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20160625_174454I’m calling June 30, 2016 “The Day of Ten Surprises.”

The simplified goal was to travel two hours to Venice Beach and then return by bedtime. In short, we met our goal, but we won’t be trying it again anytime soon.

The first surprise of the trip was a good one. We left a little after 2:00 pm because we wanted to miss the strongest part of the day’s sun, and having already spent most of the morning in the pool and then the lunchtime hours playing several rather noisy rounds of various board games, all four of the kids napped for most of the drive. This is good, because two of the four are stereotypical “Are we there yet?” and “I have to go potty!” kind of kids and I was running out of patience with at least one of them.

The second surprise was the road construction. Tons of it. Did I say two-hour trip? Oh, I’m sorry. I meant three hours.

When we were actually able to drive faster than three miles-per-hour, the third surprise was the heavy wind and rain storm that passed above us as we drew closer to Tampa. It revealed to us that at some point in our rental vehicle’s history, its windshield had been replaced, except incorrectly. Thankfully we didn’t notice any water leaks, but we did have to listen to what sounded like cats strapped to the interior and exterior of the van screeching and clawing one another as if it were a feline battle scene from an Erin Hunter book.

The Fourth surprise: We knew our eleven-year-old daughter was sensitive to the sunscreen we’d been using, and even though we’d bought about ten different lotions, we couldn’t find one that didn’t burn. But our six-year-old daughter hadn’t shown any signs of being bothered by any of the sunscreens. Well, apparently her time was now. When we finally arrived and I started to put it on her face, she transformed from a little girl bopping along in anticipation of some beach-time fun to a warning siren screeching a massive herald to all that sharknados actually are possible and one was coming so they’d better take shelter.

Jen took her into one of the public bathrooms to wash her face, but it was too late. The lotion had soaked in and she was miserable. A disconsolate six-year-old changes the tenor of any gathering not to mention it is pretty amazing how someone so small can clear out a pleasant little pavilion of people resting, reading, and visiting in the shade.

And yet, we were going to press forward.

The fifth surprise is that while we were fully prepared with snacks and waters and towels and pretty much everything else we might need (we even brought a jug of water to wash feet as well as two colanders to sift for shells and shark’s teeth in the sand), a few of us were without flip-flops which meant we would need to take off our shoes and socks in order to march across 200 yards of sand to a place near the ocean’s edge. And so we did.

Another scream. The sand was so incredibly hot from the day’s heat that I’m surprised it hadn’t turned to glass.

The shoes went back on our feet. Still, we pressed forward.

The sixth surprise was the strange – and brown – milky film that appeared to extend about thirty feet out and stretched along the entirety of the shoreline. There was nowhere to enter the water without moving through the murk. And of course, my initial thoughts: “A bout of flesh-eating bacteria sure would be icing on today’s cake,” and “Bull sharks live for murky water and this is the ‘shark teeth’ capital of the world, yes?”

We walked the shoreline for about twenty minutes or so picking up shells and dawdling in ankle-deep water before the fair-skinned bunch from Michigan, half of whom couldn’t wear sun-screen on their faces without causing chemical burns… and the lack of sunscreen was starting to show, decided enough was enough. The sun was still too strong, the water looked more like sewage, and all were in agreement that the excursion wasn’t turning out as we’d hoped.

The seventh surprise: I was charged with carrying the jug of water for washing the feet of those without sandals… but I forgot it. The sun still scorching the barren landscape between us and the van, Jen carried the youngest, a shoeless nine-year-old hopped onto the back of his sixteen-year-old brother, the sandaled eleven-year-old walked on her own, and I, one of the barefooted ones, hauled the supplies.

I’m the only one who knows about the eighth surprise. Well, I guess you’re about to know it.

When we got back to the pavilion near the car and started to wash feet with the water jug, the sand was so tenacious that I knew we’d run out before we got it all off, so I took the boys around the corner to see if there was an outdoor shower. Sure enough, there was.

Josh went first and then stood off to the side while I helped Harry. There was a wooden railing around the facility and so when Harry was clean, I lifted him up and set him on the railing so that he could dry his feet and put on his shoes.

I started to wash my feet when I noticed that the railing was covered in ants. I didn’t say anything to Harry. I just took him off of the railing, brushed off the ten or twelve ants that had already climbed aboard, checked him over, and then had him finish over by Joshua. I finished and we went back to the car.

Phew. That was a close one.

The girls were already inside, the air-conditioning was on full, and we left.

Like the first surprise, the ninth and tenth surprises were good ones.

The ninth surprise: We drove an hour and then stopped for dinner at a Red Lobster. I was taking a huge chance with this one because my kids, like most I’m sure, need to be convinced to try new foods. Seafood is a rarity for us. I love it. Jen hates it. The kids have never been willing to try it, so now, with their guards down – exhausted, weak, and hungry – I was going to give it a shot.

Yeah. Taking a big chance with an irritable bunch. Looking back, I’m thinking I must have been in “Clark Griswold” mode because even though I knew full well that a McDonald’s would have been more than sufficient, I was going to see to the Thoma family enjoying a seafood meal even if it killed everyone in the restaurant.

When the hostess, Shaina, noted that the wait was about 30 to 40 minutes, I momentarily snapped out of “Griswold” mode and told her that it had been a rough day, the kids were starving, and that we were just going to go ahead and find another place. Sympathetic to our sorrows, she was kind enough to bump my bedraggled family of six to the front of the line, pretending before all the others in the waiting room that we’d called ahead and were arriving in time for our reservation. We got right in.

If you are reading this, Shaina, you are awesome. Although your actions rekindled the flame of my inner “Griswold” and jeopardized every last patron in the joint.

The tenth surprise was that the whole family (except Jen – she had soup and the complimentary biscuits) loved the fish. Even Evelyn, the kid who pretty much forces us to eat meals five seconds at a time (“Evelyn, that food on your fork has exactly five seconds to get into a hole on your face, so either you can choose the hole or I can choose it”) she ate shrimp and a few fried clams. Amazing. And the time together will be remembered as a highlight of the trip.

Now, why this lengthy sequence of events in order to share my experience with The Lost Distillery Company’s Benachie edition? Because it’s the day after “The Day of Ten Surprises,” I’m here by the pool looking at my tasting notes for this blended whisky, and the first words on the page are “A bottle of surprises.” It works.

This is a whisky that I didn’t necessarily expect to be much of anything, but found, for the most part, a surprising sequence of particulars that made it worth the purchase.

The nose was sweet and very much reminiscent of a dessert wine. Although with a deeper inhalation, it seemed to become somewhat bitter, as though the wine was a distillation of both concord and wild grapes.

The palate was unpredictably similar to what I’ve experienced with editions such as the Glendronach 15 Revival edition. I sensed wild cherries and a stout beer. Again, a much fuller, fruitier experience than I expected.

The finish was short (like our time on the beach) and clean (unlike our time on the beach), doling out some malted cherries and a tad bit of nuttiness (like our time on the beach).

It was far better than I expected, although sweeter than I would normally prefer. I would recommend sipping it as an after-meal dram.

Or after a salty seafood dinner following six hours of agonizing Florida fun.