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!

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.

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?

Random thoughts from a bus trip

IMG_0289It’s been two weeks since I rode a bus full of band students from Minneapolis to Chicago and the pain is beginning to fade. As I caught up on some miscellaneous tasks today, I came across the random notes I made on my iPad during the trip. My iPad and the wi-fi on the bus kept me sane. They gave me something to do, despite the fact that I was fighting for the wi-fi with 40 teens, most of whom were either playing Clash of Clans or streaming Netflix.

An aside: Six of those students are now upstairs prepping for a dance. I’m not sure why they’re all at our home, but I think I might have been voted “least objectionable parent”.

Anyway, here are a few of the thoughts I captured during the 30-odd hours we spent on the bus:

  • When you chaperone teens no one wants to sit by you so you score a whole seat.
  • This bus could have used some aggressive vacuuming before we boarded.
  • I’m going to have to be very careful not to accidentally swear.
  • Ick. I wish I hadn’t dropped my coat on the floor.
  • Chaperoning teens is a little like being Vice President of the United States – no one really believes you have any power.
  • It’s getting pretty ripe in here. I hope none of those smells are me.
  • No matter how many times you tell junior high students they cannot eat on the bus, they will eat on the bus. They will ALL eat on the bus. Even if they’re sitting right next to you.
  • I would never have guessed I could sleep on a bus on which at least thirty-five people are shouting, but then again, I did fall asleep in that nightclub in San Francisco.
  • The $8 popcorn at Navy Pier really is worth $8, and one should not be left alone with it.
  • If I’d driven in the opposite direction for this same amount of time without stopping I could be in Montana right now.
  • Why is it the only person who left their musical instrument on the bus is my daughter? And she thinks I’m not going to notice?

Someone asked me if I might consider chaperoning again in three years when my oldest son makes the Chicago trip. Despite the fact that he will spend even more time trying to avoid me than my daughter (if that’s even possible) I might be ready by then. I’m guessing, like childbirth, the thought of the pain grows dim over time to be replaced by precious memories.

Umm…let’s see. Precious memories from the trip…

 

Four business rules to use when you travel with kids

In the past four years, we’ve driven over 6500 miles with our kids. Sound like a living nightmare? Strangely, it’s not. My kids are good travelers. But I’ve also put some rules in place that make things go a lot more smoothly.

  • Have an agenda. Kids don’t like ambiguity. Actually, neither do most adults. I always map our route and make our hotel reservations in advance. Even though it takes some time upfront it’s a great relief to have a plan when we get in the car and I’ve found it contributes greatly to marital harmony. (Of course you don’t want to talk to me in those days I’m making arrangements. Crabby.)
  • Use a repeatable process. Years ago I decided I couldn’t pack for five people.  I made a list (yes, it’s in Excel) that we use every year when we pack. I hand the kids the list, they gather their stuff and I give it a quick check before they put it in their suitcases. During the trip, I keep note of things we could’ve used and things we forgot and add them to the spreadsheet when we get home. That way I’m ready for the next trip.
  • Give them a budget. I don’t know about you, but my least favorite part of the trip is the begging. You know, for every piece of junk or trinket they see along the route. I no longer want to police their purchases. Nor do I want to feel like a human ATM machine. I put aside an envelope with cash in it for each child. Once we’re on the road, they’re free to spend it on whatever they like – but once it’s gone, it’s gone. It usually takes one episode of buyer’s remorse for them to get the hang of it, but once you get through that it’s a great system.
  • Make a two-year plan. This is my best tip of all. If you can, have your next year’s trip in mind while you’re on the road. We typically travel the same way (west) which makes it easy. Along the way, I pick up maps and information on interesting site and activities. When we get home I have a folder full of stuff for my next year’s planning.

We’re gearing up for another trip in August. And I’m planning to enjoy it.

Have any tips for travel? Send them to sarah@dayonebusinesssevices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

The allure of roadside distractions…er, attractions

My husband has pledged to visit all of the Top 50 Roadside Attractions in our travels. While I have no real disagreement with this plan, it is my opinion that these attractions vary quite significantly in quality and overall interest. Big “yes” to London Bridge in Arizona. Big “not so sure” to the Gorilla Holding a VW Bug in Vermont.

And the other thing: I have noticed that it takes much longer to get where we’re going if we stop at every “point of interest” along the way.

You often see this in businesses in their early years, especially at the Unruly Toddler stage. The business is established enough to have some momentum but not so disciplined as to ignore those shiny objects on the horizon. Let me assure you – sometimes the world’s largest cow head looks better from the road!

If you are considering a new initiative and suspect  you might be on a trip to nowhere, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this detour take me where I want to go?
  • Does it fit into my long-term objectives?
  • Will it bring me value?
  • Does it solve a problem for me or my customers?
  • Am I a credible source for this product or service?
  • Will it make me money?
  • How much of my time, energy and money will it consume?
  • Is it really as cool as it seems? What are its not-so-pretty features?

The point is to make sure you will still reach your overall destination if you take the time to pull off the road.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in your travels? Or the least cool? Send it sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use it I’ll feature your business.