out Jeni's (she ships!): http://www.jenisicecreams.com/index_elements/0201_store/flavors.html

I also have to mention Dairy Queen. Yes, I know, it's soft serve, it's a large chain--everything I usually red flag in a merchant--but it's good. Don't be snooty, you've all had it at some point in your lives--admit it. It's okay. Growing up, my younger brothers and I would play with the neighbor Shelton boys, Tyson and Trent. Their house was a 70s split level dream with every modern convenience and decoration. Lava lamps, lighted, moving pictures and the carpet in the basement that had the checkers and chess boards woven right into the pattern. They also had a large fridge in the garage that ALWAYS had Dilly Bars in them. Summers were spent playing tag and riding our bikes and stopping in at their fridge for a Dilly Bar. The weird part about it is that I don't like chocolate--but waxy chocolate covering soft serve ice cream frozen on a stick--that's genius! Our house only had homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies--nothing special to the Raymer kids. What we wanted only could be bought--at the DQ.

When I was pregnant with my first child (and a little with my second until I discovered Graeter's cheesecake ice cream) I had a serious craving for Dilly Bars. My husband would buy me Dilly Bars by the box and each night I would go to the freezer and count them lest my husband got foolish and dipped into my stash. That happened once, just once.

I also have to mention that nothing hits the spot better on a long road trip than a McDonald's caramel sundae (no nuts). But they, like the foolish fools at Graeter's with my beloved cheesecake flavor, have eliminated caramel as a topping for their sundaes. Of course I asked why and they gave me some song and dance about precious storage space (they've gone to only chocolate so they don't have to have a separate caramel dispenser). I haven't drafted a letter yet, I'm not sure I have it in me emotionally, me not being postpartum anymore and all. I'm still hoping, like Graeter's, McDonald's will sense the loss and pain of separating family. And what's more relative than ice cream?

Monday, June 05, 2006



THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE

My daughter Ellie announced to us the other day that when she is 16 she is going to drive a "vertible" (convertible) and be on American Idol. She's 3 and she's not at all embarrassed to share her dreams.

My other daughter McDaniel did a presentation in front of her first grade class where she announced that she wants to be an illustrator and author of children's books. No self-consciousness whatsoever.

When I was elementary school age I used to write articles all the time, some illustrated, and post them on our refrigerator for all to see. This had nothing to do with homework or school, just something I would do for fun. My uncle was visiting once and commented on one particular article I had written on a theory of why the dinosaurs became extinct. Not only did he read my writing crudely tacked to our harvest gold fridge with large alphabet magnets, but he said he actually learned something new. I was glowing! Thirty years later that memory is still very vivid in my mind.

Do you remember the words to "This Little Light of Mine"? You know, "I'm gonna to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." Do you remember the other verses? "Hide it under a bushel? No! I'm gonna let it shine." It goes on to say not to let Satan blow it out and let it shine 'til Jesus comes. The idea is that God's love and blessings through his son Jesus Christ is something to share with brilliant exuberance, not hushed whispers in the dark. That's heavy stuff to grasp in a children's song--although I have a feeling I understood it more then than I do now. Like Ellie and McDaniel--I know their hearts and the dreams beating inside. Its mine that have been hidden under a bushel while I tried to be cool or normal or just like everyone else. (Who was I kidding? I've never been normal!)

I heard a quote the other day about if we don't fully shine in the way we were intended, we are denying the world our light. The world would be dimmer without Mozart, Picasso, Ellie and McDaniel--all brave dreamers not allowing Satan to blow out their light. I'm working hard to join them.