Saturday, July 11, 2009

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

. . . sort of. A few loose ends need wrapping up, but I am so pooped that I might just get my fingers on the wrong keys and leave them there. We left Rodanthe this morning at 9:30, but it was almost six before we got home, thanks to thunderstorms, torrential downpours, and a 10-mile traffic backup less than 25 miles from home. What a kick in the teeth that was! I was driving so Hank could study, but in a couple of places, he turned off his computer, probably so he could pray.

Now Hank and I are home -- I'm ready for bed; he's trying to repair
his computer, which lost its mind earlier this evening. Chip's out with friends, because he slept most of the way home. Suz will be back tomorrow, and Sarah, of course, went back to Harrisonburg. I realized this week how much I enjoyed having time with my kids, because we don't exactly live together any more. I also had a blast taking Ashley to the bead shop, where she made a necklace for Autumn and let Autumn choose beads for a bracelet for Ashley. It was so fun. I hope Scott gets the pictures up soon, because they're precious.

I also realized how much I enjoyed the other people we were privileged to share the week with. We had a lot of coming and going, but it was all good. As Ian said on Day One: "We're all going to eat rainbows and poop butterflies." It was about that good, honestly.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Week in Food

Normally, we eat out about once per beach trip, because meals are communal affairs, fun to fix and not too terrible to clean up. Many hands make light work, and all that jazz. This trip, however, we've been going out more, in twos and fours and sixes and one eleven. Since I really want to be a restaurant reviewer when I grow up, here's the scoop, in no particular order.

Top Dog Cafe, Rodanthe. Still a favorite. Chip, Guy, Ian, Jody, Hank and I hit this on Sunday night and were well pleased, as usual. Top Dog started as a microscopic beach bar, but has morphed into something more upscale. The tuna steaks were perfect -- medium rare and meltingly tasty. I had bacon-wrapped scallops over pasta. When I saw them, my heart sank, because they were very brown on the outside. Turns out, it was just the bacon; the scallops were perfectly tender and juicy. Yum. Chip had a monstrous hamburger that fed him for dinner, and Ian and Scott for lunch the next day. Yes, it was that big.

Atlantic Coast Cafe, Rodanthe. This one is so good, we keep going back. Ian and Jody went first, and reported that the fish tacos were delicious. Hugh, Susette, and I went for lunch on Wednesday, and found that not only were the fish tacos great, but the oyster po'boy wasn't bad, either. The taco construction really added to their flavor -- a corn taco shell inside a flour tortilla, with jalapeno cream cheese, flaky (not fishy) white fish, shredded sweet cabbage, more cheese, and topped with homemade pico de gallo. Even people who don't like fish love these tacos. AND they're not expensive at all. Ashley and Scott went there for breakfast today and reported that breakfast was just as yummy as lunch.

Penguin Isle/Pamlico Jack's, South Nags Head. When this was Penguin Isle, we ate there with Pam and Tye Kirkner. Now it's Pamlico Jack's, but it's weird -- same staff, same chef, same owners, but now they've got a pirate theme. Even the staff think it's stupid. Fortunately, the food is the same, just with ridiculous pirate names. Hugh's seafood medley had the perfect degree of doneness, and wasn't smothered in sauces or other things that obscured the flavors. I had a tuna steak that was, our waitress said, "unloaded off the boat and in the back door." Also wonderful were the Buffalo tuna bites, where the spicy, blue cheese flavor did not overwhelm the tuna. Side items at the Restaurant Formerly Known as Penguin Isle are overpriced and forgettable, particularly the cheese grits. Mine are better. Desserts are house made, which is good, but hit-or-miss, which is bad. The cheesecake wasn't great, but the creme brulee was delicious, and the cherry pie worth every calorie.

Jimmy's Seafood Buffet, Ocracoke. If you like crab legs, this is your place. The people in our party who like them were encfhanted. I wasn't as thrilled with everything else. It had all been on the steam tables too long, and scallops were in short supply. This is too expensive for overdone and hectic service. Skip it and go to Captain George's if you absolutely have to have a seafood buffet.

Our House. We had fun with food this week, from Brent's mom's spaghetti to spiral sliced ham, to shrimp with Outer Banks Crab Boil, to jambalaya. We're at the point where a restaurant has to be pretty awesome to beat what we can do ourselves. (I forgot to mention the Tennessee jam cake I made for Chip's birthday, the cherry brownies Chip made, and the iced gingersnaps that were Hank's brainchildren. We didn't starve.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Miss Autumn

I am not ready, emphatically not ready, for grandchildren, but if and when I have them, I hope they're as chill as Autumn. The photo is Scott, Ashley, and Autumn on the ferry last night, as a point of reference. We hadn't met Scott's family, and I was a little apprehensive. Turns out it was a waste of angst. Ashley is great, and Autumn is amazing.

She will be three in November, but she is the least whiny two-and-a-half year old I have ever seen. She's always laughing, able to amuse herself with a game timer, and thinks that Jeff hung the moon. (Well, Sarah's a favorite, too.) Yesterday she played with Sarah and Jeff in the surf, laughing hysterically, until she had blue lips. I remember those blue lips. Our own kids wouldn't get out of the surf until their lips were purple.

To warm up, she sat on Sarah's lap, wrapped in two beach towels, flirting with Jeff. It's a good thing that Ashley is a National Champion sharpshooter, because they're going to need big guns, probably about the time Autumn turns eight. It's a real credit to Scott and Ashley, and their parenting skills, that Autumn is such a happy, well-adjusted girl. We've all enjoyed her so much. Here she is wearing Sarah's shoes. This morning she's been amusing herself with a tape measure for an hour now. I love that in a baby.

And Ashley has been such a pleasant surprise. She quilts! She knits! She blows things up with gunfire! We've been looking at quilting magazines, and she's knitting a sweater for Autumn, insisting to me how easy it is. I do not have good memories of knitting, but I almost want to try again. I do needlepoint until the urge fades.

Celebrating Chip's Birthday

I cannot believe that my youngest child is 19, but that's the reality. It seems like he should be Autumn's age, and she won't even be three until November.

We celebrated by going to Ocracoke for dinner at Jimmy's Seafood Buffet. The buffet was just mediocre, but the trip was a blast. On the ferry going over, there were very few cars, so we had lots of room to spread out and enjoy the ambiance. My experience with ferries is limited to the Jamestown-Scotland ferry in Tidewater. That one a.) doesn't cross deep water, and b.) doesn't have waves. The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry crosses the mouth of Hatteras inlet, and even on a relatively calm day like yesterday, the swell is enough to toss you about.

It was in the midst of this swell, when most of us were leaning over the port rail looking at the waves breaking across the mouth of the inlet, that we noticed Brent's face. It was green. Oh dear. This did not stop him from slamming back a mortal ton of crab legs at dinner, but it did make him apprehensive about the trip home. We started calling him Chum Bucket. Fortunately for him, the trip back was quieter, from a wave standpoint.

Logistically it was a little difficult because we didn't know that the ferries start running on the hour after nine p.m. We got to the ferry slip in time to make the nine p.m. ferry, but the line of cars was too long, and we were five cars back when they stopped loading. Woe is us. We sat there until ten, listening to Arlo Guthrie on Brent's ipod. The upside of this is that Brent got to digest his dinner, and it stayed put on the trip. The other upside was that we had a night crossing, which was amazingly different from the day. I stood at the side and tried to figure out the buoy lights, while Chip and Guy debated how deep the crossing channel is.

Not very, is the answer. Guy was hoping it was 100 feet deep, and was quite disappointed to learn that it's only about twenty. I was a little freaked out about it, actually, because the ferry channel threads between sand bars. On one of them, on the trip out, someone had anchored a boat, and people were fishing and sitting on the sand -- and it was about fifteen yards away. I don't think the ferries ever run aground, but it still weirded me out. NCDOT has to dredge the channel, and the channel out into the ocean from Pamlico Sound, several times a season and after every storm.

And by the way, this is one of my favorite photos from last night's trip. (These we took with Hank's phone, and they're smaller than the camera ones.) In it we have Sarah, mostly hidden, Jeff, Brent, Suzanne, Chip, and me, watching the ocean go by.

Catching Up

This is yesterday's post, that I never got posted because it was too busy a day, so pretend that it's Wednesday. (I've been writing in a notebook whenever the mood strikes, then moving the words. It keeps me from losing the moment, as it were.)

When I woke up this morning, a luminous mist lay over the sound, a glowing white cloud that made the distant shrimp boats look like seagulls in a bright sky.

I love the sound. It never looks the same two days in a row. It doesn't have the restless drama of the ocean; it has a quiet spirit, at least as long as the wind stays out of the east. Some days it's flat and sky-colored. Some days it's fractured into tiny wavelets. At least once, I've seen it churned to coffee-colored foam by a storm.

Yesterday (Tuesday) the sound got a lot of our attention. Hugh and Susette paddled and snorkled, respectively. Hank and I paddled out to the barge, where we saw blue crabs -- my favorites as long as they're staying in the barge and not actively chasing me. Hank and Ian floated just off our dock, practicing being weightless. (That's what they said; I dunno.) Sarah, Jeff, Jody and I caught hermit crabs. There's something so adorable about the way they poke their little feet out, and then scurry across your hand. Jody said she loves an animal that understands how to work the housing market.

(And yes, I have pictures that I love, but we don't have a photo editing program on Hank's laptop, and I can't resize them to fit on the blog. Sigh.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Y Chromosomes at the Beach

Question: What do guys do with their time at the beach?

Answer: Dig holes, of course!

This is the beginning of Ian's hole. By the time he finished it was twice this deep, fifty times as dangerous, and the product of Hugh, Chip, Guy, Hank, Jeff, Brent, and Troy. Guys like a challenge, and it's guys of all ages, too.

I spent the afternoon kayaking in the Pea Island Nature Reserve with Hugh and Susette. This was a blast, except that we decided to explore an inlet that got progressively narrower. By the time it closed off completely, there was absolutely no way I could turn around. I had to back the SS Diet Dew all the way out. It's very hard to steer a 17-foot kayak, backward.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What To Do on a Cloudy Day

A day of clouds and showers actually meant that our crew went to the beach -- none of them were up for more sun just yet, especially Chip and Guy, who could more aptly be called Crisp and Fry. I am amazed at the way all of them revert to some sort of inner eight-year-old (in a good way) at the beach. Here they are digging holes at the tide line. No one knows why.

I was getting in touch with a different kind of inner child this afternoon. I decided it was time to take the SS Diet Dew out on the sound, but that meant I had to hose the spiders out of it. The word "hate" is not strong enough for how I feel about spiders. Abhor comes closer, but it lacks that certain element of creeping disgust and horror. At one point I distinctly remember yelling DIEDIEDIEDIEDAMMITDIE! I had to bludgeon one, finally, with an oar.

The point is, I do not want to find a spider that I somehow missed when I am 600 yards from shore in a fairly brisk chop. It's important to KILL THEM ALL.

Okay, better now. Kayaking on the sound is one of the reasons I'm here. It's the most pleasant of occupations, gliding silently over a moonscape populated by hermit crabs and eelgrass. The world becomes a silver sheet of water under a silver sky, every stress reduced to the rhythm of the paddle.

I decided to visit the sunken barge first -- a deliberate wreck that has become a haven for crabs of all sorts. I always forget how long it is -- probably fifty yards. One end sticks up above the water, but it goes on for a while underneath, covered in oysters and scuttled over by spider and wharf crabs. I let the wind push the SS Diet Dew against the far end, and sat watching crabs, who were watching me. A whole lot of deep things can be summed up in the solemn gaze of crabs who are waiting for signs of a dip net.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fireworks on the Fourth

Our fourth-floor loft has a porch outside, and most of us gathered there at dusk to watch the fireworks. From that lofty height, we could see the small, silent, blooms of fireworks all the way down in Hatteras, plus the much larger illegals that people still set off here in Rodanthe. Our main goal was to watch the big show that was going on at Avon Pier, about 22 miles south. (And it is amazing that we could see the fireworks in Hatteras (40 miles south), Avon (22 miles south), Nags Head (24 miles north) and Manteo (36 miles northwest). Flat has its uses.)

The bulk of the house was behind us, to the north, and it blocked our view of the neighbors, which explains why Suzanne's boyfriend, Brent, did the "duck and cover" maneuver when they set off some huge and wholly illegal fireworks next door. He said, and I quote, "I couldn't see the lights! I thought it was gunfire!" There's a lot of him, and he folded up like a Japanese fan. Fortunately, he was among friends who will let him live this down sometime. Maybe. Before he's old.

How To Deal With Loud Noises at Night

Last summer, when I complained to my sister about the dawn drum circle at Floydfest, she suggested earplugs, which I dutifully bought, and they have become the can't-do-without solution to everything. I go to bed, put in the earplugs, and then even the thumps and bumps of all our kids playing games don't faze me.

What does faze me, though, is the fire alarm going off at two a.m. Hank and I scrambled into the hallway, to find Sarah and Katie already there, while Suz was sitting up in her bunk, holding her ears with both hands. We didn't smell smoke, so Hank trooped upstairs and managed to shut the alarms off. (They're hardwired, one in each bedroom, one in the kitchen, one up in the loft, and one in the hall. They make an AMAZING racket.) Everyone went back to bed, but then I got worried, so I sent Hank out to look for signs of trouble. I remembered the story of the bird's nest in the outside light that started a house fire.

Nothing. He came back to bed, and the earplugs went back in. To my own amazement, I was able to go right back to sleep, and at seven-thirty this morning, woke up still alive and un-roasted.

Oh, and it's worth mentioning that the hullabaloo utterly failed to wake up Chip and Guy. Yes, they slept through the alarm making a high, piercing whistly sound in their room, plus all of the rest of us stomping about looking for flames. I don't know whether to be in awe of how soundly they sleep, or worried that they aren't ever going to be able to get themselves up.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rodanthe, 2009

It's a quarter to eight, and I'm savoring the quiet moments in the house. Everyone is out playing basketball. Ian and Jody just arrived, after an 11+ hour drive from western Pennsylvania. I am NOT outside playing basketball, because I want to keep my blood in my body, where it belongs. There are clouds of mosquitoes out there -- even with bug spray, it's pretty intense.

Sarah, Suzanne, Katie, Jeff, Brent and Troy got here about one. After a quick lunch, we all went over to the beach, even me. It was fun, actually, to watch them play in the ocean, reading in my surf chair, watching the waves. We set up camp high on the beach, and napped and talked for most of the afternoon.

Brent's mom, God bless her, sent spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, oil and cheese, and this made tonight's dinner simple, plus, it saved us from having to drive to Avon immediately for groceries. The meal was fabulous, even more so, probably, because we were starving from all the activity. Now I'm watching the sun drop into the sound and wondering how soon I can go to bed. It's been a long day.

But, naturally, I have a couple of comments for what they're worth. Why does nobody in the Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo area open a real grocery store? I went to three "convenience" type stores looking for salad ingredients, and what I found was some slimy lettuce, two mealy tomatoes, and a bag of iffy carrots. I passed on the lettuce, and finally found, at the fourth store, a head of lettuce I'd actually eat. Wouldn't you think that somebody on this island would have fresh vegetables? All you can reliably find is beer, and I hate beer. (Well, except for Bud Light Lime and something to boil shrimp in.)

Comment two: Suz and Brent were in charge of dinner, and we discovered that a huge pot of water on the stove for spaghetti NEVER boils. We cooked the pasta anyway. Sea level messes with stuff . . .