Road Trip Revelations

About 2 months ago, I took a road trip to Austin, Texas with a friend. I was visiting Adam, she was visiting family [and IKEA. It’s amazing how much you can fit into a 2-door convertible]. During this trip, she decided that it would be best if I scrolled through all 6,524 songs on my iPod while she drove and made note of the songs she wanted.

Approximately 16 roundtrip hours, a cramped left thumb and 6,524 clicks of the next button later, she had chosen 1,607 songs.

It was during this trip that I realized just how revealing an iPod can be about someone. She learned things about me that I’ve made her promise never to share with anyone else, mainly because I don’t want people to know that I own every Paula Abdul album or that I enjoy Disney music or that “Barbie Girl” can be found on my iPod.

But for everything I’ve sworn her not to share I’ve got equally embarrassing dirt on her. Like that she requested both Taylor Hicks and Spice Girls. The best part of this experience was the realization that we both have guilty music pleasures that are equally embarrassing, and many of those are the same.

Here’s three embarrassing songs from my collection that I love no matter what…

Spice Up Your Life by Spice Girls

Step By Step by New Kids on the Block

Straight Up by Paula Abdul

Roam If You Want To

As I alluded to in my previous post, my family + Adam took our separate road trips and met for a week of relaxation on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. I feel it’s my duty as a blogger to share with my faithful readers (all 2 of you) a sort of vacation recap, if you will.

We [meaning Dad, Mom, Sister, and me] hit the road on a Friday, immediately after they got off work and I drove the 30 miles to meet them. During my drive down, I pass a woman broken down on the side of I-40. While I’ve passed broken down travelers before, this incident caused me to pay more attention than I usually would. Why? She was leaned up against her Ford Taurus, wearing thigh-high boots, a black mini skirt, partially unbuttoned white oxford shirt and a semi was backing up to help her out.

I make it to my parents’ laughing, because I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Once I get there I’m shocked to find my dad holding a flip phone. I’m sure it doesn’t sound that shocking, as we are in 2010 now, but my dad has been using a Nokia brick phone for 10 years and has never had a desire to upgrade. Additionally, my mom and sister have upgraded to smart phones so I can only guess how much “tech support” Adam and I will have to provide on this vacation.

We finally get loaded in the Trailblazer and head for the coast. When we make a stop for dinner at a random combination KFC/Taco Bell drive-thru there’s a live chicken walking and grazing in the flowerbed. I guess we should be comforted by knowing the chicken was fresh? Or maybe it had the sense to jump truck? Either way, it provided unexpected entertainment during our wait.

After spending the night in a hotel somewhere in Mississippi, we drive the last 10 hours to the beach. Along the way Dad informs us that the iPod Shuffle we gave him for Father’s Day is an engineering feat, Mom is asking what apps she should add to her Droid, Maddie takes over driving telling us she doesn’t drive below 80 unless required, and I’m doing needlepoint in the backseat. 14 hours on the road together and no one was left on the side of the road, or killed. So far? So good.

When I wasn’t fielding questions from my dad like, How do I make this damn thing call? or I took a picture but I don’t know how to get to it, I was trying to show Adam as much as I could about one of my favorite places in the world. Literally. Our week was filled with drives along the live oak lined, spanish moss draped highways of South Carolina, where we took pictures of the 1500 year old Angel Oak Tree and the village of Rockville at the dead end of HWY 700 and made an unexpected, yet quintessentially southern, stop at the Charleston Tea Plantation. I shared the historic southern charm of Charleston with Adam by taking a horse drawn carriage tour through town and strolling through the straw market buildings.  My sister and I persuaded Adam to drive us to the Firefly Vodka distillery, where we sampled [and subsequently purchased]  sweet tea and lemonade flavored vodkas. We biked all over the Island on beach cruisers, enjoyed BBQ at Mingo Point and scarfed down a celebratory low-country boil, prepared by Adam, for my mom’s birthday. There was beach time too, which might have included a game of Mölkky [in which yours truly came from behind and beat Adam] and an embarassingly unsuccessful attempt of sandcastle construction.

Our long drive home came all too quickly, but we made the best of it with Cash Cab, Don’t Forget the Lyrics, and Sporcle iPhone apps. Between CDs of Sam Cooke, The Turtles, Joe Cocker and The Beatles, my sister quoted Hamlet, my dad asked us about the Electronic Cowboy in Little Rock, our GPS told us it was recalculating, and we stopped at an interesting gas station in Nashville that had a ladies happy hour.

I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have a family that laughs together, as it makes long road trips more bearable and fly by faster. As for our week spent together on Kiawah Island? It was one of the best vacations I can remember. I’m truly blessed!

A Tale of Two Sisters

My family made the 14 hour drive [each way] to Kiawah Island, SC without leaving anyone on the side of the road, so I say that’s a successful trip. 🙂 We had a great time: relaxing, visiting a tea plantation, sweet tea vodka distillery, Charleston, and, of course, the beach. We even spotted a few alligators in the lagoon behind our villa.

However, the purpose of this post isn’t to wax poetic about Kiawah or the tea plantation or the Spanish Moss that draped the highways. Instead it’s to share with you the perfect illustration of these sisters’ personalities that occurred on the drive out.

As we drove through Atlanta, the only thing that popped into my head was “Don’t be Tardy for the Party“, from the esteemed Bravo reality show, “Real Housewives of Atlanta“. I suppressed the urge to sing it, because no one else would  understand. Then, about an hour later we had begun our trip on the scenic highways of Georgia. As we drove through Augusta and saw the quintessential southern mansions that lined downtown, I pointed to one with a white picket fence. My sister immediately replied, “Looks like it needs a little Huckleberry Finn action.”

Me: Reality television aficionado
My sister: Classic literature virtuoso

Plate of food from Sweetie Pie's

The Trip that Led to the Best Meal of My Life…

Plate of food from Sweetie Pie's

Adam and I took a short road trip to St. Louis to visit my sister and see the sights just over a year ago. In the days leading up to it I was obsessive about a restaurant I had found online, as well as a museum my sister had told me about. In fact, obsessive may be a bit of an understatement. The entire trip ended up becoming quite the palette pleaser, except for Adam’s idea to eat at White Castle for lunch on our drive up. From wine and nuts, to soul food  OMG-ness and custard, this post is best read not on an empty stomach.

The restaurant was “Sweetie Pie’s at the Mangrove” and the owner was a former backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner [So umm, yeah. Cool!!!]. Food Network had featured it on “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives” so I had high expectations. It was fantastic.

Served cafeteria style, you had your choice from 5 entrees coupled with 2 sides of your choice, cornbread, and an optional dessert. Here you see (clockwise) the crispiest and flakiest catfish I have ever put my lips to, the cheesiest 4 cheese mac and cheese cooked to perfection, a big hunk of moist cornbread, and the buttery deliciousness of mashed potatoes. For dessert I had an amazing peach and apple cobbler and a nibble of Adam’s INSANE banana pudding. I think I said OMG around 100 times while consuming this. The portions were HUGE, so huge in fact I had to take about half of what you see to my sister. Words cannot describe how great this meal was. I think this was the first time in my life that I was too full to clean my plate, and that was the biggest disappointment of this meal.

Family Road Trips

Kiawah

Every summer, for as long as I can remember, my family would pile up in our gray Chevy Astro Van with GrandMerle and Ottie to begin our 18 hour drive to Kiawah Island, SC. Most drives were straight through the night [Thanks, Dad!] but I never remember them being stressful. Perhaps this was due to my naivety at a young age or perhaps my family really was a perfectly happy traveling family [the latter would be proven incorrect circa 1999], either way my memories are fond of that entire trip.

I remember my family’s stops to Shoney’s, Casey Jones Village, and Cracker Barrel along the way. [Remember that line in Father of the Bride: II, “that’ll be economical: one child, two seniors, thanks”? For us it was 2 children, 2 adults, and 2 seniors. At Shoney’s? That was a STEAL!] I remember being somewhere between Arkansas and Georgia popping an occasional VHS tape into our van’s TV [yeah, we were soo high-tech], eating our weight in Peanut Butter Logs [courtesy of Ottie], playing Skip-Bo, Old Maid, or Go Fish! while driving down the road, or singing along to oldies [since that’s all my dad ever played on the radio]. And who could forget those overnight drives when my sister and I thought it was so cool that our backseat folded into a bed?!

Then came the invention of the Walkman and my purchase of Lisa Loeb’s Tails cassette tape, coupled with my discovery of The Boxcar Children, and my sister’s discovery of the Thoroughbred series and these trips were forever transformed. I’m sure my parents and grandparents were very happy about this newfound distraction on the long drive to SC, because my sister and I both became occupied with our respective traveling libraries.

Nevertheless, all of my memories of family road trips are like this [except for the one involving an RV, but we’ll get there soon enough] and while I’m sure getting there was the biggest relief for the adults on the trip, some of my fondest memories lie in that old gray van. Whether it was sitting behind my dad listening to Lisa Loeb and reading the Boxcar Children or putting my head through the hole of a plywood painting of Casey Jones, it was getting there that was half the fun.

And so it begins…

A year and a half ago, my Mom, Sister, and I traveled to Finland to visit an “old” exchange student and meet his family. I’ll post my reflections in reverse so that you can easily click through and read them in the order in we experienced Finland. Enjoy!

My trip to Finland began at 1:30 on the afternoon of June 17, I had just quit my job and was in an empty state of mind. No stresses to think about, just excitement about the journey ahead.

My flight didn’t leave for a couple of hours so I took time to people watch in the waiting area of Gate 1. I saw families heading to vacation, business people making phone calls and checking emails, students reading textbooks, and a Texas Longhorn fan. I say the latter of that group had a death wish, proclaiming his love for the all things Longhorn in an Arkansas airport, but my boyfriend begged to differ.

In the plethora of personalities that surrounded me, one specifically stood out. An older lady wearing a brown linen tunic and khaki pants was traveling with what I assumed were members of her family. (For most of my trip I think I’ll be with them, I just heard them mention going to London.) This lady was striking. She was talking about all of the traveling she had done, the types of coins she had in bags at home, and a fleeting mention of 200,000 frequent flyer miles. She seemed so full of life that she reminded me of someone. It wasn’t until I was on the plane at our cruising altitude somewhere above Arkansas that I realized who I was being reminded of.

Ottie, my late grandmother (Dad’s side), was one of the dearest souls I knew (and know to this day). Ottie loved to travel. She was in Switzerland in a gondola above the Swiss Alps on the day I was born, had been all across the US with the “Trailblazers” (a group of retirees from my hometown that took twice yearly charter tours), and had taken an Alaskan cruise, among other trips.

She was also an educator, gardener, and inspiring Christian. I often find myself wishing Ottie was still with us, that I could call her and tell her all about my life, my travels, and my hopes. But, in this moment, on this journey, I know she is with me and smiling.

Finnish Countryside

Everything is so green and fragrant, I just had to be a part of it.
[10 points to the person who can first name the movie that quote comes from.]

Since arriving in Finland it has been made apparent that it is a very green country, in every sense of the word. Not only is it the 7th most expensive country in the world, with things costing the same in Euros as they do in American dollars (plus conversion), but the countryside where we are staying is the most vibrant and natural place I’ve ever been.

I’m sitting under the arbor off the back deck of the guesthouse and for a very brief moment I think I’m in Arkansas, then I realize it’s June and Arkansas would never be 60 in June. Ever. Off in the distance I see a lake with pine trees going up a small hill on the other side. The field in front of me hasn’t been mowed in years I would assume, but it is full of many beautiful and colorful wildflowers. Ivy is creeping its way up the lattice work to my left and African Violets line the inside of the window behind me. A light breeze is blowing and I’m becoming more and more peaceful as I sit and write in this natural setting. The scent and buzzing of bees coming from the flowerbed to my right is more proof I couldn’t be further from the city…

Doubting Meggie

I had my doubts about Finland for the first few days. Sure, the natural atmosphere is worth raving about and taking pictures of, but I wanted to see things. Magnificent, old things. Enter Helsinki…

We arrived in Helsinki for a day of touring and after parking our car in a garage we set off on foot. The city first appears somewhat different than other European cities I have visited, mainly due to the juxtaposition of the old with the new. But we soon turn a corner that completely changes my mood.

We begin walking alongside cobblestone streets made of granite, then realize that the sidewalks we are walking on are also granite. The slim alleyways and streets make me feel very European and confident. We walk past the Parliament building, through some parks, and eventually get to be at the harbor of the Baltic Sea.

Every block or so greets us with another ornate church or unique building that has surely been standing for hundreds of years. I have to pinch myself to prove it’s not a dream.

London & France…

I decided today that I would wear my favorite and most comfortable outfit, a black knit dress that literally feels like an old t-shirt. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be one of the windiest days yet.

We went into Tampere so that I could get some last minute souvenirs and to go up in the observation tower overlooking the entire city at Särkänniemi, an amusement park. Särkänniemi not only held the tower, but also a fabulous modern art museum that held one of Picasso’s many violin paintings. After visiting those sites, Maddie, Jesse, and Heidi decided to ride the “Tornado” roller coaster, leaving mom and I with their belongings.

I was given the task of photographing them while they were on the ride so I moved to the sidewalk nearest 2 of the big loops of the coaster, putting me on a downward slope. I was practicing the timing of the shot when a strong gust of wind flew under my dress. I thought I had kept a good tight hold on it that nothing had been revealed until my mom said, “I see London, I see France, I see Meggie’s underpants.”

I’m just glad that we saw the World’s Largest Plumber Crack moments later, provided by a woman squatting to help her child. At least 4 inches were on display and she didn’t seem to care or to notice…

mmm, mmm, good!

The Fins have it right. Their meals are thought out and healthy. Colorful and, I dare to say, completely natural. We were lucky to get traditional “home cooking” for the majority of our stay and while I’ll be the first to say I’m a picky eater (I’m sure I’ll get a lot of agreements on that statement), I managed to find at least one dish at each meal that I enjoyed the taste of. I always loved the appearance of every dish!

I remember the first morning we were there and seeing our host, Liisa, come in from the grocery store with a big, woven basket of fresh fruits and vegetables. The thing that I was most surprised by was the way lettuce was sold. The roots were still attached at the bottom and the top was open to the air. Liisa told us that she could re-plant the lettuce if she wanted, but she rarely did.

Every meal had a beautiful, fresh salad. Easily the most colorful and vibrant I’ve ever seen. Crisp green lettuce and bright red tomatoes were the standard in almost every salad served. Additions like red onion, watermelon, cucumber, oil soaked feta, and grapes would also accompany the salad. One thing I’m sure to try back in the states is adding watermelon and red grapes to my salads every once in a while.

Potatoes were another big staple of Finnish cooking. Usually served au gratin or boiled with fresh dill, we learned that the Fins really enjoy a good starchy potato.

Every meal had some sort of meat. While there we had chicken, beef, and pork. My favorite preparation were the mincemeat patties with onion. Similar to meatloaf, but fixed without ketchup and in small patties, they were cooked in the oven and positively delightful!!

One obvious and yet ignored practice by most Americans is that if the Fins have a heavy meal for lunch or dinner, the other meals of the day are adjusted accordingly. Normally the smaller meal is a simple preparation of breads, fruits, and cheeses. I’m really going to have to adopt that. These small meals were some of my favorites of the trip.

Finally, Coca-Cola tastes 100 times better in Europe. Perhaps the reason could be the simplicity of the ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Colour, Phosphoric Acid, Flavorings, and Caffeine. I guess what they say is true, “The easier it is to pronounce the ingredients, the better the taste.”

Things that make you go hmm…

Here are some random observations from my travels to Finland. Enjoy!

  • London-Heathrow Airport: Spotted. A traveler wearing black bike shorts with a lace trim. She was an American. No wonder the Brits hate us.
  • Question. How can a flight be full and have a row of 5 seats with only 2 passengers in the row? Luckily I was one of those 2 passengers and the flight was for 7 hours :). Go me.
  • A teeny-bopper raving about her travels around the World and saying how our plane to London would have a 2nd partial level because her plane to Australia did. When she gets on and asks where the stairs are, the flight attendant tells her there is only 1 level.
  • 10 minutes of Internet in London-Heathrow -$3. 4.5 minutes of Internet in Helsinki-Vantaa-$3. Unlimited Internet access at my home [almost] priceless…(or ~$30)
  • 24 hours of daylight, even when it’s raining.
  • I’m wearing a sweater. It’s June.
  • My new favorite way to fly is having 1 crying baby to my right and another behind me while trying to sleep. Then, having flight attendants wake me up every 30 minutes to ask: “Are you buckled up?”, “Would you like lunch?”, “Would you like a drink?”, or “Do you have any trash?”. Thankfully the flight was only about 2.5 hours from London to Helsinki, but still…
  • Purple hair.
  • Pink hair. I saw both numerous times at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
  • Captain Hook’s Restaurant with “Peter Pan’s Meatballs” and “Tinkerbell’s Laughing Weiners”.
  • The “fun” store at the largest mall in Scandinavia (of course I found it, the mall not the store) with “Willie Slippers” and “Bosom Cushions” proudly displayed in the window. It was near a children’s toy store. Fun for the whole family I guess :).
  • The escalators in the mall were flat.
  • If you see a pizza restaurant it will more than likely be serving kabobs.
  • A supermarket I don’t think would fair too well in the states: KKK Supermarket.
  • On a cold, rainy evening of playing RISK (in Finnish), my sister says, “Let me do you from the Ukraine.” She meant, “I want to attack Ukraine.” Inappropriate laughter soon followed.
  • We should adopt the Finnish way of bed dressing. It consists of an undersheet, duvet with duvet cover, and possibly a quilt.
  • My seatmate to NYC carried a Trevi GM Louis Vuitton purse that I’d kill for, wore a Juicy Couture sweatsuit, and had a carry-on too big to fit in the overhead compartment. She did what any smart and considerate overseas traveler would do and forced it under the seat in front of her. This action provided only a 3-4 inch space on the floor for her feet. In turn, my somewhat good leg room became a bit less than average and the flight was for 7 hours…