Holiday travel – a guest post

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Detail from Autolysis (2011 – Oil on Canvas) by Bex

This post is from a guest blogger, Steve at Parnassus Musings, who sent me a great story in response to my request for vacation mishaps. Enjoy – and don’t miss the twist at the end.

Some years ago, my wife and I decided to take the family to Banff for Christmas. We spent a long time planning the trip so that we would be certain to get the flights we needed along with holiday reservations at the Banff Springs Hotel. We also wanted to time the trip so that our youngest child would be old enough to remember the experience and our eldest still to be living at home. Having lived all their lives in Southern California, the three of them had never experienced snow much less a white Christmas.

The morning of our departure, we were all up at 3:00 and ready for the airport shuttle, due at 3:30. The scheduled time came and went. No shuttle. At 3:45 I called the company. They weren’t sure where Mott was, but he should be there soon. I called again at 4:00, 4:15, and 4:30. We were just about to throw everything into the car and take our chances on parking when the van pulled up, seventy-five minutes late.

The shuttle was packed. There was scarcely room to add our luggage and my wife’s wheelchair much less us. Mott had my wife sit in the front passenger seat while the rest of us squeezed into the back as best we could. I had to hold my daughter on my lap with no seatbelt. It was then that Mott announced that we had to stop at a filling station so that he could put air in one of his tires because of a slow leak. I thought a couple of our fellow passengers were going to come completely unhinged. Everyone was late for their flights.

It went from bad to worse once he had taken care of his tire and entered the freeway. Mott was just about the worst driver I’ve ever seen (and that includes my middle kid). Not only was he pretty much all over the road including the shoulder, he kept up a nonstop stream of crazy talk directed at my wife. Kyra is a pretty level woman and an outstanding conversationalist in most situations. I could tell from the cold silence that she was probably looking for the eject button (or maybe a baseball bat).

When we finally arrived at Burbank Airport, limbs intact and stomachs in our mouths, it was a zoo. I’ve never seen a shuttle empty so fast. We headed into the United terminal only to be confronted with a monumentally long line at check in. There was no way we were going to make our plane. However, one of the few advantages of traveling with someone in a wheelchair is that we often get moved to the front of the line and such was the case that morning. The agent looked at our tickets, looked at us, looked at her screen, and then looked at us again. “Your flight has been delayed at least ninety minutes due to weather in San Francisco. You will be unable to make your connecting flight to Calgary and all other United flights are full. What do you want to do?”

Our options were few. We could be stranded in San Francisco or give up and lose a pot of money on non-refundable reservations. We decided to throw in with the travel gods and take our chances. The agent shrugged her shoulders and checked our luggage. We headed to the gate.

Our flight was two hours late when it finally took off and our connecting flight had long since departed by the time we arrived in San Francisco. The agent at the gate had little advice to offer other than check with Air Canada in the next terminal (our tickets were Air Canada but the flights were being fulfilled by United). Air Canada had one more flight leaving for Calgary and it was due to depart in thirty minutes.

So we dashed out of that terminal and down the concourse headed for the next terminal. It must have been quite a sight-seeing the five of us move that fast. Clutching her backpack, my daughter rode on my wife’s lap while I pushed the wheelchair, the boys running behind with the carry-ons. Of course we had to go through security again and while we did get moved to the front of the line, they decided that I was going to require special treatment (and this was in the days before I wore a kilt regularly). I thought Kyra was about to rise from her wheelchair and rip the TSA agent to shreds. I told her to take the kids and go to the gate and see if we could get on the plane. “And whatever you do, get ON the plane. Don’t wait for me.”

The TSA agent dusted everything in my backpack meticulously. She even made me fire up the computer. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she finally let me pack up and go. I ran desperately into the terminal, missing the gate. Once I realized it, I turned back, a little disoriented. An Air Canada agent ran up and said, “Are you Steve?” I nodded, and she led me to the gate and directly onto the plane. The door closed behind me and I barely had time to strap myself in before the plane pushed back. It was only once we were in the air that I was able to find the rest of my family. According to Kyra, there had been a cancellation that morning, right before the flight. Five seats.

We arrived in Calgary in time for the last shuttle to Banff, and arrived at the hotel late in the evening hungry, disheveled, and without luggage. The luggage caught up with us two days later, on Christmas Eve. What a gift it was to finally change from our travel clothes. And despite the lack of snow in Banff (it was a Chinook year), our stay was magical and truly worth the struggle to get there.

The trip home was no less difficult albeit much less eventful. The connecting flight in San Francisco was delayed twelve hours and it was nearly midnight when we landed in Burbank. I called the shuttle while standing in line to put in a claim for our missing luggage. I sent the family out to get into the shuttle while I filled out the paperwork.   When I finally left the terminal, they were already aboard, my wife sitting in back with a wry smile on her face. “You can sit in front this time,” she said. You guessed it. Out of all the possible drivers, we had drawn Mott again.

Steve Humphrey is a people and technology consultant specializing in meeting facilitation, group visioning, and information. He is also a pianist and writer who delights in the inherent pan-applicability of ideas. His blog searches for fundamental truths that transcend their original context to enlighten leadership and decision making in unexpected ways. Follow Steve at Parnassus Musings.

More vacation mishaps

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376Or maybe I should say vacation horrors. This is a follow-up to last week’s post where I asked readers to send me their own vacation mishaps. Their submissions made mine pale in comparison! These poor folks have had some miserable trips.

Here are my favorites (if you can call them that with any empathy.)

Caroline at Not Enough Wine in the World relayed a mishap that occurred after they checked into a Toronto hotel:

We took a nap before venturing out only to discover that our sheets had several blood splatters.  They offered to test the blood for contaminates/diseases.  We were upgraded, big time.

Kristine at Mum Revised recounts a mishap during a Christmas trip to Cuba:

My son threw up on me during landing. My daughter threw up on me in bed. I threw up in the toilet and slept on the bathroom floor. One bed in the room we called the sick bed because it had been thrown up on so many times. Last time we would ever stay in a three star that cleaned the room every second day. We had one meal together in 7 days. I never even got to the beach in Cuba. I can’t even blame the food.

Sandy at PowerPoint. Responsibly., like me, had an episode on a houseboat:

 I spent nearly the entire trip worrying about the kids falling off the boat, which didn’t phase my husband at all since he was fishing the entire time. Imagine my terror one day as we were cruising and my 2-year-old disappeared. I found him climbing up the ladder to the upper deck. The ladder was on the outside of the boat. I remind you – the boat was moving!

And Fred, who can be found at Fred’s Audio Visual, describes a harrowing afternoon while on tour with a group of experienced storm chasers:

As we were driving up the freeway into town, straight ahead of us was a massive tornado – it was HUGE. The tornado ripped through the town – I have never seen anything like it before or since. Our tour director had to make a choice – pull off the freeway to the right or left. He chose to pull off on the right. We went into a restaurant for shelter. The restaurant where we were had some windows blown out, but the structure remained intact. The tornado ripped apart everything on the left side of the freeway. Had he pulled off to the left, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

One submission, from Steve at Parnassus Musings, was so involved I didn’t feel right editing it. Watch for Steve’s guest post on Wednesday where you’ll get the whole story directly from the source. You’ll love the twist at the end.

 

Still want to contribute a vacation mishap? It’s not too late!

When Suzie speaks, people listen

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Blogger Suzie at Suzie81Speaks is surveying bloggers this week. She’s asked us to answer seven questions in a linked post of our own, or in the comment section of her post. She plans to compile all the answers, and include examples in a follow up post.

Thanks for the nudge to participate, Suzie. Here goes…

1. How did you create the title for your blog? When I started blogging, I was struggling to find a balance between raising a family and running my own business – and I knew others were, too. The blog originally drew parallels between the two, but has devolved into a humor blog. Go figure.

2. What’s the one bit of blogging advice you would give to new bloggers? Don’t be afraid to grow with your blog. Change is OK, and this is a very forgiving medium.

3. What is the strangest experience you’ve ever had? In my whole life? Wow, that’s a big question.There have been a few but the one that comes to mind occurred while I was traveling overseas with some family members. I woke them up on our first morning in London after what felt like a good, restful night’s sleep, and we all trooped down to breakfast. When we got there, we realized, after an embarrassing exchange with hotel personnel, that it was still evening and while I thought we’d slept the whole night, it had actually been less than an hour. (My family was not amused.)

4. What is the best thing that anybody has ever said to you? Once, while talking in his sleep, my husband said to me, “That’s very impressive, honey – to be the first woman to land on Mars like that.”

5. When presented with a time machine, which one place and time would you visit? It would be fascinating to be at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the site of Custer’s last stand. But I’d want to be able to beam myself back out of there pretty quick.

6. If you had to pick a new first name, what would you choose? Probably the name of some literary character given that I named my daughter after the heroine in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.

7. If you were a B Movie, what would it be called? Ha! I’ve got this one covered in my recent post about what movies would be like if they reflected my life – The Slightly Hungry Games.

You can participate, or see the answers from other bloggers, at Suzie81Speaks.

Vacation mishaps

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376All families take that vacation – the one that makes them rethink the whole togetherness thing. When I was a kid, ours was a rather spectacular trip through Lake Mead on a house boat where we were treated to unforgettable views, pristine water, and quiet, star-filled nights.

Unfortunately, we also broke a propeller, and my grandmother’s toe. My sister and I were cursed with a bad case of sun-poisoning – our Midwestern hides were not ready for the blazing sky. The bats swooped right up to the open windows at night scaring us senseless. And the low point of this trip – a scene none of us can forget – was an unfortunate malfunction while pumping the septic tank that resulted in several of us being covered with…well, you know.

But I don’t think that was our worst mishap. On one of our trips across the desert, I watched a set of borrowed tent poles fall off the back of the car as I dozed in the back. My father reacted to my screams by swerving onto the shoulder. As he swerved, a suitcase also fell, right into the path of an approaching semi. It was spared, somehow, but the images are seared in my brain.

My trips with my own kids have been surprisingly mishap-free (knock wood) although my husband and I had a bank “helpfully” suspend our credit card while we were at a resort in Mexico on our first kid-free trip in a decade. The resort was convinced we were trying to pull something during the day or so it took us to straighten it out. Apparently, we had been alone together so few times since our kids were born our trip triggered a fraud alert.

What was your worst vacation mishap? Send me your story. I’ll repost the best ones, and if you’re a blogger, include a link to your blog.

 

The sandwiches of the 70’s

IMG_0559Maybe it’s because I just finished loading the completely overwhelming school calendar into my schedule, but today’s Daily Post writing prompt got me thinking about school lunch – what to buy, what to send with my kids, and what we ate. Especially what we ate.

The 70’s is not an era known for its cuisine. It was the time of gelatin blocks, frozen mixed vegetables (including the dubious lima bean), and an array of convenience foods best known for promoting the widespread use of MSG.

In keeping with the times, my classmates brought sandwiches that make me cringe now – peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and marshmallow cream, and my personal favorite, peanut butter and pickle. All served on good, old, spongy white bread that had about as many nutrients in it as the brown paper bag we carried it in.

My kale-loving, grain-eating self can’t quite reconcile my current eating habits to those days, and in truth, I didn’t eat many of these sandwiches. Peanut butter and pickles never made it into our family repertoire, and my mom did not buy marshmallow cream. Instead, I ate a tuna sandwich almost every day of my school career, a habit that followed me into my college years. (Which makes me think that the hazards of consuming mercury have been grossly overstated by public health officials.)

This would seem a more healthful choice if I had not consumed it alongside one of the past-the-sell-date Twinkies we bought at the Hostess outlet store. Oh, and a Delicious apple, the type that has been bred, in my mind, to taste the least like an actual apple. As you see, I cannot play the superiority card here.

My children have many more healthy options. I buy whole-grain bread, and nitrate-free turkey. Pack warm, homemade soup. Make kale chips. Cut up beautiful, organic fruit.

None of which they’ll eat. Even if they have the time to finish their lunches (which they won’t), I have no illusions that given the chance, they’ll trade for a past-the-sell-date Twinkie.

 

#8: I wish I’ve never worked too hard

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Today’s Search Term of the Sad and Desperate is “I wish I’ve never worked too hard,” and its companion term, “I wish I’ve paid more attention to those grammar lessons on past tense.”

OK, I made up that second one. I crack myself up.

Dear person who has worked too hard,

Buck up! This is America! We are all about working too hard. If you’re not working too hard you are probably dead.

(An aside: I realize this could be someone from a country other than the U.S., but I’ve chosen to believe this is a person who is instead contributing to the gradual erosion of the English language. Besides, most of my international visitors these days are looking for porn videos.)

Where was I? Oh, yes…Dear person, this is the home of the free and the land of the over-scheduled. Maintaining a ridiculous level of activity is how we validate our existence. Haven’t you ever heard of productivity? Let me run it down for you. When you perform work you are an input. What you produce is output. The goal is for output to exceed input at a steadily increasing rate throughout all time. Otherwise, productivity goes down and we all suffer the consequences of a dismal economy.

I am a firm believer in productivity. That is why my to-do list always gets longer, not shorter. Oh, wait a minute…technically it should get shorter as my productivity goes up. Or the list should get longer first and then shorter. Or…

OK, let me try this another way. If you don’t have enough to do, it will eventually impact your self-esteem. You will see others rushing by you, too busy to pause and it will dawn on you that you are unnecessary to…to…

Huh. Thing is, I don’t want to rush around. Maybe ever-increasing productivity is not my goal! I want time to contemplate nature, think great thoughts and take a shower.

I think I’ve talked myself out of this. Go ahead and take the day off.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

I have only one child but laundry and housework never end

Life is not a competition

How to relax and enjoy your children

Gym class was never like this

Your husband’s fashion sense

 

A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

Actions speak louder

IMG_0301I say “I love you,” to my kids so often I’m sure they don’t hear it anymore. Well, to be honest, they don’t hear much of what I say these days. I can give a direction five times before anyone even acknowledges it.

But I persevere. I’m a doer, so I’m convinced that the little things I do will cut through the fog and instill themselves as some kind of ghost memory of my love in the minds of my kids.

Am I dreaming? Maybe. But if you think about all the annoying things you do just because you love your kids it gets to be a pretty long list.

No one who didn’t love you would do this:

  • Cut up a mango. It’s a giant pain.
  • Go to Chuck E. Cheese or one of its for-the-younger-set counterparts.
  • Change a diaper. Any diaper.
  • Use $10 in gas so you can go to a job that will pay you $40.
  • Invite a friend to be the 6th at dinner when I only made enough food for five.
  • Host a sleepover with more than two children at it.
  • Let you eat in the car.
  • And while we’re at it, prepare a homemade meal whose primary asset is that it was designed to be eaten in the car…
  • …but skip dinner myself to drive you to your activity.
  • Watch The Teletubbies while sober.
  • Drive you to school in my pajamas.
  • Pay your phone bill.
  • Volunteer at a school event that requires me to produce an attractive and educational display…
  • …or carve a map of Africa out of a pan of brownies.
  • Spend the afternoon in a wet bathing suit.
  • Play the same children’s CD in the car, every day, for a year.
  • Make a 5-hour round-trip for the sole purpose of adopting a stray cat.

I could probably stay at this list all day. But I need to go drive some people around.

What’s the most annoying thing you do for your kids?

Read some other perspectives on love or link up at The Wounded Dove.

 

The scorching road trips of my youth

ImageToday, the WordPress Daily Post posed a writing prompt that I could not resist: If time and money were no object, what car adventure would you go on?

We’ve taken a few car adventures, and I’ve loved them all. Even three sweaty, bickering kids packed in the back of the van with 40 DVDs and a bushel of fattening snacks can’t quell my joy. I adore the open road. Stopping for scenic roadside views. Poking through tiny museums where the docent is so bored they’ll give you the personalized, two-hour tour.

We’ve hiked the Badlands, and trails in Glacier National Park. Taken the Montana Dinosaur Trail. Trooped across the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

But if I were to take the ultimate car adventure, there is no doubt what it would be. I would recreate one of the scorching trips of my youth.

My father grew up in Arizona, so our final destination was always in the middle of the desert, and because he was a university professor, we had to travel in August between summer school and the start of the fall semester. It was hot. Really, really hot. And we had no air conditioning in our station wagon. That did not stop us.

We’d depart early in the morning and bomb across the boring, flat states like Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas (sorry neighbors), then we’d slow down a little. We’d hike through the Utah canyons, including my favorite, Mesa Verde, where we got to walk through the ruins and climb ladders to go down into the kivas. We’d visit Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico all come together, and each stand in a different state for a family picture. Perch at the edge of the Grand Canyon, my mother far back from the railing convinced one of us was about to pitch to our death.

Then, because we lacked air conditioning, we’d make the last leg of the trip through the desert at night. I can still remember the warm breeze, and the hum of the pavement as we sailed along in the dark.

Once we reached our destination, we’d explore early in the mornings before it go too hot. Climb sand dunes and tour territorial prisons. Take a day trip into Mexico and barter for the interesting little trinkets that my grandmother called “cochinada,” which she roughly translated as little, (expletive deleted) things.

I know there were long, boring stretches of highway. Beautiful canyons that my sister and I could not be bothered to view because we were too busy playing cards in the back of the station wagon. Bouts of car sickness. Remote areas where all we could tune in on the AM radio was “Song Sung Blue”. We listened to it for hundreds of miles.

But I think travel is worth a few unpleasantries.

I have not been able to convince my family to make this trip. My own children are Minnesota-born and bred and they melt when the temperature exceeds 85. Spoiled by all that air-conditioning, no doubt! And to be honest, they are a little sick of my 3000-mile extravaganzas. This year we are opting for the quiet, “up north” vacation typical for our region. It will be a nice break, but I intend to use it to plan next year’s vacation.

Which will be another epic drive. Where shall we go?

#7: Your husband’s fashion sense

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My husband’s fashion sense? Now, why would the initiator of this sad and desperate search term want to know about that?

If you are one of my readers, you may already be convinced that my husband has no fashion sense based on the clothing he buys me. But he actually dresses himself quite well when the occasion calls for it.

He wears nice suits and shirts. He’s often the only one in a meeting with a tie on. And he has a collection of antique cuff links that’s really quite impressive.

But like many of his species, he’s inconsistent. He went through a short-sleeved Oxford shirt phase that was truly unfortunate (I accidentally donated these shirts at one point.) He often has to consult me to see if something matches (he bats about 500 on this count.)

And, of course, the garb he wears at home is composed primarily of early-90’s novelty t-shirts, rugby logo-wear, and baggy sweatpants. But my yoga pants-wearing self can’t argue much with that.

So while I’ll give him “has a tailor with a good eye” I don’t think I’d credit him with the fashion sense necessary to address this individual’s needs.

Fortunately, he doesn’t read my blog so there’s little chance his feelings will be hurt.

By the way, I conducted minimal (that is to say no) due diligence to make sure the aforementioned search term was not the title of a porn video. But I think I can pretty safely say that no porn videos were harmed in the writing of this post.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

I have only one child but laundry and housework never end

Life is not a competition

How to relax and enjoy your children

Gym class was never like this

 

A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

Tips for the desperate gardener

IMG_0711What an embarrassment. My perennial garden, a source of pride in past years, is a weedy mess.

While we were running around during a busy spring, and huddling inside during uncooperative, rainy weather, the weeds moved in and took over.

Then, feeling neglected, many of my perennials decided to migrate to different locations, infringe on their neighbors, or waste away to nothing. It’s as if Mother Nature’s testing my resolve.

Well, I don’t have much, but even I’ve reached my limits. The weekend found me up to my waist in tick-infested, overgrown foliage, yanking out handfuls of invaders.

Before I had my kids, the garden was a refuge. I’d head home after a long day at the office, don my grubbies, and dig around in the dirt in the long mid-summer evenings. Pulling weeds felt like an accomplishment. Dividing perennials like a fresh start. I enjoyed the physicality of it.

Fast forward a few years, and the garden took a hit. I no longer had the energy or the time to tend it. Ever try to weed with a fussy baby next to you in a playpen, or turn soil with a toddler eating deer poop off the lawn? I have.

Here are some tips when the state of your garden calls for triage:

Pay the neighbor kids to help. My kids are old enough to assist now, but they aren’t willing helpers. I have to bribe, pay, threaten or conscript them. However, my neighbor and I have discovered that our kids, who sometimes balk at doing even work they’re being paid for at home will often jump at a chance to do the exact, same work at someone else’s house. So we trade kids.

Pull the tallest weeds first. A method my oldest son caught on to right away because it fills up the bags faster. But it also makes the most immediate visual impact. You’ll actually feel like you got something done.

 Pull all the similar weeds first. This is a good method to use if you have new weeders who might accidentally remove the expensive day lily you drove miles and miles to obtain. Pull a sample weed. Hand it to them. Say, “Pull out everything that looks exactly like this.” Repeat at necessary intervals.

Utilize those garden tools. There is a reason they were developed. If your garden is really awful, like mine, turning over dirt might actually be faster than pulling each, individual weed. Plus, (if you’ll pardon the generalization) those boy children would rather use the tools anyway.

Assign tasks based on individual strengths. My oldest son is all about filling up the bags, but my youngest wants to find a tiny plot of soil and make it perfectly smooth and weed free. Assign the perfectionist to the paths and borders where neatness really counts. Otherwise, you’ll just be frustrated that in the time you’ve been clearing the back 40, this child has cleared only one, perfect square foot.

And my #1 tip…

Embrace native plants, a method I borrowed from another neighbor. I’ve ceded one whole section of a perennial bed to a large stand of milkweed. The butterflies like it, and it’s pretty enough, especially when it’s in bloom. And I’ve let some other wildflowers take root.

“What’s the difference between a weed and a wildflower?” my youngest asked.

“A weed is just a wildflower growing where you don’t want it,” I answered.

I almost believe that.