Getaways 2009

Updated June 29b, 2009

 

To Gulf Shores & Trapp Farm near Newton, MS

June 15, 2009 – June 24, 2009

Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores on a Monday during hot but ideal weather in her Ford Focus station wagon, nicknamed "Fiona." We had boarded our pet greyhound by that name at the Adoption Kennel at the dog track in West Memphis, per our custom.

This was our first trip to our much-loved (but lightly used) condo on a beautiful beach on the Gulf of Mexico in over eight months due to illness and other travel commitments. The most notable one was a two-week trip to Europe in late April and early May. A 10-part travelogue about that memorable trip to Rome and cruise on the Western Mediterranean begins at www.lewisnolan.com/Imed09.htm.

On the suggestion of one of my neurosurgeons – but not firm orders – Betty handled most of the driving for the 450-mile trip from our home in Memphis to the southeast via Jackson & Hattiesburg, MS and Mobile and on to Gulf Shores. But I spelled her every two or so hours and we made good time, making it to Gulf Shores in 7 ½ hours despite about 30 minutes worth of stops for food and gas.

We had been a bit apprehensive about the state of our condo since we hadn’t visited in so long and because of our so-so experience with the imperfect cleaning crews hired by our condo’s rental agent, Kaiser Realty. But we were relieved and happy when we saw it was clean and in very good condition with the fairly minor exception of having a set of rather shabby sheets on our queen-size bed. We think our rental manager, Sheila May, is doing a good job of riding herd on the contracted cleaning service.

The only “downer” was having to lug a lot of our gear up two flights of stairs in my abysmal physical condition. After nearly a week on a “South Beach” diet severely restricting my carbohydrate intake, I was at least resolved to stay away from the fried seafood and French fries I love in hopes of continuing my modest loss of way-excess weight – made on strict “or else” orders by my world-renowned ear surgeon, Dr. John Shea Jr. of Memphis.

We had snacked on some low-carb foods bought from home during the drive, along with some diet soft drinks. For dinner after our arrival at our condo, we ate about half a smoked salmon from Alaska we had brought from home along with a green salad and a little white wine.

As planned, I wrote the VIIImed09.htm segment of my travelogue about our 10-day cruise in the Mediterranean a month earlier. We happened to meet a woman of roughly our age who was staying in her in-laws’ condo a few doors from us, Laura Gipson Kilpatrick of Philadelphia, MS. Ironically, she had recognized Betty from their school days together and work in separate years as editors of the high school yearbook. While I spent my day inside our condo writing travelogues, Betty repaired to the beautiful beach to sun.

The Gulf water was a bit brownish from all the soil washed down the Tombigbee and other rivers by heavy inland rains recently. With school out and the 4th of July holiday looming just ahead, our Gulf Village condo complex was close to being a full house with so many owners and renters here for the week.

I hit a few golf balls for the first time in 3 ½ years on Wednesday morning, June 22, while taking a sorely needed lesson from PGA Professional Harry Dwyer at the Gulf State Park course I’ve played many times over the last 20 or more years. The bad news was that my forearm muscles needed for swinging a golf club with authority had atrophied from non-use and got sore rather quickly. The worse news was that I managed to hit only a few balls with the power and aim I had once been fairly confident of delivering with regularity before my rotator cuff in my right shoulder tore in the fall of 2005. Making that injury’s effects worse, I nearly “bought the farm” following a brain aneurysm while at Gulf Shores in March, 2006.

But there was some good news. Harry opined that what I really needed was some work on the basics of an effective swing since my few decent shots did not result in any immediate shoulder pain. I had thought that Harry, once a student of the legendary Moe Norman and his “single action swing,” could teach me a “flat swing” to take the pressure off my right shoulder but still allow me to play some semblance of the sport I love and hugely miss.

In brief form, here are the key points that Harry tried patiently to teach me:

·         Set the clubface behind the ball, with the face tilted slightly inward toward the “hook” position.

·         Grip the very end of the club in a strong grip (with the crease between the left thumb and index finger pointing to the right shoulder).

·         Address the ball about in the middle of the leg stance, with the arms hanging down naturally. Scoot up a bit or bend over a little in order to be closer to the ball than I and many other “mediocre” golfers assume is proper. That grip and stance tends to minimize tendencies to slice the ball upon impact.

·         Put my weight in the middle of my feet, not on the toes or the heels. Take a natural swing by shifting weight to the right then to the left as the club swings.

·         Aim the club and swing it so the front edge strikes the bottom of the ball, taking a small divot of grass.

It all sounds so simple. But saying it is easier than doing it with any consistency, I soon found. But I hit enough balls – truly only a few – so “pure” that I knew Harry put me on something very good. My poor physical condition resulted in calling an end to the excellent instruction after 60 minutes. The lesson cost me $60 (the price drops to $50 for subsequent lessons for a repeat customer).

I was fairly sweaty due to a heat wave that has Gulf Shores and surrounding areas “hot as blazes” this week. Temperatures have been in the mid and high 90s all week. I changed shirts and enjoyed a cheeseburger without the bread but with a nice serving of lettuce, sliced tomatoes and a few dill pickles on the side in the Park snack bar. Betty went for one of the wonderful BLT sandwiches prepared by the mostly Korean immigrant staff we’ve gotten to know and like over the years (Kim and Sunshine handle the cooking with cleaning support from Cha Cha, whose friendliness overcomes her fractured use of the English language).

After lunch, Betty and I stopped at the Gulf Shores Public Library so we could check our email. Betty expertly uses a public computer terminal. It took me a while to figure out how to make my portable, HP Laptop computer pick up the library’s Internet signal. But I learned that the directions I had gotten before leaving Memphis from WorldSpice, my Internet service provider, were evidently incomplete. Thankfully, I was able to rectify that situation by calling them when back at our condo and learning that I had try to go through Port 2 instead of Port 21 when connecting.

While I fiddled with straightening out my Internet signal, Betty returned to the beach to sun again.

The next day, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the new quarters of our now-favorite restaurant in the area, the Wolf Bay Lodge. It formerly was in a sprawling building on a bay by that name in a rather remote area not far from the town of Foley. The locally famous spot had burned last fall. They are now operating in rented space at Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach, with an identical but perhaps more pricey menu. We both hugely enjoyed a fabulous salad bar and the absolutely best gumbo we’ve ever eaten, along with a margarita drink for Betty and a Miller Light Beer for me. The tab was $36 plus tip, a pricy lunch that was worth it the price.

While out we also visited Home Depot, Lowe’s and a Sear’s retail store to shop for a replacement electric stove for our condo. We had tired of paying repeat service calls of about $90 to have an appliance service make minor repairs. It appears that tenants and/or a not-so-bright cleaning service our rental agent provides couldn’t figure out how to properly connect and disconnect stove burners from the electricity elements when cleaning the spills beneath the burners.

Betty liked the price, looks and features of a 24-inch-wide, Kenmore stove offered in the Sears catalog and ordered it. The price, including a five-year service guarantee beyond the one-year manufacturer’s warranty, was just over $1,000.

We later also visited Kaiser Realty before stopping at several stores in the sprawling Tanger Outlet Mall (over 125 stores)  just south of Foley, Ala., so we could both purchase some shoes for ourselves plus a gift for Betty’s great-niece. We’ll see the beautiful child, Maggie, freshly 7 years old, next week when we visit Betty’s older brother, Harvey Trapp, and his wife, Ann, at their farm near Newton, MS. Maggie is the daughter of Harvey’s daughter, Tonya and her husband Jimmy Nowell of Decatur, MS. Maggie is a beautiful child (with her blonde hair she resembles the sugarplum of a little girl that Betty was in her child pictures). And like her great-aunt, Maggie is the possessor of a generous amount of Trapp family smarts.

My good news for the day was that our new bathroom scale Betty had purchased for the condo indicated a respectable weight loss to date, making the privations of a very low carb diet for a week seem worthwhile and worth sticking to.

On Friday, June 19, Betty drove me to the State Park Golf Course, where I quickly learned just how out-of-shape my forearms had become from 3 ½ years of inactivity with a golf club. I paid $4 for a bucket of about 50 range balls. But even though I took my time and rested between practice shots, I managed only to hit 24 balls due to muscle soreness from Wednesday’s lesson.

While out, we stopped at the Print Shop business in Gulf Shores to order a small, stick-on sign to put on the kitchen wall above our new stove; it warns renters and cleaners to avoid the use of cleansers on the glass top. We also stopped for a few groceries at Winn-Dixie, mainly food items and drinks I’m allowed to have on my low-carb diet.

Back at the condo, Betty repaired to the beach for more sunning and reading while I worked on the tenth and final installment of my travelogue. It’s about our two weeks spent in Rome and aboard a Holland America ship, the Noordam, on the “Mediterranean Enchantment” cruise. The first installment with links to the others and to a separate site hosting more than 100 photos is at www.lewisnolan.com/Imed09.htm.

I seem to have developed an affinity for writing in our condo. It could be that my personal muse is really a beach character who loves the Old South and hangs out in Gulf Shores, Ala. Or it could be that the multipurpose table in our condo’s living area – where we eat most of our meals – is close to a window, electric plug and the refrigerator. The combination keeps me in the right frame of mind for serious writing. Or maybe it is the relaxation I feel when in Gulf Shores, away from the ringing phones, doorbells and meetings and press of family and personal business I often encounter at home.

Interestingly, I now no longer have to repair with my laptop to the local library or to a bookstore in the Bruno’s shopping center to get on the Internet. With the proximity of several high rises to our condo complex of Gulf Village, I’m able on many days to “bootleg” a Wi-Fi signal into my HP Pavilion laptop. The clearest signal comes from the adjacent Crystal Towers Meeting Room or wherever the belkin54g Wi-Fi broadcast originates. Other nearby condos seem to have blocked vacationers from bootlegging their signals by requiring an account and password before admitting unknown Internet users.

Regardless of the reason, many of my best travelogues and parts of my 680-page book, “Nolan-Miller Family History,” were written in this small condo on the beach at Gulf Village that we’ve owned for 20 years.

My extremely low-carbohydrate diet continued on Friday. On the strong urging of a famous physician in Memphis, Dr John Shea Jr., I’ve been on the South Beach diet for a week now, eschewing all potatoes, sugar deserts, fruit, pasta, bread, chips and a universe of foods I really like. The new regime – which lasts for two weeks before a few now-forbidden foods are gradually allowed – has resulted in a much-needed weight loss of over 10 pounds. I don’t know exactly what the loss is since we bought a new scale in Gulf Shores that is probably not calibrated with our home scale.

Pumped up by the possibility of resuming the sport I love – golf – after putting down my clubs 3 ½ years, I headed to the Gulf State Park golf course on Friday morning to hit some practice balls. I really wanted to use the new swing tips the pro there had taught me two days ago.

My old swing enabled me to occasionally play mediocre golf until I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder while taking a mighty swing at Old Waverly Golf Club at West Point, MS in the fall of 2005. That resulting layoff was aggravated when I suffered a brain aneurysm in March, 2006 that resulted in nine brain surgeries, hospital stays totaling six months and a year in bed at home for recuperation.

However, with the morning temperature already near 90 and an afternoon high of 98 expected on this day plus very sore forearms from my earlier golf lesson, I only managed to hit 24 practice balls (and only three decently) before calling it quits. But I did enjoy a cheeseburger without the bread along with nice portions of chopped lettuce, sliced tomatoes home grown by one of the Korean ladies who works at the golf shop snack bar and several slices of dill pickles. Betty had her usual, very delicious BLT sandwich.

Back at the condo, we noticed that the insides of our locked, storage cabinets beneath the bathroom sink basin were wet. Luckily, we contacted our Kaiser rental manager, Sheila May, and she was able to get a crew from Excel Plumbing out on this Saturday to replace the drainpipe and sink trap fixtures that day. While the crew was out scouting around for hard-to-find parts for our over-20-year-old installation, Betty and I stopped for another excellent lunch at the Gulf State Park golf course snack shop. We then drove a few miles to the east to Orange Beach and its glitzy Wharf development of retail stores and apartments.

At the Wharf, we visited a swanky kitchen equipment store that houses a cooking school and also a combination store that includes a portion of the pet supplies from a previous store at the shopping center that didn’t make it on its own.

Dinner that evening was diet-safe. Our meal – carefully and lovingly prepared by Betty like most of our other meals - was basically a green salad topped with tuna and half a boiled egg and several olives, with lo-carb crackers on the side. We had a couple of glasses of wine and no dessert.

The careful eating I tried hard to follow during our week-long our stay in Gulf Shores – traditionally a period of blow-out dining on fried fish and French fries – showed up on Sunday, June 21 with my blood pressure readings on the portable machine brought from home. It was 115 over 83, with a pulse of 86 – not bad for a 66-year-old man who is seriously overweight. The next day, my weight on a new bathroom scale purchased by Betty at Wall-Mart was 293.

That was a much­-needed drop of more than 10 pounds and the lowest my weight has been in a good while. The loss was in line with the strict orders I had gotten from a distinguished, world-renowned physician in Memphis, Dr. John Shea Jr. two weeks ago. He had strongly urged me to adopt the South Beach low-carb diet or face a certain onset of diabetes followed by early death. Accordingly, I had eliminated bread, most fruit, all potatoes and desserts from my daily eating and allowed myself only a bottle or two of very low-carb, low calorie O’Doul’s beer and maybe a glass of white wine.

We celebrated on Monday, June 22, with a great lunch at our now-favorite Wolf Bay Lodge. The new, possibly temporary location is actually a bit closer to our condo and is in the Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach just a few miles down the beach highway to the east. We arrived about 1:30 p.m. and were immediately escorted to a table by a window overlooking several docked charter boats.

I had a single-self-service, large helping of lettuce and assorted salad fixings from the restaurant’s humongous salad bar. I strayed slightly from the South Beach diet by having a spoon of mayo-based Cole slaw and a couple of saltine crackers plus a Miller Light beer. I also had a cup of absolutely delicious Cajun gumbo made with crab meat and tiny shrimp plus seven breaded crab claws off Betty’s plate.

Betty had the wonderful crab claws with a cup of gumbo. The food was really excellent again. The surroundings at the marina were quite picturesque.  We were glad to hear from our congenial and efficient waitress that the Zeke’s Marina location would probably remain open even after the original Wolf Bay Lodge is rebuilt and reopens in October of this year.

We departed Gulf Shores shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23 and drove about four hours to Harvey and Ann Trapp’s 450-acre farm near Newton in South Mississippi. We had a pleasant visit with them, excellent dinner of carryout Colonel Sanders broiled chicken, spent the night and drove another 4 or so hours north to our home in Memphis on Wednesday, June 24. Thankfully, the weather was continued hot but skies were sunny for our drive home after a nice stay on the beach in Gulf Shores.

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