"Crotty News" Postings for: September 2007 !

We start out this month in Maryland, half-way through Katia's stay in America! We've already visited Washington, D.C. and New York City, and now we're going to show her Baltimore, Annapolis, more of Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, St. Augustine, Florida and Downtown Disney before heading back to the condo!

    Saturday 01 Sep - At the Baltimore Inner Harbor today the sun is shining brightly; Kathy, Tom & Jessie are here and all the girls are out in the big "dragon" paddle boats, enjoying the expansive views from the water. Getting lots of exercise too, keeping those paddles going. It's surprising just how many boats are out there with people paddling away. A couple of buskers are entertaining the crowds, doing circus clown-like performances for donations and tips. The three masted USS Constellation, a sloop-of-war (corvette) launched in 1854, is tied up right next to us. The Constellation was part of the U.S. Navy for just over 100 years, intercepting slave ships out of Africa, chasing Confederate raiders during our Civil War, and also served as a training ship for midshipmen at Annapolis. As a kid I used to visit a similar but much older ship called Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution, at the Boston Naval Shipyard in Charlestown, Massachusetts. After the paddle boats, we all walked inside the Pavillion and browsed through the shops. The restaurants were full so we ended up at Hooters with, of course, the pretty waitresses. On the way out we passed a fudge shop where they loudly intrigued the passersby to gather round, with their songs and banter as they kneaded thick bands of near-liquid fudge into a solid state, chopped up in chunks for sale. Between the buskers, the Hooters girls, the fudge showmen and the paddle boats, I think Katia got a pretty good slice of americana today.

    Sunday 02 Sep - "Change happens", and we heard from friends about how the Annapolis Mall is expanding (we watched it being built decades ago it seems), so the Kings and we drove down to check it out, and also peruse their Abercrombie & Fitch store in the continuing quest for those special jackets requested of Katia by her cousins in Milan. No luck here, but maybe in Charleston, SC. We shall not give up! We then strolled along downtown Annapolis's streets, including "Ego Alley", the waterfront where proud boat owners just have to cruise in to show off their boats and skills in manuevering in and out of the narrow waterway. In the evening we had dinner at the Chun King restaurant in Laurel. For many years while working at the Agency I used to come here and the lady still remembers me. I love chinese food but the draw here is their Mongolian Barbeque. Sharon King came last year for the first time and loves the place. You select your own veggies and shaved, frozen meats, put it all in a bowl with whatever sauces you like (I go for the hot oil sauce of course), and the cook prepares it on a large round "stove" with a huge air-venting cone just above it, to suck out all the smoke and spatter. He spreads everything around, chopping at it with his meat cleaver as it fries. It's similar to watching the japanese teppanyaki chefs prepare your meal in front of you, but without the cutlery acrobatics.

    Monday 03 Sep - We're on our way back south to Myrtle Beach but stopped off to have a short visit with Tom & Sue Peterson at their Lake Gaston, North Carolina home, on the border with Virginia. Tom fired up his golf cart and took us down to the boathouse where he has his pontoon boat. The entire area is filled with very tall trees, and is quite idyllic. This would be a perfect place for my Florida boat :-)

    Tuesday 04 September - Today is Dale's 29th Birthday (Really! Yes! No Fooling!) and coincidently, through Chuck & Karen's contacts, we were all invited once again to Doc Antle's T.I.G.E.R.S. compound in Socastee to tag along with the tour he and his employees were giving to a crowd of tourists. His Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species breeds extremely rare Golden Tabby Bengal Tigers, as well as numerous white tigers, ligers (the largest cats in the world; a male lion father and female tiger mother) and other unusual animals. We all played with baby tigers, monkeys and others in a protected "pit", and had a great time participating in outdoor demonstrations (racing tigers; hawks flying between us; huge owl sitting on our arm; etc). I have posted tens of pictures of today's activities (see PHOTOs).

    Thursday 06 - we been taking it easy the last two days because we're leaving for Mt Pleasant (Charleston, SC) in a few days. Tonight we had sort of a "going away dinner" at our house with Karen & Chuck, Robin & Bobby Mager (and us, of course :-) The new addition still has a lot of bare walls but we'll start decorating when we return from Florida.

    Saturday 08 September - We're now in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina visiting with our old friend Carl Klele. We're staying the night with Carl before we push on to Florida. Charleston is only a few miles south, across the beautiful new bridge, and this afternoon we headed there with Carl and his friend Jerry. The old part of Charleston is a tourist's dream, with an old market inside narrow but spacious buildings that interconnect and lead from the waterfront to the main shopping street. It's like one flea market after another. The continuing Abercrombie & Fitch jacket search led us to parts of old Charleston we hadn't seen before. Very nice two story buildings, well preserved with many shops and boutiques filling the premises. Reminded me a bit of the Regency style buildings of Olde England. This time Katia found one of the jackets at Abercrombie & Fitch (On to Tampa for the next one)! We had lunch at 82 Queens, a restaurant we tried to find a few years ago when our friends the Smiths of Ellicott City, MD recommended it. 82 Queens was very elegant. The gorgeous brick-walled patio was full so we ate inside; still a very enjoyable experience. We'll try again for the patio next Spring. South Carolina fired the first shots in the Civil War. Ft Sumter can be seen in the distance as you walk along The Battery, which we did, and view the sumptious old mansions that line the waterfront streets, with their beautiful pastel paint and outstanding period architecture and landscaping. You can easily see yourself back in the 1800's with the horse-drawn carriages.

    I mentioned to Carl and Jerry that Katia had never really seen an ocean. One evening I did take her to the Springmaid Pier in Myrtle Beach, but it was a very "dark and stormy night" and she really didn't see more than 50 yards of high waves. The weather was so threatening that we didn't go out on the pier. So, Carl drove us to Sullivan's Island, where Katia got her first daylight look at the ocean from the historic point where the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley departed on 17 February 1864 and became the first submarine to sink a ship in combat (the USS Housatonic). The Hunley sank too and wasn't discovered until 1995 (it was recovered in 2000). Unfortunately Jerry became ill so Carl took her home and we remained, sitting on the sand enjoying the view. When Carl returned we all went to Jack's Cosmic Dogs, a place on US17 right out of the 1950's with neon signs and memorabilia, small tables, lots of formica, and great hot dogs! Hot dogs have been one of my most favorite food items for years, and Katia seemed to like them too -- or at least the idea of hot dogs. Perhaps because they are so "american"! As for you commie pinkos who love to describe what hot dogs are actually made from: we don't want to hear it ! :-)

    Sunday 09 Sep - Once again we had a really nice time staying with Carl in his very beautiful and comfortable home. This time, with Katia along, we got to see the fantastic upstairs suite where she stayed: lovely room with the ceiling like an A-frame, and a private bath. Next time that's where we wanna stay! :-)

    We took our leave and drove south to St. Augustine, arriving in about five hours, partly because we had a lot of traffic the last 50 miles in Georgia. Still there was plenty of time to tour the castle (Castell de San Marcos). I've loved this place ever since I was a kid and our parents brought us here. After touring the castle we found a local directory/map which showed parking lots in the middle of the old part of town. The last time I was here with a friend from work, we didn't know about those parking lots so we moved on without seeing anything of the town. This time we took advantage of the lots and moved our car to them, since the castle parking lot gates close around 5:30 and they tow your car away if you were still there! St Agustine has beautiful old buldings, lovely streets and an architectural jewel of a bridge leading south on the A1A coastal highway. We LOVED walking along the old streets and plan to return sometime and spend more than just an afternoon. We had lunch at Harry's, a GREAT place just across the street from the old bridge. The old bridge is being renovated right now and there is a brand new bridge along side of it. It's pretty, but I preferred the old bridge standing alone. We took our time driving down the A1A, stopping off at Flagler Beach to stretch our legs and enjoy the view of the pier and the ocean. In the late afternoon we arrived in Daytona and found an older motel on the north side of Daytona and stayed the night. The manager was from Massachusetts and several members of his family were down for a vacation. One of them was born in Malden (MA), our home town, so I had an enjoyable chat with them for a while. Small world! The motel, unfortunately, was a bit run down and the manager advised me to tell Katia not to stroll around on the beach alone after dark because drunks sometimes show up. My attempt to explain this common-sense information to Katia must have scared the heck out of her. The following morning, when Dale went to her room (next door to us on the second floor) she found Katia had stayed dressed all night, lying on top of her still-made bed, with apparently not much, if any, sleep. She probably thought the place would be overrun by 'bad men'.

    Monday 10 Sep - It was a beautiful morning and I hoped to be able to show Katia that we could drive on the wide, white, sandy beach, the only place that I know of where you still can do that. But the tide was in and the beach accesses were all closed, so off we headed to the nearby Interstate 4, driving past the Daytona Speedway on our way out of town. Halfway across the state of Florida we remembered that Karen and Chuck had recommended stopping at "Downtown Disney", near the Magic Kingdom. We called her and got some directions, then spent 3-4 hours walking around Downtown Disney and had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe, a GREAT place where they have large aquariums and life-sized animated jungle animals. The restaurant is decorated with greenery, floor to ceiling to make it feel as if you actually are in the rain forest: it even rains inside (Katia and Dale used menus to cover their heads)! Downtown Disney is like a combination of Myrtle Beach's Barefoot Landing and Broadway-at-the-Beach (plus MORE). It is Disney-themed, with lots of stores, lakes, rental boats, etc. A very pleasant place - and no entrance fee. We made it back to Bradenton at a leisurely pace. The "I-4" didn't have any traffic jams, which surprised us. For the past four years they've been doing roadwork on that highway and there is ALWAYS a traffic jam for that reason or an acccident or it is raining ..... etc. I checked the odometer on Dale's PT Cruiser and we had traveled a total of 3,395 miles since leaving Bradenton on this trip.

    Tuesday 11 Sep (9-11: Another Day That Will Live In Infamy)! Dale has a summer cold. It is starting to break up so she's a bit under the weather and decided to stay inside today and just rest. It's just after 4:00PM and I think I'll probably go out in a bit and buy the two local Bradenton newspapers (Only $.25 apiece down here - cheap)!! For a good part of this afternoon, Katia had been chatting on the computer (MSN Chat) with Davide, the son of our two italian friends Gilda & Tony Esposito (her aunt and uncle). You can imagine Davide's surprise when I told him that Katia was staying with us, and put her on the computer! Davide's father, Tony, was the one who contacted me last year to tell me that he had a niece (Katia) who wanted to visit the USA. Davide wasn't even born yet when we left Italy in 1980, but we met him in 2000 when we visited them in Brindisi (Italy). We then took him with us when we drove northwest across the italian mountains from Brindisi, on the Adriatic coast, to Salerno on the Tyrrenian Sea. His sister Enza and her State Policeman husband (also named Davide) lived in Capezzano, a mountain village above Salerno. We stayed with them for a week. Unfortunately Enza and her husband have since split up, but we still correspond with both of them via e-mail. The younger Davide, Enza's brother, also became a policeman and he is stationed about 20 miles north of Naples, where Katia attends University. They made arrangements to get together once she returns to Naples for her upcoming exams. It was nice to see him and Katia pounding away on the keyboard for the past few hours, catching up on family news.

    Thursday 13 Sep - we've been taking it easy after the long trip. Katia leaves for Italy next Monday the 17th around noon and we still have a few places, like the St. Pete Pier, to show her. Today she's studying for an english literature exam that she'll take in Naples upon her return. She and Dale are at the pool, and I am about to spend a few hours on a raft behind my boat, scraping barnacles off the propellers. In the late afternoon and evening went to see our friends Paulette and Bill Davis at the beautiful Lakewood Ranch, a planned community still being built east of Interestate 75, about 30-40 minutes from us depending upon traffic. They took us to a new "downtown" area of Lakewood Ranch that is simply gorgeous. Nothing over two storys high with business buildings interspersed with living areas, pedestrian walkways, lovely landscaping. Cozy would even be a good descrption. We pigged out on ice cream, sitting outside the store watching the world go by.

    Friday 14 Sep - Today we drove a half hour north to St. Petersburg. It's a beautiful place, at least the downtown pedestrian-friendly area with the nice stores and museums, as well as the waterfront. Apparently there is a lot of crime in other parts of the city but the I-375 ramp off Interstate 275 brings you right downtown and to the waterfront. The jewel of this place is the St Petersburg pier. It is a long pier, with lots of parking both on the pier and in parking lots adjacent to it. We always park in the Pelican Lot and take a free trolley to the end of the pier, which has an immense, inverted pyramid building containing shops, aquarium, and Cha-Cha Coconuts -- a casual rooftop restaurant where you can eat inside, or outside under a covered area or under individual umbrella-covered tables. You get a spectacular view of the city and the Bay, with lots of sailing boats from a local sailing school, power yachts, and even private planes making their approach to the airport, which is very close and directly visible from your table seat. The Pier is the current version of several that have existed over many years (the older versions didn't have an inverted pyramid of course). In the 1950s my father took me here one day to go fishing. Neither of us knew anything about fishing but it was a really nice day and he bought some shrimp to use as bait. I still remember that little sucker wrapping it's ugly, creepy, yucky body around my finger as I tried to impale it with the fishing hook! Anyway, we had a nice lunch at Cha Chas, where I am still trying to sample every exotic drink on their menu (I'll make it through the drink menu one day). Upon leaving the building I "conned" Katia into feeding the pelicans which crowd around a commercial hut, waiting for tourists to pay $5 to feed them five fishies from a raised platform. Katia enjoyed it, as did I while taking the pictures for posterity! Definitely a new experience for her and most enjoyable for us watching her. We topped off the day with a burger and fries at Cortez Kitchen, listening to yet another unknown musican-singer as we watched the sun set on the islands and boats surrounding us.

    Saturday 15 Sep - We usually go to the Red Barn on weekends, so off we went with Katia. The indoor structure has hundreds of stalls where people sell everything from soup to nuts. I like the outside, tented areas that parallel two sides of the inner building. Here it's like an italian town market where the farmers come in with their produce, and others hawk everything imaginable, Two chinese families anchor separate areas at each end , where I can always find "stuff" to buy, mostly at $1 apiece, and much of which has turned out to be invaluable when I needed it (plastic ties, metal hangers for heavy tools for 20 cents apiece, tools, playing cards, etc). Still others rent stalls for the day or weekend and clean out their garages, so you can find some really good bargains among the junk. One guy, who comes all the time, sells used VHS movies for $1 to $3. I usually buy ten or so, and 99% of them have been in excellent shape. After the Red Barn we drove out to visit with Dale's cousin Janet and her husband Tony. They've got a mini-ranch with acres of land and a nice home with a swimming pool. They invited us to dinner (Tony is an excellent chef!) and we left filled to the gills! Everyone just sat around the TV when we got home!

    We took the condo off the market for a few months and we'll be looking at the real estate agent's paperwork to determine what a more realistic selling/asking price would be for the place. Since everyone else was asking for such astronomical prices last year we didn't want to short-change ourselves, so we asked for a lower price than our neighbors, but still much higher than we would have accepted. Taking the condo off the market for a few months also has the benefit that it returns as a totally new listing, without showing that it had been on the market unsold for so long previously. If it sells, fine. If not, well gee, we'll just have to continue enjoying our stays in Florida!

    Monday 17 Sep - We put Katia on a plane out of Tampa at 12:05PM today. Her plane landed at JFK at 2:37PM so she's probably wandering the halls of JFK Airport. She has more than four hours to enjoy being in New York again. I just checked the flight tracker program on the internet and Katia's plane finally took off from JFK at 8:08PM (was originally supposed to depart at 7:00PM). The track her plane will follow looks like it will pass right over the Cotswolds (e.g. Cheltenham) area of England on it's way to Milan. Cheltenham is where we lived in 1969-1972! I ran the boat engine for an hour this afternoon and just went down to make sure that the batteries were on the "off" position. The bilge pump is wired directly to the batteries so if water builds up in the bilge it will automatically pump out. We're not exhausted after Katia's visit but it sure does feel unusual not to have her sitting on the couch. We got used to having another "daughter" around. She would curl up like a kitten on the couch while watching TV (and yes, I miss my kitty cat, Bandit ;-). She left us a nice note, which we found when we returned from the airport. We'll be driving back to Myrtle Beach tomorrow (tuesday). Probably take off from here around 10AM or so. It will take us about ten hours (with stops), so we should be home around 8-9 PM depending upon when we actually leave here.

    Tuesday 18 Sep - We're back! Dale found one of Katia's earrings in the bedroom so we've just e-mailed her to tell her. We made it back to Myrtle Beach in exactly ten hours (normal driving time, with stops along the way). It's 574 miles from doorstep to doorstep. Dale says that she REALLY missed Katia on the ride home today. No one to talk to, she says (Hey - what about me ? ;-) We got an e-mail from Katia saying that she made it home at about 9:35AM Milan time. I woke up this morning in Bradenton at 3:55AM (9:55AM in Milan) and I thought that she must have just arrived! I was right!

    Tuesday 25 Sep - I've been working for the past 5 days in the garage, building shelves up to the ceiling, hanging my tools that used to be stored on those bookshelves that I cleaned up and am now using my my new office/den/library. I'll finally I'll be able to FIND a tool when I want it around here! The shelves also allow me to move many boxes and miscellaneous items that are currently lying on the floor, making enough room for our cars! Dale and I are getting ready for our October "cruise" to the Carribbean islands. Dale bought a new formal dress today and I bought a new suit yesterday. Of course we are both a bit fatter than we were when we were young, so the dress and the suit have to be tailored in order to fit us correctly. The seamstress is working on Dale's dress now. Dale will visit her this Friday for a fitting, and we should pick it up next week. My suit will be ready tomorrow night. We will leave Myrtle Beach for Bradenton on the 9th or 10th of October. Our cruise starts of the 13th out of Ft Lauderdale.

    Sunday 30 Sep - It took another week but I finished the garage shelves and painted them white. Now the garage is very clean and we have lots of room! We puchased a large screen TV for the new living room. It is exactly the same make and model (Panasonic 50 inch screen) that Chuck & Karen have in their house. It receives the widescreen digital TV broadcasts, so we now watch large, beautifully clear television shows! I still have to hook up our VCR, DVD player and "surround sound system". I finally moved my desk from the old office (guest bedroom) and set it up in front of my computer desk. I also moved two more bookshelves from the garage into the office, as well as our nice dining room table which I had stored in the attic and the garage. We're going to buy a new dining room set, and this table is perfect for my den. Everything looks nice. Each day we are emptying boxes and putting the contents on the shelves, into our desks, etc. When we have emptied all the boxes I will then start hanging pictures on the walls. We have many, many oil paintings and other pictures and it will make the house look so much nicer when they are finally hung up on the walls!

Love,     &nbs;       Regards,
Dad & Mom     &nbs;       Barry & Dale