Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Punchy In the Backseat

To say that we are packed tight in the back seat is an understatement. This is really what our legs look like whenever we are in the car. My mother can't drive because of cataracts, and she can't sit in the back seat because of a torn meniscus. The idea was that my father and I would alternate driving. This lasted all of his first turn in the back seat. After that, somehow, he flew to the drivers seat and never let me have the keys. I don't blame him one bit.

We also had this great idea that as we stopped at people's houses our load would lighten. That once we got to Maine, we would be so pared down that we could fit everything in one suitcase and one carry on each. That is not the case. This is the rear view of the car BEFORE we stopped at the Preppy Mecca that is LL Bean in Freeport, ME.

Most of the time we are content back here. We watch the ever changing scenery, marvel at the mountains and evergreens that are becoming more prevalent in Northern New England than they have been so far on our trip. We look at other cars, checking for state license plates that we have yet to see and at outrageous RV or truck rigs that take up far more than their allotted lane. Sometimes I see a minivan exactly the same as mine and wish we were riding in that instead of this wagon. That car has enough room so that when Luke decides to act out his aggressions on his sister, she can get away from him before he punches her.
As we drove from New Hampshire to Maine yesterday we watched the lakes and mountains of NH turn into rugged Maine terrain, rivers, then finally the ocean. By this stage of the trip we know what to expect in the backseat. We know that we will stop for potty breaks in a timely manner and that we don't have to point out every Dunkin Donuts because we will stop at one in the morning. We know that when lunch time rolls near we all start pointing out the fast food restaurant signs and choose as a group. After 10 days we are seasoned travelers. But we get bored. There are not many new things to discover. We have all listened to our playlists at least once, redbox hopped from one state to the next and read all our books.
As we came close to our destination of Boothbay,ME we drove through Bath, ME. This old town has a history of boat building and we drove right past the Bath Iron Works. But this rich history was totally lost on us on day 10. We just kept asking each other questions like, "What is the toy store here called"
" Bath Toys"
" What is the club for all the Matthews called?"
" Bath Matts"
" What is the container store called?"
" Bath Tubs"
Aahh, yes, we visited Pun Land. We were tired and road weary and the lowest of humor was making us laugh ourselves silly.
" What is the Soap store called?"
" What is the Clock store called?"
" What is the Towel store called?"
They just kept coming... someone would ask the question and everyone would yell the answer in unison.
The game ended in a final show stopping explosion as we drove out of town. Bek was trying to get us to say "Bath Drain" but said " What do you call the big hole in the middle of town?"
And Luke yelled in solo and with complete innocence as only an 11 yr old on day 10 in the car can " BATHHOLE!!!!"
If you don't get that you should spend a few days crammed into the backseat of a car.
Or just say it outloud.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Truth About This Series

Aw, come on, it's nothing really juicy. You can stop reading now if you are expecting something gossip worthy. The truth is that posting is kind of difficult. First off, I am on vacation so I'm getting the most fun for the time I can. Not only do I have to have wifi access, which isn't that hard, most of the time. But I have to use Beks laptop.

Beks worked and saved up so that she could buy her own laptop. For this I am very proud. It is also the only one that we brought, so my blog entries have to be done while she is sleeping or otherwise occupied. If she awakes or senses that I am on her precious toy, she stands over my shoulder telling me in one breath to " up the funny" and in the other to get off so she can watch H2O videos or check on her webkinz. The above is what it generally looks like when she is nearby and I am writing. One of us is happy.

The next leg of our journey is to Maine and onto my parents boat. The wifi connection is iffy at best at the boatyard. I hope to get back to you with tales of my children learning to talk like sailors or eating lobster and how Skipper Dave handles Luke on board...but it might be few and far between. I'll get back to you because I am having so much fun doing this and am getting some great feedback ( oh, please comment! I love comments!)..but it might not be every or every other day. oh, crud.. here she comes... KOS...

Things you miss on the phone

One of the greatest discoveries of this trip is seeing the different personality quirks of people that I thought I knew. People who I have known most or all of my life I am finding that not being around them for all these years, they have developed interests or hobbies or quirks that I never knew about. Discovering them is one of my greatest joys on this trip.

My twin brother and I were watching TV the other night. First we watched a show that I would have predicted interested him. Smart, clever, techie, good guy/bad guy, violence-- it was the kind of movie and book he likes to read and has his whole life ( It was Leverage, on TNT). After that show was over, he said that his favorite show was on. Great, another guy show. He flipped the channel and immediately started his background commentary. At first I thought he was joking. I started with glances to see his face, trying to decide if he was serious. But then I just gave in and stared full on when he said " Oh this guy is Broadway, he's not dancing his style but he's doing pretty good." and then " She is a ballerina, usually she does more toe work". This big burly, marathon running, Karate kicking, Mountain biking, Techie Manager is a big fan of " So You Think You Can Dance." Never saw that coming.

I have a cousin Carrie, who is very close to me and age. We have always gotten along very well, but don't keep in touch as often as we should. She has her two teenage daughters that she is raising with her husband in Massachusetts. I am raising my three in the Midwest. Yesterday we were talking about things we want to do " someday" and discovered that, not only do we share many interests, but we both were seriously considering a tattoo, in the same spot. Who knew?

My Sisterfriend Debbie, who has a former career and degree in fashion will only wear black or brown sneakers. She refuses to get any that are white, pink blue or any pretty color.

My son, who I live with everyday. The kid who is constantly shuffling activities and never maintaining interest in one for very long, seems to have a compulsive interest in fishing. We are staying at a house with a small dock that can be fished off of. We have not been here 24 yet and has spent countless hours, some even rainy hours, fishing. He got Uncle Bill to take him out this morning to use his own 11 yr old funds to get worms. So far his fish count is 26. He even skipped the best part of the old fashioned breakfast the my Aunt Mary prepared ,to fish. I never knew that there was an anything that would hold this childs interest in this manner.

A couple of nights ago the eldest of my families cousins ( tee hee, she'll love that " eldest" part) hosted a wonderful dinner for us. She and her husband brought us back to their home and served us dessert. I communicate with Debbie via facebook quite a bit. I spent a few hours with her in her home and at dinner. But two nights later I was sitting with another cousin, in another state and saw a beautiful collection of knitted items that Debbie had created. She has them displayed online and they were fabulous. I missed this detail of her life entirely.

I have noticed many other things about these people that I thought I knew. I am simultaneously intrigued and saddened. These people that I thought I knew have these delightful interests. But I never knew it. What else am I missing?

It has been far too long and I have missed far too much with these people. I am discovering things about all of us that I never would have had we not come. Things that will color and enhance our relationships in the future. Never saw that coming.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Laundry, work and dead critters-- recipe for a great vaca!

I handed over a collection of souvenirs and postcards to the post office clerk " Do you have a box that these will fit in?" She gave a little giggle " You are like me, I don't send out postcards until I'm home either". Big Susan Smile " I'm not home, I'm sending them home, I'm still on vacation."

The awkward part of a vacation like this is that we are not in a vacation area. We are visiting and seeing people in the places they LEAVE when they go on vacation. They are mid real life, not on the easygoing pace of a holiday. They have to go out of their way to make time to see me, and I love them more for doing it. I realize it is an inconvenience but they make the effort because they love me.

Yesterday I hung out with my best friend since kindergarten. I call this woman a Sister Friend because she is family.When my twin brother didn't have a date for a prom, she went with him. We have shared memories, families, vacations, rent,angst, joy, and, in one instance, underwear. Yesterday we went to the laundromat, ran errands,drinking coffee and visiting the whole time. We talk fairly frequently, know all the players in each others lives and can reference past incidents with current ones without explanation. There is never an adjustment time with her so the few hours she could eek out of her schedule yesterday and today to hang out with me doing everyday things like laundry, feel natural There is no hint of cramming memory making activities into a short period. We know that memories will be there in the mundane.

Last night there was a party of another group of friends who are family. In our growing up years this family shared many adventures with mine. Every New Years Day we all had a standing date for a day of board games and fine dining courtesy of my mothers kitchen. Last night we recreated one of those days. I thought the evening was doomed within the first half hour.

After we arrived, the hosts- the friends of my parents, took us on a tour of their daylily garden. They are breeders and have roadside signs leading people to their yard. They also have a decent blueberry patch on the woody acreage where they live. Despite efforts to keep the woodland creatures out of the berries, they had an ongoing chipmunk problem. Chipmunks! The cute singing critters from the movies were eating the blueberries as they ripened.

Being Yankees full if ingenuity, the gardeners had rigged up a pirate plank trapping system for the chipmunks. A 5 gallon paint bucket half full of water with a layer of sunflower seeds , a trail of them up a wooden plank leaning over the top of the bucket. Blueberry thief eats the trail, sees a thick layer of more seeds and plummets to a watery death. Not the most humane, but efficient.Also very traumatic for kids to see when it works just as all the kids get there. yay.

And then the tree fell.

There was no damage to any building, outbuilding or car from the tree. The chipmunk that was swimming in the bucket was taken to a nearby field and let loose. We ate, drank and laughed until we cried for the rest of the evening. Real life with a few hours of vacation for all.

Today is our last day in Connecticut. There are several people making schedule changes in their real lives to make our last day here enjoyable and very full. For me, this year, that creates perfect vacation memories.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sur La Plage

After seeing Lady Liberty we walked to the car. Bek and I were side by side and she had a look of bliss on her face, " Mom, I LOVED New York, but the smell of the ocean was my favorite part." I wondered then, for the first time in my life, if it was possible for experiences to creep into our DNA.

I grew up on the ocean. Most of my childhood summers were spent living on a boat. We had a house, but the boat was where we went for the weekends, and the long vacation each summer. I even recall a couple of summers where my dad commuted to this floating summer house from his job in Hartford. Having sneakers that never quite dried because they were wet with the Atlantic was so common I never even realized it was uncomfortable until I was an adult. Rinsing sand from body crevices, knowing the tide schedule and where the sandbars and muscle beds were was just part of our lives, like my kids know what channels Disney and Nick are and that summer means Baseball.

What my kids don't really know is the ocean. Beks comment made me wonder if it was possible for my childhood to have crept into her physical makeup. She was at the beach as a toddler. I laugh at the memory of every woman in our group applying sunblock to her very fair skin , each of us thinking " oh no, what if someone else missed a spot!" Luke was a similar age when he last visited the beach. They might have snippets of memories now, at 12 and 11, but a strong pull like I possess had to be developed over many summers, many memories.

Didn't it?

Yesterday the clouds broke and my Sister-in Law, Tracy took us to the beach. We went to a small beach near where they rent a cottage each summer . The ride seemed longer than I remember, but Tracy and I had traveled to these beaches, or nearby ones, as teenagers. It's what we skipped school to do, how we spent our weekend free times and days off once we had jobs. The pull of the beach is strong for Tracy and I because it is a part of our lives. The thrill for my kids was the opposite, it was new and different.

The smell hit us first, then we rounded a corner and saw it, big, blue, shimmering-- and I had a feeling of home instantly. The weathered cedar shake houses, the beach grasses, the lawns all sporting hydrangea and pink fairy roses, the smell of low tide in an inlet...

" EWW.. what is that smell?!" Screamed Luke from the backseat. My fantasy beach day memories came to a harsh and abrupt halt. This child did not like the smell of the ocean?! As he is entering puberty I often wonder what happened to my kid, where this creature came from, but now, in this instant, I knew it. They must have switched babies in the hospital.

I quickly looked over and saw the look on Beks face as she gazed at the Atlantic. I recognized the look because it was the same one I had on my face. But Luke? He was born from me, he looks too much like me to deny it, but his father is not an ocean fan. Brian was raised in the Midwest and thinks oceans are full of sharks and danger. Just like my family on the East Coast thinks the Midwest is full of tornadoes and cows. Luke is more like his father than me. He enjoyed our day at the beach, swimming in the icy waters, hauling up every form of seaweed he could find and getting buried in sand by his sister and cousin. But he could live for many years without ever returning. He does not possess the call of the sea. Inherited or learned, he does not have it.

But Bek and I, we can look at each other in a knowing way that we share this bond: the smell of low tide does not offend us, and the shimmering blue calls to us in a foreign language that we are both fluent in.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Small Town Kids, Big City

Today was the day that Brian most fretted over. His babies were hitting NYC. He has been there before, knows that it is just as safe as Kansas City.. but in his heart ,it's the big scary city that is going to devour his precious children.

Because of his nerves, I had to play it up cool.. " they will be fine... don't worry!" But I did, a little bit.Not his Master Worrier level, but typical Mom Worry. Our Host, my room mate from college and her family, was our official tour guide. It had been far too many years since I had ventured into New York and even then, I needed exact direction about where to go. It's just not my favorite city.

There, I said it. I don't entirely Heart NY. Growing up in Connecticut we ventured down there fairly frequently. I've been to shows on Broadway, seen the Christmas show at Radio City, spent weekends in hotels and with friends who lived there. I just never got the warm fuzzies that others did. After college I even dreaded the prospect of finding employment there. So bringing my kids there sounded fun, the the actual leading around was best left to someone more qualified. Enter Sharon. This made Brian slightly more comfortable. But the night before he was still giving me Overly Protective Parent hints. " Do NOT let Luke out of your sight" " Have Luke walk in FRONT of you". " If Luke has to go to the bathroom, stand right outside." Apparently Luke was his biggest concern, and, truth be told, mine as well.

We took the train from a commuter station in Maplewood NJ. The good thing about having kids who don't leave our little town much is that the bar is set pretty low when it comes to new experiences. The train was a huge thrill and Luke had the jaded commuters smiling over their laptops and newspapers as he announced " I will never live in New York,Kansas City is perfect for me. I can't imagine living here."

As they emerged from Penn Station and stared at the Empire State Building, the kids were hooked. There was no small town kid hesitation, no trepidation, no shyness.. they dove right in. Asking questions , oohing and aahhing as Sharon pointed out sights. They wanted to go to the places they would have heard of as kids -- Toys R Us,Times Square, Hard Rock- and Sharon our willing guide led us. She added a few stops that they were happy to see-- St Patrick's Cathedral,Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall. They saw 5th Avenue and the Garment District.We had a very simple route that allowed them to experience a taste of New York without overwhelming them.

Luke was not shy, talking up sales clerks, buying things off the street, being quiet when quiet was necessary. Bek soaked it all in. At this point in her life she wants to be a writer when she grows up and as the day went on I could imagine her living for a time here. gaining experiences that would color her work. I had been so busy worrying about them, I didn't even stop to think how they would react. We all happily delighted in our reactions to the sights, sounds and smells.

At the end of the day, we went to see the Statue Of Liberty.. not from New York, but from the state of our Hosts. We drove out to Liberty State Park to end our NYC experience gazing at Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. Our view of the statue from that side of the river told our futures of New York: we will be back.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On The Road Again

Can I get an "oops"?

At the end of Day one, we looked at the GPS, who we have named Gypsy, and we determined that we had about 5 hours to reach our first Friend Stop in New Jersey. We stayed in a Red Roof Inn that was housing a team of Asplundhites. They were working some project in the area but it was Saturday. Saturday isn't for working, Saturday was for partying.We saw them, grill a'flame at 5PM, multiple coolers being filled, lining up yard games in the parking lot.We asked the Desk Clerk if this was a problem, if my kids might be in danger of being offended. "Oh, no, was the reply,they are great guys, ask them to throw something on the grill for you."

We reluctantly took the rooms. We did not ask for anything on the grill. We did get woken up repeatedly with drinking games and loud revelry. We did get an easy discount on our rooms when we saw the same Clerk the next morning and answered the question " How was everything". But we did not get a good night sleep.

9AM came and we hit the road, turned on Gypsy and our 5 hour arrival changed. Apparently Gypsy doesn't do backward, or account for a bad nights sleep and a tight fitting car ride. She didn't know that we wanted to stop at The Crayola Factory in Easton PA. She didn't know that we wanted to arrive at our friends house at 4PM. She just looked at the distance, our speed and calculated our arrival time.

We left St Clairesville, Ohio at 9 AM, and pulled into the Stewart's Drive in Maplewood New Jersey at 5:00. We still do not know how Crayola Crayons are made.

We are rolling with the schedule, showing ourselves how flexible we are and enjoying our trip. But we had a big oops in calculation on Day 2. But it doesn't do anyone good to be upset with our human calculations, and it really doesn't do any good to yell to yell at Gypsy. She won't react. Just trust me on this.

Shakedown Cruise

Bekah gave a deep sigh of resignation " My foot is all sweaty, and it's not my sweat."

This pretty much sums up how tight we are packed into the Volvo. Feet on feet, thigh on thigh.. when Luke ate a gummi worm, gramma m'am had the sugar flash. Someone was on the hump in hot backseat,no footroom for their carryon bag so it sat on their lap. The twitchy 11 yr old had the biggest learning curve. He is used to be given a very wide berth but in the car, on this trip, wide was out of the question. Each of his moves were felt by someone. His volume had to be adjusted to a much lower level, another huge challenge for him. By the end of the day the tension between the senior and jr male would have me in tears at a really lousy restaurant table ( really.. who put cumin in chicken noodle soup??)We all knew the first day would be hard, and it didn't disappoint.

When Skipper Dave announced that if anyone had to go to the bathroom, to just give him ample warning, Luke tried it out and we were pulling into a MCDonalds 20 minutes from our house. We didn't even make it out of KC.

Don't get me wrong, there were highlights, we stopped to see the St Louis Arch and all of us were gleeful to get out of the car and see the sights. My children rediscovered the joy of the Rest Area.And well, there is only 24 hrs to a day, it had to end at some point. And it did. Not far enough along, but it ended just on the border of Illinois and Indiana, falling short of our goal on Indy on day.. but succeeding in accomplishing a major feat. We all survived, lived and learned from day one.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Adventure 2009: Prologue

Do you REALLY want me to pull this car over?”

As parents I’m sure we have said this statement. Why? Because we heard it from our parents and it scared us silent in the back seat when we were kids. It worked on us, it should work on our kids. Or so the theory says. Now, what if YOUR Dad says it to your son? Has Dad mellowed, is his hearing gone enough that he won’t hear the non-stop-babble of an energetic 11 yr old? Or has he been so far removed from it that just a little SuperTween Energy will have him digging into his bag of proven car silencing tricks and hauling it out before we even leave the KC Metro? I dunno. I aim to find out.
Tomorrow our adventure begins. Me, my two oldest children, and my parents set off on a car trip from Missouri To Maine, with stops in NJ, NY, CT and NH. We will hang out for 5 days on my parents boat in Maine, then board a train in Boston heading to Chicago for another 3 days stay before we finally come home to Kansas City. 18 Days. 5 People. Three modes of transportation.. One survivor.. er, I mean, one potentially awesome vacation. Let’s meet our contestants., well, the group:

Dad: 75, AKA: Skipper Dave. This is my father, the guy who I kinda resemble. He is quiet, and when he says something you really aren’t sure if he is being serious or joking. His sense of humor is that dry. He has mellowed considerably since I was a kid, and can find the beauty of any area. My parents have been living aboard a boat for 5 years. In that time they have traveled from China through the south pacific to the West coast, on down to Central America, through the Panama Canal, up to the East Coast. This area is their home waters. They had been living aboard another boat half time for many years, traveling from Connecticut ( our home state) to Maine in the summers, down to North Carolina in the winters. Along this journey just about every port they stay in he says “ I could live here”. Greatest Potential for Conflict: The energy level of the kids.

Mom: 75, AKA: Gramma M’am. This is my mother. I sound just like her on the phone. She is a former costume designer, perpetual student of humanity. She never really followed a set path, and was a working mom before working moms were cool. She loves art and color and is one of those women who will look at a piece of children’s art and say “ tell me about your work” and listen to the answer marveling in the way a child’s mind and motor skills work together. She is the one who is insisting we stop at the Crayola Factory on our way. She is retired, and travels as a lifestyle. Greatest Potential for Conflict: Being the buffer between her husband and my son.

Bek: 12, AKA: Kurligirli. This is my eldest child. She has my eyes and sense of humor. She is very bright, and possess maturity beyond her years. She wants to be a writer when she grows up and spends countless hours working at her craft. She is excited about this trip, but also has an anxiety disorder that flares up at the oddest times. She lives on peanut butter and carbs. Greatest Potential for Conflict: Freezing up as we are just about to do something.

Luke: 11 AKA: The Squirrel This is my middle child. He looks like my twin brother when he was 11. He is a very inquisitive child, with a very loud voice. He is outgoing and friendly and entertaining. He is also a bundle of energy , tween hormones, and prolific sweat glands. He has not been on anything that even vaguely resembles a vacation since he was 3.. it’s all new to him. So in addition to his typical energy level, he has conflicting emotions-- he wants to go on an adventure but it scares him a bit so he acts out. And up. And any other direction he can find. Greatest Potential for Conflict: I have to pick one?? I can’t do it. There are too many unknown variables.

Me: 46 AKA: Mom, Darling Daughter. I made a vow that I would get Luke out of Missouri this summer and this opportunity eventually presented itself. I am excited to see old friends and family that I have not seen in far too long. I am excited to experience all the first that my kids will do, but I am out of practice traveling so I’m getting bogged down with the details. I know when all is said and done and only memories and a t-shirt remain it will have been worth it, but I am still anxious. Greatest Potential for Conflict: Being Mom and Daughter and Sister and Cousin and Friend all at the same time and exploding.

I will be blogging from the road when I am available. You can also follow me on twitter ( essephvee) but I’m a rookie there so I expect some technical difficulties. I expect technical difficulties in many areas and I will share them here. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Signs of Summer

Hazy cool mornings. Blooming flowerbeds. Ice Cream trucks. Sprinklers. Water skiers. All images of summer, right? The picture above is one that I like to show as to how I THINK my house looks. The summertime image that I hope people see when they visit. But the truth is that around my house there are other images that scream summertime much louder than the ones I would rather look at.

I took a walk around this morning and snapped some shots of Signs of Summer in my house. I assume these are fairly universal.. oh dear Lord, please let these be universal! I see this stuff everyday, so much that I don't flinch anymore. Sort of like someone who lives at the beach and might overlook the majestic scene out their window..ok, alright... it's nothing like that. But these are things so common that they don't affect me anymore. Take a look. Anything familiar?

Someone was kind enough to get the 4 yr old a snack. It wasn't me and I didn't give permission because the two bags of chips and cup of milk ruined his appetite for lunch which was mere minutes away. And, hey, Mystery Kid, thanks for cleaning up the mess, too! ( They are my children, they are fluent in sarcasm)

Bargain ice treats... not only do we get a box of 100 for mere pennies, we get a workout picking up the plastic wrappers that end up in the oddest places.

Juice box straws. Somewhere there is a small plastic straw sleeve that this came in. Somewhere else is the empty crushed box or Capri-sun pouch. The three are never found together after the 20 seconds it takes a kid to suck down the contents.

I have a chewer. He has graduated from chewing his shirt sleeves and collar to chewing bottle caps. He leaves these around in places that do not even resemble the trash can. I'm glad it isn't gum on my ottoman or in the yard, but ew.. yuck! This is gross.
The TV is on. The TV is on a show the kids adore and I can't stand. The TV volume is high. The TV volume is where the kids like it and I can't stand it. I am in this room. There are no children in this room right now. They leave it like this. I'm glad they are off doing something that isn't sitting still letting Sponge Bob melt their minds. I'm not so thrilled that they leave the TV blaring when they leave the room.

This is the scene in my kitchen a mere 10 minutes after I have cleaned it. The counters were clear, the sink was empty and I went upstairs to fold laundry. The kids made themselves a snack. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that they can fend for themselves and know how to get dishes into the sink and trash sorta near the can. They are a work in progress and obviously our next step is cleanup.
I guess the main thing I took from my photo safari this morning was that among the carefully prepared images my home may present, my kids are works in progress. Like the flowerbeds that need to be constantly weeded and trimmed. The rooms that need dusting and care to maintain them-- the kids require far more attention, energy and time. And I know that I get more out of spending that time, attention and energy raising my ever evolving children than staring at the perfectly presented still life's the world has to offer.