Lucky year seven

On Sunday we celebrated Layla’s seventh Gotcha Day. (And by “celebrated,” I mean we patted her on the head, took a picture with her, and wondered if maybe it was time for us to start buying senior cat food.) I can’t believe my little sugarpie (<—–an actual name that I call her on the reg) has been in my life for seven years! Layla’s not like any other cat my family has ever owned. She’s dog-like in that she’s sweet, playful, and loves her people, but she’s also all cat — a totally unpredictable weirdo who often acts like royalty.
layla_weirdoI was a little nervous about how she was going to handle our move earlier this year. You hear stories all the time about cats moving thousands of miles away from home with their owners and then walking all the way back from whence they came. (I mean, duh, Homeward Bound.) When we decided to move to Boston, I worried that Layla would be one of those cats. But she has coped spectacularly well.

I should’ve known she’d be a champ as soon as we started driving. The vet gave us a good stock of tranquilizers before we left and they worked well enough, but they gave Layla such crazy eyes that I couldn’t stand to look at her. We didn’t want to overdo it, and she ended up behaving surprisingly well without them, so we only used them on day one. (She was actually completely quiet and content when we let her ride in her litter box. It’s disgusting that she spent the better part of two days lounging in her poo, but whatever.)

She had to be boarded for a couple of weeks while we waited on our apartment, and she absolutely loathed that (Sean even had to go into the “Employees Only” area once to get her out of her cage because she was being so ornery) but she thought hotels were the most exciting places ever. She was like a little kid on vacation — leaping from bed to bed, crawling all over the furniture, and drinking water straight from the faucet.
cat_travelShe’s taken to our apartment just as easily. As expected, her favorite feature is the bay window. She spends hours watching the people meander along the busy street outside (and freaking out when cars honk for absolutely no reason — an all-too-regular occurrence, I’m afraid). She’s had to adjust to the lack of air conditioning, but, like all of us, she’s learned to appreciate leather upholstery and a strong fan. She tends to be a weenie about cold weather, so it’ll be interesting to see how she handles September through April (when I say “cold weather” concerning Layla, I mean anything below 65). It’s a good thing her cat-grandma bought her a couple of sweaters before we moved.

In the five-and-a-half months that I’ve been working from home, Layla has been my saving grace. She’s turned an ear when I’ve needed someone to talk to, cuddled when I’ve been upset, and indulged me when I’ve felt playful. I’m so, so grateful for that cat. Happy Gotcha Day, my sweet puddin’ head (<—–another name I call her daily). Mama loves you!
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Howdy, Portland, Maine! // 4th of July 2014

Sean and I didn’t originally plan on spending the 4th of July in Portland, Maine. Up until about a month ago, we were actually pretty convinced that we’d be celebrating Independence Day in Philadelphia. But then a little thing called Memorial Day in New York City happened. And while that trip was an absolute blast, it was also an absolute madhouse. We knew Philly would be similar in terms of crowds, and we just weren’t sure we were up for two crazy trips in a row.

So ultimately we decided on Maine. Not any city in particular — though we did choose Portland as our final destination — we were really more interested in the drive than where we ended up.

Friday: York, Kennebunkport, and Ogunquit
We took Highway 95 out of Massachusetts and through a sliver of New Hampshire, but as soon as we crossed into Maine we headed for the scenic route along the coast.

We’d only been in Maine for about 10 minutes before we decided that we should’ve moved to Maine instead of Mass. Maine is heart-achingly beautiful and a little bit mysterious. It’s quintessentially New England (lobster; lobster everywhere) but it’s also wild and remote. Maine makes up half of New England, but fewer than two million people live in the whole state. The rest is bears and trees. (And lobster.)

There’s a huge outdoor store just on the other side of the New Hampshire state line that lets you know you’ve arrived. “Welcome to Maine,” it says. “Take a look around — what business could you possibly have inside?”
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True, the weather was not great for our drive, particularly along the water (thanks, Hurricane Arthur!) but there were outdoor sights to see and, by golly we were going to see them! We didn’t realize we were going to run into a lighthouse on our way up to Portland — until we watched the Nubble Lighthouse rise ethereally from the fog as we wound our way toward it. My gosh, you guys. That craggy coastline. The angry, hurricane ocean. And that lonely little house standing resolutely in the middle of it all. As far as first lighthouse experiences go, ours was pretty perfect.
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My mantra for the weekend was “We need to become the sort of people who’d have a summer house so we can buy a summer house in Maine.” As we drove through Kennebunkport, Sean spotted the house he wanted. It was set off from the others and built right on the coastline. It was large and full of windows and surrounded on three sides by water. And it belongs to George H. W. Bush. Perhaps we should set our sights a tad lower. (Shout out to the prez for the Texas flag!)
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Our last stop on the Tour de Maine Coast was in Ogunquit for — what else? — lobster. We split a lobster roll and a lobster grilled cheese (yes! One thousand times yes to that!) and then piddled around the cute shops until the sky really opened up. After that, there was nothing left on our agenda but to get to Portland.

Portland is the biggest city in Maine. It’s home to a whopping 66,000 people; it inspired Portland, Oregon; and, with more than 230 restaurants, it’s one of the foodiest small towns in America. Our foodie senses led us to Duckfat for dinner on Friday night.
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French fries are to Duckfat what lobsters are to Maine. We ate buckets and buckets of French fries as poutine and dipped in — wait for it — truffle oil ketchup. (If you’re like me and have always pronounced “poutine” as “p%*#@$,” I can now assist. In the States it’s pronounced “poo-TEEN.” In Canada it’s pronounced correctly/differently, but who cares? This is America. We say what we want.)
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The long and winding road trip

It feels like months have gone by since we packed our essentials and our chatty cat into Sean’s tiny Scion and hit the trail for Boston. But in reality, we were still very much en route a week ago. Sean drove every last mile of the road trip — all 1,776 of them — as I suspected he would. But he was a champ about it. All three of us were. Our voyage from old Texas to New England was not fraught with boredom or kitty tears (or scurvy) like I feared it might be. It was a smidge on the long side, sure, but we made it out alive, and with plenty of stories to tell.

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We left Dallas on Saturday afternoon and drove to Texarkana to spend one last night with Sean’s family (and enjoy our last home-cooked meal for a while) before hitting the road for real.

We were hoping the nice weather from earlier in the weekend would stick around for a little while so we could enjoy some sights along the way. Instead, we woke up on Sunday to rain, falling temperatures, and a snow storm aimed right at our route. We weren’t in any particular hurry — Sean doesn’t start his new job until next Monday and I’m on PTO from my job until March 13 — but we’d hoped to be in Nashville by Sunday evening, so we brushed off the weather reports, fueled up with one last Whataburger, gave the cat a happy pill, and kissed Texas goodbye.
Whataburger_tearsTexas to Nashville was by far the most taxing part of the trip. It rained on us the entire time. We’re talking sprinkles in Texarkana, drips in Little Rock, and Old Testament-style flooding from Little Rock to Nashville. We felt every last minute of the drive. By the time we checked into our hotel, all we wanted to do was sit back and watch the Oscars. But then, of course, the power went out. And by the time it came back on, all the movie stars had been replaced by local weathermen who assured us that Nashville would become a deepfreeze overnight.

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When we turned on the local news the next morning, “deepfreeze” had gone clear out the window, and every one of the anchors was convinced that Nashville had teleported to within the Arctic Circle. Image after image was of overturned emergency vehicles and skating SUVs. We thought for a minute that we might have to spend the day cooped up in our hotel. But then we thought — WWYD? (what would Yankees do?). Yankees wouldn’t be afraid of a couple of snowflakes and patches of ice. Yankees wouldn’t offer Old Man Winter a hot toddy or a pair of slippers. Yankees would toss a couple curse words at him and then run him over with all four wheels. So that’s what we did — packed up and headed straight into the great Nash-pocalypse. And thank goodness we did, because the roads were fine. They were fine leaving Nashville, they were fine when we drove into the rolling Tennessee hills, they were fine for the entire 200 years it took us to drive through the state.

We crossed into the Eastern time zone about 20 miles outside of Virginia. I’d anticipated the switch being a much bigger endeavor than it actually was — I had Google at the ready and was prepared to call friends who’d made a similar drive before to figure out when I was. But it was a total non-event. I barely noticed the road sign announcing it, and all of a sudden our phones said 3:15 instead of 2:15 and that was that. I always have a small existential crisis whenever I change time zones. “How would my life be affected if I never make it back to Central time?” I wonder. If we end up staying on the East Coast, I will have lost an hour of my life. Poof. Gone. That’s 60 fewer minutes I’ll get to spend watching Netflix.

The reality of what we were doing didn’t really set in until we reached Virginia. Arkansas was so familiar and Tennessee was so southern that my brain didn’t really register any differences. But Virginia, that’s East Coast. (Not to mention, I’ve never really considered Virginia a southern state. Don’t tell Virginians — particularly the ones that fought in the Civil War.) As far as I was concerned, we had arrived. Mission accomplished.

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We spent the majority of Tuesday driving through Virginia, which means we spent the majority of the day marveling at how gorgeous Virginia is.
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We’d planned to meet Sean’s family for dinner near D.C. on Tuesday night, but we didn’t have very far to drive and had some time to kill. So when we saw a sign on the highway for the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, we immediately (and somewhat dangerously) veered off the road and popped in for a visit. (Don’t laugh — it’s another presidential library we can cross off our list.) We had no idea what town we were in or how to get back on course, but by golly, we knew Woodrow Wilson’s given first name by the end of our tour!

Eventually, we did find our way to northern Virginia. And after spending some time catching up with our darling East Coast family, we pressed on to Baltimore and cozied up for the night at our friends’ killer townhouse.

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Zombiefied. That’s the only way to describe our mental states on Wednesday. The road trip had been going pretty smoothly up to that point. We’d taken our time, enjoyed the scenery and the in-car entertainment, minted some new inside jokes, and were frankly finding it really hard to believe that we’d already been on the road for 20 hours. But by day five we were running out of steam. The end was in sight and we just wanted to be stationary already.

We pulled into a rest stop in Jersey — where, as it turns out, it’s illegal to pump your own gas — and spent some time recharging at the Starbucks inside. I must’ve looked like I was ready to leap onto the highway in heavy traffic, because the barista at the counter asked me if it had been a long day, AND THEN the barista who was slinging drinks came out from his post, walked right up behind me, and asked — with significant concern — if I was ok. To be perfectly honest, I was just trying not to come across as a happy, hee-hawin’ Southerner in Yankee country. I guess it worked. (Just so you know, I gave that schtick up before we even left the parking lot. I smile sweetly at strangers on the street, mind my manners, and yuck it up with people I’ve just met. And the folks up this-a-way don’t seem to mind a-tall.)

The most surreal part of the drive happened about an hour later when we passed Manhattan. It was just like driving by any other major city — really hazy and full of tall buildings. Except this time the buildings were Empire State and One World Trade Center. I’ve been to New York City a handful of times, but I never in my life expected to whiz by it on an expressway like that. Hello, New York, goodbye, New York. Boston forever! (Them’s fightin’ words. I think I’ve chosen my side. GO SOX!)

We’re staying with family friends a few miles outside of Boston while we get our bearings and apartment hunt, and when we pulled onto their street on Wednesday night, it was like the heavens opened up and bathed their house in a bright, celestial light. We went inside, devoured our first homemade meal in days, had a glass of wine, and settled into a comfortable bedroom that we didn’t have to access with a key or scoot out of before noon. We’d made it. Boston’s right there, and it’s ours for the taking.