Thursday, May 27, 2010

My liver hates me!

Ohhh, my (bitter) sweet friend Jim Beam. We have arrived in Bardstown, KY - the Bourbon capital of the world! Today we toured the one and only Jim Beam disterillry! No tour is complete without some sampling - better yet - it was FREE!! It was fabulous, and I learned that the Beam label actually makes several brands of bourbon I have never heard of before. Of course we had to bring a few home to add to our collection. Next, we went to Havenly Hill distributors and had an even more fabulous tour through their rick houses which store the bourbon in charred white oak barrels.
The fermentation smell that wafted through the creaky wooden structure was pungent! It reminded me of the everpresent stench of alcohol that lingered in the halls of the [insert name of favorite greek fraternity] Lamda Chi house at Butler. To commemorate my recollection of college memories, I celebrated like I still had a college liver, hence the title of this post. Truthfully I am surprised that I am currently coherent enough to write this. After the tours and samples we dined at Talbotts Tavern, which has housed the likes of President Lincoln, Daniel Boone, Jesse James, & George Washington Irving. Pretty impressive. It is an old stone building with dark wood rafters and candlelight everywhere. Probably would have been romantic if it had not been for the bourbon sampler. Started out as a good Sarah idea (much to Torben's staunch objection). Well, let's just say I am not as young as I once was and five shots of anything is four shots too many. Torben is notoriously frugal and won't let me waste anything. I felt like I was six years old being forced to sit at the dinner table until I finished my plate. He just smiled while savoring that "I told you so" moment. In a last ditch effort to avoid hurling up my dinner I offered the remainder up the to table behind us and ended up making friends with a couple who had lived for three years on a sailboat and were once boarded by pirates! I love meeting colorful people. Last, on our way home this evening we were shocked to learn that we have traveled all this far to run into...our next door neighbor! Torben spoke with Patty Shenefelt and it turns out her uber-talented son is performing as Stephen Foster in this year's summer play series in Bardstown. Crazy? Unfortunately, poor Michael is laid up and not feeling so well, so say a prayer for his quick return to health. Tomorrow we plan to check in on him and make sure he's doing ok. Then, we're off for more bourbon touring (if you want to throw in another prayer for my liver feel free to do so).
Oh yeah, this was following the tour. Fun times.

Mammoth Cave

Can you imagine driving down the road and this passes you by? Poor Torben nearly ran off the road and needed clean shorts! Anyone have any ideas what this monstrosity is? Our best guesses were wind turbine props or airplane wings - there were three of these suckers flying by at mach speed! My husband has a cute obsession with teepees. These made him so giddy he drove by three times ! (Must be his Native American roots.)
Petrified wood found in a cave- looks amazing up close.
Diamond Caverns, Mammoth Cave National Park. Torben has informed me that he never grows tired of caves, and in fact could live in one and be completely happy everyday. While I find the tours intriguing, I do not share his cave dwelling fantasies and have let him do some exploring, solo.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Night....and day

We've done a whole lot of nothing this week, and we're exhausted!
Leaving Alabama was a nightmare: everything that could go wrong, did. Besides having work done on our motor home and repairing the car we spent several days at the vet. We were loaded to leave, the car was hooked up and we were attempting to pull out of the park – if you’re a dog owner you know the importance of “one last time” before getting on the road. So I took Rodeo out one last time to ensure smooth traveling, when I opened the door to hop back in Blaze jumped right out the door. Unfortunately he did not judge his leap well and rolled down the stairs jaggedly fracturing his leg in three places. A local vet examined him but said the fractures were too complex to treat. I disobeyed every speed limit on my two-and-a-half-hour mission to the nearest orthopedic veterinary specialist. Thankfully a very skilled doctor and his team in Birmingham performed the surgery. The doctor was happy to report that they were able to save his leg (Amen!), and that with the amount of pins, screws and metal plates in his leg he is probably setting off every metal detector within a five mile radius. Our travel plans were halted for several days to make sure he was able to recoup a little. Poor guy is supposed to spend the next 12 weeks in a 4x4 pen, not much fun for a traveling dog, but we set up a makeshift little quarantine in our bus and he seems to be adjusting just fine. The other dogs have been very protective of him, in a way that I found both surprising and endearing. By the way, if anyone ever has the unfortunate experience of having a pet undergo surgery the anesthesia can have one nasty side effect: constipation. What follows constipation? Let’s just say open windows and air fresheners are not enough. But besides that (and the 40+ staples that look like railroad tracks) he’s in pretty good shape.
Our trip plans have changed a lot as a result of this. He has to be back in Birmingham for several check-ups over the next 12 weeks, so it looks like traveling to the far west coast is out of our grasp this summer. Bummer. But in true noMadson fashion, we are determined not to let this spoil our fun and keep moving fo'ward. When we finally escaped the grasp of Alabama’s ridiculous red tide we landed in Nashville at the home of Jaime & Wade Dye and their daughter, Ruby. Some people have good friends, some people have great friends, I have been blessed to have an incredible friend who helps me to laugh, cry, and rekindle my soul. And I did just that. We were treated to fresh organic fruit on the patio for breakfast and sat down to homemade soup and freshly slathered garlic bread for dinner and filled every moment in between with the stuff day dreams are made of. I was having so much fun I forgot to take many pictures.
Ruby embodies the free spirit every two year-old should have (and what most adults should strive to remember). I spent hours doodling with her on the wall of her play room, kicking a big red ball, and playing dress up in a gazillion costumes. Ruby’s great combo was a tiger mask and poodle skirt. Jaime fashioned a witch’s hat that dangled a spider, meanwhile I rocked it in a furry red “pimpin” hat and scarf and green lady bug sunglasses. Life is good when you’re two (or at least acting like it). She cracked me up by complaining to her mom that her arm itched because of a "musqweektoe" bite. One of Ruby’s favorite things is to be upside down, whether watching cartoons or being twirled around by her ankles. In my yoga practice this morning, under the canopy of their tall oak trees, I found myself in a downward dog pose and laughed at how histarically right she is…the world does look great upside down. “Ruby-vision”, from now on when I need a change in perspective I’ll employ it. Funny how a two-year old can become an inspiration and model for a 33 year-old.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Huntsville...(last stop in Alabama?)

Good fortune smiled upon the noMadsons today. I enjoyed a warm and fulfilling yoga practice listening to the early morning birds and watching the fog rise in the Smokey Mountains. With a morning like that its hard to let the day go sour. Our little scout vehicle came through Honda break auto surgery fairing better than we expected. Hooray! She was returned to us ahead of time and under estimated cost (how often does that happen?). Jerry Damson, Huntsville Honda - we salute you!
In the spirit of giving, well, rather lightening our load, we carved out a few more things that were unessential to our trip and dropped them off back at the animal shelter we visited last week. Nina and her staff were grateful and we were happy to see their thrift store was quite busy. The report on little kitty - which they are naming Lando or Ory (due to us being from Orlando) - is good, the vet was checking him out when we visited. Torben and I were disappointed that we were unable to see him, but later decided it was for the better; one goodbye was tough, two, well that probably wouldn't have happened, you catch my drift? We also wanted to include the web site/mailing info for any of you bleeding souls who wish to help out a great cause:
Nina Beal (founder)
The Ark, Inc.
139 Bo Cole Rd.
Huntsville, AL 35806
(256) 851-4088
Kitty indirectly brought us closer to another great wonder. On our way back from the shelter Torben slid across three lanes of traffic for this little gem: Ellen's Creative Cakes. This lady could very well be the 9th great wonder of the world. She is a baker, the old fashioned kind, where everything that comes out of her kitchen is from scratch. She imports her ingredients for the freshest and richest flavors. She makes everything from gluten-free and vegan to lard-loaded and divine. Better yet- she offers free samples!! Ellen sat with us and shared her passion for baking. She explained why she carefullly selects her ingredients and which flavors best compliment one another. I felt like I was sitting front row in Cake Batter 101. I don't know if it was the glazed over look in our eyes or the drool coming off my chin but Miss Ellen gave us a take-home sample of EVERY cake, filling, and icing - for us to sample, mix, and enjoy!! I'm sure she is this nice to everyone, she seemed to have that way about her. So, I have 50+ different cake combinations sitting in my freezer. I wonder who I could get to share them with me? Aunt Darla, Uncle Herman, Jaime, Wade, we're headed your way- it may soon be your lucky day! (Provided I can keep my husband from devouring them!)
So, I think we have made the best of our journey through northern Alabama. Tomorrow we head out, again, in an attempt to see yet another beautiful state. Chattanooga, come the noMadsons!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Killing Time in Northern Alabama

So the title sounds as if we are bored out our minds, but the truth is anything but. We went to a state park and found this marker. We actually walked along part of the original route of the Trail of Tears, a fact with both thrilled the history buff in me, and made my inner empath tremble. What a sorrowful tale. Finally, a good picture of the two of us. I recently purchased a tri-pod and feel like a (semi) pro photographer.
This is the view from the top of one of the peaks near the Smokey Mountains...
...and this is the view underneath. This is called Cathedral Caverns. Parts of the cave are so enourmous that you can fit a 10-story building within it. Amazing. There is an underground river and crystals everywhere. It is lit with artificial light and the tour includes a moment when the guide turns all of the lights out so that we could experience total darkness. If you have never experienced this I would totally recommend it-it is quite a sensation to be competely devoid of sight.
Our view as we ascend from the belly into the mouth of the cavern. Pretty cool huh?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Colossal Mistake

My driving record (get ready to cringe): One side swiped passenger mirror, one hole in a plastic Saturn door, one garage door off the rails, a two-in-one back up hit and run on my husband's car, countless fender benders and a four car Interstate pile up in rush hour traffic. I once locked myself out of my car WITH the car running AND the turn signal engaged. In high school I was voted not most likely to become president or travel to outer space, but most likely to be dropped by her auto insurance company…and it came true! There are many things I am good at but all things car related are not them! Yesterday, I added another doozy to the list: I left the parking brake on in the tow vehicle. (No huge surprise given the above referenced history right?) After hearing the grim diagnosis from the service technician – full brake system/axle replacement – (he actually had to sit down to tell us this) I proceeded in my usual pattern of connecting the dots between humiliation, regret and self-loathing. Our travel budget was well thought out and this hefty price tag was not in it. After a good sob and a poor excuse for self-soothing-cheese-pizza later my husband got tired of watching my ridiculous pity party and insisted that I do something different. So, after a triumphant win in Rummikub (thanks for the practice G-MA) and the humor of playing campground BINGO with tiny cards and old mismatched buttons I can now offer a softer acceptance of my error. Of course the long hot shower and soothing aroma of my chamomile tea didn’t hurt either. My revelation is this: yesterday wasn’t so bad. Here's why: We actually got out of Red Bay! Granted not far, but hey progress is progress. I have to mention that after 5 weeks of work on our motor home I would totally recommend Tiffin motor homes to anyone. All of our camping fees and service work was covered under warranty, and I think they gratuitously covered several things that originally were not. They may not be the swiftest mechanics but they stand behind their product and do it with great customer service. We were able to hang out in the service bays and watch every move they made, we learned so much about our new home. These things are quite complex and just as soon as you think you’ve got it covered, you learn about a whole new system and how it functions. Also, the people we met have been worth the trip so far. It’s funny how being out of our element has pushed us to speak to people and strike up conversations with individuals that perhaps we would have passed by otherwise. How many people do you see in a day? How many of those new faces do you actually stop to learn their name? I am continually surprised by how much I can learn from others, or the endless supply of dirty jokes that travel around the campground transcending ages and breaking down barriers. It has been a nice gentle reminder to me to slow down and reconnect with others. Another bright note: we rescued the most adorable kitten! Other campers told us where she had been spotted so our last night in town we searched a local park and she came timidly up to us wavering in the unsteady gait of new legs. She is a beige furball with eyes that shine like green meadows. I absolutely fell in love with her and her pathetic little squeaky meows. My other kids were not too happy to welcome her into our home. Lily particularly tried to nibble her on several occasions. I guess if you’re a dog nothing tastes as good as kitty tails. She was small enough to fit in Torben’s hand and kept us company during our drive by perching herself upon my shoulder, nuzzling into my neck and playing with my ponytail. Torben feared that if we kept her any longer she would become a permanent member of our ever growing household. We located an incredible animal shelter , The Ark, in Huntsville, which is a no-kill rescue shelter run entirely on donations – all of its staff members are volunteer- the donations provide food and veterinary care for the animals. Nina, the committed and beautiful owner built the stunning facility from the ground up. The Ark is her masterpiece and if I ever come back in another life as an abandoned cat or dog I hope the good Lord puts me there. The dogs have daytime outside pens with plenty of room to move and warm inside pens with beds for resting at night. There is a “catio”, that’s a patio built especially for cats. Nina has spent 20 years building this safe-haven and provides her animals with exceptional care and love. This is definitely one charity we will support. And as it turns out our little feline friend was a HE not a she!!! (Kind of hard to spot it on an 8 week-old kitten!) Although I was sad to drop him off, I know he is in the best place possible (and safe from curious nibbling dogs). I think God puts us in places at times for a reason. Maybe our residency in Red Bay was a little extensive, but that’s such a small price to pay for saving an innocent life. So, you see, the day was actually fabulous. I’m pensive as to why when something bad happens it tends to overshadow all the recent good? I have decided today to do something different…today I will celebrate my mistake and embrace the fact that I am human and gonna make a million of them. Not being perfect doesn’t take away from my inherent worth or negate the good I try to bring to the world. So today I will follow my mother’s advice and do what she, and her mother, and her mother before her have preached: open my heart to the good, let the rest go. Join me in celebration of my colossal mistake, in recognition of my limitations, and in devotion of my vow to NEVER get behind the wheel of this motor home!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Great Red Bay Hostage Crisis, Day: 30

Ok, so to add a little humor to our situation we actually posted a sign on our front window that read: THE GREAT RED BAY HOSTAGE CRISIS, and kept a tally of days underneath. Most of our fellow RVers appreciated our humor, but I am convinced that the local workers did not and are now in a conspiracy to see just how long they can keep us here.
I believe we have seen every "sight" northern Alabama has to offer. We have stumbled across some gems, some wildly known, others not so much...with good reason.
First, Torben took me on a date to my first drive-in. I had no idea what to expect, as I rarely do. He was pleased as punch: it only cost $5 each for entrance, add in an additional $5 for popcorn, drinks, candy, and snow-cones and a whopping $15 later my husband's cheap ass was ready to kiss the gal behind the counter. A nice contrast to the fortune it usually costs to go to the movies. Our feature: Iron Man 2 (it rocks). We pulled up and hooked an old-timey speaker to our half-rolled down window. The sound was scratchy and a little hard to hear, but I think it totally added to the mood. I went to the bathroom and stumbled across a lady cursing at the sink and telling me she was going to ask "them" to turn it on. ??? Ok, I'm a psychologist, so I figured I was pretty much in my element. Moments later water started pouring out of the little rust stained sink with such veracity that it drenched the walls and the floor. I laughed aloud in the stall realizing that the woman was not crazy, but indeed asked them to turn it on. Alabama is a different kind of place. A very kind man told us the history of the theater, it has been open since 1949.
This guy started working there when he was 9! He lead the pony rides! At age 12 he began running the projector and that has been his job ever since. He gave us a behind the scenes tour of his projector building. I have to say I was keenly impressed. You would not believe the amount of film that is threaded through this tiny room for one movie.
Torben was afraid to walk around for fear his gigantor self would make the delicate web come tumbling down. If you have ever seen the shows American Pickers or Antiques Roadshow - this place was a goldmine. So my first drive-in was pretty cool. The balmy evening will be etched in my memory with the scent of bug spray and the laughter of the children playing on the nearby swing set...not too shabby.
We also ventured to the world renown Lost Baggage Center Capitol of the world...somewhere in northeastern Alabama. Ever wonder what happens to the stuff you lose on an airplane? The books left in the seat backs, the luggage that went to the Bahamas when you didn't, Jen - your camera? It all ends up here (don't ask me how) and its all for sale. All of your lost children's booties and bonnets, glamorous sunglasses and straw hats intended for some fabulously sunny get away. At first I was amused, awed, but amused, then a little saddened. They had everything. Someone's wedding dress and engagement ring. Kelly - do NOT check your dress to Cabo! People flocked from all around like it was the best damn department store they had ever shopped. It even had a generator for sale - not sure if that was really checked cargo or not. If you ever thought of something for sale, this place had it. (Happy Mother's Day G-MA! I finally found your favorite non-skid socks!)
By far one of the most intriguing places we have been is the Rattlesnake Saloon. Yup, sounds authentic and it is. We heard about this place by word of mouth. We've lived in a dry county for 30 days and idea of a stiff toddie was appealing. We were told to take "the road" across the county line, then over the hill, take a left after the old fire station, and follow the sun. As we drove we both exchanged curious impressions about what we had gotten ourselves into. Nothing, I mean nothing could have prepared me (how many times am I going to say that?). We came across a big field with hundreds of cars and horses tied to fences. Everyone was standing around waiting, so we joined in and waited with them...for our taxi. Not long after our "saloon taxi" pulled up and we all hitched a ride in the back of a dirty old pickup truck. I knew things were going to get interesting. We took off down a steep incline and wound around a mountain and ended up at the mouth of a cave with a saloon built right into the side! It was the coolest thing I have ever seen, bar-wise of course. There were two ways to get there, buy saloon taxi as we did, or by horseback riding. There was a natural mountain stream that flowed right down the middle and the locals just kept jumping over it back and forth like it was a hole in the floor. I witnessed cowboy hats and southern belles line dance their way across the cool earthen floor. I felt like life had transported me to a place I had only read about in books or watched in old western movies. I relished the sight while enjoying a cool draft pitcher. Life was good. My husband, never to know a stranger, quickly made friends and learned more about these gents lives than I am at liberty to write, lets just say we were endlessly entertained.
So you see, life in Red Bay can be interesting. (But I am still more than ready to move on!)

Monday, May 3, 2010 the garage!

We have been waiting....and waiting....and waiting, and finally called they called us into the garage for service. Nothing like camping out in dusty concrete parking lot for three weeks to make you really want to get a move on. So, we have been elevated to "elite status", also known as "finally in the shop." Tiffin motor homes is a busy place and we have waited, patiently, which most of you know is sooo out of character for me! So should I should feel some twang of sympathy for the new buses arriving that are now being parked and told to wait their turn in the three week line up? Probably, but instead I laugh at the poor unknowing ones and secretly sing na-na-naboo-boo to my envious neighbors as we pull into the garage each morning. Maybe someday I'll grow up, maybe.
With our home in the shop it has posed an interesting engineering feat for the to fit four dogs, two people and one cat in a car, comfortably for 8 hours. HA! I laugh at my own use of the word comfortable. Several dogs have learned how to jump seats and Lily has discovered how to conveniently lay across Torben, the center counsel, and myself all at once. Not to mention, she is smart enough to know how to roll down the windows --thank goodness for child protection window locks--but if we're not careful we get a blast of 65 mile an hour wind and a slobbery dog tongue hanging out the passenger window. Miss Shanti (our 14 year-old temperamental as hell cat) has shocked us by her enjoyment of riding in the car. She is thrilled to look out the window and frolic from one seat to another. She is still a diva and requires her own seat, often bullying one of the dogs into the floor to get her desired space. Today I turned around just in time to see her bite Bela (our lab) in the hiney to get her to move. Where's a camera when you need one? Needless to say our close confines have required some skilled parenting to prevent arguments, protect hurt feelings and avoid disaster. Ironically leading Torben & I to feel more like parents than dog companions. Go ahead, laugh. Anyway, in a few days, provided the things in the shop go as planned, we will head out to Tennessee...just in time for the flooding (who is Murphy anyway? and what's with his stupid law?)
On a brighter note, We tooled around in Huntsville today and I fell in love with the cute town. Monte Sano State Park offers the most breathtaking vistas. I would have loved to rent one of the cozy cottages on the hillside overlooking the tree-lined mountains. Pure visual nirvana.
We stopped in town for a bite to eat and I quickly explored the new city (getting lost on purpose is one of my favorite pastimes) while Torben took a conference call (anyone really surprised?) There is the cutest constitutional village that is preserved on a whole city block. It was where Alabama counties got together to create their state Constitution, near and around the civil war. It houses a school, court room, garden, candle making factory and a host of other buildings in 1880's fashion. It was like a step back in time and it really tickled my history bone. The icing-on-my-fabulous-cake-day was when I heard the most glorious bells ringing. Their melody vibrated off the old stone buildings and begged me to follow a wandering path until I located their source. Not just a few loud gongs, but several lulling rings and with such a flow that it felt like the angels were singing. No surprise I ended up at the doorstep of a church. It was all white, with Greek looking faces at each arch, mesmerizing stained glass in every window and a tall pinnacle of a chapel that seemed to reach right into heaven. The door was open and as I stepped inside the only light I saw was a ray of sunshine coming from a tiny spiral staircase in the corner. To climb or not to climb? I asked myself that question for only a brief second before giddily tiptoeing up the small winding planks. As it turns out, it was just an access point to make repairs in the rafters or the roof or something, but I don't care. The thrill of my adventure was in the mystery of wondering what was just around the corner. Maybe not everyone feels that way about discovering something new, but I am a sucker for the journey...even if the destination is just a shabby old attic.