Monday, August 8, 2011

Dare, double dare !

As the chocolate-colored surface of the shallow puddle zoomed up at me, my last thought was... well, I don't know if I had a thought, actually.  Maybe, "oops!"

And then everything went brown.  And cold.  And wet.  Shrieking laughter hit my ears once I surfaced again, on my knees, in my now mud-soaked, home-made blue-gingham dress with the peter pan collar and the puffed sleeves. Or maybe it was the red-flowered one, or the brown one; my mom believed in making good use of simple sewing patterns for her already oversized, and growing 6 year old.  Laura, Heidi, and Jennifer had all succeeded in jumping OVER the puddle on the school playground, just before the line-up bell rang.  Me, not so much.  I had to wait in the principal's office for my mom to bring me dry clothes.

Lesson one in dare-taking: calculate the downside, evaluate your chances, and keep some dry clothes handy.

Except for the puddle incident, I've lived a pretty cautious life...

Well, except for telling the 6th grade gym teacher that I had no intention of running 600 yards, even though he jogged around the field, yelling at me, as I walked the stupid presidential fitness test, while the rest of my class watched from the window of room 306...

Oh, and  that bit with climbing out my homeroom window and putting a cardboard elephant on the roof outside my 9th grade French class...

Yup. Cautious, circumspect, safe.

Unless you count stuffing my 10th grade, size-16 body into a shiny lycra leotard and singing "At the Ballet"  from A Chorus Line with Laura (the successful mud-puddle jumper from years back) on the high school stage in front of an audience.

And then there was asking Doug Smith to the Senior Prom.
In the library.
In front of several of his friends.  In front of a couple of my friends.
He said he had a wrestling match the next day and couldn't go.  Oh well.

And yet, I'm not one of those creatures whose life is limited to caring for three-dozen cats, painting my fingernails lavender and counting the days between therapy appointments and support group.  I've managed to succeed a few times and I've got myself a pretty wonderful life with a husband, a family, friends, music, and the occasional athletic endeavor. ( I've ditched the puffed-sleeve/peter pan collar look, and I stay away from jumping over puddles where anybody might see me, though.  And lycra is limited to garments that aren't usually seen in public. )

But in the last two years, I've been getting some reminders that life is short.  Too short.  And that puddle-jumping,  gym-coach-defying, elephant-on-the-roof-placing, leotard-wearing, prom-asking part of me has started to ask, "So, what's the real downside?  What's the worst that can happen if I fail?  Why the heck not try?"

So, I'm back to taking personal risks: not the "end up in the hospital or the morgue if you fail" kind of risks, but the kind that take me out of my safe zone and into joy.  I've always loved to sing, and I'm blessed to have a church family who invite me to sing often.  I have a dear, dear friend who's helped me to reclaim my middle-aged singing voice and my confidence.  That eventually led me to ASK (nervy, huh?)  a conductor friend of mine if he would give me the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Brahms Requiem, with orchestra.  He gave me that honor, and it was a life-changing experience.  I'm not headed for the stage of the Met, but at least I didn't have to wipe mud off my puffed-sleeves afterward.  And it was pure joy for me.  Life is short.  Take joy where you can find it. (   is the link, in case you're curious how it turned out. )

I've also always loved to write.  I've been a letter-writer since I was 12, and an email letter-writer for many years.  In recent years, I've taken a few risks with writing devotionals for my church choir, and this blog.  I've even managed to find a little part-time job that allows me to edit and teach, and occasionally write, and get paid for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my first-ever article to a major magazine's annual essay contest.  The winner gets $3,000, a trip to New York, lunch with some of the editors of the magazine, and publication of the winning essay.  Over 7,000 people entered last year.  It feels right now like I'm mid-air over the puddle again, except that, if my essay is not the winner, I'm going to submit it to several other magazines, and then some more, until it gets published somewhere and I get paid for it.  No mud, no lycra, no snickering in the library for me.

Today, the voting webpage went up for a radio-station's "Star-Spangled Sing-Off", an audition for a chance to sing the National Anthem before an audience gathered to hear an opera at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  Among the contestants that include a number of gorgeous young things who can sing, a couple of choral groups, some singing puppets, a guy on stilts in an Uncle Sam costume, and a guy who made his audition video in the mens' room with the urinal flusher in the background, you will find me, about fourth row down, Valerie Hedrick.  Yup.  I'm "out there" too.  If you like, you can vote for me.  (How's that for nervy?  I can just hear that 6th grade gym coach saying "girls like you are headed for trouble")  Here's the link, in case you're so inclined. 

So, this summer, when the mirror tells me that I'm not getting any younger, and the life-threatening diagnoses of some dear friends tell me that life is both precious and short, I'm continuing to walk the line between safe and silly.
And in the process, I'm not scraping mud off my peter-pan collar.  I'm laughing, and looking for the next joy-risking challenge.  Care to join me?  I dare you!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Best Practices?

"I live on Jupiter," the four-year-old announces.

"Oh really?", the enlightened mother asks, "And what do you do there?"
(Child Development 101 -- modelling the "ask open-ended questions" dictum)

"I do farting contests all day long."

At this point, the 13-year-old picks up the thread.
"You know, Mom, scientists have determined that the atmosphere on Jupiter is one continuous thunderstorm, so I guess if you lived there, you'd need indoor games."

The Experts tell us that good parents engage their young children in conversation at their level, whenever possible.  I wonder if this is what they had in mind.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sometimes, the milepost is capable of moving

... but tonight, it wasn't, at least not all that much.  However, the guy standing on the ridgetop, watching it from a safe distance, wasn't convinced.

Now that I'm no longer driving across the country with four kids in a rented minivan, I'm finding that I can still write about The Journey, rather than just my cross-country roadtrip.  And tonight, I passed a rather interesting little milestone that seemed to merit some musing.

Those of you who know me off-line, or even in my Facebook life, know that I am a walker.  I walk for exercise (and now that Dennys/McDonalds/Brown's IceCream/, etc... have added a few vacation pounds, I sure do need to keep that up), and I walk for sanity.  Walking is my "me" time: my music-learning time, my phone-conversation time, my thinking time, my worrying about sick friends time, my praying time.  And I walk the same territory most of the time: a park in my neighborhood that includes a lot of what California calls "Open Space" (yes, it's capitalized)--protected, undeveloped wildlife habitat with walking/biking trails flanked by firebreaks in the shoulder-high grasses.  As I walk, the vistas take my eyes to the twin peaks of Mount Diablo, the Acalanes Ridge that makes a gently serrated sunset each evening as the sun sinks into the bay behind the ridge, and to the treeless, tawny grasses of the Kirker Pass, hills whose curves resemble a sleeping nude when the light fades.

Because I have walked every foot of the park, both morning and evening, many, many times, there is a "not here" quality to my walks.  I don't have to think about where to go, what comes next.  I just walk, and as I walk, my mind goes wherever it wants to, often re-visiting previous conversations, mulling over something I've read, planning something I might want to sew, knit, cook, or quilt, even "writing" in my head, playing with the sounds of words and phrases that might make music on the page. So, although I notice things like the perfume of the Southern Magnolias along the trail past the bocce courts, and the funny way that dog-owners move in packs like their dogs in the public dog-park, by the time I'm panting up the hill to the oval of Live Oaks that frame the memorial to Vietnam vets, I'm "gone"--I'm wandering the terrain of my spirit; either wrestling or rejoicing, and I'm occasionally surprised by the creatures who are also out wandering the open space, probably much more focused on the here-and-now than I am.  I've gasped at red-tail and Cooper's hawks who watch me from a tree or fence until I'm close enough to see their eyes blink, and I've met up with coyotes at mid-day and twilight.  There are the ever-optimistic ground squirrels who stand erect beside their hillside burrows, seeming to dare the hawks to come down and try to catch them.

And then there are the snakes.


 I LOATHE snakes.  I'm not much of a reptile fan, but snakes, in particular, make me want to scream and run.  I've shared with my Facebook friends reports of feeling "trapped" on the hill by tiny, baby rattlesnakes, and utterly harmless, but big and intimidating California King Snakes.  For me, particularly in Spring and Summer, every stick on the trail is a rattlesnake, waiting to make this walk my last, and on particularly hot evenings, I have been known to carry a pointed-end hiking stick.  But a while ago, I learned that there is a much more common snake, a harmless impostor called a "Gopher Snake", that is very common in our area, and is often mistaken for a rattler.

Tonight, as I watched a fellow walker, on the trail ahead of me, standing motionless about 4 feet from a large, lumpy beige-and-black spotted snake stretched most of the way across the trail, I did NOT, for once, scream, freak-out, run, or turn around and go back to the oak grove.  Maybe it's like the progressive desensitization that parents go through:  when your first-born stumbles and scrapes a knee, you gasp, take a deep breath, try to remember your first aid training, dig out the first-aid kit that you carry everywhere with you, use the antiseptic wipe, the pain-killing cream, and the anti-biotic cream, cover the wound securely, and carry the weeping child to a bench for 20 minutes of consoling and temperature-checks.  When your 4th child takes a similar fall, you watch to see if the child notices the fall, and when he does, you calmly dig around in your pocket for a mostly-clean tissue, if you can find one, and push most of the dirt away from the scrape, promising to "take a better look at it when we get home".   Tonight, somehow, a well-fed (hence the lumps), sunbathing gopher snake (no rattle, and a tube-shaped head rather than a spade-shaped one) just did NOT faze me.  Instead, I found myself explaining, in Spanish, to my fellow walker, that the snake was not poisonous, had no rattle and no spade-shaped head, AND, had just eaten recently and was probably very sleepy and content on his patch of sun-warmed pavement.  No, my Spanish isn't that lyrical--more like the Taco Bell Chihuahua meets 8th-grade French class--but I think he got my meaning.  He laughed and smiled as I stepped past the snake and pointed out the lumps in the snake and said "he ate his dinner already", or maybe I said, "I'm going to eat him for dinner", or "nonsense, nonsense, dinner, nonsense, nonsense".

And so I walked on, congratulating myself on my turn toward being Val of the Hills just long enough to get back to my meditations on life at middle-age, and wondering why it has taken me so long to start noticing life, and making a mental note to brush up my Spanish grammar.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lost and Found

It's now been 8 days since we returned from the trip that was the excuse for this blog, and I'm doing my "accounting".  In the 8,000+ miles we travelled (yes, that includes all the extra miles caused by Madame GPS and her whimsical orders to "In 500 feet, take the exit right." followed by pirouettes through random, sketchy neighborhoods and a return to the freeway) we LOST:

  •  my favorite pair of olive-green capri pants
  • some high-end shampoo and conditioner
  • a pair of Calvin's basketball shorts
  • a pair of Calvin's swim trunks
  • all respect for Mme. GPS (see above)

With the exception of the last item, all of these things can be replaced.  And the things that we FOUND on this trip are too many to fit neatly in a column, but they include:

  • 8 extra pounds on me --ugh (yes, I'm back on the diet/exercise wagon and will work that off)
  • many places that we want to visit again, staying longer, bringing Andre (my husband)
  • crater-sized mosquito-bite scars on several kids (apparently, my golden-tan California children are delicious to mosquitoes, and allergic to them as well)
  • all kinds of rocks, shells, sticks, books (of course), maps, brochures, hand-me-downs from Cousin Henry, and a variety of souvenirs, including several versions of toy weapons, an assortment of pocket knives, a ball-cap from the New York AIDS Walk (thanks, Seth!) a beany-baby buffalo, a stuffed porcupine, a stuffed Tweety Bird and a stuffed "animal" that is shaped like a slice of watermelon (Thanks, Marc! Who, but you, knew that we needed one of those?)

But we also brought home some wonderful memories of backyards and dinner tables, swimming pools and The Atlantic Ocean, sneaking cookies when nobody's looking, Mount Rushmore, majestic mountains, The Brooklyn Bridge, expansive deserts, The National Air and Space Museum, tracking mud into various houses, The Mississippi River, monumental meltdowns over missing shoes, The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest, Lake Michigan, and the completely huggable early-morning sight of little people snuggled into cozy nests of blankets, in shared beds, with ends of unruly hair and toes sticking out.

And there were the animals who are still part of dinner table conversations that begin, "Do you remember when Lucas (a wonderful bear of a Newfoundland in Connecticut) wouldn't stop following Rhys around and licking him?"  or "It was so funny when Aiko (our golden retriever "cousin" in Chicago) slept on my head."  Peachfuzz, 15 pounds of orange/beige angora fluff with marbles for eyes,and a properly New Yorker version of sangfroid, had a commendable patience for kids who followed him around the Brooklyn apartment he calls home.  Eowyn and Legolas, our feline friends in Oklahoma, also seemed willing to endure the cluelessly lavish attentions of persistent Hedrick kids without drawing blood.  Barnabus, in Baltimore, had my kids in screams of delight with utter golden-retriever-ish spasms of playfulness and Donnie, the 15-year-old Bichon Frise in Spartanburg, seemed completely at home with thundering team of TEN children, rampaging through her house for 24 hours.  I guess, when you're used to six kids, what's 4 more?

If I had a dime for every conversation that included, "We need a house with a bigger yard when we get home, so we can have some goats and a horse" (thanks, Kris & Tom, and Tom&Jill )I'd have paid off our trip already.  Luke and Leia (the baby goats), and, of course, D'Artagnan, Shadowfax, and Scout, are now counted among the characters in my kids' dreams, if their night-time mumblings are any measure.

My kids also found many, many "boring old adult friends of mom", who turned out to be "totally awesome", in the vernacular of the 4-13-year-old set.

By the end of the trip, Rhys was referring to all of our adult male hosts/friends as "The Uncles" and our adult female hosts/friends as "The Aunts", and any of their various children as "our other cousins."   So, I guess it could be argued that what we found on this trip was how large our family has grown.  Thanks so much to Uncle Larry, Uncle Brad, Uncle Tom (x3), Uncle Marc, Uncle Seth, "Uncle Mr. Peterson", Uncle John, Uncle Jimmy,  Aunt Lauren, Aunt Nat, Aunt Kris, Aunt Martha, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Mildred, Aunt Charlotte, Cousin Susan, and Aunt Jill.  It's going to be a bigger family reunion from now on, I guess :-)

Something else I found is that I really would like to keep writing on this blog, for the creative discipline of putting thoughts into words and sharing them.  So, feel free to "subscribe" to notification by email of my postings, by putting your email address into the box at the bottom of this page that says, "Follow by email".  I've allowed Google AdSense to put an advertisement in the sidebar of this blog, to see if it will generate a little income, but what's in those ads is not in my control.  If they get any dumber than what's there now, I will cancel the ad feed, though.  ( I KNOW that none of you are "Over 40 and Single, looking for sincere singles" on the internet, for heaven's sake... yuk.).  

Til later !    Happy trails.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Give us this day our daily breadth.

The kids and I are home now, after yesterday's all-day drive from Barstow, in the Mojave Desert.  We spent a final night in a shiny new Holiday Inn next to the Outlet Mall in Barstow, played a little in the pool, did a little shopping, and then hit the road by noon, arriving home, via the farm country of Brentwood, CA last night around 7:30 p.m.  We were met at the door by a frantically-excited dog, and a smiling Andre: the "pack" was reunited at last.

There's still laundry to do, emails, mail, bills, and phone calls to catch up on, LOTS of things to clean-up, and all the usual business of settling back into our routines after a month away.

But I'm reflecting on something that surprised me about this month-long, more than 8,000-mile adventure:  I LOVED the driving on this trip.  Well, I loved most of the driving, particularly through those places that I'd been warned were "flat and boring":  Wyoming, South Dakota, Southern Minnesota,Oklahoma, North Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California's Mojave Desert.  Apologies to my East-Coast friends, but you can have Pennsylvania, New Jersey, large parts of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Maybe those places just felt too familiar to me, or maybe I was just too focused on getting through those areas, to catch up with all the terrific people that I wanted to visit there.

But, I LOVED all those supposedly "empty, desolate" places, particularly the deserts and prairies.  I loved being able to watch sunset's colors change and move from horizon to horizon to horizon. I loved the dry heat.  The high desert has its cool evenings and mornings, and the smell of pinon, smoke, and some kind of sweet grass.   I loved being able to look out across the pastel stripes of Painted Desert and see mountain peaks 120 miles away.  And when we drove (well, almost flew, on those flat, straight, empty desert freeways)  through the lower desert stretches of sagebrush, cactus and Joshua Trees near Needles, CA, at 7:30 at night, with the thermometer reading 111 fahrenheit, I actually insisted that we shut off the AC and open the windows for a few minutes to experience the air that felt exactly like what comes out of a hand-dryer.

In all our wide-open desert and prairie spaces, I experienced something similar to the feeling I get on my morning hikes at home:  breadth.  That sense of being wide, wide open to possibility, wide open to the wind of the Spirit, at home in my own body, and completely free of the press of others' agendas. I tried, a couple of times, to capture in a photograph, that sense of limitless space, but with no success.  What I got was a shot of a minivan in a rest area in a "flat, empty" place in North Texas.  There's no fragrance of sagebrush, no toasty, enveloping wind, no sense of majesty, just a pale sky and a large, beige nothing.

Perhaps that why we think of the deserts as empty and flat.  Photos and film just can't capture that sense of possibility.  But that breadth, that depth, that height of sky is the reason I could be a desert hermit in an alternate existence, as long as my hermitage included an internet connection, so I could write about the silly thoughts that occurred to me, and hear from fellow hermits in other climates from time to time.  I mean, what good is writing and thinking, with no one to share it?

Ok, so I'm not really cut out to be a hermit.  But I could use a good serving of daily breadth, daily.  Care to join me?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tennessee Waltz to Missouri Foxtrot and Los Alamos Adios

(Yes, there's more than one post today--we've done a series of long road-days, followed by wonderful visits with friends, and while the blog-entries percolate through my brain as I drive down the road, I'd much rather visit face-to-face with people at the end of a driving day, than plop down with the laptop and start blogging.) 

So, continuing the journey from Johnson City, TN, we took all of Friday (June 24) to traverse the green, rolling hills of Tennessee, with a stop through Nashville, where my eldest child spent the first 15 months of life.  Then it was on to Memphis, stopping for the night at a hotel on the outskirts of the city, which allowed us some time in the morning to drive along the riverfront in Memphis.  We saw paddleboats, the Pyramid, and a little of Beale Street before heading on to Stillwater, OK, to "Starwood Glen" the beautiful, tree-filled (very un-Oklahoma)  ranch of my friends, Tom and Jill.   These two minister-friends of mine have spent their lives investing in people: students, young adults, colleagues, neighbors, anyone that God places in their path.  Tom's an ordained pastor, an entrepreneur, an inventor, a wood-worker, a writer, an athelete, and currently teaches at Oklahoma State.  He also makes the most amazing whole-grain, heart-healthy blueberry pancakes I've ever had.  Jill is an artist.  Watercolors, pen and ink, charcoal, oils; all of them obey her vision and become visions of landscapes, animals, people, still-lifes. She has a knack for inviting people into her life and into her ministry.  And her version of ministry often includes that magical chemistry between people and horses: how hearts seem to open when people, horses, Jill, and God meet in a pasture, a barn or a paddock.  Years ago, in my student days in Texas, when my inner life was in turmoil, Jill's invitation to "horse therapy" with her chestnut Arabian gelding, Firefrost, was literally a life-saver.   "Sometimes, the best thing for the inside of a person is the outside of the horse" a former president was quoted as saying.

On this trip, Patti, Calvin, and Rhys were privileged to get their horse-therapy with Jill's current family of horses:  D'Artagnan, a dark bay Arabian,  Scout, a nervous paint who is recovering from abuse in his former home, and a "movie-star teeth" white Missouri Foxtrotter whose "paper" name is "Doc", but who is known at Starwood Glen as Shadowfax.   Patti and Calvin immediately fell under the spell of their new equine friends in their first riding lesson with Jill, and then spent most of the rest of visit finding reasons to return to the paddock to groom and pet and talk with D'Artagnan and Shadowfax.  Both came away from those "conversations" changed.  (What is it about a horse that can bring out the very best in a kid?  I wish I could bottle it and spray it liberally around the inside of the car during some of our 9-hour road trips. )

Four year old Rhys was allowed to sit on Scout's bony back while being led around the pasture, and promptly acheived an equestrian milestone:  he fell off and dissolved in tears.   Of course, he was required to get right back on, while howling in protest and clinging to me in fear.  After Scout refused to move another step while Rhys continued his dramatic scene, Rhys was allowed to slide off and find a seat outside the pasture fence, to watch his brother and sister ride.  As the horses were led back to their barn and their evening meal, Rhys had already forgiven Scout and was claiming him as a friend.  First thing the next morning, he announced that he wanted to say good morning to "his" horse, "Spot".   After we left Stillwater, on our way to New Mexico, we found ourselves in one of several of those TickyTackyTeePeeTouristTrappee places, where Rhys searched the souvenir horse/cowboy models for "a copy of my horse", to take home with him.  We're still looking, and I'm sure that somewhere between here and home, there will be a toy section of a TTTPTT that provides just the souvenir he needs.

Last night's reservation was for a hotel room in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in hopes of spending today hiking in Bandelier Canyon.  However, after driving closer and closer to the bright red glow on the mountains outside Santa Fe, I realized I was driving my kids right into the evacuation zone for the wildfires that were the source of that red glow.  We were turned around by a local police officer and invited to stay in the local high school that was being used as an evacuation shelter.  Fortunately, a very nice hotel in Santa Fe still had a room available at 1:45 a.m. when we finally checked in, after my GPS completely quit working and we had spent a while driving aimlessly through the north side of the city.  This morning, we looked at the layer of white ash on the car, and smelled the air, and decided that two kids with asthma and their siblings and mom did not need to be hiking in the Santa Fe area today, and packed up for the next stop: Holbrook, Arizona, where we are relaxing tonight before exploring Petrified Forest / Painted Desert National Monument tomorrow.

The kids are all blissfully asleep, and the only glow in this very quiet hotel room tonight is the laptop screen.  Here's hoping that a reasonable bedtime tonight, minus smoke and ash, equals an energetic early start to our day tomorrow.

States of mind

So, are New Yorkers pushy, Mid-Westerners polite and clean, New Englanders laconic and stand-offish?  And are the folks in New Jersey actually "angry orange people"?   And what do we Californians (at least 3/5's of my current travelling party) do with the stereotype of the air-headed, arrogant, road-hogging Californian?

I think I might be getting an inkling of where some of the stereotypes come from, as we glimpse some states only on their highways and at their rest-stops.

On an uncrowded stretch of I-40 in Arkansas, my kids were giggling about a bumper sticker they'd seen that said, "Crawl faster, I hear banjos" and I was trying to debunk the stereotype of the hostile, xenophobic residents of the "Natural State" as Arkansas's state motto goes.

And then the gentleman in the SUV passed me on the right side, going about 90, holding out that gesture, as he passed;  that hand-gesture that just MIGHT indicate that he was a proctologist, offering free exams.   (I am being charitable after all.  And maybe he was a proctologist who worked for a large HMO which required him to be moving very quickly--90mph in a 65mph zone-- while offering that exam. )  Shortly after that, we passed a road sign bearing the name of a local point of interest:  "Toad Suck Park".  Was it my California license plate that prompted our fellow motorist's gesture, or  is geography destiny?

Or how about this bit of local psychology by roadsign?  On our way through the Arizona high desert, on a stretch of I-40 that was once the famous Route 66, we passed a sign announcing the exit for "Badwater" and the sign beneath it said, "No Services".   But the very next sign we passed announced "Little Lithodendron Wash".   How very modest of the folks in Badwater to assure us that there were no services there, when all along they had their very own place for washing little lithodendrons  !   I'm not sure what a lithodendron is, or how dirty they get, or whether big lithodendrons require a different kind of facility for their maintenance than little lithodendrons, but all the same, it was a fascinating peek into the ethos of the unassuming desert dwellers.

Tomorrow, we'll be spending some time at Petrified Forest National Monument, if we can keep ourselves out of another feature of the high desert landscape: the Ticky Tacky TeePee Tourist Trappee.

Can you tell I've been driving some LONG hours lately?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer "Reading"

As I stood Wednesday morning, ankle-deep in the Atlantic on Sandbridge Beach, in Virginia Beach, supervising my kids as they played in the surf, it occurred to me that my kids are doing a lot of reading on this trip, but it's not the kind I would have expected.

Sure, my kids are reading maps, road signs and the occasional local newspaper, and Rhys has become expert at spotting those blue signs along the highway that signal that fast-food and bathrooms might be available soon.  But as we spend time in unfamiliar places, with all kinds of people, my kids are doing some kinds of reading that I hadn't considered before.  They have learned to read waves on the beach--when to swim forward and catch the wave, and when to dive through the wave or scrunch down a ways and bob over the crest before the curl breaks. On Wednesday night, they learned how to "read" a formal dinner setting at the home of our friends, John and Mildred, in Spartanburg, SC. ( John has always taken great joy in putting together elegant and sumptuous meals.  Back in our college days, he was the wizard of the after-concert receptions for his fellow musicians.)  When my kids and I arrived at John and Mildred's house on Wednesday, we were greeted with an elegant table, set for 13 (our 5, plus their 8), with the Roche's best china, silver, crystal, and a white linen tablecloth--a kind of poetry they hadn't read before.

Last night, when my husband's Uncle Jimmy met us at the door in Johnson City, Tennessee, with a dazzling grin and  "Haaaaaaaaa there!",  my kids got a speed-reading class in the broad drawl of East Tennessee.  Aunt Charlotte's sweet smiling welcome made them feel right at home, too.  At some point, I'm going to have to read up on cousin-labelling so that I know how to refer to the relationship between 8-year-old Joe, the youngest child of my husband's cousin, Susan (is that a second cousin?  a third cousin?), and my kids.  They needed no such translation.  They got all the information they needed when Joe showed them his trampoline, his big backyard, and his collection of toy weaponry, and the chasing, laughter, whooping and mock-warfare began.  

This morning, Patti has been invited to "study" the sumptuous jacuzzi tub in Cousin Susan's room, and have a bubble bath while watching cartoons, before we head off again down the road to Memphis, via Nashville.  As the Johnston household heads off to work and day-camp, I'm thinking that my kids need to try biscuits and gravy, Johnson City style in a local eatery, and I'll grab some coffee to fortify me for the road miles ahead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tales of the Cities

Greetings from Virginia Beach, (and apologies to Armistead Maupin for a bit of brazen title-stealing). What fun it's been tonight, to turn my herd loose, to play with Cathy and Jay's herd, and to have some grown-up chat time.  I had forgotten that one of the marks of relaxed East-Coast friendship is the ability to sit and chat while absently scratching mosquito-bites.  Old school-friend, Cathy and I have been catching up on kids, family, and tales of my travels, over dinner, some wine, and the ritual dabbing-on of the benedryl gel. 

So, picking up the travelogue from the last entry:  After coffee and glorious music on Sunday, we explored NYC with our expert native guides and dear friends, Marc, Seth, and Sam: a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, lunch at a friendly Irish pub in lower Manhattan, complete with a hilarious Irish bartender who crowned 4-year-old Rhys "King of the Table" and asked his permission to bring his mama a beer with her lunch.  Then, we took a walk to Ground Zero and Saint Paul's church.  Thank Heaven for old friends who can read a "moment" and put an arm around my shoulder.  Even all these years later, it was un-nervingly sobering to stand in that place and think about what went on there, and what New Yorkers went through on 9/11, and the weeks and months that followed. 

We balanced the sobriety of Ground Zero with a subway trip uptown to Times Square, where we met the "Naked Cowboy" (not actually naked, nor a cowboy, but rather a pale-skinned, ordinary-ish fellow in a cowboy hat, boots, white briefs, and a pencilled-on mustache, singing "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Naked Cowboys..."  Good advice, I think, considering how that scenario has turned out for him...New Yorkers can be so helpful, can't they?).  Calvin did a bit of mugging and babbling for two folks with TV cameras who claimed to be working for a Dutch TV station, and Rhys had a meltdown over wanting a large, overpriced souvenir of the Statue of Liberty.   Then it was back to Brooklyn for dinner and famous cheesecake from Junior's Restaurant.

We left our NYC pals, Marc, Seth, and Sam, on Monday morning, with promises of a reunion soon, and spent the next 45 minutes trying to find our way out of Brooklyn without a map, while our newly-installed GPS had a session of electronic senility.  Yes, I could have asked for directions, but where's the adventure in that?  Besides, it was our pathetically obvious lost-ness that probably bought me sympathy a few minutes later, with the NYC Police Officer who used her loudspeaker to stop me from making an illegal U-turn on Flatbush Avenue AND then ran a traffic block so that I could complete the illegal U-turn and pull over.  The Jedi mind-trick of seizing control of a traffic-stop with, "Ok, so HOW do I find I-278 from here?", complete with a flustered flourishing of the atlas, and some waving of the sunglasses, as if the officer had really pulled us over to give us directions, rather than a ticket, actually worked.  She tried to scold me about what kind of a car-seat my youngest child was using, and told me about the "really, really big sign up there" regarding the illegality of U-turns at that particular intersection, but seemed to lose her ticket-writing resolve, and simply gave me directions to I-278.  I love those helpful New Yorkers!

With our GPS still demonstrating only a tentative grasp of actual geography, my kids and I found our way, via baroque curlicue loops through Baltimore's Camden Yard neighborhood, and then back to the interstate, to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, on Monday afternoon, followed by more street-minuets all the way back to the Baltimore home of Martha and Bill, our hosts for Monday night.  For today's journey back into DC, to see the National Air and Space Museum, we relied on a combination of Martha's clear directions and a tolerant glance at our struggling GPS from time to time.  Then, it was on to our hosts here in Virginia Beach.  This trip was only a "sample" of DC, so that we can plan a more leisurely trip to explore all of the charms of our nation's capitol.

Tomorrow, perhaps we can sneak in a little beach time before setting off for Spartanburg, SC, and yet another old-friends-too-long-separated reunion, with Mildred and John and their six (!) beautiful kids.  Yes, this is a fascinating tour through the varied sights of our country, but it's the people who are making the greatest impression on me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Coffee, Bach, Schumann...

Greetings from Brooklyn, NY, where I am about 6 feet away from a Steinway that is filling the summer morning air with the most wonderful music !  We arrived at the Park Slope apartment of my dear old music-school friend, Marc, his partner, Seth, and their luminously lovely daughter, Samantha yesterday afternoon after a quick swing through my old hometown, Darien, CT, and lunch at my old school-days hang-out, Post Corner Pizza.

In Darien, my kids got a quick tour, pointing out the church where I first sang in choir, my old elementary school, the childhood home of my longtime friend, Nancy, and finally a loop around the cul-de-sac that was the street where I grew up.  My old house has not changed much, but I was struck by how much smaller everything seemed.  My driveway seemed much longer when my brothers and I used to spend afternoons devising all kinds of wheeled ways to coast down the hill toward the garage.  The route I walked to school seemed much longer when I was happily kicking leaf piles all the way to school back in the 70's.

After arriving here, we walked a part of this wonderful old neighborhood: the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, past Grand Army Plaza, up to Prospect Park to allow my kids to run, wrestle, and flop on the broad green lawn with my friends, and quite a number of New Yorkers who use the park as their own backyard.  Today, we'll be walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for some great views of Manhattan and New York Harbor.  Seth is busy looking up subway and bus routes for our explorations while Sam entertains my kids and Marc fills the air with music and the occasional "inside" comment like, "this sounds like Faure", or "here comes that thematic material again"

But once again, for me,  it seems that the some of my favorite episodes on this journey involve the people: family, strangers, new friends, and old friends whose endearing qualities only seem to intensify with time.  After a delightful evening of talking, eating, and laughing with Marc, Seth, and Sam, my kids and I are spending a relaxed waking-up time this morning listening to Marc, a professional concert pianist and music professor, share his music with us.  He's playing something right now that is by a 20th century Colombian composer, Mejia... poignant, rhythmic, and probably fiendishly difficult to play, but Marc makes it sound like the kind of thing one tosses off right after morning coffee.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


These past few days have been full of promises: the promises made to my little nephew, Nolan, at his baptism last Sunday -- hence the photo--and the promises to reunited old friends to "see you soon", and the promise to my children, that "as soon as we get some good weather, we'll go back to the beach for real".

Today, I got to make good on that promise. We went back to that wonderful unspoiled beach, equipped with swimsuits and boogie boards, sand-toys and beach towels, and the one piece of equipment that EVERY child should have:  a youthful, athletic Uncle with a wet suit and a kid-like tolerance for VERY cold ocean water.  It was a marvelous day.  With a Dad who can teach you to spot the mathematical sequence for the increasing strength of waves, an Uncle who is willing to get in the water and show you how to line up the board with the curl of the wave, and a Mom who knows how to whoop and yell "Cowabunga!" as you slide up to the sand on the bubbling foam after the wave breaks, how could a kid NOT have a great day?

And mid-June in Maine is full of the promise of summer itself.  It's not yet high tourist season, so the crowds are not here yet.  But the ice-cream places are open, and the lilacs are in full bloom.  Along the road to the beach, the summer "camps" (cottages) are starting to show signs of life:  a pile of freshly-delivered firewood in a driveway, the winter storm shutters removed, chairs and tables arranged on the screenporches.  Soon, those places with be full of the cheerful disarray of families on vacation: beach towels and swimsuits hung on strings between the trees, the smell of woodsmoke mixing with the sweet fern, pine-needles, and honeysuckle that is carried on the salty breeze.   Meanwhile, we're collecting on another of the promises of summer in New England--the promise that two sunny days in a row here will more than compensate for all the less-inspiring weather we've had lately.  I'm typing this while seated under an awning on the front porch at Mom's house, watching the boats enter the mouth of the Piscataqua River, and listening to a crows' conversation, the redwing blackbirds' answer, the hum of the occasional passing car, and the clink of lemonade glasses in Mom's kitchen.  Rain? What rain?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Simple Joys

One of the great things that keeps happening on this trip are those unplanned moments of "this is the best trip ever!"  from my kids.  This photo was taken yesterday morning, on a nearly-empty, unspoiled beach in Kittery, Maine.  As you can tell from Patti's beach attire, we hadn't planned on staying at the beach because the day had started chilly and cloudy.  But, once there, with the sun emerging from the clouds, the kids found the powdery sand, the shells, the seaweed, the gentle waves, and the possibility of getting totally muddy and wet to be irresistible.  This particular beach is a residents-only, undeveloped beach:  no bathroom/showers, no snack bar, and a tiny parking area on the end of a winding, tree-lined road.  So, I found the most inviting driftwood log-seat I could find, and took several hours to play hide-and-seek with the sunshine and watch my happy crew dig, splash, shiver, jump waves, and collect treasures.

We have spent a number of very busy, people-filled days with extended family, big meals to prepare, and the daily tasks of maintaining our various "campsites" in my Mom's house, so it was pure bliss to do nothing but sit and simply inhale deeply that potpourri of seaweed and salt marsh and the air of the ocean itself.  For a few breaths, I was once again that happily soggy little girl with sand and seaweed in her wind-tangled hair, chasing my brothers down the beach, or quietly exploring the silky-gritty texture of powder-fine sand mixed with seawater.  

At one point, Patti found a large kelp "tail" that she decided was a huge paintbrush, and she spent quite a while exploring the artistic effects of dragging it along the low-tide sand in swirling patterns.  What artist would not be delighted with a canvas as wide as the seashore?  Eventually, she felt her work was "done" and signed her name, in letters at least 7-feet high.   I'd like to think that someday when my "work" is done, I'd be proud to sign it in 7-foot-high letters.

Today, I got to savor another simple joy. While my husband, my mom, and my brothers entertained my kids and their cousins,  I visited two very dear friends, Brett and his husband, Dave.  Brett has been my friend since our college days (yes, that was a long, long time ago), and is the most gifted voice teacher I know.  After receiving the precious gift of a voice lesson with Brett,  I sat at a delicious lunch (thanks, guys !) with these two loving, generous men and witnessed the grace with which they are facing some of life's most daunting challenges: cancer, aging parents, more cancer, and job uncertainty.  My friends are a couple of incredible Life-gardeners.  A lot of "stuff" has landed in the garden that is their life, and they are "composting" it for the blooming of their quiet and kindly souls into new life.  They are turning their lives into the kind of art that they will be proud to sign their names to, in 7-foot-high letters.

We've got a couple more days here in Maine, which includes another visit with an old friend (Nancy, whom I've known since elementary school, and her terrific husband, Jeff), and a few more meals of great New England seafood in my mom's favorite local restaurants.   And then, it's back to road adventures, and more visits with dear friends along the way.

But for now, it's time for a glass of wine with my brothers, and Andre, while we wait for my Mom's dinner masterpiece to come out of the oven.  To Life!  Salut!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

 Saturday, June 10 – Kittery Point, Maine  
 Find pictures from the beginning of the trip to this point at
(Sorry for the long delay between posts.  It's been a series of long days on the road with no time to blog. )

On Wednesday, we said, “See ya Friday” to our Chicago Wall-Family: Larry, Lauren, Nolan, and Aiko, the affection-sponge who is otherwise known as a golden retriever, and navigated (with maps, no gps) our way out of Chicago on our way to Gettysburg, PA. (That, in itself, would make a good episode of a reality tv show.)   The “nine hour drive” predicted by the AAA triptik took us about 4 hours longer than that, and even though we woke up the night manager to check-in at our hotel, he was sharp enough to follow us to our room, to bring me the bag that I had left at the front desk, in my bleary-eyed state. 
The Visitors’ Center at Gettysburg was impressive, with its vivid,stirring film presentation, about the battle, the collection of artifacts, and as the 19th-century oil-painting "cyclorama"  that depicted the disaster of Pickett’s Charge.  As we walked the Gettysburg National Cemetery in the steamy mid-day heat, an energetic WWII vet (with his ribbons, medals, and various insignia on his cap, his vest, and shirt), who was also touring Gettysburg, gave the kids a history mini-quiz and was quite pleased with their answers.  We were honored to thank him for his service to America and to listen to his story of being wounded in Germany during the war.  (As usual, we seem to make our “tours” more like visits with people.) After we’d had enough steaming and baking ourselves in Gettysburg, we headed for Connecticut and the enthusiastic welcome of some of my old school friends from Darien High School, gathered at the home of Kris (Clarke) Bruno and her husband, Tom.  My kids were anticipating “just a bunch of old people sitting around” and had been warned to make themselves unobtrusive.  So, naturally, they rushed into Kris’ house, cap-guns blazing, and the raging imaginary gun-battle with a couple of Kris’ adult children lasted several hours, with the help of three large, excited dogs, and lots of yelling and laughing. During a break in the action, Jimmy Leary (one of the “kids” from my old neighborhood who might be called “Jim” or “James” by the other people in his world), took my kids to see some 4-legged kids in Kris’ barn: goats, rabbits, and horses.  I’m hoping that one of the “old people sitting around” will post those silly pictures of our “totally boring” (HA!) time. 
Calvin was invited by Tom to make free use of his BB gun to hunt the elusive aluminum can on their lush 5 acres of ancient Connecticut woods, "if it's Ok with your Mom."  
Of course I consented.  I'm that bad a mom. 

After a morning in the kid-paradise that is the Bruno home: trampoline, zipline, rope-swing, pool, animals to play with, woods to explore, more target-practice with the BB gun, my kids were wondering if Kris’ paralegal expertise might extend to adoption papers… 

A huge THANK YOU and much love to Kris, Tom, Alex, Sara, Cassidy, and Eden for their wonderful hospitality, and to my “old people” friends from back in the day: Matt (and Ray—you are a TREASURE), Debra, Jimmy, and Dagmar, for coming out on a worknight, in the pouring rain, to welcome the Hedrick Herd back to New England.  Calvin asked me, as we drove off, headed for Gramma’s house in Kittery, Maine on Friday afternoon, “Are all your friends this cool?  Are there more like this that we’ll get to meet?”  

My answer was an emphatic “Absolutely!” 

We’re now happily settled here at my Mom’s house in Kittery Point.  Andre has joined us for the week, and the Chicago family is here as well.  The Connecticut branch of the Wall family is due in very soon.  Tomorrow, we’ll all go to Mom’s church and celebrate the baptism/dedication of little Nolan Robert Wall.  

Was it worth the 4,000-something miles of road so far?  Absolutely !

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Auntie Val and the Wild Bunch Hit Chicago

...and only half a day off schedule.  On Monday, we all got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I know this because, when I came down to the breakfast area, to find that my older kids were not eating breakfast, but publicly fighting over internet games on the business-center computer, I blew my stack.  A cowboy-boots-wearing, bald-pated gentleman turned around from his place at the front desk and drawled "Aw, Mama, why do ya hafta be so mean?" More than an hour later, as we were finally loading the car, or rather, I was un-loading the stash-and-dash mess that would not allow the the rear hatch to close, while simultaneously scolding all four kids, while they ignored me and continued insulting each other by arguing about who was truly the ... archaic feminine hygiene product... that is the epithet of choice among the pre-teen set, the same parenting expert drove past in his pick-up, and asked, "Didn't you get them young'uns straightened out yet, Lady?"

Yup.  I think he's already written his letter of recommendation for that Mother of the Year award for me.

So, nearly two hours behind schedule, we began what was supposed to be a 13-hour run to Chicago, with what I had planned to be a "quick" stop at the famous Wall Drug in Wall, SD (most of you know that my maiden name is "Wall", so I just had to at least pick up a bumper sticker). Alas, I had not read-up on the amazing invention they have there, the one that somehow turns 15 minutes into an hour and a half, plus cap-pistols, photo-ops, donuts, and whining.  Silly me.

We loved the Badlands ( I need to read up and try to understand why they are called that.), and it was a delight when we got into western Minnesota,  to finally see the real-life version of the farm pictured in advertising, and immortalized by Fisher-Price: the red barn, silo, white farm house, nestled among trees, with the contented black and white Holsteins grazing on the rolling green hills.  And then  there were more of those, and more of those, and more green pastures, and more green... and... not much else for the entire length of I-90 through the rest of the state. By the time we reached the Wisconsin Dells, it was nearly 11p.m. and I was not fit to drive anymore, so we found a hotel and made a morning start for our destination here in Chicago: the Rogers Park home of my younger brother, Larry, his wife, Lauren, and their almost-3-month-old son, Nolan.  After a a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza lunch, we had little tour of the city, some time on the beach at Lake Michigan, and came back to the apartment to babysit little Nolan for the evening.  (I'm glad my sister-in-law did not witness the lovely parenting scene in Rapid City before she entrusted her precious firstborn to me and the Hedrick Herd.)  Seriously, though, as much as I have loved the scenery on this trip, tonight's quiet evening in, with my kids watching old  80's TV shows on Hulu, and taking turns cuddling their little cousin, singing to him, learning how to warm-up a bottle and change a diaper, was a very, very beautiful sight.  Wherever I may wander... there's no place like home, even if it's someone else's home.  Family is irreplaceable: and that cuts both ways.

Tomorrow, a long-ish haul to Gettysburg, PA.   We'll be listening to Civil War history on the way.  My kids are getting a broad education: from poopy diapers to Pickett's Charge.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If I say I've fallen in love with the Black Hills National Forest, does that make me unfaithful?

I sure hope not, because I have.  Fallen in love with the Black Hills, that is.  They are softer and greener than the Sierra, and the sky seems more generous somehow. My kids are getting mighty tired of my rhapsodies of delight over birches and aspens just coming into pale, leafy sparkle.  OK, I'll stop talking about "clean" after today, but  I wonder if it's the influence of all those Scanda-who-vian immigrants in pioneer days who have preserved their neatnik ways down through the generations.  I mean, we pulled into Keystone, home of dozens of ticky-tacky tee-shirt shops and those uniquely tourist-town eateries emitting oily vapors, at around 9:30 a.m., and every shop keeper was sweeping, window-washing, and one guy was even pressure-washing the boardwalk area in front of his restaurant. (I know, it does sound like I've been standing in the Mount Rushmore sunshine too long, doesn't it? )

(I've despaired of adding photos directly to this blog, but here's a link to a shutterfly site with the slideshow so far:  

Today began with Rhys entertaining an older gentleman in the breakfast area of the hotel with a discussion of the merits of the different colors of Froot Loops (foodies, look away!) and when we could break up that party, we started out on an exploration of Keystone, Rushmore Cavern, Mount Rushmore, and Hill City.  As usual, Calvin and Mark both found the various park rangers, tour guides, and docents to be fascinating buffets of knowledge, and proceeded to pig-out on all the info the experts could offer.  Patti and Calvin both decided to do the Junior Ranger program at Mt. Rushmore, earning their badges after completing a knowledge-quest of various info, and submitting to a short quiz. The examining ranger told Patti that her answers were full of "stuff that I never hear from the kids who do this program"... I hope that means it was good. 

 Meanwhile, Mark, who bought his very first pocketknife at a souvenir stand in Keystone, spent some very happy whittling time while listening to the park rangers, and managed to teach himself one of those small, absolutely necessary lessons about working with a pocket-knife.  Fortunately, the ranger popped off her hat, and produced an antiseptic wipe and a band-aid.  We'll call that a different kind of "badge" for Mark.  Skinned knuckle or not, I'd rather Mark work on his fine-motor dexterity with whittling than have him zone-out with one of those two-thumbed electronic pacifiers that I've some kids carry around.  (And, no, Gramma, I'm not letting the boys whittle in the car.  The knives go into my purse for safe keeping.) 

And at the moment, I'm watching my kids play with half a dozen other travelling kids in the hotel pool... my poor, unsocialized, homeschooled kids, tee-hee.  Tomorrow, we embark on a VERY long one-day run to Chicago.  Yes, I'm crazy.  Prayers would be appreciated.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Late night laundry room thoughts

Greetings from another day on this trail of friendly folks, clean gas-station restrooms, periodic announcements of farts (I am travelling with three boys, after all), and spontaneous fun.  On a fuel-stop in the vast open spaces of Eastern Wyoming, we had a water-gun fight at a gas-station stop in Sundance, kind of our own version of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  As we passed by the town of Spearfish, Calvin suggested that we check out what looked like a really cool waterpark.  It turned out to be part of the city-owned rec. center in Spearfish, and it was an excellent water park:  clean, new, well-run, full of friendly folks, and really cheap.  I will post some photos on this blog eventually, but I won't be posting the photo that Patti took of Calvin and me, on an inflateable raft, zooming down a waterslide, unless I'm sure that I'm mostly hidden by splash.  Also spontaneous, but not quite so fun was the hour or so we spent visiting with the friendly folks at the local ER, after a teen-age gal fell off the "water-climbing" wall and landed on Patti's face.  Patti was bruised and bloodied enough that we needed to verify that her nose wasn't broken.  It isn't.  She'll be fine in a day or so when the swelling goes down.  And the little owie was not enough to stop her from deciding to play with her brothers at the pool here at our hotel, after we checked in this evening.  Kids... an afternoon at the water park, and they still want to play in the pool.  I was like that once.

And now I'm doing laundry.  Plus ca change, eh?

But seriously, we are having a WONDERFUL time.  The scenery has been glorious, and the logistics of our travelling routine are getting easier and easier with repetition.  The kids have decided not to rotate their "jobs" for the trip, so Mark is keeping our accounts, and helping the other kids to understand that this travelling thing is NOT free.  Calvin is getting more and more skilled at map-reading and noticing exits and mileage, as well as helping me to not freak out when the computer-generated driving directions do not correspond to the road signage.  Patti is our food-service coordinator par excellence.  She can slap together lunch from cooler while travelling at 80 mph, and can tell you how many bags of baby carrots we have left, and how many yogurts.  Today's turkey-and-cheese with horseradish sandwich, with a side of cherry tomatoes and ranch dip was better than many, many in-flight meals I've had.

Well, the clothes are almost dried and I need to get some rest.  Tomorrow, we explore the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and... who knows?  from our temporary base here in Rapid City.

The only thing I'm missing on this trip is adult company.  I guess that's where you all come in.

Friday, June 3, 2011

When in Casper, order Chinese food

...unless you actually like Chinese food.  In which case, you might go for Mexican or steaks or something.  Oh well, at least it wasn't Burger King again.  Greetings from Casper, Wyoming, where everything has a silouette of a cowboy on it, and Ming House on historic 2nd Street plays country music to accompany your dinner.  The drive today was SPECTACULAR, and not nearly as long as yesterday's run.  We are going to have to do some remedial geology study when we get back.  There were just SO many different land formations and types of rock in the road cuts between Salt Lake City and Casper that none of us, not even Mr. Encyclopedia, Calvin, could identify.  We also stopped at one of those "wildlife viewing areas" where the wildlife actually obliged.  After taking a posed shot in front of a sign titled "Wyoming Wildlife", we then spotted a Pronghorn antelope mother and baby (awwwww...).  Unfortunately, the camera battery died, so you'll just have to believe me on that one.  We've been in phone contact with Andre, when cell-service permits, and he informs us that our dog, Cricket, spent ALL of yesterday perched on a bench in front of the living room window, waiting for the rest of her pack to return.  I think we may have to set up a doggy-skype for her and the kids.

Salt Lake City via SNOW in June

Good morning from Salt Lake City!  We pulled in here around 1 a.m. local time, but had a memorable, and mostly easy drive all day.  We marvelled at the deep snow on the mountainsides in the Sierra, coming over Donner Summit, but were very grateful that the roads were clear and dry.  My knuckles got kinda stiff from gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly as we navigated a mix of sleet/snow near the summit, but that will pass.  Sunset lit the snow-capped peaks of the ? Sawtooth? Wasatch? amazing shades of rose and orange, which we watched from the kids' playscape at Burger King in Elko, Nevada.  (Foodies, just close your eyes to the fast-food references.  There may be several.)

We've been listening to a biography of Crazy Horse, and having great discussions about what happens when cultures collide.  It's fascinating to hear what an 8 year old would have done if he'd been in charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1850's.  The kids are doing a great job of sharing, helping me, and helping each other.  I'm sure there will be days when they are ready to kill each other, but for now, I'm grateful.

Another thing to be grateful for:  when the kids went down to the car this morning, to retrieve our breakfast box, they found one door standing open.  (I'm not sure how that happened, as I KNOW I pushed the "door close" button.) There was really nothing to steal, except a few dirty socks, and the iPods.  The iPods were under some dirty kleenexes and I guess the would-be thieves were not allergy sufferers?  The iPods were both still there. Unfortunately, so were the dirty socks.

ONWARD toward Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument !

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

All the comforts of home

OK, so I'm completely avoiding the "doing" of packing right now, in favor of contemplating, and hoping that clarity will arrive.  Sounds very zen, doesn't it?

 Actually, it's more like one of those SAT problems:

  "Val is planning to fill an as-yet-unseen rented minivan with unknown cargo space X and is trying to figure out how many cubic feet of stuff will fit into it.  Subtract from this quantity the amount of stuff that is truly unnecessary, factoring for snow in the Sierra, wind in the high plains, mud in Maine, and hot muggy summertime in the South and East. Include church clothes for a Sunday baptism, and healthy snacks in a cooler to save money.  Express your answer in terms of dufflebags.  Show your work." 

And while you scribble your calculations, I'll sit here and think about how much of home I actually WANT to have with me on the road.  What if "getting away from it all" actually means, "finding all the necessary power-cords, adapters, portable versions of... and travel-sized... so that you can bring it all with you?"  Does a combination coffee-press-single-serving-travel-mug count as a necessity?

My 4 year old just informed me that he's already packed.  His bag contains two stuffed animals and a lot of underwear with cars on it, oh and his bright-orange, hand-knit neckwarmer that I made him last winter.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The countdown begins

Yes, I AM crazy.  I am going to pick up a rented minivan on Thursday, pile-in my kids, some bedding, some clothes, and some gifts for our various hosts, and take off on a 6,000 mile / 1-month  round-trip journey to Maine and back to California.

We've got a library of audio-books accessible on my computer, which will talk to my iPod, which will plug into some little white doodad that broadcasts the iPod signal through an unused low-frequency on my car radio, through the speakers of the car, and ... voila!  Mobile education through ridiculous technology, right?  (And if it doesn't work right, then my children will probably get at least one vocabulary lesson entitled: "Don't say this in front of Gramma-Pat")  If it works, we'll be well-versed in the biography of Crazy Horse, and the history of Little Bighorn, and General George Custer.

In the weeks leading up to this trip, we've zested lemons from our trees and picked (washed, pitted-one-by-one) dark cherries from the orchard over the hills, and made limoncello (for hosts who imbibe) and cherry jam (for our hosts who don't).  The kids and I have pored over maps and guidebooks, and the AAA TripTik website to plan our route.  We've watched the History Channel series "How the States Got their Shapes" and parts of "The Story of US".  We've read "The Great Turkey Walk" and my book-loving sons have dug into reading on their own.  We're prepared.

My three oldest kids (12, 10, and 8) will have rotating "jobs" throughout the trip.  One job is Trip Accountant: keeping an accounting of all money spent on the trip.  Another is "Food Service Coordinator", in charge of the cooler that we will keep filled with veggies, fruit, cheese, lunch meat, and cold drinks. He or she will have to keep a log of what gets used up, make a shopping list for necessary replacements, will hand out snacks as requested, and will change out the ice at each night's stopover.  And the third job will be "Navigator": logging miles travelled, gallons of gas purchased, time between stops... lots of math.  For those jobs, they will earn a daily "salary" to be used toward souvenirs and junk food.  (I'm SO mean, aren't I?  But seriously, how will I tame the begging for Slurpees and ugly tee-shirts otherwise?) As for my non-writing, non-calculating 4-year old (Ok, he is "calculating" but not in the mathematical sense.), he'll be busy playing farm-animal bingo, and asking a million questions about everything he can think of, while practicing the necessary letters to write naughty words on his dry-erase board, I'm sure.

And, no promises, but I hope to update this blog each night as we scribble and chatter, and howl and whine, and sigh and snarf our way around this amazing country of ours.

And today, at 3:00 local time on this Memorial Day, we will observe a moment of silence in honor of those brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, purchasing with their blood, the freedoms we take for granted every day, including a crazy mom's freedom to take the month of June to teach her kids, hands-on, about America.