Saturday, July 26, 2008

Reflections on Summer Vacation '08

The Brooks family had a wonderful time on vacation. It was great to unwind from what has been a very hectic transitional time of moving into a new work environment and all that entails. As great as it was to steal away and just focus on my family, it was also exciting for me to make it from the coast, through the piedmont and catch that first glimpse of Saluda Mountain, the first major mountain coming up I-26. It was nice to get back into the mountains of East Tennessee tonight and back to the life to which God has led me. If you did not know this, allow me let you in on something--- I have a great life! I praise my Lord everyday for a wonderful family, great friends, great coworkers, a great church family and all the unbelievable opportunities God has given me.

But I digress.

No need to rehash my vacation since the details are here for you. What I will do is hit the highlights of the trip for me in no particular order:
  • My New Garmin 360 GPS- I saved some nickels, did a little research, and purchased my Garmin (we call her Marjorie) off of eBay a few weeks back. It worked like a charm. It really helped on all the excursions to parts unknown. If you travel and you can find a good deal on one, go ahead and bite the bullet. It's worth every penny.
  • Downtown Greenville, SC- A great surprise. Falls Park is spectacular. We will go back there when we visit James The Intern and Kami @ the University of North Greenville.
  • The Sea Shack- By Hilton Head Island standards, it is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Just my kind of place. Best value on the island. Unbelievable food at half the price of the muckety-muck places on the island. If you are at HHI, GO!
  • Fannie's On The Beach- Despite the fact that we shared the night with "Heather and her Two Mommies," it really was a great setting and really good food. The experience led to a renewed appreciation for God's plan for the family and will, no doubt, lead to some near future blog fodder.
  • Kenny B's- A close second to the Shack for me simply because when in HHI, seafood is king. However, if you like Cajun food too, which I do, you cannot pass up Kenny B's. It is also a nondescript, strip mall restaurant with a ton of character and great food. They have all of the Cajun musts: crawfish, jambalaya, etouffee, po' boys-- even boudin sausage and fried beignets. Every bit of it is really good.
  • Parris Island- "Marine Corps. Hooah!" Enough said.
  • Ellie- As I said, this was in no particular order. Next week my little girl starts kindergarten and life kicks into 5th gear. Before long, she will be coming through my youth group and then off to college. This was the last preschool vacation. Seeing her splash around in the surf and in the pool, sleeping in the backseat, and listening to her sing to the top of her lungs while wearing headphones, oblivious to how loud she was singing--- these are things that render everything else on this list irrelevant.
Sunday starts early this week and it is time to hit the hay. It is nice to be home. Wow. I am getting old.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 7

The day began with superb beach weather. We loaded up all the beach equipment and hit it this morning. Thanks to a keen mind and complete mastery of the moon phases, gravitational physics and fluid dynamics, I was able to set up in the perfect location. At high tide, the water was just lapping at our toes. We were close enough to sit and feel comfortable as Ellie made her 97 trips to the ocean to either fill her sand castle bucket or wash the sand off of her only to plop right back down in it again. Although Paige doubted, fearing being inundated with the rolling waves, and had designs on pulling up the umbrella and changing locations, I stood my ground. It was a great final day on the beach. It was plenty warm, but with a nice breeze. As was the case all week, the beach and pool were very congested.

We made the decision that we would come in mid afternoon and get ready to go to Tybee Island. We have good friends who go there nearly every year to vacate and it was another one of those places that we needed to check out. So that we did.

We made it to Tybee about 6:15 and, on recommendation of the aforementioned friends, decided that we would dine at "Fannies On The Beach." It was a very interesting looking establishment right across the street from the beach and had two very large decks with outstanding views of the ocean. I let Paige and Ellie out while I went and found a place to park. When I arrived back at the restaurant I found that Paige and Ellie had already staked out a nice table on the deck, but Paige had a strange look on her face. "What's wrong?" I inquired.

"Just look around and let me know what you think," she replied.

Upon further investigation it did look like their were quite a few same sex couples sitting around with lots of children running amok... quite loudly I might add. There were also a few "traditional-looking" families, but we were a very small minority. Finally, our suspicions were validated when our waitress, somewhat apologetically, let us know that there was, in fact, a "gay men and women with children convention" going on and, furthermore, the owner of Fannies, who counted herself in that lot, was hosting this event.

The phrase "Well, isn't that special!" floated across my mind, but thankfully not across my tongue as the news hit my ear. How was I going to explain this to Ellie on the ride back home? Praise the Lord, Ellie cannot yet read because a little girl, who appeared to be about 3-years-old, went running by wearing a shirt which exclaimed, "My Mommies Rock!" It was fun trying to keep Ellie concentrating on the ships at sea and what we were going to do next so she wouldn't start trying to figure things out.

I could go on and on here as you can well imagine, but this is neither the time and I am not in the place to do so. I will save the further expansion on this theme for when I get back to the grindstone and want to get serious. I will, however, leave you with a few observations. As I sat and ate, I found myself wishing that certain family and friends had been there with me so we could share in the experience together. Then I began to thank Jesus that others were NOT there because I would probably end up having to fight my way out. I would have had no problem with the men, but a few of the "women" might have taken me in a fair fight. One might have thought that some of the German power lifters had made a stop over en route to Beijing for the Olympics.

Anyway, after dinner, we proceeded to go to the Tybee Island pier for a nice stroll out to see the fishermen. That was a nice cap off to a strange evening and then we headed back to HHI to start packing up. I greet you from a McDonald's where, once again, I have come to utilize their wifi. This time I came in and bought a shake rather than sit in my vehicle in the parking lot. When we get home tomorrow, I think I will post a week in review. Pray for us as we travel.

More later...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 6

We slept in the latest today of any day this week. Once we got up and saw that it was really overcast, we decided to go and visit some of the places along the coast we have not been to before. First stop... Parris Island. Although I never served in the military, I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for our armed forces and those who have and are presently serving. I have heard of Parris Island all my life and all the stories and legend that go along with the Marine Corps. So we went.

I was not even sure if we could get on base, but I was going to try. Upon arrival to the front gate, we were instructed to get in line behind another vehicle that was getting a pass. You would have thought that whoever was in that vehicle was getting clearance for the White House. It took about 6 or 7 minutes and the marine conducting the questioning was looking at license, tag numbers, etc. I thought there would be no way this was going to happen for us. Finally, he came back to our van and asked what our business was. I told him we were simply a family on vacation interested in seeing the base. He then asked if there were any specific places or destinations. That is when I said we would be interested in seeing the museum. That was the magic word. He said that was what he was waiting to hear and shooed us in without so much as asking my name.

We drove all over the place, visited the MX, which I think used to be called the PX, bought some T-shirts, checked out the museum and had a great time. They were preparing for graduation ceremonies which are slated for tomorrow. They were marching on the parade grounds getting ready. Training was going on in various corners of the island and I thought Paige was about ready to enlist when she saw how many of the women were holding their own. The entire thing was simply fascinating. While there, I texted a young man from my youth group who is enlisting and sent him some pictures. I thought he may try to crawl through the phone.

Afterward, we drove to Beaufort, another city I had never visited. It had a really neat downtown area with lots of historic buildings and monuments. There were some quaint shops and a great waterfront park. We asked a couple of people where they would eat and both answered the same thing- 11th St Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal. That is precisely where we went. It was the quintessential seafood restaurant setting, located right on the docks where the shrimp boats are docked. The food was great although a little pricey-- but for the atmosphere it is a good enough trade off.

Looks like tomorrow, our last day, will begin on the beach.

More later...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 5

The day began with tennis at our complex. Paige and I have not had our rackets out in many a year so while I was packing, I decided to throw them in. For Ellie, we picked up a Prince Sharapova racquet at Walmart that had all the requirements: right size, pink, cute girl endorsement, etc. The weather was great for it. It was an arctic 85 degrees and overcast today. We had a good time teaching Ellie a little and knocking it around a bit.

It was pool and beach time for a while in the afternoon.

Tonight we went to a place that had been suggested to us by some HHI regulars, Kenny B's French Quarter Cafe. As the name would suggest, it was all about the Cajun fare and it was really good and reasonably priced.

Afterward we had intended to go play some miniature golf , however, the one we really wanted to go to was packed. We decided to drown our sorrows in some fudge from a shop at Coligny.

Today's reflection comes from the observation that there are many, MANY people who have no idea how high to set the seat on their bicycle. Everyone rides bikes around here and 85% of them are working way too hard at it because their seat is set too low. I have passed I don't know how many men who are working up quite a froth because their knees are nearly hitting them in the chin. Wake up, America! Raise up your bicycle seats! Enjoy your ride.

More later...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 4

We decided last night that we needed a break from the sun today so we did just that. It worked out well because today was a little overcast and slightly cooler. We slept in and then went to Hilton Head's famous Sea Shack for lunch. OH MY! That was a home run! It was fantastic food at a reasonable price.

Paige had a hankering to go to Bluffton and look around so we wound up at a little coffee shop and made a plan of places we wanted to explore.  Bluffton seemed to be on the rise, but not quite there yet.  There were a few quaint places.

Tonight, we went to Shelter Cove and had some Mexican food at San Miguel's, enjoyed the Shannon Tanner show and visited a few shops. Paige and Ellie went swimming back at the carp pond.. er uh... pool at the condo while I went and stole wifi.  

I have Paige so hyped up about seeing The Dark Knight when we get back home, we went and rented Batman Begins today so we can watch it at the condo.  We might have to make the trip to Knoxville and watch it in IMAX.  I have it on good authority that it is well worth the trip.  

Still having a blast.  Ellie is as brown as a biscuit.  I don't know where she gets her awesome skin because her mom and dad are about as white as one gets.  No one is burned too badly... yet.

More later...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 3

Today was another day spent on the beach and the pool. This whole pool thing is becoming a bit much for me. Now I know when I pass by the Legion pool and I see it virtually teeming with kids, adults, and adults who are kids, I will know exactly what that is like. It never looked very inviting when I passed by on Ft. Henry Drive and now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to avoid it like the plague. Evidently my personal space is larger than I thought, as well as, my fear of hepatitis. It was hotter than 2 tickets to "The Dark Night" today. I was sweatin' like a fat lady at a tent meeting. Whew! The ocean felt sublime. However, there was quite a jelly-fish scare. People were bailing out of the ocean left and right with stings. Word is ... vinegar mixed with saltwater is good to take care of a jelly fish sting. Ellie and I braved the waters in order for her to practice her "boogie-boarding". We simply trusted God to protect us, and now believe we know how snake-handling must feel. We exited the waters unscathed.

Tonight, we went into Sea Pines to try to eat at Salty Dog Cafe'. After waiting nearly an hour we ended up just sitting on the pier at the marina eating a pizza and listening to the live music. My man played "Smoke On The Water" on an acoustic and it was good. He played many more favorites and then we headed over to Harbour Town to catch a little of the Greg Russell show and some ice cream. Now I am sitting and stealing wifi from an unsuspecting Sea Pines resident--- thank you whoever you are.

We have a path forward in the camera incident. We are using a disposable camera and will have Walgreens put them on CD. Good idea, Keith.

More later...

p.s.- Watch my Twitter for more frequent updates-- if you just have to have more Brooks family adventure and you are borderline stalker.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 2

Today it was all about the beach. I first looked at the clock at 8:56 am, which, on a Sunday, does not happen a lot for me. We got up and had some breakfast and hit the beach. After lunch we went back out and spent some time around the pool with a few hundred of our closest friends. At times it felt like I was one of the carp swimming over and across the other carp trying to get to the food someone just threw into the pond. Ellie was having a ball though.

Tonight we went to Hudson's Seafood. The atmosphere was great and the food was good too, but they are pretty proud of their grub. I would just as soon eat at Riverfront Seafood overlooking the beautiful Holston River, but then again, it is vacation and the bay view was great.

The lesson for the day was the reminder of why Yankees earned the adjectival moniker made famous by the Broadway musical of the same name. Everywhere I went I was flanked by Yankees. They were on the beach, in the pool and sitting around me at dinner. Loud, boisterous, often profane and somewhat tipsy %@!* Yankees. It made me much more appreciative of the more laid back, soft spoken, kinder cultural ethos in which I grew up. Don't get me wrong, I love all people, but some require more grace than others. Some northern-born folk have even grown to overcome the handicaps they were dealt by birth. Oh, come on-- I'm just having a little fun. After all, I'm on vacation and loving it.

More later...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 1

Falls Park in downtown Greenville is one of the nicest municipal parks I have ever seen. The mixed use development is outstanding and is something that Kingsport should look at for the Holston River/Riverfront development. We had a really nice time walking around there. After a stop for a refreshing Starbucks we hit the road for HHI.

We arrived a little after 5pm and quickly unloaded and headed for the beach. Paige lasted about 5 minutes in waist deep ocean before apparently taking a little jellyfish sting on her right knee. Woohoo! It is not too bad. After being out long enough to say we went we made a brief stop by the pool. Then we went out for dinner and groceries.

Barnes and Noble is on my bad list now. I joined their club one year ago because they said I could get free wireless access. Apparently that is no good anymore because ATT wanted about $5 for me to use their service. So of course I am sitting in the parking lot of McDonald's blogging and checking email while my Blue Bell ice cream melts in the back. Such is the life of a techno junkie minister.

We are having a great time already. I have some great girls. By the way, the above pictures were taken on my phone, emailed to my Mac and posted. Paige is not too mad about the whole camera thing now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vacation Report: Day 0

Greetings from the friendly confines of the Hilton Greenville (South Carolina). I am calling this day 0 because we decided at the last minute to drive down here today and on to the beach tomorrow (Saturday). If it is not a day at the beach, then it does not count!

I thought I was doing great packing. As I made my mental list and went over it both before and after leaving K-town, I was pretty proud of myself. That is until I remembered that I left my digital camera on a shelf in my office. When you are headed on a vacation to the beach with your 5-year-old, a camera is not optional---it is a must. Just ask Paige. WHEW! Does anybody know if they make disposable digital cameras?

Anyway, we made it down here this evening and drove around a bit after dinner to see what needs to be explored further tomorrow. Greenville is a happening place! There was all manner of activity downtown tonight-- cool shops, coffeehouses, restaurants, etc. There appears to be quite an arts following here as well.

We can't check into the condo at HHI until 4pm tomorrow so we might do some more 'splorin around here.

p.s.- Not only did we lose our softball games last night, but I got tattooed by a softball in my left deltoids muscle and you can almost make out the seams of the softball in the behemoth bruise that remains. I may have to get one of those temporary henna tattoos to mask this thing while on the beach. On second thought, the glare coming from my lily white, 27-acre body should be enough to divert one's attention.

More later...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Burning Question: Zorbees or Shamwow?

I need to hear from you. Ellie is on me to get a set of these and I don't know who to trust. Zorbees pitchman, Billy Mays, has the OxiClean track record and one of most well-maintained beards in all of TV land, but this Vince guy with Shamwow (despite the cheesy headset) sounds pretty compelling- and that piece of carpet sure looked dry to me.

Have you used either of these? Give me some comments. I have a fever for some German microfiber super absorbent cloths and a five-year-old with a hankering to help me clean up spills.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sweet Victory: Rolling Back The Clock

This past weekend I happened to catch the Olympic swimming trials on TV. I tuned in just in time to watch 41-year-old Dara Torres qualify for her fifth Olympics. I was in awe as she finished ahead of other swimmers literally half her age. How sweet victory must taste to an athlete who spent years away from the sport she loved in order to raise a family and "take care of business" only to return and swim faster than ever-- AT AGE 41!

I was thrilled this year to finally get back to playing competitive softball. I played intramural, city and church league softball for about 10 years through high school, college and early adulthood. I was pretty decent and had a chance to play on some really good teams with some really outstanding players. We won a few championships. But life situations change, players "retire" and priorities take over. All the sudden, nine years slip by without me touching my bat bag. This past April I knocked the dust off of it, bought a new pair of cleats and hit the diamond once again.

It was a fun ride. The mighty men of ISBC wound up going 14-2 and finishing second in our church league regular season. We also won the sportsmanship award as voted on by the league umpires, which I think was even a greater feat. One of the teams that beat us went undefeated for the second year in a row. They pretty much hammered us in our regular season game, but we did not hit the ball very well.

Tonight, we met that team in the post-season tournament... and beat them! It was a game for the ages. Although I was only 1 for 3 with the one hit being a double that I turned into a single by slipping on the wet dirt rounding first base and putting a big strawberry on my knee and my ego... I did knock in a run and played okay in the field (first base.) The win made me feel like I was in high school again. We were all as giddy as a bunch of kids. Even though I sit here now feeling very much like the 38-year-old I am-- with a big bandage on my knee-- for a few moments tonight I think I got a glimpse of what Dara must have felt last Saturday. Age is irrelevant when you get a chance to excel at something you love one more time.