Thursday, February 23, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

As we adjust to downsizing from our spacious Honda van to the more compact Acura MDX, we find ourselves re-honing old math skills.  Our cargo capacity behind the second row of seats has shrunk from a whopping 90 cubic feet to less than 40, but in reality it's a miniscule 17 if you want visibility out the back window, which we do.  It's not just a matter of packing light.  Even throwing in our 4.5-ft hickory hiking sticks, which lived permanently in the old van, requires an evaluation of trip-worthiness.  To put things in perspective, this cargo area is smaller than the trunk capacity of a Ford Taurus.
Eager to visit family in the Florida panhandle, we were delighted when my mother, aka Nanamama, accepted our invitation to accompany us.  Setting out on our first trip with a passenger in the back seat, we packed especially light and organized our little cargo hold carefully.  Would we regret our decision to buy the SUV?
Our first stop was south Alabama to pick up our passenger.  We watched with trepidation as Nanamama collected her two suitcases, a pile of hanging clothes, and multiple large gift bags she planned to deliver to family members along the way as we traveled.  Would everything fit in our ultra compact cargo area, or was the back seat destined to become part baggage bay?

As it turned out, things fit better than we expected, and our passenger insisted that she was comfy in the back seat as we headed south.  Next stop: Tallahassee, where we would get our first look at our nephew's new house and visit my twin cousin's family to meet his new grandson and help celebrate his granddaughter's birthday.  
Celebrating #5
We arrived in Tallahassee Friday evening and "checked in" at the very hospitable Bruce and June resort.  These two have an incomparable knack for making their guests feel not just welcome, but cherished.  That evening we finally met their grandson Cole, who is almost four months old.  An inherently cheerful little guy, Cole generously dispensed grins and smiles despite having endured immunizations that afternoon on top of a mild cold. This lucky baby boy is the apple of Reese's eye and she thrives on the role of big sister.  With just a wee bit of prompting from her Big Daddy Bruce, the adorable Reese let us all know that she is now officially "a handful," a deliciously ironic statement from the mouth of an extraordinarily well-behaved little girl.  Even with the new addition to their family, Adam and Jessica continue to maintain their successful juggling between a thriving home life and two flourishing careers, somehow finding the time and energy to run marathons in their "spare" time.

Saturday morning we were introduced to what will soon be the new home of our nephew Clint and his wife Carrie and daughter Baylinn.  Still in the renovation stages, the fixer-upper was built in the 1980s and epitomizes the traditional real estate mantra of "location, location, location."  Nestled on a large tree-lined lot, the house is surrounded by shade and features a huge back yard with plenty of space for Baylinn and her soon-to-be sibling to chase each other and swing the day away.  This precocious 26-month old intended to give us a guided tour of the house but we got stuck in "Baylinn's room" when she found her lion chair and decided it needed a friend.  After the home tour, Clint and Baylinn took us to the aptly named Food Glorious Food restaurant for a scrumptious lunch.  During lunch Baylinn regaled us with her amazing feats of learning.  At barely age 2, she can identify all the letters of the alphabet and numbers 1 to 9.  She recognizes a variety of shapes, including a hexagon, which she informed us has six sides, and can identify the first letter of most words based on the sound.
Since Nanamama, trailname LadyBug, enjoys letterboxing with us, we interspersed some treasure hunting along the way as we traveled, including a little urban boxing in Tallahassee.  Reviewing her logbook at the end of the trip, LadyBug reported that we had found 21 boxes on the journey.
On Sunday, we checked out of the Duncan resort and pushed on across the panhandle to Jacksonville.  Though we originally planned a post-surgical visit to Aunt Eleanor at home in St. Augustine, scheduling delays at Jacksonville's Mayo Clinic put us on the spot for the day of her heart surgery.  Uncle Joe seemed grateful to have his big sister there, along with Eleanor's daughter Bonnie, to hold his hand during his wife's four-hour valve replacement procedure.  A retired Army Colonel, his anxiety was evident when he compared the apprehension of waiting to the first time he faced enemy fire in combat, thus explaining why he failed to complete the final 20 pages of the book he was allegedly reading over the lengthy course of the morning. 

The personification of strength, Eleanor came through the surgery with a will of iron, insisting when it was done that she would recuperate in time for a spring visit to the Portuguese coast.  As she slept through the first evening of recovery, we accompanied Uncle Joe to his nearby suite where we toasted her indomitable spirit and phoned family and friends to share the good news.

When we left her at the Mayo hospital the day after surgery, we had no doubts that she would be boarding that plane in April.  We still had one stop left in Milton, FL, where we visited cousin Steve and his delightful wife Betty.  They introduced us to the Blackwater Bistro, a small local restaurant that's big on taste.  While we enjoyed a delectable meal, Steve and Betty shared some of the stunning scenic photos from their recent trip to the Grand Canyon and other sites West.  Adopting photography as a hobby after retirement, Steve has proved to be quite talented, as these breathtaking images demonstrated.  He has patiently studied the craft and seems to remember and implement all that he has learned with rewarding results.

More letterboxing was on our agenda as we returned westward, and we made it back to Nanamama's home in south Alabama on Thursday afternoon, leaving for home Friday morning.  The new car performed admirably in terms of space, but it was Friday's storm that reminded us why we are so glad to have this vehicle.  Our usual route home from south Alabama is I-65 to Montgomery and then I-85 to Atlanta.  Unfortunately for us, that is also the tack that most weather systems follow through Alabama.

Despite the tornado watch in effect for the counties we would travel through, we had decided to forge on so we could arrive home on Friday.  As the clouds ahead grew darker and more ominous, we questioned that decision and considered turning back or stopping and waiting for the storm to pass over.  Remembering that our car provides updated weather data, we consulted the radar map and realized that we could avoid the storm completely if we moved away from the I-65/85 corridor.  Heading north, we caught I-20 east and never saw rain again the entire way home, later hearing that Montgomery suffered flash flooding.

So we're learning to like our snug little SUV because of the safety that came with it.  And according to Nanamama, the back seat is quite comfortable.  Perhaps we can persuade her to occupy it again.

Duncan Haven host Bruce and his guests
Panhandle Politics:  Make your home a billboard.