Tag Archives: travel

The Trip of a Lifetime

I was re-reading a sermon I gave at Neshoba about three and a half years ago, and realized I had never posted it here on my blog.  So for what it’s worth…

The Trip of a Lifetime

One time, years ago, I decided to spend part of my spring break visiting a good friend who had moved to Colorado, about ½ way between Denver and Boulder.  I had never been to that part of the country and was excited about seeing what I had heard was beautiful scenery.  I was anxious to see as much as I could in the week that I had, and figured the best way to do that would be to travel by train.  To get from DC, where I lived at the time, to Denver, I had to change trains in Chicago.  I had driven from the East Coast to the mid-west many times growing up – my father’s family was in Wisconsin and Minnesota – so that part of the trip was not the motivating factor.  But I had not been in any of the states between the Mississippi River and California, so was really looking forward to watching out the train window as the Great Plains rushed past and the Rocky Mountains approached.

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Road trips make me nervous

I love road trips.  I love everything about being in a car on the open road.  The scenery. The music on the radio.  The time to visit with each other without having a million interruptions.  But road trips make me nervous.  I usually have the nagging worry at the back of my head that something is going to go wrong.  Because it always does.

The very first road trip that Jeanne and I ever took together should have been a sign.  We always end up having adventures when we travel.  Over the years, we have had some crazy things happen.  One time we had to sleep in the car when we couldn’t find a single vacant hotel room for 400 miles.  Another time, we were caught in a hailstorm that left dents on the hood of the car.  And there was that time we had rented a car for the trip. We had mechanical trouble before we even got to our destination, had to trade the car in, and then were rear-ended on the way home, so ended up in a 3rd vehicle before the trip was over. But the first trip – the one we’ll never forget – is the story we still tell when we get talking about weird travel stories.

My mother had won 3 nights at a hotel in Nashville, and knowing we both loved Country music, offered the certificate to Jeanne and me.  She even offered to let us use her car for the trip, but mine got better gas mileage, so we didn’t take her up on it.  That was our first mistake!

I was teaching in Northern Virginia at the time, so we hit the road during my spring break. Our first stop was Atlanta to visit a cousin of mine; from there, we made our way towards Nashville, by way of Chattanooga and a couple of famous distilleries (to take a tour and see how the whiskey was made).  After visiting these tourist stops, we got back on the interstate headed for Music City.  All of a sudden, we heard a popping noise, and then smoke started billowing out of my engine.  We pulled over, knowing something was terribly wrong.  Not having any idea what we were looking at, we raised the hood and decided we had better see what we could do about getting some help.

Keep in mind, this was long before either of us owned a cell phone!  Fortunately the next exit was within view and at the top of the ramp, we could see a service station.  We locked the car and started walking.

When we got to the gas station, the mechanic asked what he could do for us.  We pointed down to the side of the highway and said – see that car?  We need to get it towed up here because something is wrong.  He didn’t have a tow truck but he did have a phone for us to call AAA and arrange for one to come.  The closest one was located 20 miles north of where we were, had to drive past where the car was to get to the next exit and turn around, and then could tow the steaming car about ¼ of a mile up the exit ramp.  When it finally got delivered to the mechanic, he told us the water pump had blown, that he would have to get a part from another town and that he couldn’t have the car ready until noon the next day.

He then directed us to a motel down the road – the only one within walking distance.  The Smoke House was more than just a motel.  It was a restaurant, gift shop, motel … and wedding chapel!  Over the course of the next 24 hours, we took advantage of all of these – except the wedding chapel, of course.  We had only been dating about 3 months at that point!

I googled the Smoke House recently.  The motel is still there – it is now a Best Western, and I don’t see the wedding chapel mentioned on their website, but the restaurant and gift shop look exactly the same.  The rooms, though, have been updated.

19 years ago, when we walked into our room, the first thing we noticed was a floor to ceiling mural on the wall in front of us.  Larger than life, it depicted a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass of whiskey on the rocks.  The rest of the room décor also seemed to remind us of our earlier stops.  For one thing, the bedside table was a whiskey barrel!

There wasn’t much to do, since we were without transportation, so we spent a lot of time in the gift shop and restaurant.  Once we had looked at every knickknack on sale and eaten lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day in the one restaurant, we still had some time to kill before the car would be ready, so we decided to walk across the street to the local winery.  Their sign advertised tours of their operation – we have always enjoyed learning about the manufacturing process, whether it is the CocaCola museum in Atlanta, the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis, or in this case, the Monteagle winery in Tennessee.

The tour cost the lively sum of $3, which we figured was a bargain for something to do that day.  We were hoping it would help the time pass quickly and that we could get on our way soon.  We waited with a few other “tourists” by the head of a flight of stairs.  When the employee opened the gate that was blocking the way, he indicated it was a self-guided tour and we should just proceed down the steps.

We reached the landing at the bottom and quickly realized that we had overpaid for this particular “tour”.  Standing on a landing with windows on either side, we were facing a handwritten sign on the wall in front of us that told us to look to the left to see the pressing process and look to the right to see the bottling process, and “thank you for touring the Monteagle Winery”.  The only saving grace was that we were given a free wine tasting when we got back upstairs.

Whenever we get ready to go on a road trip these days, we always know there will be an adventure awaiting us along the way.  Some good, some not-so-good.  But if nothing else, we know we will get a story out of it!

Some day, I’ll tell you about the year I went looking for a new job and had a story to tell after each interview.  It would be almost enough to fill a book!

Where did the summer go?

This summer has been a busy one.  I took on a part time job at my church, filling in as the office admin when they had an unexpected opening.  Originally, I was just helping out until they found a replacement, but I am going to continue doing part of the job – writing the newsletter, preparing the weekly order of service and announcement bulletin, and monitoring email and voice mail – for a while.  I won’t be able to spend any time in the office, as I did this summer, because of course, I have a full-time job teaching.  In fact, I go back to work this coming week.  We start early here in the South!  But a fellow church member and I have worked out a way to share the responsibilities of the admin position, so it should all work out pretty well.

I did manage to get out of town a couple of times this summer.  For the first time in over 18 years, Jeanne and I went away for more than a weekend without seeing family members.  We usually work our trips around visiting my brother or her sisters, or they involve traveling to a neutral location WITH family members.  This time, we took a road trip that wasn’t to Wisconsin!  We saw some friends for a couple of days and then moved on to explore a new city.  We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast, visited several museums and other tourist attractions, and ate in recommended restaurants.  We were gone a total of 5 nights, but it felt longer.

5 days after getting home, I was re-packed and on my way to the airport for a trip to the east coast to visit my Dad.  I flew into a small regional airport, rented a car, and drove the hour and a half to where he is being cared for.  When we moved him there in November, he was in the secure unit for Alzheimer and dementia patients.  In March, he was moved into the Skilled Nursing unit, where he now lives.  I was able to see him for 4 days, most of which were good days, when he knew me by name.  It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to when he thinks I am someone else – usually one of his sisters, Pat.  The part that hurts is when I have to say goodbye, not knowing when I will get the chance to see him again.

It would take me at least 16-18 hours to drive from my house to Delaware, and the cost of flying just keeps going up, which makes it difficult to travel that way often.  Even flying involves changing planes and the better part of a day each way, so it’s hard to find enough time during the school year.

I definitely noticed a decline in his ability to understand his surroundings as well as to communicate.  But he still looks at the paper – I am not sure he understands what he is reading, though.  One day, he had a folded paper napkin in his pocket.  He took it out, unfolded it, and held it in two hands like a newspaper, turning it over and over like he was turning the pages of the Post.  I guess some habits will stick with him until the end!

For now, he also still smiles at me, letting me know, even if he can’t come up with my name, that I am a familiar face.  One of the activities directors even commented on the fact that he seems happier when I am there.  I certainly was happy to see him!  I even got to watch him “bowl” one day – they set up plastic pins and angle the wheelchairs so that the residents have a half-way decent chance of hitting them with the plastic ball.  Dad seemed to enjoy himself and even clapped for the other residents when they took their turns.

As my school year gets underway and I get busy with the daily tasks of teaching and coaching, I will treasure the memories I made this summer, and look forward to finding time to get back to Delaware.  I would love to see Dad “bowling” again!

While I spent time with Dad each day, I also found time to connect with some friends who were in the area.  I spent about an hour visiting a friend from high school who was vacationing with her family, and had 2 meals with friends from college who arranged to visit their vacation home that weekend, knowing I would be in town.  It was great to catch up with them!  I also made time to attend a Zumba class at a local Curves – I was going to miss both of my weekly classes, so it was good to work in some physical activity.

The last 2 weeks of my summer break from school were mostly spent out of town, which had the drawback of making the summer seem even shorter, but I wouldn’t have missed either trip.  Now to buckle down and get some planning done before the students return on Monday!  I also plan to get back to doing a better job of tracking my food and making progress with Weight Watchers.  The summer has been full of ups and downs in that part of my life and I really want to get back on track.

I had set a goal at the beginning of the summer, and have fallen a little short.  I am not going to beat myself up over that, or sabotage my efforts by giving up, though.  I am going to set a new goal, and do everything I can to reach it.  My next birthday is in about 6 weeks, so my updated goal is to lose 12 pounds by then.  I’ll keep you posted!

Ups and downs…

I knew, going into last Monday’s weigh-in, that the previous week had not been my best effort.  I had eaten way more than I should have, and exercised way less.  Fortunately, my “bad” eating habits are still better than they used to be, and I actually lost a little.  A very little.  0.6 lbs.  But as my sister-in-law put it, a loss is a loss is a loss.

I was still about 1.5 lbs from where I want to be, with just over 2 weeks left to get there.  Unfortunately, this past week was also a tough one.  I traveled with a group of students for 3 days, eating in hotel lobbies and mall food courts for much of that time.  These types of eating establishments do not cater to weight management plans.  Deep fried, greasy, carb-heavy menus make it difficult to make healthy choices.

But the internet is my best ally!  When I got the itinerary from the trip organizer, I googled (strange how that has become a verb) the malls, scoped out the choices at the food courts, and got nutritional information from the chains’ websites.  I made a list of places and menu items that would be good choices, packed healthy snacks, and vowed to do the best I could to stick to my plan.

Unfortunately, I deviated from my plan almost from the beginning.  Lunch on Day 1 was supposed to be a turkey burger without a bun.  We left Memphis at 6:15 am, the girls performed at a school in Little Rock, and then we headed to the mall.  By the time we got there, I was famished.  With 95 girls and 8 other chaperones scattering to the various eateries in the food court, I chose the place with the shortest line – Mandarin Express – and ordered more than I should have.  I knew it was too much food – although I tried to go with the healthiest options – but I ate it all anyway.

It might not have been too bad if I had been able to go walk it off, but we had to load up the bus and travel for another 6-7 hours.  The good news is that when we stopped for dinner, I was still full from dinner, so I got a sandwich to take to the hotel room.  I never did eat it, though.

The next morning, breakfast was available in the lobby of the hotel.  I had eggs and a bagel.  Probably should have skipped the bagel, but it was already on my plate when I spied the eggs, and I hate to waste food.

Lunch was again at a food court – I chose Mexican this time.  Should have tossed ½ of what I got, but again, I hate to waste food.  So I ate it all.  Dinner was early on day 2, so I wasn’t very hungry.  Stuck with an appetizer and sharing an entrée.  I didn’t make the healthiest choices that day, but at least I am doing a better job of listening to my body about when I am hungry and not just eating because the clock (or the itinerary) says it’s time.

Day 3 began better – I knew there were eggs on the buffet so went right for that.  Had 1 piece of wheat bread with them.  Then, remembering the assignment my Weight Watchers leader had given the group, I tried a new power food.  I have not eaten oatmeal since I was 11.  I had a traumatic experience at summer camp when I was forced to eat it, even though I didn’t like it.  I haven’t touched the stuff since then.  But my taste buds have changed as an adult, so I decided to buck up and try it.  I put a small amount – what my mother used to call a “no-thank-you helping” – in a bowl, added some nuts and a little brown sugar, and tasted it. 

My 11 year old self feels vindicated.  It was still yucky.  That may have been because it was pretty runny and was being served in a hotel lobby.  I may get brave and try it again, but I am not putting money on my liking it!

Lunch that day was again mall food – I splurged on a piece of pizza.  In my former life, I would have ordered 2, plus bread sticks and a soda, so I am proud of my restraint!  I even blotted the grease off before eating it.

Another change I have made, that I have not had too much trouble sticking to, is no carbonated soft drinks.  I can’t stand artificial sweetener, so won’t drink diet drinks.  I have pretty much only had tea (hot or cold) or water to drink since January.  (I did have a beer on St. Patrick’s Day – but I don’t think you can blame me for that!)

After I got home on Friday night, I was able to get back into my routine.  Over the weekend, I ate better and I even got more exercise than usual, since I participated in a 2.5 mile walk on Saturday.

Sunday afternoon, I did some exercises with free weights, and wasn’t really hungry for dinner, so just had some popcorn as a snack.  All in all, I am feeling pretty good about the week.  Weigh-in is less than 2 hours away.  Wish me luck!

Looking For Myself: Part I

Seventeen years ago today, in the summer of ’93, I went looking for myself.   I had spent the first two decades or so of my life trying to be the perfect daughter, the smart one, the girl looking for a boyfriend/husband because that is what was expected.  There were moments along the way when I glimpsed the true me, but what I saw was so unfamiliar, so scary, that I retreated into what was safe and comfortable.  But there came a time when the “safe” was no longer comfortable.

I had dated a guy for about 2 years while in college, but after he broke up with me in our Junior year, I avoided romantic relationships for a long time.  In the summer of ’86, after college graduation, I found myself attracted to a fellow counselor at the camp where I had spent 11 summers.  I didn’t say anything to her or to anyone – I figured it was just a phase, a delayed reaction to having my heart broken by a guy.  At the end of the summer, we went our separate ways and I later heard she had gotten married.

A few years later, I met another woman and had a similar reaction.  We got to be friends when we shared a house one summer, and reconnected the following spring when she was back in the area staying with family.  We became very close – she was going through a difficult time and I did my best to be there when she needed a friend.  Although there wasn’t a physical part to our relationship, there were times when I thought perhaps that would happen.  I was more in tune with my feelings, but again, didn’t say anything.

She moved to Texas, but we stayed in touch.  A couple years went by.  I went to visit her in Houston and realized I was still very attracted to her.  I spent the better part of the few days I was there trying to decide how to express that to her.  I think she sensed it because it seemed that she did everything she could to keep us from being alone together.  When I finally did get up the nerve, the day I was leaving, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t return the feelings.  We kept in touch by mail for a while, but we have never again seen each other.

At this point, though, I was still missing my ex-boyfriend, so I was sure that I wasn’t gay – maybe bisexual, but definitely not a lesbian.  To convince myself of this, I signed up with a dating service.  This was in the days before eHarmony, so I had to go into a small room, fill out an extensive questionnaire and make a video introducing myself.   Then I got to page through binders of information and view videos of men I thought I might want to meet.  All in all, I spent over $1000 and went on a total of 3 dates.

The last of those dates ended with more physical contact than I had intended and I realized that I was wasting my money – I just wasn’t attracted to men physically.  My next step was to put a personal ad in a local paper under the category of Women Seeking Women.  My ad began “Bi-curious woman seeking…” because I was still convinced that I was just curious – I wanted to figure out where my feelings were coming from.  I went on one date with a woman, but the idea that it might lead somewhere was still too scary for me, so I pulled back into myself, giving all of my energy to my job and convincing myself that it was enough and that it was okay to be alone.

Over the course of these years in my mid-twenties, I felt more and more unsure of who I was. It felt like I was sleepwalking through my life without knowing what was going on around me.  I felt unconnected to everyone, especially myself, but couldn’t seem to put my feelings into words.  I was adopted as an infant and thought perhaps my feelings of restlessness were a result of needing a connection to my past.  So I planned a trip back to Prince Edward Island, where I had been adopted almost 29 years before.

I went on this journey to find something — a connection, a sense of belonging, a sense of myself.  I went to find me.  I wasn’t sure if that search would include looking for birth parents, but I knew I wanted to stand on the island and see if I could sense where I had come from, see if that gave me the feeling of completion that I was seeking.

The trip began in Virginia and included stops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine, attending a wedding and visiting friends and family along the way.   Nine days after starting off on this journey, I arrived on PEI.  I enjoyed my time there, seeing the sights, driving around the western half of the island, and visiting with the nun who had facilitated my adoption.  She let me know that if I was interested in pursuing a search, the agency would work with me.  I wasn’t ready to take on that emotional challenge, but it was good to know that there were options available to me.  When I left the island, I felt a little more sure of myself.  For one thing, I had accomplished this adventure all by myself.  For another, I was bringing home a hand-made quilt that I could imagine might have been made by a relative.  And I had seen the beauty of the land of my birth.  I was ready to head home.