Belize, Thanksgiving Week 2016, Part I

It may take me three posts to get through the Belize travelogue! We had a wonderful time.

FYI, there are lots of informational links in this series of posts about our vacation to Belize. If you want to read more about something, go ahead and click a link in blue text without worrying that you’ll be directed to a site that wants your money. 🙂

Friday, Nov. 18 – Doing the hurry-scurry gotta-pack-gotta-go dance, making sure we have dog care covered and vehicle ready to make the 4-hour drive to The CEO’s sister’s house near Dulles. I kinda hate this part of a trip. Did I unplug everything, did we turn the heat down, did we get the trash out, did I leave something I will need? Ugh.

Bookworm keeps calling to tell us that she’s stuck in Friday-evening traffic in and around NYC. Poor baby, she really hates traffic, and she’s already tired. She doesn’t get in until after 11 pm.

Saturday, Nov. 19 – Up at 4 am to make a 6:30 flight, double ugh. Security is pretty fast at this time of day, and there are no issues with the first leg of our flight. It’s cold and windy in Chicago (duh!), but we manage to grab some breakfast and make our next flight, direct to Belize City.

belize-airport-signIt’s warm here. Sort of tropical, but not in the same carefree island way that Hawai’i is tropical. The car rental guys, Ashton and Fitzgerald, are super nice. They give us “Big Red,” a good-sized SUV, help us load our suitcases, and even draw us a map for the Red Hut Inn. It starts to rain, and we manage to get sorta lost on the short 15-minute drive — not because the directions are bad, but because there are no street signs, I mean absolutely zero signs, and also because I am distracted by all the houses and buildings that would probably be condemned as unhabitable here in the US. A road crew is working on the main road from the airport to downtown Belize City, and it’s kind of scary: potholes, narrow places, no shoulder, river on one side, plus people in orange vests with shovels of gravel. The speed limit on this highway is 40 mph, but we get passed by six vehicles, all going well over 40. I don’t know how.

I’m thinking maybe this was not the best idea we ever had, especially when we hit yet another pothole on the street that should be where our guest house is. At least everybody speaks English, I remind myself.

red-hut-innWhen we find the guest house (it’s a Thanksgiving miracle! no sign out front), it’s in a residential neighborhood on a street that goes almost down to the water. The hosts are welcoming, and our rooms are nice. They’re on the third floor; The CEO and I are in a small double-bed room, and the kids are in a room at the other end of the balcony, with a twin bed and a bunk-bed. We’re dying from the humidity until we turn on the AC. (Thank you, Lord for AC.) It happens to be a holiday here, and there are few businesses open. We know we’ll need groceries for lunch tomorrow, so we go to the Asian grocery the hosts recommend and pick up some staples. Then a lovely grilled-chicken dinner cooked by Louis, and then, oh yes, bedtime.

Sunday, Nov. 20 – Adventure time! Our host told us last night that we could certainly manage a three-item tour today, and because The CEO loves a challenge, we’re going for it: Mayan ruins site Altun Ha, the baboon sanctuary, and the Belize Zoo.

We eat peanut butter sandwiches and raisins for breakfast and drink juice boxes. We’ve been advised that the water is safe to drink here, but because Bookworm is very concerned (“I cannot get sick. There are only three weeks of class left and I have a substantial research paper to finish and FroCo duties and my chem research lab stuff and then there are exams and I. CANNOT. GET. SICK.“), we have planned to drink bottled liquids.

We drive north on the same  highway we traveled yesterday; past the airport turnoff construction ceases and the road is pretty decent. We’re in the parking lot for Altun Ha about 45 minutes after leaving Belize City, and we are sunscreening and bug-spraying ourselves for all we’re worth, when a man walks up to us and asks if we would like a tour of the ruins. “How much?” we ask.

“Special price,” he tells us. “$5 American for each of you. At least an hour tour, and I’ve been through the training as a tour guide. You can ask me anything.” His name is Frederick, and although his tour doubles the cost of the entrance fee, it turns out to be absolutely worth it. He outlines the history of the city, explains the general layout and the reason why some of the temples are left unexcavated (they are mostly constructed of limestone, and since limestone is porous, removing the tree roots that have grown into the buildings over time would cause the structures to crumble), as well as giving us a thorough overview of the site and Mayan history in general. He answers all our questions, which are many and vary from, “So why are some of the temple steps white and some of them natural stone?” to “So they think this area off to the right was, what, the priest’s house?”

Altun Ha plaza. Photo by The CEO.
Altun Ha plaza. Photo by The CEO.

Altun Ha is a relatively small site, one of the later trading posts of the Mayans, and has several excavated/partially-restored temples as well as two central plazas. One of the most exciting finds from the excavation here was the tomb of an elderly man, either royalty or high-ranking priest, who was buried with exquisite pottery and heavy jade and shell jewelry. Resting near his right hand was a carved piece of jade depicting the head of the sun god Kinich Ahau. This jade head weighed nearly ten pounds and is the single largest piece of Mayan carved jade ever found. It now rests in the Central Bank in Belize City, and a picture of it is on all Belizean currency.

Frederick explains to us that Belize’s population is about a third Mestizo (people of Spanish and Maya descent), about a third Kriol (people of African and English/Scottish descent), about 10% Maya, about 6% Garifuna (people of African and Amerindian descent), and the remaining 12-14% people from elsewhere in the world. A fair number of these are Chinese, he says, which would explain the Chinese grocery we saw.

On the way out, we stop by the souvenir stall that Frederick and his girlfriend keep. They’re selling beautifully made and polished wooden items – bowls, and decorative items like the toucan. We buy The CEO’s sister a gorgeous bowl and a natural wood toucan for ourselves.

Then, with Bookworm reading the map we got at the airport (maps: not ma thang), we find the road going to the baboon sanctuary. Which is not, I discover, for baboons, but for native howler monkeys.

This cracks me up, and you’d have to know my dad to understand, but any time my brother, sister, or I were crying and he was trying to jolly us out of it, he’d call us howler monkeys. He kept that up with his grandchildren, so that when I hear “howler monkey,” I can hear my dad’s voice saying it in my head. It’s an eye roll, but a sweet one.

We find a place advertising itself like this: “Your exciting eco-tour starts here!” We pull in. There are restrooms and a picnic table, plus a small building that looks like a restaurant — or, let’s be honest here, a beer place that serves food, like most of the rest of the places we’ve seen on the side of the road here. But nobody’s around, except a mother dog so tired she just flicks an ear at us and goes back to sleep. We eat lunch (more PB&J sandwiches, more juice boxes), reapply bug spray, and head down the trail.

Howler monkey
Howler monkey

There are monkeys right there. Before we’ve gone three minutes’ walk, there are two males, a female, and a baby in the trees overhead, and we carefully step across a long line of large ants carrying pieces of leaf. The male howlers are making their weirdly loud booming noises (clearly we are threats), and The CEO gets several good pictures. Insects are flying around, and this is making Bookworm nervous, and we’re all hot, so we decide that the car’s AC sounds good, and we don’t want to miss the zoo hours, so we leave.

Bookworm navigates us back to Belize City down a different road, and we hit the Belize Zoo parking lot with plenty of time to see everything. The zoo tries to replicate natural habitats as much as possible for its animals, which are all native species and are all either rescued, orphaned, zoo-born or rehabilitated (i.e., nobody went out and captured animals in the wild to display here). Taz is excited about the tapir (“mountain cow” in Belize), and Gaze likes the colorful birds. But it’s a big thrill for us to run across an enclosure for two pumas, AKA cougars, AKA mountain lions, AKA panthers. Puma concolor is long gone from eastern North America, but it once lived here in the mountains of southwest Virginia, and of course our high school mascot is the cougar. (Although the last authenticated report of a cougar in our state was in 1884 in Washington County, my grandfather, born in 1912 in neighboring Lee Co., swore that he’d heard a cougar — a “painter” in local parlance — in the woods as a child. “Sounded just like a woman screaming,” he said.) A zoo employee happens to be standing by with a covered pail, and the larger puma stops near the enclosure fence to watch him. He keeps showing the puma something in the bucket, and the puma makes a sound very like a cat’s meow.

Cougar, intent on the treat in the keeper's bucket. Believe it or not, this photo was not zoomed and cropped; he really was that close! Pic by The CEO.
Cougar, intent on the treat in the keeper’s bucket. Pic by The CEO.

I suppose that the keeper is intentionally keeping the animal near the fence for our benefit, and Bookworm tells me that these cats are more like house cats genetically and behaviorally than they are like big cats such as lions or tigers. The smaller puma sneaks up and playfully pounces on the larger one, and there’s a yowl and a pursuit through the vegetation that would look very familiar to anyone who’s ever owned cats.

By the time we’ve made it back to the zoo entrance and someone suggests checking out the reptile cages, I am about done. I have bug bites despite the bug spray, and I’m desperately thirsty, and you can keep the snakes, thank you, even if they’re behind glass.

Louis makes us dinner again, snapper with a delicious savory sauce. Yum. We mention to him that we’re thinking of visiting the Cultural and History Museum, and he snorts. “It’s crap. There’s nothing to see there, don’t waste your time.” Bedtime is very welcome.

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Back home, July 2015

So I just spent a beautiful two weeks in New Zealand at the height of their winter weather, and now I’m back to so-called “normal life.”  If you want the brief update, it’s this: the planning trip went well, NZ is still gorgeous even in winter, the journey back was exhausting, and I was glad to be home.

Swans on Lake Tekapo, with Aoraki/Mount Cook in the background. Photo by Joe Guthrie.
Swans on Lake Tekapo, with Aoraki/Mount Cook in the background. Photo by Joe Guthrie.

The trip was very successful. The CEO lined up the entire trip for his students for this upcoming January, and it is going to be a wonderful experience, not just for the travel but also for the educational opportunities. They’ll be visiting aquaculture farms (salmon and green mussels), dairies, wineries, beef and sheep farms, and deer and elk farms, as well as government officials who deal in international trade of agricultural items, and a farmer who specializes in precision agriculture and is now marketing the same kind of equipment he made for his own use. Precision agriculture, if you’re not familiar, deals with connecting a GPS to your tractor and, in some cases, to computer software that instructs the tractor as to exactly how much seed/fertilizer/irrigation/soil additives are needed in this particular field, or portion of a field. It’s pretty fascinating stuff.

The trip was a lot of fun. It was, unfortunately, raining in Wellington (still my favorite NZ city so far, though Napier’s nice and I liked Nelson too), so there the CEO didn’t even bother to try to get any good pictures. But we met some terrific people, saw some impressive farms, ate some excellent food and enjoyed some stunning scenery. We ran into one of The CEO’s buddies from his days getting his master’s degree in Ag Econ at Massey U. in Palmerston North. Richard’s no longer with the World Bank; instead, he works at one of the government agencies that deals with international ag trade. We had a lovely meal with his family.

That journey home is killer. KILLLLLLERRRRR. I’m still exhausted. Our Monday 7/12 went like this: 90 minute flight from Christchurch to Auckland, wait around a couple of hours at AKL for our next flight. 12 hour flight from AKL to San Francisco (during which I did not sleep. At all). Then a mad rush to pick up our (gigantic) checked suitcase, which I was going to take home with me so The CEO wouldn’t have to take it with him to Denver, where he was going for a meeting of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. We went through US Customs, and then through the extra bio screening because we’d been on a farm outside the US, and then we rechecked the big suitcase on to Dulles. So then I shlepped my carry-on baggage to the domestic terminal, went through security again, got to my gate and determined that they were loading first-class passengers and I would have time to grab something to eat. I did, but just barely; I bought a sandwich and an enormous bottle of water, which I consumed while sitting on the runway for half an hour (!) waiting to take off. The plane landed (very roughly) at IAD five hours after that, and my sweet brother-in-law picked me up and took me back to his house, where I slept like the dead for twelve hours. Then I ate some lunch and spent the next six hours driving from NoVa back home, through two traffic delays caused by separate construction issues, and one delay caused by an accident. Gah.

But when I did pull into the driveway, Hunter-dog practically wagged his tail off his body, he was so excited to see me. Taz was happy enough that he hugged me several times (and then demanded food. Typical teenage boy). Gaze didn’t get home from cross-country practice until late, but I got my hugs from him too. Home looks good, by the way – rain in July is always welcome, and my stargazer lilies were just opening up when I got back. There are apples on a few of our trees, too.

I did not get the chance to meet with other perfumistas or to smell a lot of perfume while in New Zealand, outside the airport duty free shop. That was okay, I suppose – I did get to try Bottega Veneta Knot (five minutes of pretty orange blossom, followed by two hours of soap, which is par for the course with OB and me) and several other mainstream fragrances, the names of which elude me now.

And I wore a number of warm frags: Organza Indecence kept me company at the glaciers. Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur spread its squashy BWF comfort around.  Tauer Une Rose Vermeille was wonderful on the inter-island ferry. Vintage Ralph Lauren Lauren kept me smelling (relatively) fresh on airplanes.

More details on the trip coming soon, along with pictures The CEO took.

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Scent Diary, June 27-July 8, 2014, and a mini-review of Dior Cuir Cannage

Friday, June 27 – Spent much of the day rushing around, trying to clean up/pack/get stuff done before the trip. Picked up Gaze from his last day of Camp Cougar (the month-long summer enrichment class which serves as a substitute for PE class), rushed him home to get the last bits of packing done, and headed out for a relative’s house that’s close to Reagan National Airport in DC. SOTD: Kelly Caleche EdP, the citrus helping to wake me up during the 4-hour drive.

Saturday, June 28 – Up at five, ate cereal, went to the airport. It was the first commercial flight ever for my two boys, and Taz in particular was thrilled with takeoff. Gaze had nothing good to say about the airport in Newark (our connecting flight to Bozeman left from there): it was dirty, it smelled, it was ugly, why in the world would anybody LIVE in Newark?? He is a confirmed country boy, I confess. SOTD: DelRae Wit, for its pretty, good-humored, mood-lifting qualities. Got into Bozeman around noon Mountain Time, had lunch at The CEO’s conference, and then spent the afternoon touring the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

I love museums. This one, though probably meant for kids, was a good one! Most of the dinosaur specimens that have been discovered for study actually came from Montana, and the museum had a wealth of fascinating skeletons and artifacts. Loved it!

Yellowstone Lake, photo courtesy of The CEO.
Yellowstone Lake, photo courtesy of The CEO.

Sunday, June 29 – Yellowstone National Park! SOTD was two good spritzes of Dior Cuir Cannage, but it was very quiet and gone early. We drove east from Bozeman into Wyoming and entered the park at the north gate. First stop was Mammoth Hot Springs, which are pretty cool with built-up layers of minerals like stalactites and ledges. Then we ate a quick lunch and went south toward the center of the park. Took numerous short walks to see cool stuff that’s just off the road – waterfalls, geysers, more hot springs, and lots of wildlife. My favorite spot of the day was Gibbon Falls, but Yellowstone Lake is pretty too.

Saw a small herd of buffalo and one of elk, but they were far away. Then drove up through Dunnraven Pass, where there was plenty of snow on the mountains. Saw a black bear and her two cubs, and The CEO saw a grizzly bear.

Monday, June 30 – Weather has been cool and pleasant, but The CEO and I got sunburned a bit today. Or maybe windburned, because it was quite windy as well as being sunny. SOTD was Hilde Soliani Il Tuo Tulipano, which is a pleasant, creamy floral with a bit of fruit. Cheerful thing. We saw lots of cool stuff, from more geysers and mud geysers and more hot springs, to more waterfalls… and more wildlife! There was a solitary male bison, a big one, and then a small herd of elk with young males fighting – and then an enormous herd of buffalo, bulls and cows and yearlings and calves all together, maybe close to a thousand animals (as The CEO says, he knows how to count grazing animals). They were stretched across the road and along it, no fear of cars or people whatsoever.

Wow. Made my trip.

Tuesday, July 1 – Another gorgeous day, temperatures in the mid-70s and sunny. The CEO and Gaze have been taking pictures at every pull-off area; they’re fascinated with the Grand Teton Mountains. Remember when The CEO went to the Canadian Rockies a couple of years ago? Came home with like a bazillion pictures of mountains and lakes? That’s what he especially likes.  The mountains up close are really gorgeous. At the same time, people who live around here must long and long for summer. At home? I dread it. It’s like trying to breathe through wet wool (and it doesn’t even get REALLY humid in the mountains the way it does in Richmond, or worse, DC). The air is very, very dry here.

Grand Tetons with wildflowers. Photo courtesy The CEO.
Grand Tetons with wildflowers. Photo courtesy The CEO.

Here’s the Cuir Cannage (preliminary) mini-review, set off in another color in case that’s all you really wanted to read! The Cuir Cannage is pretty much gone after an hour, except for a very attractive drydown. I’m guessing it will wear better in humid Virginia – we’ll have to see. It does open up with a refreshing citrus note that smells a lot like a Chanel to me. (By “a Chanel,” I mean the classic Chanel cologne, or No. 5 Eau Premiere, or the opening of 31 Rue Cambon. Could refer to the delightful opening of 1932, too.) From there it becomes more floral, with jasmine and ylang apparent and also a small touch of rose. Quite powdery in a face-powder iris and makeup rose-violet sort of way. And then it goes very… hmm… pursey. Not exactly like Cuir de Lancome, which I adore, but the leather is quite apparent. It’s also very ladylike. I kept having to check – now this DOES say “Dior,” right? Yep. Regular readers will know that I absolutely hate and despise Chanel’s leather scent, the iconic Cuir de Russie. (To me, it’s a dead ringer for our cattle working pens, very dusty, with a medicinal and iodic sort of angle that does not cancel out the raw animal hide. Basically, it smells like fear. Bleah.) But this Dior smells all Chanely to me, more Chanely than the actual Chanel, isn’t that weird? The leather sticks around for about an hour, or at least it does here in Wyoming, all the time shrinking down closer and closer to the skin. After that, it slides into a very comfortable and attractive leather/benzoin skin scent, and that sticks around for a good twelve hours, even if I can only smell it if I huff hard. I love this drydown. In fact, I like the whole thing very much, and the only thing I’d wish for would be more sillage. It could use a bit of oomph.

What I do like about this area is the fascinating wildlife. We’ve seen elk and antelope here, and the remains of an early-1900s Amish farm settlement. I’ve noticed that the park service seems uninterested (unwilling?) to keep up old structures in these national parks, and so these historic buildings – labeled as points of interest BY the park service – are falling down. Which seems silly to me, but then I’m accustomed to the park service keeping up far older buildings as at Jamestown.

Wednesday, July 2 – Another pretty day. Still sunny, but less hot than yesterday. The CEO and I are rather burned (I sunscreened, he didn’t). I suppose the increased elevation is the difference. A driving day; we are headed north to Glacier. SOTD is Il Tuo Tulipano again. When we arrived in Kalispell, rather late for dinner, we saw on the Glacier park website that the Going-to-the-Sun Road is now open, as of 8:30 pm, for travel. Which is wonderful, because we were going to have to negotiate the park without it if they weren’t able to get it open.

Thursday, July 3 – Glacier National Park is without question the single most stunning scenic location I have ever seen. It beats out Hawaii and New Zealand and Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, and the also-stunning New River Gorge valley in West Virginia. Majestic! We hiked to see waterfalls; we saw glaciers and mountains and lakes and streams. We were a little surprised not to see any wildlife. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum. The major road through the park is called Going-to-the-Sun Road, and portions of it are actually closed due to snowfall a good portion of the year – but they officially opened it at 8:30 pm on July 2, so the first day it was completely open for through traffic was today.

Taz meets Deer, trail near Baring Falls, Glacier. Photo courtesy of The CEO.
Taz meets Deer, trail near Baring Falls, Glacier. Photo courtesy of The CEO.

Friday, July 4 – Independence Day in a National Park… with snowballs! Logan Pass at Glacier had plenty of snow, enough for Taz and Gaze to indulge in a little sibling rivalry. Went on a lovely walk to see Red Rock Falls, one of the many beautiful waterfalls caused by snowmelt here at Glacier. Then The CEO and the boys went on another walk around one of the lakes, and another hike up to see another waterfall, while I had a nap in the car. SOTD: Hilde Soliani Il Tuo Tulipano. We saw a grizzly bear in a meadow near the road, and then when we were eating lunch at a picnic area, a young male elk wandered through the campground, munching away on grass and vegetation.

On the way back to the hotel we went to the Fourth of July celebration in the next town over, where they were having fireworks on Whitefish Lake. It turned out to be one of the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen, second only to fireworks in Washington, DC. For one thing, there’s no ban on fireworks here in Montana like there is in Virginia, so there were numerous individuals around the lake setting off their own large fireworks and the general effect was very full and fun. (I’m guessing it was actually sort of dangerous, but hey. You only live once, right?) The official Whitefish town fireworks were shot off from a barge out in the lake, which was really cool. About halfway through, a kid sitting behind us noted out loud, ‘Hey, the barge is on fire.” We dismissed that, because all the way through the fireworks the kid had been saying things like, “We’re under attack!” and “It’s like cannon fire!” But at some point we noticed that he was right: the barge was on fire. And by the time the fireworks were over, the barge was not just on fire, it was burning fiercely, putting out a ton of black smoke. It was sort of horribly beautiful, fire on the lake. They did get the fire put out, but that was an exciting evening.

Saturday, July 5 – We drove through Glacier again and took in another hike, this one to a lovely waterfall. Also surprised a young doe deer on the trail; Taz was able to walk within four feet of her. All the advice is to leave wild animals alone, but she seemed very calm, and eventually walked on to another grazing area. We came out the other side of Glacier and drove to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. It was an experience for the kids to enter another country. Thank goodness, US-born children under 16, traveling with both parents, are allowed to use certified birth certificates instead of applying for passports. The Canada portion of the trip was added on rather late in the trip planning, so there would not have been time for us to get Gaze and Taz passports and we would have to have skipped Waterton.

This was more Walking Around Lakes. I am getting sick of lakes, honestly. We did stop at one point where a small swift creek ran near a picnic area, and Taz and I stepped into the creek. Just so you know, creeks fed by glaciers are, you guessed it, frigid. Even with flip-flops on, our feet were freezing. However, when The CEO made noises about taking another hike to go see some more waterfalls, I convinced him to let me and Taz stay near a different creek and play in the water. Which we did, and which we both enjoyed very much. When we came out of the water, there was a small (not full-grown) black bear near the parking lot, flipping rocks over and munching grubs. There was a rather large extended-family group of Indian people there at the same time we were, and one of the older men kept getting closer and closer to the bear with his smart phone, taking video. He made me nervous, frankly. And about that time, The CEO and Gaze showed up with their telephoto lenses and took some good shots.

Later that evening we saw a male deer with a nice rack grazing. Drove through a small bison preserve and saw a small herd, 8-10 animals, and also two predator animals that might have been either gray wolves or coyotes. Exciting! The wildlife has been the best part of the trip, for me. SOTD: Kelly Caleche edp.

Sunday, July 6 – I am sick of Walking Around Lakes. I let the boys go off to Walk Around Lakes at Waterton while I stayed in the hotel to do laundry. That turned out well. I walked around a bit, and went to the grocery store to pick up a few more snacks, and wrote some. SOTD: DelRae Wit again. The CEO enjoyed the hotel hot tub. As it turned out, the highlight of the trip back to Waterton was seeing a small herd of mountain goats. As it turned out, we saw nearly all of the varieties of wildlife that live in these national parks: moose, bison, grizzly bear, black bear, elk, antelope, mountain goat, deer, and wolves. Didn’t see a beaver, or any bighorn sheep, but I’m not disappointed.

Bison bull in Yellowstone, photo courtesy of The CEO.
Bison bull in Yellowstone, photo courtesy of The CEO.

Monday, July 7 – Drove south into Montana again, back into the US of A. SOTD: Mary Greenwell Plum. Stopped in Helena to have a look at the capital building, which is attractive and neoclassical. The CEO really enjoyed seeing the farm scenery and driving the more open, uncrowded roads in this area. Saw an electric pole with an enormous bird’s nest atop it, complete with enormous bird; The CEO thought it was a bald eagle at first, but after seeing it through his telephoto lens he decided it was an osprey instead.  Mexican food for dinner and a swimming pool at the hotel near Bozeman.

Tuesday, July 8 – up at 4 am to make a 5:50 flight to Denver. Denver to Chicago O’Hare, Chicago to Reagan National, Reagan to the DC Metro, Metro train to Vienna, VA, where we met the cousin who was looking after our vehicle for us. THEN (soaking wet because we came out of the Metro into literal buckets of rain): we drove four and a half from Northern Virginia to Roanoke, to pick up The CEO (who had a different travel itinerary since he initially traveled for his NACTA conference in Bozeman) at the airport there. Then an hour drive home. Air travel is a wonderful thing, truly it is, but all the same we got home at 1:15 am Eastern time (two hours ahead of Mountain time), which means I had been up and moving for nearly 23 hours by then. AAARRGGGGHHH.

SOTD: started off with nothing because I didn’t have time, but at Chicago, I hit the Duty Free and sniffed things. I love doing that, but the only thing I really wanted to spritz there was Marc Jacobs Daisy. Say what you like, but you’re not going to talk me out of liking Daisy! O’Hare smells like nothing, basically, unless you are standing near a food establishment. Even the Duty Free smells antiseptic; probably they don’t get many people spraying perfume in there the way people spritz it in, say, Philly (the last American Duty Free I entered). However, the entire corridor outside the Wolfgang Puck restaurant smelled so deliciously of fresh basil that I took deep breaths of it every time I went past.

And then the rain-wet pavement outside the Metro was a pure delight: wet, green-silver, ultimate freshness. I hope it rains at home soon.

Be on the lookout for more photos from the Montana trip! Gaze and The CEO, between them, took close to 2500 shots. They’ve cut it down quite a bit since editing, but so many of them were wonderful and I’ll be sharing some of their work soon.

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Scent Diary and Vacation Travelogue, July 12-18, 2010

Monday, July 12: We got a later start than we’d planned (when do we ever leave on time?), but the trip was smooth and uneventful. SOTD: Mariella Burani. Cheapie Wendy’s lunch, with trail mix and Gatorade in the car later in the afternoon. On the way to Charleston, we went so close to Columbia that The CEO thought it would be good to stop there and have a look at the SC State House. When we parked on the east side of the State House and put coins into the parking meter, Eddie said it was 97° F. My MB was pretty much gone at that point, and that was a good thing in the heat…

Side note: I’d better warn you, The CEO and I are those irritating people who give things cutesy names. As in, his vehicle, a Toyota Camry, is for obvious reasons called Cameron. My bought-used Dodge Caravan is Eddie Van, as in Eddie Van Halen. And the microwave is Mike Jr., the water pressure booster pump is Hans-and-Franz (it’s here to Pump YOU Up!), and the ice maker is Fidel (it’s always cubin’). There are more, but I’ll stop now. You’re welcome.

The SC State House is indeed quite beautiful: marble floors and glass mosaic windows and gorgeous wrought iron balustrades and handrails. They have cool bronze statues of George Washington and John C. Calhoun, and portraits in oil of historically significant South Carolinians, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Edgar Allen Poe. We were surprised to see portraits of Virginians Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (okay, okay, he was actually born in what is now West Virginia, but lived much of his adult life in Lexington, VA) prominently displayed in the SC House of Representatives room.  

Another side note: How about those South Carolinians keeping the War Between the States alive, hmm?  I thought we Virginians were bad. Funny/sad/true story: for years, beginning in the early 20th century, there was a state holiday in January called Lee-Jackson Day, celebrating RE Lee’s birthday.  (A kid from Pennsylvania asked me once, “Who’s this Lee Jackson guy?”)  Then when the federal government declared a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., guess what day that fell on?  Yep.  So in Virginia, for about a decade or two, we celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day, until the state holiday was moved to the Friday before MLK Day.  If that isn’t irony for you… 

The State House grounds were lovely as well, and I finally got to smell live osmanthus! A gorgeous floral-apricot smell. And magnolia is too – it smells like creamy, floral lemon custard. Which I knew, but I don’t get to smell magnolia much since it’s just a wee bit too cool where we live for most magnolia trees to thrive. We can grow a variety called the sweet bay magnolia, though it doesn’t smell quite as lush as the ones here in SC.

Tuesday, July 13: Visit to Ft. Sumter via ferry. Hot. Honestly, it’s like living in a sauna… (said the spoiled mountain-dweller). SOTD: Moschino Funny!, a lovely grapefruit-rose-tea thing that I liked much, much better than the way fancier Hermes Pamplemousse Rose, and that I once denigrated for being a pretty little wisp of nothin’ special. Which just goes to show that weather is important. First time I tried it, I wasn’t sure I was wearing anything at all, but it lasted several hours in miserable heat today.

I’m not sure whether we enjoyed Ft. Sumter, or the ferry cruise to the island that houses it, more. Taz found the cannons and their emplacement in the remains of the original fort engrossing, and we practically had to drag him away. “Look, Mom, you could slide it along this curved track like this, and you had to get away from the back, or it would recoil after you fired it, and it would knock you dead! And see… this one’s got a rifled barrel…”

After Ft. Sumter, we drove over the coolest bridge I’ve ever seen – the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, that’s it up top – and visited the naval museum on the decommissioned WWII-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. The Medal of Honor museum aboard the Yorktown was very moving. The boys were in absolute heaven exploring the flight deck and captain’s bridge, as well as the numerous types of military aircraft stored on the flight deck. They were less impressed with the crew quarters and mess hall, not to mention the machine shop and torpedo shop. (Although I think it gave them a new appreciation for their granddad, who served aboard a destroyer tender – a much smaller ship – based in Norfolk, VA in the early 1960’s. “Wow… he had to sleep on a weird bed like that? And climb up ladders like that? It smells like the cabins at summer camp in here…”) The WWII-era diesel submarine, the USS Clamagore, surprised us all with how tough, and how impervious to claustrophobia, sailors had to be to serve on a tin can like that.

Wednesday, July 14: The CEO just realized that he has to be back home for a very important meeting on Friday (what, he couldn’t have read his email messages from three weeks ago? Apparently not.), so we’re going to go home a bit early. That pushes up some of our plans. Today we drove around historic downtown Charleston, visited Ft. Moultrie, and hit the beach at the Isle of Palms. SOTD: Miller Harris Fleur de Matin. I really like FdM – a bit of galbanum up top, then a hint of citrusy-herbal stuff like lemon balm, and then light florals like jasmine and freesia. For something so light, it wears fairly long (4 hours) in the heat.

The old part of Charleston, particularly near The Battery (the row of cannon facing Ft. Sumter across the Cooper River) is what people have been cooing over for a couple of centuries now: charming, tall, gracefully-proportioned houses with beautiful wrought-iron details, in ice-cream pastels like pink and lemon and cream. There is a sense of these houses being delicate, lacy, decorative, and hedged in by whalebone and wrought iron fences and cast iron cannons – the Flower of Southern Womanhood guarded by Masculine Might. It’s a little eerie, to be honest. I do see why Charleston highlights this part of town, and its military history. It’s good marketing, and it pays off in terms of drawing paying tourists to the area. But I imagine it’s not so much fun to be black and living in the unkempt area five blocks from The Battery. There’s a sort of willful neglect of the downtown area that isn’t historical, and I find myself wishing Charleston would spend a little money putting in some civic improvements in places that really need them.

We’re not really Beach People. I enjoy the beach for a few days at a time, and then I get sick of it and want to go home. I like the ocean, I love bouncing around in the waves, I like building sandcastles, and eating ice cream cones and seafood, and sitting in a beach chair watching the tide come in, and walking on the wet sand early in the morning to watch the sun come up and pick up shells. Doing it for more than a few days feels unproductive and just plain wrong to me. That said, the beach at Isle of Palms is really nice. The sand’s clean, and I couldn’t see any detritus of horseshoe crabs or dead jellyfish, like you see at Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. The houses along the shore are even brighter than those in Charleston: an apple green-and-white one flanked by a sherbety pink-and-lemon one and a periwinkle-and-sky blue one. Farther down, there’s a cream-and-mint green house, and a peach-and-dove gray, and on the other side of the hotel, a purple-and-lime ice cream shop. It’s pretty and bright, and the houses seem at home here against the sand and sea grass. I just know I couldn’t live here.

Thursday, July 15: I’ve been noticing: unlike home, where it’s so dry that our grass has started to go brown, SC has been getting lots of rain. It’s really humid here. I know saying that is a little like commenting that it sure is cold at the North Pole, but I was surprised at just how humid it is. It’s been a good twenty years, maybe, since I traveled south of Virginia in the summer. Yikes. I’d probably enjoy cologne more if I lived here. Temps have been running in the mid-to-upper 90s, too, while at home it’s been upper 80s to low 90s.

No fragrance this morning; we visited the waterpark just north of Charleston, and of course scent would have been wasted. This was a lot of fun: a mat slide, a wave pool, a climbing obstacle course with various fun water things, some slides, and a “lazy river” ride. We all got a little bit sunburned, despite putting on water-resistant SPF 50 sunscreen three times during our five-hour visit. Gaze, despite being the blondest of us, only had a bit of pink on the bridge of his nose and cheekbones. Bookworm, who’s a freckly strawberry blonde, is diligent about her 70 SPF, and applied it four times, but still wound up with pink ears, nose, and shoulders. So did I. The CEO, who has a classic “farmer’s tan,” with forearms and neck tanned brown, got his shirt area burned despite the sunscreen. He’s still uncomfortable, poor baby.

SOTDriveHome: Vamp a NY. I love the Vamp – big ol’ white flowers, root beer and vanilla. What’s not to like? It’s like vacation in a bottle.

Friday, July 16: The dog was really happy to see us when we got home last night. (The cat was simply annoyed that we had gone away. If she was glad to see us, she gave no indication of it.) Since I have the whole week off work, I stayed home today and we worked through some of the Laundry Mountain we brought back with us. Ever notice how, even if you put the dirty clothes in a big garbage bag instead of in your suitcase, the clothes you didn’t wear come home smelling weird anyway? I think I need some sachet things to keep the duffel bags and suitcases fresh when they’re not being used. SOTD: Mariella Burani, for comfort.

Saturday, July 17: How on earth does a house get dirty when you haven’t even been in it all week?? But it was a mess: dog hair and crumbs all over the floor, dirt on the carpets (guess we dragged that in on Thursday night)… sigh. We cleaned. SOTD, once I finished mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms: Manoumalia. I keep hoping.

We had a thunderstorm that dumped a very, very welcome 1.3 inches of rain before moving off and leaving the day about 20 degrees cooler. That brings us up to a total of about 2 inches this month. We’ve been getting far less than our average 37” annual inches of rain so far this year. Good thing we’ve still got hay left from last summer.

Sunday, July 18: Lovely day, mid-80s and not humid, but the grass has greened up since yesterday. SOTD: Carnal Flower, which is sooooo beautifully green and florist-case chilly over that big lush warm tuberose. Swoony stuff.

We were all set to host a group of inner-city kids from Atlanta for a hayride and lemonade this afternoon, when the heavens opened up and just dumped down the rain!   Luckily the storm didn’t last long, and we did get a bit more much-needed rain.  The kids from Bright Futures Atlanta, as usual, were terrific and lots of fun.  Some of them have never been out of the city, so taking them close to the cows is like going on safari.  There’s a lot of “Wow, they’re big!” and “What do you do with the dead ones?” and “How big is this place?”  Hayley, our beagle-yellow lab mix, is in absolute heaven with this many people around to pet her.  We had thirty people visiting (26 kids, 4 staff), and we blew through 4 1/2 gallons of lemonade and two pans of brownies in record time.

All images except the last two are from Wikimedia Commons.  The image of the woman washing clothes is from Flickr’s commons.  The photo of the kids on the wagon is from Bright Futures’ website, of last year’s visit, and yes, that is indeed The CEO piloting his John Deere 4230.  The kid in the orange shirt – not that you can see him – is Gaze.  I also notice how very, very green things looked last summer, as opposed to now.  Boy, did we need that rain!

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