I don’t think that I’m alone in my sincere intention of achieving my Mom Back to School Goals.

The execution of these objectives is another story altogether.

We’ve just completed the first full week of school, and I’m evaluating my progress.

Goal: Buy all the uniforms in June during the sale.

Result: I did place my order promptly at 11:50 p.m. on June 30th. Except I mistakenly clicked on adult sizes instead of the youth option, and the girls look like they shrunk this summer. (The shirts did not, however.)

Goal: Save time by ordering their shoes online to be sure I’d get the correct ones in stock.

Result: Band-Aids had to be worn the entire first week of school and reminded of the that sage advice passed down from the pioneers, “Objects on screen are not what they seem.”

Goal: Reestablish healthy sleep cycles before school starts.

Result: Lots of late-night infomercials and afternoon naps with complete insomnia amnesia for the first month of 4th grade.

Goal: 2 words: Bento. Boxes.

2 Word Results: Bread. Butts.

Goal: Schedule all appointments and checkups in the summer months.

Result: 1 tardy and 2 early-checkouts during week 1.

Goal: Summer reading assignments completed early.

Result: *See Sleeping Goal.

Goal: Ask insightful and engaging parental questions at School Open House.

Result: “Is there an open bar?” does not count. Apparently.

Goal: Prepare healthy, home-cooked dinners every weeknight.

Result: Nothing says failure like a Papa John’s box. On a Tuesday. With no extracurriculars to blame.

Goal: Be that mom that they all talk about in carline.

Result: Over-achieved.

Check back in with me for my New Year’s Resolutions.

Postscript and legal notes

Now that we’ve been back a few days and Louise’s legal team has had a chance to review the material, (she’s so high maintenance) I thought I’d offer a couple of clarifications from our recent trip.

~All of the mystery rashes and various infections have been cleared up. The only conditions remaining uncured are severe post-expedition depression and a renewed urgency for adventure.

~The children were indeed scarred by the white rental van experience. I see a physical shudder run through them all whenever we pass one on the road. (Wait until they see what I’m picking them up in carpool this year.)

~Had we realized the Olympics would be starting so soon after our return, we may have kept driving south to Brazil and entered some of the rowing events. With Thelma and Louise’s ability to sail through rocky waters laden with sewage without ever missing a stroke, we’d medal for sure.

~We were all so taken with our Hide and Go Seek experience with the bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, that we decided to adopt a couple in appreciation. However, it turns out “adoption” doesn’t mean they actually come to Nashville to live with us and snuggle on the couch with a pot of honey, so I’m a little disappointed.

~In the movie (or Thelma and Louise sequel), I would like Julia Roberts to play me, and Louise requests Jennifer Aniston. Butch and Sundance are fine with their original actor portrayals, even posthumously as in the case of Paul Newman.

~As predicted, the RV earned her name about midway through the trip. Because she was a strong woman infamous for “her storytelling, bad mouth and heavy drinking that would make grown men blush combined with a penchant for wanderlust and all things unabashed, rambunctious and inappropriate,” our ship was aptly dubbed, “Calamity Jane.”

~C.J. once said, “I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one.” That isn’t the kind of woman who would drink Cupcake Pinot Grigio.

And certainly neither are Thelma and Louise.

By the Numbers

States visited–14
Miles traveled–4,285
Days on the road–20
Lost/Damaged Shoes–4
Cans of bear mace used–0
Bags of ice–68
Collective hours of quality sleep–4.5
Car rentals–5
Number of times I called Louise by her real name–0
Quarters used for arcade and laundry–811
Cell phone data overages–36 GB
Times the door flew open while in motion–half dozen
Pizzas ordered–16 (but felt like 100)
S’mores consumed–144
Various road trip movie quotes heard/delivered–406
Fly traps bought and attempted–18
Diagnosed rashes–3
Blankies Fed-Exed to West Yellowstone from Cody, Wyoming–1
Summer reading assignments completed–a fraction of what was assigned
Temperature swing between destinations–60 degrees
Wine bottles bought in retail outlets–30-ish
Years Louise will have to live with her juice wine purchases–Eternity
Things we would change–0
Laughs–a million at least
Amazing and awe-inspiring sights–More than we dreamed
Memories made–Countless


After spending the morning shopping the Magnificent Mile, eating cheeseborgers, cheeseborgers, cheeseborgers (the real deal!) on Navy Pier, The Elite Eight came to the unanimous conclusion that we had done all we wanted to do, and it was time to go home. So we left Chicago, returned the rental car, pulled up stakes at the last campground, and boarded the fun bus one last time.

Thelma: You awake?
Louise: Guess you could call it that, my eyes are open.
Thelma: I’m awake too. I feel awake.
Louise: Good.
Thelma: I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?*
Louise: Drive for as long as you can–if you get tired you can always lay down in the back.
Thelma: You mean on the sheets with the bloody nose, exploded diaper and ground zero of the mystery rash?
Louise: That’d be the one.
Thelma: I think I’ll keep driving.**

Not exactly margaritas by the sea, but we made it to a Courtyard in Indianapolis.

*Actual original screenplay lines.
**Actual proposed sequel lines.


Today it was Thelma and Louise vs. Day 18.

Day 18 lulled us into a false sense of security during the long, smooth ride from Minneapolis across the green fields of Wisconsin on our way to our final destination of Chicago.

Day 18 gave us no traffic, clear roads and and beautiful weather as we made excellent time.

Day 18 was kind to us on gas and bathroom stops. She had the best radio stations to date.

Until late in the day across the Illinois state line.

Then she turned.

She started charging us ridiculous tolls every 10 feet. She switched up the descriptions of the campground to not provide a shuttle service to downtown as originally planned, but be 20 miles from the nearest train station and 55 from Miracle Mile. She needled the children for the first time all trip by not staying on her side nor keeping her hands to herself. She took the last of the diapers without telling anyone on the day in which that would be an issue. Then that minx of a day tried to make the slide on the RV malfunction and the battery need a reset.

Day 18 underestimated Thelma and Louise.

Just when Day 18 began her premature victory dance, our heroines rented a car–with seats!–so the night in Chicago would be saved. They crawled under the RV and did major mechanical work in record time. They drove like bosses through the countryside and tight city streets. (You should see Louise’s parking spot–epic.) And even when 18 closed the most famous deep dish pizza place in the city as we walked up tired and hungry due to a power outage, well, we went to the 2nd best a few blocks away and got a table for 8 in 5 minutes.

Did you really think that after a half dozen different campgrounds on this trip alone that you’d catch us flappable when the guy said our site was for 5 not 8? And that diaper thing–I bet you were counting on that for that to be a potty training moment in a Culver’s in rural Illinois.


If you need character references, I suggest you go back to your associates, Days 14 and 9. Meanwhile, you can just fade off into the sunset and we will meet 20 on Michigan Avenue tomorrow.**

(*This is by no means a challenge, Day 18. If there are any misunderstanding today, we apologize profusely and no need for you to seek revenge or a reappearance.)

(**Faithful Reader, if this seems like a lemons to lemonade post, you would be correct. Our version was in the form of a carafe of Italian Lemonade served at Gino’s East to accompany our deep dish.)

Day 17

Butch, Sundance and the three eldest members of our crew departed by air today from Minneapolis, leaving the band of adventurers to the Elite Eight.

Their departure also begins our final leg of this tour. As much of this country’s natural beauty and splendor that we have discovered and enjoyed these past 2 1/2 weeks, we will now attempt to explore the Urban Jungle on our way back home to Tennessee.

That expedition began today with a thorough exploration of the Mall of America. We learned about new species such as the adolescent mutated tortoises with an affinity for the martial arts. We saw sea sponges with pants and blue dogs at the Nickoledeon Universe; and dined with giant automated gorillas and elephants in the wild at the Rainforest Cafe.

Provisions are at a 2 week low as we try to make it home without salmonella after turning the refrigerator off and on so many times for battery concerns. Clean laundry is at a premium now; and all of our matching Mt. Fischmore Henrystone t-shirts are long past their prime so the only identifying marks to our tribe are the tattoos from the mystery rash and the pinkeye. Louise and I have resorted to ordering by the glass.

Tomorrow we scoop up what’s left of the kids after 37 times on the Brain Surge ride, and continue on to the next unfriendly hockey city, Chicago. There are some unique logistic challenges to this particular stretch in the RV, so I’d tell you to stay by your phones ready to accept a call for help, but we are so far over our data allowances for the month we can’t place an outgoing call until our billing cycles reset in August.

Which is probably when we will see home again at this rate.

Day 16

Today, Butch and Sundance decided to turn the tables on Louise and I, and tried to knock us off in their own subtle way.

As I’m sure you can decipher from our photos and posts, Louise and I spent a long time and invested a lot of thought and effort meticulously planning this trip. Doing so, we had planned on each leg averaging with a 6 hour drive, and then a day in between to take in the local sights.

After Butch and Sundance arrived, that kind of went out the window.

So our two busiest driving days were yesterday and today to split up 1000 miles while they were here to help shoulder the drive.

They apparently were not amused.

After 13 1/2 hours in the RV yesterday, we arrived to the hotel after bistro hours–whatever that even means–so we had to get pizza in the lobby without the FULL BAR their website clearly stated would accommodate us. The next morning, same said sketchy bistro served up fictious breakfasts, so we started the day hungry. And sober.

So moving along the highway, they cozied up in the comfy front seats while Louise and I maneuvered through the mass of children and all their wants and needs. Five hours in, we asked about lunch which was quickly answered with, “Fargo. We’ll stop in Fargo.”

Fargo came and Fargo went. No lunch.

Exit after exit, they found fault and as we passed around a cut up Funyon between a dozen people they said, “When we do stop, I think it should be light–like a hummus plate or something.”


Now I like a good crudite platter as much as the next guy, but adulting in the back seat of camper with 9 kids and 4 controllers to the gaming system burns more calories than a couple of celery stalks. The children were so hungry they were foraging between the couch cushions, which is not a healthy practice on Day 16. They began peeling the Bananagrams for sustenance. They brushed their teeth extra long just for some sparkle berry juice residue.

Butch and Sundance were unmoved by our plight.

Hours later after two fainting spells and a massive orange juice spill which rendered us completely foodless–they relented and let us go through a McDonalds to the unsatisfaction of all.

But retribution would soon be ours in three simple, yet totally terrifying words to a Dad.

Mall of America.

Bet that Fargo Panera doesn’t look that far off the Interstate now, does it, boys?

Day 15. Keepin’ it real

Day 15

We piled the 13 of us back into the RV this morning while it was still dark. It instantly felt like being snatched from the bosom of our West Yellowstone sanctuary and hurdled onto the harsh Interstate abyss.

I can describe what reentry is like to you only in the following 2-word phrases. That’s all we’re capable of now.

“422 miles.”

“Road construction.”

“Loose gravel.”

“Cracker Barrel.”

“A/C’s out.”

“Chicken pox?”

“No generator.”

“Needs oil.”

“I’ll drive!”

“No burping.”

“No spilling.”

“No fighting.”

“Personal space.”

“Where’s Louise?”

“Pokemon No.”

“Overage data.”

“Summer reading.”

“Bathroom, again????”

“Bismarck, ND.”

Hotel tonight better have a full bar and free Wifi.

“Just sayin’.”

Days something through 14–Yellowstone

We have just spent the last four days in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

We have discovered and explored Yellowstone with more than a little help from our new friends of cabin staff, guides and locals. We saw the icons—Old Faithful erupted right at 5:38 as we dined at the Old Faithful Inn. We ate dinner at the Roosevelt Lodge where Teddy would stay, and we went to many different waterfalls and formations that I’d never even heard of. We saw hundreds of elk and bison; and even caught a glimpse of a lone coyote prowling through a meadow at sunset. We fished for trout in Lake Yellowstone (caught three but had to throw them back because they were cutthroats) and smelled the hot springs before we saw them bubbling away in a field or the side of a mountain. We saw colors I didn’t know existed including water so clear you could see the bottom of the river bed from yards offshore and crossed the continental divide several times. It was spectacular, but at the same time it was also the most natural thing in the entire world.

The kids learned what a huckleberry tastes like, what a bison chip feels like when you step in it, and how good a sandwich can taste when eaten on a picnic table outside. We saw the first National Park at sunrise and at sunset; and I bet no one could decide which is more grandiose.

One night on our way out of the park, we experienced a power outage that ran from Idaho Falls up to Bozeman. The town of West Yellowstone was without electricity for several hours, but you couldn’t tell because it stays so light for so late. We had s’mores for dinner (again) until the nice folks at the hotel came by with grilled burgers. We didn’t even notice or care when power was eventually restored later that night.

All told, I think we looked up, out, in and around way more than we looked down at a screen.

And that was perhaps the most beautiful sight of all.

Day 12–Wolves, Bears and Marshmallows, Oh My!

I know I’m behind on posting for a couple of days, but when your breath has been taken away so often, sometimes you need a minute to catch it.

We arrived in West Yellowstone on Monday to an oasis we didn’t know we needed. Right away we went to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center for a behind the scenes tour of the work they do to care for animals that can’t be returned to the wild. We actually got to hide food for the bears in their habitat, then watch (from a safe distance) as they went out and found it. Sort of playing Hide and Go Seek with bears who can’t rip your face off. A win-win.

After that truly fascinating visit, we were whisked away (across the street) to the Explorer Cabins at West Yellowstone where clean the most friendly, accommodating staff awaited us with a built fire and S’mores. We went to dinner on a ranch nearby, and I don’t know if we’ve ever been happier to sleep in clean sheets that didn’t move along an interstate in our lives.

The wolves sang us to sleep in the light of almost full moon.

They seemed to be calling, “Loooouuuiissseee….the bears found the wine you tried to hide in there….they buried it after they read the label….yoooouuuuu’rrree welllccooome….”