It seems so long ago

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Today’s Daily Post photo challenge struck a nerve. The theme, Gone but not Forgotten, took me instantly back to a family vacation just a few months ago in beautiful northern Wisconsin. It feels like years ago.

In many ways, this has been a difficult fall. We’ve experienced love and loss, pursued new ventures and let go of comfortable, old habits. We’ve grown as a family and as individuals, although sometimes that growth has been accompanied by fear, or frustration, or sorrow.

This photo, while it captures a peaceful moment in my life, hurts me a little. I know it doesn’t look like it depicts a summer vacation. It was a strange August week – lots of rain, little sun. But I haven’t seen my family so relaxed and happy in years as they were in this place. When I look at this picture now, I am painfully aware that my kids are not as young as they were even just a few short months ago. They’ve gained some maturity. But they’ve lost some innocence.

Read the my original Up North post.

See other photo challenge posts.

Road Kill

IMG_0017A truly depraved game to play with your children.

My family plays a game in the car that can only be called “Road Kill.” The object of the game is simple: Spot the road kill from a moving vehicle before the other occupants, and you get a point.

This game arose not because we have a particular affinity (or sympathy) for road kill, but because we are so competitive that we can’t take even a five-minute car ride without fighting tooth and nail for supremacy.

You’d think I’d have the advantage in this game because I am usually the one driving, but this is not the case. I’ve found that the act of paying attention to traffic, stop lights, and exit ramps sadly detracts from my Road Kill performance. The rules do benefit me some, though, being the driver. If we drive over a skunk that is already dead, I get the point. If we actually hit an animal of some kind, I get that point, too, but I may not hit one on purpose.

(Before you get up in arms, let me inject that I have never hit an animal on purpose, nor tried to hit an animal on purpose, and in fact, have hit very few animals. Once, a squirrel. Once an armadillo, and let me tell you, that’s a little like running over a football helmet that still has a head in it.)

The rules of Road Kill evolve during play. (A camel is 50 points. A human is 1,000,000.) We keep a running total until someone is so far ahead that the rest of us have no hope of winning, and then we start another round.

While it has provided hours of amusement opportunity for us to battle, there are some unhappy side effects of this game. Most notably, you start to witness the ill effects suffered by the roadside dead if they remain for a few days. Hot, humid weather has a particularly unfortunate effect. And you start to notice when it is taking your local municipality a little too long to pick the stuff up. (“Were all the road kill picker-uppers on vacation last week, or what?”)

And I’m guessing the inevitable winter will put a damper on the game. It’s hard to spot road kill that’s covered in snow. We might have to develop a new game. Perhaps “spot the slipping pedestrian.”

No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. I mean it!

One last vacation mishap

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376While I’d love to pass on my recent Liebster Award from Taprina at For Sanity’s Sake to Barb Taub, I understand (from Barb herself) that this would be an exercise in futility because she will never, ever respond. So instead, I’m featuring her travel story in one, last vacation mishap post.

We didn’t really get a honeymoon, so a few years later took our honeymoon in Hawaii—with child in tow. How was it? Well, the hotel bathroom was nice. I know this because that’s where I spent the whole trip. My daughter wasn’t feeling well on the plane, and by the time we landed I could spot the chicken pox coming out. The hotel doctor absolutely panicked. We had a visit from the health department, who quarantined us to the room. Because the light hurt her eyes, we spent the better part of the next week in the bathroom, sitting on the floor drinking mai-tais. Her spots were gone just in time for us to catch our flight home. I’ve often wondered what the rest of Hawaii looks like.

And this we have in common, since I’ve never been to Hawaii.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their stories. Here’s wishing you better vacations than these.

Up north

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I don’t fish or water ski. I abhor the smell of wood smoke. I’m bugged by bugs. So why did I so enjoy our “up north” vacation?

My family of five shared a tiny, slightly-musty cabin. The weather was cool and rainy – we barely saw the sun. It was too cold to swim. My son sprained his foot. And we spent most of the week in damp, grubby clothes. On our return, the laundry (literally) brought tears to my eyes.

But there was a wonder to watching our oldest son catch his first “real” fish – a 16″ bass – and sharing it for dinner. To seeing our teenage daughter befriend a tiny, self-assured young man, aged four. To watching our youngest win a sandcastle-building contest. To hearing our children, within hours of arriving, ask, “Can we come back next year?”

And even though this is not the trip my family took when I was a kid, there was something familiar about the call of the loons, the crisp, clear water, and the activities at the lodge. It reminded me of childhood, of a simpler time where the last fleeting days of August were all the more sweet because school was right around the corner.

The rest of our year is a frenzied blur of homework, carpools, business trips, and deadlines. Music lessons. Airport noise. Telephone calls.

“Up north” we traded rushed meals for long dinners at the lodge. Housework for damp clothes draped over the deck railing. Sports practice for pick-up volleyball games. 24-hour connectivity for evenings by the fire.

And non-stop activity for peace. The peace that comes with having all the time in the world and nothing, really, to do. Time to watch an eagle soar, or wait for a bite on the line. To play cards with friends all afternoon. To listen to the owls calling all night, and then sleep in.

Which is all I really wish for in a vacation. See you next year, little cabin.

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!

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 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?