Day 4–Sioux Falls

We committed no felonies today. However, if looking this good after four days with campground hair and a glowing sheen from perspiration and bugspray is a crime, then we are guilty as charged, my friends.

We traveled due north today through hundreds of miles of Iowa corn fields and farmland to the next pit stop of Sioux Falls. South Dakota has an 80 mph speed limit which didn’t exactly feel smooth in the big rig, so we brought it back down to a respectable 75. Shockingly, it was our shortest leg yet.

Every campground we stay in has only been researched online back in February so like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get. (Except we’re camping, so you get a lot of toasted marshmallow filled ones.) We chose each campground based on location and whether or not they had cabins available; because yes, we are crazy, but not legally insane, and we knew we couldn’t sleep 13 in the RV. That criteria was crucial, and then the remaining details were bonuses. It’s kind of a give and take game.

Like last night’s accommodations had an awesome jumping pillow for the kids. But Louise couldn’t turn on her phone at night in her cabin or she’d be swarmed by moths. In St. Louis, the cabins were awesome, but we were next to a train and a graveyard. Here in Sioux Falls, we have the best site at the place, but it shares the concrete slab with the laundry facilities and game room. Convenient, but I feel just a tad exposed. There’s a chimenea, but no natural boundary define our space. And kids I know aren’t ours keep raiding the quarter jar. I’d be worried that strangers would also be helping themselves to the contents of our cooler, but there’s only Louise’s Cupcake wine in there, and no one wants that.

I may sleep with the Louisville Slugger close by tonight.

Just in case the quarter-stealers want to play baseball in the middle of the night, of course.

Day 3 (and almost my last)

I thought it might take a little longer, but Day 3 was the moment Louise tried to kill me.

I should have known something was amiss when she returned to the campsite with a trail of cheap wine from Walgreen’s that led to the back of a rented white U-Haul cargo van. The fact that it was 9:30 in the morning didn’t tip me off so I suppose that’s on me. When she locked me back there–without the wine, I might add–I did wonder why there was a metal mesh barrier between the front and the back like some sort of prison transport; and concluded that she must be planning to knock me off quickly and then dispose of my body in the creepiest vehicle ever for rent for $19.95 per day in the metropolitan Kansas City area.

But no, she had other plans.

The metal grate and lack of adequate seating for the 8 CHILDREN SHE LOCKED ME BACK THERE WITH was soon eclipsed by the rising core temperature of our bodies in the sweltering heat can that is the rear seating area in July. At times, she’d yell for us to duck because we were passing law enforcement and didn’t really want anyone in authority to do a body per seatbelt (or seats for that matter) count, but we had passed out from heat stroke long ago. We were so dehydrated we had ceased the ability to make urine, so at least there were no good Samaritan worries at bathroom stops and we arrived to the baseball game undetected and unconscious.

I joke, because Louise actually saved countless lives today by having the brilliant idea to rent the creepy van instead of me trying to maneuver the RV through the city streets. This resourcefulness came after we were told that Uber didn’t come out this way, there were no car rentals open over the weekend, and no cab service. She drove like a boss and earned kid street cred as they watched their mother bend a few rules to take us all to a double-header Royals game and KC Sporting MLS game without having to attach and reattach the sewer hose 8 times in a single day.

So three cheers for Louise!

Let’s all toast her with some of that cheap Walgreen’s wine she’s so fond of.

–Thelma

(I’m having trouble in the picture department uploading at the moment or there would be visual evidence of Louise’s malfeasance. Keep checking Facebook for those photos.)

Day 2–St. Louis/KC

The first question people usually ask when they hear about this trip is whether or not we ever burn ourselves on the crack pipe we surely must be smoking to attempt this. The second most frequently asked is if the RV is hard to drive.

The answer to that (and the first question, of course) is a resounding no–it is actually very easy to drive. She’s (because although currently nameless this ship is definitely a she) a dream sailing down a straight interstate going 60 mph. She loves the open road. You feel like Sandra Bullock without the whole bomb thing strapped to the engine, but sometimes the bomb makes perfect sense.

But as easy as she is to drive, she is a menopausal beyotch to park. Seriously. Right turns take engineer like precision and left turns are sometimes just a blind turn signal and a prayer. She takes up 2 standard parking lanes in length; but we also need additional width when 10 people and 19 (we already lost a flip flop) shoes come tumbling out the side at stops. So stopping and parking are the top considerations for every activity.

Which makes Day 2 particularly awe-aspiring as our heroines, Thelma and Louise, dressed, fed and readied the crew (after a rather sleepless night when the McEagertogetontheraodsons dismantled the neighboring campsite at 4 am) packed up camp in record time, and headed to downtown St. Louis (a major metropolitan city) and made a college campus tour and lunch with a table for 10 at a downtown eatery that was not chain and didn’t have children’s menus.

(I’ll pause for the appropriate accompanying applause.)

Not only did they park the beast downtown, but it was in the same place when they returned sans parking ticket and the Yeti still attached.

We arrived in Kansas City last night night without incident,* and look forward to an action-packed day of sporting event spectating this weekend. We will include pictures in our next entry.**


*Our smallest and most vocal passenger, 3 year old, George, was a conscientious objector to seeing the Arch. That will have to wait until next time, STL.

**You will need to keep this post as a reference for our next episode. It will become essential information after we safely exit the city limits.

Day 1-St. Louis

We gave new meaning to the concept of Western Expansion today as Thelma and Louise safely crossed the Mississippi with 8 kids in tow on Day 1 of the Crazy Tour.

So far, so good.

While the 5 hour trip took closer to 8, I blame that on an extra lunch stop in the parking lot of a sketchy floor tile and wood laminate store in Paducah, Kentucky rather than the lush rolling green pasture of a roadside park we had originally envisioned. Rest Areas were not abundant on I-24 in these parts; and the natives were getting hungry, so we pulled into the biggest parking lot I could maneuver and dined by a sale of porcelain tile of questionable origin and a peach stand in which we purchased 308 because nothing says, “Charge me the non-local price for All Consumer Goods,” like rolling up in 34 foot RV with a Yeti strapped to the back and a dozen people scarfing down Pub Subs on hot asphalt. In Paducah.

But let’s not let this eclipse the wins of the day, of which there were many.

1.) I filled up that big ol’ gas tank without having to make an insurance claim. Twice.

2.) The kids played Uno with actual cards and not on an electronic device.

3.) We made it to the campground with the same number of passengers we started with.

4.) No one cried. Not even me.

5.) Truffle cheese and wine for dinner, S’mores for dessert.

Bring on Kansas City.

The Trip

We are firing up the ol’ blog today in an effort to chronicle the epic road trip in which 13 people—9 of them kids—load up in an RV and attempt to navigate the next 5000 western miles and still remain coherent, contributing members of society when we pull back into the driveway a month from now.

I wish I was the type of person that had been aware enough to plan this family vacation to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone over the National Park Service 100th birthday on purpose; but it looks like we’re just lucky instead. Truth is, this has been one of those dream trips that I’ve been planning only in my head and a well-worn atlas for a couple of decades, but never really found the right opportunity to take such a monumental trip. That it coincides during this celebratory anniversary is mere coincidence, but I’ll take credit for being that earthy girl I’ve aspired to be over the years and pretend I meant it nonetheless.

Our route takes us from Nashville to St. Louis, Kansas City, Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Deadwood, Cody, West Yellowstone, Bismarck, Minneapolis and Chicago. Over 4000 miles and 15 states. We are making 10 planned stops along the way; 2 major league baseball games, 1 MLS game, and dozens of the most touristy, cornball destinations within 10 miles of an interstate exit ramp we can find.

As stated before, we are not alone (by a long shot) on our adventure. There is another (large) family that just slightly off kilter enough to attempt this journey with us. The Louise to my Thelma, my friend and I will take the first leg of this trip with 8 of those children and guide the caravan to the first few ports of call until we are joined by our saner halves in somewhere in South Dakota. We see no downside, really.

We welcome you to follow along—even if in mocking disbelief—as our long-planned adventure commences this week. In addition to this dusted-off home, we also plan to update all of the usual inter web hot spots of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Bon Voyage, dear friends. Bon Voyage.

#Fischmore/Henrystone

Summer.

This has been a big mixed bag of a school year for us. We’ve had tremendous fun—lots of regular season hockey, the All-Star Game, and a deep playoff run with accompanying travel and tailgate parties. We had a lot of charitable projects we were thankful to be involved with. The kids all were on teams that provided new friends and activity. Academically, it all ended in resounding success. But we’ve also had challenges. There’s the typical school year drama that you swear you won’t pay attention to, but it takes its toll nonetheless. My grandparents needed attention and made the move to assisted living. We lost Sean’s dad this year, whom all of us miss daily. We are still only 10 days post-op from Matt’s spinal fusion surgery, and that healing is going well, but will be slow.

Throughout this long year, some Fridays felt like victories limping across a survival finish line, while others were euphoric for what was to come.

This one is definitely one of those Fridays.

The stacks of corrected papers that once meant so much came home yesterday wrinkled in meaninglessness in backpacks that had given up weeks ago. Uniforms were tossed and bathing suits thrown on. Even the drama dissolved into a cocktail of peace and unwitting forgiveness. We made baby steps but huge milestones in healing and the summer is lining up to be one of the best.

They are sleeping in right now, and my victory lap for the 2015-2016 school year was less than a half cup of coffee long this morning. The rest tasted of campfires, book pages, Vitamin D and adventure.

Let’s do this, Summer. We are ready.

FAQ’s About Our Upcoming Summer Plans Without the Q’s, only the A’s

~Three weeks, 3700 miles to two western National Parks through thirteen states in an RV with 9 kids and 48 bottles of vodka.

~I don’t really like to use the term “crazy,” I prefer “inappropriately optimistic.”

~Not quite “camping” and certainly not “glamping”—with that many people in a 32 foot RV it’s more “cramping.”

~If gas prices remain low, it will actually be quite an economical vacation. The vast majority of our expenses will come later for therapy, data overage charges, increased insurance premiums and detox.

~Packing for 13 people for a month in a trailer will be a challenge, but we get to eliminate things like privacy, any sense of personal space and vanity.

~You don’t need a special license or any specialized training to operate our vehicle. You do need a lot of Youtube watching, rubber gloves and a liability waiver from your travel partners from any future litigation.

~Yes, we will be taking a lot of pictures—most of which will be selfies and portraits when I attempt to photoshop our faces on Mt. Rushmore. (We also predict substantial media coverage of my ridiculous, ill-advised need to pet a bear.)

~Yes, there’s always room for one more.

You can follow our future adventures here and on Twitter and Instagram. #MtFishmore/Henrystone

Another Holiday Tradition? This Will Never Come to Fruition

I have somehow managed to make it almost two decades into parenthood without facing one of the most difficult questions of our time: Mommy, why don’t we have an Elf on the Shelf?

If you’re not familiar with this recent cult phenomenon, a growing number of people play this game of placing a stuffed troll out in a Santa hat around the house for the purpose of gauging a child’s Naughty or Niceness and reporting back to the Big Man. Each morning the Elf must be put into a new, clever pose or you have failed at life and destroyed a childhood. The oldest of our four children was well past the age of NSA Elfness when this was invented in 2005, so this little yuletide poltergeist has not been incorporated into our holiday traditions. I am reluctant to say the least to introduce him now. We’ve been doing just fine with Santa himself knowing if we’ve been sleeping, knowing when we’re awake. He’s the first to know if we’ve been bad—or good—so we are good for goodness sake! I don’t know if we need an elfin tattletale middleman to achieve this.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as big of a holiday mascot cheerleader as you’ll find. I’ve fallen for the Shoe Trick of St. Nick. We get visits by the Easter Rabbit with So Much Candy I want to Stabbit. Fireworks Bam from Uncle Sam and much against my Will, there’s Punxsutawney Phil and I’m that Sap Who Sets Leprechaun Traps on St. Patrick’s Day. And despite being Stupid, I buy Candy from Cupid. I’m the Queen of Halloween and if I have any change to Spare-y, multiple times a year we will see the Tooth Fairy. And of course, I am a Santa Claus with Many Flaws.

That’s a lot for a mother to keep up with.

I just don’t think it’s fair to add one more holiday responsibility EVERY DAY FROM THANKSGIVING TO CHRISTMAS EVE of someone who drinks Wine from a Stein and Gin from a Bin. I’m the mother that turns in school Permission Slips After the Trips with so much Junk in the Trunk that the Cookies for the Troop Have Turned to Soup. I frequently commit Birthday Party Tardies and Lack A Soccer Snack. They Tire of the Uniform Still in the Dryer, so by the time Elf relocation time arrived every day I’m sure my Head would Still be in Bed Full of Dread.

So please, I beg No more Holiday Lore in a Drawer.

Please Forgive all the Bluster and with all of the Holiday Cheer I Can Muster (and I’ll probably be Sorry I Cussed Her): Elf on the Shelf, go &@^%^ yourself.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Election Day 2014

Me: Yes, I saw the sign outside that said there was wine on the ballot, so I’d like whatever smoky Cabernet you have, please.

Polling Worker: What? This is an election precinct in the middle of the day, ma’am. That would be highly inappropriate.

Me: You’re right, it is before noon. I’ll take a Pinot grigio then.

Polling Worker: I think you’re confused. The sign referred to the referendum on this year’s ballot allowing the provision for wine to be sold in grocery stores. It didn’t actually refer to wine being sold here.

Me: (Winking.) Sure it didn’t. Then why do you need my ID?

Polling Worker: (Looking though scrolls and ignoring direct eye contact.) Party?

Me: Yes. Often. Which is why I’d like wine in grocery stores, please.

Polling Worker: I meant….never mind. It’s a general election so I don’t really need to know if you’re a Democrat or Republican.

Me: Well I would like to join the party that wants to make wine in grocery stores a thing here.

Polling Worker: That’s not exactly how it works, but I’ll see what I can do. Please take this paperwork to the next station.

At the next table….

Me: (Handing over necessary paperwork). Is this the tasting bar? I’m game for anything but Rieslings.

Polling Worker #2: (Clearly confused and even a bit angry.) What?

Me: Rieslings. I don’t care for them. I had a bad bout with those after the 2000 presidential election when I realized my butterfly ballot voted for Pat Buchanan. Twice. Can’t drink it since.

Polling Worker #2: (Staring blankly.) Proceed to the machine.

And so I do. And I vote. For some candidates that clearly never had a good glass of wine in the their entire lives, and some that perhaps have had too many. For some amendments that are completely sobering, and some that I think a drunk person must have written and got onto the ballot as a fraternity prank. But I vote and I do in every election. And I always will.

Me: I’m finished! You can give me my “I Voted” cork now.

Polling Worker #3: I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Here’s a sticker, though.

Me: Well, that’s disappointing. Can you just point me to the nearest grocery store then? I need a case of Merlot to celebrate tonight.

Polling Worker #3: Uh, you do know the amendments haven’t passed yet, right?

Me: It’s noon in the Central Time Zone. I think CNN called this one an hour ago.

Polling Worker #3: Probably, but even if it does pass, it still won’t be on supermarket shelves until 2016.

Me:

Me:

Me:

Polling worker #3: Are you ok? Ma’am?

Me: (Starting to hyperventilate.) But I thought I lived in a red state.

Polling Worker #3: Uh, I’m going to get you a paper bag to breathe in.

Me: (Breathless.) No. Wait. There’s a neoprene wine cooler bag in my purse…..

 

Happy Election Day, Tennessee.
©2014 Tracey Henry

Halloween was a little hollow in 1979

More and more frequently, I’ll recall a warm childhood memory and as I’m regarding now in my parental mind’s eye, I can’t help but stop and think, “What the hell?”

We didn’t grow up in a bad area of town. On the contrary–it was a nice suburban Michigan home in a subdivision filled with large sprawling yards and growing families. It was a particularly good neighborhood to Trick-Or-Treat in because there was always a porch light on at every house, and easy-to-navigate streets.

I remember going out with my Dad and sister and we’d hit as many houses as possible in our unknown costumes buried under a parka since October in Michigan meant it was 3 degrees outside. My Mom would stay at home passing out the candy and when we returned we’d dump out our pillowcases filled with sugar treasures, and the mad sorting would begin.

Or should I say, my mother would begin the 3 day long inspection process and clinical drug trials.

You must put into context that the idyllic neighborhood I described was set in the late seventies which is when and where all urban legends were born. I have no idea if there was any concrete evidence or actual events to support the extraordinary means my mother would go through to make sure our candy wasn’t tainted, but I imagine some fuzzy-screened news anchor with a wide tie informing the good citizens of Oakland County that Charles Manson was on the loose in the Hershey factory inserting razor blades and Tylenol laced with cyanide into fun size Snickers bars.

Even before one M got stuffed into my mouth, she’d immediately start the torture.

All apples (yeah, that lady lived in my hood, too) were tossed into the trash. “Hello, ever hear of Snow White?” Popcorn balls or anything homemade? “I’m not sure if it’s poisoned but you don’t know what kind of kitchen that came from. You could get trichinosis.”

All loose candy was pitched. Anything in a wrapper that was torn, wrinkled or compromised in any way was an immediate discard. And all Milky Ways were automatically confiscated, but I think it was just because she liked those.

We were then allowed to choose one piece of candy from our bags, but only after Mom chopped it up like a sushi chef to make sure there was nothing hidden inside or any powdery residue on the blade of the cleaver.

After the intense visual inspection and biopsy, you’d think you were in the clear, but you were obviously not aware of the cornucopia of dangers lurking in a Bit o’ Honey in 1979. No, then all of the level 1 cleared candy was bundled back up into the pillowcase with the firm declaration, “You can have this back in a few days after your Uncle has had a chance to X-ray it.”

Yes. X-Ray.

This was an annual ritual that I thought was just our curse having an uncle as a radiologist, but one year we had to take it to the local McDonald’s for a mobile screening so this must have been a widespread concern in our zip code. I guess irradiation was deemed less dangerous than the possible lockjaw we’d get from biting down on a rusty nail.

By the time the candy would come back well into November, it lost much of its appeal. Still wearing its hospital bracelet and reeking of antiseptic, the bag sat on the kitchen table looking a little lighter and glowing unnaturally. I couldn’t help but lose my confectionary appetite a little.

And again, looking back at it through my parental mind’s eye, maybe it was all by design.

Trick on my Treats after all.

©2012 Tracey Henry