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Posts Tagged ‘license plate game’

Day Twenty-Four: CMRT, fait accompli

01 Jul

(Subtitle: Why, Wyoming? WHY?)

Full circle. Done deal. Fait accompli.

Crazy Momma’s Road Trip is over. CMRT: Summer 2014 Edition is officially in the books. It feels absolutely bizarre. I, as always on these final days, can’t quite believe it. I am excited to be home. There is comfort in my own bed, my own things, my familiar surroundings. But how could it be over? Didn’t it just start? Or did it happen at all? Were we really in a hotel room overlooking Times Square 19 days ago? Was I on a hike in Acadia National Park only 9 days ago? We once again crammed days and weeks of amazing adventures and wonderful visits with friends into one vacation. CMRT was bursting at the seams. But it has all taken on this surreal quality of perhaps never having happened at all.

Part of that may be the manner in which we end this road trip. With three straight visits with dear friends, where just hanging out and spending time together is the goal. Today, for example, the very last day, felt just like one of our normal summer days. We went to the dollar movie with friends. Got lunch out. Stopped by Publix for a little grocery shopping. Did some laundry. Yes, okay, so they were friends who moved away last year. And there was a 2 hour drive inserted in the middle there somewhere. But today just felt normal. And yet, at the same time, it felt strange. Being back in my own grocery store, surrounded by the familiar faces of the checkers, put me a touch off kilter. Pulling into our neighborhood, our garage, it was all under the simple comfort of rote muscle memory, I did it all on auto-pilot, and yet, I almost didn’t recognize the place. My house, oh my beautifully clean house! I truly almost didn’t recognize it. It was so clean, and yet, too sterile. As much as I loved seeing all the empty countertops, not a single toy or item out of place, it didn’t feel like home until we brought some things out of the car and cluttered up the joint.

Anyway, as always, I am conflicted. Happy to be home. Sad the trip is over. Confused, in a way, about how to feel. It will take some time for it all to sink in. CMRT, fait accompli. Now, for the summary…

CMRT: Summer 2014 Edition – BY THE NUMBERS:

Total miles driven: 3,699! That’s right, let’s write it longhand for fun; three thousand six hundred and ninety-nine miles. The only driver. That’s my butt behind the wheel for all of those miles. (Is it really any wonder that I developed a painful case of sciatica?)

Total number of days: 24 – I kept thinking that this year the trip was longer, that I had added days. Not really. I’m guessing that the fact we went north at the beginning of our “southbound” leg made it feel significantly longer. That and the fact it was almost 300 miles more driving!

Total number of states driven through (not including home state of FL): 13 – GA, SC, NC, VA, WV, MD, DE, NJ, NY, CT, MA, NH, ME

Total number of states slept in (again not including FL): 8 – VA, MD, NY, CT, ME, NC, SC, GA

Total amount of money spent on gas: $530.48 – that’s 9 different fill ups. Most I paid for gas was in CT at $3.89/gal. Lowest price was in SC at $3.26/gal. Most I put in the tank was 18.58 gallons, least was 14.07 gallons. It’s an approximately 20 gallon tank.

Outcome of the CMRT Lottery Project: Abyssmal failure. Epic losses. But still fun. I’ll consider it an entertainment fee. We put $130 in and got $62 out for a loss of $68. But hey, you never know if you don’t play. One of these days we may hit a big one…

And now for the stat you really care about. (Okay, maybe you don’t care. But I care. Obviously waaaaay too much) But you already know where this is going, don’t you? You do if you paid attention to the subtitle…

Number of license plates found: 50 – but don’t let the number fool you, because it includes the District of Columbia. That’s right, for the second year in a row we got all but one state. This year, I spotted North Dakota along a rural road in Kennebunkport, Maine. But we did not spot a single Wyoming plate. (Why, Wyoming? WHY?!) So. Very. Frustrating. But, for some reason coming this close and missing doesn’t feel as bad as it did last year. Perhaps because I’ve found Wyoming plates in the past. North Dakota hadn’t been spotted in years; it had become a nemesis. So, really it was a successful year with the license plate game. But it was so close I could taste it. Probably I’ll see one tomorrow. Nah. I don’t plan to leave my house for at least a day or two. It’ll take at least that long before I’m willing to sit behind the wheel again. My sciatica is better today than it was yesterday, but still not okay. Not moving properly, having difficulty doing things that require me to get from a standing to a sitting position. Not my favorite ending to an epic road trip, but seriously, I’m getting old and falling apart. What could I possibly expect?

But it’s over now. That epic road trip. The 5th annual. So, I’ll say it once again. CMRT, fait accompli.

Now what?

 

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Day Fifteen: “Take those kids with you!”

22 Jun

Phew! Felt like more than a single day, that’s for sure. From a hike to a summit in Acadia National Park, to me wanting to throat punch the rude front desk clerk at our middle of nowhere hotel (oh, excuse me, inn!) Highs. Lows. Almost 400 miles behind the wheel. Yeah. Quite a day…

We started with a decently early start from our hotel. We went to downtown Bar Harbor and walked around the cute little waterfront and village area. I couldn’t resist venturing into Sherman’s Books & Stationery. I’m a sucker for an independent bookstore, and the fact that this one had been in operation since 1886, well, that’s pretty darn cool, don’tcha think? And even better, when the kids started clamoring for new books and I told them they would have to pay for them with their own money, they were totally cool with that. The older two even bought brand new hardcovers that they just had to have. Love that these kids are that enamored with reading. After the bookstore we happened upon a cool, little ice cream shop. And, well, what makes a better mid-morning snack than ice cream? And yes, they did serve lobster ice cream. And no, Chris, I did not eat any! Unbelievably, we managed to add the elusive state of Montana to our license plate game tally while wandering the streets of downtown Bar Harbor!

After our stroll, and the disappointment of discovering that the old time soda fountain was closed on Sundays, we headed back into Acadia National Park. (Adding yet another elusive state – Utah – in one of the parking lots there. Only Wyoming and Hawaii left to go!) I had read about another hike that supposedly a good one to take with children – South Bubble Trail – so we took off in search of that. The park map is very easy to read and the roads are well-marked, so we found it rather easily. Parking was another issue, though. For such a a popular trail, there are very few parking spaces and no roadside parking available. Luckily it was only a few minutes wait as several cars loaded up and pulled out, and we were ready to take our walk in the woods. Here’s the thing, that trail that was supposed to be good with kids? I think they meant literal kids, you know, like baby goats. It was a rather vertical trail. Very short, less than a mile, but with a vertical gain of 518′. It was a bit humbling to be reminded how desperately out of shape I have become, and my knees were not terribly fond of the descent, but those issues aside… WOW! It was a great hike. The views from the summit were spectacular. Looking out over Jordan Pond from such an elevation was truly breathtaking. (Of course, the climb was also a little breathtaking, in a different way, but I was happy for the work out.) The kids were ecstatic with the results of our work, and I’m starting to think that maybe we are getting really close to being able to do some more hiking together. After the obligatory pictures (including selfies, natch), we made our way back down to the car. Because what was in front of us, not just 518′ of elevation change, but at least 6.5 hours of driving to get to our hotel in Connecticut. We ended up leaving the park at a little after noon, and after a stop for food, we settled in for a long drive.

We were all a little sad, and gave a shout out of thanks to Maine for another great week as we crossed the Piscataqua River Bridge in New Hampshire. And it was weird that one of our stops was at the Kennebunk Service Plaza off the Maine Turnpike. That’s our exit for the cottage! I was sorely tempted to drive back into Kennebunkport and spy on the people who are renting the cottage this week. I’m sure they couldn’t possibly be the exemplary tenants we are. But I resisted the urge and we kept on trucking. Or at least, we tried to, but holy crap the traffic was terrible! What’s the deal? It was a gorgeous afternoon; why is everyone trying to *leave* the state of Maine? It was seriously stop & go traffic on 95 for quite some time in Maine as we approached the bridge. Then it all magically cleared. Only to return as we were trying to cross from NH into Massachusetts, and at several points in MA. Talk about something my knees weren’t happy with. Not being able to use the cruise control at all today had my right knee very unhappy by the end of the day. And I’m not sure why I thought traveling 385+ miles in a day was a good idea, but honestly, I wish we had traveled 386+, because I was feeling pretty good after a dinner stop at Panera and could have gone further, but more because the hotel we are staying in tonight has an insanely rude front desk clerk. Those of you who know me personally would have been pleasantly pleased with the restraint I showed when dealing with her.

So, I picked this hotel – The Farmington Inn & Suites – randomly off Hotels.com because of its location along our path of travel. The distance seemed a doable driving distance from Bar Harbor. And the price seemed okay based on location and amenities offered. I made my booking, being perfectly honest about the fact that the room was for a single adult and three children under the age of 10. We arrived at around 7:20pm, and when we entered the lobby the children went directly to the little sitting area where they sat on the couches and started watching ESPN. The desk clerk was sitting in her chair behind the desk, chatting with a man. At first I assumed he was another employee – she was chatting so casually with him – but it turns out he was another guest who had obviously been there for some time. She was completely ignoring the fact that we had walked in, so during a lull in their conversation I just said, “Excuse me, but where is your restroom? We’re checking in, but I need to use the restroom first.” She looked at me with undisguised exasperation and pointed over her shoulder, “It’s down the hall, on the right.” As I headed in that direction, with a quick “I’ll be right back” to the children, she shouted, “Take those kids with you!” and then added a somewhat maniacal, fake laugh. I paused only briefly, gave her a smile and my own fake laugh, and then went down the hall. Since they are going for a homey inn feel, despite the fact that they are clearly just an old hotel, the restroom was about as far away from the tv/sitting room as my powder room is from my family room. When I returned briefly, I waited another minute for her to finish her conversation and the man to step aside. When he did, she stood up, looked me right in the face and said quite loudly and rather rudely, “I wasn’t kidding when I told you to take those kids with you! Children are *not* to be left unattended here!” I gave her a quizzical look, as if perhaps she was speaking a foreign language, and responded, “Um, okay.” She continued on, in the same rude tone, as if she was talking about a pack of wild animals, rather than my kids who were sitting quietly on the couches, “I mean, it’s over and done now, but don’t do that again. You cannot leave those children unattended!” Giving her my best deadpan expression, while expressing murderous intent with my eyes, I said, “Got it.” No, I didn’t apologize for my apparent flouting of some unwritten rule. After all, I made the booking for a room with three children, so obviously they don’t have any anti-children policies in place. She went on, never once saying a kind or professional word to me, never once welcoming me to the inn, just shoving paperwork under my face and saying, “Be sure to write down your vehicle information so we don’t tow you!” Yeah, definitely getting the warm fuzzies about my stay. If the room had not been prepaid, I would have walked out the door without a doubt. I guess my cold, dead eyed expression was finally getting through to her, because she suddenly shouted out in the general direction of the tv, “Hey, kids, you can have some cookies if you want!” Harper shouted back, “No, thanks, we’re good!” But I fixed her with a stare and said, “My children have food allergies, so they can’t have any. But we appreciate the offer.” She stammered an apology, and I continued, “It’s not a problem. Like I said, we appreciate the offer. In fact, I’m not sure you heard her, but my daughter said, ‘No, thank you.’” She smiled and said, “Oh, they are well trained.” I waited until she looked me in the eye before I said in the flattest, most restrained voice I could muster, “No. They are just good kids.” A small “oh” escaped her lips, and then she shoved the key at me and told me the breakfast times and the wifi policy. I was still standing at the desk, staring expectantly at her, when she went to sit back down in her chair. I said, still through gritted teeth, “And where might this room be located? What it the best way to get to it?” She seemed flustered at the question, and then said, “I don’t remember what room I put you in.” When I showed her the key folder she pointed up the stairs and said it was about halfway down the hall. I was seriously shocked at the appalling customer service. I wanted to punch that lady in the throat. I didn’t see any bears in Acadia, but this woman in Farmington, CT, definitely poked the (Crazy) Momma Bear. It might have been one thing if I had been allowing my children to behave like wild animals, but to speak about my children who were at that particular moment behaving more angelically than most adults in hotel lobbies as if they were wild animals, I wanted to show her exactly how a wild animal behaves. But I didn’t. Even after a long, trying day, I managed to show some restraint. And sometimes, that’s the best I can hope for. Just showing some restraint.

Tomorrow: “Only” 5.5 hours of driving. An “easy” day, if you will… After we decimate the breakfast buffett at the inn, that is. I may get charged $5 if I inadvertently don’t return the little slip of plastic that is my key (yes, that is an actual rule that I had to initial at check-in), but I intend to take this hotel for every free thing they offer.

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Day Thirteen: 4:04pm – Rt 9 – Kennebunkport, ME

20 Jun

I found North Dakota. That’s right. Driving alone on Route 9 in Kennebunkport, Maine, one of the last times I’ll be entirely alone for the next 11 days, and I spotted it. Coming towards me in oncoming traffic I spotted a unique tag. My interest peaked I took a closer look. There at the top was the phrase “Discover the Spirit.” And if it weren’t for my friend and her superlative rice krispie treat decorating skills, I might have missed it. But I recognized that darn tag right away. And then I almost burst a gasket with happiness. I found North Dakota. I found North Dakota!! I don’t even care that we still have four other states missing (Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Hawaii), because I found North Dakota. It’s been years since we found a North Dakota plate on CMRT. In fact, I’d have to check the record to see if we ever did. But last year it was the only one we didn’t find. And it darn near drove me insane. But not this year. Even if we don’t find another plate I’m calling this year’s license plate game a win. I now believe in the power of a carefully and thoughtfully crafted dessert. Already secured a promise from Tina that next year she’s crafting a dessert in the shape of a winning Powerball ticket!

And that’s it. Really all I have to report. Because I’m flat out exhausted, and tomorrow there is no lounging in bed. I’ve already accomplished most of our packing, but there is still much to do in the morning. And though we technically have until 11am to vacate the premises, we’re headed up to Bar Harbor tomorrow, so I’d like to get on the road sooner rather than later in an attempt to maximize time available to explore in Acadia. Plus I’m attempting to stave off the end of KPT week melancholy. Finally got my burger at Federal Jack’s for dinner, so now I guess it’s time to go home…

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Day Five: Discover the Spirit

12 Jun

Who would have thought that we would find the license plate for the great state of North Dakota in Fairfield, CT? And much less in the kitchen of Chez Tison? Okay, let me back up. Last year we had great success with our license plate game. It kind of becomes an obsession for me. The kids like it, think it’s fun, but I am obsessed. I swear that one of these years we are going to find all 50 plates. Last year seemed like that year. By the end of our week in Maine we had spotted 49 plates. All except North Dakota. (Stupid North Dakota.) But it got to the point that friends who were following along with the trip would text me daily to ask, “Did you find North Dakota yet?” Alas, it was not to be. But this year? This year I don’t even care if I find another stinking license plate. Because I found North Dakota. Tina Tison, hostess extraordinaire, has out done herself once again. Which is really saying something, because every year we come here something happens where I think, this is the best thing that ever happened. But then we had dessert last night. The best. dessert. ever. EVER. Homemade Rice Krispie Treat shaped like in a rectangle and decorated to be the state license plate of North Dakota. Colored icing, personalized to say “CMRT 2014″, even chocolate chips to recreate the bison. It was epic. Truly amazing. And hysterical. I was blown away. It takes a lot to make me speechless. I was speechless. Tina Tison for the win.

Best dessert ever - North Dakota RKT

Best. Dessert. Ever.

But now I’ll back pedal because before we found North Dakota, we woke in midtown Manhattan. Even slept in until about 7:30 (bless you sweet blackout curtains, I’d marry you if I could!) And really nothing cooler than throwing open said blackout curtains to reveal Times Square in all it’s glory; glorious especially from the 32nd floor. We packed up our stuff, and hit the streets, walking around the Theater District, snacking on a soft pretzel (rule of visiting NYC: must purchase food from a cart.) We had pre-purchased tickets for an exhibit at Discovery Times Square. It was the Marvel Avengers: S.H.I.E.L.D. S.T.A.T.I.O.N. It was pretty cool interactive exhibit. Lots of props from the Avengers movies, interactive games and tests of strength. All in all, the kids loves it. For my taste (and outrageous ticket price!) it was too short, but maybe it felt that way because in every room of the exhibit at least one or two of the interactive exhibits was broken. Not great. Especially since we were the first group of the day. Literally four of the first 10 people through the door. Sigh. But the important thing is that the kids loved it. Especially because part of the exhibit was being issued a plastic id card with their names as probationary S.H.I.E.L.D. agents printed on it. Avery especially is excited about this keepsake.

Once we finished there is was almost time for our noon checkout from the hotel, so we grabbed a quick New York slice for lunch. I taught them to fold their slices in half, and not be scared of the grease running out. Now, after almost getting run over by a cyclist yesterday as we crossed the street, and eating a slice today, they are really racking up the quintessential New York City experiences. We pondered other city activities, but really the kids were more excited about getting to the Tisons house, and leaving the city before rush hour appealed to me, so we headed out of the city once the van arrived (with a scratched up passenger side mirror, mind you) from valet. Tina had warned me of lane closures on the George Washington bridge, so I asked Fiona (my GPS) to route us in a way that avoided the GW bridge. This sent us up the west side on the Henry Hudson Parkway. A fortuitous route, because I saw a sign for the Cloisters and immediately exited. Despite multiple visits to NYC, and being a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had never been to the Cloisters. Medieval art isn’t really my thing, but I adore architecture, I heard the gardens are beautiful, and the location magnificent. This was a completely unplanned, but wonderful stop. It really was quite cool, and definitely beautiful. Now I can check that box. And I love it when things serendipitously fall into place.

Despite the early hour, traffic on 95 in Connecticut, not so serendipitous. In fact it was plain awful. Truly. But at least I wasn’t doing it at rush hour as usual. And fighting 20 miles of traffic is worth it to get to Chez Tison. So, it was a little bleary with exhaustion and frustration that we arrived at 3:48pm. Perfect timing as Samantha had just stepped off the school bus minutes before. The kids rushed out of the car and up the driveway. It was then that I noticed the crack in my windshield. Almost in the exact same spot as the windshield crack I discovered while parked in from of the Tison’s house two years ago, just a different minivan. Sigh. I had a chip in my windshield “repaired” (use of quotes seems appropriate since the repair was obviously an epic fail!) on May 29, just the week before my departure. They said the repair would keep the damage from spreading, and maintain the structural integrity of the windshield. Yeah. Maybe not so much. So, I noted the crack, grabbed the paperwork I was smart enough to stick in my glove compartment, and figured I’d call to schedule the windshield replacement sometime tonight. (Side note: Do they still call it a glove compartment? Or has it evolved to be called what it really is – the car registration and assorted random crap you want to keep in your car box?) Anyway, the kids got right to playing, including a new game that the Tisons gave us as a gift, Qwirkle. I swear I’m going to be pestering my children to play with me any chance I get. I don’t know how I’ve gotten this far in their childhoods without owning this game. (Another side note: At Chez Tison we get gifts for being here. Um, seriously? The mother of all hostesses this girl is. I get a gift for descending upon your home like a plague of locusts? She likes me, she really likes me.) Speaking of gifts, for Crazy Momma herself, Tina gave me a Fairfield Christmas ornament. Which is also epically awesome. Because I collect Christmas ornaments on my travels. There is something so delightful about unwrapping them all and reliving travels and memories, wallowing in nostalgia as we decorate the tree.

When it was time to head out to the local Mexican restaurant for dinner I noticed that the crack in my windshield had grown probably another 6 inches while it was just sitting parked in front of their house. Yep, definitely time to schedule the replacement. Sadly, the first available appointment in this area was Monday, so it wasn’t going to be an immediate replacement. But I did manage to schedule a mobile replacement for Wednesday at our rental house in Maine. Yep, this will now be my second windshield replacement while on vacation in three years. Two separate vehicles. Same rental house. Sigh. If it’s not one thing, it’s rocks on your head…

After our epic dessert – I’m still flabbergasted and amused and grateful – bedtime went smoothly. Trundled all kiddos off to bed and sat on the back patio with Tina and Joe to talk, to relive some of our funnier moments, to craft new euphemisms, and generally enjoy one another’s company the way we always do.

Tomorrow: Chez Tison – Round two. Might take the kids to the aquarium in Norwalk. Hoping the weather doesn’t curtail our annual firepit rendezvous…

Total mileage: 24,280 (1,045 total miles traveled)

** Disclaimer: No editing of this post has occurred. I’m sure it’s rife with typos and grammatical errors. Maybe I’ll correct them later. Maybe I won’t.

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Day Three: Panda bear, panda bear, what do you see?

10 Jun

Today was our outing to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC – aka the National Zoo. And it was fantastic! There are lots of things that made it so. One was the company – Megan and her youngest son, Will, accompanied us. In fact, Megan was kind enough to drive. I would have been happy to do so, but our van is so packed with stuff we would have had trouble making space for two additional humans, especially an adult-sized one. My front passenger seat is like command central, every possible thing within my reach at all times. I did not want to clear that out and attempt to recreate it again before we set off in the morning. So, I offered to pay for parking if she was willing to drive, and a deal was struck. The second fantastic thing is the price of admission. Like all of the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo is free. That’s right, no cost. Yes, parking is at a premium at a flat rate of $22, but that got us a spot within 50 feet of the entrance, and we had 6 people in the car! The website tries to scare you off from driving by mentioning that their multiple parking lots get full by 10:00am. And I’m sure there are times, especially during the summer and holidays, that is the case. But this was a Tuesday, when all area public schools are still in session. It was a piece of cake to find parking, and the zoo was not crowded. Not at all. In fact, when we first walked in the first few exhibit spaces seemed surprisingly empty. We decided maybe the animals were like supermodels who won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day – they weren’t coming out for a paltry 30 cars in the parking lot! But then we spotted the lion, a huge male with a lush, dark mane, and our faith in the zoo animals was restored. Especially when he started roaring and vocalizing.

Perhaps the coolest animals we saw were the gorillas. In the exhibit are two adult males, brothers, aged 14 and 12 years. Apparently the older brother, who is started to get his trademark silver back, is the alpha of their troop. But while we were there something fascinating happened. The younger gorilla came close to his brother, stood tall on his back legs, and started beating his chest and vocalizing. The older, alpha male paused for a brief moment, stood up, and seemed as if he might stand his ground, but then he abruptly decided not to fight back and just ambled off. Was this younger gorilla challenging the alpha male’s dominance? According to the zoo volunteer that was exactly what he was doing, and had been doing a lot more recently, but that was the first time she had ever seen the older male concede. Was he picking his battles? Or was the younger male making headway in a quest for dominance? Hmmm… Either way it was fun to watch this natural aggression behavior unfold directly in front of us. Then one of the keepers came and threw some treats over the wall to the gorillas. They scampered over to pick them up, and immediately got down to eating. It was frozen applesauce, and they got after them like little kids with Popsicles on a hot, summer day. Very cute. But I thought Megan had an excellent point when she commented that Western Lowland Gorillas in the wild don’t come across any frozen things, so she wondered what they really thought of being served fruit popsicles.

Another cool area was the invertebrate house. Beau was disappointed that the promised giant Pacific octopus was no longer on display, but he seemed satisfied with the also cool cuttlefish. All the various sea anemones, and especially the various forms of crayfish, shrimp, prawns, and lobsters were fascinating. I could have done without the hissing cockroaches, and the bird-eating tarantula, but hey, you take what you get in the invertebrate house! The small mammal house was full of all kinds of tiny and adorable things. I especially love the tiny primates, like the tamarins, with their exquisitely expressive little faces, and perfect, doll-sized hands.

And then there was the piece de resistance: the Giant Panda Habitat. Today, due to weather, the pandas were inside instead of enjoying their extensive outdoor habitat. And poor Mei Xiang, the female panda, was pacing, standing on her hind legs at the door trying to alert her keepers that she was anxious to get outside. Her 8 month old cub, Bao Bao, was sleeping/resting on a high ledge of their shared, co-joined rooms. The male, Tian Tian, was completely sacked out in his separate room, laying on his back with legs spread, and one arm thrown over his face as if to block the sunlight from his eyes. In fact, he looked like a panda who’d been on a bender last night. Rather funny to see a nearly extinct animal this way, nothing regal or impressive about his posing, when we’re so used to see them sitting calmly, nibbling on bamboo. Mei Xiang was very active, pacing back and forth the entire time we were there, her cub opening her eyes periodically as if to check if Mom was going to settle down anytime soon. I don’t think my children properly appreciated the uniqueness of seeing giant pandas, but I thought it was cool to return to the same zoo I visited 35 years ago with my parents, and show my kids the latest in a line of giant pandas to reside there.

Of course, that weather I was talking about, the reason the pandas were being confined to the Panda House? It was rain. Pouring rain. We stuck it out, waiting inside until our cabin fever got the better of us, and made our way quickly under Megan’s small umbrella to the nearest gift shop where I purchased 5 zoo ponchos, thus guaranteeing that the rain would stop immediately. But I’m calling it a win. We got a good thirty minutes of use out of our ponchos. And despite our heads already being rather damp, it was worth it for me to have a dry backpack, and for us all to have dry backsides for the ride home.

Now the kids are out tromping about in the woods, getting wickedly muddy, and enjoying a Calvin & Hobbes style summer childhood, though with their real friends, even if only for a brief moment. Jack, host extraordinaire, is cooking dinner. And Megan and I are ensconced in our separate laptops – her to work (she’s an extremely talented photographer), and me to write (I am a mediocre blogger). Life is good….

Tomorrow morning, the Deppe children will once again head off to school, and I will pack the Willim children back into the van for our trip into NYC. Today we didn’t put any more miles on the van (thanks again for driving, Megan!), but did add 4 more states to the license plate game: NH, VT, AR, & MI. Total count, and we’re only on day 3, is up to 42.

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Day Twenty-four: North Dakota, I rebuke thee!

16 Jul

Well, here it is. CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition has officially come to a close.** And, as always, it feels utterly surreal to be back in my own home. Which is kind of a weird thing to say. I know that. But I can’t even begin to tell you how strange I feel right now, how my head is absolutely being messed with, just by proximity to my own things, my own bed, my own space. It all feels like one gigantic step through the looking glass. As if the past 3 weeks or so (24 days to be specific!) might not have happened. Like maybe it was all just one massive brain episode. Did I imagine it? Nah, my imagination isn’t that good. And I do have souvenirs. But I can tell you that it’s messing with my kids’ heads, too. They haven’t been in this house for 26 days. That’s a long stinkin’ time to be away from your Legos and snuggle friends. And let us not forget, Tivo! We all have some adjusting to do. But for now, the kids are sleeping soundly in their own beds. The van has been completely emptied, and the beautifully clean & totally organized house that I left over 3 weeks ago, is now crowded with bags to be unpacked. Blerg.

But that’s not why you’re here now. To hear me blather on about my malaise at the ending of CMRT. You’re here for the low-down recap, the final accounting – CMRT: By the Numbers. It’ll be brief, because, man, am I knackered, but here ya go…

–> We’ll start with the most important stat, our findings in the license plate game. I really thought this would be the year. We had such a promising start. But, alas and alack, I must hue and cry, North Dakota, I rebuke thee! Yeah, you guessed it. The only state we missed. North Dakota. We got D.C. and all the other 49 states – yes, including Hawaii and Alaska. Even multiples of hard to find states such as Wyoming and South Dakota. But no North Dakota. And we’ve been sitting in that position since our week in Maine. Did we lose focus? Were we not vigilant enough? Has the luxury of our built-in entertainment system made us soft? We’ll never know the answer. Oh, so close, and yet, so far…

–> This was the first year that the CMRT: Lottery Project was a failure. And my oh my what an abysmal failure it was. The past two years have been winners for the CMRT: LP. Okay, nothing grand, but we walked away from the fun both entertained, and in the black. By less than $10 each year, but still it was like being paid for our own entertainment. This year? Not so much. We definitely still had fun, but came to realize that winning was much more fun than losing. And losing is what we did best this year. We were definitely in the red. Way in the red. Didn’t lose it all – started with $100 – but we lost most of it. CMRT: LP 2013 had a deficit of $74. Yes, we had the entertainment along the way, but lighting 74 $1 bills on fire individually would also have been entertaining in a way. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. All cash invested in CMRT: LP is strictly for entertainment purposes, and playing the what would you do if we won the big one with this single scratch of a coin game is pretty fun.

–> Number of states we drove through: 15 (counting Florida). Number of different states in which we rested our heads for the night: 9 (ME, CT, NJ, PA, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA). Number of times I reminded my kids that they had no idea how lucky they were to travel so extensively, and that they have, in their short lives, visited more states than many people see in a lifetime: shockingly, only 1.

–> And now for the big reveal. The total number of miles I personally logged behind the wheel, the sum total of all travels for CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition? 3,309 miles, on the nose. Forgive me, but I like to write that out longhand, too. Lets me savor it a little longer. Three thousand three hundred and nine miles driven. In 24 days. Wow.

Phew! Okay, so that’s it. It’s all over except the unpacking. No more updates. No more snark. Hopefully, no more rocks off the interstate. Though, to that end, I did make arrangements to drop my car off at the body shop tomorrow to get the damage caused by that rear-end collision in Philly fixed. Which means I get a rental car. The guy’s insurance company arranged for me to have a full size from Enterprise. Fingers crossed for the Dodge Charger! Because if my days of long driving are over, I might just need to jump over a lake or two… (“Straightnin’ the curves, flatnin’ the hills, someday the mountain might get ‘em, but the law never will…”)

 

** Applications for inclusion in CMRT: Summer 2014 Edition are now being accepted. Please kindly allow 6-7 months for a response. And understand that to be eligible for inclusion as a CMRT host family, you, too, must be completely crazy.

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Day Two: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

24 Jun

You would think that any day that begins with me “sleeping in” until 7am would empirically be a good day. I don’t know why I slept so well. It was, after all, just a crappy hotel room bed. One that I happened to be sharing with my 7 year old daughter. (Side note: If you have to share a bed with one of my kids, the middle child is the preferable daughter to share with, considering the fact that last summer I nicknamed the now 5 year old “Starfish” for her proclivity toward spreading wide all appendages, or alternately attaching herself to your side.) But I digress. I have no idea why I slept so well. Perhaps because my kids wanted the room to be so arctic cold I actually slept in a hooded sweatshirt? Seriously. I slept in a hooded sweatshirt. What the heck, I wasn’t paying for the electricity, let’s crank this A/C down to 66 and see what she’s got. Not a tactic I am willing to try at home. But there you have it. I slept well, I slept “late.” We got up in an orderly fashion. I got a shower, we got entirely packed up, ate our included continental breakfast, and set off into the wild blue yonder in a fairly timely fashion. It was a bit of a later start than I had anticipated, but hey, how often do I get an extra half hour of quality sleep? Being vaguely behind schedule was worth the trade off. We left the hotel, quickly found a Walgreens from which to purchase memory cards for our recently acquired cheapo camera, and by 9am were hitting the road to our nation’s capital.

And here’s where it all started falling to pieces. I sailed through Richmond with no traffic at all. That was a beautiful thing. Despite having seen a traffic report during breakfast saying that two lanes of 95North were closed north of Fredericksburg, I still had high hopes. That was my first mistake. No. Wait. Back that up, my first mistake was allowing my child to carry my favorite Tervis tumbler into the hotel last night. Because there I was, sailing north on 95, when I reached down to grab my water cup. You know the one. The one that looks like I have goldfish swimming around in my water cup. Yeah. It wasn’t there. I glance into the backseat. Nope. Not there either. Then I have a vision of one of my kiddos carrying it into the hotel last night. No telling where it is now. Did it even make it to the room, or is it sitting on the floor beside one of the couches in the lobby? No telling. But I can say with authority that it is no longer in my car. And you know how I feel about my Tervis. Not a great start to the day, losing my favorite (and not inexpensive, I might add!) tumbler. Sigh. Oh well. Nothing to be done about it. No use crying over lost Tervis. And that’s when I encountered my first lane closure. Not due to any accident, but rather regularly scheduled construction. Made it through that debacle, the merging of traffic due to a lane closure. Only to spread back out into many lanes and repeat the process of left lane closure approximately 10 miles down the road. Double sigh. It was really frustrating. Only good thing that came of the traffic, adding two elusive states – Wyoming and Hawaii – to our license plate game!

But, frustrating traffic and unrepentant children aside, we arrived safe and sound in downtown Washington, DC. I had researched area parking garages, and had chosen the one at the Holiday Inn just off the Mall. Could I have found a metered street spot if I chose to drive around in circles? Maybe. But was it worth it to pay a flat rate of $20 to park in a covered, monitored garage, with access to public restrooms, in easy walking distance to the museums on the Mall? You bet. First stop, the National Gallery of Art. And anyone who knows me knows we’re talking West Building here. Would my kids have enjoyed the modern art in the East Building more? Maybe. But today was already off to a rocky start, and I wanted to revisit some of my favorite paintings from college, back when a W&L Art History major went to the National Gallery at least once a semester. And being in the NG was one of the highlights of the day. I was able to shake loose some of my frustration and anger over the traffic and the lost Tervis and the incessant bickering. I gave them some art history lessons. We actually talked about the art, what they thought about the art. I gave them tasks for each gallery we entered: Find a man wearing a hat. Find a cow. Find a girl in a yellow dress. Find a sailboat on the water. I asked them how they thought Rembrandt was feeling in his self-portrait. (Sad. Pensive.) It was fun. I felt like the kids and I were engaging on a deeper level in regards to something I am passionate about – art. It was beautiful. And then Beau climbed on one of the couches that sit in the middle of the galleries like it was a jungle gym, in a manner I don’t even allow him to do in the privacy of our own home, and I about lost my, er, well, we’ll say mind, I about lost my mind. Let’s just say that was a single example of the questionable behavior that pervaded my day. And I’m talking about myself here. I was not quite in control of my temper today. Things that were definitely transgressions on the kids’ part, but shouldn’t have been as big a deal as they seemed today, were sending me over the edge. Not my finest hour. Apparently used all my good karma on yesterday’s drive. All that smooth sailing crashed into today. But hey, good with the bad, good with the bad. Still had some moments of brilliance today, despite the bickering (theirs), whining (theirs), and yelling (mine). For example…

We moved on from the National Gallery to the Air & Space Museum. We went there the very first CMRT, but that was 4 years ago, so Beau was eager to return. But it was nice because we didn’t feel the need to visit every single gallery, or focus on being sure we saw every single thing. And it was there that I had my best find of the trip so far. In one of the galleries I noticed an exhibit about an aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. I remember the stories my dad used to tell me about his Navy days onboard a cruiser called the USS Long Beach. He said that they went on a round-the-world cruise with the Enterprise. Walking around the exhibit I spotted a photograph of that grouping – the Enterprise, the Long Beach, and the Bainbridge. I was so excited, I called the kids over and pointed to the photograph, “Kids, your Pop is in that picture!” They looked a little confused, pressed their faces close to the pictures and squinted. “No, kiddos, not like he’s visible on deck, I just mean that he’s onboard that ship in the middle!” They seemed to think it was cool, but maybe not quite as much as I did. So there you have it, my dad’s in the Smithsonian. How many of you can say the same?

As afternoon continued to creep on we were all eager to get to our friends’ house just outside of DC. However, DC just didn’t seem to want to let us go. Anyone who has ever driven in DC knows that it can be a maze. And two years ago we missed a turn or accidentally got off on the wrong highway and I swear we spent an hour just driving around in circles trying to right the ship. But I was sure this year would be different. After all, no longer was I relying on my printed Mapquest routing (though I do have one of those this year as well), because now I have Fiona, and she knows her way around. Who’s Fiona? Oh, that’s what I named the navigation system in my new van after a particularly fun night at an Irish pub necessitated driving someone else home. But as clever as Fiona is, even she was stumped by DC traffic. I’ll give her a bit of a break, seeing as how there were several detours due to interstate on-ramps being closed for construction. But it took us a few extra minutes to get moving in the right direction. Lucky for me I had my Mapquest routing! But soon we were off for the short hop to Maryland.

The Deppes are fantastic hosts, and we always enjoy our stays at their house. I adore talking to Megan over a glass or two of wine (or an especially strong pomegranate martini!) And it is especially great when Jack joins us in the kitchen for conversation, even better when he’s cooking us a fantastic meal! Our collective six kids are stair-stepped perfectly to make them great friends and playmates. Today the weather didn’t cooperate for as long as we hoped, but luckily we got here around 3:30pm, giving the kids some time to roam around together in the woods before the rain chased them inside. I’m pretty sure Beau’s favorite memory of the trip will involve something that he ended up getting tattled on for. I believe the actual words of the tattler were something like: “Mom, Beau and Jack collected all the dead deer bones, and are now trying to rub them on us!!” Oy. Boys will be boys. And now we know why they came inside to ask us for plastic bags, and rubber gloves.

Anyway, it has been a day of roller coaster emotions, various highs and lows, for various reasons. I had transcendent moments of happiness, combined with bouts of incorrigible behavior (again, mostly mine.) But the day ends on a high note. In the company of good friends, with our children soundly asleep, and the promise of another day tomorrow.

 

The current total mileage on the trip odometer: 768.7 miles.

Tomorrow: A visit to a potato chip factory, and a natural history museum. Hard to say which one I’m more excited for…

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Day One: Just Drive

23 Jun

Phew! Day One of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition is in the books! Was it exciting? Not really. Do I have much to say here? Not really. Am I going to write about it in excruciating detail anyway? You bet! I’m annoying like that. And guess what, I’m not even going to proof read. At least not tonight. So this will probably be full of errors, of all varieties. Here’s hoping the typos are at least amusing…

Let me start by saying it was a surprisingly great day. Not going to lie, I thought it was going to be a miserable slog. Something I just had to grind through, and survive. But it wasn’t like that at all. The kids were well behaved, we didn’t have to stop very often, and when we did it was relatively efficient. Surprisingly no one fell asleep even once. Except me. Okay, not really, but there was this one point right in the middle of the day where it felt like I might, thus necessitating our second stop of the day for blood flow/caffeine-reloading. And considering how well the day went, I find it utterly inconceivable that approximately 12 hours ago I was in my own home, and right now I’m in a crappy La Quinta Inn on the southern edge of Richmond, VA. Feels shockingly bizarre. As ready as I was for this trip to start, even 600+ miles later it feels strange that it has.

Alright, from the beginning. Last night the kids spent the night at their dad’s house, which was a total blessing. It gave me the afternoon & evening to finish all the last minute preparations (like packing my laptop & Beau’s daily medication), clean my house (I was going to say it was a half-assed effort, but to be honest, it was more like a quarter-assed, or possibly even eighth-assed effort), and just relax. Take advantage of the opportunity to store up some restful good feelings before departing on this epic adventure of closeness with my kiddos. It was nice to get a brilliant night’s sleep without fear of being awakened in the middle of the night. And it was excellent to pull up to their dad’s house this morning where they were waiting outside for me, roll down the windows, and ask, “Anyone want to go on a road trip?” Their loud, joyous chorus of “YES!!!” was awesome. They loaded up quickly, and we pulled away at 8:05am. Only 5 minutes behind my originally scheduled departure time, and off to a great start.

As always, my rule is no movies until we cross the Georgia state line. Seeing as how we live in extreme north Florida, that’s really only the equivalent of a drive across town. And since I do allow them to play with their handheld electronic devices (DS & LeapPad) from the second their cute little butts hit the booster seats, they are immediately happily ensconced in their own personal cones of silence; which means I get to listen to my favorite mix cd, and in less than an hour we’re in the next state. But since I don’t exactly point out the We’re Glad Georgia’s on Your Mind sign, I keep driving, just trying to put miles under our belt before we move on to this additional form of entertainment. Today I managed to get 100 miles in before someone says, I know we’re in Georgia by now, can we start the movie? The original plan the kids had concocted was to watch the Jurassic Park trilogy, but when it came time to start the first movie Beau was so happy playing with his DS (probably because it’s forbidden unless we are on road trips over 2 hours long) he said the girls could watch whatever they wanted. First up? Mary Poppins. And here’s where I sing the praises of my new mini-van and it’s Rear Entertainment System. I have no words for how brilliant it was to pass back the wireless headsets, and then start the movie, all from the comfort of the drivers’ seat, and without having to get off the interstate. There was no break in rhythm, no break in flow. And best of all, those wireless headsets meant that I didn’t have to listen to their movie (though I do love Mary Poppins!) Instead I got to listen to my book on tape (yeah, yeah, it’s on cd now, and I’m supposed to call it an audio book or some nonsense, but I will persist in calling it a book on tape because I’m a dinosaur and I like it that way!) But there we were, churning out the miles, everyone happy, and we didn’t make our first stop until we’d already been traveling for 3 hours and 7 minutes, having covered an impressive 227.3 miles. Only hitch in the stop, it was one of those annoying exits that promises a restaurant, and then when you get off the signs tell you it’s something like 2 miles away from the interstate. Grrrr. Not that 2 miles is more than a drop in the bucket on a day like today, but I prefer 0.2 miles, and for some reason that kind of highway interchange trickery annoys me. But a quick 35 minute total lunch break at a shabby Mickey D’s and we were back on I-95 North.

Here’s the part of the day where I expected someone to fall asleep. I just wasn’t expecting it to be me. I was hoping to churn out another 3 hour block of travel time, but I started feeling really road weary, and for safety’s sake a second stop after just another hour and a half of travel was a necessity. I had to get up, get some blood flowing, replenish my IV of Coca-Cola. The traffic in South Carolina was a bit heavier, and the going was a little slower, so stop two occurred at 335.7 miles in. This stop was a little longer than I would have liked, but I was still feeling good about the time we were making, and since it was imperative for everyone to use the bathroom, and for me to wake the heck up, it seemed a reasonable use of time.

Back on the road, feeling good, making time. That is until I needed to use the bathroom. It really is a vicious cycle. But we had put almost another 100 miles under the tires, and that urge coincided with needing to fill up with gas, so one quick 10 minute stop later we were empty, the van was filled, and we were back on the road. At this point we’re already in North Carolina, and I was amused to pass signs for Exit 61 – Wade. Exactly the sort of road sign my brother needed for his dorm room back in the day, if he had been the sign stealing sort of guy. Which he’s not, just to be clear.

We took our 4th and final stop at exactly 9 hours into our travel day. By this point we had covered 542.8 miles. Which is pretty damn impressive considering that indicates an average speed of 60 mph – including three previous stops, and I don’t drive that fast, at least, certainly not Jen Hughes Manley fast! Anyway, this meant we were only 75 miles away from our hotel for the night, which to my way of thinking meant we had earned a sit-down dinner. Okay, so Cracker Barrel isn’t exactly haute cuisine, but it’s pretty quick, and it cost me the same amount as dinner at any fast food restaurant. Plus it meant I got breakfast for dinner (a favorite of mine). What made our dinner stop drag on for over an hour was the additional stop – a little side trip to the Wal-Mart across the street. I had promised Beau a digital camera so he didn’t have to tote his years old Fisher-Price monstrosity that takes grainy, mostly unfocused pictures. Problem was that my old digital camera wasn’t at all workable (now I remember why I replaced it!), and my parents couldn’t find their old one. So, knowing they now make really cheap ones, I figured we’d pick up one of those. And I won’t have to be all bunched up about the way the kids treat it. Obviously I expect them to take care of it and be careful, but it won’t be mine. And if they break it, so be it, no more camera for them. Only thing I forgot? A memory card. Sigh. Now you know our first stop of the morning before we head into DC…

Anyway, we were back on the road at 6:12pm, and drove directly into our first stop & go traffic of the day. Encountered exactly 50 miles from our final destination. Another sigh. But it cleared quickly, and at 7:26pm we arrived at our hotel. With 617.1 miles traveled, and 11 hours and 21 minutes spent on the road. But it really didn’t feel like that long of a day. The driving was relatively painless, and the stops were unhurried and relaxed. I am amazed. I am grateful. I am hopeful for tomorrow.

As an aside, today was an epic day for the license plate game. Got a total of 36 states (including the elusive Montana), and the District of Columbia. And perhaps one of my favorite moments of the day? When Harper was looking at herself in one of the bathroom mirrors, and she declared, simply and in a completely guileless manner, “I never miss a chance to look at myself.” True, that. But another great moment? During that last hour to the hotel I was listening to music, the kids did not have a movie playing, and Avery, who is particularly excited about the addition of XM radio that the new mini-van has brought into our lives, asked very sweetly, “Can we please listen to the beautiful music of Symphony Hall?” Ah, yes. So, it was on classical music that we glided on home for the night.

 

Tomorrow: Museums of the DC Mall, and descending upon the Deppes in Maryland…

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So You Think You Can Road Trip: Season 3

01 Jul

Well, it’s official. Crazy Momma’s Road Trip: summer 2012 Edition is over. Fin. Finito. The End. And as always, it feels utterly surreal to be back in my own home. My own kitchen. My own bed. These are my things, but they feel somehow unfamiliar. I know this place, but I need to reacquaint myself. With me, mostly. I’ve been “Crazy Momma” on the road so long that I’ve kind of forgotten who regular at-home “Mommy” is. Though I’m sure the process of unpacking the van, doing the laundry, putting everything away where it belongs will remind me. As will dealing with children who are all of a sudden sitting in one place. First time I hear, “I’m bored” I think I might truly go insane. Which will really make me feel like I’m home. And I am already enjoying getting reacquainted with my Tivo. Hello, lover. Thanks for going out and getting for me exactly what I want.

But at this moment I really don’t have the emotional wherewithal to recap how I’m feeling about this particular ending. Not to mention the fact I have a splitting headache. Probably just my body going into caffeine withdrawal. I’ve consumed so much over the course of the past three weeks that I’ll expect to get the DTs if I go more than 15 minutes without a Coca-Cola. (Just one of the missed opportunities for corporate sponsorship of CMRT. Did you hear me Coca-Cola Company? And how about you Honda? I do take this odyssey in my Odyssey. Just something to think about for next year.)

Anyway, I know some of you were asking about the final breakdown, so here it is…

Total states visited: 13 + the District of Columbia

Total number of states found on our license plate game: 49 + DC (Only missing Wyoming. But saw 4 Montana, 2 each of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Alaska plates. Random.)

And now for the big reveal.

Total miles traveled: 3,502

Wait. Let me write that out long-hand. Three thousand five hundred and two miles. Holy crap. That’s a long way to drive. My butt is tired. And my heart is full. A huge shout out of thanks to the Deppe, Tison, Nelson, Ruland, Willett Owsley, Swanson Danforth, Adams, McKinney, and Hinson families. Like life, CMRT is not just about the destination. Each and every one of you contributed in your own unique ways to the beauty of this particular journey. Thank you, dear friends. Thank you. I am the luckiest Momma of them all.

 

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And a-w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y we go!

10 Jun

Believe it or not, I started my day ahead of schedule. Okay, what I really meant by that statement was that we rolled out of our garage ahead of schedule. Seven minutes ahead of schedule to be precise. But it’s fair to say my entire day started ahead of schedule since for whatever reason I found myself awake at 6:10am. Which was really only 30 minutes ahead of my alarm, but still, that 30 minutes feels like a lot right now. But after feeding all the children, doing a load of laundry, throwing the last minute things into the car, and taking a long, hot shower, I was ready to take on the day. So at 7:53am we rolled down the driveway, and out into the big, bad world.

But let me backtrack. I didn’t allow any of the kids to get into the van until I was absolutely ready to roll out. Because that’s when I made the big reveal. After everyone was strapped in. “Hey Beau, open that bag and see what’s in it.” And that’s when the hysterical shrieking and shouts of accolades and praising of my name began. Because what was in that bag? Two (new-to-them) Nintendo DS. Yeah, those were a super-big hit for those school-age children who will play their Leapsters for hours while complaining that they’re too babyish. They’ve been asking for over a year to get DS. This seemed like an appropriate time. That is until Harper dropped her stylus and we weren’t even out of the neighborhood yet. But it was like this last year. I remember not even getting out of the garage before someone called out that their Leapster was running out of batteries. So I made an executive decision to pull over, allow her to unbuckle, and help her find it. But I was very clear as I hissed through clenched teeth that this would be the one and only time I stopped for such a problem. I advised she hang on tight to her stylus because if she dropped it again she was out of luck until the next sanctioned stop. Apparently she was appreciative and got the picture. Never did that stylus hit the ground again. And I’m not counting that as a stop because no one got out of the car.

The first official stop occurred at 9:27am, 104.3 miles into the trip. Remember my rule about no movies ’til Georgia? Well, I’ve been stretching that rule farther and farther each year. This year I was determined not to stop until I had 100 miles under our belt. Clearly I took the first exit after we reached that mark. The kids were clamoring for a snack and to tell the truth, I kinda wanted one, too. Pit stops, fountain Coca-Cola purchased (hey, I felt like we needed to make some kind of purchase for using their bathroom!), snacks distributed, movie selected and loaded up. Overall a 14 minute stop. Quick, clean, efficient. Just the way I like it.

Our second stop was in South Carolina – 220.5 miles in. Seeing as it was only 11:19am, it was a bit of an early lunch, but bathrooms were needed and McDonald’s was available. Anyone who knows me should take this moment to be impressed. Not only did I *not* purchase an additional Coca-cola at this stop, I also did *not* eat any french fries. I personally believe this contributed to my weakened mental state later in the afternoon. But I got everyone fed, more pit stops, jellybeans distributed (a CMRT tradition), and new movie selected and loaded, for a total of only 41 minutes lost to the cause.

The third stop was perfectly timed kismet. The gas light turned on just as the kids’ movie was ending. So I took the next available exit and guess what we found there? A Dairy Queen! As it turns out, we’ve stopped at that DQ before. Perhaps on more than one occasion. But I pulled off the interstate at 1:50pm, filled the tank, and since we were 348 miles in without a single fight, whine, bickering, or meltdown moment, we went into that Dairy Queen and got a treat. Yes, yes, I know that this seems like a spectacularly bad idea. Sugaring up the kids before strapping them into car/booster seats for an additional 250 miles, but honestly, I think sugar has the opposite effect on them when we’re in the car. It puts them into a coma instead of making them hyper. Because later in the afternoon both girls napped for over an hour a piece. And that’s what really put me behind the 8-ball. Because now here it is 9:30pm and I’m trying to write this fast before dropping in an exhausted-from-doing-nothing heap, but they’re still popping out of bed with excuse after excuse. Stupid car naps!

On a totally unrelated note, we went into the large stall of the women’s restroom at the truck stop/Stuckey’s/DQ conglomerate and boy was I ever happy the kids’ were distracted by our impending treat. Because there, visible on the very top of the lidless trash can, was an opened box for a pregnancy test. Luckily my two readers didn’t notice, because I didn’t want to answer the questions. The stick was nowhere in plain sight, and I certainly wasn’t going to dig for it, but man it made the people-watching that much more enjoyable! Who could it be, I wondered? Was it one of that pack of teenage girls? (Man, I hope not.) Was that guy going to be a father? (Again, man, I hope not.) Of course it could have been hours ago, perhaps whoever it was jumped back in their car and raced away, but it was fun to wonder about the backstory. Who was it that was taking a pregnancy test in the restroom of the truck stop? And what did it say? What were they hoping it would say?

Another thing I pondered after we got back on the highway after that stop was about the annual billboard advertising budget for South of the Border. Too bad the place looked mostly deserted. I don’t think they’re getting proper return on their investment.

Our fourth, and I’m happy to say, final stop clocked in at 4:26pm with a total of 468 miles behind us. And where was that stop, you might ask? The Wal-Mart in Smithfield, North Carolina. Yeah, that’s what I said. You read it right. Wal-Mart. Sigh. Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t as dire as I may have made it seem in my facebook check-in, but honestly, it felt pretty dire at the time. The kids were complaining about being hungry. How that was possible, I didn’t understand. Except that I did. I’m totally a boredom eater, too. And clearly that was the problem here. But I was willing to cave for an early dinner. Because Avery at this point had been asleep for over an hour and I needed her to wake up. So, in my under-caffeinated state (remember how I skipped an opportunity to drink more Coke?) I see the billboard for Chick-fil-a and I think, yes, that’s exactly what I need, a relatively clean playspace to let the children get some blood flowing. Bonus: I can order a salad! See, told you I was in an addled state. Because you know where this is going, right? Forget the fact that the children had asked me no less than 10 times what day it was, and I had faithfully replied back that it was Sunday. Sunday. You definitely know where I’m going with this now. Sunday. The day Chick-fil-a is closed. Right. But this doesn’t occur to me, blinded as I was by the siren song of possibly sitting still while the children run about in a safe environment. And it couldn’t possibly be located on the main strip just off the interstate. No. That would have been too easy. Also easy would have been if I had remembered which way the billboard told me to turn because it wasn’t marked at the exit itself. These should have been warning signs. I should have just said, forget it, we’ll take a quick bathroom break and I’ll just throw you small people some more snacks so we can keep trucking on. But no, I end up driving several extra miles around Smithfield, North Carolina, on a convoluted backwards path from the interstate to the Chick-fil-a only to have it hit me like a hammer to the skull when I see their sign (“Closed on Sundays”) that today is, as I’ve been reporting all day, in fact, SUNDAY! Aaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhh!!! At this point I am beyond frustrated at my own stupidity, disappointed because I really wanted some chicken, and frankly, about to pee my pants. So, what do I do? Pull into the next available parking lot. Right across the street. Wal-Mart. But, hey, in addition to restrooms at the front of the store, they also have a Subway inside. So at least my problem was solved and the boy was happy with our dinner choice. And I guess I should look for more of the silver lining. Because of our new, rather unorthodox choice, our dinner/multiple bathroom stop (before and after dinner) was only 40 minutes long. It would have probably been longer if I’d let them play.

So now, stewing over my wasted time and density of forgetting what day it was, we are back on the road. I was hoping to make the final haul with no stops, and we did it. This year we stayed 19 miles further down the road than last year. And I’m happy with my choice. Somehow that 19 miles seems like a major accomplishment. It also seemed like some of the longest miles of the trip. Seeing as how it had the lowest speed limit and was the only lane closures due to road construction that we encountered the entire time. But we made it. And boy do I ever feel blessed about today’s traveling conditions. Only a few spots of rain, absolutely no traffic issues, and just that minimal road construction. Oh, and we set a new record with our license plate game. On our first day, 600 miles along I-95 North, we saw a total of 42 different plates – the District of Columbia and 41 states, including the elusive Alaska, North Dakota, & South Dakota! Is it weird that feels like an accomplishment to me? Eh, why am I asking you? I know I’m weird…

 

Tomorrow: Into our nation’s capital…..

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim