End of Summer Ramblings

So here’s a quick run down of our summer.

Went here:

Didn’t ride this:

Drank this:

Just got back from here:

Here’s what our soon to be high school sophomore daughter bought while on vacation earlier this month:

I couldn’t say no. I mean, they are freaking awesome. Pretty sure the tag actually says “Hysteria.” I really don’t mind walking through the mall and going into the some of the stores the girls like because all the stuff is pretty familiar. Except I’m the old guy in the store now. But the clothing racks sure look like it could be any random day between 1987-1991. I mean, shredded jeans? Not that I can pull it any of it off in the least by the way, but a dude can reminisce. All I need is a 12 pack of Milwaukee’s Best, hair, and my faded Levi’s jean jacket.

Anyway, summer in all its brilliant awesomeness is coming to a close. School starts Monday for the girls. Like Bob Seger tells in Night Moves – “Strange how the night moves, With autumn closing in.”

It always is interesting to me how this happens. I mean you roll through June with the outlook that the whole summer is ahead of you. Then the Fourth of July arrives. You’re complaining about having to wear socks to work, you’re kids haven’t been out of bed before 10 a.m. since the last day of school and baseball is really, really holding your interest. Seriously, how are the Cardinals doing it? I’m convinced they are the Patriots of the MLB. They’re cheating. Anyway, you my friend, are without any question, a summer veteran.

July is a good month for us. Not too much dance stuff going on with Rye, softball takes a break with Kinz and Bails, and we normally take a vacation. This year we jammed two separate trips into a span of 24 days. 16 days on vacation and 8 days at work. I’m not gonna lie, it was really pretty great, as the visual summary above indicates.

So now it’s August. I’ve always liked August. Never really been all that fond of September though. Not sure why. Maybe its because September always seems confused. Like Rick Perry. Is it summer? Or is it fall? August knows that it’s the end of summer. How does it know this? Pre-season NFL football begins, Octoberfest beers start to appear in your grocery store coolers and kids start to have that resigned look that only the impending first day of school can generate.

Oh, and I can’t wait to hear the whining next week when they have to be up early. It will be an extravaganza of completely unjustified whining. They are going to school. With their friends. For 6-7 hours. That’s called leaving early if you have a job. They will be in 6th, 8th and 10th grade this fall. Every year it becomes more and more disconcerting. Sure, when I started 10th grade it was the fall of ’85. I was listening to this:

Watching this:

And wearing these:

So, yes, it was a long time ago. But still…our youngest turns 12 in about a month…again disconcerting.


I-76 Christmas

Every other year we travel to Colorado for Christmas. You could do worse. Colorado is cool place. It has mountains, a crap ton of microbreweries and both of my sisters live there. It was also 65 degrees in the middle of December. Not too shabby. This trip not only gives us the chance to spend time with my side of the family but also affords us the opportunity to really evaluate the interstate system, grade the exits and their dining opportunities along with the scenery along I-76.

So, Colorado, you have legal pot now. I am sure this reality has drawn a certain demographic to settle within your borders. Congrats, I guess. But you did not have to hire all them to work at the Department of Transportation. Because one of two things is happening as a result. Either the Colorado DOT forgot to take care of their roads because they got hungry or Colorado isn’t using any of the pot tax revenue on its roads. Granted, you probably have other needs which need funding. Off the top of my head, I guessing more law enforcement. But geez, c’mon Colorado, you suck at highways. Badly. It’s like you deliberately laid each concrete section of I-76 a half inch off of the last one. Describing it as washboard effect does not do washboards justice. The right lane going west was like driving on the brain waves of Nancy Pelosi. So we switched lanes to the less annoying but still shoddy asphalt in the left lane. It was like we were driving on pillows. And not the crappy Wal-Mart pillows, the expensive ones at Pottery Barn. Regardless, how about throwing some of that new drug money at the interstate?

Now, if you find yourself traveling on I-76 in eastern Colorado, here’s a few things to remember:

First, your cell reception will be as reliable as a French armored division in the spring of 1940. Two, if you enjoy watching barbed wire fencing, cattle and a complete lack of trees, you’re in luck. If you’re driving west and you forget to get gas in Ogallala, here’s a rundown on your options just over the pot frontier in Colorado.

Julesburg. We’ve never made it past the Shell station or Wagon Wheel right at the exit so I can’t comment on the town itself. The Wagon Wheel has more room and nicer bathrooms. Also it has an impressive about of trinkets and baubles.

Segewick. I’m not sure what Segewick looks like or actually entails. Lucy’s Café is right off the interstate and had a couple gas pumps. Lucy also had a General Store. I assume the General Store sold more than gun powder and sasparilla. But one thing Lucy’s didn’t have was pavement. I don’t want to cast aspersions upon Segewick or Lucy’s Café and General Store but we haven’t been back since we stopped there in ’08.

Sterling. I recommend stopping here. Although we never have. It appears to be the biggest small town you’ll pass until you get to Ft. Morgan. So I guess there’s less chance you’ll be mauled by a rabid elk or something.

Atwood. There’s a Sinclair station. We stopped there on our way home. It looks like its located on the moon. And there was a small café-type restaurant attached. We were there pretty early on a Sunday morning so it wasn’t real busy. Not that anything is busy at any time anywhere on I-76 in eastern Colorado.

So, in conclusion, getting gas before you cross the Nebraska-Colorado stateline is a good idea. Also having a large capacity bladder.

The Time Between Vacations

Lots of people call this work. I like to call it the three weeks in July between trips to Florida/July 4th week and the Ozarks. It’s also the three weeks when I have to shave for at least five consecutive days for those three weeks. After you spend about two weeks never having to save more than once a week, you kinda fall out of the habit. That’s what happened to me. Yesterday was the third consecutive Monday I’ve had to shave. Thankfully I did not have to do it today as Mom and I caved and agreed to let Kinsey take four of her friends to Adventureland. It’s a local amusement park and waterpark. I was not excited about it. Going to work sounded like a better option. Now don’t get me wrong. Going to Adventureland with Kinz and her friends is not like being in the trenches during the siege of Petersburg in 1865. I’ve not been asked to fight Apollo Creed for the Heavyweight Championship of the world. I didn’t grow up a Lions fan. But as a guy who likes routine, and is not a fan of supervising a gaggle of soon to be 6th grade girls along with Bails who gets to come along, this was not my Tuesday activity of choice.

Turned out fine. Weather cooled off, kids all behaved and there were no injuries. And that’s a win.

That all being said, an interesting and entirely unrelated question occurred to me the other night while I was watching The Breakfast Club on AMC.

When should we let Riley, or any of the girls, start watching John Hughes movies? I don’t mean Uncle Buck and Home Alone either. I mean the ones that defined the teenagerdom of Gen Xers. The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. Ferris Bueller. Weird Science. Okay, not Weird Science, that’s for dudes. Sixteen Candles came out when I was finishing 8th grade. Rye will be starting 8th grade this fall. Too early to let her watch them? She went to see World War Z the other night so I’m not sure Long Duk Dong is going to warp her in any sort of permanent life defining way. And truth be told I don’t screen every movie she watches. Which means she’s already been exposed to the same stuff I’m worried about. Which in turn makes my initial question somewhat less interesting. But here’s the thing, I’m all in favor of not only Riley, but all the girls watching these movies. Just not sure its time yet. Especially after watching The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles for the first time in awhile. I love The Breakfast Club. One of my favorite movies of all time. It’s lands on the all-time list somewhere after Hoosiers, It’s a Wonderful Life and Patton. It could be fourth. Then again, it might not be. Red Dawn, The Blues Brothers and The Hunt for Red October are pretty good movies too.

Have you seen TBC lately? Go watch it again. Now that I have a 13 year-old daughter my perspective on this movie has changed. I really didn’t expect this. I mean I watched it plenty of times since the girls were born. But this was the first time I watched it while I was father a daughter whose age end in “teen.”

That changes a man.

John Bender is far more frightening and menacing now than he was when I was 15. Plus with today’s anti-bullying and harassment laws, he’s a walking lawsuit. Dick, excuse me, Vice-Principal Richard Vernon is so fired if he did any of that stuff in 2013. Back in ’85, I guess it just made him a douchebag. But the movie is still relevant to teenagers even after 28 years because it still deals with all the crap that teenagers think about and deal with. Which, if you recall, is not stuff you really want to do twice.

Second question that we recently discussed involves dancing. Rye and her friend Madison are going to dance a duet this coming dance season in addition to being on the various pom and hip hop dance teams. As far as I can tell the largest impact of this decision is on my wallet as another costume will be purchased and another set of classes/practices will be paid for. Hoo. Ray. The most interesting thing about the duet is that they have to pick a song. Bailey suggested Physical from Olivia Newton-John. Which we thought was hilarious. Also disconcerting. How does Bails – age 9 – know Physical? Has Disney assimilated this song into its empire and sanitized it’s lyrics? Mom suggested PYT by Michael Jackson. Somebody mentioned Express Yourself by Madonna. I had three suggestions. The first was Highway to Hell by AC DC. It was summarily dismissed. Next I suggested Ride the Wind by Poison. It did not gain the necessary traction to be part of the debate. Finally I suggested Let’s Go Crazy by Prince and the Revolution.

Mom seemed intrigued. Riley not so much. However – mitigating factor – she’s never heard the song. So I attempted to explain its awesomeness.

“Back in ’84 at the nightclub, the Kid and his band, also known as the Revolution, were big rivals with Morris Day and his band The Time. The Kid had all kinds heavy, depressing, emotional issues to deal with at home. And there were doubts he’d ever realize his potential on the stage. Then, in one awesome night, he freaking belted out Purple Rain, I Would Die 4 U and then Let’s Go Crazy. And, as I’m sure you assumed, Let’s Go Crazy blew everything else out of the water. Oh and its awesome to dance to and the judges being of similar age to Mom and I will be unable to contain their smiles, enthusiasm and outright love for this song choice. BOOM!”

I was unpersuasive. They picked some song called Dance With Me Tonight by Olly Murs. Yeah, I never really heard of this guy either. And if he got in my car and starting singing the song right there in the passenger seat I not only still wouldn’t recognize it but I’d have to call 911 to report aggravated face punchisizing.

So there’s that.

Islands of Adventure

Mom and I went to Islands of Adventure at Disney about ten years ago. Haven’t been back there on our trips to Florida because the kids have been too small and they’d rather go to Disneyworld anyway. Now they’re too big for Disney. There is no appeal in the rides aimed at the 8 and under demographic. So we took them to Islands of Adventure. Word on the street is that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or as I call it – Asswarts – is the place to go. Everybody says the only thing more awesome than Harry Pottersville is having Helen Mirren in RED as your Grandma. At least that’s what my nephew said.

But before we made it Hogwarts we went on a few other rides. Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall, the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Poseidon’s Fury, Flight of the Hippogriff and Jurassic Park. The only ride we had any sort of wait time was for Poseidon’s Fury which as it turned out was like the Chicago deep dish of cheesy attractions. My advice? Disney should gut it and put up some kind NFL themed ride.

vwThe wait for Harry Potter and Forbidden Journey was 90 minutes. My sister, Rye and I skipped it. Kinsey, Bailey, Mom and my nephew went on Flight of the Hippogriff instead. They said it was pretty fun. Rye and Kinz went on the Dragon Challenge. They said it was awesome. What isn’t awesome is the mass of humanity wedged into Harry Potter land. Now to be fair the set design is cool. The castle that contains the Forbidden Journey ride is really, really impressive. But, and I’m being as polite as I can here, that place is awful. Horrible. My sister took Bails and my nephew into the Honeydukes store and had to exit because it was like Vince Wilfork’s jersey in there. Some other place was selling freaking wands for $35. Wands. You know what I can buy for $35? Two cases of Miller Lite and an order of nachos. Didn’t take me long to make that calculation.

I admit I don’t have any interest in Harry Potter. Didn’t read the books, saw the first movie but none of the others. In fact, we only rented the first one out of some kind of popular culture guilt since we didn’t go see it in the theater. I’d rather watch Hot Tub Time Machine. HP is just not my thing. I understand it might be yours. I like the Walking Dead and World War Z. You may not. I like the NFL, you might like badminton or even soccer. I get that we could have divergent interests. Which might be why the congested nature of Asswarts made it even more unpleasant. I mean I’d rather have lunch with Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz. In San Francisco. Surrounded by aging hippies throwing broccoli and pictures of Sid Bream sliding into home to beat the Pirates in Game 7 of the ’92 NLCS at me. You really have to like Harry Potter to be there.

Its possible, I suppose, that Disney really didn’t anticipate the popularity of this particular area of Islands of Adventure. Somebody needs to get ahold of the Asswarts city council or Board of Wizardry or something and get them to widen the streets. Create some more room. Because I don’t need to see any more Brits with skin paler than White-Out walking around in tank tops. And what’s the deal with the Brazilians? Do you guys go anywhere in groups smaller than 75? Don’t even ask me about the footwear decisions the Europeans make. Practicality and socks with your Nikes is evidently completely optional.

Regardless, it was fun. Glad we went. Despite the ticket prices…

So that’s a shark…

While we were down in Florida we headed over to the Gulf coast which is far superior to the Atlantic side. IMHO of course. Just saying. Went to Anna Maria Island again like we did two years ago. And had lunch at The Sandbar like we did two years. Had the fresh grouper tacos like we did two ago. All still good. We drove down to Lido Beach and stayed there a night. Once we settled into the room we headed to the beach. I realize this shouldn’t surprise me but Bails decided she needed to collect shells. All kids do this. But I think Bails thought she needed to collect all of them. Needless to say, the shells didn’t make the cut when it came time to pack our bags for the flight home.

Anyway, on the Gulf side people always warn you of sharks. More sharks on that side evidentally. Something about the warm waters. I’m not a shark nerd so all of that might be total crap. Doesn’t really matter to me since the locals all talk about the sharks and how you don’t swim at dusk or at night. Good enough for me. But while they talk about the sharks they don’t tell you about the sting rays. Yeah, so I’m about two steps into the water when Bails tells me I need to shuffle my feet when I walk.

What? Why?

Sting rays.

“Sting rays? Really? Do I need to look out for an aquatic T-Rex too?”

Then my older sister disgustedly looks at me and informs me that there was a sign as you walked onto the beach that lets us all know that there were sting rays in the area and that you needed to shuffle your feet when you walked into the water because it would alert the sting rays to your presence.

Okay, but what is going to alert me to their freaking presence? Pretty sure the sting rays aren’t going to give two craps if I show up. But I sure as hell would like to know if they’re around because sting rays aren’t on my afternoon itinerary. Anywhere. I checked. Twice. Plus the girls would probably find the most pissed off sting ray on this particular stretch of beach who by happenstance is exceptionally displeased with feet shuffling in his or her neighborhood.

But we managed to go the whole afternoon without seeing any sting rays. Can’t say the same for old dudes in speedos however.


I’m not sure how else to describe this but old tan wrinkly hairy dudes should not wear speedos. Ever. And if you really must know, no one should wear a speedo. Olympic swimmers don’t even wear them anymore. If the International Olympic Committee could swing it, they’d strike them from all Olympic photographic history.

Anyway, we make it through the night despite having to wedge Bails onto two chairs so she could sleep. I just assumed we’d get her a couple extra blankets and have her sleep on the floor. But we get into the room and it has a tile floor. Doesn’t matter how much Bails likes to stay in hotel rooms, she ain’t sleeping on a tile floor. Worked out okay though. We get up the next morning to take a walk down the beach with the girls and we see this:

Shark Lido Beach

It’s a dead shark. Animal Control Guy pulls up in his pick up and says its probably a dead bull shark. Not sure how it died. So two things here:
1) Bull sharks are more likely to attack people in shallow water than any other shark.
2) Animal Control Guy’s uniform consisted of shorts and a cell phone. Yup. No shirts, no shoes, no hat, no badge, no nothing.

Beach patrol must be a tough gig.

Vacation to Florida

Traveling stresses me. Air travel even moreso. We got back from a week in Florida last week. We flew. Its not that I’m afraid of flying, its that I just don’t really like the lack of a convenient exit strategy. Or even a handy “in case of” strategy. You can’t just pull over if you want. Then you add the girls into the discussion and there’s a lot more stuff going on. Oh, and it turns out that Riley is more of an obsessive detail knower than I am during trips. She wanted to know flight departure and arrival times, time zone changes, flight duration, flight numbers, location of gates, types of snacks served on the plane, types of snacks we brought in our carry-on bags, could they have pop on the plane since its vacation, should she chew gum or just have a couple mints to help with the pressurization changes, which section of the plane normally survives a crash landing, what is the safety record for our type of aircraft, what do you do if you sit next to a weird person, where do you plug in your iPod during the flight. I’m sure there were other questions but it became difficult to keep up. All Bailey wanted to know was where the poop went if somebody needed to make a deposit at Browns National Bank during the flight.

Regardless, air travel accentuates my already worrisome nature vis-à-vis traveling. You literally you are just along for the ride. I realize for some people that’s the great part of flying. All you do is show up, be polite to the security folks and then just sit and ride for the rest of the trip. It’s easy. By the way, can someone please explain what is motivating factor for people who subscribe to the “a verbal middle finger to the TSA is the best way to navigate security” theory? Sometimes, in my opinion of course, you get exactly what you’re asking for. Just FYI.

We’ve all been through security enough now to understand mouthing off to the TSA is dumber than Nebraska hiring Bill Callahan. Dumber than putting your money on Rockwell being the next big breakout star of 1984. Dumber than European soccer fans.

Anyway, one of the things that creates a bit of anxiety for me is the fact that the packing procedures are different for air travel than road travel. Be advised that I’m a roadtrip packing professional. Not kidding. If there were car packing games on ESPN I’d be in them. And I’d be one of the favorites. I get upset when someone tries to help. Just take your bag – once its fully packed of course – out to the car and I’ll take care of it. Don’t place it into the vehicle. Don’t place it next to ready to be packed bags if its not ready to be packed. When we used to take Mom’s Pacifica down to the Ozarks my packing jobs were feat of engineering genius. Now I have a truck and as long as the bungee straps don’t break it doesn’t take quite as much planning. Sorta takes the fun out of it.

But air travel has federal rules. Not just my rules which if you ask the girls have sort of an elastic enforcement policy depending on my mood and the time of year. On flights you can only bring fluids, lotions, etc that are under 3.4 oz. Do you realize they don’t make my deodorant in a travel size? And it all has to go into a clear plastic Ziploc quart bag.

Now don’t misunderstand, once we arrive my folks house down in Florida I’m all about air travel. Cuttin a two day 20-plus hour car trip down to about 6 hours is a pretty good motivator to get over all my crap about flying. And this was the third time we’ve flown to Florida with the girls. And experience always helps. 2009 was the first time and it was oddly really fun. Nobody in the history of airports was as excited as the girls were to eat breakfast in the St. Louis airport. They still think its cool to eat in the airport. Seriously. Go ahead and ask them about the Quiznos in Minneapolis. Best damn Quiznos in the city.

But as luck would have it, our flights were uneventful. We were delayed 37 minutes on our initial departure flight because of FAA rules regarding crew flight time and rest. But we had a three hour layover in Atlanta anyway. Plus Delta checked our bags for free! Plane was full and nobody was checking bags so they offered to do it for free to get some folks to do it. Checked them all the way to Florida. Boom! Free bags! Other than our flight being oversold in Atlanta and me being annoyed by it, it went well too. Coming home our flight left Florida on time and arrived in Minneapolis a good 20 minutes early. Then our flight home was delayed about 20 minutes. Two things we were happy about because we only had a 40 minute connection time. So bonus I guess. Flight home was quick and smooth. Car started when we got in and the house didn’t burn down while we were gone.

But did I tell you we’re renovating both of our upstairs bathrooms? And the renovations started while we were gone…

The Year of Polamalu

Turned 43 last month. Which of course makes it the Year of Polamalu. Hopefully that means Troy stays healthy this year, turns back the hands of time, and looks like the old Troy from 2008. Conversely, it may also mean that life is simply disguising its blitz packages and at any moment a Somoan safety could come unexpectedly flying across my desk and give me a grade 17 concussion.

Anyway, people react in varying ways to their birthdays. Most, if not all, of your reaction is based on your new number. When you turn 21 its this:

When you turn 30 its this:

When you turn 40 its this:

43? Well, I’m not sure. It’s hard for me to believe I’m 43, even harder to come to grips with the fact that once it gets to about 8:30 at night I’m pretty much shutting it down, but I really just can’t fathom that Return of Jedi came out 30 years ago. I remember going to the theater with my buddies Greg and Dan and being as impressed then as I am now with Admiral Ackbar’s coolness under pressure. Still my favorite Star Wars movie. I know its cool and fashionable to say Empire is the best one but c’mon, nobody really enjoyed all that time Luke spent bromancing with Yoda. Other than that I don’t really remember all that much about turning 13. I do remember caring a lot about keeping my hair properly feathered. And that we treated the comb in our back pockets the way Riley treats her cellphone. Oh, and that the video for Chris DeBurgh’s Don’t Pay the Ferryman was weird, Markie Post was the hottest bail bondswoman on TV and the Pirates were still wearing these:

1983 was a long time ago. And I feel bad for those of you who don’t remember it.

Anyway, I just realized last night that we don’t get a break from any of the kids’ activities this summer. Normally, July has a week or two free from the scourge of child transportation. Not so this year. The only breaks we get are when we’re “officially” on vacation. Riley will have summer dance crap into August while both Kinz and Bails are trying out for competitive tournament softball teams next week. So I kinda feel like every morning starts with “WTF?”

Anyway, favorite summer song from 1983:

First Christmas

christmastreewallpaperWe started Christmas at 4:57 a.m. local time a week ago last Thursday. Early Christmas in Colorado with my side of the family. Roughly ten hours to Denver. Mom always drives the first leg. At that time of the morning my senses react the same way you do when someone asks you to sing the 4th verse to O Come All Ye Faithful. Sure you know the music, but its not going to be close to your best effort. Although Mom made it clear that she was pretty tired too so I was staying up anyway. Boo! Girls didn’t have those demands placed up them so they slept until the west side of Omaha. Good job outta Rye as she actually slept all the way to Lincoln. Once she was up, she was so enthralled by the scenery along that stretch of I-80 that she decided to do four hours of math homework. Which, to be completely honest, was pretty damn responsible of her. Although I could do without the incessant sighs and faux frustration about how it was simply impossible to get these particular math problems done. Luckily for me this was mitigated by Mom correcting her mistakes, walking her through the problems…and then immediately thereafter congratulating herself on her math awesomeness.

This is not annoying at all.

So you come up with games to keep your mind occupied. Like how exactly would you react if you saw a mountain lion. Would you keep going? Stop and take a picture to post on facebook? How about a squatch? You’d stop. No choice. But listen western Nebraska isn’t a very squatchy area. Worse than that though is northeastern Colorado from the Nebraska stateline to Ft. Morgan. The place is practically devoid of trees. Squatches like to have some cover. However, food sources are abundant as there are undoubtedly more cattle than people. I do sometimes wonder what its like to live out there. I mean other than really, really quiet. And brown. Very brown.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure Si from Duck Dynasty is the maintenance guy at the rest stop about mile marker 160. How sure? Pretty darn. Hat, beard, glasses, Vietnam stories, John Deere lawn tractor, the whole deal. It was Si.

And what’s the deal with Colorado and roads? I don’t want to offend anybody’s sensibilities or anything but Colorado sucks at roads. S-U-C-K-S. Sucks. Four years ago we learned of their absolute ineptness at keeping roads clear of snow. This year we became aware of their ineptitude at pouring concrete. Road crews all over the country pour concrete for major highways and it is flat. Not in Colorado. Nebraska for all its suckitude, knows roads.

Oh and if you’re going to be near the intersection of Sheridan and 92nd in Westminster, CO anytime soon you best keep your cool. Leaving the hotel Friday morning we saw four cops in about a one square mile area – including one unmarked car. It wasn’t like they were just at the Seven-Eleven filling up the Big Gulps and grabbing powdered donuts either. They were all coming from different directions. Most patrolled intersection in the Rockies I guess.

Stopped for lunch at the Arby’s in Ogallala. And let me tell you this. This place, traditionally, is only rivaled by the McDonald’s in Kirksville, MO in terms of speed and accuracy concerning your order. But luckily for us this place sits almost exactly sits on the line separating the central and mountain time zones. And they had a new girl working and she had no idea when any of the buttons were located on the register or how to modify an order. Oh and we managed to hit it right at the breakfast/lunch switchover. Didn’t know Arby’s had breakfast but whatever. I mean how do you even develop work schedules when your staff actually lives in two different time zones? Regardless we were pretty happy to be out of the car so the wait didn’t bother us. Its weird how good Arby’s tastes when you’ve been in the car for about 6 hours.

Mom also saw her first coyote on the way home. He was making his way through a corn field near the highway. She said it was probably a dog. She, of course, was wrong.

Santa brought Kinsey a new iPod Touch. You know that commercial with the girl screaming at Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween decibel levels? That is a remarkably similar scene to what we had when Kinz opened her iPod Touch. Pretty much all the girls have on their lists this year is electronics. Bailey at least gave us some options. She wants electronics and a cat.

So we have one Christmas down and two to go.

Ozarks ’11

Florida? Check. Grampy’s and Grammy’s house for the 4th of July? Check. Colorado? Check. Ozarks? Check. I think we done traveling this summer.

But that does make 13 consecutive years in the Ozarks. And 3 consecutive years where we haven’t added any babies to our entourage. That’s a good streak we have going there.

There are many things I enjoy about going down there for vacation but the one thing that always amazes me is that it is one of the few places where Whiskey Tango and Delta Bravos can both eat in the same place and you really have to look to determine which is which. If you watch them get off their boats, its easy. Whiskey Tango get off just about every type that isn’t a small ocean liner. Delta Bravos get off a boat that usually look like something like this:

As is usually the case, we had a good time. In fact, Grammy let me know her favorite part of vacation is when we arrive and she can start unpacking and organizing everything she’s brought with her. I’m totally serious. Unpacking is her favorite part. Regardless, to most people the only things they have to unpack are their clothes and a cooler. To Grammy that list grows to include pots, pans, utensils, various breakfast cereals, a barbie castle, parachutes, masonry tools, sewing machines and canned goods. I’m kidding about those last things. Mostly…

However there are always 4 or 5 boxes that if I didn’t know better, would lead nearly anyone to believe that she’s not only going camping but she also has to manufacture a tent on site and then construct a base camp. When in reality, she’s staying in a 3 bedroom condo. With a grocery store right down the road.

Most of the girls, and by this I mean all of them except Riley and her fellow 11 year old cousin, played with the platoon of Barbies and Live Dolls everybody brought. Not sure how much action the Barbie castle saw but the girls did make up a game involving the dolls which required each doll to have a talent. As I’m listening, I’m thinking that they’ll start calling out things like, “my talent is dancing and my talent is playing the piano.”


“My talent is to be cute,” says my little niece who is about to start kindergarten. Self-esteem she does not lack.

Oh, I have also come to an indisputable conclusion that Grammy would rather get food poisoning than throw food away. Doesn’t matter if we have to bring home grilled meat in 100 degree heat on the boat or eat a tray of chicken that’s been in and out of the fridge for the whole week, we’re not throwing it away. It was so hot the melted cheese on our nachos turned became translucent until it eventually was just an oily stain. But I’m sure it’ll fine to eat later if we put it in a Styrofoam box and wait a hour to put it into the fridge. I mean it was so humid we could chew the air.

We did a family portrait again as we did in ’08 and ’10. All 16 of us. This year Grammy decided she wanted a picture but didn’t want to pay for it. I was cool with that. We took it at the same spot in a nearby state park we used the first two times – despite the fact that most of the area is infested with poison ivy. Yeah, evidently getting 8 children ages 3-11 to smile and look in the direction of the camera wasn’t challenging enough so we need to keep introducing the poison ivy. This year, however, we upped the ante. Dog poop. Everywhere. Evidently our family portrait locale doubles as a dog bomb minefield. So that was nice.

And Tuesday it was 108 degrees. Naturally we went shopping at the Outlet Mall. The Outlet Mall where you walk outside between stores. It was so awesome we decided to go back on Friday…when the humidity was like Cape Gloucester for the 1st Marines back in ’43. Best part was as we’re walking with the girls and one of their cousins, we pass a nice Whiskey Tango family allowing their small son to pee on the wheel of a mini-van. In the parking lot. In front of the Under Armour outlet. No confirmation on whether or not it was their van.

Solution to misbehaving children at a restaurant? Separate them from the adults. Yup. I said it. Less supervision led to better behavior. Maybe someone has already discovered this. Maybe there are theories currently being debating regarding this development. We, however, do not care. We were able to eat in peace. Or as peacefully as you can eat while you are sweating on your food.

Okay, quick, answer this – would you eat a burrito named The Dirty Sanchez? Of course you wouldn’t. It’s funny in a gross way, but no way are eating it. Cost $30 too. But you get a t-shirt with it telling everyone that you actually ate The Dirty Sanchez. You know what that makes you? Delta Sierra.

Last thing – if you are looking for a place to have breakfast, I’d suggest Shorty Pants. Veggie omelet had more veggies than eggs. It was ridiculous. Plus when we walked in, this song was on:

Which of course got me thinking about the summer of ‘87’s top songs.

Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
Midnight Blue – Lou Gramm
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

Headed West

We’ve done it twice the last 13 months. But that doesn’t mean Nebraska gets more interesting. The drive to Colorado really is pretty easy. Although its probably more picturesque in December than in July. Nebraska steadily goes from green to brown as you go west. Wyoming is mostly brown. That could be why it’s the dominant color for their football team. Then you go south into Colorado and I suppose it gets greener. None of it is Midwest green so I guess its all kinda brown.

Regardless, the real issue is when the five of us reach the tipping point when everything is annoying and the only thing we want is to be out of the car. Experience tells us that is usually about the Nebraska/Wyoming stateline. It’s a ten hour trip. But, smartly or not, the girls are well seasoned road trippers.

They’ve made the 6 hour trip to the Ozarks every year they’ve been alive. They’ve all made the drive to Colorado multiple times and we’ve thrown in the 6.5 hour drive to Chicagoland a few times too.

Plus we’ve made the drive to Floirda. Three times. When we had babies. And poopy diapers. Back in ’02 we drove all the way to Florida from Iowa. Took three days. Did it in two the last time we drove in ’06. We also had my Dad as a third driver plus we rented a mini-van. Both of those things were helpful. As was a small TV on which a 2 and a-half year old Riley could watch movies. Kinsey was just a month old and was strapped into her car seat the whole time. This trip in ’02 was highlighted by our lunch stop just before we crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky from Illinois. We park and my Dad, Riley and I stroll into McDonald’s for some lunch. You’ll notice that Mom and the one month old Kinsey did not accompany us. If you recall having newborns, you’ll remember that they don’t eat at McDonald’s. When they eat it involves Mom and you can’t really do it in McDonald’s. Well, I guess you can but it would be frowned upon by folks not described as hippies or whiskey tango. So Mom is trapped in the car. We finish eating and start getting ready to leave and Mom sternly lets me know in terms that can only be whispered around children that she’s hasn’t even been out of the car yet.

Last time we needed to have that conversation.

We made the trip again in ’04 and ’06 before we got smart and flew down in ’09. Bails was almost a year old when we made the trip in ’04. So that was nice…

You know sometimes I wish it was still the late 70’s and early 80’s so the kids could climb all over the backseat without being strapped in. Do you remember that? I do. Mostly because anytime I hear Neil Diamond or Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers it reminds of our family trips to Pittsburgh and Florida. I hear “Forever in Blue Jeans” and I almost instinctively ask “Are we there yet?” If we stumble onto “All the Gold in California” I immediately do three things: 1) Sing along, 2) Make a remark about 8-tracks, 3) Wonder aloud about how network execs let the country craze put Barbara Mandrell and Mandrell Sisters on primetime TV. I mean country music really took over the world there for a year or two back in the day. Dallas, Urban Cowboy, freaking Eddie Rabbitt…seriously, that was weird.

Still love Neil Diamond though.