The monotony of travel

On Friday, I’ll be leaving town for two weeks.  It’s the same trip we make every summer.

It is one of the unanticipated downsides to moving here.  When we lived within a few hours of our parents and siblings, we took vacations every year.  Since moving here, we’ve used our vacation time and funds to visit our families.

Mount RushmoreAt first, we tried to invite them to come here, or plan joint trips.  That worked exactly once with each parental set, but at least we were able to visit the Grand Canyon and Mt. Rushmore before our parents decided we live too far away for them to travel here again.

So every year for almost a decade, sometimes more than once a year, we pile into the car and make the trip from Colorado to Maryland.  I love my family, but these trips are not vacations.  They’re visitations.

Yesterday, I spent hours selecting and putting audio books on hold.  Nearly a dozen of them.  Because there is nothing worse than driving 26 hours on route 70 without books.

Sometimes we drive straight through, not even stopping for the night.  By we, I mean my husband; I barely drive.  Sometimes we try to break the monotony by getting off the beaten path for at least part of the drive.

Rocky Ridge, home of Laura Ingalls WilderOne year we visited Rocky Ridge, the home Almanzo Wilder built for Laura Ingalls Wilder, and another time we stopped by the site of the Little House on the Prairie.  Well, my daughter and I toured Rocky Ridge; my husband and son walked the dogs.

Last year my husband and daughter visited the Grave Creek Mounds in WV while I walked the dog around the fence line.

Another year we stopped in Columbus, Ohio and saw a replica of the Santa Maria.  It was early Sunday morning, so we walked the dogs around the park while looking the ship.  It, like the Dunkin Donuts we were seeking, was closed on Sunday mornings.

The dogs may be a nuisance when we play tourist for a few hours, but I like having them with me when I arrive at my mom’s.  They give me a reason to go outside, away from the television which is always on.  Besides, I worry about Trixie dying if I leave her behind.  (She has cancer and sometimes refuses to eat when I’m away.)

On the road, they help me, too. Wherever you go, there you are.  I always volunteer to be the dog walker when we stop to eat.  I’d rather walk around than go from sitting in the car to sitting in a restaurant to sitting in the car again.

I also volunteer to stay in motel rooms while others eat or swim so the dogs don’t bark.  In the morning, I take them for a walk while my family eats breakfast.

I walk the dogs more away from home than I do when we’re at home, because it is a good excuse to be alone and active.  Honestly, I value the time alone more.

Walking is definitely beneficial.  Sitting in a car for 26 hours wreaks havoc on my crooked back, but the psychological effect of solitude and quiet restores me in a different way.  Walking the dogs makes me feel purposeful instead of anti-social.

St. Louis Gateway ArchEvery year we debate stopping at the St. Louis Arch, but we never have because my husband and I cannot agree on who will go up to the top with our daughter.  We both want to walk the dogs while the other goes inside.

I’m not sure if or where we’ll be stopping this year, but if you see a lady in black compression knee socks walking a dog, it’s probably me.

This post is part of a BlogHop at Generation Fabulous, where you can read tales of more Transformative Travel.

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Family fun and frustration at the bowling alley

Family Fun:  Bowling.
I love bowling with my family.  I love clapping and cheering and laughing and sympathizing.

I’ll even clap for children bowling in the lane next to me, if they seem like they’d appreciate it.

I don’t know what it is about bowling that brings this out in me, because I do not like sports in general, neither as a participant nor as a spectator.  Even when my own children were playing, I found it hard to muster enthusiasm for the game.

Family bowling, however, is all about the enthusiasm.  None of us are particularly good, so it’s not a competitive event.  I think without the high fives and clapping it would be pretty dismal.

This was born out on the face of my fifteen year old daughter.

The few other lanes in use were not near our assigned lane, which enabled my daughter to sit at the table at a neighboring lane where she did her best to distance herself from our jocularity all morning.

I’m pretty sure the five elderly bowlers in the building knew she was with us anyway, what with her actually bowling in our lane, but after each of her turns, she returned to her chosen table, resolutely ignoring us, and glued her eyes to the video screen above her head.  At best, attempts to include her in our mirth were met with a quick, angry glare.

Bowling alleys today are so different than they were when I was her age.

For the better, they are not smoke filled and do not smell like stale beer.  These are phenomenal improvements.  The scoring is automatic, so nobody needs to pay close attention or count pins.  Also much appreciated.

For the worse, there are video screens alternating with the overhead score cards.

Video Screens Everywhere

Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I think my daughter might have interacted with us a teensy bit if she had not been mesmerized by Taylor Swift and all those other people I don’t recognize.

I admit, it is hard not to look at them.  The constant motion and changing images catch your eye even if you don’t know or care anything about the music.  Even the serious and elderly bowlers would glance up at them as the images changed.

(By serious, I mean that their balls never went straight to the gutters.)

I’ve noticed the same effect in restaurants.  When we go places with televisions, there is less conversation, at our table and those of other diners.  Faces automatically turn to the screens, especially when they become brighter.

I try not to eat at places that have televisions.

However, the local Mexican spot we like always has its on.  Usually, it is tuned to soap operas in Spanish, which, since I do not speak Spanish, makes it easier to ignore.  I still find myself glancing up at it occasionally.  We always make our daughter sit with her back to it; otherwise, she’d never talk to us.

As I say, “She can ignore us for free at home.  We don’t need to pay for that.”

I know this is not a sign of a Generation Gap because my mother and in-laws are also addicted to television.  Or maybe it’s one of those things that skips a generation.

The Peanut Butter in the Generational Sandwich

I'm the peanut butter in the sandwich.When these five happened in one day, I had to accept that I am in the sandwich generation.

  1. I helped my daughter with math.
  2. I talked my mom into eating real food before eating her first ice cream treat of the day.
  3. I texted my eldest about where his transcripts might be located.
  4. I discussed internship and work options with my college student son.
  5. I listened to a room full of girls singing along to Taylor Swift while watching NCIS at super volume with my mom.

I’m just visiting my mom right now, but we’d like to have her living with us in a year or so.  These weeks are glimpses of my future.

I’m not sure whether I am the peanut butter or the jelly, but I’m definitely in the middle.  My husband is right there with me, the jelly to my peanut butter or the peanut butter to my jelly.  Whichever it is, I’m glad we’re in this together.

I think we’ll need earplugs.

Do Opposites Attract? Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

I love this song, not just for Fred and Ginger, and not just because I’m terribly fond of the Gershwins, but because it reminds me of my interactions with my own family.  (The lyrics, not the dancing on skates.  We are not that well coordinated.)

We have similar disagreements on word pronunciation around here.  May I say how much I love the online dictionaries where we can listen to the audio?  Not that they always resolve the point, because there are often alternate pronunciations.  As I told my son over the Christmas holiday, “Oh, I’m saying it the British way; maybe it’s because I watch so much BBC?”

It’s a good thing my husband and I didn’t have to pass a compatibility test to get married, because we would have failed.  Obviously, twenty-three years later, we’re still married, and quite happily, so there’s more to marriage than agreeing on what to watch on tv, where to go for vacation, or how to say “homogenous.”  There’s even more to it than date nights, communication style, and common interests.

I like what Paul Newman said about his marriage to Joanne Woodward, “We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.”

Did opposites attract for you?

Out with the old year, in with the dark haired man.

Do you like the year end lists, the years in review and best ofs?   I do, so I tried to compile a personal Best of 2012 list for you.

I started with Best Non-fiction Book I read.  I could not choose.  How do you compare a holocaust memoir to a book about breasts to environmental disasters to the assassination of a president?  I couldn’t.  So I scratched that off my list.

Similar problems with choosing Best Fiction, so I scratched that, too.

Then I couldn’t remember any movies I watched more than a month ago.

I made these cauliflower fritters last week, and they were definitely the best cauliflower I’d had all year.  So there is that.

But there is no list of Year’s Best from me.  Sorry.  Not even highlights or a year in review.

Instead, let’s talk about Superstitions.  Do you adhere to any New Year’s superstitions?  Or customs?

NewYearsList

My family was woefully lacking in cultural traditions and superstitions.  We don’t even have a traditional meal.  No black eyed peas; no pork in sauerkraut; no long noodles.

I didn’t even realize how many people had New Year’s traditions until I was in my twenties.  Then a co-worker told me about the many superstitions she’d grown up with.  I think of her every year at this time and pray that the new year brings her many blessings.

Her family strongly believed that the first person to cross the threshold in the new year must be a man.  She said none of the women would leave their homes until a man had visited them on New Year’s Day, so all the male relatives had to go from house to house, in the morning, to ensure good fortune for the new year.

It had to be in the morning, both because the women wanted to visit each other in the afternoon and because they didn’t want to risk a neighbor stopping by and crossing the threshold first.

This list specifies it needs to be a dark haired man.  My coworker didn’t mention that, but all the men in her family had dark hair, so maybe she didn’t think about it.  In my family, it would mean my husband would have to visit every household while the rest of us stayed home.  My sons would doom a family to bad luck all year.

NewYearsSuperstions

It’s probably good that we don’t follow that particular custom, but I like the kissing at midnight and not breaking things superstitions.  I’m all for kissing and not breaking things every day of the year, actually.

Does your family have any special customs for the New Year?  Traditional foods?

My baby is my middle child.

My baby is home!  I get him for almost a full month; I am one happy mom.

My baby is my middle child.  Which may seem weird.  Let me explain.

I gave birth to two sons, nineteen months apart.  They were babies together, preschoolers together, often mistaken for twins because they were gorgeous and the same height.

They could not have been more different.  My eldest was, from the very start, his father’s son, which delighted me.  Is there anything more amazing than holding your firstborn child?

My younger son was, in many ways, my boy.  He loved being my baby, being held and snuggled and, yes, babied.  Is there anything sweeter than a contented baby?

They were and always will be my firstborn and my baby.  My boys.

When my boys were in middle school, we adopted our daughter.  She is my one and only girl.

I am certain she was a beautiful infant, because she was a beautiful six year old when we first met.  I missed her baby years; her first steps, her first words, all those milestones belong to someone else’s memories.

She was never my baby, but she is my girl.  If there is anyone more joyful than parents who have waited years for a child, it is a child who has waited years for a family.

So there it is, I have my firstborn, my baby, and my girl – in that order.  Each unique and precious to me; I could not love them more.

What’s the birth order in your family?

How to drive your family crazy, Christmas edition.

In case you want to know…

Rearrange your mantel, or some other highly visible area (focal point:  the experts call them focal points) to an asymmetrical display.

I decided to take down a picture from my mantel and give it a more Christmas-y look.  Nothing fancy.  I like things simple.  I moved the candlesticks, and painted a blue backdrop for the stocking holders.  My daughter drew and cut the star.  Simple.

My daughter, my husband, my eldest son all  – independently of one another – told me that the blue board should be horizontal.  Or moved on center.  They flipped the board to show me what they meant.  I assured them that my choice was intentional.

My husband readily accepted that I’d achieved more or less the look I wanted, and moved on to other things.

My eldest, who strongly dislikes asymmetry, rearranged it several ways, showing me layouts he found less jarring.  One of his arrangements was rather nice, and I did agree that a wider blue board would have been better, but this was a zero cost project.  I’m not going out to buy a bigger backdrop.  (The blue board is a piece of foamboard that was purchased and not used a couple years ago, painted with leftover navy blue paint.)

My daughter, after seeing the star in place, asked, “What are you going to do with all that negative space?”  I told her I was going to leave it negative.  Her eyes widened in horror.  She likes to fill in all blank spaces.  Her bedroom is evidence of this.  I told her that I want uncluttered, so the eye would go to the star, then to the tiny nativity below.  She remains dubious.

I’m waiting to see if my youngest son says anything about it when he gets in later this week.

You can’t tell in the photo, but the star is glittery.  I am tempted to take a can of white spray paint to the stocking holders, but I’m undecided on that.

What do you think?  Honest opinions, please.  Would my mantle drive you crazy?

The Demise of Family Dinners

I never loved cooking, but I was an adequate maker of meals until a couple years ago.  Then, within a few weeks of each other, two things changed that brought my regular efforts at family dinners to an end.

First, my husband was diagnosed with diabetes.  Wanting to avoid medications, he began eating an Atkins like diet.  No carbs.  Tons of meat and salad.  He needed to learn what he could and could not eat, and wanted to do it himself, not have me doing the research and providing it for him.  He did great; his blood sugar levels fell back into the normal range after only a few months, so he stuck with making his own meals.

His meals did not appeal to me.  I rarely eat meat.  (I don’t like to make a fuss, so I will eat a small portion if it’s served to me.  Plus, I eat crab cakes in the summer when I’m in Maryland.  And I’m thinking about starting to eat chicken again, a couple times a month.)

The second change was our daughter attending public school.  Formerly homeschooled and eating all her meals at home, as soon as she started going out to school, she stopped wanting to eat breakfast and lunch.  She would take a lunch, but I don’t know if she really ate it.  I know that she arrived home from school at 4pm famished, and wanted to eat dinner immediately.

While I could have made her eat a small snack and wait for dinner, I didn’t.  I let her eat as much as she wanted at 4pm, then a smaller snack before bedtime.

Some days I’d cook a meal for the two of us, and eat with her after school, but her meal of choice was an entire frozen pizza and a salad, eaten while she reads a book.  I’m not a total derelict, though; I set a “two pizzas per week” rule.

It’s like the “two bowls of ramen per week” rule, but she actually follows the pizza rule.

That’s how we’ve muddled through the past couple years, but last week, I admitted to myself that we are not eating the healthy foods we started out eating.  I rarely cook for my daughter and myself anymore.  We are all eating a lot of pre-made foods, and we only sit down together for a meal at home once or twice a week.

We also have slowly picked up the habit of eating junk at night.  I don’t know when that started.  We were pretty close to junk-less right after my husband’s diagnosis, but the chips and chocolates and ice cream crept back into our evenings, nudging the nuts and veggies out.

So last week, we decided that we need to return to family dinners.

This time, though, I am only cooking twice a week.  My husband and daughter will each make dinner once a week.  That’s four nights of home cooked meals.  One night we’re allowing ourselves Costco meals (things like frozen ravioli, not frozen pizza).  One night is for eating out.  The last night is our flex night for leftovers or scrounging on our own or me cooking a third night.

Or maybe someone else will discover a love of cooking?!

What is dinnertime like at your house?  Does someone in your house love to cook?

Embracing Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was never a big holiday in my mind, primarily because I don’t like turkey or stuffing or washing dishes.  It was one of those obligatory days that I would spend at someone else’s house, following their traditions, and wishing other people accepted that pie could be a first course.  Frankly, it was often a chore, with hungry little kids and a three hours late turkey.

When we moved away from our families, it was just a day.  For several years running, we used the holiday weekend to tackle projects around the house.  We didn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving, and we didn’t miss it.

Then, last year, because my mom had not been feeling well, I flew back east to spend the week with her and my son, and with his girlfriend, my sister and nieces, etc.  I had a blast!  It was without a doubt, my best Thanksgiving ever.

The meal was no different, but we spent days just hanging out, talking, raking leaves, playing games, laughing at how hysterical we think we are, and loving our time together.

This year, I’ve been looking forward to Thanksgiving since July, when I last saw my east coast family.  I’m now counting down the days until I leave – two weeks from today!  This year, I’m taking my daughter, too.

In the meantime, I am being mindful of enjoying my everyday life here.  In that pursuit, I bought a zoo membership in October, so I could spend pleasant hours watching animals do funny things like this tiger who licked a fence and decided it did not taste good at all.

A few years ago, I adopted this resolution, and it has been a great encouragement to me.  Meditating on it helped me to see joy as a virtue equal to thankfulness and to understand that my desire to be happy is not selfish or shallow.  It gives me permission to let my husband buy me a plane ticket home because, yes, that extra week of joy is worth the expense.  It is worth it to me, to my mom, to my son, to my sister, and to my husband, who gets a happy wife and doesn’t have to wait all day for a turkey dinner he never really wanted.

Be joyful always.
Pray without ceasing.
Give thanks in all circumstances.

For this is God’s will for me in Jesus Christ.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, paraphrased)

Monkey in the Middle

Last week, when I was at the zoo, I witnessed some family drama among the monkeys.

There was a baby monkey, a juvenile, and an adult, whom I guessed was their mother.  The two youngsters were playing tag and scuffle, on the same branch where their parent was eating a branch.  They bumped into the muncher and received a Look.

Being kids, they ignored it and continued to play.  Again, they jostled their elder…..who then grabbed the baby’s tail and bit it!

The baby started screaming!  Holding its little tail, and wailing!

Rushing from the brush in the back of the enclosure came Mom.  She sees Baby, sees the monkey I now realize was Dad, and stopped about six feet away.

Baby ran to Mom, still screeching, and buried itself in her arms.  She stroked his little head and kept an eye on Dad.

At lunch, I recounted this to my husband.  He said, “Well, their dad warned them.  They shouldn’t have been playing on his branch.  He probably grabbed the nearest tail and didn’t care whose it was.”

That evening, I talked to my baby boy on the phone.  He’s 20.  I told him the story.  He said, “That poor baby!  He was just playing.  What a cranky dad.”

I know just how that momma monkey felt.