Go Minnesota!

Who knew the Norse were so nice? Turns out those folks up there are pretty good neighbors. Or they just have a shared cultural value of helping people out during winter. Because Minnesota winters will literally KILL YOU. Seriously. Do you remember the Vikings in the 70’s? There was a reason that was the most successful decade in the history of the franchise. They played outside. Bud Grant shipped in giant blocks of Norwegian ice, put it in a wood chipper and sprayed it all over the visiting team’s hotel just to make sure they knew who they were playing. Rumor anyway. Things didn’t go that far with Mom last weekend but using my innate worst case scenario logic it is possible they could have ended up frozen to death covered with ice chips.

Anyway, last weekend Mom, Rye, Rye’s friend Madison and Madison’s Mom Kim all went up to Minneapolis for the national dance championships. Or some such thing. I’m unclear on how teams actually qualify for these championships. There doesn’t seem to be a selection committee that is sequestered in a hotel deciding bids. There also does not appear to be a dance regular season in which a team must prove themselves before making the playoffs. So as far as I was able to surmise, it is all based on cash. Sorta like how Big 12 football officials decide when to blow the whistle and throw a flag. For reference sake see the end of the 2013 Iowa State-Texas game. Anyway, there were lots of dance teams from lots of places – including Guam and Mexico. Not sure why a team from Mexico was competing in the national dance championships or why they decided that Minneapolis in February was a sweet place to visit. Anyway, Rye and Madison were in five different dances plus Mom entered Rye in a jumps and leaps competition. Rye was less than enthused about this. But as I explained to her, back in the day – before the weight of increasing federal government intrusion, two knee surgeries and kids beat me down – I once had the second highest vertical jump at basketball camp so she had genetics on her side.

They left on Thursday evening and took my truck. Snow was in the forecast and we figured 4 wheel drive was a good failsafe. They arrived with no issues. The same cannot be said for Bails. Her and I decided to go out for dinner on Friday since Mom and Rye were gone and Kinz went to a movie with some friends. She picked Red Robin. Haven’t been there in awhile because Red Robin isn’t on Mom’s list of favorites. Mine either to be honest. I’m always going to pick Rock Bottom if given a choice. Nachos and a microbrew are like the Friday night dinner version of Swann and Stallworth. Simon and Simon. Poison and neon green. Bails decided that since she was at Red Robin, she wasn’t messing around. We got pretzel bites and milkshakes to go with her chicken strips and fries. Lots of fries. She slugs her way through about half her food and milkshake and declares that she’s full. Good enough for me. Around 10 or so Bails gets up off the couch and says that she’s still full and her stomach kinda hurts.

“Well, you ate a lot there dude. Give it a chance to settle. You’ll be okay in the morning.”

Morning comes and I head out on my Saturday morning ritual. 44 oz Diet Pepsi for me, donuts for the girls. Bails comes down to the couch, gets a donut and then just lays there for about hour groaning about her stomach still hurting. She sounded like the White House press corps after every answer Josh Earnest gives. I get curious and go over feel her forehead. No fever.

“Well, its possible you just ate too much or there was something in your food that just didn’t sit right and its messing up your tummy.”

She gives me that look that says, “Yeah, thanks a pantload there Chet but that doesn’t really help me.”

My lack of helpfulness was confirmed about 10 minutes later when she went upstairs into the bathroom and conducted an emergency evacuation of everything on the stomach level. Everything. Fries. Milkshake. Candy still there from Halloween. It was loud too. Like a prehistoric burp from a T-Rex.

“Dad, I just threw up. But I feel better.”

“Good. Go brush your teeth Upchuck McVomit.”

Aside from that we only got good news on Saturday. Rye placed 3rd in the jumps competition, 5th in two dances, 3rd in another and then two 1st place finishes. Sunday each team gets to pick their best performance and compete in the grand championship. Naturally, Rye’s team picked one of their 1st place dances. A team from Sioux Falls, which they beat on Saturday, turned around and beat them out on Sunday. My reaction? Did anybody check where these judges are from? It matters. I mean, not to beat a dead horse, but look at Big 12 football officials. They’re all from Texas. Teams from Texas sure seem to do well against teams not from Texas. The Big 12 supervisor of officials is a freaking Texas grad. But I’m sure he’s unbiased…

Anyway, they finally get down with all the dances and awards Sunday evening and they head out about 9 p.m. Three hour drive back home. As a bonus, Mom is bringing home another girl on the dance team. Evidently, she’s uncomfortable unless she has three girls in the backseat. So I get a call from Mom at the gas station after they get done filling up.

“Hey, so the truck won’t start.”

“What? Didn’t you just drive it to the gas station?”

“Yes, but now its dead.”

“Awesome.”

“But there a guy here who is going to jump the truck.”

“Um…okay…call me when you get it started.”

But what I was thinking was, “Um…okay…please God let this guy not be Jeffrey Dahmer. Or Peter Stormare from Fargo.”

Well, turns out this guy’s name was John. John drives a pick-up, carries jumper cables and has a dog. He notices that my truck is deader than the ability of movie producers to come up with an idea that doesn’t involve a Marvel Comics character. He jumps the truck. Then, with the experience of years of Minnesota’s badass winters, tells Mom that driving back to Des Moines with a crap-ass battery is a bad idea when it is below zero outside. He leads them to a close-by hotel – the Prime Rate Inn – walks in with Mom to make sure that they get a room and then drives over to a full service BP station to see when the place opens in the morning. He comes back and tells Mom that they open at 7:30, gives her his cell phone number in case she needs the truck to get jumped again in the morning and then goes home. Mom calls me, tells me the whole story and whilst relaying it she insists on calling him “St. John.” My Dad lived in Minnesota for a while during the winter of 1999-2000 and told me that the folks up in Minnesota don’t mess around with helping each other out in wintertime. Well, thanks Minnesota. Go Gophers I guess. Mom gets up Monday morning calls the BP and they come over, jump the truck, and after Mom drives it over to the station, they drive her back to the Prime Rate Inn. Turns out it’s a crap-ass battery.

So Mom and everyone else makes it back home without incident. I drive the truck to work all week without incident. So I guess thanks BP. Who knew the national dance championships would be so perilous…

The so-called world dance championships are in April. In Orlando. Just FYI.

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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.

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.

WTF?

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…

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.”

Nope.

“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.

Things I learned in Florida

The Gulf of Mexico is like bath water. I had no idea. Until Monday and Tuesday I had never been in the Gulf. My folks have done their fair share of recon since they moved down to Orlando 13 years ago. Two of the cool places they discovered are Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Get a map, find St. Petersburg and go south. That long skinny sandbar you see, that’s where we were. And it was pretty freaking cool. Except for the temperature. Florida in June after all. We ate here.

Name of the place is The Sandbar. Grouper tacos. Mmmm…

Can’t get that in Des Moines.

Then we drove a little south and stayed at a hotel right on the beach. Of course in Longboat Key just about everything is on the beach. Seriously. Its weird to look out your hotel room window and see the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Sarasota Bay on the other. Here’s a shot from the beach.

Weirder than being on a glorified sandbar that has nearly every square inch developed?

We go to lunch before we leave on Tuesday and the local paper is sitting there. Turns out the top local issue of the day for Anna Maria Island is shark fishing and whether or not it should be banned off the island. Lots of “Jaws” references, people saying “chumming” and warning each other to stay out of the water at night.

Again, we don’t get that in Des Moines.

So we’re deciding if we want to go to SeaWorld or Islands of Adventure. We decided just to go eat lunch at Margaritaville at CityWalk after mulling over the $420 is would take to get all five of us into Islands of Adventure. Kids weren’t happy…but then we got them a milkshake and that took care of things for awhile. It was such a simple solution. Like choosing between boredom and watching Die Hard for 54th time.

I’m telling you ice cream and swimming may be the most powerful parental tools on the planet. Need something to ease the sting of not going to SeaWorld? Milkshake. Something to provide motivation to behave during dinner and a few stops at local shops? Ben & Jerry’s. Something to tire them out so they actually sleep at night during vacation? The Gulf of Mexico. Something to fill hours of time at Grandad and Grandma’s house? Pool. Oh, and an assortment of water guns helps too. The larger the magazine the better too. Remember to purchase some type of protective googles for your eyes. 7 year-olds don’t really focus on accuracy while shooting.

Didn’t expect to discover this but Uno’s is awesome. I know it’s a chain and I know that most folks probably think they’ve to a million places just like it. But we don’t have one in Des Moines. Which is really odd when you think about it because Des Moines is like a chain restaurant mecca. But it has these little computers at the table on which the kids, and by kids I mean me, can play games. It has a super easy version of tetris which mesmerized the girls. Plus, it has an abolutely crazy about of healthy options and Bailey says they have the best mac n’ cheese in the world. Not kidding. I was willing to believe her because she doesn’t eat that much and she finished nearly all of it. If Bails eats something its means one of three things; 1) its ice cream, 2) she’s using the force to trick us into thinking she’s eating, 3) its so good it’ll make you break into song.

And my nephew, by the end of the week, had pretty much had it with the girls.

All four of them are out in the pool playing. My nephew inquires with Kinsey, “Let’s play war. Get the guns.”

Kinsey replies, “Okay but first we have to perform our musical performance numbers.”

Country, rock, rap…everything. But they got my nephew to play along with some beat box…

Florida: The Arrival

Two years ago we had an early flight and rushed around the night before getting everything ready. This year I decided to avoid that hassle and we booked a flight for about 11:30. We connected through Memphis and were on the ground in Orlando about 5:20 local time. Which was approximately nine minutes early. Sometimes you can attribute that to luck, a nice tail wind or a pilot who is trying to beat weather.

Our pilot let us know there was severe weather south of Orlando. He didn’t however let us know he planned to race it to the runway. We came in like we were trying to avoid detection by an automated missile defense system. You look out the window and think, “hey, all right, we’re descending, we’ll be on the ground shortly.”

Then you look out the window and notice rain is only one side of the plane and the wings are shearing off the tops of trees. We hit the tarmac and it felt like the plane was dancing from side to side hopping from one set of wheels to the other. Thankfully, the lady next me who was upset she didn’t get to sit next to her husband, narrated the entire episode. And she did it in an especially appealing nasally voice. The same voice she used to talk to her husband, who was seated in the row behind us, the entire duration of the flight. Excellent.

Not as excellent as Bailey on our first flight from Des Moines to Memphis however. Bails, as sometimes happens, goes to the bathroom in a series of trips instead of in one really serious visit. Oh, don’t be fooled, she hit the head in Des Moines before we went through security. Then again, twice, as we waited at our gate. Then again on the plane. Then she methodically, as if she was on some sort of timing belt, bombed our row with silent noxious fumes. Flight attendants were dropping like sacks of wet flour.

“Geez, Bails is that you tooting?”

“Yeeeees. Sorry. I have to go the bathroom.”

“You’ve went about 45 times since we left home.”

“Dad?”

“What?”

“I have to go again.”

As luck would have it, we’re on our descent so she can’t get up and use the plane’s restroom. We land, rumble along for a few minutes and then…

…we stop about 50 feet from our gate because the jet way is malfunctioning.

Great.

Turns out to be a short delay and we’re off the plane in search of a bathroom.

We locate one, send Rye in there with Bails and 20 minutes later Rye emerges first with a look that can only be described as astonishment fused with agony.

“Dad, holy cow, she was in there for like an hour.”

We have about an hour till our next flight and we’re all hungry. Especially Bails because, well, she’s got some extra room now.

We find 4 sandwiches, 4 bags of chips and 2 bottles of water. $42.50. Seriously.

So Mom has all the cash now as we get on the plane for Orlando. And aside from the trip long narration, it wasn’t a bad flight. Got to read a lot Jeff Shaara’s latest awesome book – The Final Victory. If you’re history dumb, and judging by recent test scores most of you are, read Jeff Shaara. You’ll accidentally learn.

Anyway, back to our landing in Orlando. We’re rolling to our gate when the pilot tells us that due to the severe weather he raced to the runway, we might be delayed getting off the plane.

Wait, what? We’re already on the freaking ground. We already landed. Planes can’t taxi through rain?

Regardless, none of us are happy. Least of which is Bails. Why? Bathroom. Lots of fiber in those airport sandwiches evidently.

Then the lights flicker and go out.

“Ladies and gentleman we’ve temporarily lost the air conditioning. As soon as it is operational, we will get it up and running. Thank you.”

Awesome. After a few minutes its hotter than the inside of Anthony Weiner’s pants.

We luck out and get the AC going, get to our gate, disembark, meet my sister, nephew and parents and head to the baggage claim. At which time we make camp and begin making smores.

Why?

“Due to severe weather in the area we are unable to unload the baggage from the flights listed on the monitors at baggage claim areas 30 and 31. When the weather allows us to proceed we will get your bags to you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

I’m not the smartest guy on the planet, my acid wash Guess jeans in high school are proof of that, but why can’t you unload baggage from a plane in the rain? No way the airlines give a crap about our bags getting drenched. Most people aren’t traveling with metal satchels strapped to the backs. So what’s up? I assume lightning is to airports what kryptonite is to Superman. Or capitalism is to Obama. And I totally understand not taking off or landing in lightning. As our descent and previous landing experience already taught us. Man, our pilot musta been like, “Dudes, lightning…buckle up, we’re beating this bad boy to the strip.”

But why can’t you unload bags?

Anyway, we’re waiting in baggage claim and look over and a couple is sitting against the wall doing the same thing. Except they have two puppy’s with them. And one is in the process of making a deposit at Brown’s National Bank. Yeah, he looked like a small furry U-boat laying mines.

What. The. Hell?

Thankfully, after about an hour we had our bags and were on our way to my folks house. We’ll see how the rest of the trip goes…