June 24, 2016

clown college

Last week I drove to college orientation with Laddie.  Most colleges conduct the orientation process early in the summer - weeks before students show up for class.  Meeting future friends, asking important questions, and planning your class schedule are clear advantages to this system.  When Coach and I went away to college in the late 80's and early 90's, orientation weekend happened when our folks moved us into our dorms.  Dripping in sweat after hauling multiple loads up flights of stairs and waiting to cram boxes into a tiny, over-used elevator, we attended information sessions, mingled at a cookout, and signed up for classes.  I'm in favor of the new approach.

Laddie's future dorm room wasn't available for us to look at, because it was being painted.  We were able to see similar rooms in the dorm where students were living for the summer.  We got the general idea.  Poking around in the dorm reminded me of the summer in 1984 when my older sister was preparing to go away to college.

My sister, Ann, was the first sibling in our family to embark on college.  She was very quiet and reserved, and it was hard to imagine her living away from home.  Once she received her dorm assignment she and my mom began to shop for essentials for her new abode.  Ann contacted her roommate and they discussed color schemes and whether or not they would coordinate their shared, small space.   In an attempt to make her dorm room cozy and homey, our grandma offered to make curtains for their window in a pink and white striped fabric to match their bedspreads.  Mom called residence life and became frustrated when they were unable to supply her with a measurement for Ann's future window.

In mid-July of that summer, I was scheduled to attend basketball camp at the same college where my sister was enrolled.  While I was packing my bag to leave for camp, Mom handed me a measuring tape and careful instructions from grandma on what part of the window to measure.  They had written down the name of her dorm and her room number.

I was 12 years old.  The college was very small.  While the campus was not difficult to navigate, my camper accommodations were on the other side of campus from my sister's dorm.  The camp directors only informed us on how to get from my room to the dining hall and to the athletic facilities.  Never afraid of a challenge, I marched into the administrative offices of the college during our free time one afternoon.  I spoke to someone who gave me permission to try to find my sister's future room.  With tape measure and small notepad in hand, I wandered in an aimless fashion staring at the names of the buildings.  At last when I was just about to give up, I happened to come across Ann's dorm.

I climbed the giant stone stair case and took the elevator to the third floor.  I stepped off the elevator and into an unexpected hallway of chaos.  Sweaty children and chatty adults milled around in the muggy hallway.  A blaring radio, abandoned hula-hoops, and an ironing board were randomly placed in the hallway.  Much to my surprise a selection of the halls inhabitants were wearing make up.  Not just any make up . . . clown make up.

A woman, noticing my utter confusion, offered me an explanation.  'We are here for clown college,' she offered.  I couldn't think of a response, so I just nodded as if this made sense.  'We are all clown families, and we are here to practice our true clown talents before we audition for the circus.'  As she filled me in on the specifics, she swept her arm in a dramatic fashion as if she was presenting an alternative universe to me.  Once the initial shock wore off, I slowly shuffled down the hall.  I inspected the room numbers as I followed my new clown buddy/tour guide further down the corridor.  I briefly described my measuring-for-curtains mission while stepping over discarded clown props and approached Ann's room.  A man occupying Ann's room sat concentrating on applying clown makeup in front of a lighted mirror.  Other, less-busy family members were happy to assist me in holding one end of the measuring tape as I marked the width and height of the window.  Before I left, I thanked them for their assistance and wished them luck at the upcoming clown event.

I realized on my walk back to my dorm that I had probably walked in circles while I was trying to chart my way to Ann's dorm.  The return trip included less zig-zags, but my head still felt a little dizzy.  I don't think it was from the heat.

I'm relieved that there seems to be less coordinating in dorms today.  Eclectic.  I think that is the going style.  No one has offered to sew drapes for Laddie's dorm.  I doubt anyone could encounter a clown college camped out in a future dorm, if they attempted to sneak in and get measurements.  That had to be just my luck. 

June 19, 2016


I was on a quest.  Six years ago on our family trip to Yellowstone we saw a moose from a distance.  He was running away from the road.  I captured a brief snippet of him on video as he jumped over a split rail fence and disappeared into the forest.  Although we saw several black bears, grizzlies, elk, big horn sheep, and mountain goats, we didn't see another moose the whole trip.  I was bummed.

Two years later we hit the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Park.  This adventure proved exciting and unique as we showed the kids terrain that differed from red rock to mountainous forests.  While in Rocky Mountain National Park, we asked a ranger if there had been any recent moose sightings.  He directed us to a scenic trail just south of Estes Park where three bull moose had been seen regularly for weeks.  We eagerly drove to the trail and enjoyed hiking along a pretty waterfall while we strained our eyes in search of a moose.  We begged the kids to keep quiet in order not to scare off the elusive animals.  We repeated the process each day we were in Colorado.  Despite the 45 minute trip to the trail from our campsite, we trekked up to this supposed 'moose paradise' - sometimes twice a day, in order to double our chances of stumbling across this awesome animal.  We arrived early in the morning.  I passed bowls of cereal around in the car serving the kids their breakfast while we sat silently (as silently as our group is capable of sitting) hoping to get lucky.  In order to be thorough, we ate an early dinner and drove up to the trail at dusk too.  Of course, we managed to squeeze other activities into our Rocky Mountain stay until at last it was time to end our trip.  With a pit in my stomach, we loaded the car with our camping gear and headed for home. 

This year I suggested Glacier National Park as our next national park odyssey.  Coach was opposed from word one.  He cited the lengthy drive in the car, his hatred of camping, the lack of teenage interest, and the 'been-there-done-that' thought process as influencing factors in his oppositional stance.  I reminded him that we had once agreed to visit a different national park every other year.  Our DC tour and our vacation in Disney in 2015 had interrupted our national park sequence.  I suggested we get back on track and tackle this distant, yet incredible park.  First I addressed all of his  concerns. 

Teenagers.  Since when do we put any weight in what they want to do?  If we allowed them to select how our free time was spent, we would end up hanging out in our basement, munching on snacks, playing video games, paying close attention to our phones, and working hard to come up with insults directed at other family members.  No thanks.  Long drive.  True.  But I pointed out that our kids are older now.  They could tolerate longer stretches in the car.  Strong dislike of camping.  I share this sentiment whole heartedly.  Last time we camped one of our kids dropped his toothbrush under the urinal in the campground bathroom.  That same trip we failed to understand that there were stalls to shower in but no running water.  More seasoned campers marched to the wooden shower stalls erected in the middle of the campground with their own warm water supply.  After filling their water bag with water, they had laid it on the picnic table in their campsite.  The sun warmed the water while they were busy hiking, etc.  They enjoyed a warm shower after hanging their water bag on a hook mounted in the rustic shower stall.  They switched the lever on the small attached hose, which released the water and cleaned themselves in the open air concealed by the wooden stall.  Ironically, we thought we had learned so much after our first camping expedition in Yellowstone, where we woke to find some of our children sleeping partially submerged in the standing water in our tent after hours of nonstop rain.  Although it has been a few years, these nightmare camping memories haven't faded.   I reminded Coach that some of our kids still enjoy sleeping in a tent in the national park immensely.  In order to win my budget conscious spouse over, I added that National Parks aren't very expensive.  I could prepare meals in advance to warm by the fire or in a crock pot at a cabin on the nights we weren't camping.  Even the price of gas was cooperating to make this a budget conscious trip. 

In order to be fair, I researched other vacations and agreed to consider other alternatives.  A google search displayed a list of top vacation spots for families with teenagers and tweens.  Most were expensive, too far, or places we had already experienced.  The Galapagos Islands intrigued me.  I made sure to mention this dreamy trip to Coach.  As expected the expense factor made him choke a bit.  Glacier was starting to sound more acceptable.  Of course we had toured national parks already, but this would be a different location.  I admit that the increased presence of moose in Glacier impacted my inclination to visit there.  Coach eventually agreed to Glacier.  In order to make the deal more appealing to this man who dares not stray from home for too long, I compromised by shortening the trip by a day or two. 

May was a busy time of year with a graduation and a first communion.  I babysat a bit more than usual.  I worked hard to organize the house as much as possible to avoid freaking out the day before the big combo party for Lad and Curly.  As time slipped away, I became more and more annoyed that I wasn't fitting in time to pack for our big road trip.  Finally one day at breakfast, I instructed Mini to make some columns on a piece of paper.  While I busied myself in the kitchen, I dictated a list of food to prepare and gather, the limited amount of clothing I'd allow kids to stuff in their duffel bags, and the camping gear to pack for Glacier.  Once I begin a list for something, I feel accomplished.  Over the next few weeks, the list grew.  Defrosting mystery meats and offering them for meals made room for the five road trip meals I prepared and stored in the new vacant space in the basement freezer.  The date was approaching quickly, but I swore I would be prepared.

Loading the car with the bare minimum plus an abundance of food was a dizzy-spell inducing process.  Once in Glacier we settled into our cabin on the west side of the park.  In no time we discovered that the wildlife that attracted us (well, some of us) to the park could be found easier on the east side of Glacier.  We shortened our stay on the west side by one night and high tailed it to a couple of cabins on the east side.

After I had persuaded Coach to take this trip, I became nervous that the park would fail to deliver by not measuring up to our favorite park:  Yellowstone.  As we pulled into the entrance at Many Glacier, we asked the ranger if their had been any recent reports of moose in the park.  She admitted that she wasn't supposed to share, but she was too excited to keep it from us.  A mother moose had brought a baby into the Many Glacier campground.  She was nesting in the campground and we couldn't miss her.  I looked at my dad in disbelief as Coach slowly drove down the road toward the campground.  If the baby was indeed only a few days old, then it wasn't likely that the mother would be able to move quickly.  Could it be?  Were we about to see a mother moose with her newborn calf.  The ranger suggested a place to park so that we could approach the campground on foot.  She reminded us to be respectful.  We had no intentions of getting too close or overstepping nature's boundaries.  That is why we brought zoom lenses.  I attached my zoom to my camera and held it outside of the case, so that I was ready for action.

It didn't take us very long to spot her.  This enormous animal was laying about two feet behind someone's tent.  Her calf was panting heavily in the grass a few feet behind her.  We walked around the perimeter making a wide arc and studied different angles- seeking out the best spot to take photos.  Eventually a ranger showed up and informed the admiring crowd that he would have to try to encourage the moose to move elsewhere.  A campground was not an ideal place for this cow and her newborn calf.  He directed us where to stand while he maneuvered his truck in order to try to block her path from retreating further into the campground.  He hurled a handful of gravel - aiming it close enough to the reclining animal without hitting her.  This got her attention.  She stood up and assessed her options.  The baby wobbled up on its skinny legs and followed its mama.  The ranger asked that we clear out of the area.  He assured us that his attempts to move her would most likely prove temporary.  'She'll be back,' he explained.  'You can get more pictures later.  She likes it here.  This is the third year that she has brought a calf to this campsite.  She doesn't belong here and I'm going to try to urge her to move somewhere else, but I suspect she will come back.' 

As the ranger predicted, the mama and baby resurfaced at the campground.  Each time we visited her preferred nesting area, we discovered her in no time.  An animal that large is hard to miss.  Nearby campers had become accustomed to the moose's presence and continued to build campfires, play bean bag games, and roast marshmallows.  The last time we saw the twosome before we headed to the Canadian side of the park, we observed that the baby seemed to have doubled in size.  Displaying bursts of energy, the calf jumped and frolicked in the tall grass near its mother.  It was an awesome sight!           

Fortunately our wildlife encounters weren't limited to moose.  After we drove away from the mama/baby moose viewing at the campsite that first night, we discovered more wonderful surprises.  Between countless camera clicks and Coach's jockeying the big van onto the shoulder so that we could get a better look, animals seemed to fall from the sky just in front of the van - much to our amazement.  We saw a black bear at the side of the road.  About 100 yards later we stumbled upon two big horn sheep crossing the street.  A moose partially hidden by foliage ignored our squeals of delight while he stripped the branches of its tasty leaves.

We were thrilled over the next few days when we spotted more moose and other interesting animals.  A grizzly appeared just beyond the road and hesitated long enough for us to snap some photos.  A bull moose showed up down by the lake as we drove away from the camp sight one morning.  This fellow waded in the water, scratched his antlers, and seemed to pose for us as we crept a bit closer across a field where we were able to snap countless photos.  The next night, a mama moose and her yearling hung out some distance from the road behind a clump of trees.  All in all we saw seven moose.

After our initial moose sighting in the campground, Coach nudged me with his eyebrows raised, 'Can we go home now?'  My moose mission may have been accomplished, but the family road trip was far from over.  We suffered through sibling disputes that erupted in the bowels of the back row of seats, scrounged for food in the intricately packed system, rationed remaining favorite food items, shuffled luggage from cabin to tent and back again thanks to in-climate weather, and listened to complaints from shared bed assignments.  A family road trip like this is never easy, but we traveled home with new mmemories and tons of awesome pictures. 

June 9, 2016

garage door debacle

Once the little boys I sit for were picked up on Thursday, my focus shifted to packing for our family road trip to Glacier.  Coach works late on Thursdays, so I needed to feed the clan and continue to get their bags packed allowing enough time to drop Reggie off at his baseball game.  The high school water polo awards ceremony had been rescheduled from the week before to this glorious night - the night before we headed out of town for 12 days.  Fabulous. 

I backed the large van, which seats twelve and once served as an airport shuttle, into the garage.  Eddie had agreed to vacuum it out so one of the kids could stuff our sleeping bags under the bench seats.  I was anxious to transfer something out of the growing pile in the kitchen and into the car.  I needed evidence that our enormous pile of gear and food was going to fit. 

My newer vacuum sucks - not in the way a vacuum should suck.  It fails to pull lint into the dust chamber, which replaces the bag on this updated unit.  Instead all the debris gets lodged in the hose of the vacuum.  On more than one occasion while I've actually attempted to clean our house, I've realized that the vacuum has lost suction.  After taking the machine apart I discovered the cause is a backup of crap in the hose.  With a limited amount of time and a lengthy list of jobs I hoped to accomplish before the water polo assembly, my progress stalled in the garage while I wrestled with my impacted vacuum hose.  Eddie, who stood prepared to vacuum the van floor, became invested in this pesky task.  We shoved a wire coat hangar down the hose.  We shook it.  Detached it.  Retried all of the above.  My skin shimmered in a glossy, sweat induced film.  At last I experienced a lightbulb moment.  I instructed him to bring the blocked hose to the yard hose.  A few minutes later he reappeared with a big grin on his face.  He assured me that even with the force of the water it was still no easy task. 

I slopped dinner on plates while Eddie finally cleaned off the floor of the car.  Laddie agreed to drive Reggie to his game but only after torpedoing me with some serious teenage diarrhea of the mouth.  He announced that I would be late to his assembly but he added that he really didn't care if I came.  I admit that my mood was far from calm and collected.  There was much to do and the clock was ticking.  I needed all hands on deck, but Lad was absorbing my energy.  I had corrected him for antagonizing his sister and creating a riff between the two girls, and that incensed him.  Just what I needed.

Lad and Reg raced out the door.  Tetanka mowed a neighbor's lawn.  Mini preparing to walk to the junior high for a recognition event.  I urged everyone to eat quickly while I ran upstairs and changed my clothes hoping that my prior garage sweat-fest would go unnoticed by the other water polo parents.  Eddie and Curly and I hopped in the car a moment later.  As I drove away we heard a loud groan from above the car.  There was a crunching or creaking sound that I wished I could ignore.  I stopped for a moment and jumped out, but I saw no interference between the car and the garage door.  I proceeded to drive out of the garage ever so slowly.  Once we were on the driveway, I turned around and assessed the situation.  The garage door had been knocked off the track on one side.  What the Hell?  Although I hadn't done it for a few years, I had successfully backed the van into the garage in the past.  What could have changed to make it unable to fit?  With the house exposed to any intruders, Eddie hollered at me to drive away.  On the way to the high school, I called Mini and told her to leave the door alone.  It wasn't going to go down.  Tetanka rarely closes doors, or puts his shoes away, or attends to important details, so I guessed the situation wouldn't alarm him but I told her to leave him a note if she was leaving before he got home. 

Mini had given me the phone number from the sticker on the garage wall with the repair shop that last maintained the garage door.  I called them and explained the situation.  The door would have to go down in order for us to head out of town the next morning.  Their emergency fee was $250.  Ouch.  That was just for the visit.  Labor and parts would be additional.  I told them I would try to sort it out myself, and asked how late they could send someone.  I wanted to see if Eddie and Laddie could work some magic.  I'm all for cheap, family labor.

Fearing that the boys might make the situation worse than it was, I asked my dad to come over and supervise.  He stood watch while the boys attempted to unsuccessfully jam the wheels back on the track.  The quick release cord had somehow become jammed in the chain, and nothing would budge.  Laddie decided that certain nuts and bolts would have to be unscrewed near the chain in order to fix it.  This made me nervous.  I imagined that we would create inventory of firewood after the entire door slammed to bits on the cement floor.  Sure enough, once the nuts and bolts were removed, the boys positioned themselves and forced the wheels back on the track.  Lad was able to yank the cord out of the chain.  They aligned the dismembered pieces and we held our breath as we tried the automatic door opener button.  Much to my surprise and delight, the door lurched into action and began to lower without a problem.  I thanked my dad once the celebrations died down.  'I didn't do anything,' he reminded me.  Still it was a more the merrier kind of situation.

As hot and exhausted as I was, I pushed forward and tried to make packing progress.  Once most of the kids had gathered their clothes (a fraction of what they would normally bring on a 12 day trip due to my strictly enforced duffel bag size limitations), I focused on the remaining food items.  Because I failed to realize that hard boiled eggs wouldn't stay fresh for long once their shell was peeled, I leaned against the counter and peeled four dozen eggs into the sink.  My master plan, which blew up in my face when the eggs started to smell bad after about 5 days, included starting each morning with a few hard boiled eggs.  Most of the kids like eggs, and between my celiac disease restrictions and their never ending appetites I thought previously peeled eggs would be convenient for a quick breakfast on the run. 

By the time Coach got home from work my victory over the garage door faded as we realized that the kitchen sink was in need of a plumber.  Apparently the egg shells combined with the discarded food from the graduation party that I shoved down the disposal were wreaking havoc on our pipes.  The plumber agreed to pay us a visit in the morning before our departure.  One step forward, two steps back.  

I may have felt unprepared for our vacation, but never did I feel more in need of a getaway.  Unfortunately, facing a 26 hour road trip with six kids to Glacier National Park knowing that I would prepare most of our meals utilizing contents from various coolers and enrolling the aid of a crock pot was not the kind of spa escape that I ached for.