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So on August 8th, after a conversation with my dad, I became sufficiently panicked about there being a life-or-death situation happening in his home that I booked a hotel room for that Monday-thru-Friday for myself and the rest of Team Odette. I booked, then informed Rob that we had to go to South Carolina. Such is not like me, but I was desperately concerned and not sure what I would find. Long story short, my dad was severely depressed, barely eating anything, suffering from a bad case of shingles, and so on and so forth. I was, to put it mildly, worried.
I had two priorities for my visit to see my dad last week: Get him to go to a doctor, for maybe the first time in his entire life, and cook enough to fill his freezer full of delicious and easy-to-reheat meals. He is a major meat-and-potatoes guy, whereas I'm mostly vegetarian, so this presented somewhat of a challenge for me.
For months, Dad had been singing the praises of Aldi to me, but the one time I tried to go, I was not aware ahead of time that I needed a quarter to rent a shopping cart or that I needed to bring my own bags and boxes, so I never even made it inside the store. This trip, however, Dad was determined to get me inside the store, and so I took my father shopping at Aldi in Aiken.
I went up and down each aisle with my dad, who normally subsists on unhealthy convenience foods, explaining about olive oil being a much healthier alternative to other vegetable-based oils and extolling the virtues of getting a well-balanced diet with well-rounded nutrition for his aging body's needs. He mostly smirked in his "Sure, I"ll humor you, Mel" way, but I think some of it got through.
We arrived on Monday, checked in to our craptastic Howard Johnson motel on Whiskey Road in Aiken (if I could give it negative stars on Trip Advisor, I totes would), and I met up with my dad to do the shopping. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I cooked pretty much the whole day. I had to remember he wanted ground beef in his lasagna, so that was different for me. I promise I didn't cringe; I'm a non-judgemental veggie. I did his roast chicken and his pot roast in the crockpot his ex-wife had left behind. I made a shrimp scampi, baked cheesy artichokes with a lemon aioli dip for him to share with Rob one night, and so much more.
The most tempting for me, though, were the giant blackberries in the impossibly enormous muffins I made him. Whilst they cooled, I eyed those things ferociously, but I quickly popped them individually into the freezer before I took a nibble or ten. However, you can bet your sweet patoot that I bought some blackberries yesterday, and I plan on a repeat of that recipe for Team Odette in the extremely near future. My mouth is officially watering!
On Tuesday, while I cooked up a storm and dirtied every pot, dish, and utensil in Dad's meager kitchen, I dropped off Rob and the kids at Richardson's Lake down the road from the house. Despite my urgings, Hubs took not one single photo, so I had to steal this one off of Google Images. The kiddos had the time of their lives, swimming, jumping and diving, while Rob watched from his position in the sand. And still, I cooked, bagged, labeled, and froze the food for Dad.
Unfortunately, the kids forgot (and Rob didn't remind them) to reapply their sunscreen, so a week later, all are still suffering the effects of sunburnt faces. They look cute with some pink coloring on their faces, sure, but we all know that such damage is no bueno. There's Sophia on my dad's loveseat. I took a few pics inside his beach-themed home to help practice on his little digital camera, with which he was itching to become acquainted.
Chloë, who probably got the worst sunburn of them all, relaxed in Dad's living room after the visit to the lake. The kids fell asleep, all of them, on the living room floor while I fixed the shrimp scampi for their dad and grandfather.
Jack, of course, is never one to enjoy getting his photo taken. I don't know why; he's as cute as a button, but whatevs. Paco was happy to oblige me, right?!
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On Wednesday, before I got into the big cooking job of the day, Dad wanted to take us down the road from his house to the Equine Rescue of Aiken. They have about 70 rescued horses, among other animals, on acre after acre of beautiful pasture. Forgive my lack of proper terminology here, because I don't really know horse lingo too well, but I was wholly impressed by this privately-owned operation.
We were given a private tour of the facility by Caroline, who was extremely knowledgeable not only about the horses but also the ins and outs of running the Equine Rescue. I hadn't brought my wallet with me to the shelter, but I definitely plan to make a pilgrimage back to the Rescue every time we go visit my dad from here on out and, not just but partly because Sophia is such a huge horse lover, support their efforts.
I can't remember this woman's name, but she came up to us and offered assistance. Before our complimentary golf court tour with Caroline, she educated us on horses near the parking area. She was great with horses and kids alike, and she took it in complete stride when Sophia pointed out some kind of injury or infection on this horse's leg.
On our tour, Caroline took an abundance of questions, mostly from me, with a great degree of both patience and knowledge. She also stopped frequently to let the kids off and pet the horses that were approachable. This one was so sweet; Sophia and Chloë bounded up the fence - and would have gone over it - to visit this guy!
The Aiken Equine Rescue visit was incredibly impressive. I'm so thankful my father had the idea for the field trip. We'll definitely be back! You can follow them on Facebook here, especially if you're near the Aiken/Augusta area of the world.
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Armed with the knowledge that the Odettelettes are major animal lovers, my dad suggested another great field trip for Thursday. I wanted him to take it easy and not feel like he had to entertain us, since he was feeling awful and I was there to take care of him, but he insisted he was up to it. And so, we ventured out the the Aiken SPCA (here is their Facebook page).
All three kids are enormous cat lovers, so of course they were in seventh heaven the moment we walked up and saw several in the windows. Before we got there, I warned the kids at least twice but maybe thrice that NO PETS WOULD BE COMING HOME with us to Miami!
I loved this sign. It warmed the cockles of my heart.
I don't know who was more active in there, the kids or the animals wanting to be adopted. Photography was not ideal. I don't like the motion setting on my Nikon, so... what you get is what you get.
Chloë will grow up to be (and frankly already is) a crazy cat lady, I have no doubt. She wants to be a cat-specific veterinarian, and I'm quite certian she would marry her Maine Coon, Pepper, if interspecies weddings were legal!
Stupid comment, maybe, but I just think itty-bitty Jack with a normal-sized watch on his wrist makes for a super cute image...
"Hi there, please adopt us?"
Sophia had a blast playing with this trio of kitties. They were in a display room that could be seen from outside, and once we discovered we could actually enter the rooms that didn't specifically prohibit it, oh ma gaw. The kids were giddy with excitement.
My dad and one of the SPCA residents, which is funny because he's notoriously not a cat lover
I'm partial to white cats myself. I'd love a Persian or Himalayan someday, but yeah. The expense is something I can't stomach!
The kids get their love of cats from Hubs. He would adopt ALL THE CATS if his wife would allow it.
Oh, somebody discovered El Gato Blanco.
These three puppies got out when we were trying to get in. Hysterical puppy chasing ensued. The volunteer in that area was less than amused. Don't worry; I made up for it.
That's Sophia for you, making friends everywhere she goes!
Finally, we got those puppies back in their room. I stayed outside to help corral them when Chloë and Jack emerged from their playtime!
Oops, my corralling efforts were to no avail! At least the volly was in better humor about the escape artists the second time!
I can't remember this pup's name, but she was beautiful, I thought. She was definitely eager to find a new family and home!
This nine-year-old pooch is Mitsy. I fell in love at first sight when I saw her. She needs me. SHE. NEEDS. ME. If she's still there when/if we move to the Space Coast next Spring, count on an adoption!
Another playful pup
Rob is much more a cat-person than a dog lover, but he's an all-around animal lover like the rest of his nonetheless. He prefers large dogs, which makes his deep affinity for our Chihuahua, Paco, all the more strange.
This employee came into the canine quarters to let me visit with Mitsy up close and personal. Holy crap, did we bond. I loved her, she loved me... she NEEDS me, people!!!
Sophia wanted to get into this room, but these two dogs were SO excited by her visit, they started getting jealously snarly with each other. I made her exit the room post haste.
A much calmer resident
We weren't allowed to visit or, if we had wanted to, adopt this guy. I don't know what kind of broken home he came from, but apparently he did not have auspicious beginnings at the shelter. Poor dude. I hope his situation improves.
Jack: "Look at these three puppies, Mom! Can we take them home?"
Sophia wanted to visit the trio, too. She implored similarly to Jack. My answer was the same: NO!
There were a number of thought-provoking quotes on the walls of the shelter. This is the one I loved the most.
Remember the three escape-artist puppies from earlier? Their escapades wore them out. It's possible they got even cuter!
On our way out of the SPCA, we noted the kittens were equally, er, fatigued. Three Odette kiddos will do that to ya!
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I don't remember ever having been in a Hobby Lobby in my life, but Dad wanted to visit and get some Christmas ideas for the kids. WOW! I'm not sure I agree with their politics, but I found lots of great inspiration for decorating our next home in there. As for Jack, he found what he wanted for Christmas. The boy, he looks his flying machines.
When we passed the art prints, the girls picked this one out of a myriad of images and almost in unison exclaimed, "We did this in Art class!" Indeed, they did make their own versions of this famous Kandinksy work, and I was proud and pleased that they remembered it!
Here was Chloë's interpretation of the above Kandinksy. I had encouraged them to put their own unique flair in their assignments, and clearly Chloë ran with the idea.
I found this photo and had to show it to Rob. I need this in our house! I tease him all the time about his apish, freakishly-long arms, and he returns the teasing about my freakishly-short, T.Rexian limbs. This, therefore, elicited quite a few laughs from us!
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Finally, despite a light drizzle (which we're used to during the six+ months of rainy season here in South Florida), Dad suggested we go down to the Augusta Riverwalk to walk around and burn off some steam. In all the 21 years and change that he has lived in Aiken, surprisingly I have never visited this riverfront spectacle. Dad knows I'm never without my camera, so he obligingly posed for some photos alongside the kids.
Rob, Chloë, and Sophia looking out over the Savannah River
There was a fountain in the street near the Riverwalk, and since they were already being rained upon, I relented and let them go run over and indulge themselves in further soaking. They didn't want to come out, it was so much fun. They wanted to go in again when we circled 'round and headed back to Miranda (our minivan), but I declined. No towels in the van = no dice.
Also at the Riverwalk was an amphiteater for concerts and other performances. The girls ran up and down the stairs in a vignette that reminded me of Heath Ledger in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. Am I alone here in remembering this scene?
A soaked Chloë by yet another watery feature
There were plaques memorializing those from the area who fought and died in various conflicts. We read them in silent respect, as our family is steeped in military history. My dad, a former member of the Coast Guard, paused for a photo.
Sophia had a mouth booboo, blisters on her feet, and a headache by that time, so instead of lingering, we headed back to the van at last. The Riverwalk isn't big on things to do, per se, but it more than makes up for that in beautiful scenery. I'm glad we went!
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On Friday, we drove home from South Carolina. I was feeling as miserable as Sophie, or we might have visited throughout the day before leaving, but I was eager to get on the road. I had even gone to the Emergency Department in Aiken the night before with a severe migraine I couldn't bring under control with my meds, and added to that a very upset tummy, well... let's just say the normally 9½-hour trip took several hours longer! Paco and Henry, our youngest kitty, were certainly glad to see each other again. I think the cats missed us, too...