From The Big Easy to Big Bird

by Nancy

This blog might also be called “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” Who else had to write that at some point–show of hands? Yep, I thought so. I hated those essays, maybe because going to the beach with my family for a week or visiting my cousins didn’t sound very interesting. After all, we did both of those every year, with nothing unusual or noteworthy ever happening.

This year, I started my summer with a first (and only) for me, by going to college orientation with the boy. He chose a school in the Deep South, so we detoured by New Orleans, the Big Easy part of this blog’s title, and the French Quarter. It was hot and muggy. (To which you probably responded, “Well, duh!” or words to that effect.)

I’d been there in the summer, just not in a very long time. I had forgotten how muggy it can be, but I remembered quickly as we roamed the French Quarter during our very short visit. The shop pictured above made me think of several banditas and buddies, though it’s not the sort of thing I usually think of when someone mentions the French Quarter.

Did you know there’s really no place in the French Quarter to just sit down, aside from bars? There’re some benches outside the cathedral in Jackson Square, but those benches are metal. This was June. Did I mention it was hot? We all know what happens to metal out in the sun, right? Sitting on those benches was like sitting on a cookie sheet fresh from the oven.

There were some shaded benches in the actual square, but those were occupied by people who didn’t appear to live anywhere else and might’ve been prone to forms of social interaction we don’t really favor. Good thing the cathedral is not only open to the public but air conditioned!

Pictured below is another shop that made me think of banditas and buddies. I longed to poke around in there, even though I figured most of the merchandise was out of my price range and even if I found anything affordable, getting it back on a plane seemed unlikely.

The next month, we took our official family vacation. We did something we’ve never done before. We treated Atlanta (aka The Big Peach. Yes. Really.) like a tourist destination. The dh, the boy and I have often been to Atlanta for specific things. We’ve gone to Dragon*Con, Moonlight and Magnolias or other conferences, I’ve gone to GRW meetings, and we’ve visited friends. But we’ve never seen the sights. So this year, we did.

We started our official vacation with a Saturday evening at the Shakespeare Tavern, where we saw a hilarious play within a play about three guys trying to perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. It was the boy’s idea, and we all enjoyed it. We also had our dinner there. The place is, after all, a tavern, even if it is the headquarters of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company.

The next day, we checked out the Georgia Aquarium, something we’d been wanting to see for years. DragonCon has a special evening there during the con, but we never seemed to make it. I may try to this year. There are two huge, beautiful tanks of fish from different oceans, and there’s a passage underneath and through one big tank. It’s just gorgeous and offers a fabulous view of the various fish. I don’t think I’d ever seen a whale shark before. Those babies are BIG. And they really don’t look all that shark-like.

The highlight of the visit for us was Dolphin Tales, which just opened in April. It was great though it could’ve done with less hokey narrative and more dolphin action. I assume the hokey narrative and effects are supposed to keep little kids interested, but judging by the squeals of delight from them and the gasps from everyone else every time a dolphin jumped out of the water, I think the dolphins could carry the day on their own.

I’ve seen dolphins in the wild, in Roanoke Sound. We took a half-day trip a few years back with some marine biologists and got lucky. The dolphins were all around the boat, diving under it, swimming by it. I’ve also seen them in the water from afar.

But I’ve never seen them up close in a way that gave me a really good look, maybe because they’re incredibly fast, and the wild dolphins showed little interest in interaction.

The waiting area for the aquarium show is beside a big tank occupied by the day’s non-performing dolphins. As they swim by the glass, visitors can see them clearly. It’s easier, at least for me, to appreciate both their size and their grace when I see them that way. They’re a lot bigger than I’d realized. Watching them in the water was pure delight.

Monday, we went to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. They have a huge dinosaur skeleton in their rotunda. I took three photos of it to get it all in. Couldn’t step far enough back in their rotunda to get the whole thing in one shot.

By happy coincidence, they were hosting an exhibit we saw and loved in New York years ago, one about mythic creatures. We spent more time in there than anywhere else in the museum. My favorites were the dragon at the front of the exhibit, the unicorn, and Pegasus. Unfortunately, I managed to cut the dragon’s nose off in the photo, but we have the unicorn and Pegasus and a griffin here, along with the dinosaurs from the museum’s entrance.

Tuesday, we checked out the High Museum in downtown, and the Center for Puppetry Arts. The Center for Puppetry Arts has a number of Jim Henson’s puppets and a big display for Labyrinth. Henson and Kermit cut the ribbon to open the center, and a Jim Henson wing will open in 2014. A lifesize Big Bird stands in a case outside the Henson display. I would’ve taken a photo, but it’s a no-photography zone.

The center also showcases the history of puppets and different forms of puppets from around the world. The shop sold finger puppets of famous artists, writers, and public figures. One of those is in today’s prize package.

The High Museum has a nice collection of works from various periods, including some Frank Lloyd Wright furniture. They also have one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings. It’s similar in style to the later ones, but the lines don’t flow as they did in her better known works.

We came home for a few days, saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 as a family (fitting since we’ve seen all of the HP films a a threesome), and then visited the boy’s cousins in Raleigh overnight.

As you read this, the dh and I are once again somewhere in the Deep South, carting the boy’s belongings toward his college. He’s already there, but we have the bulk of his stuff. We’ll take him to dinner tonight, move his things into the dorm tomorrow, and then hit the road for home on Sunday. Meanwhile, our house sitter is in charge of the dog. Or should be. The dog may have other ideas since she tends to regard humans as servants in need of constant training.

At one point during the boy’s orientation earlier in the summer, I was standing on the balcony of the student center and saw him below me. A girl from his high school came up to him and hugged him, and then a girl we’d met that morning joined them.

Watching the three of them talk, I got a bit of a heart punch from the realization that this was his world now, that he’d be spending more time in this place over the next several years than under our roof. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to.

So this vacation will end very differently from those of the last 18 years. The dh and I will come home to an empty nest. It’s going to feel very strange. So will going to Dragon*Con without either of my guys. I’ve gotten used to having them there with me, but the schedule doesn’t fit for the boy, and the dh will be stacked up with work because his classes start earlier than the boy’s. We’re squeezing the property delivery in between the dh’s Thursday and Tuesday classes.

Dragon*Con will officially end my summer, and we’ll try to recapture what life used to be like, long ago (or so it seems) when we were just two.

Of course, I close a summer vacation blog without a food reference. My favorite parts of summer meals are fresh peaches and fresh tomatoes. On the way back from Atlanta, we stopped and bought South Carolina peaches, which were great. Eating them reminds me of my childhood and my dad’s frozen peaches.

Our tomato plants died, so I haven’t had fresh tomato sandwiches as often as I’d have liked, but there’s been a lot of watermelon, corn, and cantaloupe on our summer table. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy the foods of summer.

I have a goody package for one commenter today. It includes a Jane Austen finger puppet, the last of my freebie books from National, and a jazz hot mat. They come with a pretty New Orleans totebag I found on Royal Street in the French Quarter.

Did you ever have to write essays about your summer vacation? How did you feel about them? What’s the best summer vacation you ever had, and who was with you? What’s your favorite summer food?


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