The one where Helen is a photographer

Folks, it goes on like this for about 50 pictures. A third are shots of license plates, and a third of them are fuzzy motorcycles. These are the cream of the crop of what's left.

The car museum near downtown is one of those places I've been meaning to visit for years, and when I heard it was on the agenda for a camp field trip, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to let Helen take her camera. The camp director was a little surprised when I mentioned she would have it, but it turned out to be a total win. She has a VTech kids' digital camera, which takes pics about as big as the first-gen cellphone cameras (in other words, nothing fancy). It's been an amazing thing for her to have, she really loves finding the right subject and taking loads of pictures. Someone who actually has kids designed this thing, because it's covered in a hard rubber layer, with two large hand grips on each side. It can take a beating when kids drop it or knock it off the table. It has a ViewFinder style lens they can use two eyes to peer through and line up their image. They can also use the screen on the back of the camera. It holds a good number of pics - we're up around 200 right now - and that's without a memory card in it. We lose all of the pics if we have to change the batteries, but since most of the shots are aimed at a nearby wall, or taken while running, it has not been a huge loss.

I remember years ago, a kid's camera was the birthday gift that I loved to give. I'd get several rolls of that 110 speed film to go with something they could easily use, and months later I'd discover the parents had paid to develop 3 rolls worth of pictures of every stuffed animal in that kid's room. Oh, you gotta love raising kids in the digital age.


Beach Bum

In May I went to the beach with my mom and my sister. It was a great Mother's Day trip for just the three of us - no kids, no husbands. We went to Destin, Florida and spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday lounging around. For those of you who didn't grow up in the South, Destin is one of the favored vacation spots on the Gulf. For those of you without kids, three days without "MOM!" is sheer heaven. Put the two together and I was completely aghast at the idea of going back to my house at the end of the weekend.

The trip also dredged up a lot of memories for me, since my family used to vacation in Destin regularly when I was growing up.

Back then Destin didn't have much going on - only a couple of resorts, and a few small condos. Everything was right on the beach. There was nothing to do except play on the beach or go to a restaurant. Mom absolutely adored floating around in the waves. My sister and I tried to get as tan as possible. Dad would usually fry to a subtle red crisp on the first day and spend the rest of the time in the shade or covering the red spots with a towel. We had our favorite tradition of getting up early to pick out treats from The Donut Hole, or heading out late afternoon to the local fish market and making a scrumptious peel-and-eat shrimp dinner.

When I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school, my parents rented a condo in Destin for a month in the fall. My mom stayed there all month, while my dad and my sister and I went down there on weekends. On Fridays, Dad would pick us up from school, and we would drive straight to the beach. The trip took about 5 hours. We'd stop for dinner at some tiny town in LA (Lower Alabama). For those of you old enough to remember, that was back when Hardees had the California Raisins in their TV commercials, and the figurines were on sale with various combos. During that month, we ended up collecting the entire set for Mom, who was a big fan of those guys. I wouldn't be surprised to discover my mom still has those stashed away somewhere. In fact, they're probably designated for someone special in the will.

My parents let us take a best friend with us one weekend that month. I invited one of my best friends and later on, another friend and I planned a big surprise birthday party for her. We had a menu planned, her mom was going to make stuff, and we were working on the entertainment. And then suddenly it clicked - wait, I was taking her to the beach with me that weekend. Sorry, no party! That Sunday after we got back, the neighbors came over to tell us about our yard getting rolled Friday night. Very kind people who knew we were out of town and didn't want it to stay like that all weekend, so they cleaned it up for us. Monday I came to school telling people that we had gotten our yard rolled and I never even saw it. Folks, I honestly never put two and two together. Back then I was very book smart, but socially clueless. Maybe I'm still like that. A few years later, one of my friends confessed. He mentioned how the party getting cancelled meant they had some "free time," and how frustrated they were I never even saw it or had to clean any of it up. Oh, the agony, but they couldn't say anything.

My biology teacher assigned us the infamous "bug project" that fall: collect 20 bugs, mount them on a posterboard and appropriately label them with their species names. In late September and early October live bugs are very hard to find, even in the deep South. So our class really struggled with this project. NOT ME. A humid beach town always has plenty of bugs, year round! Every weekend, I found some exotic new species in Destin. I could always count on finding a couple of moths around the outside lights at night, or some crazy thing crawling in the sand. One Friday night we pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the car, and I spotted a huge grasshopper heading quickly for the main laundry room. I cornered him near a dryer and kept him in a jar all weekend until I could get back to town and put him on the posterboard. The length of my hand, he dwarfed everything else, and ended up being the Shock and Awe of my bug project. The teacher was stunned when I turned it in.

We ate regularly at a restaurant at the end of Beach Road called The Back Porch. Back then it was just a cheap little bar & grill, right on the beach. One of the popular menu items was a grilled amberjack sandwich, and boy howdy, that thing was fantastic. I know people refer to it as "trash fish" but I fell in love with that sandwich. Years later I made regular trips to Destin with friends, and discovered that Destin had exploded, and The Back Porch has become a force to be reckoned with. They expanded the restaurant and added a beach bar. If you're not in line by 5 pm, you're not eating dinner there any time soon. And the beloved sandwich is now $12. (Oh, beach towns, they quickly recognize a good thing and price it accordingly.) A few years ago, Brian went deep sea fishing off the coast of New Orleans and brought back a giant cooler full of fresh tuna and grouper, and a few pieces of amberjack. Even though it was 8:00 at night, I made him take the amberjack straight outside and grill it for me. When he finished, I put it on a bun with some mayo and a slice of tomato, took a picture of it with my phone and sent it straight to my mother. I just had to do a little bit of gloating. And then I inhaled that sandwich. Oh, the sheer joy.

One week toward the end of the month-long vacation, I was in the locker room after P.E. class, and had taken off my gym shirt to put on my school clothes. One of my classmates commented, with what I thought sounded like a bit of jealousy, "Jennie, you are so tan." In October, it was pretty unnatural to be that shade of brown so the beach lifestyle was making an impression on me. This was back in the clueless teenage years when we tanned like idiots - slathered in baby oil, on top of foil, anything to get some extra rays. Today, it's hilarious to think I could have been so tan that another teenager would be jealous of me. I'm the palest person I know, and on the rare occasions I do go to the beach, I live under an umbrella and pile on SPF 50.

A special thank you to my mother and my sister for a great time on vacation. The luxury of not having a kid wake me up, getting first choice of a box of doughnuts, or not having to pour a glass of milk for someone 18 times in a day was absolutely exhilarating. But add in the time to chat with my mom and my sister without being interrupted or having to mediate a toy battle, and that time suddenly becomes precious. I hope we've started a new tradition.


Field Trips Are Not Fashion Shows

Helen has been attending a summer camp program where they do a variety of field trips each week. One day they went bowling. On the way home, I asked her about her game - yes, she got a strike AND a spare. Yes, they put up the bumpers on the gutters. And yes, they had to wear THOSE SHOES.

Here's where I realize that I was destined to have girls. Instead of getting the play-by-play on the game or details about the ball weight or a discussion of everyone's scores, the conversation instead went like this:

Jennie: Aren't those shoes ugly?

Helen: (grimaces) Yeah. They had this stripe in the middle here (points at her foot) and one side was red and another was blue and it was just yuck (sticks out her tongue). Mama, why are they so ugly?

Jennie: So people will WANT to take them off at the end of the game and get their own shoes back. They don't want to wear them out of the bowling alley. Nobody wants shoes like that.

Helen: I wouldn't even ask God to give me those shoes.


I was hoping for medical school instead

When Helen started kindergarten last fall, she spent the first few minutes of each day in class working in her journal. Usually the teacher would give them a topic to write about, and they would write something and draw a picture to go with it. At the end of the year, Helen came home from school with a big box. In that box were folders, one for each month, where the teacher had bound all of her journal entries into monthly books. The progress she made from the first month to the last was amazing. Inventive spelling and drawing skills and storytelling - she's improved by miles. The teacher told them they should keep on journaling at home this summer, and I've given her paper and tried to encourage it, but there are too many other things Helen wants to do at home. So occasionally I'll talk her into it and she'll do a bunch of journal entries at once. She has done some entries about her summer day camp field trips, and I will post them for you over the weekend. It's not like the subtle humor or the biting sarcasm or the touching emotion of a blog entry from me - but it'll do, Pig. It'll do.

In the meantime, here's a couple fun pics of the girls goofing off this summer.